The Story Of Magus Chapter 23
Beginning of the End
A strange calm had settled over Magus as he carefully
picked his way between bushes and trees, always keeping to the shadows. He
couldn't hate Ozzie for sending him out on this night raid. After all, they
had made an agreement and he wasn't about to go back on his word, no matter
how odious a task he now found himself involved in. He disliked being used
as a pawn since his princely dignity rebelled against such treatment but
other then that, he had no real excuse for feeling bitter. He would perform
his duty as a loyal soldier to keep from rocking the boat. However, there
was no reason why he had to enjoy it. Armed with this hope, Magus made a
decision to be bound and determined to sulk about his unfair assignment.
It was much easier, he reasoned, to just take the blows as they came at him
and then reverse the odds at a later date. By keeping Ozzie happy, the less
he had to listen to the fat oaf whine about his responsibilities to the army.
What was a little discomfort and expenditure of energy to take out a few
handfuls of soldiers compared to a week or more of rest and free access to
the library and all of it's treasures?
Oh, he had to admit, he'd been furious to have been so easily backed into a corner. Magus had left Ozzie's chambers with a red haze blurring his vision. The initial burst of anger had gradually given way to the coldness that was more frequently settling into his chest region as he prepared himself for the battle to come. He had retired to his room to brush out his long blue hair. He had found the brush one day laying behind a bookcase and from the dust that had collected on it, he knew it had been there for years. Cleaning it up, he found that it was still in relatively good use and, not being particularly fussy about his looks, he decided that it would be adequate for his needs. The repetitive motions of brushing gave his mind a chance to fall into an almost hypnotic state, one that focused the lump of ice in his breast and turned it into power. The boiling font of dark mana that filled his soul with every new battle felt good at those times. It made him feel almost giddy from the energy. That was the only part of fighting he enjoyed.
I shouldn't be thinking about such things at this time, Magus reasoned with a shake of his hooded head. It distracted the mind from more important tasks, like watching for enemies. His shields were at their maximum capacity, however it was always a good idea not to tempt fate by allowing the enemy a lucky shot. Besides, it would give Slash too much satisfaction if he were to die now. Speaking of which, where was the rest of the army? Magus, as usual, had gone on ahead for scouting since his magic cloak blended in with the night shadows beautifully. Sending out a tendril of energy, he felt around with it until he encountered someone's mind. Thoughts of food and sleep filled his head and he knew immediately that he had hit upon a Hench. If the Mystic's placement was any indication, the army was about half of a mile back. Well, that was good news at any rate. It showed that either Slash trusted him enough to let him do his work by himself or was too much of a coward to come any closer until he received a report. It didn't matter which was the case, so long as the blue warrior kept his position so Magus wouldn't have to waste valuable energy looking for them.
The young magician reached the outskirts of the Human encampment in relatively little time. He'd learned, almost by accident, that he knew a spell for levitation as he had tried to puzzle a way to deaden the sound of his boots on the dry leaves of the forest floor. He had been most unprepared for his feet to suddenly leave the ground and had terminated the spell through lack of concentration, resulting in the most embarrassing fall onto his backside. Luckily, no one had seen his little slip up and he had regained his floating position with as much dignity as his wounded pride could muster. Floating over the leaves was a lot quieter and quicker then trying to sneak through them on foot, he'd found out.
The Human army was the same as ever. Such a sitting duck, Magus thought to himself. With things going as well as they were for Ozzie, it wouldn't be much longer before the duck would be plucked of it's feathers and skewered on the end of a Mystic spear. If the Humans only had better guards and more of them, maybe they would stand a chance. But without their food routes and the constant nipping at their heels, they were like lambs led to the slaughter. Magus wondered briefly if Cyrus ever thought to mention that point to his commanding officers. On the other hand, it was just as well that nothing had been done about the organization of the troops, or else this would be a tough mission indeed. Speaking of which, it was time to head back. There would be no new activity to report, which would make Slash pleased. Not that his pleasure affected Magus at all, but he was nicer to work with when he wasn't cursing and hitting anything that got in his way. Before he went, however, Magus decided he would make one more stop, just for friendship's sake. Drifting in and out of the shadows, he hunted down the tent he felt sure would be used for the Hero. It was risky, but it would ease his conscience if he could at least checkup on Cyrus. After the little disagreement the other day, he had begun to feel increasingly guilty about the whole thing and he wished to apologize if it was at all possible.
Heading for the biggest tent, he avoided the patrols with ease and slipped under the door flap. He had been right. Trust the Hero to have more spacious field quarters then some small homes, he laughed to himself. It held all the furnishings he had come to expect from the young knight. That meant, barely anything at all. Cyrus was a warrior, and while he appreciated the finer things in life, it was unlikely his own tent would be decorated that way. Everything was no-nonsense and practical. There was a hard army cot, a chest for clothes and small pieces of armor, a weapons rack, and a clothesline where some socks hung drying. From the looks of them, they had been mended over and over again until it was hard to tell where the original sock left off and the mending began. A small firepit had been dug in the center of the tent and there was some sort of contraption set up to allow a metal tea kettle to hang above it. There was a small table and a couple chairs that looked hazardous to your health. It was almost a certainty that anyone not wearing full-plate armor would receive a few painful splinters where they least wanted them. A book was left lying on the table top, the leather binding worn and scarred from the passage of time. But despite all this, the main objective of Magus' visit was defeated by one simple fact: the knight in question was not present.
Sighing, the mage began to wonder, in a somewhat irritated fashion, if it was merely a coincidence or was Cyrus never around when he was really needed? Oh well. It wasn't like he didn't have other, more pressing things to do. For example, the upcoming battle should have been taking precedence over everything else. Yet here he was, moments before a skirmish, looking for a friend who was also an enemy. It would be for the best if he turned around right now and left. Cyrus would never know he had been by. He could go to the battle without wondering if Cyrus felt resentment at him for coming to see him a few seconds before he had to watch his comrades fall to Mystic swords and magic. And yet, Magus couldn't help but think that sneaking away was the coward's way out. Meandering over to the table, he lifted the book and looked at the cover with a professional eye. It had no writing on it to give a reader a clue as to what it was. Turning it over in his hands, the magician felt the stirrings of curiosity in his mind. What sort of book would a man like Cyrus posses? Light reading on the battle field? No, that was foolish, and battle plans wouldn't be left in plain sight. A diary then? Knowing it was wrong but unable to help himself, he pulled back the cover and scanned the first page. Bold script, undeniably male and therefore, most likely Cyrus' handwriting met his eyes.
How strange that I should feel this way
How strange that you will never know
Seems like I wasted time because
Destiny decided not to wait on me
But my love is strong enough to
Make this worst criminal a saint
To make the wind call out your name
And someday, I might tell you
So when you are all alone and
You think someone has called out your name
Remember me, my whispered friend. *
"What the hell sort of rubbish is this?" Magus grunted,
scanning the poem for a second time. Turning the page, he had his answer.
A sketch of Queen Leene's face smiled up at him from the paper. The attention
to detail was remarkable. Cyrus had obviously captured the lighthearted air
of the young woman. Rolling his eyes, Magus gave a slight smirk. "Love struck
fool," he whispered to himself. The next page held another poem, which he
only barely glanced at. Somehow the overwhelming usage of words like, "eternal
love" and "glorious goddess of beauty" made him feel faintly ill. Carefully
thumbing through the book, he saw quite a few other sketches of Leene. Most
were of her doing small tasks like arranging roses in a vase or leaning on
one hand while watching birds sing outside the window. "There has to be something
good in this thing," the magician muttered to himself, looking over his shoulder
quickly for any signs of danger. There were no approaching footfalls, no
jangle of weapons or armor headed his way, so he returned his attention to
the book. At last, near the middle, he found some entries that weren't dated
but had the look of personal reflections.
Today, I was called up to the castle. Leene seemed to be in some sort of distressed state concerning her husband. She is concerned for his Majesty's well being and asked me to speak to him. She doesn't want him fighting the Mystics. It is true that he is no warrior, but it makes me proud to think my liege would wish to defend his country rather then sit in the castle like a scared rabbit. Leene said she cares for the morale of the troops, but she finds it hard enough worrying about me without having to worry about her husband as well. She doesn't realize that King Ruttelard cannot afford to lose face to the Mystics. His Majesty is concerned about his reputation as a weak monarch as it is, and should the Mystics think any lower of him then they already do, it could only serve to prolong this war. I do not know what I can say to either of their Highnesses, but I must try to do as the Queen commands.
Magus frowned. Perhaps there was some military value to this book after all. The next few entries were of minor importance. They detailed the conversations with the monarchs of Guardia and an argument with the Chancellor regarding raised wages for the front lines who were at greater risk during battle. In the midst of flipping through the pages, something caught his eye. Turning two pages back, he saw that he had been correct. His name had been mentioned.
This war is indeed heartless. Not only has it taken from me my father, murdered at the hands of the Magus, but it has also claimed possession of the life of my old childhood friend, Janus. Once thought to be dead, I learned from his own mouth that he has been secretly living with the Mystics and is now under their control. He came to me this afternoon after Glenn and I parted on a sour note. How he has changed. From the boy I used to know, to the man he is now...I don't know what to say to him anymore. We are opposites in all ways.
I wish we could go back to the way things used to be. It's a futile dream, though. Things will never end until the Magus is killed. I am certain of that. And to succeed, I need Janus' help. I know he is not truly evil. I know that somewhere inside of his heart, he loathes this war as much as I do and I know he wants the power to stop it. I will bring him back to our side, someday, and show him how to purge the darkness from his soul and escape the Mystics' clutches. Together, we will drive the enemy back to their own lands with a trouncing they won't soon forget.
But I am getting ahead of myself. First things first. I must persuade Janus to use his powers to help our cause. But that, sadly, is a task easier said then done. The Magus will not give up one of his soldiers without a fight. Traitors are never respected, no matter whose side you are on, and thought it grieves me to place my friend in danger from an assassin's dagger, I cannot help but think that this is the correct course of action. Perhaps I will see Janus again, soon, and we can discuss this idea in greater detail. Until then, I can only hope he sees the error of his ways and starts to come around.
For a long moment, Magus regarded the page silently, his eyes tracing the script without actually seeing it. Then, with a sigh, he shut the book, not really caring to read whatever else was written. Curiosity killed the cat, Schala used to tell him. Why did he have the nagging feeling that she was right? In all honesty, he seriously wished he hadn't read the damn book. It raised too many questions. He shook his head. "You're wrong, Cyrus," he muttered, bitterly. "I don't have the power to change anything, least of all this war. I'm as much a victim in it as you are." But even as he said that, he knew it wasn't true. There was something he could do, something he should have done from the beginning...Closing his eyes, the magician replaced the book back on the table, using the other hand to rub his temples. He would tell Cyrus the truth, about everything.
Slash hovered back and forth restlessly. The troops gave him a wide birth whenever they saw him coming their way. His brows were drawn low in a scowl and veins were popping out of the sides of his head. "He should have been back at least ten minutes ago," the swordsman was saying under his breath as he floated. "Where is he?" He stopped and glared hard at an unfortunate Hench as if it were all his fault. The Hench swallowed as he met his superior's eyes. Slash's face grew darker, if that was possible. "You got something to say, soldier?"
"Ahhh..." The Hench licked his lips nervously. "M-m-maybe the Magus was...c-captured?" Slash's expression was cold and blank for a few seconds as his subordinate sweat it out. Suddenly, the blue swordsman threw back his head a started laughing.
"Did you guys hear that?" he gasped. "He said, 'maybe Magus was captured'! Oh stop! My sides are killing me!" Slash kept laughing, draping himself over the one Hench's shoulders, shaking from the force of his mirth. The rest of the troops looked between each other and cautiously joined in. Before long, they were all hooting and snickering like crazy. At last, Slash started to calm down. He kept chuckling as he wiped moisture from his eyes. "Captured...Ha! I love it." He lightly punched the "funny" Hench on the shoulder. "You know something? You're a bit of all right. I'm truly going to miss you."
Still laughing the Hench slapped his commanding officer on the back. "Thanks. You ain't so bad yourself, boss! I'll miss you too!" Then, suddenly realizing what he'd just said, his jovial expression faded. "Wait, what do you mean, boss? Where am I going?"
"You three over there. Take this refuse out somewhere and execute him," Slash stated, stepping away from the thunderstruck Hench. The soldier worked his mouth but only a thin whine came out as he attempted to grab hold of Slash's sleeve. The three other Henchs grabbed his shoulders, however, and started dragging him away.
"Wait, boss! This is a joke, right? Tell me it's a joke!"
"It's a joke, all right," Slash muttered, waving the four away with a dismissive gesture. The one Hench started screaming hysterically while struggling to get away. But his captors were nothing if not strong and he stood no chance of escape. Pulling a flagon of cider off of his belt, Ozzie's second opened the top and took a drink. For a while, the screams and pleading sobs grew towards fever pitch. Then, all at once, they were cut off. Licking his lips appreciatively, the blue swordsman closed the flagon and put it away.
As his butchers came back, wiping blood from their blades, he raised his voice to carry over the whole squad. "The next time one of you idiots wants to make another stupid remark, why don't you think back to this incident and keep your big mouths shut?" No one dared to respond to that, not even to say that they understood. They were too busy watching the executors finishing up their cleaning with rounded eyes and fear-frozen blood in their veins. Nodding once, Slash crossed his arms. "Right. We'll give Magus another fifteen minutes but no more then that. I don't care who he thinks he is, but I am not one to be kept waiting." Lowering his voice, he spoke to the shadows. "Fourteen minutes, 56 seconds, and counting, brat. And when I hit zero, then...it's show time."
Fredrick hid his grin as he made his way towards Cyrus' tent. So, the stupid peasant thought that he could get a Pendil into trouble and not face the consequences? Well, he had another think coming! He would be late for his post, tonight, but who cared? It was Cyrus' fault for making them serve double shifts anyway. This little piece of payback would be just deserts for the other knight. All Fredrick had to do was sneak in and find something incriminating. A love token from the Queen, perhaps, or a note asking for a secret tryst would do nicely. He only hoped that Cyrus wasn't as smart as he liked to lead on and would have something like that lying around. If he could just get his hands on something that could prove the dirty little secret the so-called Hero and the young Queen shared, he could bring it before the Chancellor. No doubt, he would be handsomely rewarded by the conniving old man and his assistant. With thoughts of money and revenge filling his head, Fredrick placed his hand on the tent flap and started to lift.
"Terrance! Have you seen Fredrick Pendil anywhere?" Claudane called. The other knight looked up from trying to fix a hole in his boot.
"Sure. He was heading for Sir Cyrus' tent not more then five minutes ago. He looked really happy about something."
"Okay, thanks." Dane ground his teeth. "That bastard is probably up to no good," he said softly. "I'd better go see what he's doing. And, if he's disobeying regulations, I'll have a valid reason for kicking his sorry arse!"
High atop a windy peak, two children danced with glee. "This is it, Masa," one laughed jubilantly to his brother. "Everything is coming to a finish. That which has passed before will be called into reckoning!" Mune spun around in a circle, arms outstretched, face pointed at the sky.
"Yes, brother! I can feel it! Time is about to be shifted yet again and no one can tell where it will lead us all. After tonight, nothing will ever be the way it was before. Our new Master will be here shortly!" For many moments the siblings spun and leapt and shouted with happiness. Finally, they stopped, breathless, and simply grinned at each other. Around them, the wind had ceased blowing and everything had gone deathly still. "You hear that?"
Mune nodded. "Yes. The Void..."
"The world is holding it's breath."
"And when it exhales..." The siblings joined hands and started spinning faster and faster until their bodies became mere blurs and light burst forth from them.
"When it exhales," they laughed together, "we will ride the Black Wind once more!" There came a single flash of blinding brilliance, and then the two children were gone.
(Author's note: * the poem used in this chapter was written by Michelle McMillian.)