The Story Of Magus Chapter 26
Time to Say Good-bye
The worst thing about the situation was the waiting.
Magus resisted the urge to pace or swing around his new scythe, anything to relieve some of the tension he was feeling. He forced himself to stand in one place, somewhere he could still see the path leading to the plateau, and be visible in turn. Maybe he should have tried for an approach that required more stealth, but that would have seemed cowardly. No, what he really wanted was for this all to be over with.
One way or another, someone was not going to leave the rocky ledge alive. If it was Cyrus, so be it. He had been steeling himself for this moment for days. Now, his main concern was losing his nerve at a critical moment, and the long wait only gave him more time to second guess himself.
On the other hand, if it was fate's intention to bring him all the way up here just to die... Well, in that case, he would simply laugh. What a pathetic way to end an otherwise miserable life. However, he had no doubt that fate was a royal bitch, probably with a sick sense of humor, and his death would be exactly the meaningless farce he feared it would be.
The wind atop the mountain was fierce and angry. It tore at Magus' purple cape almost like a physical attack. He stood against it, unmoving. Let the wind buffet him all it wanted. He would not be swayed. Oh, but he was scared. Terrified. Never in his life had he felt such a strong urge to flee. Though outwardly calm, his palms were sweating inside his gloves.
Damn it, just hurry up and get here! Magus pleaded silently. Any longer, and I don't know if I can force myself not to crack. He needed something to take his mind off of the moment, something to calm his nerves. Wracking his brain, he tried to dredge up images of Schala or of some boring lesson his tutors had drilled into him, but his mind was a disjointed mess. Only one thing came to mind, an old memory of his days living amongst the Humans.
He had loved to gaze out the window next to the bunk bed he had shared with Cyrus. At night, across the misty expanse of trees and hazy moonlight, he would look to the mountain that loomed like a dark giant in the distance. Denadoro. The Whispering Mountain, Ozzie had called it.
"Someday, I want to go there," Cyrus had said once. "I want to stand on the highest ledge and look as far as I can into the distance."
"It's just a crummy old mountain," Janus had replied. "What's so great about a hunk of rock?"
"It's not just a rock, dummy! It's a magical place. Uncle Toma says that it's a place where destiny lives. People who go there are never the same again."
"I dunno. It sounds kinda hokey to me..."
Cyrus had laughed at him, then. "You say that about everything. But that's a great idea for tomorrow's game. We'll go outside and pretend we're climbing Denadoro. We can borrow some of Father's rope. I'm sure he won't mind..."
Ironic how years later, this was the place where Cyrus had chosen to face him. Or perhaps not so ironic, and merely cruel. Magus felt a muscle in his jaw twitch and he realized his teeth were clenched. No one said this was going to be a picnic, he reminded himself, forcing his stiff muscles to relax. He couldn't afford to be caught up in the past, not if he hoped to live.
Ozzie stood on his left, shivering. The fat Mystic had insisted on coming along as backup, or more likely, to make sure Magus did his job and finished off the Hero. "I should have worn some pants," the green Mystic lamented through chattering teeth. "My toes are numb, my kneecaps are tingling, and this updraft is sure to freeze off my--"
"Stop your whining. I could care less about how cold you are. If you don't like it, you can always leave."
"And let you to fight by yourself? Please, give me more credit than that. Your past performance in battle has been less than desirable. Consider me a helpful bystander, ready to step in should the need arise."
"You mean, if I look like I'm going to back out."
"Your words, not mine."
Magus' lips thinned in a bland smile. "Your faith in me is touching. I might even think you cared about me, if I didn't know otherwise."
"Well, you can put that weak little thing you call a brain to rest, Ozzie. I have no intention of running away." No matter how much I might want to.
Ozzie opened his mouth to make some snide remark about the remarkable lack of respect he was getting lately, but decided against it at the last minute. One glance at Magus' intense look of concentration, and it was clear that this was no time to go getting him angry. Instead, he cleared his throat and nodded.
After a while, Magus sighed. "I don't suppose the letter gave a specific time to meet him here, did it?"
Ozzie shook his head. "Unfortunately, no. This is yet another reason why I say that you kids never think these things through. I mean, we've been waiting here most of the day, and I'm half frozen because of it. If you had just settled this last time, I wouldn't be in this mess. For crying out loud! How long does that fool expect us to wait up here for him? You'd think he would have the decency to be--"
Magus gave an abrupt wave of his hand. "Shh! Listen."
The rushing wind couldn't cover the sound of approaching footfalls treading heavily up the steep and rocky trail. One person in armor, from the sound of it. Dragging, slow, almost with a limp, a second person was following along not too far behind.
"Looks like the Hero brought a friend along for the show," Ozzie chuckled, also picking up the noise. He cracked his knuckles. "Well, the more the merrier, I say. It's been many a decade since I last saw combat. This might be a refreshing change of pace."
"You will not be fighting."
Magus shifted his feet a little wider apart into more of a battle stance. "You heard me. This is between me and Cyrus. Don't forget, I'm not doing this for you, Ozzie. I'm doing this for me."
Miffed, the green Mystic snorted. "You're mighty full of yourself. What makes you so sure you're ready to do this?"
"I've never been more sure of anything in my life. Besides, you're the one who said that to delay meant to give the enemy the advantage. The sooner this battle gets over with, the better."
Within seconds, the sheen of a helmet rose above the ridge, followed by the face of the Hero. There were dark circles under his eyes, showing a severe lack of sleep. He looked determined, but under that was resignation. He looked ready to die. Magus wondered briefly if his own face looked the same way.
Cyrus stopped about ten feet away, ignoring the two Mystics for a moment as he waited for his companion to catch up. The boy that Magus vaguely remembered from the last big battle limped into view. He was still recovering from his injuries, it seemed, but he shook off Cyrus' hand when the knight tried to steady him. He met Magus' eyes with a look of anger. There was something fanatical in that gaze. It made the blue-haired magician ask himself if the boy were merely feverish or not quite sane.
When he was certain that his friend wouldn't collapse, Cyrus faced his enemies. "I see that you got my message."
This is it. Relax, and remember to breathe. Magus took a deep breath and let it out in an irritated sigh. "That's obvious. I'm here, aren't I? Though, if you planned to be late, you should have sent word ahead. I don't enjoy wasting my time standing around while waiting for you to show up."
"My apologies. If I had known you were so eager to die, I wouldn't have kept you."
The two adversaries locked eyes, attempting to stare each other down. When no quarter was given, Magus finally looked away. He raked a hand through his fine blue hair and tossed it over his shoulders.
"You've gotten bolder."
"So have you, Sir Magus." The Hero shot a glance at Ozzie and gave a short laugh. "I see you brought your gravedigger along. Good. It will save me the trouble of disposing of your remains later."
Ozzie bared his teeth in a dangerous smile. "The only grave being dug will be your own once the Magus is done with you! Isn't that right, Sir Magus?"
The wizard wondered at the sudden change in address, but shrugged it off as typical Ozzie sarcasm. "That's right." He nodded at Glenn. "Don't you feel ashamed of yourself, Cyrus? You dragged this poor, injured lad up here, only to meet his demise." He shook his head in mock disappointment. "Should I take this to mean that you can't fight your own battles anymore? How boring."
The boy next to Cyrus gave a cry of outrage. "Fiend! Villain! How dare thou mockest Sir Cyrus in such a fashion?! He is the famous Hero of Guardia Kingdom. He needs not my help to defeat the likes of you!"
"Glenn!" Cyrus hissed. "Stay out of this!"
Magus slowly moved his eyes to the green-haired boy. The young man tried to remain a brave front but he visibly flinched back beneath those cold, purple orbs. "Cyrus, keep your toady quiet while in my presence, or I might have to inflict some rather painful animal control. His stupid...I mean, quaint accent could get tiresome."
Cyrus ignored his opponent and kept speaking to his friend. "Glenn, you should return to the castle. You've got nothing more to do here. This is something I have to do on my own."
"Nay! We shall return together once the fight is finished."
The Hero gazed with helplessness at his best friend and nodded. "So be it, then. But whatever happens, do not interfere." Turning back to Magus, Cyrus began slowly walking towards him. "For the crimes against the kingdom of Guardia, you have been sentenced to death. I am judge, jury, and executioner. How do you plead?"
"Guilty," Magus declared in response, lifting his scythe before him with defiance. "My sins are many, of this I am greatly aware. But I refuse to be judged by someone like you. You're far from being the White Knight you pretend to be, Sir Hero!"
For a moment, sadness passed across Cyrus' features. "Yes, my hands are not clean, and I also carry my share of guilt." Then his expression hardened again. "But I cannot go against the laws of the kingdom to whom I have sworn an oath of fealty. In the name of King Guardia, prepare yourself to feel the bite of the Masamune!"
"What? No pleas for me to mend my wicked ways? No tortured speeches about betrayal?"
"No. You are beyond redemption, Magus. The only thing left for you now is to die an honorable death, which is more than you deserve at this point."
The magician realized what he had been trying to do with all the insults. He had been stalling. I don't want to fight you, Cyrus, can't you see that? Look at me! he wanted to scream. Don't look at the Magus. I'm still Janus in here, somewhere. There is still a part of me that needs your friendship. Don't make me do this.
"I extend this offer to you only once, Hero," Magus said suddenly. "Return the Masamune and I shall spare your lives."
Ozzie, who had been quiet during the recent exchange, swiveled in the air to look at him. "What do you think you're doing?" he demanded in a low voice.
Magus ignored him and continued to speak only to Cyrus. "That sword belongs to the Mystics."
Cyrus placed his right hand on the hilt of the sword strapped to his back. "Does it, now?"
The second he touched it, Magus flinched. Like a hand closing around his heart, he could feel every finger of Cyrus' mailed fist wrap around the sword. A hideous sound filled his head, a combination of high pitched ringing and a low buzzing like a swarm of bees. Inch by inch, the enchanted blade was drawn from its simple leather sheath until it was fully exposed. To his horror, the mage could feel his magical energy being drawn towards it. The creepy sensation raised the hair all over his body.
"Impressive, is it not?" Cyrus gave the Masamune a few swings in front of him, showing it off.
Magus grimaced. "That piece of junk? You jest." He bared his teeth at the Human's smug smile. "And what, pray tell, do you find so amusing?"
"Just how easily lies fall from your tongue. You see, I know how your kind react to this sword. I've had the chance to try it out a few times already." He thrust it towards Magus and watched as he struggled not to step away. "You can feel it, can't you? Like it's alive?" When he didn't get a response, the Hero smirked again and took up a battle stance. "It's a fine weapon, one capable of wiping out your entire race and ridding the continent of the Mystic scourge forever!"
"If that is your mind, then you leave me no choice, Hero." Magus' hands began to glow around the hilt of his weapon, powering it up. Black energy darkened the blade, tinged with a purplish aura. "I wish I could say that your death will be quick and painless, old friend, but I fear it shall be far from it!"
Pushing off with his right foot, Magus leapt into the air, twirling his weapon over his head before bringing it down in a two-handed chop. His attack met with empty air as Cyrus dove to the side. Even as the deadly arc bit into the dirt, Magus was moving again, swinging it with his left hand at the Hero. This time, he connected with Cyrus' shield and felt the impact all the way up to his shoulder. He grunted, but didn't let up.
Cyrus swung out with the Masamune, and parried the blow. Magus countered. The second the enchanted weapon touched the metal shaft of the scythe's handle, a flash like white fire streaked across his vision. Disoriented, he stumbled back, pulling the weapons apart as he did so. The light vanished as if it had never been, leaving him shaken and sweating.
What was that? He watched as Cyrus took a moment to examine his shield and the deep cut Magus had left in the upper rim. That power seething in the blade... Could it be the true essence of the Masamune?
When Cyrus was finished, he nodded in Magus' direction. "Not bad. I applaud your skill. But it will not be enough to save you."
Magus' spat to the side, annoyed. "Quit talking and fight!" He ran towards Cyrus this time, slashing left and right.
The Hero raised his shield to block the first blow and prepared to stab forward with his sword. At the last minute, he found himself pushing the Masamune through empty space. He saw the ground rushing at his face. Twisting, he landed hard on his right shoulder and rolled into a crouch.
"Cyrus, behind thee!" Glenn yelled.
Cyrus looked up to see the hazy sunlight eclipsed by a dark, crescent shape that was on a direct collision course with his head. He barely brought his shield around in time, before Magus' weapon was upon him. The force of the blow sent him onto his back. The spike on the butt of the scythe stabbed at his face and he managed to move mostly out of the way. A gash that ran from forehead to chin was opened and he grimaced in pain. Still, he managed to swat at his enemy's leg, hitting the fractured edge of the shield into his unprotected, cloth covered shin.
Magus shouted and limped back, keeping weight off his severely bruised leg. The material had ripped, and he could see minor, bloody abrasions decorating the rising welt. He used his scythe as support for the moment, glaring daggers at the other warrior. "That was a cheap shot, Sir Knight."
"No more cheap than your disappearing acts, wizard!" Cyrus got to his feet and touched his bleeding cheek. "You think you're so powerful with your foul black magic. But Humans have a type of magic as well. It's a power that can make legends--" Here he held up the Masamune. "--and dreams, become reality! It's the power of the Human heart!"
Magus slashed at the air as if slashing the words themselves. "What nonsense! Do you expect me to buy your stupid, sentimental garbage? I've never heard of anything more ridiculous!" The howling wind turned into a vortex around his body and lifted his hair and cape straight up as he called on his magical energy. "I'll show you what true magic is, along with the definition of fear!"
Pointing at the ground by his left foot, he began the chant. "Sacred fire, purifier of souls, come to me and grant me your power. Let those who stand before me perish in flames!" By the time the words were spoken, he had drawn a red five-pointed star in the air before him. It crackled and pulsed with energy, some of it leeching its way towards the Masamune. But there was more than enough to send the likes of Cyrus to his grave. Placing his right arm through the center, the glowing lines twined around his arm like snakes and ignited. From shoulder to fingertip, his arm became pure fire; orange and yellow, and at its center, a core of the most vibrant blue. Giving a great cry, he raised that arm over his head, straining to touch the heavens themselves, while the wind around him exploded upwards in a translucent wall of steaming red.
"That's it, my boy!" Ozzie chortled from somewhere on the sidelines, probably behind a rock. "Show them what for!"
"Cyrus!" Glenn cried out in alarm.
"Don't worry," the knight replied to his friend, even as he eyed Magus. "I have it under control."
"I very much doubt that!" Magus brought his hand down and trailed his fingers against his own face, leaving marks of flame in his wake. The heat apparently had no effect on him as his skin didn't appear to burn. "For you, there is no escape!" With a broad sweep of his arm, a tidal wave of fire poured through the air, taking with it the glow around his arm and the markings on his face.
Cyrus saw it coming, and his eyes widened, but he held his ground. Dropping his shield, he held the Masamune before him with both hands. He gave a loud shout as the fire washed over him and hid his body from view.
Magus felt a brief tug of remorse at the death of his former friend. Then he shook his head. Hmph! What did that fool hope to accomplish, standing up to magic that strong? He's nothing more than melted metal and ash by now. It's no more than what he deserved for thinking he could best the greatest magician to have ever lived. And yet, the spell was still in effect, which was curious. Once the target was destroyed, the spell should have dissipated.
Suddenly, there was a flash of white light that tore the fire in two halves as easily as ripping a sheet of paper. The spell went out of control and flew in all directions. Magus slashed through one of the minor fireballs with his scythe and sidestepped another, watching with some small interest as it made a boulder screech behind him.
Ozzie poked his head out from behind the rock and waved a fist. "Watch where you're throwing that stu-- GACK!" He ducked behind the boulder again as another fireball glanced off the stone and whumped into the dirt.
Cyrus had taken position in front of his friend, using his sword to absorb the remaining tidbits of magic that flew in their direction before it hit them. When the last of the spell had been sucked away into the sword's greedy confines, the Hero said, "I'm sure you know by now that the Masamune absorbs magic. Your spells are nothing to me, so long as I hold this sword."
Magus bared his teeth in anger. "Then it just goes to show that without the sword, you're nothing!" Drawing a diamond in the air in front of him, he infused it with magic until it began to glow a cold blue. "Queen of diamonds, freeze my foes with the power of ice! Deliver into my hands the fury of a blizzard!" Putting his hands through the diagram, it encircled his wrists and fingers with bands of silvery blue and spread a pattern of white frost down his arms like bracers of magical lace.
The whipping wind became filled with snow, chilling their bodies after the heat of the previous attack. Cracking noises filled the air. Above the two Humans formed a slab of ice as big as a house, with a second one right above it, ready to plummet.
"Maybe you can survive fire," Magus sneered. "But I don't think even you could withstand the full force of this spell." With that, he let the ice begin to fall.
Cyrus shoved Glenn to the ground. "Stay down and cover your head with my shield!" he ordered. Glenn did so as the Hero raised his sword over his head and pointed it at the ice. In a ringing voice, he shouted, "Nirvana Strike!" The Masamune's buzzing noise increased as it took on a deep crimson glow. Raw energy danced along its keen edges, sucking in the magic around it to add to its own power. A blast of red light ignited from the tip and struck the magical ice, shattering it into billions of smaller chunks which rained down around him.
Glenn winced as ice struck the shield with such force that the metal he was holding up recoiled and hit the top of his head. "There's still one left!"
"Don't worry, I've got it!" Cyrus swung the blade through the air, chopping up larger bit of ice as they fell. When he had a clear shot, he aimed again. "Nirvana Strike!"
"Not this time!" Magus threw his scythe which whistled through the air land knocked the Masamune off target. Then, like a boomerang, the scythe returned to the hand of its master. The blast went askew and only destroyed part of the glacier.
"Glenn--!" was all Cyrus could get out before they were crushed under the ice.
Magus stood there for a moment, breathing hard, just looking at their frozen tomb. Cyrus had to be dead this time. Who knew how much that ice weighed? At last, it was over. Heaving a deep sigh of relief, the wizard allowed himself to lean on his scythe for support.
"You can come out, Ozzie," he said over his shoulder. "The battle is finished."
"Are you sure?" The disembodied voice of the Mystic leader drifted to him from the other side of his hiding place. "I don't want any more of your stray fireballs to come hurtling at my face again."
Despite himself, Magus found himself having a shaky laugh. "No fireballs, Ozzie. I promise. Besides, I used ice magic just now."
"So it's safe?"
"Yes, Ozzie. I--"
A gauntleted fist punched its way through the ice, sending a myriad of hairline fractures through the surface before the whole thing shattered. As Magus watched with disbelief, a very dented-looking Cyrus, and a shivering, bloodied Glenn struggled to stand.
Ozzie poked his head over the rock when he heard the noise and gulped. "I thought you said they were dead! They look very much alive to me!"
Magus' grip tightened on his weapon. "A problem I will rectify right now!" Drawing a swift, jagged line in the air, he chanted, "Judgment of the gods, I call upon the power of lightning!" The jagged line took on a yellow glow and snaked up his arms when he thrust them through the symbol hovering in the air. Throwing his arms wide, an arc of pure electrical energy arched from one palm to the other over his head.
"Cyrus...!" Glenn tugged on his friend's cape urgently and pointed.
"Why are you still standing?!" With a savage cry, Magus released the lightning. It tore along the ground in front of him, creating deep furrows in the earth and stone as the ice spell dissolved. Helplessly, he watched as the lightning was negated by the power of the Masamune, and he started to wonder if maybe this was a losing fight after all.
As if reading his mind, Cyrus held up his blade. "You're wasting my time. The more magic you throw at me, the more power I gain. This sword can dissolve your spells in a flash, while making the blade, and the wielder, even stronger." He looked down at himself and brushed lingering slivers of ice from his arms. "My armor protected me from your spell, but you hurt my friend, and that is something I won't let you get away with!" While he had been talking, the Masamune had powered up to its red glow. "Nirvana Strike!"
In what felt like a dream state, Magus saw the blast heading towards him. For a moment, he had flashbacks of when Cyrus' father, Sir Cedrick, had used this attack. He managed to mumbled a barrier spell but to no end. The attack, when executed by a normal sword, could be greatly painful. But with the Masamune's full force behind it, the blast was almost certain death. Magus felt the barrier hold for a second, slowing the brunt of the blast only a little, before he was lifted off his feet and slammed hard into the side of the mountain. He screamed as his skin began to tear itself off his face and arms from the Masamune's fury, while shredding the clothing and armor on his torso. Rock cracked around his body, making an imprint into the stone, before it was over.
Falling to the ground, he knew he wasn't dead because he was in too much pain. The back of his skull was killing him, and his blurry vision revealed a nasty looking blood stain on the rocks where he had impacted. His arms were covered in burns and abrasions, and from the feel of it, so was his face and chest. Dizzy, sick to his stomach, and feeling as weak as a newborn kitten, the mighty Magus groveled at the feet of the Hero of Guardia.
Approaching footfalls made him attempt to push himself up on all fours, but his arms refused to obey him. Cyrus circled him for a moment, before he knelt and almost gently touched the back of his opponent's head.
"That attack should have killed you in one hit," he murmured. "How unfortunate for you that you still live. Now you must suffer before the end." His fingers clenched in the stained blue hair, blood making the strands slip in his grasp so that it took two attempts to gain a firm handhold.
Magus choked, then cried out as he was half hauled to his feet by his hair alone. His head-wound throbbed hard enough to make his gorge rise while he got shaky feet under himself, bent sideways into Cyrus' painful grip. Then he felt himself hurled forwards. The world spun for a moment as he smacked into more rocks and fell back. A sharp cut arched across his shoulder, and he couldn't tell whether it was from the Masamune or simply a jagged rock. For a moment, dying seemed like a pleasant alternative to the agony. And then he felt the cold bump of Schala's amulet.
"But I can't...I can't die here..." Blood-caked lips moved without sound, even as he scoured the depths of his very being for the power to fight back. Against the pain, and the nauseating tug of the Masamune, he struggled, only to find that he had nothing left to give. A sudden cut on the back of his right leg caused it to go out from under him, and this time, he knew it was Cyrus' doing.
"Already at your limit?" The knight gripped the wizard's wounded shoulder and spun him around. Magus looked up through a red haze of blood and anger at his former friend. "Too bad. You haven't paid nearly enough for the pain you've inflicted on others."
Damn it! Is this all I am capable of? Is there nothing left within me? Magus let his eyes slide shut, awaiting the killing stroke. He felt the emptiness inside, the remainder of his magic having been sucked into the Masamune. Now there was nothing left but the darkness.
Dimly he heard Cyrus' voice, as if from the bottom of a deep chasm. "One stab through the heart, and it will all be over. Prepare to meet your maker!"
This is pathetic! Get up, you weakling! Brave the darkness, and use it as your ally! A burst of anger coursed through his consciousness, tasting of his blood and raw, dark energy. You will live!
No time! Trust in yourself, and the power buried within the depths of your soul, the real essence of the Magus!
The real essence of the Magus...? And then he understood. Concentrating his whole being on that empty feeling inside himself, he let it overtake him.
* * * * * * * *
He had known that he would win from the start. It was only a matter of time before he broke through Magus' defenses and was able to strike at the core within. The spells that he had deflected were dangerous, yes, but nothing that the Masamune couldn't handle. Perhaps it was a bit of a handicap to rely on a magical sword, but Cyrus figured it was worth it if he could finally destroy the leader of the Mystics.
He looked down at the man he had once called his friend, at the wounds he had so readily inflicted on him. No, he refused to feel one shred of guilt for any of this. It was Janus' fault, after all. He was the one in the wrong. Gripping his sword in both hands, he raised it high for a downward thrust into the Mystic's chest. He made the strike.
The next thing he knew, he was thrown off his feet and sent skidding on his back. Had Glenn not made a mad dive for his legs, he would have sailed right off the cliff side. As he pulled himself to a safer purchase, he looked to see what had been done to cause such a reaction to the Masamune. His eyes widened
Magus was floating about two feet in the air, surrounded by a pulsating miasma of blue-black energy. His skin was leeched of all color, becoming a ghostly white while his hair looked to be made of indigo fire. The blood on his body, once red, had turned the color of a starless midnight, and matched the emptiness in his black, black eyes. No pupils nor whites could be seen, just an endless sea of onyx.
The Masamune thrummed disconcertingly in Cyrus' hand, and he had the faint impression that the sword itself was afraid.
"Cyrusssss...." Magus hissed the name, his voice far colder than the now-melted ice. "We're far from finished!"
The Hero used Glenn for support as he got to his feet. Where did this new power come from?! He was drained of magic only moments ago! And those wounds... How can he still have the strength to stand? The young knight held the enchanted sword before him, ignoring its continued shuddering in his hand, as he readied himself for the continuation of the battle. "Maybe you do have a few tricks left up your sleeve," he quipped, "but how long do you think you can last?"
"As long as it takes to put an end to you!" Magus reached out a hand and his scythe flew into it. A laugh tore itself from his throat as he ignited it with energy and began spinning it over his head. Faster and faster it twirled until, with a thunderclap, he stopped. As he lowered his hands, it was plainly visible that his weapon had been transformed. Longer and more ornate, it now sported blades on both ends, one curving inward and the other outward.
"No matter how elaborate your weapon, you're still no match for the Masamune!" Cyrus concentrated for a second, and the enchanted sword responded to his mental commands. It ceased shivering and began to glow red. "Nirvana Strike!"
"Useless!" The miasma of evil surrounding Magus negated the attack even before it made contact. The blast fizzled and died to nothing before the mottled mist.
"Damn it!" Cyrus muttered under his breath. What's wrong? Why isn't the Masamune drawing away his power? Unless, maybe this new power was something that the sword couldn't handle? He nodded to himself. That must be it. But then, how can I hope to defeat him?! Cyrus forced himself to calm down and think. All right, so he had been relying too much on the sword. But all was not lost. It was still capable of deflecting normal spells and cutting through magic barriers. If he based a strategy around that, maybe he still had a chance.
Things would now become more complicated and he didn't want Glenn to be involved. On his own, he might stand a chance, but he couldn't protect both himself and his friend without putting the boy at risk. Pulling his friend close, he whispered, "Glenn, escape while I keep him at bay!" Charging forward with a battle cry, Cyrus brought the Masamune up in a swing. Magus blocked it with one end of his new double-bladed scythe and countered with a slash at Cyrus's midsection. That was repelled by the Knight's shield. "Go, Glenn! Now's your chance!"
The green-haired youth shook his head. "No! I can be of help to thee!" He started to reach for his dagger.
"What a nuisance!" Magus hissed, powering up a ball of electricity and hurling it at Glenn. The young Knight, hampered as he was by his previous injuries, barely scrambled away in time to avoid being hit. "It won't be so easy to escape," the warlock said with a grim smile. Flicking his mind around the lightning, he pulled it around in a circle and aimed it square at Glenn's back. Then Cyrus was there, cutting through the magic with his enchanted blade. The lightning sizzled along it's length, some of it going into his body, the rest being absorbed.
"You're not helping me, Glenn!" Cyrus shouted, brushing sweat off his forehead with the back of his sword hand.
"But, I just-"
Cyrus hated to have to do this, but it was for the boy's own good. "I don't need you to protect me! I can do this on my own! Stop trying to be heroic, all the time!"
"I can't fight with you around me!" Cyrus took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and said the damning words. "I don't want you here! You're in the way!"
Hurt filled Glenn's visage. His hand slipped from the hilt of his knife. He watched as Cyrus engaged the enemy again, sword edge clanging against that of the scythe. Minute nicks could be seen along the edges in the brief pauses when the weapons were still.
"No! I won't leave thee!"
"Don't be stupid! If you don't go now, we'll both die!"
There was a flash of light and the wizard made a sound of pain, slashing at Cyrus to keep him back as he retreated a short distance. Magus looked down, inspecting the cut on his right inner wrist. The gash was bleeding profusely. The pain in his skull was worrying him, though. His vision would waver between fuzzy and solid at will. His words were just as cold and harsh as the wind that whipped about them as he confronted Cyrus, scythe outstretched before him. "Your friend is right. You'd better worry more about yourself!"
The knight growled in his throat and gave his friend a shove. "Come on, Glenn! GO!!" Spinning on his heel, he gave a cry and lunged at Magus with a violent swing.
"Pathetic," Magus sneered, blocking one swipe after another. "Now you die!"
"No! I won't let thee!" Glenn leapt in front of Cyrus as the scythe whistled downward in a diagonal slash. The sound of metal cutting into flesh was loud above the wind that howled against the rocky peaks. Magus withdrew his scythe from the boy's stomach, watching impassively as blood welled from the deep wound. The green haired youth doubled over, clutching at the source of this new and terrible pain. A ragged scream escaped his throat as the shock of the injury fully hit him.
"You always insist upon coming between me and my kill!" Magus shouted, blood wet hands twisting back and forth against the hilt of his scythe. "Time to finish you once and for all!"
"Beware Glenn!" Cyrus shouted, running to his side and catching the second blow on the Masamune before Magus could finish the boy off. Metal screeched against metal as the two combatants struggled.
Magus's eyes burned from beneath lowered brows with a terrible fury. "Why do you protect him!?"
"Because he's my friend!" Cyrus yelled back.
"Friendship? Bah! Friendship will only...get you...KILLED!" Power sizzled up Magus's weapon. Cyrus flinched as some of the electric waves rolled through his body before being absorbed by the Masamune. Burn marks blossomed on his exposed skin, red at first but then followed by blistering. Cyrus gritted his teeth and bore the pain.
The ringing metal of the enchanted sword forced the warlock back, but he was not daunted. Pressing his feet firmly against the rocks, Magus attacked again. His scythe had tasted blood, and like a living thing, he could feel it hunger for more. It wanted to take a life. The life of that boy, the life of the Hero...it mattered not.
"DIE!" Magus shouted, throwing everything he had into his next attack. He allowed the electricity still infusing his weapon to gather along the bloody edge of the scythe blades before swinging it over his head and downward in a long arc. Magical energy exploded through the air and raced at the Hero.
Cyrus was almost pushed over by the ferocity of the attack. Such...power! How can anyone hope to defend against it? He chopped the Masamune through the air, negating some of the magic and sending bolts of lightning flying in all directions. Where they hit, rocks exploded. He didn't dare blink the hazy grit from his eyes. Taking his attention off the magician for even a moment could prove to be fatal.
"You're slowing down," the wizard taunted. He traced a glowing sign in the air and placed his palm on it. Fire erupted. Cyrus swung again, grunting as the blaze burned him further. Rock melted and what sparse vegetation there was became incinerated.
He's right, Cyrus thought, moving out of the way of another wave of fire. I can't keep this up forever. Standing his ground against the next assault, he deflected the fire and raised the Masamune over his head. "Nirvana Strike!"
Cyrus saw the wicked glint in the Magus' soulless eyes as he gripped his weapon in both hands in front of himself and took the blast full on. He began to laugh. "Child's play!" A ball of utter darkness began to coalesce around the point where Cyrus' attack touched the scythe. It grew bigger and bigger until it was half the size of the wizard himself. "Dark Bomb!"
The two energies collided in an intense flash of light, followed by a thunderous concussion that left everyone with ringing ears. Dust flew everywhere. Magus pulled his cape up to shield his face, coughing. Through squinted eyes, he could see Cyrus doing the same thing. Then he noticed the three thin shards of rock that had been torn up from the ground and were now impaled in the Hero's chest on the right side. The force of the spell had driven them through the ornate armor he wore and into his body. How deeply, Magus couldn't tell. On the Knight's hand was fresh blood which bubbled up from his mouth as he coughed. He bravely wiped his lips and swallowed, no doubt almost choking as he took a shaky, wheezing breath. Blood began to ooze from the holes in his breast plate and his hand trembled as he lifted the sword in front of him once again.
"You can't win this," Magus stated. He nodded at the man's wounds. "You're injured and beaten. Not even your precious Masamune can save you now."
"I'm....not beaten!" Cyrus grit his teeth, trying to smother a cough. A thick stream of blood ran from the corner of his mouth and dripped from his chin. "As long as I have life in my body, I will defeat you!" He lifted his head proudly and tightened his hand around the sword.
"I don't believe this," Ozzie said from the sidelines. "You're almost as good as dead, and you want to keep going? You've got to be the biggest glutton for punishment the Humans have to offer!"
The Hero grimaced and shook his head to clear it. "I guess I am." For a second, he looked faint. Then he pulled himself together. "But I am the only hope my kingdom has. I can't lose. I won't!"
"You're no Hero," Ozzie went on. "You're just another weakling with a sword. And to think we've all been afraid of you!" He gave a cruel laugh. "The perfect Knight? Ha! You're worthless!"
"Worthless! Worthless!" Ozzie chanted the word over and over in a singsong voice, laughing and pointing.
Cyrus took a shaky step forward. "I'm not worthless!"
"Yes you are," Pendil chortled. He was sitting by one of the camp fires, polishing his sword. Cyrus looked around himself at the other men and warriors as they went about their business. All eyes were on him with loathing. "Stupid peasant!" Pendil continued. "Who do you think you are?"
"This isn't real," Cyrus mumbled, spinning in a circle. "It's not!"
"Thou art no son of mine!" Cedrick's face looked disgusted as he picked up his gear from where he used to keep it beside the front door.
"Father!" Cyrus reached out to grab his arm, but his fingers passed through the man like smoke. "Father, I will avenge your death!"
"No, no! It's all right now," Llana said, pouring tea into cups on the kitchen table. One cup, two...three, four...They just kept appearing. "I understand. Everything will be fine now."
She looked up and smiled. "You don't have to struggle anymore. It's almost time for bed. Drink your tea like a good boy." She pressed a cup into his hand. He looked down and gasped. It was filled with blood. The cup fell from nerveless fingers. It hit the wooden floor and broke. "You bad boy! You didn't drink it! That's okay. There is more where that came from." The cups on the table began overflowing. Llana smiled sweetly. "Worthless child, to let his own father die."
The blood became flames. A small boy was pinned under a rafter beam that had fallen on him. He was on fire, burning. "You said we were friends," young Janus accused, reaching a blackened hand out to Cyrus. "Where were you?"
"Pathetic!" Magus sneered. "Now you die!"
"I can't do this," Cyrus cried, wrapping his arms over his head. "I never could. I wanted to be a warrior, and tried my best, but it's no use. They're right. I am worthless. I can't save anyone. All this time I've been out for blood, but now, when it really matters, I don't have the strength to win. And I'm so tired of fighting and trying to live up to everyone's expectations of me."
"Ow! Big Brother, it hurts!"
"I think...I think his soul just broke..."
There came a sharp sound, like crystal breaking. A shriek of wind threatened to lift everyone off their feet and toss them over the cliff's edge. Cyrus came back to himself abruptly. What was that? What just...happened to me? He gave a convulsive shudder as his wounds flared pain throughout his body. The Masamune had broken in half. Everyone stared at the blade as it fell to the ground.
"I don't believe it." Glenn whispered through numb lips. He staggered over to his friend, trailing large quantities of blood with every step. "Cyrus! The sword...The Masamune!"
"But that's...impossible!" Cyrus looked between the hilt in his hands and the stump of blade that remained. The rest of the sword lay in the dust at his feet. "This can't be happening! This is the legendary weapon, Masamune!"
"Legendary piece of crap, you mean!" Ozzie laughed.
"Why did it break?" Glenn demanded. "Cyrus, thou must tell me! Why did it break!?" His wound forgotten, he gripped his friend in near hysterics and shook him. "Why?! Why, why, why, why?!" He bowed his head and leaned into the taller man, his strength nearly depleted. "Tis' a magic sword...It can not break!" He felt a shudder run through his friend and looked up. The Hero's face was dead white. His eyes were filled with something Glenn had never seen before. Defeat.
"It looks like you're all out of tricks," Magus commented, nodding at the broken blade. "Such a shame. It really was your only hope of beating me." Without warning, he raised a gloved hand and fired a blast of ice in their direction. Cyrus blocked the deadly missiles with his shield. The metal froze and then cracked, falling from his arm in a vaguely snow-like substance. He watched it go, along with any feelings of hope he still harbored.
"Cyrus! Look out!"
The Hero had barely enough time to fend off the next blow from Magus. The wizard, knowing that he now had the upper hand, came at him with a vengeance. He hacked at the knight, trying to send the remains of the Masamune flying from his hands. Glenn fell to his knees where he was, unable to support himself any longer.
"Where is your miracle, Cyrus?" Magus grated out.
The Hero looked at his opponent with confusion. He missed a cut and received a gash on his upper left arm. "What are you talking about?!" he demanded, side stepping another attack.
"Who's going to save you from me? Will it be your little friend, I wonder?"
"Leave him alone! You've already killed enough people!"
Magus knocked Cyrus's guard to one side and backhanded him across the face with a closed fist. Bone snapped and blood flowed in a crimson gush from a broken nose. The Hero fell to his knees, one hand trying to stanch the blood, and the other holding up the broken sword to keep the other man at bay.
"Gyah ha ha..." Ozzie chortled. "Is THAT the best you can do?! Without your sword, you're nothing!"
He's right, Cyrus thought to himself with a sinking heart. I knew that sword was the only way to defeat them. He grit his teeth. Maybe he was going to die. In fact, he was sure of it. But he would go down fighting. No matter how worthless he might be, or how pointless it was to struggle. He had to try for Glenn and Leene's sakes. No, for the sake of the whole world!
The warlock retreated, and Ozzie left his hiding place. It was clear that they could finish Cyrus whenever they chose. "There is still one more person who must die. Do you have any last words?"
"Coward!" Cyrus gasped. "Don't talk like it's over!"
"No!" The knight got to his feet, stumbled a few steps to his knees, rose again. "Fight! Fight, damn you!"
Magus watched his adversary with dead eyes. "No."
Cyrus slumped to his knees again, giving a despairing cry as he punched one fist into the dirt. I can't believe it's ending like this. I'm too weak to beat him. He won't fight me because I'm no longer a match for him. He's won. The sound of footsteps coming closer were like death knells in the cathedral. His executioner was coming for him. The knight licked his lips, tongue coating itself in his sweat and blood.
He glanced over at where Glenn had made himself into a miserable ball. The boy looked semiconscious. His eyes were on his friend, and they were filled with such trust that Cyrus felt sick. He had failed everyone. Glenn, Leene, Claudane, his father, his mother, the King, the Knight Captain, his entire kingdom. I guess a disgraced peasant really can't become a hero.
"Well?" Magus asked impatiently.
"I ask that you...not kill my friend," Cyrus muttered softly. It hurt his pride to beg this way, but he had so little left to give as it was. If it would save Glenn, he'd do anything. He owed his friend that much.
Ozzie cackled. "How touching! He's begging us not to kill his little green-headed buddy."
"Shut up!" Magus snapped. The Mystic broke off in mid laugh, scowling. But he held his tongue. "Is that your final request, Sir Hero?"
Cyrus wanted to scream. There was so much anger in him that just had no outlet. He hated himself for being such a failure. "Yes," he replied, choking on the words. "Spare him and I will...surrender."
From his hunched position, Glenn lifted his head a little higher in shock as his brain registered these words. "What art thou saying?"
"He's saying that he's giving up," Magus replied coldly.
"No! Cyrus would never do that!" Glenn cried, shaking his head. "Fight them! Thou canst still win!"
"No, Glenn," Cyrus answered softly. He lowered his sword arm. The remains of the Masamune clattered on the ground. "It's over."
"Cyrus, no!" Glenn tried to get to his feet but couldn't. Instead, he tried to crawl his way towards his friend. "Thou art a fool! What about thine love for Leene? Thou canst not die!" Tears left streaks in the dirt that covered the youth's cheeks. He sobbed. "C-Cyrus...I'm a g-goner...Thou needest not hold back for my sake!"
"NO!" Cyrus's voice was a whip crack above the wind. "I won't hear you talking this way. You're going to live. You must live. Someone has to protect the Queen." He offered his friend a sad smile. "This has always been my battle. I won't have you dying for something I must face on my own. If this is my destiny, you can't interfere."
Magus regarded his fallen adversary with something akin to pity on his face. "I...didn't want it to end this way."
Cyrus clenched his jaw and refused to look at his former friend. "Well, it did! Don't demean my death with your stupid regrets. I know you don't really mean them anyway." He paused. "You...will keep your promise, right? You'll let Glenn go?"
Magus tossed his blue hair over his shoulder, streaking it with blood as he brushed some of it out of his face and behind his ear. "The boy is dying, you know." His voice was low, unemotional. "It would be better if I put him out of his misery."
"No," Cyrus said firmly. "He'll live. I know he will."
The warlock shrugged. "If it helps you die any easier to think that, so be it. The boy holds no interest for me. When this is over, he may do as he pleases with whatever time he has left."
Magus shrugged again. "Even a so-called murderer can afford to be generous on occasion."
Ozzie crossed his arms over his chest in a pout. "What's taking so long? I don't want to be here all day! Just kill the bastard already!"
Cyrus knew his life was forfeit, but Glenn would live on. He knew whatever was left of Janus inside the cold being he had become would not allow him to break his word so easily. He slowly picked up his shattered weapon and held the broken hilt of the Masamune in front of him. It was a poor defense if ever there was one, but this was only for show after all.
Getting to his feet, he turned to Glenn and gave the Knight's salute. There were so many things he wanted to say; thank yous, best wishes, apologies all crowded his mouth at once until, in the end, he wasn't able to say anything at all. He could see the hurt in Glenn's face. He knew this must feel like the biggest betrayal to him. He always did think of me too highly, Cyrus thought with fondness. Turning away, he gripped his broken sword tightly and rushed to meet his destiny.
* * * * * * * *
Magus saw the man heading right toward him, a strangely peaceful look on his face. The blue haired Mystic closed his eyes for a brief second. I'm sorry. But I'm not going to die here. I can't. Even if I have to kill you to survive. Gathering energy, Magus made a wave of his arm and grayish lightning flew outward. The energy crackled as it hit Cyrus full in the chest, throwing him backwards. His body hit the ground and skidded to a halt at Glenn's feet.
The youth's eyes widened. He looked down at his friend, his whole body paralyzed with shock and grief. He felt as if this were a dream, some horrible nightmare too imaginary to be real. "C-Cyrus!" He crawled beside the knight's body, his left hand finding and holding his friend's. "No! NO!"
"Cyrus, hang on! Thou must not die! What of Leene? Thou canst not leave her! What of our friendship? Thou art my best friend! There art people who need thee here!"
"It's...too late....Glenn. I'm....sorry." He smiled faintly, closing his eyes. "Farewell, my friend. The Queen...Take care...of........Leene........" Glenn felt the tremor that went through Cyrus's body as he exhaled. A single tear escaped his closed eyes and slid down the fallen Hero's ashen cheek. It splashed down onto the Hero's Medal where it had come off and landed beside the dead man.
"C-Cyrus?! Cyruuus!" He bowed his head over his friend, unable to cry, unable to breathe or think or even move. Time had stopped for him. He couldn't believe it. The one person he had felt sure would win this war was now dead.
The way the boy was grieving over his fallen comrade only served to make Magus sick. His own pain gnawed at him, but he tossed the weak emotion aside. This was no time to be feeling remorse. He watched as Glenn slowly raised his head, lifting the broken hilt between his palms. With more courage than Magus had given him credit for, he managed to get to his feet.
"One day...I swear on this sword...You will pay for this travesty!"
"You would waste the gift that your friend's life has bought you?" Magus formed a ball of fire in his palm. "Very well. If you're so eager to die, allow me to speed you on your way to him."
Glenn staggered back. He had no intentions of attacking Magus. Not today, anyway. He was barely able to stay on his feet as it was. The world kept lurching back and forth. He felt sure he was swaying from side to side to keep balance.
Dissipating the fireball, the Mystic wizard snorted. "What's the matter? Aren't you going to try your luck?" He wanted to see what the boy planned to do, now that his beloved Hero had been slain.
"Well, what'll it be?" Ozzie prompted. "It's not wise to keep the great Magus waiting for an answer."
Glenn swallowed. "Err....!"
Ozzie chortled again. "Cat got your tongue, kid?" He turned to his protégé. "Go ahead and kill him. There's no sense in leaving him alive. Send him to his friend so we can go home."
But Magus didn't move. Instead, he was looking at Cyrus's body. You died so that he could live, didn't you? You knew that you couldn't defeat me, so you sacrificed yourself in his place. Is this your so-called friendship? Wasn't ours strong enough to prevent this? Bitterness seeped into the empty cavity that had been left at the Knight's demise. So be it then. You brought this on yourself. I won't kill your friend, out of respect for your memory. But if he and I cross paths again, I make no guarantees.
Ozzie looked at Magus strangely. "Hey! How about it, Magus? Can't you give this brat a more fitting form? Perhaps, that of a corpse?"
Raising his head, Magus smirked. He had decided. "No, I've got something far more humiliating in mind."
"Aaah, I see. Playing with your prey, are you? That's good, my boy. That's very good. Take your time with this one then. He's caused us enough grievance."
Magus laughed. "All right, why not? There's always time for a little fun." Raising his arm he began to chant.
Glenn gasped as he felt his body begin to grow suddenly cold. His teeth chattered. "W-what art thou doing to me?!"
"Giving you your just desserts, my boy," Ozzie answered. "This will teach you to mess with the mighty Magus!"
"A...augh!!" Light enveloped Glenn's body. Stumbling around in a panic, he stepped too close to the edge of the cliff. Slipping, he plummeted into the mist below.
Ozzie laughed loudly and leaned over the edge, trying to see if the boy had splattered on any of the rocks. "The spineless wimp! Too bad. I should have liked to see his new form." Looking back at the young man, he asked, "Why didn't you want to kill him, though? You wouldn't happen to be honoring your dead friend's final request, hmm?"
"I don't like the tone of your voice," Magus answered, walking where Cyrus lay. He looked down at the battle-worn face that was still in repose. "Why shouldn't I honor a request of his?"
"Because he's a Human!" the Mystic leader sputtered.
"Human or not, he fought bravely, like a true warrior. This was my last token of friendship to him."
Bending down, he lifted the broken blade of the Masamune in his hand. It vibrated like a beating heart, an utterly repulsive feeling. It was sucking his magical energy right through his hand. Looking around, he couldn't locate the hilt. It seemed that the boy had taken it with him when he fell. No matter. With great distaste for the magic drain he was feeling, the wizard ascended the slope of the mountain, hopping from boulder to ledge with ease. He located the cave and entered into its gloom. The wind was blowing with even more fervor in this place. He found a pedestal where the sword had once been thrust into the stony ground. Reverently, he slid the blade into it's resting place and felt it click. The humming vibrations stopped. Nodding to himself, he left without a backward glance.
Ozzie greeted him as he came back down. "Why did you do that? Didn't you want to hide it?"
Magus shrugged. "Dreamstone is extinct now. That sword will never be lifted again by Human hands."
The fat green Mystic looked dubious. "Well, if you say so, my boy. Anyway, good work today. I'm going back to the Fort to tell everyone the good news. There will be feasting and merriment tonight! And of course, you'll be the Guest of Honor."
"I'd rather not."
"Nonsense! You have to be." Ozzie elbowed Magus in the side with a grin and a wink. "It's not every day you win a war, right?"
Magus pulled a strand of hair from his mouth that had gotten stuck in a smear of blood across his chin. "We haven't won the war. The Hero is dead, but that doesn't mean the Humans will just give up and die too. We still have a long way to go before we reach peace."
"Hey! Stop trying to rain on my parade!" Ozzie crossed his arms and glared. "If you don't want to come to the party, that's fine. But don't go ruining it for everyone else with your sour attitude. Lighten up, already!" Muttering about the lack of good humor in his young general, he teleported away.
Left on his own, Magus closed his eyes and stretched out a mental communication. Are you still there?
Congratulations. You've just taken your first step into a larger world.
Who are you?
You'll know, in time.
Gritting his teeth, he felt the mental connection snap between him and his anonymous benefactor, and knew he was alone once more. The new power in him faded, leaving behind a fraction of his old powers that had been restored since the Masamune had been laid to rest. The pain of his wounds was now nearly overwhelming, and he staggered at their renewed force. Whatever strength that had been lent to him was gone now, and he was back to the sorry state he had been in earlier while at Cyrus' mercy.
"Thanks a lot," he grated from between clenched teeth, knowing that his words couldn't be heard. Whether he was being seriously thankful for the help, or sarcastic about his sudden lack of it, even he wasn't too sure.
Expending a bit of energy for a teleport, he was about to follow Ozzie when he noticed something shiny on the ground beside the Hero's body. Walking over, he picked up what looked to be a flat, circular object with the Guardian crest on it. "The Hero's Medal," he whispered, brushing grime and blood from it's surface. He closed his hand around it and bowed his head for a moment. "Farewell, my friend." Then he raised his arm and threw as hard as he could. The light caught the gold bangle as it sailed over the edge of the cliff and into the chasm.
Burning the body seemed the only acceptable thing to do. It would be a disgrace to allow the birds and the bugs to desecrate Cyrus' remains. Magus set the body aflame with a simple spell, gradually intensifying it until nothing was left but ashes. These were quickly caught up by the wind and blown away. Sighing, and doing his best not to think about what he had done, Magus departed from Mt. Denadoro with the intention of never returning to this place again.
* * * * * * * *
He awoke to the feeling of water lapping gently against the underside of his chin. With consciousness came the waves of pain all over his body. Glenn whimpered but lacked the strength to move. The last thing he remembered was falling from a great height and hitting his head on the way down. From the trickling sound of water, he deduced that he was laying on his stomach in some sort of small stream or shallow pool. In his hand, he felt the solid weight of the Masamune's hilt. He released it and heard it clatter on the wet stones, leaving his fingers numb and stiff.
"Cyrus..." He groaned and tried to push himself up, but his wounds protested, and he found himself back where he started. "Damn it all!" He forced his body to obey, getting shaky arms under himself. He dragged his body as far as he could before his arms gave out and he slumped back onto the hard, albeit dry, rocks of the shore. Something cold was pressed under his cheek, and didn't feel at all like stone.
Opening his eyes was a task he almost didn't complete. Blood from a cut on his forehead had caked his left eye shut and his right eye felt huge and swollen. Eventually, he got them open and raised his head. The Hero's Medal looked a little worse for wear, being bent out of shape in several places, but was otherwise fine. Tears stung Glenn's eyes.
"Oh, Cyrus...I canst not believe that thou art really gone..." It was all his fault. If he hadn't been in the way, or if he hadn't been so weak, Cyrus might have still been alive. "It should have been me to die! It should have been me..." Closing his eyes, a sob worked its way out of his throat. "Forgive me..." For many long moments he cried on that lonely shore, the little creek the only witness to the grief he had been unable to display earlier. Then, abruptly, he shook his head. "Nay, the fault shall not lay with me! 'Tis the fault of that damned Magus! He murdered Cyrus, not I!"
Yes, yes that was right! Glenn had seen it with his very eyes, the demise of his best friend. It was all Magus' fault, that murdering bastard! He had fought with cheap black magic tricks, and with deceit and cunning. And though the ever loyal Glenn had sought to help protect his friend, it was all for naught.
"I shall never forgive this," he swore. "Even if it takes me one hundred years, I shall slay the Magus and avenge Sir Cyrus!"
Opening his eyes, he blinked the moisture from them. The medal looked butter yellow against the gray backdrop of common stones, the way Cyrus had always stood out from the regular soldiers and knights of Guardia. Now, the only thing Glenn had to remember him by was this dinky gold decoration. Still, it was better than nothing, and what if it was a message sent from beyond the grave that his friend would always be with him in spirit? Sniffling loudly, he decided that he liked the sound of that reasoning and moved his right hand to collect it.
Instantly, he froze. His skin, once a normal flesh tone, was now bright green with brown stripes down the outside of his arm. His fingers were spindly and ended in rounded nubs. Moving his other hand in front of his face, he saw the same thing had happened to that one as well.
"By the gods, what trickery be this?!"
Ozzie looked at Magus, an evil smile spreading his fanged mouth wide. "Hey! How about it, Magus? Can't you give this brat a more fitting form?"
Magus cackled, those empty black eyes burning into Glenn like firebrands. "All right, why not? There's always time for a little fun."
So that's what had happened. Glenn looked at his hands, trembling. "What foul beast didst thou turn me into?!" Picking up the medal with clumsy fingers, he stuffed it into his pocket and crawled back down to the water. The rippled surface provided an adequate mirror to show his hideous new visage.
His scream of rage reverberated off the canyon walls, disrupting the birds in all the nearby trees. They took wing in fright, leaving behind the misshapen, wounded figure who repeatedly smashed his fists into the water. But the reflection refused to go away.
* * * * * * * *
The garden of the inner courtyard was almost surreal in its silence. Not a breath of air stirred the old bushes. No birds or insects chirped. The only sound was the slow tap-tap of boot heels on the flagstone walkway, followed by the crunch of grass as Magus stepped off the path.
The red flowers were dead. The blossoms were drooping, lifeless. Some of the petals had already fallen to the ground and were browning. The white flower cradled the dead one in its vines like a spider preparing to wrap its victim in silk thread.
"Smug, beautiful killer. It's so easy now, isn't it? You can go on living while the body of the one you murdered turns to dust. You killed the only good thing in your miserable life." Kneeling down, the young man gently began untangling the wilted flower from the clutch of the other. "It never needed you to survive, the way you need it," he went on. "Just as he never needed me." Halfway through, the dead plant broke off in his hand, and he sighed. "You never realize how much you miss something until its gone. He was...the purpose in my life, the one thing I was trying to protect to make up for the way I couldn't protect Schala. And in the end, I couldn't protect him either, because he didn't need me. Not like she needed me."
The white flower lay in a puddle of its own vines. Without the support of the other plant, it couldn't stand on its own. It looked less like the triumphant victor in a battle of the fittest, crumpled against the moist earth. Now, it resembled a confused and sickly ghost, at a loss for what to do with no castle left to haunt.
"It's not so easy, standing on your own," Magus whispered. "What will you do now, beautiful killer? Who is left for you to protect?"
Getting up, he dusted off his knees and turned to go back inside. The flower didn't call after him to stay. It was just a weed, after all. And dying is best done alone.