The Story Of Magus Chapter 21

Thinking Things Over

By ZealPropht

    Magus yawned. He raised one gloved hand and blocked the view of his tonsils as he covered his mouth. Through blurring eyes he lowered his hand to the book before him and turned the page. His cheek rested against the back of his right knuckles since his hand was closed into a fist to support his head. His arm had long since gone numb, the blood flow having gotten sluggish somewhere near his bent elbow but he really hadn't noticed until now. Switching positions in the hard chair that was his seat, he stretched out his arm and gave a few experimental shakes until the circulation resumed it's normal path. Leaning his cheek into his left hand, he returned his attention to the book and it's black lines of text. However, someone kept messing with the oil lamps that illuminated the room. They kept getting dimmer and dimmer until they snuffed out and then they flared up brightly again. "Stop that," he mumbled irritably, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand to keep them open. "Just a little bit more." But it was no use. His eyes seemed determined to betray him by falling shut.
    Ozzie glanced up from the papers he was scribbling on and looked over the tops of his small spectacles that balanced precariously on his tiny, almost nonexistent nose. The gold rims flashed a bit in the light of the lamps and it threw little specks of reflected light on the dozens of books that lined the walls. Ozzie had left his throne room a few minutes after Magus had departed to return to his paperwork for the upcoming battles. However, upon arrival to his study he had found the young mage already pouring over the texts contained within as if he expected them to run away. The two had been there for quite some time now, each lost in their own pursuits. Ozzie was awaiting Slash's return to get his report on the battle while Magus seemed determined to read every book in the library in one sitting.
   Ozzie dipped his quill into the ink pot and added another stroke to the parchment he was writing on. It held a detailed battle plan with the position of both the Guardian army and his own. To Magus, who spared a moment's notice from his reading, it looked like the game the Imps played involving "exes" and "ohs." That game was hardly an interesting past-time and with a snort of disgust for his uncultured leader he delved back into the book he was reading. He hated this author with a vengeance. There was so much information to be gleaned but the writer had hidden it all within insufferably dry language that made reading near impossible without falling asleep. Most of it was nonsense or things he already knew or guessed. But he valiantly pressed onward in search of any sort of clue as to how he might once again return to his own time and leave these troubling Mystics behind him. He had already spotted a few references to Time Gates but had no clue as to how they worked or how to make one yet. He lowered his sight to yet another line of drivel he had come to expect from this particular author:

   In times past, many people have had cause for speculation about the mysterious earthquakes and volcanic eruptions that took place during the early years of our planet's creation. Modern science has determined that these are, in fact, natural occurrences and not the work of deities as we had first believed. The myth of the black God known as Lavos can now be laid to rest. There is no indication whether such a God existed.
   While prehistoric peoples once believed such natural occurrences to be the work of gods or divine spirits, the people of today know that there are reasonable explanations for such things. Definition Lavos: a word deriving from the two-part word that means "big fire". (See footnote on La and Vos) This comet, for it must have been one, crashed into the planet, bringing on an ice age that lasted for many years. According to recent excavations of the mountains, Human remains were found buried within, thus indicating that while this ice age lasted, Humans took shelter within the many caves through out the land. It wasn't until quite recently that the ice began to melt and Humans once again were able to live above ground. How plant life was once again able to spread through such a cold, dark land is not yet known. Scientists believe that at least one living plant survived to flourish and the world is now covered with that of it's kin. As to the current variety of plant life, that is yet another mystery to unlock.

   Ozzie was startled by the soft snoring that came from across the table. Magus, cheek cupped in his hand, had his eyes closed, lips slightly parted and the first beginnings of drool starting to form in the corner of his mouth. Ozzie couldn't help but smile at the sight. There he was, the most powerful magician the world had ever seen, dozing over a book, hair tussled like a tangled blue curtain around his face and down his back. Fighting back laughter, he reached over and brushed the feathery part of the pen he held across Magus' nose. There was a brief moment of stillness and suddenly the young mage sneezed himself awake. This time the Mystic leader couldn't hold back his laughter as Janus sat straight up in his chair and looked around wildly for a moment to get his bearings. "Go to bed, my boy," Ozzie chuckled, resuming his writing. "It's nearly sunrise. You can finish reading tomorrow."
   "I'm not sleepy," Magus protested as his rubbed his nose, some childish part of his brain kicking in. Probably due to his weariness, Ozzie thought to himself. "I want to finish reading this. I only have a hundred or so pages to go. I'll be done in a few hours. I'll go to bed then." He pulled the book closer to himself to see the words that swam together in his vision.
   "Nonsense. You're practically passing out right here on the table. I have work to do and your snoring is blowing my papers around."
    "I don't snore!" Magus argued in a huff, giving the best pout Ozzie had seen since the magician was just a little boy. Leaning back, he stretched the kinked muscles in his neck and shoulders, rolling them to relieve some of the strain. "Besides, who made you my nanny? Since when do you care about my sleeping habits?"
    "Since now," the green Mystic snapped, suddenly peeved. "I have battle plans to work on and watching you sleep is making me tired." To prove his point, he yawned wide, allowing Magus a good view of pointy teeth that were getting dull with age. "Besides, you're so out of it, I doubt you would feel it when your head hits the table top." Magus didn't move for a moment or two but finally sighed and placed a leather strip in the book to mark his place before shutting the heavy thing with a "thump."
    "You might be correct in saying that," the magician conceded. He pushed away from the table making a harsh sound with his chair on the stone floors. It made Ozzie's sensitive hearing slightly painful but it was over fast. "Perhaps a good sleep and a clear head will allow me a better understanding of this rubbish." He gestured at the impossible book he'd been reading with a flip of his hand. Ozzie tapped his pen against his chins thoughtfully.
    "What exactly do you hope to gain from them, my dear Janus? Is it some sort of spell you're after? A hidden treasure, perhaps?" Though his tone was innocent, Magus didn't like the crafty look in his supposed leader's eyes. It was too probing. Carefully he shrugged.
    "Nothing as grand as all that. I'm just trying to get a better understanding of history and magic in general. It gives me something interesting to do. It keeps me occupied."
    Ozzie snorted. "Hmph! Instead of wasting your time with these dusty books you could be out there doing the job I groomed you for. Battles don't fight themselves. I know I can't force you to do anything you don't want to do, but it's such a disappointment to see someone with as much magical talent as you going to waste."
    "I don't like fighting, Ozzie. I never have. I try to avoid it and only do it when it's necessary."
    "But you never really apply yourself," the other pointed out. "You already made up your mind that you don't like fighting and you never really gave it a chance to grow on you. Just like any art form, you have to practice it and study it with an open mind before you grow to get an understanding of it. It takes time and devotion for many years just to get a few simple moves mastered and we're not even talking about developing your own style yet."
    Magus leaned forward a little, getting into the discussion, despite being more asleep then awake. "Any idiot with a sharp object can kill. It's as simple as that. There is no art involved!"
    "Ah, but that is where you are wrong! To be a competent killer, one must have a certain degree of style and knowledge. Yeah, any buffoon can hack and bash at others and accomplish the same feat as a master swordsman. But in say, a tournament, who would be the crowd pleaser?"
    "The master swordsman?" Magus ventured. Ozzie spread his hands before him.
    "The answer is obvious, as you can see. Instead of making a mangled mess of his opponent, a true warrior would go for the swiftest, cleanest cuts possible, the ones that are most deadly. Later, if they are good enough, they can toy with their opponents but right now, I think we should just focus on the beginners." The Mystic leader paused and magicked up a tea pot and a couple of small bowls. As he poured them both some tea, he continued. "Now, some people take training to the extreme. In the case of Slash, he has very well rounded education concerning weaponry. He has made it a hobby of his to become a master of all weapons, not just his pet, Slasher. Most people don't bother with all that nonsense and they become proficient in one weapon alone, say, throwing knives for example. You seem to have chosen a scythe as your favorite weapon as opposed to your earlier preference of a sword. However, only knowing about fighting techniques and weapons isn't going to make you a good warrior. There is an emotional aspect to it as well."
    "Emotional aspect?"
    Ozzie stopped talking and regarded Janus for a while in thought as the young man sipped his hot tea from one of the bowls. Magus made a slight face since he preferred honey and lemon in his tea but it seemed that Ozzie liked it straight and plain. He still wore that look when the green Mystic answered, "Perhaps this is the most important part of any warrior's training and one that has been overlooked by your teachers. Before I go into that, can you give me a little idea of what you feel when fighting?"
    "Why?" Janus asked, blowing on his tea to cool it before he took another sip.
    "I've only seen you fight one battle and that was with Flea. I don't know what you're like out there against the Human army. I know you're not really as cowardly and weak as the troops snicker about you behind your back. So tell me, what do you feel when you fight?"
    Magus studied the bits of herb that floated in his tea. Not seeing any help there, he said, "I don't know. I never really gave it much thought."
    "C'mon, just try it. Think really hard."
    "Well, when I first started fighting, I felt...afraid."
    "Good, good," Ozzie beamed, urging his young companion to continue. "Don't be embarrassed. Just let it out."
    "Later, I felt kinda...I don't know. Angry, I guess."
    "Do you know why you felt angry?"
    "Yeah," Magus answered, a bitter look creeping into his eyes. "I didn't like what I was doing. I didn't want to hurt people, even if they were my enemy. I was angry that I didn't have the choice to walk away from the battle. I was trapped. It was either kill or be killed, as Drek pointed out. I don't think he ever said anything useful to me while he was alive besides that one piece of advice."
    "Anything else?"
    "I felt disgusted with my actions. I don't think I can ever get the feeling of fresh blood off of my skin. My clothes reek of it. There are stains from it on everything I own. Some of it is my own blood, but most of it is from those I have killed. That's part of the reason I started wearing these gloves." The magician held up his hands and rested his elbows on the table. He examined the rough leather that encased his slender fingers. As he had said, they too were smeared with a dark substance that had soaked into the very fibers of the leather and refused to budge.
    Ozzie nodded, also looking at Magus' hands. "I had wondered why you had taken to wearing them. I must admit, I was curious as to the reasoning behind the sudden fashion statement. I figured they helped cut down on wear and tear on your hands when using your scythe. I know I have seen Slash sometimes use gloves when wielding a heavier blade then he normally does."
    "That's part of the reason. But mostly I wear them because my hands are so covered with the blood of others that I can't stand to touch anything anymore. I feel so tainted. I can get over that feeling when I know I have a layer of leather between my loathsome touch and the object I'm handling. But it's hard, I will say that. And then the nightmares..." Janus closed his eyes in remembered pain as images rose up to haunt him.
    "I know about the nightmares, my boy. Remember, I'm the one who usually comes to the rescue when you get them. If I didn't, you'd probably blow up my poor Fort. I know she's not much, but the old girl is all I have, really." Ozzie noisily slurped down his tea and poured himself another shot. "But we're off the subject."
    "Yeah." Magus held his cooling tea in his hands, twirling the liquid a bit to stir up the herbs that had clumped on the bottom. "I think that I have learned that death is inevitable in war, whether I cause it or someone else, only if I do it, that person might die cleaner and quicker then if one of your cronies got hold of them."
    Ozzie nodded. "So in essence, you've learned to accept the fact that you must kill in order to survive."
    "I've learned not to put myself in that sort of situation where I'll have to do so," the magician corrected, setting his tea aside, no longer interested in drinking it. "Yes, if I have no other alternative, I will kill. But if there is a way that can be avoided, I'll take it." He watched as Ozzie contemplated those words before setting his tea on the table top also.
    "Well, you're halfway on the road to becoming a competent warrior, anyway," he said at last. "You need to work on that emotional aspect I was speaking of. You need...oh, how can I say this? You need detachment from the person you are fighting. You're too personal with them. You still think of them as a person, like yourself, don't you?"
    Magus blinked. "Well, yes, of course. It's hard not to notice that you're fighting someone who might have even been your friend had circumstances been different."
    "But that's the entire problem!" Ozzie declared, taking off his glasses to clean them on the front of his robe. "You're making this whole business more complicated then what it's worth. When you start thinking of the enemy as another living creature you're going to drive yourself to distraction with all the what ifs. What if that man I killed had a family? What if they'll starve now that he's gone? What if he's attacking me because I killed his family? What if? What if? What if?" The green Mystic shook his head and set his glasses down on the papers he had stacked. "You can't live your life like that. Already you've fallen into this annoying depression and guilt-trip. When you can look at your opponent as a target, a thing to be killed without hesitation, then you'll be the perfect warrior. When you can accomplish that, you'll find killing to be much easier."
    Magus said nothing. He played with a spare quill pen Ozzie had left lying on the table and his fingers rubbed up and down the feather. Part of him knew that what Ozzie said was true. He did get to close to the "target," as Ozzie called them. Too many times he had felt bile rise into his throat as he pondered the nature of the person attacking him, their motives, and what they were leaving behind. But to completely disconnect from them, to look at them as yet another part of the job he was sent to do, as if they had no souls of their own, no meaning...He might as well be killing a part of himself. To lose sight of the fact that these weren't shadows but people with thoughts and feelings was to virtually kill his emotions, and while he had already hidden most of them in the presence of the Mystics, he wasn't sure if he could do that to people so much like himself, even if they were magicless descendants of the Earthbound. In fact, he wasn't sure he wanted to...
    "I think that's enough discussions for tonight, Janus," Ozzie said, replacing his glasses on his almost invisible nose. "You go on to bed now and we'll talk some more later." Magus nodded and got to his feet. As he was leaving, he paused in the doorway.
    "Ozzie, how are the raids progressing?"
    "Raids?" Ozzie echoed slowly, making another mark on his paper. "Oh, those. Pretty well, I guess. We've decimated the Human's food supplies and fattened our own considerably. I don't think they can hold out much longer. That's why I'm testing out these night attacks. Soon, there won't be an army at all but a chaos fueled by hunger and fear. I'm sure by now they realize that they are fighting a losing battle. But Humans are persistent, like lice. You kill a few and there are more to take their place, a veritable infestation of them in a land that should be ours. But they will shortly fall before us. Survival of the fittest and all. You understand that, don't you my boy?"
    "Yes, I do," he answered. "Mind if I do some scouting tomorrow?" He expected Ozzie to look up at him in surprise but was disappointed. The Mystic leader kept scratching away on his paper.
    "What ever for? I thought you were finished helping the army."
   Magus assumed a thoughtful expression. "This conversation we had has made me become more aware of my place and what my duty is to you and to the Mystics. Perhaps you were right when you said I never really gave...killing...a chance." The word still stuck in his throat but Ozzie didn't seem to care. He didn't bother to glare at the young man but his irritation was evident in his voice.
    "Well, if you think you're up for it, then be my guest. Just don't get yourself into trouble. Now go to bed or go away because you're distracting me with your chatter." The finality in his voice left no room for discussion. Apparently Ozzie had decided the time he was willing to spend on the young man was over with and he was once again trying to fill the role of an aloof leader who has no patience for underlings. Magus gave his superior one last look before leaving. There the fat green Mystic sat, a figure of scholarly arts even though the magician knew differently. Ozzie cut quite the comical figure with his robes and pudgy fingers stained with ink, the tip of the quill pen tapping his pointed teeth as he thought what to write next.
    The halls of the Fort were bustling with normal activity as Magus wound his way through the many passages and cross-chambers to his room. The new one he had picked out worked much better for him than the old one he had spent his childhood in. Firstly, it was bigger and resembled more of a habitable living space then a dungeon cell. It had real windows with real glass to block the cold and a fireplace as well. He had a closet all to himself where he could keep a few weapons and his clothes. A large, four posted bed with canopy seemed to be the common trend in the larger rooms of the Fort and Magus didn't mind it one bit. It was much better then the hard cot he had been sleeping on for most of his life. This bed had heavy down quilts and a real feather mattress, not one stuffed with straw with rags for covers. But his pride and joy was in the form of an old antique dressing table with a mirror attached to it. Never having been very vain, Magus at first had seen it as an item of junk to be removed. But after a moment's thought, and a look at his reflection and the dirt smudges on his chin and cheeks, he decided that as bulky and obtrusive as the piece of furniture was, he'd keep it. He consoled himself that it was for cleanliness alone that he had kept it so he could tell if he missed a spot while washing and not some sense of conceit. Of course, he was starting to spend more time in front of the mirror, trying to untangle the knots and snags from his long blue hair with his fingers. One day, reflected, he'd need to steal a brush from somewhere.
    His chamber door opened at his approach, his magical aura being enough to trigger it's magical seal into unlocking. Stepping into the cool darkness of his room, he pushed the door shut behind him with his foot and felt the magical ward kicking back into place. Trespassers who were not actively invited to come into his domain would find themselves short-lived if they tried to break past that ward. No one had yet tried to do so, since no one really wanted to meet the Magus face to face. But he didn't feel like waking up dead one morning because some knife-happy rival of his decided to put a serious cramp in his style. So, he let the door take care of unwanted visitors while he slept soundly. But now that he thought about it, Magus realized that Ozzie somehow had a way of overriding his spell to enter his room, especially during the times when he had nightmares. Making a mental note to speak with Ozzie about that, the young warlock proceeded to strip.
    Sitting on the edge of his bed, he slipped off his boots and socks, letting them lay where they fell. Next to go was his shirt. He was careful as he pulled it over his head not to let his medallion get tangled up in the material. It thumped back against his chest as it slipped free from the cloth and felt cold against his warm skin. The last thing to go were his pants. He unbuckled his belt from which his sword hung in it's scabbard. He placed it on the bed within hand's reach. Okay, so he was paranoid about his continued good health. He couldn't be too careful in this day and age. Magus fumbled sleepily with the ties to his breeches and had them halfway undone when he just said skip it and left them on. They would be a bit uncomfortable to sleep in, but he was too tired to care. Throwing back the covers, he gratefully sank into the softness of his bed, snuggling into clean sheets and feather-down quilts. Within a few seconds, he was asleep. And while he slept, he dreamed...

    "Lord Ozzie, I have returned from the night's activities," Slash announced, strutting into the room with as much vigor as someone levitating could muster. From his position a few inches above the floor, he gave a bow and remained that way till Ozzie acknowledged him. Unlike other times when the fat green Mystic liked to torment his captain and let him stand there for a few minutes, he decided to cut to the chase and allowed him to rise. He didn't look at his captain but continued to work on the papers that sat in front of him.
    "So how did it go?"
    "Pretty good. The Humans didn't expect us, of course, and so we killed a fairly good number of them before we retreated. Sub-commander Alassa is truly a fine example of female leadership. Such fine control! The way she breached their flanks and rampaged across their tender spots until they were begging her for mercy...What rapture it was!"
    "I'm sure," Ozzie remarked with a slightly curled lip, looking up to take in Slash's dreamy tone of voice and cloud-nine expression. "I ask about the battle and you give me details on your extracurricular activities. I never could understand how you could take such pleasure in carnage and mix it so closely to those of the flesh."
    Slash grinned and sat down in the seat Magus had occupied earlier. "What can I say, my lord? War is my mistress. I am but her slave. She can whip me all she wants, I won't complain. I live but to serve her and her cause. She always repays more ways then one." Reaching out a hand, he lifted the book Magus had been reading and glanced at the spine for the title. "What is this?"
    "It's called a book, Slash," Ozzie told him gently, with undeniable sarcasm in his words. "It has words in it and it usually tells a story. And guess what? Sometimes, it even has pictures you can look at."
    "Big fat waste of time," the Mystic swordsman grunted, tossing the book back onto the table, purposefully ignoring Ozzie's biting words. "Who needs such rubbish? Reading is for weak do-nothings like our dear friend the Magus."
    "A lot can be learned from books," Ozzie mused, looking around the library. "I used to read a lot before I became Mystic Leader. Now, there doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day. That, and no good books have been written in decades. It's all this romantic garbage that Humans seem to like. You know the type. All about Knights rescuing their fair damsels from the clutches of the evil Mystics or some other such supposedly horrid monster. I miss the good old days where people had good taste."
    "That is a matter of opinion. I've never read a book in my life and look how smart I am. Why, I'm a veritable fount of genius," Slash argued, waving at himself. Ozzie raised one eyebrow and looked over his captain dubiously.
    "Somehow, I'm having a hard time believing that statement," he said at last, much to Slash's chagrin. He placed one arm behind his head and rubbed his neck thoughtfully as he watched Ozzie spread sand over the parchment he had just finished writing on so the words would dry faster.
    "What's that?"
    "What's what?"
    "The stuff you're writing down."
    "Oh, this?" Ozzie held up one of the pieces of paper. "These are orders to the troops at Zenan Bridge. They seem to be getting lazy over there. They are letting a lot of good Human corpses go to waste. They should be turning them into Decedents instead of letting the Humans take them away to be buried or burned. I mean, honestly! What's the point of having necromancers out there if they aren't doing anything? They seem to think that because we are the Mystics, our numbers are limitless. Sometimes, Magus' reputation can have a downside. Our people seem to think that as long as he's with us, we can always win."
   "Can't we?" Slash asked in dead tones, staring at nothing in particular on Ozzie's desk, his face unreadable. "I remember a time when they used to feel the same way about Flea or myself. Hell, they even thought the same way about you for a while, and that is saying something."
   "Thanks bunches," Ozzie snapped. "Don't hurt yourself trying to be nice."
    "Don't mention it," the swordsman said, oblivious to the comment's true intention. Ozzie sighed and wondered why he bothered at all. "But don't you see what I'm driving at? Our people are more in awe of the Magus then of their true leaders. We issue orders and they follow them, but in who's name do they fight now? Not yours, that's for damn sure. The Humans hate us, but for different reasons then they used to. It's no longer a simple matter of 'the Mystic army' but 'the Magus' army.' That's a scary thought. Somewhere, we lost control of the situation and now we're the ones treading in his wake. He's taken control without even trying. I've tried my whole damn life to do just that and what do I have to show for it? My partner is incapacitated and he has me in check because of his magic." Slash lowered his eyes and shook his head in disgust. "You were right when you told me that he was a force outside of my league. I can't fight him in the same way I fought against you."
    Ozzie put his pen back into the inkwell and leaned back in his chair, his great bulk sticking out in all directions. "I know what you mean. Magus told me once that despite the fact that you and I had supporters who would ban together against him if the need arose, he could muster enough supporters of his own to wipe out any resistance from us. And you know what? The sad thing is, he was correct when he said that. I doubt that either you or I, or even Flea for that matter, have a handful of supporters left." The fat Mystic reached for a small hand towel and wiped ink off his pudgy fingers that looked rather like small green sausages. He seemed to forget the fact that he'd been using his robes for the same purpose all evening. "I've never told this to anyone, least of all Magus, but this is something that I feel I can say to you."
    Slash leaned forward, his expression serious. Ozzie never confided anything in him, least of all something he chose to conceal from Magus. "Go ahead, lord," he replied. "I'm listening."
    "Before Magus came, we were just a bunch of Mystics striving to survive in an otherwise Human world. We lived in uneasy peace with the Humans and despite talk of war, we never did anything more serious then rob a few stray villagers. And then, a strange boy with blue hair and powers like we've never seen waltzed into our lives. Since then, things have slowly gotten out of hand and I don't know how. But there is one thing I can be sure of, and that is the fact that it took one young man to turn us do-nothings into do-somethings. We've increased our gold and food supplies beyond out wildest dreams. We're actually seeing our dreams of glory fulfilled. We're even going so far as to fight together as a unit instead of separate parts of one main group and dammit, we're starting to give a rat's ass for each other. Our troops are actually smiling. They are going to their tasks happy for a change. They want recognition for their deeds now. In the past, a simple little speech or plaque was enough. But now, they want real recognition, real rewards for their efforts. And you are right when you say that our people no longer look to us as their guides. They look to Magus now because he took the Mystic Hoards and made something out of them, which was something I could never accomplish."
    Slash was speechless at this declaration from his lord and felt incredibly lost and alone for the second time in his life, the first having been when Flea had been so badly wounded that time at Magus' hands. He had never imagined that Ozzie would ever open up to him like this, seeing that they were not exactly friends. But for some reason, he didn't mind it. Once, long ago it seemed, he would have used this type of situation against his lord. But now...
    "In a way, I can respect Magus for his intuition and charisma. He's done things that I know now that I would never have been able to do on my own. And at the same time, I can't help but hate him for taking my powers of leadership away from me. He's reduced me to his level." Ozzie shook his head. "No, I'm below his level now. Our roles are reversed. He's the one who truly matters around here. It doesn't matter that he doesn't actively do anything for this army. He doesn't have to. His mere presence alone is enough to inspire the lowliest soldier amongst us to action for a cause that is now dubbed as his. You and I do the real ruling around here, but he gets the credit for it now. That is a big slap in the face to us both."
    Slash could only nod in agreement. He wanted to say something but he didn't know what. So, he kept quiet and listened to the little clock somewhere in the library chime the hour. Five bells. The sun would just be starting to rise over the ravaged remains of a section of the Guardian army that he and the other two groups had attacked. He thought back to the battle. It was hazy in his mind, like a euphoric dream. He rarely remembered anything about the fights he was in except for the fact that they had all been good. But something stuck out in his mind. He hadn't noticed it at first. It had taken Ozzie's revelation to get him thinking about the issue. Somewhere in his mind, he recalled hearing their troops chanting some catch phrase that he'd never heard before. As the words came back to him, he felt his face darken. The chant had gone something like, "Hut, Sir Magus! Tut!" or some other such nonsense. He couldn't remember clearly. But they chanted it as they sliced down the Humans. The Humans themselves had been screaming, "Death to Magus' troops!" as they fought. Ozzie was right when he said that Magus was afforded the credit that their blood and tears had bought.
    "By your leave, Lord Ozzie, I will retire to the baths and then to my quarters. I'm quite exhausted from the battle," Slash said quietly. Ozzie looked at him with something like worry on his face.
    "Are you feeling all right? You've never complained about weariness after battle before. You're not wounded are you?"
    "No. It's not the physical type of weariness. It's mental, I think. We've talked about some pretty deep stuff and I think my brain is overloaded right now. It's depressing to think that everything we worked so hard for is all due to one upstart rabbit." Getting up, the Mystic swordsman bowed and backed out of the room, shutting the doors behind him.
    Ozzie sat there quietly for a while, just listening to the tick-tock of the clock that had chimed earlier. It was a rhythmic sound that made his thoughts all the more funereal. He wasn't getting any younger, he was middle-aged as the Humans called it. He had lived a long and productive life. In his day, he had been one of the more feared and respected leaders. Now, he was little more than a servant to a master who didn't even know he was one. Part of him whined pitifully that this wasn't fair in the slightest. But somewhere, deep inside, he felt a little pang of satisfaction. He had succeeded in his quest to make Magus the ultimate fighting machine, even if he was reluctant on that score, and what's more, he was strong both physically and mentally. Yes, he was still naive in the ways of the world. He still saw the world as a place that was full of opportunity and equality. Ozzie knew better. The world was not so forgiving. One had to make one's mark in history or one would swiftly be removed by someone better qualified.
    Straightening his stack of papers, the Mystic sighed. Well, he couldn't have asked for a better person to serve. Magus wasn't like Ozzie or his people. He was harsh and arrogant but he was also fair and didn't punish people unjustly. And, he admitted, his fame would probably indeed lead them all to victory in whatever he set his mind to do. However, there was still the matter of the Trial of Succession. All Mystic leaders had to pass it. Usually, the Trial was a simple battle between the old leader and the one who was trying to take over the throne. This generally resulted in the death of the old leader. Ozzie knew that one day, he would probably have to relinquish his tenuous hold on his position to a rival who was younger and stronger then he was, and while he didn't relish the idea of dying, he had accepted it as fate. But with Magus, he wasn't sure if that option was the only one to be had.
    He already knew that he was outclassed in everything where the young warlock was concerned. His body was no longer conditioned for fighting and magic had never really been his strong point either. If Flea had been so easily defeated, he had no doubt in his mind that he wouldn't stand a chance in a confrontation one on one between himself and the magician. However, intelligence was a battle ground that Ozzie felt more sure of himself. That was why he had kept Flea and Slash around for so long. They were his strength where he was weak, just as he was their brain. They couldn't function correctly without each other. Magus' greatest problem, in Ozzie's opinion, was that he thought too much on nothing at all. His mind was swamped with little things that a true leader shouldn't worry about. Things like friendship and trust and honor were concepts that could not be afforded to someone who had to remain strong at all costs. Ozzie knew that without his guidance, Magus had little chance of surviving long in a leadership position. Yes, fear was on his side, but there was more to it then that. Respect for power was something that Magus had to understand. You can't rule when your people don't respect your authority. After the war, what then? When the troops no longer could use him as their figurehead, he would find himself with a bunch of disgruntled Mystics who would run amok if not properly controlled. That was where Ozzie would step in.
    To avoid death, since that was the only other option for him if he chose to follow Magus, he would become his councilor of sorts. He would give the boy all his many years of wisdom and he would fashion Magus into the leader he had the potential to be. But first, the Trial had to be passed. There had to be some way to test Magus' devotion to the Mystics. He had to get rid of the weak Human side he was displaying as of late. It would be seen by others as problematic and erratic, two things that weren't good for establishing a reputation as leader early on. Ozzie mulled over the old idea of pitting Magus against the Guardian's famous Hero. That in itself would be an interesting match-up since there was a fairly equal chance that either side could win. All Ozzie had to do was find a way to arrange it...But that was enough thinking for one night. Magus and Slash had the right idea about going to bed. He yawned and rubbed his eyes, deciding that sleep sounded like a good thing to do right about now. Extending a bit of energy, the fat Mystic vanished to his bed chamber.

    Dreaming was something Magus had grown accustomed to. Usually, his dreams involved either Schala or ghosts of the people he had killed. But this was not a regular dream. In fact, it was very peculiar in nature since his dream patterns rarely deviated off their normal and consistent course. What he saw in his mind, as his body tossed fretfully in his bed, were two shadows having a battle atop a high and windy place. There were onlookers to this battle, but how many there were and even where they were was unknown. He sensed much anger and hurt radiating from these two combatants as they hacked at each other with their weapons. To say they were fighting was not correct. The shadows seemed to want to do as much damage to each other as they could with little rhyme or reason to their movements. It seemed as if they weren't very rational. Emotion was probably clouding their thoughts, some small part of Magus mind informed him.
    Blows were exchanged, but the shadow's physical bodies were not the ones being harmed. It was as if the shadows had shadows that represented their spirit selves. Though the shadow bodies ran with blood, it was their souls that bled the most. The more they fought, the more ragged their souls became. Eventually, the two began to slow down, their movements getting more and more sluggish as their lives drained away. For some reason, Magus had the distinct impression of ink running down a sheet of white paper and yet in his mind, he called it blood.
    At last, the fight drew to a close. One of the shadows saw an opening and it drove it's weapon into it's opponent's body. The shadow was pierced through the middle and slumped forward into the arms of the other. The weight forced the weapon back into the winner. Suddenly, Magus saw the weapon for what it was: a double sided sword. The blade went into the first shadow, locking the two together. They stiffened with shock, both victor and loser impaled and almost embracing, holding each other's arms in desperation as they sank to the ground. Behind them, their souls fluttered like ragged flags in a breeze. The Black Wind, the magician thought suddenly, was blowing, signaling their defeat. They fell apart then, their weapons disappearing. Magus heard heartbeats slowing in his ears as they reached for each other's hands. Their fingertips brushed. They wanted to be forgiven and to be able to forgive each other. But there seemed to be nothing but emptiness between them. The gap loomed large and uncrossable and no forgiveness in the universe could overcome it. And thus, they died, or so it at first seemed. In the last instant, the winner of the battle struggled to it's feet and limped out of Magus' line of vision. But something had changed about it. While it's companion lay on the ground defeated, the dead shadow's soul fluttered forlornly like a dying bird. The shadow walking away was completely alone, and in the place where it had once appeared dead, lay it's soul, a mangled mess that looked like so much discarded waste. In his mind, the warlock reached out his hand and touched the dead soul. It felt faintly warm and wet. It was disgusting and he jerked his hand back.
    That was the end of the dream and Magus drifted off into a normal, healing sleep. The event was promptly forgotten and shoved into the dark recesses of his subconscious. And when he awoke late that afternoon, he had no recollection of anything unusual taking place the night before. The only question that went through his mind as he got washed up was how in the world he had gotten a black, ink-like substance on the fingers of one hand when he had been wearing gloves the day before?


Chapter 22

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