The Story Of Magus Chapter 22

The Day of Destiny Approaches

By ZealPropht

    "Dum, da, dee, dum," went the Imp who was the new door operator for the Fort. He sat on a stool, swinging his feet back and forth, humming tunelessly. His predecessor had met with an unfortunate accident, though he never discovered what it was. All he knew was that it had something to do with the Magus. All day long, the Imp would let people in and out of the Fort via the two great double-doors that served as the main entrance and exit. He had taken great care to be polite to them all. It was an honor to be serving such high and distinguished people. Why, in the past twenty-four hours, he'd let the great swordsman Slash in and out twice! What greater thrill was there for someone who would usually spend his entire life living day by day in the forest, robbing whatever stupid Human happened to stray from the path? But there was one person he had yet to come across and that was the Magus. Oh, he had seen the blue-haired warlock from a distance and had always admired him for his powers. But he always feared that he would meet with the same fate as the former door attendant. Now, maybe the other Imp had caught Magus on a bad day. Maybe Magus just had a thing against Imps in general. Whatever it was, it made the current doorman edgy and nervous and he tried to avoid door-duty as much as possible. Unfortunately for him, it was during his shift this day that the Magus decided to come by.
    When he appeared at the top of the stairs, the Imp felt faint. His heart fluttered in his chest madly and sweat broke out on his forehead. He had already been spotted and it would look bad on his record if he were to run away as fast as his stumpy legs could carry him. That, and he was sure that the Magus wouldn't take kindly to a person trying to shirk their duties. He would probably be killed on the spot. So, when the magician was closer, the Imp hopped off his stool with as much dignity and professionalism as an Imp could muster and grabbed hold of the large rings used to open the doors. Tugging with all his might, they creaked open, allowing a clear exit way. Magus didn't even seem to notice he was there, which was just as well. But as he walked through the doors, the Imp heard him say, "We'll be a little faster next time, won't we." It was a statement, a command even, not a request.
   "Yes, sir! Absolutely, sir!" the Imp babbled, falling to his knees and making worshipful gestures to the warlock's back. "Take care and have a good day, Sir Magus!"
   Magus smiled secretly to himself, delighting in the Imp's discomfort. He knew it was spiteful to tease the little Mystic so, but he was feeling playful today. Under his arm, hidden by his cape, was a bag of food that he had taken from the larder. Inside were a couple loaves of thick, dark bread, a wheel of cheese, jerky, a small jug of cider and a flagon filled with a pint of ale. No one had questioned him when he had demanded the food be handed over to his care. If they had dared to ask, he would have coldly informed them that it was to be his fare while out scouting today. But no one did ask, which suited Magus just fine. If anyone knew what his true intentions were for the food, they would lock him in the deepest dungeon they could find and throw away the key. He had a pact to keep and it was high time he did something more then gripe about how unwanted it was.
   He didn't immediately teleport as he usually did. Instead, he chose to walk through the forest that surrounded the outside of Ozzie's Fort. The trees grew thickly together, blocking most of the dim sunlight that penetrated the ever-present mist that encircled everything like a pale blanket. The trees themselves were pine and cedar and their fresh, earthy smell filled his nostrils and cleared his head. Underlying it was the salt tang of the ocean that lay on the other side of the woods. The forest floor was covered mostly with pine needles that deadened all sound as he strode purposefully through the woods. No birds lived this deep in. They preferred to stay closer to the outer edges of the forest where there was more light. Walking like this gave him a chance to ready himself to face Cyrus and put on the mask of his former persona. The innocence of Janus was far removed from the more worldly aspects of the Magus and he had to draw a careful line between the two. It was becoming more and more difficult to go back to his old ways, he realized. Now, threats of violence seemed to accomplish more then mere talking. That was the way of the Mystics, the way of the Magus. He had to be careful not to slip up and accidentally revert to his new self while in the middle of a conversation. That would blow the game right out of the water and leave him in a situation he would rather never have to deal with. What a sad world it was to have to pretend to be the person you really are on the inside when on the outside, people see you as something completely different. Ack! He just confused himself! Everything was so complicated in this place! How he missed the good old days of his youth, even if it was filled with milking cows and washing dishes.
   At least things made sense back then, he reflected, pushing a low hanging branch out of his way. It snapped back into place when he let go and almost hit him in the back of the head. It grazed his hair, leaving a glob of disgusting tree sap in it's wake. Gritting his teeth, Magus ignored it and resumed his earlier thoughts. He never had questions about who he was. He had been a prince, denied his kingdom by a cruel twist of fate. Now, he wasn't sure what he was. He wasn't a Human, he wasn't a Mystic, he wasn't a prince. What he was, was deeply confused and drifting in a limbo between all three things. He was a Magus, though he didn't feel like he imagined one would. The word itself was ominous and shadowy and seemed like the type of role for a villain. But he wasn't evil, at least, not the way he saw it. Evil was a state of mind. He didn't think evil thoughts and while he did some really bad things, he didn't actually take pleasure in doing them. In his muddle way, Magus figured that as long as he didn't like doing bad things, he couldn't be considered truly bad himself. That fact had been his comfort all these long, dark years. The day he lost touch with that side of his humanity, he would be the Magus completely, body and soul. That thought scared him very much. He didn't like being some figure of ultimate power and all-consuming darkness. It sounded more like a part a creature like Lavos could play. He just wanted to be left alone to pursue his quest for information on Time Gates so that one day, he might return to his real home and the people he cared for and who cared for him.
    A roost of bats were disturbed as they hung in the trees and they fluttered around fearfully until he passed. It took him a few hours, but he eventually reached the beach outside the woods. The waves lapped against the sand, making little ripple patterns when they left. A crab was scuttling by and bumped into his foot. He looked down at it and it looked back up at him, it's eyes waving around on their stalks. "Shoo," he said, "before I get it into my head to eat you for supper." But the crab sat there, just watching him, it's eyes moving in different directions. Shaking his head in amusement, Magus carefully stepped around it and moved on. When the surf was gently lapping at the toes of his boots, he teleported to the blackened tree outside the Guardian camp. His first thought was too look around for danger. His spell shield was erected and there was no way that a stray arrow could reach him. When he was reasonably sure that he wasn't going to be made into a pincushion, he dropped his barriers and settled down to wait. He set his bundle on the ground next to him, making sure that it was sealed so that no moisture or hungry little animals could get in. Lord only knew when Cyrus might show up. The last time he had visited this spot, he had waited for several long minutes to no avail. For a moment, Magus wondered if Cyrus even came back to this place at all. Maybe he had forgotten about their promise or never really intended to follow it up.
    "That's ridiculous," he scoffed out loud at his own worries. "Cyrus wouldn't do that, if only for the simple reason that as a warrior, it would be his duty to keep an eye on me. I am in the enemy army, and he would be a fool to not see the potential advantages I could give to his side. I must be a veritable well of knowledge to him, my inside info just waiting to be drawn up." Picking up a stick, he commenced to break it into several smaller pieces. Not a wise thing, he knew, since it made noise and he didn't want to attract attention to his presence. But he was a magician, after all. He could take care of himself if the need arose.

    "Welcome back, Cyrus," Dane greeted his friend, clasping his arm warmly. "Palace life agrees with you, it seems." Cyrus shook his head ruefully, tossing his hair out of his eyes with the gesture.
    "Honestly, I have never been more happy to get away from a place in my whole life! I was so stifled there! No one really understands the trouble our kingdom is facing. They all try to pretend like this is a temporary situation that will disappear the next morning. I was glad to finally leave."
    "How were their Majesties when you left?"
    "His Majesty was quite well, but he has been coming out to fight on the field, or so I heard. Is this true?"
    Dane nodded, noting how his friend carefully stepped around the fact that he had asked about BOTH of their Majesties, not just the King. "It's true. He's not the greatest fighter in the world, but it does our hearts good to see him standing down the enemy right along side of us. It's a nice feeling to know that just because he's the King, he doesn't feel in any way above us. He's right there with us, willing to die for his Kingdom. I tell you, Cyrus, it makes a body proud to be serving such a man."
    "Aye, that it does, my friend. That it does."
    The two Knights moved through the camp as they talked. All around them were the normal sights and sounds of an army. Troops that were moving out were striking their tents. Yet others were sharpening their weapons. Some swords and armor were being repaired by the many blacksmiths that were being drafted in from all over the kingdom. Several of the younger soldiers and Knights came up to form a bit of a procession after them. Cyrus was a famous man to them and they wanted to be as near to him as possible for even one glimpse of the person who had single-handedly defeated the Frog King and won back the legendary Hero's Medal. The Medal itself sparkled upon his breast like a second sun.
    "Afternoon, Sir Cyrus," called someone. Cyrus turned to the left and raised a hand in a brief wave.
    "How's it going, Sir Cyrus? Enjoy your stay at the Castle?"
    Again, Cyrus turned to the speaker, this time to the right, and waved. "Everything is fine with me. I had a great time visiting their Majesties. They send the army their best wishes." And so it went as Dane and Cyrus meandered around until they finally located Glenn. He was near one of the cooking fires, stuffing his face as if he hadn't eaten in years. Fredrick Pendil sat not too far away, watching the young man wolf down his food with a mixture of disgust and amusement. Glenn was oblivious to anything besides his bowl of mutton stew, however. Cyrus felt a pang of concern. Did Glenn get enough to eat while he was around? The green-haired young man always said that he wasn't very hungry and insisted that Cyrus take his own portions of food as well as the ones that had been set aside for the Hero. Was he just saying that out of one of his wild senses of loyalty and responsibility for his friend? And now, with the food shortage on, that meant even less rations for them both. The Hero felt a pang of guilt as he thought once again on how he really didn't deserve such a good friend.
    Stopping a little ways behind him, Cyrus said, "Slow down, Glenn, or you'll choke." Glenn nearly toppled over, almost upsetting the bowl he had balanced on his knees. He set the dish aside and leapt to his feet. When he saw Cyrus, he ran over to greet him.
    "Hail and well met, my dear friend," Glenn beamed. "I had not expected your arrival to have been so soon else I wouldst have greeted thee at the mouth of Guardia Forest. I see thou hast returned in better spirits then whenst thou departed from our midst." He tried not to notice the way Cyrus blushed slightly and rubbed the back of his head, not meeting his eyes.
    "Yeah, their Majesties were very warm and friendly. I deeply appreciated their hospitality," the young Hero said softly. There was a rude snickering behind them and they all turned to see Fredrick polishing his breast plate with a soft rag.
    "Tell me, in what spirits did you find Her Majesty?"
    "Fair, Sir Pendil," Cyrus stated coldly.
   "Only fair?"
    "You sound surprised," Cyrus noted. "May I ask why?"
   Fredrick shook his head with a small, secretive grin. "I had not expected Her Royal Highness to have been only fair of spirits when you arrived. I thought she would have been overjoyed that the great Hero had come to pay her a visit."
    "Watch it, Pendil, or you'll be eating the sole of my boot as I kick your teeth in," Claudane growled warningly. Glenn gave one firm nod of his head to say that he was behind Dane one-hundred percent. But Cyrus put a hand on each of their shoulders to calm them.
    "And in what spirits was the Queen in when you departed?" Fredrick continued as if there had been no interruption. Cyrus' face was like stone.
    "Poor spirits, Sir Pendil."
    "Why poor?"
    "She knew that I was returning to the battlefield. She asked that I give her brother her love and her best wishes to the army in the upcoming battles."
    Fredrick gave a mock look of sympathy. "Aww, no words of love to you, Sir Cyrus? No wishes for the best?" His countenance took on a sadistic look. "Not even a thank you for services rendered?" That was too much for Dane to handle. He lunged at Fredrick, shouting obscenities while Cyrus had to use his whole body to hold him back. Glenn reached out to steady his friend and got his hand slapped away for his troubles. Dane struggled against Cyrus again, trying to reach the object of his hatred. Fredrick raised an eyebrow. "Let him go. I could use a good fight to warm my blood."
    "Enough, Fredrick!" Cyrus snapped over his shoulder, still trying to keep the two men apart. Finally, Dane straightened up and pushed Cyrus roughly away. He strode up to Pendil and got right in his face.
   "This isn't finished between us," he spat before walking away furiously. Pendil wiped some spittle from his face with the back of his arm and smiled mildly.
   "Was it something I said?"
    "You bastard," Cyrus whispered through white lips that were pressed together in a hard, straight line. "If we weren't in a war already, I'd kill you for saying such things. How dare you spread such filth about our Queen! She is the noblest and most caring creature on the face of this earth and you dare defile her good name with such lurid rumors?" At his side, Glenn was quaking with fury, too angry to speak. His fingers curled around his sword hilt and reflexively squeezed the hard metal, itching for the chance to draw it and carve Fredrick to little bits.
    Fredrick shrugged. "It's not my fault the King chose a harlot for a wife or named a disgraced peasant as a Hero." Glenn could abide quietly no longer. He stepped in front of Cyrus, head lowered, eyes blazing, looking like a bull about to charge.
    "Stand back, Cyrus, and I shall smite this cur in the name of Her Majesty." For once, however, he didn't wait for Cyrus' approval before he spoke again. "Pendil, ere this day is through, I shall see thee eat thy words using thine own blood to wash it down. I challenge thee to a duel of arms."
    "What are you doing?! You know the army regulations forbid dueling while the war is on! Glenn, stop!" Cyrus commanded but his friend was tasting bloodlust in his heart and would not be swayed by reason. Instead, he nearly ripped his blade from it's scabbard and held it before him, ready to fight.
    "Draw thy sword, if thou be'est a man!"
    Fredrick ran a hand through his hair and laughed. "I don't fight boys, my friend. Come back when you're a real man."
    Glenn narrowed his eyes and gave a venom-laden look to the other Knight. "Then thou art a coward as well as a slanderer. You wanted a fight and I aim to give one to thee! En guarde!" Now it was Pendil's turn to look furious. His sword was out in a heartbeat and it clanged against Glenn's with a harsh, musical sound. The smaller man was forced back a step by the ferocity of the swing. But then, he tensed his arms and set his jaw, determined not to lose ground before Fredrick. Cyrus grabbed on to his shoulders from behind and tried to drag him away. But with his feet set wide apart to brace himself, Cyrus couldn't budge Glenn a single inch.
    "Glenn, don't be stupid! If the Knight Captain sees you, you're sure to be punished. This dog isn't worth getting demoted over. Let it rest! He'll get his own back in the end," the Hero begged. Already a group of people were forming around them to watch whatever the commotion was. That would be sure to draw the attention of their commanding officers and, worse, the Knight Captain.
    "No, Cyrus," Glenn argued, shaking free. "This is how it must be. He hast dared to offer insult to you and to the Queen. For that, he must pay the ultimate price!" Pendil sneered at the words and made a gesture.
    "Bring it on, boy! Let's see what they taught you in basic training!" He raised his sword and Glenn did so as well. They lunged. Their blades locked in a deadly struggle, the crowd cheering and jeering at them. Suddenly, from out of seemingly nowhere, a third sword drove straight down between them, knocking both Glenn and Pendil's weapons from their hands. They landed in the dirt, creating a small cloud of dust on impact. Cyrus twirled his sword and sheathed it, glaring.
    "Isn't there enough fighting going on without us going at each other's throats like rabid animals?" he shouted. Before he could say anything further, a ripple ran through the crowd and a space parted to allow a flash of gold to walk through. It was the Knight Captain.
    "What is going on here?" His voice was soft but carried through the suddenly still air like approaching thunder. "This had best not be what methinks it to be. Thou knowest full well the penalty for dueling whilst the war is on." No one said anything as the man swept his gaze over everyone before letting it rest on the three guilty men. "Speak up now. Who started this?" Still no one spoke. The old Knight's mustache quivered. "If no one speaks out, this whole section shall be punished, guilty or no."
    "We were only practicing our technique," Fredrick lied smoothly, retrieving his sword from the dust and wiping it clean with his gloved hands. But his plan to escape punishment was foiled when the Hero opened his mouth and spoke.
    "It was me, sir," Cyrus said, stepping forward while sheathing his sword. "It was my fault. Sir Pendil and I had a disagreement and things got a little heated between us."
    "Cyrus," Fredrick hissed through his teeth, "are you mad?! Do you want to get demoted?"
    "No!" Glenn protested, coming to stand beside his friend in an almost protective fashion. "'Twas not the Hero's fault. He is too good to take the blame when the fault lies with me. 'Twas I who was arguing with Sir Pendil and I initiated combat. Sir Cyrus only drew his sword to prevent us from further fighting. He hast done no wrong. I will take whatever punishment awaits me, but I ask that you please spare him." People snickered and elbowed each other in the crowd, whispering things to their friends while giving Cyrus and Glenn some wicked grins that let on to the crude nature of their thoughts. The Hero felt a flush of embarrassment rise to his cheeks.
    "Glenn, shut up!" Cyrus growled under his breath to his friend from the corner of his mouth, giving dark looks at the crowd. "I'm trying to get us out of this mess." He turned his attention back to the Knight Captain who was twirling his mustache between the thumb and index fingers of his left hand as he thought of what to do. When at last he reached a decision, he clasped his hands behind his back.
    "Fall in line, gentleman," he said. Fredrick laid his sword next to where he had been sitting earlier and hurried into place by the other two knights. They all stood at attention, chins raised and chests puffed out, looking straight ahead since it was improper to meet the eyes of their commanding officer. "The facts thou hast presented me are unclear and I wouldst not like to let those guilty go unpunished. However, I also do not wish to punish an innocent unjustly. Since this be the case, my judgment shall be less harsh in this matter. No demotion shall take place." He paused for the collective sigh of relief that passed through the still assembled crowd. When it was quiet again, he continued. "But the fact remains that un-permitted dueling has indeed taken place. Of that, I am certain. Whether it was between Sir Cyrus and Sir Pendil or between Pendil and Sir Glenn with Sir Cyrus being an attentive bystander, you three must face some form of consequence for thy actions. Tonight, the three of you shall stand watch and take double duty shifts. Perhaps a night without sleep shall serve as a reminder that rules were not made to be broken, but to be followed as prescribed in the Knight's Code." He let his words sink in for a moment and then said, "Dismissed."
    Seeing that no more action was to come, the crowd dissipated, leaving the three men alone as the Knight Captain walked away. Glenn sighed and bent to pick up his sword, something he had neglected to do earlier. Pendil glared and looked like he wanted to foam at the mouth. "Well, this is just great! Thanks a lot, Sir Hero!" he snarled, walking back to his gear and flopping down on the ground beside it. "Why did you have to go and tell him the truth? We could have all avoided guard duty tonight if you had kept your stupid mouth shut!"
   "And if you hadn't opened yours to begin with, this whole event never would have happened at all!" Cyrus shot back with equal ferocity. "If you want someone to blame, don't look at me or Glenn." Part of him wanted to add, "You started it!" but he realized that would have made him look just as childish. Instead, he turned his attention to Glenn. "As for you, what by hell were you thinking?!"
   "I...I..." Glenn began, trying to find the right words. "I was only trying to defend the honor of the Queen and that of my closest friend." But Cyrus made a sharp, cutting motion with his hand.
    "That is no excuse! A lot worse could have happened today besides being assigned a long watch. You acted rashly just now, and frankly, I'm embarrassed to think I trained you. I taught you better than this. Emotion is a good thing, but not when it clouds your thinking. Had you acted that way against the Mystics, you'd be dead faster then you could blink."
    "I'm sorry," the young man said softly. Cyrus fumed a bit in the silence that followed Glenn's words before remembering another topic to discuss.
    "And I don't need you to defend me. Do you know how embarrassing it was to stand there and listen to you plead with the Knight Captain to let me off the hook? By doing that, you made both of us seem less the men that we are. I'm old enough to take care of myself. I was doing it long before I ever met you. I don't need a baby-sitter to shelter me all the time."
    Glenn sat down and picked up his bowl from where it had overturned in the dirt. He regarded the mess silently for a few seconds before tossing the dish none-to-gently into the wash basin for some unlucky squire to clean later. Raising his eyes, he matched Cyrus' chilly gaze. "My duty is to defend the Kingdom from evil, wherever it my lurk and in whatever form it may take. Even if it means my disgrace, I shall never allow harm to come to the Royalty or to my friends. Hast thou forgotten why we serve? Wilt thou allow such things to be said against thee or thy Queen? If thou wilt not defend her or thyself, then I shall do so, with or without thy consent. You may be the Hero, but you do not control mine actions. I am sorry that thou has to suffer punishment with me, but t'would not have happened had thou not interfered." Glenn held up his sword for inspection, lightly fingering the edge to test for sharpness, ignoring Cyrus' continued presence completely.
    Cyrus watched him a moment longer before spinning on his heel and storming away. Glenn gave one look after him that he didn't see. Now that the Hero wasn't looking at him, Glenn let his real feelings surface once again. Hurt and anger warred for dominance in his eyes, despite the pridefull set of his jaw. This was the second major fight they had ever had. It seemed as if all the grand illusions he'd had about Cyrus were being stripped away one at a time. A strange thought struck him suddenly. It came unbidden to his mind and gave him pause to think about it. Did he want a friend in Cyrus, or an idol? He suspected that he wanted the former but was acting as if he wanted the latter. He had always put Cyrus on a pedestal and with each passing day, the godly glow on his golden image was wearing off to reveal the plain truth underneath. Maybe Glenn struggled so hard to defend his friend because he didn't want any more of his illusions to be swept away by cold, hard facts. He didn't want to believe that Cyrus was just an ordinary person, like himself or any of the millions of Humans alive on the planet. Cyrus was a hero, but in name and deed only, not because he possessed some special, divine powers that separated him from everyone else. Glenn knew, deep inside, that was what he had been looking for. He was trying to make Cyrus out to be something he wasn't. No man on earth was a God, Cyrus least of all. His power came from the heart and the goodness of his spirit. Unfortunately, such goodness and strength of spirit was enough to keep Glenn debating the issue. Shaking his head, he closed his mind to such thoughts and continued to inspect his blade.

    If he doesn't show up soon, Magus thought to himself, I'm going to go mad from the boredom. He had already hummed every tune he had ever heard in his life, repeated casting formulas to himself for his spells, even played a dangerous game involving stabbing a knife between spread fingers while his eyes were closed. Even that bit of danger grew thin and lost his interest. By some miracle, he managed to survive the game with all fingers intact. He was about ready to go scare up some harmless woodland animals to have target practice with but chuckled that it was just too cruel, even for him. That was when his keen hearing picked up the sound of something heavy and armored moving through the trees in his direction. Jumping to his feet, he nervously adjusted his gloves and flexed his fingers, calling a Shadow Bomb attack to mind. It was one of the highest Tech spells he knew at the moment, having never figured out how to duplicate his ShadowLance attack that had devastated Flea so long ago.
    Magus could see by the flicker of silver armor between the trees that this was indeed a Knight. Whether it was Cyrus or not remained to be seen. The magician waited in tense silence, resisting the urge to flex his fingers. Such a move would only give away his position all the more. But his fears were for naught as the Knight came closer and he detected the Hero's Medal on the man's chest. Releasing his tightly clenched will and disarming the spell, Magus relaxed. He assumed a more lighthearted expression from the scowl that seemed to be settling permanently on his lips. As the Magus, he might frown, but as Janus, he had to be a different person completely. Cyrus must not be allowed to notice the change in his mannerism. "Greetings, Knight of the Realm. It's about time you showed up," he said, letting his presence be known. Cyrus jumped a bit, startled.
    "Janus? Long time, no see." Cyrus' expression said that he felt upset over something but he managed a cheery smile anyway. "How goes it?"
    "Could be better, could be worse," Janus replied. Bending down, he picked up the bag of food and came over to hand it to the other man. "Here, take this."
    "What is it?" Cyrus asked curiously. His thick gloves made it hard for him to undo the various knots that had been put in the drawstring to keep it closed. But finally he won out and the treasures were revealed. "Oh, Janus," he breathed, a look of true happiness crossing his face. "Thank you!"
    Janus couldn't help but share in the moment by smiling. He was happy that he had made his friend happy. It made him feel good about himself for a change. "This is just a small token of my friendship. It must be nice to see real food again and not the common stuff they must feed you around the campfire." A spasm of guilt flashed in the magician's eyes. "And it belongs to your side anyway." That effectively brought down the moment and they stood awkwardly, neither knowing quite what to say. Finally, the Hero sighed and drew the bag shut, knotting the drawstring once more. He held it out to the wizard.
    "The gesture is noted and I really appreciate the thought, but I cannot accept this. It wouldn't be right."
    Janus narrowed his eyes in confusion. "What's the matter? You seemed pleased five seconds ago and now you say you don't want it?" A bit of Magus' temper leaked through. "Do you have any idea how much danger I put myself in to steal that stuff and get it out here to you?" Inside, a struggle was going on between his Magus persona and his Janus persona. Anger, violence! screamed his dark half. How dare this ungrateful twit decide not to accept my gift?! I'm risking a lot for him and he treats me like this, with so little disregard? But his calmer, brighter half was blocking the exit, preventing his dark side from springing to the surface. Before you fly off the handle, try and see where Cyrus is coming from, it said, fighting to hold it's wicked counterpart in check. The Janus side finally won out and his darker half slunk back to the shadows to sulk.
    "It's not that I don't appreciate what you're trying to do for me," Cyrus was saying, oblivious to the battle of Light versus Shadow that had waged briefly in his friend's soul. "It's just that..." He trailed off. How could he explain? "It's like blood money, Janus. It's something that your side won through a lot of bloodshed and lives lost. When I look at this bag, I start wondering how many of my friends and fellow Knights have died in vain to protect this food if you are now giving it back to me?"
    Janus scoffed. "Oh, come now. You're being utterly foolish. Food is food. The people who protected the caravan that the Mystics stole it from are dead. There is no changing that. Even if I took the food back now, that wouldn't change anything. At least this way, part of what they died for was worth while. By keeping yourself strong, you may one day get the chance to avenge their deaths. Don't you think that their spirits would want you to use this gift rather than let it go back into enemy hands?" His dark side made snarky comments about stupid Human sentimentality but was beaten into cringing submission by his light side.
    "I suppose that is the truth, but it still makes me feel guilty. I have other friends who are going hungry so it's unfair for me to accept this. No, I'd rather stick it out with my men then to get special treatment." Cyrus firmly placed the sack back into Janus' hands and stepped back.
   "Fine, if that's the way you want it," Janus said with a shrug. "I think you're being terribly unreasonable about this, but who am I to tell you what to do? You don't need me to tell you what's right or not." Janus noted how Cyrus' face darkened at those words and he immediately felt bad, though he had no idea why Cyrus might be upset.
    "Was that all you came here for then?" Cyrus asked before Janus could make any comments about his current emotional state. Janus blinked and looked at the bag in his hands.
    "Yeah, I guess so. I know that Lord Ozzie would rather I spy on your army then help it, but I draw the line as to what I do in my free time," he joked, trying to lighten the mood. It didn't seem to help, though.
    "Then you'd better get going. Patrols are due to be heading this way right about now. If they saw you here with me, I'd have to arrest you. That would probably lead to fighting and I really want to avoid that."
    "Me too. Killing people wears me out." Janus bit his tongue as soon as those words were out of his mouth. Idiot! Why did you have to go and say that? The snarky part of his brain snickered at his slip and marked a point on it's invisible scoreboard. "Cyrus, I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."
    "Yes, it was," came the tight reply. "Now go." The Knight began walking away, leaving Janus to do whatever he wanted. Those words had hurt the young man deeply and Janus knew it. For the life of him, the magician had no idea why he'd suddenly been so easy with his comments when before he had been so closed mouthed about everything. Janus scowled and teleported back to the Fort. He had been doing that a lot lately. In fact, he reflected as he looked up at the uneven towers and windows, he could probably do it in his sleep.
    Sounds of metal clanging reached his ears. Magus looked around but saw no movement in the recent vicinity. Following the sounds, he circled around the side of the central tower and stopped to watch the madness. Slash was waving his arms in the air, shouting commands while the Henchs he was apparently training bashed at each other. "Keep that shield up! You should have blocked that, you nitwit! No, no, no! Who taught you to fight? Your grandmother?" Tossing his hands up in disgust, Slash made a growling noise deep in his throat. "You're all hopeless! I've never seen a bigger bunch of losers in my whole life! Take a ten minute break and then I'll show you just how sword fighting is really done!" The Henchs groaned and fell over where they stood, completely exhausted.
   "I think you drill them too hard, Slash," Magus commented. Slash jumped, startled, but then his look of surprise changed to one of anger.
   "I think you need to mind your own business," he hissed, walking over to a table that held a variety of swords on it's surface. The blue swordsman began sorting through them, testing the balance by swinging them a few times in the air. "I don't need you to tell me how to train my men. I've been doing this since before you were born."
    "I know, and it shows," Magus nodded. Slash looked over his shoulder at the young man, trying to decide whether he was being picked on. But Magus kept his face neutral as he came to stand next to Slash. He hefted an ornately built broadsword and grunted at the weight. Slash's mouth curled upward in derision.
    "You'll break your wrist the second you try and swing that thing," he murmured. Magus gave him a contemptuous look
    "Maybe an ordinary person would, but I have magic as my ally." Casting a minor levitation spell on the sword, the heavy blade suddenly became light as a feather in his grasp. Smiling, he handed it over to Slash who turned it over a few times. The swordsman examined it closely for a moment or two then suddenly swung at Magus' head. The blade clanged harmlessly against the ever present magical barrier the magician had erected. Magus raised one delicate eyebrow as Slash returned the sword to him. "What was that all about?"
    "I was testing the coordination between sword and arm," the blue man explained, rubbing his shoulder. "You may have managed to counteract the weight, but you didn't compensate for the force behind it. You swing that thing and it'll drag you across the battle field. The worst possible scenario is that you swing and it yanks your arm out of it's socket. Inside, it's still a heavy sword, no matter what spells you cast on the outside. That's the difference between magic and sword fighting. Magic is too easy while the other takes muscle and skill."
    "Whatever, Slash. It's not like I really care, anyway." Magus dismissed the statement with a wave of his hand. "So, what exactly are you doing here with all these Henchs?"
    "Night raid," Slash replied, looking over yet another sword. "Ozzie asked me to drill the troops to get them warmed up." Magus nodded, though his face showed rapt disinterest. He was preparing to leave when Slash called after him. "Our esteemed leader was looking for you, by the way. He wasn't too happy to find out you had run off someplace without telling him or myself where you were going. What are you up to, Magus?"
    The magician sniffed. "I don't see that it's any of your business what I do on my off hours. But if you must know, I was scouting. I told Ozzie I was going to do so last night. I'm surprised he has such a bad memory."
    "It's not too hard to forget conversations with you, Magus. You rarely say anything of importance," Slash replied, setting down the sword and turning to lean against the table while facing the magician.
    "I'll ignore that remark for your benefit. Ozzie might dislike it if I bump off his only remaining lieutenant."
    "Don't make threats you can't back up," the blue swordsman scowled. "So, what were you really doing out there today?"
    "Are you deaf as well as ignorant? You heard what I said. I won't waste my breath repeating myself."
    "Scouting, right," Slash said in obvious sarcasm. "You might fool Ozzie with your show of loyalty, Magus, but don't talk to me as if I were stupid. At least afford me that respect. You expect me to believe that you went scouting with that big old bag? What's in there, anyway?"
    Magus grip tightened a fraction on the canvas sack he held but he forced himself to open it so Slash could reach in and rummage around. "See? Nothing illegal, just some snacks for me while I was out."
    "Oh, please! You've got to be kidding me! You can't possibly eat all this food by yourself." The swordsman's voice was muffled by the cloth since he had stuck his whole head in the bag as well. He withdrew himself and glared suspiciously. "I'd say that there is enough in here for two people. It's almost as if you were planning to meet someone...and a Human at that."
    "Well, it looks like my secret is out. I'm having a secret love affair with a wench from Truce." He had the satisfaction of seeing Slash's mouth hit the ground and his eyes bulge.
    "" the blue man started before finally choking off in disbelief. At last he settled on, "With a Human?!"
   "Why not?"
   "Why not do a tree?!" Magus blinked and then gave Slash an odd look. "I've heard of Mystics going for the exotic before now, but...Argh! It's just sick, I tell you! Sick! Couldn't you have at least stayed to something resembling your own kind, Magus?"
   Seeing that his plan was swiftly going downhill, he sighed and shook his head mournfully. "Some people are so intolerant," he said with mock sadness. Slash made another sound that was half a gurgle of disgust and half a cry of disbelief. "Don't worry your pretty blue head, Slash. I was only joking."
    "Jeeze! You have the nastiest sense of humor I have ever come across. Ugh, now I have bad images in my head. I can never look at another Human the same way again without a mental picture of you to go along with it. Gross!" Turning to his men, Slash shouted desperately, "Break's over!" As the Henchs reluctantly got to their feet, as he drew Slasher from it's sheathe. "Maybe a good fight will clear my head...Think good thoughts Slash, good thoughts. Flea naked! Flea naked!" Magus rolled his eyes and shook his head, leaving the bag on the table with the weapons. He no longer had use for the food and he knew that with a bunch of hungry Henchs around, it wouldn't go to waste. With a heavy sigh, he went off to go find what Ozzie wanted this time. Knowing him it could only mean one thing: trouble.
    Magus stopped in front of Ozzie's private chambers and carefully reviewed the lie he'd made-up about his whereabouts that afternoon before walking in. While the dark magician had seen some weird and truly awful things in his lifetime, he never once imagined he'd be seeing something like this. There sat Ozzie in a big sunken marble bathtub that was set into the floor. He had a bar of soap in one hand an a back scrubber in the other and was surrounded by fluffy white bubbles. The site was too much and Magus busted up laughing. Ozzie gave a shout of surprise and outrage before hurling the soap as hard as he could at the young mage.
    "Haven't you heard of knocking?!" the green Mystic demanded as Magus easily caught the slippery bar with his rough leather gloves. The young man's lips were twitching as he fought to contain another peel of laughter that threatened to escape as he handed back the soap. Ozzie snatched it back and it immediately shot out of his grasp and into the water with a small splash. "Damn it to perdition!" Using a hand to grope for the elusive bar, he asked, "Just what the hell do you want? Can't you see I'm in the middle of a bath here?"
    "Slash said you were asking about me," Magus replied, seating himself on thin air as if it were a solid chair under him. Ozzie finally located the soap and carefully began to lather up his backscrubber.
    "No, I didn't. You said you were going scouting today. You told me that early this morning. I may be getting old, but I'm not THAT old yet."
    "Hmm. Interesting," Magus murmured to himself. So, Slash had lied to him. He was pumping him for information on his own. Or was he? The magician's eyes narrowed as he watched Ozzie proceed to wash his back. It wouldn't be the first time the green leader had been doing background checks on his stories. "If you don't need me then, I'll go practice my magic," he said at last, keeping a tight reign on his temper. But Ozzie waved him to stay seated.
    "Wait a second. Since you're here, I might as well give you your next assignment. I take it you know about the night raid we're making tonight."
    "Yes, Slash was kind enough to inform me about it when I came back."
    "I'm glad. I want you to accompany him out. I've decided that since these hit and runs are working so well, I really want to go all out tonight. I need your firepower out there to soften the Human troops up a bit for Slash and the boys." Magus opened his mouth to protest but Ozzie glared at him in such a way that made him think better of it. Powerful he might be, but he certainly couldn't tolerate Ozzie pulling the "stern father" routine on him, as he called it. "Don't even think about arguing with me. You made me a promise that you wouldn't sass me when I gave you an order if I gave you the library. Remember that?" Magus made a frustrated sound in his throat as he leapt to his feet and stormed towards the door. Ozzie smiled after him. "You can get the details from Slash on where to meet and so forth."
    "One of these days, Ozzie," Magus growled threateningly as he slammed the doors shut behind him. But the Mystic leader was not upset by the flash of temper his fledgling was showing. He was caught and no amount of wheedling would get him out of the deal they had made. Humming off key, Ozzie lifted a foot out of the water and began scrubbing between his toes.

   Meanwhile, in another part of the world...

    Two children studied the sky from the mouth of their cavernous home on one of the highest peaks of Denadoro Mountain. Their usually carefree faces were streaked with lines of worry. Their eyes were old and wise, thus proving that these were no ordinary little boys. Masa looked at Mune. "Do you feel that?"
    Mune nodded slowly. "The Winds are hushed. They don't sing like they used to. What do you make of it?"
    "I'm not sure. Something important is going on in this land, something big."
    Mune sniffed the breeze and wetted a finger to test the direction it was blowing. "Is the war over do you think?"
    "No. It's something else."
    "What else could it be?"
    "I don't know. I think it could be...destiny."
    Mune blinked and gave his brother a sideways glance. "Does destiny exist? Am I an unstoppable stream upon which mankind is but a leaf caught in the current? Or am I a road with many paths and one may choose the direction one travels of their own free will?" Mune looked proud of his achievement of sounding mystical and philosophical.
    "If you talk like Doreen again, I think I'm gonna sock you," Masa snapped peevishly. "This is no time for word games, Mune! This is serious."
    "No, you're not."
    "Am so."
    "Liar! You are not!"
    "I am too!"
    "Are not!"
    "Are too!"
    The squabbling degenerated into silence for a few minutes before Masa said, "I guess we'd better get ready. Our new owner is coming, whoever that might be."
    "Do you think our new owner will like to ride the Wind too?" Mune asked curiously, cocking his head to one side. Masa smiled.
   "That, we can only hope."


Chapter 23

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