The Story Of Magus Chapter 20

From a Different Perspective

By ZealPropht

   Cyrus stood atop the battlements of Guardia Castle, his eyes drifting over the massive army that lay encamped on the other side of the forest that surrounded the castle, it's fires winking like glowbugs in the night. The castle seems well defended, Cyrus said to himself. But he knew that as large as the Human army was, there was an even greater force lying in wait to spring it's wrath and it was closer then anybody would wish. The Mystic army had decided to camp on the other side of Zenan Bridge. Guardia Castle was the last strong standing point of the Guardian army. Recent attacks on the food routes made it nearly impossible to get enough food through enemy lines to Truce from the lower lands.
    The problem with using Truce as the capital for all of Guardia was the fact that the soil there was rocky and hard. Few crops would actually grow in that sort of atmosphere, forcing the people of Truce to rely heavily on the exports of their neighboring towns. The lower lands on the other side of the Zenan Bridge were lush and fertile. Dorino was famed for it's dairy products and meats while Porre held national acclaim for the best fish and grain Guardia had to offer. And across the sea in Choras, wines and apple cider flowed like water through a stream bed and provided the rest of Guardia with it's fine assortment of beverages. The King and his military advisor, the Knight Captain, had tried their hardest to contain the fighting in the upper lands, leaving the lower lands clean and unmolested by the ravages of war. However, the Mystics, damn their black hearts to the lowest part of Hell, had other ideas. They had figured out the fastest, most effective way to defeat the Human army. They were hitting the Guardians where it hurt the most: their stomachs. The recent attacks, plus the position of their army effectively blocked the trade routes. There was still a trickle of supply wagons making it through to deliver it's cargo, but those few were becoming less and the distance between their arrivals longer. Already, food supplies were getting smaller and smaller. Without food, such a large body of men would swiftly succumb to hunger and a famine would spread throughout the land. Already, a good deal of the mercenary forces that were allied with Guardia had quit and were seeking employment with the Mystics since it looked as if they might actually win. Cyrus was disgusted by those lawless men and their lack of patriotism. He was also dismayed by the sudden strategic brilliance the Mystics suddenly displayed. Either Ozzie was a better tactician then he was given credit for or the Magus was the one who was pulling the strings.
       Not that it matters, really, the Hero thought grimly. All Mystics must be eradicated. They must no longer trouble the peaceful citizens of Guardia. They must not be allowed to wreak havoc and hurt the innocent. As he thought these things, a picture of Janus floated into his mind's eye. What about his friend? He was a Mystic now, too. Would Cyrus be forced to kill him as well? If he does not turn from this path of darkness, then perhaps it would be for the best if he were to perish. I love him as a brother and I would no more wish to see him devoured by the evil within himself then I would wish to see him suffering a fatal wound. It would be a mercy killing. But if that day ever comes, Gods will it not to, then let it not be my hand that strikes him down. Let it not be mine. I wouldn't have the strength. But that day would hopefully never be more then a depressing worry in his head. He would do everything in his power to extract the good Janus that he knew still lived within the murky depths of the Mystic he was now and bring him into the light of justice again.
    The young man's mind fell quiet as he returned his attention to watching for signs of a possible attack. A small part of him was irritated that he was being forced to serve palace duty. He should be with his men, not holed up here protecting the aristocracy who could only whine and moan about how dreadfully upsetting the war was. No one understood, save perhaps the Chancellor and the Monarchy, that this was no trifling matter that would blow over eventually. The only way it would end was if some gigantic force intervened and saved them all by destroying the Mystics once and for all.
    Glenn was down there, somewhere, alone. He was probably finishing his watch or maybe he was already in bed, having elected to take an early morning shift. At the thought of his smaller, green-haired friend, Cyrus had to smile. Poor boy. The Hero felt bad for him. He had to sleep on a hard cot in a stuffy tent, knowing that at any moment a Mystic could sneak under the flap and kill him where he lay. Cyrus, on the other hand, was living the life of luxury. Every night, whether there were peasants starving outside or not, a sumptuous feast was held in his honor. Feather down quilts and soft mattresses were his bed. His armor was polished till it shone like it had when it was in mint condition.
    How Glenn must envy me. I know that I would, were I in his shoes, Cyrus thought with a small chuckle. That would never be the case, of course. Glenn was far too noble and self-sacrificing to ever think such thoughts against his friend. Sometimes the young man was even too kindhearted for his own good. He always insisted that Cyrus eat before he did and at least twice a day. He would often ignore Cyrus' request to wake him when it was his turn for watch and instead, would take double duty himself so that the older man might sleep and recover strength from the day's grueling activities. He was so good and concerned about his friend's well-being that it quite put Cyrus to shame.
    The Hero had known Glenn practically as far back as he could remember. They had met a little after Janus' supposed death. Glenn's mother, Lady Celeste, was a friend of Cyrus' mother, Lady Llana. Lady Celeste was a young widow, her husband having died from a sickness, leaving her and her infant son alone to maintain their lands. When she heard about the fire that had destroyed her friend's home, she quickly offered Sir Cedrick and his family a place to stay until their new house was built. Having nowhere else to go, they accepted the generous invitation. Unlike Sir Cedrick, who had preferred a more rustic look to his home, Lady Celeste's husband had preferred creature comforts and all the extravagant tastes his wealth and station could afford. Needless to say, Cyrus had been overwhelmed at the site of the three story manor home, with it's wide expanse of lawn and forests, the large fountain in the courtyard, and the stables in the back. The building itself was a combination of house and castle. While the lower half looked like a normal, if large and elegant house, the upper part had turrets and towers that jutted oddly from the structure. The house was built of rare sandstone that had been hauled from way down in Porre to erect the mighty wonder. Cyrus was sure that Lady Celeste was a very prominent woman and her home proved it.
    When Cyrus had finally met Glenn, he was positive that he had never met a more disagreeable child in his whole life. The small, green-haired boy was very whiny and often had fits of crying whenever some minor injury, like a cut or a scrape, befell him. He didn't like to play contact games like tag or wrestling, saying that he hated getting dirty and that rough games hurt too much. Unlike Janus who had been willing to try everything Cyrus suggested at least once, Glenn wanted nothing to do with the games he invented. He wouldn't climb trees because he was scared of hights. He wouldn't swim for fear he'd drown. He wouldn't race because he often fell down and skinned his knees. He would, reluctantly, ride a horse and he did like wandering in the woods on the side of his estate. In fact, he often got lost in them and everyone, Cyrus included, would have to go looking for him.
    Glenn's father had been a knight, like Sir Cedrick, and Lady Celeste had been debating about sending her son to a military training camp for a while to maybe give him a little backbone. Cedrick offered to give the boy lessons on becoming a knight in payment for him and his family being allowed to stay at the manor. Lady Celeste agreed and thus began the training. It was a very frustrating time for the three of them. Cedrick had little patience with Glenn and his lack of enthusiasm for learning how to fight. He was so small and scrawny that he could barely hold a sword without letting the point dip into the dirt. Cyrus was already much more advanced in fighting then the younger boy. He had hard muscles from the constant exercise he got from running and climbing all day long. Glenn had never done much of anything strenuous and his stick-like arms and legs showed it. Lady Celeste's son took no interest in the things that Cedrick tried to teach him and this vexed the man greatly. Things might have gone on this way for quite some time until one day, as he was wont to do, Glenn got lost.
    He hadn't meant to wander so far, but he enjoyed the fresh air. He knew Cyrus disliked him and he knew the reason why. But he pretended like he didn't care. It wasn't easy for him. Lady Celeste was very demanding. She wanted him to be more like his father instead of letting Glenn do what he liked to do. He wasn't very violent, by nature. He hated hurting things and couldn't see why people had to hurt each other in the first place. Why couldn't everyone just get along and enjoy the world around them? Of course, boys his age tended to sneer at such sissy thoughts and so Glenn was teased and picked on. Today wasn't an exception, for just as he realized that he had wandered past all hope of finding a familiar landmark, he was a group of bullies. It didn't take them long to surround him. The hurtful name calling had buffeted Glenn and he had tried to keep his composure but then the braver ones started hitting him. He had taken the blows, hoping that when they'd had their fun, the bullies would leave. However, since their prey wasn't going to resist their attacks, they decided to go full out. When Cyrus finally came to Glenn's rescue, the bullies had roughed him up so badly he was spinning with dizziness. The sight of the older boy who was nearly twice as tall as they were sent the ruffians running into the underbrush to save their skins.
    Cyrus remembered that he had felt pity and not a little bit of disgust as he had watched Glenn suddenly burst into hysterical tears. The piercing sound had cut into the Hero's brain like a knife until he could take it no longer. "SHUT UP!" he had yelled, all patience finally snapping. He remembered the way Glenn choked on his sobs and bit his lip to still the sound, large eyes big and scared with tear streaks running down his bruised face. "You cry too much! Are you sure you're really a boy? I know girls who cry less then you do!"
    "I am s-so a b-boy!" Glenn had stammered while still trying to control his sobbing. He glared at Cyrus with the first hint or aggression that he had ever seen come from the young man. "I thought that you were diff-different from those r-rogues. Why art thou so m-m-mean?"
    "Because even girls can stand up for themselves," Cyrus had snapped back peevishly. "Why do you cry, anyway?"
    "Mama said 'tis no shame in crying," Glenn stated defensively, nearly bringing a smile to Cyrus' lips. Well, at least he wasn't a complete coward. He did have a little guts to try and justify his actions. "It's just that, well, it hurts when I get hit."
    "Then don't let them hit you!" Cyrus had rolled his eyes in annoyance when Glenn looked completely baffled by that concept. "Look, you've got to start standing up for yourself. No one can do that but you. If you don't want them to hit you then hit them first. Don't just stand there and take it and then cry like a baby."
    "I don't always cry!" Glenn had disagreed vehemently.
    "You're a marshmallow, Glenn," Cyrus had stated bluntly. "And you always will be until you show people that they can't push you around."
    "I...see," the green haired young man had said softly with a thoughtful look on his face. Cyrus remembered thinking that he probably should have been a little nicer to his companion, because he had been beaten up and all. He guessed that was enough of a push in the right direction. Whether Glenn decided to follow it up was his own business.
    "C'mon, I'll walk you home," the sandy-haired boy had said. They had walked in silence for a while before Glenn spoke up.
    "Cyrus? May I ask thee a question?"
    "Uh, huh."
    "Dost thou think that thou couldst teach me how to stand up against bullies? In battle?"
    Cyrus had shrugged his slender shoulders. "Just listen to what my father teaches you and you'll be fine."
    "Uh, no," Glenn objected in his strange mix of the old and new Guardian tongue. "I asked if thou couldst teach me." He stressed the word. Cyrus had been startled, but he had shrugged nonetheless.
    "If that's the way you want it," he had said, much to Glenn's delight. From that day forward, Cyrus felt as if he had another shadow. Glenn followed him everywhere, mimicking his actions in a way that would have been annoying had Cyrus not seen the sincere desire to learn written all over his face. Under Cyrus' training, Glenn proved himself to be a skilled swordsman with a natural talent that amazed the older boy. Soon Glenn was wielding a sword as if it were an extension of his arm and had been there since birth. He began to rival Cyrus and was beating him more often then not in their sparring matches. It was as if he had done a complete turnaround. The whiny little boy was gone and in his place was this warm, friendly child who was vibrant and exciting to be around. Glenn no longer cried and eagerly jumped at the games Cyrus suggested, sometimes even inventing ways to make them better. He filled out his scrawny frame, long hours of sword practice adding newly developed muscle to his arms and back. His spiky green hair that had seemed to go in all directions grew longer and gave him a more mature look. His disposition was one of quiet assertiveness that showed he had found a self-confidence he never knew existed within himself. The bullies who used to tease him gradually grew to respect and, in some cases for the ones who tried to pick fights with him, feared him. The two boys had become inseparable and even when Cyrus had announced that he could teach nothing more to his friend, Glenn stayed by his side. Even when it seemed as if Cyrus wasn't going to make it into the Knights, Glenn had refused to join if his friend couldn't be there with him.
    "Don't be a fool, Glenn," Cyrus had reprimanded him, waving a Knight's waver in his friend's face. Glenn had been accepted and was offered a spot in the army just as the Mystics had started launching their attacks on the Humans. "This is what we always wanted! At least one of us should achieve our dream."
    "'Tis you who art being the fool, Cyrus," Glenn had objected, brushing the waver away. "Didst thou really believe that I wouldst desert thee? Thou art my best and dearest friend. I wouldst not have this commission if thou art not with me by my side as my brother in arms. I shall not enter the King's service without thee. And i shall not be moved in my decision, so do not protest. Let it be."
    Cyrus smiled, cold wind brushing his cheek, stirring his cloak behind him. Dear Glenn. He has always been there for me. I still can't believe that he turned down the Knight's waver to follow me in as a common soldier. He's so devoted to our friendship. Truly, he is the best friend I could ever hope to find. I owe him so much, including my life since he has saved it on a number of occasions. The smile left his face as he heard he faint sound of Mystic victory songs on the wind, carried over to him by way of Zenan Bridge. What have I done to repay his kindness? I offered him a war in which I stupidly thought would be some walk in the woods. Some people believe war to be exciting and glorious. But it's not. It's ugly and foul and it kills as surely as my sword does. I practically pushed him into this. Maybe things would have been better if I had left him a sullen boy who liked to get lost in the woods...
    "Lost in thought, Sir Knight?"
    The sweet musical voice reached his ears like something in a dream, so pure and sweet was it's sound. It reminded Cyrus of the way the Sisters at the Cathedral always talked about Heavenly Hosts. He felt sure that no angel's harp could sound more heartbreakingly beautiful then the voice he heard now. Turning, Cyrus bowed low, seeing his own feet and the hem of a powder blue gown that looked almost white in the light of the moon. "My Queen," he said formally, but there was nothing formal in his tone. In those simple words throbbed unspoken feelings and a deep sadness. When he straightened, he saw the look reflected on the monarch's lovely features. "Not lost," Cyrus replied, in reference to Leene's earlier question. "Only reviewing memories. I was remembering a time happier then the one we live in now. I was remembering my youth."
    "Ah," the Queen said wisely. "I do not seek to remember my past. It was uneventful up until I met his Majesty and we were married. I lived with my crippled father and took care of him while my brother went off to join the Knights."
    Sensing that this was a topic Leene felt uncomfortable about, Cyrus cleared his throat and changed the subject. "To what do I owe the honor of your presence this evening, my lady?"
    "I was lonely," she said softly. "My poor husband has been in war councils all day. Sometimes he even goes out and fights along side his people against the Mystics. I barely see him anymore. I miss him greatly and it hurts to see him so exhausted."
    "I understand," Cyrus nodded. He stepped to the side as Leene came closer and rested her elbows on the stone wall and leaned over, looking down below at the Guardian army encamped quite literally on her doorstep.
    "I just need a friendly ear to listen to me tonight. That's all I ask for. I need someone I can trust."
    Cyrus promptly spoke up. "I am always at your disposal, your Majesty." He looked into Leene's eyes and told her with his own what he would never be able to say out loud. Always yours, as long as I have breath in my body.
    "I am afraid, Sir Hero," the Queen began. "Every day more and more of our men go out and few come back to tell tales of the horrors of the front lines. Our supplies are dwindling with each passing hour. Zenan Bridge is the last line of defense to keep the Mystics away from the castle. We were foolish to try and prevent the spread of this war. Now all contact with Dorino and Porre has been cut off by enemy lines. Every morning I look out my window and see the Mystic army creeping a little closer, a little closer. At night I can hear the sounds of the camps. In our camps are the wails of the wounded. Their cries ring with despair instead of hope, now. And even though we are so far from Zenan Bridge, I can still hear the Mystic songs of victory. The funeral hymns have not stopped since this war began. The Sisters at the Cathedral are like the living dead. They are awake but unseeing, going through the motions mechanically like a wind up doll." Leene shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, teeth chattering. Cyrus knew that the chill she suffered from was not of the physical sort, but he automatically removed his cloak and placed it around her shoulders to warm her.
    "Rest easy, my Queen," he said softly, as he pulled the material snugly about her slight figure. "There is no need to be afraid. I will always protect you, no matter what." But the woman shook her head, her eyes haunted.
    "Every day I see you, and my husband, and my brother, and Glenn go off into battle and I wonder whether or not I will see your return." She spoke as if compelled to do so. "I watch the wounded being brought back to the castle infirmary and I force myself to go bring what comfort I can to these men. I look into their faces and know that one day it could be you spilling your life out on the white sheets as I stand there and hold your hand. Or my brother, pierced through the heart by an arrow. Or even dear Glenn." Her voice faltered. She looked up into Cyrus' face so he could see her unspoken words. I don't know what I would do if I were to lose you. I don't think I'm strong enough to bear it. Cyrus read this from her, even as she said, "But I'm more afraid for my dear husband. He's been so kind to me and to his people." Tears welled up in her glorious eyes, making them sparkle like gems in her porcelain white face, her lips red as fresh blood in the dim light.
    Greatly daring, Cyrus reached out and pulled Leene into his arms. She placed her head against his shoulder, her hands resting on his armored chest. His arms wound around her back and he laid his cheek against her silken hair. "I know," he whispered. "I know." Her perfume overwhelmed him, smelling like spring flowers and clear sunlight, salt breezes from the sea and exotic spices all rolled into one. It intoxicated him and made his head feel light. Cyrus held his Queen in that tender embrace, not caring who might see them. But he did force himself to limit his passions to only that embrace. He concentrated on being comforting rather then loving as he held her against him. He waited till her shivering and tears had ceased before gently lifting her chin and wiping the tears from her cheeks using his thumbs. She was so lovely right them, with her cheeks rosy from emotion and her eyes so wonderfully bright, lips that were slightly parted and moist and begging to be kissed...Cyrus stepped back away from her.
    "Forgive me," they mumbled in unison. An awkward silence fell between them. No one said a word and the only sound that could be heard was the chill wind whipping about them as they stood near the turrets. Leene broke the silence first.
    "Forgive me, Sir Cyrus," she started again, not able to meet his eyes. "I am a weak woman. I should not cry but rather continue to help our people through this dark time. I know the King would wish it. I know my husband would wish it." She stressed the word, more to remind herself who she was as she handed the knight back his cape. He took it and absently refastened it to his armor. The wind made it flutter behind him. "I thank you for your time, patience, and comfort this evening. They were much needed in these times of unrest."
    "It was service freely given, as is my duty to the Crown," Cyrus replied promptly. "I am yours to command. When I pledged my allegiance to his Majesty, I pledged it to you as well. My sword will forever be at your disposal." As will my heart, my Queen. His eyes spoke more words then his voice would ever be heard to say. He bowed deeply, taking Leene's hand in his and pressing his lips to the back of it. Her skin was so soft and the hand he held so fragile, like a bird's wing. The kiss he placed lasted, perhaps, longer then it should have but he was reluctant to let go. He felt like he was striving to hold on to some elusive dream. He wanted this moment to go on and never end. But he might as well have been trying to stop the sun from rising or catch mist in his hand. The moment was over and gone. Leene folded her hands in front of her, covering the hand he had kissed with the other, trying to capture his warm breath on her skin for as long as she could.
    "Good night, Sir Hero," she said, turning and walking away as softly as she had come. She moved like a ghost or some radiant vision in her pale blue gown, her hair like molten gold in the moonlight. Cyrus bowed a final time to her back and held that position until her footsteps had faded away. He straightened and leaned his arms on the stone wall in front of him, looking bitterly down at the campfires that twinkled so far below.
    "Be sound of health, your Majesty," he whispered to the shadows that closed in around him, snatching the light from Leene's presence with greedy, spectral hands. And as he resumed his watch, he had the distinct impression that the night had gotten a whole lot darker for him from then on.

    "One o'clock and all's well!"
    Glenn stirred at the sound of the time keeper in his hurriedly erected tower. The cry was taken up by the other criers at various points of the camp. The young man stretched stiff muscles and sheathed his sword. His watch was up. Time for Claudane and Fredrick to come on. He wrapped his cape tighter around himself, shivering from the cold. He wanted nothing more then to go back to his tent and sleep. Check that. He wanted something hot to eat and then some sleep. His stomach rumbled loudly and, though no one was there to hear it, he blushed. The snap of a twig had him whirling around, sword half out of it's scabbard before he even saw who it was approaching him.
    "Stay your sword, my bloodthirsty friend," Claudane laughed a bit ruefully as he raised his hands in surrender. "I give up." Glenn relaxed his hold on his sword and let it slide back into it's case with a metallic clang.
    "Forgive me, my friend. Your approach startled me. I was ill prepared for such a fright. I am afraid that mine sword arm sometimes reacts before my head catches up with it."
    "That's okay," Dane replied with an easy shrug. "It's the sign of a good warrior. One day, reflexes like that could well save your life. It was my fault for coming up on you so quietly. I was just asking for trouble. I really should have announced I was here." He caught Glenn's inquisitive glance as he noticed his friend was alone. Reading the question in the young man's eyes, he said, "Fredrick will be a long in a bit. I knew you'd be hungry so I asked him to grab a few slices of the deer haunch on the spit back in camp and a mug of the left over chicken stock we had a few days ago. He said he'd even try to filch a slice of bread if he could." Dane laughed as Glenn's eyes grew big with anticipation.
    Glenn looked down, a bit embarrassed. "Is not the bread restricted from the army?"
    The other man shrugged. "Yeah, so? It's only going to go into some fat aristocrat's face. The nobility has plenty of food to spare and I think it's stupid that we're out here fighting our asses off for a bunch of noblemen who haven't lifted anything more heavy or more deadly then a solid gold fork in their lives." He jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the castle that loomed behind them like a sleeping giant. "Good old Cyrus gets to be snug and warm with all the food he can eat while he stays in the palace. He's always been the lucky one, our friend the Hero." Glenn was appalled.
    "How canst thou say such a thing?" he reproved. "We shouldst not be envious of our comrade's good fortune. Rather, we should be merry that such good luck hast befallen him."
    Claudane sighed with derision and placed a hand on the green-haired man's shoulder. "I was only kidding around, Glenn. Calm down. You know that I don't really begrudge Cyrus his fame and fortune. My sister is, after all, married to the King. I have been invited to the castle several times and have turned their Majesties down. I hate being in the castle. It's too claustrophobic for my tastes. I much prefer to be out here amongst my friends and fellow soldiers. I'm sure that after all the fussing and pampering that has been afforded him, Cyrus is probably wishing the same thing."
    "Sir Cyrus is wishing what?"
    The two knights turned to the third who approached. Sir Fredrick Pendil hadn't changed much since the day when he and the Knight Captain had witnessed Sir Cedrick's dishonorable death. His eyes still burned with the light of one who is fanatically obsessed with some ideal or prospect. He had a single-minded purpose and that was to leap to right the wrongs around him, big or small, without any thought to the consequences of doing it. He was held on a tight leash by the Knight Captain and was assigned small duties, like this night watch, where he could do relatively little damage to himself or anyone else. In battle, he a was fair with a sword but it was his eagerness to kill all Mystics that made him so strong. He was a killing machine when it came to fighting Mystics, as if he were searching for one in particular upon whom he could vent some deep inner anger on.
    "We were just talking about how Cyrus must hate it up in the castle. He's not the type for formal affairs like the Guardian Court. Doubtless, he is up to his eyebrows in supposedly gallant gentlemen wanting to duel and lovely gentlewomen who are all too eager to be the one who manages to finally bed our Hero. He is, rumor has it, a rare catch for any woman," Dane informed Fredrick as he handed Glenn the tin plate with steaming slices of meat and a cup of the same make with broth smelling strongly of garlic inside. Glenn accepted the fare gratefully, sat down right on the spot, and dug in.
    "Good luck to those women," Pendil replied, taking off his helmet to scratch at his sweat damp hair and ruffle it for the night breeze to cool. "I heard that the Hero's tastes run along a slightly different course from most men."
    "Wha dst thu men?" Glenn struggled around his mouthful. Seeing that no one understood what he was saying, he held up his hand for a pause until he finished chewing and swallowing his food. "I asked, what dost thou mean?"
    Fredrick shrugged nonchalantly. "Oh, nothing. I've just heard rumors that our beloved Hero," he seemed to want to spit the title but held back, "has higher ambitions then just any noblewoman of the Court."
    "You better not be saying what I think you're saying," Dane said softly, his tone dangerous. "Cyrus wouldn't do something like that, and you know it." He ignored Glenn's baffled look as he glared at Fredrick who only shrugged again.
    "Actually, I wouldn't put it past him," Pendil replied with a disdainful sniff. "Hero or not, under the armor, he's still a man with a man's passions. After all, like father like son. I'm not surprised that such disgraceful and dishonorable behavior runs in his bloodline."
    Now it was Glenn's turn to step up to defend his friend. "I know of not what thou hast spoken of, but I assure you, thou couldst not find a better man then Cyrus in a million years. He is the very soul of courtesy and honor."
    "Oh, so you haven't heard the rumor then?" Fredrick asked, immediately warming up to his audience. Glenn shook his head cautiously, not really wanting to encourage the spread of rumors about his friend. But he did want to know what this fellow Knight was speaking of. Dane turned his head away in disgust at the way Fredrick rubbed his hands together in glee at getting a chance to tell his little story. "Well, it goes kinda like this. Our so called Hero has no interest in the ladies of the Guardian Court because his tastes run along a higher course, specifically, royalty."
    "Royalty," Glenn repeated blankly, the full implications of that statement not setting in as fast as they would have had he been more awake. Some of the air was let out of Pendil when he realized that Glenn wasn't immediately shocked and outraged at the idea. Claudane came to his rescue with a sneer.
    "He means that Cyrus has a romantic attachment to my sister, the Queen."
    "What?!" Glenn exclaimed, now understanding what Pendil had been trying to say, indignation at Cyrus' slander blooming in his chest, working out of his mouth in angry words. "How darest thou suggest such a thing? May the tongue of who first spoke these lies turn black and rot from the villain's mouth!"
   "What you speak of is treason," Claudane added. "Should the Knight Captain hear about these rumors you're spreading, he will be very angry. You could lose your Knightship or worse, end up in the gallows."
    "It won't be I who swings from the gibbet if Cyrus' secret is discovered," Fredrick replied smugly. "And not even the King will be able to stop your sister's pretty neck from gracing the chopping block." With a growl of rage, Claudane leapt for the other man, punching him in the face. Fredrick went down and used his position to kick Dane's legs out from under him. The two knights started brawling on the ground like a couple of schoolboys before Glenn stepped in and tore the two of them apart.
    "Desist at once," Glenn ordered sharply. With shamefaced expressions, the two of them separated, still glaring at each other in ways that, had looks been able to kill, would have fried each other on the spot. "Such behavior is appalling for honorable men," Glenn continued, helping Dane to brush twigs and leaves from his cape. "If I were thee, Sir Pendil, I wouldst not be so free with thine accusations."
    "Defend him how you will, I speak the truth," Fredrick growled, replacing his helmet. "It does him credit to have friends willing to overlook his indiscretions. But do not let him drag your honor through the mud that will doubtlessly splash on his name when his secret is discovered. If you are his true friends, you will warn him away from such a dangerous pursuit." The silence that followed Pendil's words was pregnant with friction, both between the three men and inside their hearts. At last Fredrick broke the silence. "Claudane, I shall go sign us in with the officers on the night shift and let them know we are now taking up our watch period." He turned his body slightly as he stepped between Glenn and Claudane to make his way back to camp. The two friends watched him go, one with anger still fresh in his countenance, the other with worry.
    "I knew this was going to happen sooner or later," Dane muttered after the knight was out of earshot. In a burst of aggression, he slammed a fist into an unoffending tree. His metal gauntlet made a deep indentation in the soft bark, sap leaking from the gashes like blood in the faint light. The vibration went up Dane's arm and shoulder, causing a painful ache. Clasping his hand to his chest, he leaned his back against the tree and slid down, armor scraping off even more bark. "I saw the signs but I ignored them. I kept saying that something like this would never happen. I know that Cyrus is an honorable man and would never do something of this nature on purpose. But...damn me for a fool! I never realized until now that there was a danger of him actually falling in love with Leene or her with him."
    "Then...then these rumors are true?" Glenn asked, hesitantly. He felt his stomach clench for a moment in shock and dismay as Claudane nodded. Then, suddenly, his brows drew together and he closed his hands into fists at his side. "No! I canst not believe this of Cyrus. He wouldst never do such a thing!"
    "Do what? Fall in love with another man's wife? To fall in love with the Queen of Guardia, a woman who's husband is probably twice her age?"
    "He wouldst not do such a thing," Glenn repeated stubbornly. Dane shook his head, partly in wonder, partly in irritation at his companion's unflagging belief in Cyrus' goodness.
    "For crying out loud, Glenn! Cyrus is a man, not a god! He's not perfect. I think you regard him a little too highly, sometimes."
    "But...'Tis the Queen, thy sister, Claudane! Dost that not bother thee in the slightest?"
    Dane sighed and leaned his head back, looking up into the blackness that was the canopy of the forest above his head. "We can't always choose where we will love, and love her he must, for Cyrus is not the type to take advantage of her position or feelings for him."
    Glenn nodded, glumly. "True. The Hero he is, in spirit as well as in title." He reached for his cup of now cold chicken broth and grimaced as a layer of oil coated his tongue as he took a drink. Cold, it didn't taste as good as it would warm, but it was a rule in the army never to waste provisions and with the food shortage going on, Glenn had no choice but to eat the remainder of his meal, greasy or not. He ate in silence, his mind turning the distressing news he'd just heard over and over in his mind. It was almost unthinkable, really. He felt like a traitor to Cyrus for feeling so upset over this breach of knightly conduct. A part of him still couldn't believe that what Dane and Fredrick had said could be true and he encouraged that part of his brain to try and drown out the incessant whispering of his fears. What if they were right? What if Cyrus was not the person he had thought he knew? What if the Hero was nothing more then a mere man? Glenn chewed his venison and swallowed a little harder then needed to be done.
    He had always known Cyrus was simply a man acting under a grand title, just like the King was no more then a human under the crown and robes of state. But Cyrus had always seemed something more to Glenn. Mankind, he knew, was petty and base and filled with all the darker emotions that the world had to offer. But Cyrus had always seemed apart from all that. He had always been there for Glenn. He had always seemed like so much more, as if he were better then everyone else and was doing his best to try and raise everyone he knew up to his level. From the lively, sandy-haired youth he had known as a child to the grown man he was today, Glenn had seen almost every aspect of his personality and he had been quite positive that Cyrus was a man without flaw...until now. I shouldst not think these thoughts, Glenn berated himself sternly. 'Tis ill-becoming. Cyrus is my friend. Shall I let my trust in him waver because of some rumor that hast been spread to slander him? No, I shall not! I shall continue to place my faith in him, as is my duty to him. Glenn swore to go on with his life as if he had never heard all that had been said that night. He would continue to respect and, though he wouldn't admit it to himself, idolize Cyrus no matter what anyone else had to say.

    "Well, I'm glad to see that you two groups have improved since your first disastrous assignment," Slash commented with a curled lip. He was seated behind a desk, signing off military documents with a quill pen. The sound of his firm strokes on the parchment were the only noises to be heard in the room. Siphus the Gnawer and his aid, Slith, looked at their Grimalkin partners with disdain. The Grimalkins had the decency to look abashed by the remark. "Fifteen cargo wagons ambushed, the supplies either burned or taken to our larder. Very impressive for Mystics I had first dubbed as failures. Lord Ozzie is pleased by your success. You have done well."
    "We live to ssserve," Siphus hissed, returning his attention to Slash. "Will there be any further assignmentsss, Lord Ssslash?" When the blue swordsman shrugged a dismissal gesture, Siphus bowed his head. "Then my retinue and I shall retire to our quartersss till we are called." The group of Gnawers slithered out of the room, occasionally hissing or snapping at the Grimalkins along the way. The fur-and-feathered Mystics were about to follow when Slash's voice stopped them dead in their tracks.
    "I did not dismiss your lot yet," he said in chilling tones. The Grimalkins hurried back into formation and waited. Slash let them sweat for a while as he added his signature to yet another document. Tossing aside the quill negligently, he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. He looked over their manicured tips at the Mystics before him with an almost bored expression. Finally, he pointed at one of the Grimalkins. "You, come here." Hesitantly, the Mystic in question came forward. He circled around the desk to stand at Slash's left elbow. Slash stood up, his chair sliding backwards on the stone floor with a loud grating sound. While the others watched, he stretched, and yawned, and rearranged some papers...before drawing his sword with lightning accuracy and slicing the unfortunate Grimalkin at his side into two neat halves. The unlucky minion stood for a moment longer, a stunned look on his face before splitting in the center and falling to the floor in a mess. Whirling on the flabbergasted underlings that stood gaping at their dead companion, he thrust his sword out at them. "Cowardice is not and option in this army! The next time you all see fit to abandon a mission, it won't be just one of you to pay the ultimate price for failure!"
    "But our leader was dead!" someone whined in the back of the group, their fear making them not even bother to try and rhyme their words.
    "Are you all really so stupid? Do you really not have a back-up commander if such a thing occurs?" Slash demanded. When no one spoke, he made a noise of disgust. "Figures. Moronic, incompetent lackeys without a brain between the lot of them..." Eyeing his bloody sword, he held out his hand to the nearest Grimalkin. "Your badge of office. Hand it over." There was a ripple of movement as the group scrounged amongst themselves for their new bandana, the last one having been left on Neechar's dead body during the battle. The strip of cloth they handed over was yellow and white in a checkered pattern. The Grimalkin that gave it to Slash let go rather reluctantly, his face showing that he had some idea of what Slash was about to do and wasn't thrilled with the prospect. Slash snatched the cloth away and used it to clean the blood off his blade. There were a few strangled sounds amongst the Mystics before him. A few turned their heads away, eyes closed with shame and outrage. The rest lifted their heads as proudly as they could, refusing to show how deeply such a move offended their dignity. When he was done, the blue swordsman sheathed Slasher and held up the stained cloth for all to see before he carefully rolled it up and stepped up to the Grimalkin who had handed it to him.
    The Grimalkin shivered as the blood-wet cloth touched his feather and fur covered forehead. Slash tied it firmly around his head. He didn't have to ask for an explanation for why his superior had done that. The bandana was a symbol of leadership and he who wore it was the leader. The Grimalkins behind him dropped to their knees and bowed their heads to the floor in a gesture of worship and submission to their new commanding officer. Slash stepped back and crossed his arms. "From now on, I forbid you to wash that bandana. May the blood of your comrade serve as a reminder that failing to follow orders is punishable by death. Leadership is vital at this stage of the game and I'm not about to have a bunch of half-wits screw up this war that not only I, but many others as well, have been working so hard to win." The new leader of the Grimalkin unit nodded soberly. Unlike his predecessors, this one was smart enough to know that there was a time for words and fancy speeches. Now was not the time. Seeing that the new leader understood the cost of his leadership and the penalty should he not rise to fill his position, Slash turned his back on them. "Now get out and await for further orders in your quarters." The room was cleared in under three seconds, or so it seemed. Of course the idiots would be better at running then staying, he growled mentally, his insides seething with revulsion for their weak nature.
    Slash sourly looked down at the papers on his desk and arranged a stack of finished ones that needed to be sent out to the field commanders. On the papers contained new orders and some strategic plans that Ozzie had formulated and he had perfected. He contemplated sitting down for another couple of hours and try to put a dent into the remaining documents that awaited his signature. A pain behind his eyes changed his mind. He hated paperwork. It was a job for diplomats, bean-counters, and fat, useless oafs like Ozzie. He was a warrior, not a politician. Flea had gotten to see her share of the war, why not him? How long had it been since he had actually used his sword for more then practice and to scare a bunch of Mystic soldiers into doing their job? Patience, he counseled himself. Sooner or later, Magus is going to slip up and then you'll have all the fun your greedy black heart desires.
    Leaving the mess of papers on his desk, Slash hovered out of the room and into the hall. A few Henchs were lounging around, drinking beer and singing off key. When they saw Slash, a few even saluted as he passed. He ignored them, since they were below his notice. Other commanding officers might berate their troops for drinking while on guard duty, but not the Mystics. Slash believed in keeping the troops happy. Humans might follow orders without question, but some of his kind had problems with authority. It was much easier to just let them do what they want and then cast a mild sobering spell on them before battle. That way, no one could complain that they weren't being treated well in the army and the commanders still got the results they wanted. Ah, the rigors of efficiency! One of the Henchs held out a tankard of beer to Slash but he shook his head and waved it away. He had decided that he was going to go see Ozzie to discuss a few things with him and it was always best to have a clear head when dealing with the Leader of the Mystic Hoards. You never knew what sort of slimy thing he might pull when you weren't looking. Slash really didn't care to have Ozzie holding him by the nose and sending him off to do chores he'd rather not participate in, all because he had to keep his ambitions under wraps. As long as Ozzie felt reasonably satisfied with his supposed loyalty, the swordsman would be allowed to maintain his position in his leader's Court. But if any of his schemes were ever blown wide open, Ozzie would sick Magus on him so fast, he wouldn't even know what hit him and he was more then sure that Magus wouldn't hesitate to finish him off for good, the rebellious, bloodthirsty child.
    The corridors of the Fort were calm, surprisingly. Outside of the few odd Mystics he passed, Slash hadn't really seen anyone. Mystics didn't follow regular Human time frames. They slept when they were tired and ate when they were hungry rather then set an approximate time to do these things. The Fort could be found bustling with activity at almost all hours of the day. Right now, however, the halls were rather still. Too still. Something was up. Slash went ahead and teleported, since it was faster then going through the numerous corridors, and appeared directly outside Ozzie's throne room. Shoving one of the heavy double doors open, Slash slid in. The room was full of Naggettes and Groupies, all in their combat formations. Ozzie was speaking to them, but Slash wasn't really interested in what he was saying. His attention was focused on the figure who was lounging in the Mystic throne. Magus sat with one leg draped over the arm rest and was rocking back and forth on it, the gold cloth draped over it brushing the dusty floor underneath him. Slash felt a surge of resentment. How come Ozzie let him sit on the throne? The stupid brat. It was really unfair that such a less deserving person then Slash could dare soil the seat of all Mystic power. Ozzie had finally realized that his current second-in-command had entered the room and was now staring at Slash with annoyance at his intrusion.
    "You need something, Slash?" Ozzie demanded. "If you don't, then get out. I'm busy!" Slash shrugged his shoulders and rubbed a hand over his bald pate.
    "Don't mind me. I'm just wandering. I've got nothing better to do with my time these days."
    "Oh, poor Slash. Is Flea being difficult for you again?" Magus grinned wickedly. Slash gritted his teeth but Ozzie headed off what would normally be an argument. He glared at the young magician with thunder clouds in his eyes.
    "Stop baiting him, Magus," he commanded. "And get off my throne!" Magus rolled his eyes and stretched.
    "Why don't you come over here and make me, fat boy," he said under his breath.
    "What was that?"
    "Nothing," Magus replied innocently. Languidly, he rose to his feet like a cat. He sauntered over to the wall and leaned his back against it, crossing his arms and tossing his hair out of his face. His expression was carefully schooled into one of bored disdain. Slash checked an angry remark involving Magus' parentage and a goat. Instead, he listened to what Ozzie was telling the soldiers before him.
    "Okay. As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," he flashed Slash and Magus a cold stare, "this is not a normal assignment for you all. Usually I'd send a group of Outlaws for this job, but since we're short on good spies right now, and since there isn't anything we really need to know right away, I'm deploying you two groups for a night raid instead of a scouting mission. The enemy isn't expecting your attack so you should have a relatively easy time of getting the drop on them. If you're careful, that is. Just because we have surprise on our side, it doesn't mean that you all can go get reckless and spoil the whole mission."
    Slash only listened with half an ear. He was too busy eyeing the lovely young Naggette commander. He liked Flea, of course, and was loyal to her after a fashion. But his eyes did like to wander over female curves, even if it was only the upper half. The Naggette's name was Alassa, the only other female commanding officer besides Flea. Female Mystics were generally frowned upon as weak and useless, even though they sometimes had more brains then half an outfit of the male grunts. However, the only group that was even remotely tolerated were the Naggettes. These half snake and half humanoid Mystics were the female side of the Gnawer race. While Gnawers were fully snakelike, Naggettes only had their lower halves in reptilian form. Both were hatched from eggs but they never really interacted with each other except for mating. The females and males were separated from the clutch at birth and raised by the clan of whatever gender they were. The Naggettes had sharp fangs as well as long, deadly nails that were as hard as finely forged steel knives, thus giving them a reputation to be deadly and efficient fighters. Sometimes, their large hypnotic eyes and beautiful faces could lure a Human male into their traps before the Human ever realized that the whispering voice and the arms twining around his neck were not entirely of this world.
    "Your squad leaders have already been briefed with the information for the attack and will extend it to you when you reach the designated teleportation spot outside the Fort," Ozzie was saying as Slash dragged his mind out of the gutter and back to reality. "This is just a hit and run attack. Don't worry about taking prisoners or supplies. Just go out and have some fun tonight."
    "Sure thing, Lord Ozzie," Alassa replied, flexing her long-nailed fingers, making her knuckles crack with the unpleasant sound of popping bones. Slash saw Magus wince and shake his head, making a small snort of disgust that wasn't heard by Ozzie. It was obvious that he despised the way killing was such a casual occurrence amongst the Mystics. The blue swordsman gave a mental shrug. The Mystics weren't there to impress the Magus. He was there only to serve Lord Ozzie, the same as anyone else. If so many years of service hadn't shown the young man that by now, then he was more of a simp then Slash had ever supposed.
    "We pound da Humans flat for Big Boss Ozzie!" the Groupie squad leader, appropriately named Bruiser, said in a loud, bass voice. His words were harsh and sounded like guttural barks more then any recognizable language. His mouth was full of what Magus had described once as tusks and it hindered his speech greatly. Not that Bruiser had a lot to say. Groupies were a rather dumb lot. They weren't interested in conversation, only in smashing skulls. They were powerhouses in the strength department, and they had a little intelligence to allow them to follow orders if they were given one at a time. An overload of information would stump a Groupie completely and leave him standing there with his mouth open in confusion until he was able to sort it all out, that usually taking a few days. To Ozzie's credit, he new that the quick-witted Alassa would be able to keep control on the Groupie squad if she was careful and tactful about things with them. Usually the order to "kill the Humans" would be enough to send them off on a bloody rampage. Of course, making them stop and retreat was the hard part. That could take some furious screaming of orders until the words finally sank into the void that was a Groupie's brain.
    "Are there any questions?" Ozzie asked as he concluded the briefing. He swiveled his head on his fat green neck and looked over the assembly. Seeing no one raising their hands, he nodded and prepared to dismiss them to the battlefield when a shrill whistle pierced his eardrums like a knife. "Ouch! Slash! You could have just stated that you had a question," he snapped at the swordsman who looked anything but apologetic.
    "Can I go with them on this mission? I've been stuck in the Fort for practically this whole war. I want to see some action too!"
    Ozzie rubbed his forehead to try and dispel the sudden headache he'd acquired after that whistle. "I don't see why not. I don't have any immediate use for you at the moment. But be sure to come back in one piece. I've already lost Flea. I can't afford to lose any more of my good seconds-in-command."
    "Don't worry about that. I don't intend to become a corpse any time soon," Slash assured him.
    "Then go." Ozzie looked over his shoulder at Magus who was apparently drowsing against the wall. "Janus, my boy! Why don't you go with him?"
    "Why should I? I have no care for the outcome of this war," was the terse reply. It was spoken so promptly that it was clear that the magician was far from being asleep.
    "You haven't been out of the Fort since that last scouting mission. You need some exercise and fresh air. Don't want to be getting yourself fat and lazy, eh?" Magus bit down on a sarcastic remark about look who's talking, but instead he raised a hand, without opening his eyes, and brushed a stray hair out of his face and behind his ear.
    "I'm far from inactive, Ozzie. Your library has quite a few interesting books on sorcery to keep me busy, that is, if you'll let me have them. Every time I look for them, they turn up missing. But then, you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" The accusation in his words were clear and Ozzie could only grin and sweat.
    "Well, I was just worried about you, my dear boy. You spend your days reading those dreadfully boring tomes of lore for hours and hours...If you're not careful, all that reading will make you go blind."
    "That's highly improbable," Magus sniffed. "Besides, the books are just going to waste. You never read them. Just give them to me and let me have something to occupy my free time." Ozzie sighed and was now using both hands to rub his aching head.
    "All right, fine. You can have the books. I'll get some Henchs to help you carry them all back to your room."
    "Don't bother. I'll just use the library you already have," Magus disagreed. He knew that Henchs weren't the gentlest people in the world and with some of the books he was reading, one had to use extreme caution or else the pages would crumble.
    "Whatever," Ozzie grouched. "But I just want you to remember this favor the next time I ask you to go on a mission. I don't want to hear any whining or complaining."
    Despite himself, Magus couldn't help but give a small smile. "You won't. Trust me."
    "Well if that's settled, can we leave?" Slash demanded to know, impatience written on his features. "I'm not getting any younger standing here."
    "Yes, yes," Ozzie said, making shooing motions. "Go." He acknowledged Slash's bow and the various salutes and bows from his underlings with a nod of his head. Magus didn't see the Mystic swordsman flash him a look of contempt for wanting to read rather then fight, but he felt it nonetheless. Not that it much mattered to Magus, anyway. Slash was beneath his notice. His fondest dream was that someday soon, a report would come from the battlefield that Slash had been slain. Magus didn't care about the power he would gain if that happened. With Slash and Flea gone, it would just be him alone that Ozzie would be depending on to do his dirty work for him. And, if he wanted, he could easily take control of the Mystics from under Ozzie's nose before he knew what hit him. But Magus had no such grand aspirations. He had no use for an army or a kingdom such as this. The only kingdom that he was interested in ruling was the one from which he was born. Glorious Zeal Kingdom, the magical kingdom that floated on the clouds above the snowy Earth below. All the generations of magic users of the centuries had produced his people, making one compilation of magic that was unrivaled anywhere. And he was the prince of those people. Opening his eyes, Magus pushed away from the wall.
    Was the prince. Now he was nothing more then a lackey to a toad who should be serving under him! But that was all right. The books that he had asked Ozzie for could soon prove to be his key to leaving this dirty little world. He had happened upon them a few days ago when he had been called into Ozzie's little office to discuss why he had been in the woods by the enemy camp. Magus had easily lied that he was doing a little bit of scouting on his own. He knew Ozzie didn't buy it, but surprisingly, the Mystic leader didn't press the issue. Instead, he had thanked Magus for the initiative and sent him on his way. As he was leaving, he accidentally stumbled over a stack of books that were left carelessly on the floor. One of the books had fallen open, revealing a picture that had made his mouth go dry with sudden fear. A whisper of the Black Wind had blown through his mind as he gazed down on a shadowy creature surrounded by light burrowing it's way into the Earth's crust. In the deep recesses of his mind, he heard the screaming cry of that monster and felt the echo of a hunger so intense it would destroy all that came into it's path. It thick black strokes below the picture were archaic looking letters spelling the name: Lavos. Magus had fled the room and was shaking for many moments to come as old memories resurfaced. The chilling look in Queen Zeal's eyes as she had ordered Schala to use her pendant to power the Mamon Machine, the drained, dead look on his beloved sister's face, the sucking power of the Gate as it swallowed him up slowly, snatching him from everything he had ever known...
    After the initial shock wore off, he realized that the contents of that book and maybe many of the others housed in Ozzie's library could contain a recipe for a spell to send him back to his own time, maybe even create another Gate he could travel through. He had returned to the library to find Ozzie gone, along with the book he had seen. He knew the Mystic leader had taken the book, but he had no idea why. The only thing Magus could think of was that Ozzie was afraid of him learning what was inside the thick, leather-bound tomes that he now claimed were only "boring". Now that Ozzie had agreed to stop playing games and just give him free run of the library, he felt sure that the way back to his own time would shortly present itself.
    Magus watched with indifferent eyes as the two squads "went out to play." He noticed that Slash had wasted no time renuing aquaintances with the Naggette squad leader. Poor, crazy Flea. How she would fume if she could see Slash now. When they were gone, Ozzie floated back to his throne and sat down, the wood protesting under his weight. He caught sight of Magus still standing in the exact position he'd last seen him. He frowned. "Are you planning to stand there all night or is this some sort of adolecent protest? You got what you wanted. I hope you're satisfied."
    "Not completely satisfied," Magus admitted, walking closer to the green Mystic, "but I guess it will have to do...for now." There was an ominous sort of note in the way Magus said that. It made Ozzie's flesh prickle with goosebumps and an uncomfortable thought occured to him. Magus really didn't have to ask for anything he wanted. He could just take it by force. He knew Janus didn't work that way, his delicate sense of fair play wouldn't allow that. But still, it was unnerving to imagine. "I will need a place to practice spells sometime in the near future. The training grounds that Flea and I used to use are too small and too far from the Fort. I need something closer, preferably indoors with a good ventilation system."
    "My predesessor was a magician of considerable means at one point. I believe he had an underground lab somewhere on the premisis but I'm not too sure where it was. It might not be what you are looking for, but you can always use it for the time being untill something else can be arranged."
    "Thanks, Ozzie," Magus said sincerely. "Sometimes, very rarely, you do something that almost makes you seem...human."
    "Are you insulting me?!" Ozzie asked in outraged and wounded tones. Magus laughed and shook his head. Seeing that he was the butt of a cruel joke, in his opinion, Ozzie pouted. "Go on, get out of here! Go back to your dusty old books," he huffed.
    "I'm sure they'll enjoy my humor better then what you are," Magus shot back with another laugh. So saying, he executed a flashy little bow and vanished from view. There was no smoke or flash of light. He was just simply gone. Ozzie leaned back in his throne and stared at the spot Magus had occpied with an irritated look.
    "Back in my day," he said to the empty room, "children had respect for their elders and lackeys for their leaders. I swear! What is becoming of the younger generation these days?"


Chapter 21

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