A Look on Another One Part 4
Chapter 26, Wizard vs. Magician
Janus forced himself not to flinch and recoil as the whip lashed at him, despite the screaming of his instinct which wanted to cover for the remembered pain. He threw up the staff in both hands to let it take the hit, holding it forcefully as the whip wrapped itself several laps around the wood. He couldn’t risk Flea ripping his weapon away and threw out the staff in a wide swing to unarm the Mystic instead.
But the whip stretched like gluey toffee and slipped off from its coiling. Flea caught it with his free hand as it returned to him, his eyebrows twitching with a sneer.
Janus’ lips moved a little by the edges, nothing more.
The two combatants circled each other, which was a complicated matter since none of them were prepared to trust the friends of the other one, thereby unwilling to turn his back at the other party.
‘This isn’t working,’ Janus experimentally sent towards the magician’s mind after trying to keep an eye on the Mystics and Flea at the same time for a few moments.
It took a second before the reply came. Obviously the pink skinned one hadn’t expected that.
And if it hadn’t been for Janus’ strange relationship with his versions, Flea wouldn’t have had to be surprised either since the wizard probably never would have considered talking telepathically with him.
‘Point there, cutie.’
‘Anywhere else we could take this?’
‘This is the fight of the century, sweeth…’
‘Don’t even say it.’
‘Sweetheart,’ Flea smirked and sent the whip towards the wizard again, forcing him to parry.
Janus snarled both in his thoughts and aloud but caught the lash once more.
‘You know my point,’ the Mystic continued less mocking than before, ‘they’ll want to watch. Slash and Ozzie are too.’
‘You don’t happen to have an underground coliseum or something, I presume?’ Janus dryly said.
‘Our funds are limited right now.’
‘Ah yes, of course. But then maybe…’
The only thing the watchers saw was that Flea took the whip back and raised his free hand, at the same time as Janus held up the staff as he did when preparing to finish a spell.
“Powers of the world, lend me pure power! Samea twandor!”
As they finished their spells the ground sprouted softly green, transparent petals which rose around the fighters like a closing flower. It forced the spectators backwards since it took up almost all space there was in the courtyard.
“You’re freaking me out these days, Flea!” came Slash’s irritated voice as the purple Mystic emerged from the gate with a massive frown.
“We need the space, hon,” the magician replied, cracking the whip to signal that the battle was on again.
No more treaties.
Janus had used the spell casting to free the blades of his staff and now he slashed at his opponent’s weapon to cut it. But it just got thrown aside a little by the sharp edge, too tough to sever. The wizard didn’t let it get to him and charged at Flea before the monster could prepare another lash.
Flea danced aside and grabbed the whip in his free hand, holding up and stretching it quicker than a snake bites as Janus aimed the staff straight at his foe again. The blade hit the stretched, red material and the rebound almost sent the harder weapon flying out of the owner’s hand. Janus nearly lost his balance, stumbling aside as Flea let go and instead of using the whip clawed at the man’s face with fingers dangerously bent. Long nails flashed like metal in the sun.
‘I’m not up for a catfight,’ Janus sent over in a mildly humorous tone.
‘You’ve got long enough hair to be a woman, cutie,’ Flea smirked back with a small, amused sparkle in his eyes.
He leaped backwards as Janus regained control and lashed out his staff.
‘You’re awfully friendly today,’ the magician commented.
The right part of Janus’ lips moved upwards a little in a joyless smile.
‘I’ve had a different relationship with the Mystics for a few days,’ he admitted.
‘Now let’s not get softhearted even if I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.’
‘What, we’re agreeing again? This can’t be good.’
‘No,’ Janus agreed and ducked another lash, ‘we better stop this or this battle…’
‘Won’t be half as fun. Don’t tell me you were gonna say anything else. What’s so funny?’
Flea flashed his teeth again as the whip snapped into a curl in his hand and disappeared under his shrouding cloak together with his fists. The wizard’s eyes went warily thin and he changed the grip of his staff.
‘What’s he planning now?’ he thought.
‘Don’t give him time to finish it!’ the Prince shouted as Flea’s lips moved soundlessly.
Janus dashed forwards to end the silent chanting but the whip lashed out and a searing pain cracked his right shoulder, arm and cheek, almost tearing up a bit of his lips.
Unable to hold back a flow of curses in the agony he stumbled backwards again, distantly hearing Crono and Frog’s shouts of worry. Their anguish of being unable to help due to the barrier was nearly overpowered by the sounds of glee from the Mystics.
‘Heal yourself!’ the Pawn roared, seeing his pupil momentarily confused by the twisting memories the pain brought back.
“Crybaby,” Flea smirked, and his cloak flowed around him in a magic wind that began to lift him from the ground.
“… Power of Water… na matala sela!” Janus snarled through tightly clenched teeth.
The agony and memories began to subside, but not fast enough. He reared backwards as Flea swept up before him, the thin red-brown eyes shining dangerously.
“Care to dance?” the Mystic smirked, slamming his foot down on the staff that Janus held in both hands.
He couldn’t retain his grip and the weapon hit the ground.
“Janus!” Frog helplessly yelled from the other side of the wall.
‘Focus on something!’ the Prince shouted, ‘he’ll try to confuse you!’
The two calls came simultaneously, and at the same time Flea grabbed Janus’ crag. The wind that kept the white cloak flying rose to roar in the wizard’s ears as he tried to get a hold of his opponent’s arm. Flea’s heavy foot in his stomach stopped that attempt. Out of air Janus fought to breathe and stop himself from bending over. He had to keep his balance to be able to keep up with the Mystic…
The wizard’s head spun as he tried to clutch oxygen for his aching lungs, and Flea was more than willing to add to the problems. The storm rose further and the Mystic melted into it.
Growling Janus forced himself to straighten up, only to be rewarded by a slap straight at the eyes. With a groan and protecting his face with both hands he stumbled backwards and finally lost his balance to the fullest. The wind still managed to whip sand and dust into his eyes and mouth even as he tried to shield himself.
He got up on one knee, coughing and wildly rubbing his eyes trying to get his sight back. A pull at his hair made him send his free fist backhanding as far over his shoulder as he could reach, but all he hit was cloth that melted aside.
He could hear Flea giggle gleefully somewhere behind him but was too disoriented to go after the monster yet. The Mystics roared with laughter and cheers now while Crono and Frog sounded more desperate second by second.
‘Focus!’ the Pawn and Prince roared in his mind, trying to help but for the moment almost adding to their host’s frustration.
Look out! Crono hollered.
Janus desperately rolled aside and heard the whip crack against the ground. He sure was in trouble now…
“Squeak, you little rat!” Flea smirked as the wizard blindly avoided another lash.
He was apparently not really trying to hit yet, Janus fully knew that he would have been bleeding already if the Mystic hadn’t been playing.
Bless those predator instincts…
His mouth and eyes burned and made it hard to focus, but he grasped the little he could get from the calls trying to encourage him. And did what he always did when he was in a real jam.
For a second his heart almost stopped when there was no reply. Then:
‘What the hell are you doing!? The gem almost set my shirt on fire!’
Fire… opposite… the spell is…
‘I just needed help to think!’ he called back.
‘You figured out you need that already? What are you doing?’
‘Just washing my face…’
“Crancha na lishoro!” Janus wheezed as he rolled aside again.
“Hey! Cheater!” Flea shouted and floated up above the magic flood that erupted from the ground.
It wasn’t strong enough to harm anyone with its torrent, but Janus hadn’t meant for it to be dangerous. He let the cold flow sweep over him, flooding his dry mouth and searing eyes. With a grunt of relief he stood and the water dissolved, leaving him dry but freed from his afflictions.
Now the Mystics were snarling but Crono and Frog cheering.
‘You’re completely out of the doghouse, sweetheart,’ Lai sent, dryly through her confusion.
‘I’m fighting Flea one on one,’ Janus grimly thought as the staff leaped to his hand.
‘You’re bloody what?!’
‘It looked rather bad for a while but I’m alright now. Let the king and queen know.’
‘Fine, but if you die you’ll never be welcome at the castle again for all I care.’
He could almost hear the whole castle shout “What is he doing?!” on the other side of the ocean.
‘You like giving them headaches, don’t you?’ the Pawn mildly commented.
‘Me, torment my liege? Blasphemy.’
All three of them let the fact slide that Janus just could have asked his guardians to remind him about the spell he needed. His confusion at that moment was a good excuse.
“Cheater what?” Janus smirked at the fuming Flea, “you blinded me!”
“And I like you best that way!” the Mystic snapped and sent out his palm.
‘Shield your eyes!’ the Prince called.
Janus quickly threw up his arm over the upper half of his face and avoided getting his sight blurred by the intense, bright prism of colors slamming at him. It burnt a bit, but he stepped back to get out of the way for the magical attack.
‘Thanks,’ he thought.
‘Just beat him already.’
“My turn,” Janus growled as the rainbow helplessly faded, “powers of the world, lend me the power of Fire!”
“Ack!” Flea snarled and tried to get as far away as possible.
“Farey shamera na kohn tey ra!”
Flames exploded from thin air, the heat filling the cupola. Flea screamed in anger and pain as a bright red circle flared out from Janus’ body and caught the Mystic in midair.
The magician crashed on the ground, the flames fading but his clothes marked with black burns.
“Get up you idiot!” Ozzie snarled, accompanied by growls from the monsters.
Stumbling a bit Flea managed to stand, wobbling aside to avoid Janus’ staff. The wizard aimed for him again but the magician was tougher than he looked and sprung further away, albeit a little clumsily.
‘Stand still, damn you, I’m trying to make this swift and painless!’ the wizard snarled, more to himself than to Flea or anyone in his head.
‘I doubt he’ll believe you,’ the Prince commented though.
Clutching at his chest while trying to avoid getting cut Flea growled something and softly blue stars crawled over his body, erasing the burn marks.
‘Only fair, cutie,’ Flea grimly sent over with a tiny smirk.
‘Point I suppose,’ Janus allowed but charged at the same time.
The Mystic had to duck again as the wizard was too close to hit with the whip, but Flea used the momentum of escaping and lashed his weapon at Janus’ unguarded back at the first opportunity. The wizard caught most of the hit by swinging his staff over his shoulder, but the tip of the whip cracked at his shirt. It wasn’t a very big wound but it still hurt quite a bit. Growling Janus forced it off his mind, not finding the time to chant a healing spell as he continued the brute force attack.
He was met by a storm of lightning bolts and was thrown backwards, crashing into the magic wall several yards away. The Mystics cheered again.
Janus blinked to get rid of the jumping stars before his eyes, through them seeing Frog staring down at him mere inches away but unable to lend a hand.
That was all the wizard had time to register before a second wave of lightning sent him arching from the ground in agony. He could vaguely hear his guardians shout at him but couldn’t make anything out in the roaring of magical electricity. His every nerve was on fire and he slumped to the dusty soil as it finally ended.
“JANUS!” Frog and Crono screamed.
“Stop cheering,” Flea snarled to his fellow monster and warily raised the whip, “if that was enough to kill him then he would have been dead years ago.”
The wizard’s nails dug into the ground as he rose on his arms, panting but still moving. Sluggishly he worked his ways to his knees, his head hanging.
With a snarl from the user the whip cut the air in half.
Janus’ arm flew up and caught the lash, his eyes glistening dangerously as he raised his head.
“You know me well after all,” he said with a light smirk, grabbing the glowing coil around his wrist, “farey!”
“Hey!” Flea snarled, but the magical fire slithered over the whip and consumed it within two seconds.
Throwing the worthless remain aside the magician turned his palms against Janus, snarling.
Lightning bolts flared towards the wizard, who narrowly got out of the way. He was alive, but obviously not exactly left untouched by the last hits. He groaned as a few of the final bolts caught his left leg straight on.
Flea was panting as he cut the last wave and raised his hands again, trying to get another one started. Too late he saw the tiny flask of metal in Janus’ hand. The wizard spit the cork out and downed the shining liquid within the same heartbeat.
“That’s not fair!” Flea hollered, sending lightning bolts flying.
“That was payback for you teaming up with Dalton!” Janus snarled back and dove to safety, getting to his feet.
Growling in outrage Flea raised his hands again, but he couldn’t focus properly in the rising horror.
‘I’ll make this quick,’ Janus sent out as his hands began to paint runes in the air.
“Dark powers of the world…!”
Flea threw himself at the ground, trying to duck the attack. But the complete dark pressure filled the cupola entirely and erased everything except Janus and his staff; even the walls disappeared after a moment.
The wizard stumbled backwards, tumbling into the safe grips of Crono and Frog. They helped him get his balance back though his head burned, leaving him to himself to recover from the dark force. Somebody had to take care of the raging wave of monsters.
‘That with the elixir was evil,’ the spirit Flea commented, ‘when on earth did you get that anyway?’
‘Found it somewhere… I thought you weren’t going to watch…’ Janus tiredly thought.
His head was pounding, as always after Dark Matter.
And he couldn’t really feel triumph either, even if he made a half-hearted attempt.
‘I’m too curious by nature. And don’t feel so bad about it, cutie. You know me, I’m not complaining about being dead.’
Unknown for both the wizard and his teacher, the Mystic’s spirit and the Prince had a little chat.
‘Did you manage to block him?’ Flea whispered.
‘Yes, he didn’t notice,’ the Prince nodded.
For even the Pawn shouldn’t yet know that the magician was still alive, as that was for all the blue-hairs to find out on their own.
Finally Janus managed to get himself together and sent a healing wave at himself to get some energy back. Slash and Ozzie were still left to fight, but he wouldn’t be alone with them at least.
As he called for his staff he sent out his mind again.
‘He’s dead, Lai.’
‘Good work, sweetheart.’
‘You don’t sound as happy as one would expect?’ she said, surprisingly careful.
Janus tried to muster something innocent and believable.
‘Nostalgia I suppose… things will get kinda boring without him around.’
‘You’re completely nuts.’
‘I know. I’ll get back to you later, still have to kill Ozzie and Slash now.’
He cut the link before she could start cursing him.
Chapter 27, Peacetalks
The monsters hesitated, their fingers – if they had any, that was – twitching.
“Retreat I said!” Slash snarled in a broken voice, heavily supporting himself on the Slasher.
He bled from several cuts and bore many burns from fire and lightning apart from that. Still he wasn’t the only one with a tight breath. Even if he had been fighting the three intruders close to single-handedly he hadn’t left them untouched.
Now he was on one knee, leaning on his weapon and the arm hanging over the still strong leg.
“Lord Slash!” one of the freelancers cackled.
“Are you deaf?!” the purple monster growled and his eyes almost literally shot needles through the exhaust.
Crono and Frog glanced at Janus who was holding his hand over a deep cut on his left arm, trying to remember how to heal.
The red-hair of the three had been rendered unconscious after a half of the battle and there hadn’t been any time for his allies to wake him up until now. It had been too occupying to fight Slash and the Mystics that had gone against his orders and kept fighting. The swordsman had quite a few times expressed a rather hot wish to fight alone, but his tribesmen hadn’t always obeyed. If it was for courage, stupidity or loyalty was hard to tell.
Ozzie had rushed into the castle as Flea fell. A few of the spectators had followed him but most had stood firm.
“Are you listening to me?!” Slash growled as the monsters instead of retreating surrounded him, glaring at the wizard and his companions.
‘They’d never do that to me back home!’ Flea pouted.
No comment was made. It didn’t feel necessary.
Janus inwardly grunted.
‘Didn’t expect them to be that loyal,’ he ruefully thought.
‘Your random monster isn’t too bright,’ the Prince said, ‘but you’re right, this isn’t pure stupidity.’
‘They just have to make things difficult…’
‘Why must it be difficult?’ the Pawn said, but the tone of his voice hinted that he hardly could believe himself that he really said it.
“Na matala sela…”
Janus straightened up and planted the staff in the ground, not leaning on it but holding it straight up beside him.
‘Yes… why must it?’ he slowly admitted.
Seeing the wizard lower his guard, Frog and Crono choose to trust his judgment and warily put their weapons down without sheathing them. The monsters suspiciously eyed the humans but didn’t move, expecting a trick of some kind.
‘If you’re going to have him listening you better let me handle some of the facts,’ the Prince almost softly said.
Janus let out a deep breath and glanced at Frog who watched him questioningly.
‘I’m not sure,’ the wizard calmly sent over.
The swordsman turned his gaze to the monsters, who despite his growling refused to leave their second in command to his enemies.
‘He helped felling Cyrus,’ Frog thought, hesitant however.
‘I know, but are we like them?’
‘They’re prepared to protect him with their lives,’ Janus said with a mental shook of his head, ‘I can’t do it.’
Frog was silent for a moment longer. Then he finally shook his head.
‘At times I fear thy honor is closer to insanity, Janus. What could ever be gained?’
‘I’m not sure.’
The wizard turned his mind to Crono and quickly explained his intentions. The silent young man reacted pretty much like Frog had done, but didn’t argue either.
Slash’s eyes suspiciously narrowed as the staff’s blades disappeared with a wave of Janus fingers, but he remained silent. At least until the wizard took half a step forwards and the monsters warningly raised their weapons further.
“Will you all do as I say and retreat?!” he barked, but there wasn’t much hope in his voice.
As they still played deaf he worked his way back into standing, swayed but refused the support of a goblin. The white eyes were resolutely fixated on the wizard.
‘I’m not the better diplomat of us but I’ll handle this,’ the Pawn stated as his mind connected firmer with Janus’.
It wasn’t exactly possessing since the host allowed it, and anyhow it was a very light control. More a prompting than anything else, as Janus still was the one making most of the choices with inputs from his guardian when needed.
“Hey Slash…” the wizard begun, not quite sure where to start this conversation.
“What?” the monster snarled and swayed.
Almost absentmindedly a wavering sorcerer reached out and put his hand on Slash’s shoulder to support him. The swordsmaster shrugged it off.
“I’d rather not kill you and your friends here if we don’t have to,” Janus said.
The monsters bristled suspiciously.
“What the hell are you playing, wizard?” Slash growled.
“You’re talking to the man you had strapped on a wall and whipped, and he’s not tearing up your throats when he can, why?”
“You’re nuts,” the leading monster dryly said.
Janus’ lips twitched a little; now it was his guardian working.
“I’m not nuts,” he said, “furthermore, I am not Lardon.”
Since Frog had no eyebrows he could not do as Crono and raise them, so he had to settle with frowning. Even more as he watched most of the monsters’ mouths fall open.
Slash lowered his sword, hardly noticeable.
“Whuch’e say?” a goblin grunted before the leader of the small army could ask.
‘I have no idea,’ Janus ironically thought, but the Prince ignored him.
“I am not Lardon, and neither is king Guardia,” the wizard continued whether he wanted or not, “Lizard ended that bloodline, didn’t he?”
“And you know this just how?” Slash poisonously asked.
‘Was it really wise to bring that in?’ Janus wondered, seeing the harsh looks.
‘They hold their history sacred,’ the Prince replied, ‘I believe it’s the best way to crack their defenses, even if they’ll shoot needles at first.’
‘Lovely. Carry on.’
‘I wasn’t waiting for you to allow it, youngster,’ the older blue-hair said with a faint smirk.
“Lizard, Magician, Snake, Warrior and their children fought for freedom,” the Prince prompted, “why are you fighting now?”
“I asked you how you can know that, human,” Slash growled.
“I have heard the story from my guardians, if you remember from last time we met,” Janus calmly said.
Slash snorted and shook his head.
“That’s fascinating,” he said with a venomous voice, “and very informative that you just happen to know our roots. But then, human, why would you bother to talk sweetly with the same creatures that had you tortured?”
The swordsman didn’t give the wizard a chance to think of a reply before he continued, growling:
“Do you even care why we did that?”
There was a grunting and screeching from the monsters to empathize what their lord was saying. With a snarl Slash pointed his weapon straight at Frog, who glared back.
“Oh, don’t answer, amphibian, I know,” the purple monster said, “it’s because we’re blood thirsty beast who hate humans.”
He coldly sneered, waving at his fellows to shut up.
“How about a taste of our view, wizard Janus, great hero of Guardia?” Slash said, turning back to the blue-haired one, “to the humans you are a brave warrior and protector, to us you’re a damn murderer!”
The last word hung in the air for a moment as nobody moved.
“As were your dear Cyrus,” the swordsman finally added.
‘This is your part,’ the Prince calmly said and withdrew.
“I got the idea you were quite enjoying it,” Janus said, as emotionless as he could manage when confronting the accusations.
“You mean that whole heart or liver discussion?” Slash said with a smirk, “tell me then, what would have happened to me if your king would have gotten me in custody?”
‘This is going just great…’
‘At least you’re talking,’ Flea commented.
“Execution,” Janus admitted with an halfway strangled sigh, “but we wouldn’t have tortured you.”
Slash dryly smirked.
“Don’t believe that I don’t think that you got what you deserved, Janus, even if I would have preferred killing you at the first opportunity,” he stated, “if they just would have listened to me we wouldn’t have this problem now.”
Frog was about to charge forwards in rage, but Crono managed to hold him back.
“Perhaps, but then the only difference would be that somebody else than me would have been here now,” the wizard said.
He crossed his arms as well as possible since he was still holding his staff and had no plans of letting go.
‘Let’s see now…’
“I will admit that I have killed many Mystics,” Janus gravely nodded, not mocking, “I cannot pledge innocent on that matter. But as you accuse me of being a murderer, I accuse you of starting this war, abducting and murdering humans to eat them, pillaging innocent people’s homes, and trying to brainwash a seven year old boy to become your slave.”
The monsters screeched in protest or mockery, but Slash managed to silence them. Eventually.
“First of all, the torture and the whole circus with that older version of you all those years ago,” the swordsman rather calmly said, “to many, including even Flea, believe it or not, beating a child seemed a little extreme but we weren’t going to start a longwinded argument with Ozzie over it for he wouldn’t have cared in the end. When we learnt more about you and your guardian or whatever he wanted to call himself, the realization that you were a threat was quite a proof for that you needed to be eliminated.”
“Lovely,” Janus dryly said before Slash continued.
“As for the rest, since we are living beings we need to eat. Do you think there is enough food for every monster on our two rocks here in the ocean? We didn’t start a war for fun, wizard.”
‘True, it wasn’t the entire reason but it counted quite a bit,’ the Prince nodded as Janus was a little surprised at this revelation.
“What about trade?” the wizard commented, raising an eyebrow.
“Trade? With the humans?” Slash scoffed, cheered on by his fellows, “even so, what would we have to offer you?”
Janus suddenly smiled, not smirked, lightly triumphant.
“Oh really now?” he said and held up his staff, “you know this?”
“All too well,” Slash dryly said.
“I’ve had the same staff for six years,” the wizard informed, “and even though I’ve used magic to repair it a few times it has withstood assassin after assassin and they were meant to be really strong, no?”
“As I understand, yes. I’ll give you as much. So were are you heading?”
“It’s made out of iron spruce, a kind of wood which is rare and very expensive on the main land.”
Janus pointed behind him with his thumb, at the forest surrounding the stronghold.
“In conclusion, that kind of wood.”
Slash needed a moment to figure out whether he should find that incredibly stupid or – Lizard forbid – a little valid.
A moment that Janus wouldn’t give him as there finally was a bit of an upper hand to use.
“You do have something to trade with the humans, those trees can’t be the only thing,” the wizard gently said, “furthermore, nobody wants to continue this war, nobody benefits from it. There’s only suffering on both sides by now.”
Most of the monsters hissed at the blue-haired human, but Slash shook his head.
“Listen Janus, there’s too much bitterness involved in this,” he coldly said, “no monster is too fond of the other, and despite arguments among ourselves we are allies. And Flea was one of the more respected ones, whether you’ll believe me or not.”
“I have lost dear friends in the battle as well,” Janus calmly said, “Cyrus, Thomas, Glenn who Flea cruelly turned into a frog. Among many others.”
Frog sternly met the mixed glances he got, refusing to turn away in shame like he had been ready to always do not too long ago.
With his eyes growing colder Janus took the staff in both hands.
“There’s only suffering and loss in this war. And you should know, Mystics, that me and my friends cannot leave here until there is peace one way or another. I’m tired of killing, but if I have to I will replace this castle with a smoking crater.”
“Over my dead body,” Slash harshly growled, straightening up and resolutely holding his sword despite his wounds and exhaust.
The Mystics snarled in stubborn rage.
“I keep telling you I would prefer avoiding more bloodshed,” Janus said, lowering his staff a little.
“There is no wish for peace here,” the swordsman snarled.
“According to you or Ozzie, Slash? You don’t have the manpower anymore, and neither has Guardia. But me and my friends still stand, and you know that we’ll wipe you out if we have to.”
“Three humans against the remains of the Mystic army,” Slash sighed and rolled his eyes, “it’s sad.”
“And you’re still worried.”
The purple monster growled and shook his head again.
“I can’t let you enter this castle if I still can stand, Janus,” he said in a harsh voice, “and we’re not only protecting Ozzie.”
‘Hit him!’ Flea shouted, ‘this is it!’
“What then?” Janus said, trying not to raise an eyebrow at the voice in his head.
“Ozzie didn’t flee, human,” Slash coldly informed, “as Lizard’s descendant it’s his responsibility to stay guard over our weakest ones.”
“There you have it, wizard, I won’t let you into this castle for the sake of our wounded, women and children.”
“What kind of demon do you think I am?” Janus said with a deep frown.
“The royal wizard.”
‘Alright, that’s bloody it!’
Frog was about to leap forward in pure recall of the last time Janus had thrown away his staff, but held himself back as his friend raised his hands while the weapon still was landing on the ground.
The Mystics hissed and the ones who still had the strength spread their arms to protect the others when the smooth palms turned at them.
“Na matala sela!” Janus nearly growled and released a storm of healing stars.
Even Slash blinked as the light faded and he, like the others of his cause, found their pain and wounds gone.
Eh, Janus? Crono said, rather baffled.
“You call me a demon?” the wizard said in a deadly voice, ignoring the red-hair, “you think I like killing monsters? You think I have enjoyed a spoiled, happy life or what? Say, did Flea ever tell you that he created my assassins with the help of my father?”
The looks he got told him that they had been very oblivious of that fact, but that didn’t exactly slow him down.
“My father fears and hates me so much he doesn’t hold back for anything to have me killed. My only sister is god knows where, and my mother is in that blasted thing!” Janus snarled and pointed over his shoulder towards the black omen that loomed over the horizon, “she’s been in there for thousands of years having her soul devoured by the only real demon throughout history, and I can’t save her because I bloody have to be here and get you to quit the war first! I shouldn’t even be here, I should have been killed and fed to that demon by my mother’s hand! But I came here and I’m going to clean this time up before I can do anything else, understand?!”
Not until the final word did he really realize the he actually was holding a blinking Slash by the crag and shouting straight at his face.
‘You’re in too much stress, cutie,’ Flea mildly commented.
Setting Slash down while wondering just how he had gotten a grip of the swordsman without getting attacked, Janus somehow managed to swallow the biggest part of his rage.
“I didn’t want to kill Flea,” he said in a calmer voice, “but it was inevitable that we would fight and someone had to die in that battle. You know that’s true, whether either of us like it or not. Same with the assassins, it was me or them. As for my other murders, I was protecting those that I care for, as you’re doing now.”
The staff leaped back to his hand and he crossed his arms, scowling.
“My friends and liege are counting on me and I will level your last stronghold by the ground if I have to. It’s up to you.”
“No, it’s up to Ozzie,” Slash finally said in a rash voice.
Janus forced himself not to roll his eyes.
“You’re pretty stuck, in other words?” he grunted.
With a snort which spoke for itself Slash turned and walked the few steps back to his allies before facing the wizard again. In a way it did prove quite a bit that he dared turn his back at the humans, whether he’d admit it or not.
“I’m not stupid, wizard. In the current situation any sensible person would understand that peace is the best solution,” Slash roughly admitted, “but it’s not my place to handle the diplomacy. If anyone here would be in that place anyway.”
“I’m not crazy enough to try reasoning with Ozzie, then I might as well go slam my head into a rock,” Janus said.
‘His lips twitched! I saw it!’ Flea shouted, stupidly smirking.
‘I’ll just take your word for that… I don’t seem to get through very well.’
‘Oh, trust me. He isn’t stupid, as he said.’
“You’ve got a valid point there,” Slash said with a light smirk, “feel free to knock your forehead bloody, I won’t stop you.”
He turned his wrist so that the Slasher hung horizontally before his chest.
“I will have to stop you from entering, however.”
‘I doubt we’ll get anywhere with this,’ the Pawn grunted.
‘He’s listening, and that’s something,’ Flea merrily pointed out, ‘now all you have to do is get inside and talk with Ozzie.’
‘You’re kidding, right?’ Janus dryly thought.
‘I’m sure there’s somebody who can make him listen,’ the Mystic’s spirit said, showing off all his teeth, ‘don’t you think so, milord?’
The Pawn was free to raise an eyebrow, Janus had to fight it again as the Prince chuckled.
‘Ah yes, of course,’ the oldest of the blue-haired men said, smirking lightly, ‘and you claim that you’re not evil anymore?’
‘I’m on a break. Now wizard-muffin, will you take a couple of advices from the baddies’ side?’
It took less than a moment to explain, and about the time a thought passes for Janus to send his two allies a message.
‘Be ready to fight again, they’re going to be really angry in a second. Can you hold your ground on your own for a minute?’
‘Thou art not going inside on thy own, art thee?’ Frog sharply said.
‘No, I’m not going anywhere,’ Janus honestly replied.
‘Hm,’ the green swordsman suspiciously grunted.
“So, I’m not walking up that stair without breaking every bone in your body?” the wizard said aloud, rolling his eyes.
“In summary, that’s about it,” Slash agreed, moving his feet into a defensive stance again.
The other Mystics grunted and screeched, warily changing the grips of their weapons.
Janus raised his free hand to scratch his hair.
“I just thought of something,” he said.
“Lizard protect us, now what?” the purple swordsman cautiously said.
“Just what exactly,” Janus said with a smile, “stops me from simply teleporting inside?”
And with that, he disappeared in a flash of light.
At first, the two opposing groups just blinked at the empty spot. Then:
“You damn bastard!”
“Janus! I swear, I will have thy head for this!”
“Hold it you fools!” Slash shouted at the monsters rushing at the castle.
They stopped and glared at him as he pressed three fingers against his forehead.
“Ozzie!” he snarled, showing that he was just as bad as Lai with telepathy, “that son of Lardon must have used my memories to teleport inside, are you… no? Then where the hell is he?”
What’s going on? Crono said with raised eyebrows, glancing at Frog who helplessly shrugged.
“Who would be able to envision Janus’ misshapen set of mind?” the shorter one said with a grumbled sigh.
Slash kept pressing his fingers against his forehead for several moments, waving at the Mystics to wait with his free hand.
“But lord…” one of the freelancers impatiently snarled.
“We’re talking about that damn wizard!” Slash snapped, “if we’re going to stop him we need to know where he is so we can attack in a group, understand?”
He looked up, seeming to listen for a couple of seconds.
His forehead suffered a massive frown for a second before his almost completely white eyes went wider than usual.
“What?! That’s imposs…”
They all jumped by the sound of a crash from inside. Seconds later the castle gate opened and a screaming Ozzie flew down the stair in a neat bow. The Mystics on the ground leaped aside in pure survival instincts and their king crash landed. He became silent and motionless, though he still breathed.
Janus emerged in the open doorway, with a bit of a strange smile. Glancing between Ozzie and the wizard, Slash slowly raised his hand to point at the latter.
A shadow moved behind the man.
“… Are the embodiment of evil.”
The shadow turned into a rather chubby Mystic, with the same kind of smooth scaly skin as Ozzie. They were obviously of the same sort of monsters, as their looks somewhat resembled with the skin, the low eyes and clawed fingers. This one, however, had a teal-green color. And it was also female.
She wore a white-gray robe that was somewhat dress-like, and a smooth bronze belt around her bulky waist. Her darkly blue hair was set up in a pigtail which was arranged in a strict ball on the back of her head. This showed as she turned to Janus and forced a small monster baby into his grip.
“Keep an eye on him, wizard.”
“Yes madam,” Janus rather goofily said.
“And don’t call me madam.”
The female Mystic floated down the stair and the other monsters dove for cover as she grabbed the motionless Ozzie by the crag.
“Hey! Look at me when I’m shouting at you, you old, fat idiot!” she snarled, shaking the green one.
‘Just what is that?’ Crono sent towards Janus in a clumsy but working try at establishing telepathy.
‘Eh, in a second…’ the wizard absentmindedly replied, scratching for his shoulder.
The child that the Mystic had entrusted him was suspiciously alike the original caretaker and the one she was shouting at, just that it was rather thin. And it seemed very fond of climbing. Janus got a hold of the baby’s waist and managed to pull him away, though the child whined in protest and got a rather painful-looking grip of the blue hair.
‘She’s Ozzie’s wife,’ he finally could report, holding the protesting baby as far away as he could.
Slash sheathed the Slasher and approached the married couple, his hands raised in a calming way.
“I think he’s out cold, Skeeza,” the swordsman carefully said.
“Well it’s the only damn way to shut him up enough to listen to me!” she snapped and let her husband thud onto the ground again, wiping her hands.
“He won’t be able to listen like that.”
“Not much of a difference from when he’s awake.”
Skeeza snorted and waved her hand at Ozzie in a dismissive manner as she turned to the swordsman instead.
“Janus tells me he’s been discussing peace with you too,” she informed.
Slash sent Janus a heated and at the same time rather tired glare before looking back at his queen.
“Yes, my lady. I just didn’t regard it as my place to…”
“And you’re sadly right in that,” Skeeza cut him off and furiously nodded, “but you know just as well as I do that we can’t go on like this.”
“I know, but not everyone will agree on it and you know that…”
Skeeza looked around and tilted her head at the other Mystics, who nervously straightened up under her gaze.
“If you boys think about it for a while, don’t you too want peace?” she demanded.
Without the slightest hesitation the creatures profusely nodded.
“You’ll just get that into Ozzie’s head, I wash my hands of it!” Slash sighed, threw up his arms and shook his head as they heavily fell again.
“You were always the sensible one of you three,” the lady Mystic said with a faint smile.
She shook her head and continued:
“That Flea would die is a tragedy, but we all know that he wanted to fight Janus to the death and he’d do it again if he was still alive.”
At that Slash crossed his arms and remained silent, his refusal to admit the truth loudly speaking for itself.
Skeeza smiled in a way that could be viewed as either lovely or deadly, and turned as Janus somewhat unsteadily came over to her and Slash.
“I’m glad we could agree on it, lady Skeeza,” the wizard said and tried to reach behind him for the child, who had gotten out of his grip and was happily hanging in the wizard’s shirt.
“Had I known that you’d offer a peaceful solution me and the other women would have done something about it long ago, wizard,” she stated and reached out without looking.
The baby waved angrily with his arms when taken away from his fun, but calmed down as he got to climb on his uncle Slash instead.
“I suppose it’ll take a few days to talk Ozzie into it,” the mother nodded, “I will send someone over to tell you so that we can finish this.”
“It will give me time to explain to king Guardia, as well,” Janus said with a faint smile.
Skeeza smirked at that.
“I’m sure that it will be quite an interesting talk,” she said with amusement, “but I dearly hope he will understand.”
“I promise you that he will, he wants an end of this just as much as everyone.”
“And just how do we know that he’s not fooling us here?” Slash snapped, holding back a dear wish to shake the small monster child off his arm.
With a swift movement Skeeza caught Janus’ right lower arm and held it up for all to see. As far as his friends and enemies remembered, the wizard hadn’t worn a thin, metallic armband around his wrist before.
“Because if he does, Guardia will have a left-handed wizard next week.”
She let go while Janus did his best to avoid Frog’s glare.
‘Monster diplomacy,’ he sent over.
‘Thou art insane! And did thee not sayeth that thee would not go in there by thyself?!’
‘I said I wouldn’t go, and I didn’t. I teleported,’ Janus snickered.
“Janus!!” Frog hollered aloud, causing most of the monsters to jump.
The wizard met Slash’s eyes sideways.
“Yeah, sometimes I think I would have been safer still hanging on your wall than hanging out with my friends,” Janus said from the corner of his mouth.
Slash’s rather thick lips twitched.
‘An everlasting rule throughout our history,’ Flea informed as the three warriors walked back out into the forest, towards the Epoch, ‘for every one of Lizard’s descendants there must be a Snake. Or was that a snake for every Janus…’
Hey by the way, Crono said, glancing at the silent swordsman walking beside him, if Flea’s dead, shouldn’t Frog turn back into a human?
“It will take a few days before the spell wears off, I gather,” Janus said.
‘That’ll be a problem, he’ll find out…’ the spirit Mystic whispered to his lord.
‘Not if he leaves Guardia soon,’ the Prince calmed.
“All is well then, as the query was answered,” Frog said and stopped, “Janus?”
“What is it?” the wizard asked, stopping and turning to his short friend.
Back by the fort, Slash was quite relieved when Skeeza finally took care of her son. His will to climb seemed to disappear as his mother held him.
“Ozzie won’t be happy when he wakes up,” the swordsman grunted.
“He’s so hard to…”
She fell silent and curiously looked around as there was a loud smack and a half strangled shout of pain. Through the gates she distantly saw the red-haired human warily backing away from the frog warrior. The green one was rubbing his right fist’s knuckles, glaring at Janus as the wizard got up from the ground with a hand pressed against his face.
“Now we art even,” Frog grunted and offered the wizard a hand to get up.
“I adbit that I deserved that… ow.”
After that, the heroes finally left the island.
Chapter 28, One last day
An unearthly wind threw Janus’ long hair around, moving the sweaty locks with unnaturally slow movements. The hair got plastered against his skin for short moments before it was torn away in the never ending dance again.
The ground beneath his hands and knees pulsated, feeling hot and cold at the same time as strange colors waved past. He thought that he could see scenes from various places in history somewhere in the blur, but they were too obscure for the tired brain to properly grasp.
A slamming and crashing sound was heard from somewhere ahead, but all directions were distorted.
Janus tried to stand as he heard the whisper, his right hand weakly fumbling for the broken remain of his staff. Shattered steel glistened just by the border of his sight.
“Hang on…” he hoarsely growled, trying to blink the sweat away from his eyes.
Something gigantic and white filled up his eyesight and a hairy tentacle slowly pushed at his chin from below, forcing his head upwards.
‘Well, well. Just as I thought.’
The eerie eyes below the glass bubble shone with abdominal delight.
‘Prince Janus himself.’
“Took you that long to recognize me?” Janus spoke through his teeth, glaring at the demon before him through eyes thin with pain and grief.
He could see the wrecked shell of Robo lying a few yards behind their enemy. Crono hung in the giant right hand of the beast, his clothes covered with blood and his face hidden by his heavy, sticky hair.
‘I wasn’t completely sure,’ the voice smirked, ‘my sight isn’t what you humans seem to define it as. Quite a feast you have brought me, prince.’
Crono wobbly raised his head a little, just so that Janus could see his sole working eye. The other had taken a bad slash a few moments ago; even if he survived it wasn’t healable.
Do someth… I can’t… he whispered without any strength.
His neck couldn’t carry his head and it fell again.
‘Humans are silly beings…’ Lavos said with a smirk, ‘I killed him once and he still comes back to die again.’
The lifeless young man was brought up for closer inspection.
‘Hmm… I see he’s more powerful than I thought after all. Delicious…’
Janus weakly scratched for the giant hand before him, gritting his teeth as his left, broken arm screamed through the rest of him.
The indescribable face turned to him again with amusement.
‘What is it, prince?’ Lavos smirked, ‘still not giving up?’
“You damn parasite…”
He was flipped upwards, almost tumbling over on his back but managed to heavily land sitting on his knees. The agony that the broken arm sent flaring throughout his body almost robbed his consciousness.
If he had had more strength left, that position would probably have made him prefer falling completely. But as it was he couldn’t bring himself to care. It didn’t matter anymore…
‘Were you saying something?’
Janus’ head slowly shook without any force, his hair whipping at his face.
“It’s me you want, damn you,” he snarled, “leave Crono alone.”
There was a cruel laugh.
‘How cliché, hero.’
The hand encircled his entire torso and he couldn’t do anything about it. Even if Janus had been able to move, his arms were now being pressed against his sides in an iron grip. His wounds and the arm burned, the pain was so intense that he couldn’t get a single sound past his lips.
‘Nevertheless, it is true. And I’m hungry after this little fight.’
The full force of the parasite’s will blazed through Janus’ mind, tearing every last thought and memory to pieces.
With a dampened shout of horror he sat straight up in the dusk. He blinked, disoriented for a couple of seconds.
‘Really now, how can a hero like you have nightmares?’ Flea’s voice surprisingly gently said as the wizard slowly raised his hands to rub his face.
“Good lord…” Janus sighed with relief, still panting a bit.
‘Especially considering it was Lavos who should have been on his knees at the end,’ the magician added with a chuckle.
‘You were really deep down, we’ve been calling you for the last ten minutes,’ Janus’ old teacher said and shook his head.
‘Lovely,’ Janus thought, sighing and throwing the damp blanket aside.
There was a knock on the door.
“Are you alright, lord Janus?” a male voice called, “I heard something…”
“It’s nothing,” the wizard called back and cleared his throat as he was hoarse of sleepiness, “I just had a nightmare.”
“Are you certain there isn’t another assassin about to cut your throat?” the guard outside suspiciously asked.
Janus dryly chuckled and stood, a bit wobbly at first but managing. His hand absentmindedly reached out for a light cloak hanging on the wall and he draped it over his shoulders since he only wore a pair of dark, soft pants. He pulled the door open and gave the soldier a tired but calming smile.
“Thanks for the concern,” the wizard said, “but I’m fine.”
“One never knows when it comes to you, even if the Mystics seem to be complying,” the man replied with a slanted smile.
“I doubt you’ll have to worry more about me, with Flea dead. Good night.”
“The same to you, sir.”
Janus closed the door and leaned his forehead against it, his smile fading in the darkness.
‘You really won’t have to worry about me soon…’
‘We’re leaving,’ the Prince announced.
For once, Flea didn’t even comment. He just obeyed, together with the Pawn. It was surprising, but somewhere deep down Janus had understood that the dead Mystic really wasn’t such an annoying fellow by nature.
The wizard stood motionless for a handful of seconds, trying not to think.
Finally he went back to his bed and heavily sat down. His eyes had begun to get used to the little light the moon and stars provided, but there wasn’t much he could see. Nothing that he normally didn’t either. He knew the room like the back off his hand…
‘Nighttime isn’t the best time to think…’ he gruffly reflected, rubbing his forehead, ‘every thought seems to become bigger.’
It was not much of a sensible thought, that. But he wasn’t in the mood for making sense.
The nightmare wasn’t really about Lavos; it was about the wizard’s anguish in facing the losses he’d have to go through in the next couple of days.
With the Mystics and future patched up, nothing bound him to Guardia any longer. At least, there was no threat he was needed to ward off anymore. The kingdom didn’t need a wizard anymore, even if most people didn’t know it.
The whole Mystic business had been taken cared of quickly. Since there was a magic time limit on the armband Skeeza had given Janus, he hadn’t wanted to take any chances and travel in time before he was free of it. He was after all rather fond of both his hands.
King Guardia had of course been very surprised as the situation was explained, who hadn’t been? But the option of a peace treaty was stronger than any surprise, and things were easy enough to line out when both parts understood the deal. Now the monsters were withdrawing from the main land with vague but hopeful promises of future amends and trade.
As Skeeza now knew how things were, she would doubtlessly keep Ozzie and the others under control.
Even Cyrus’ soul was put to rest, at last. This eased both Frog and the wizard’s guilty minds.
That was all well.
But it severed Janus’ life as a royal wizard, if indirectly. Now Schala needed him more than his home did.
He wouldn’t have to worry about Lavos anymore either, the Black Omen was destroyed in Zeal and the apocalypse was stopped in the future.
The alien’s core had been an easy fight, since it had needed a short while to reload whenever changing attacking mode. That had given the warriors time to send whoever was most hurt off to the End of Time and exchange him or her for somebody who had rested.
As the core was penetrated however, the final group had been decided.
Crono, since he had been the group’s leader throughout the journey, not to mention the fact that he had been killed by the beast and deserved to pay it back personally.
Robo; it was his future at stake. He had the full right to fight for his world since he was the one of the warriors who would live with the results.
That Janus would be in the final group wasn’t much to argue against, since he had more reasons than anyone else.
After the victory there had been a rather teary-eyed goodbye, of course. So much for the heroes. Of course, they’d meet again, in one way or another…
Janus gazed towards the sky at the thought, his lips almost moving into a smile again. But just almost.
‘I suppose it’ll be alright…’
But it was sad, in a way.
In any case, it would never be the same again.
‘But it’ll be better than my future relationship with Guardia…’
Time for retirement…
He silently cursed the word.
Why did it have to be so hard?
Sighing, he stood and looked out of the window. The familiar landscape with the trees and distant ocean greeted him, as he was used to.
It was his second last night in this room.
‘Might as well be my last, if Lai gets me drunk again tomorrow I’ll end up in the infirmary…’
He smirked a little, joylessly.
‘Great, just great…’
With a grunt he tiredly rubbed his eyes.
Celebrations were just fine in his view; there would be one for the end of the war in all towns. But there would be a ball in the castle, open for everyone, but a ball nonetheless. And that wasn’t exactly on the list of things the wizard was fond of.
He would have preferred that his last day in Guardia would have floated past just as they normally did, but it was just as well that the ball marked the end. For even though he truly loved his life in the kingdom, worry for Schala was pulling at him and he knew he should leave as soon as possible.
He sighed again and shook his head.
Schala needed him, but there were others that also did.
Janus closed his eyes and tried to wrestle his thoughts off a certain young woman. As usual, it didn’t work very well.
He didn’t feel tired anymore, and anyhow his sheets didn’t feel very welcome since he had been sweating a lot of the nightmare. The wizard chose to forget the fact that he could change them with a mutter and wave of his hand.
Instead he shook his head as he muttered another spell, while gripping the cloak’s lace so that it got draped tighter around him. As the cloth settled he vanished from human sight. Invisible and untouched by any material he left his room, walking straight through the door.
Like a ghost spreading a gentle breeze the royal wizard moved through the familiar halls of the castle, without any real plan. Just reliving it for the last time in the position he had gained. He avoided all rooms where people were sleeping, because he knew it would be too painful to see anyone right then.
Outside, the spirits were talking, unheard and just as unseen as the one they had been watching over. Well, two of them were.
Flea “sat” on the branch of a tree, several yards above ground. He swung his seemingly delicate legs while humming to himself, as if he was trying to ignore the world.
‘I suppose I better go back to my own quest,’ the Pawn said and glanced at the silent castle, ‘he’ll just follow my trace now. Still, it seems wrong to leave him when he’s already being torn up as it is.’
‘He probably don’t want us watching him on that stupid ball,’ the Prince replied, more gruff than needed which showed that he was hesitating as well, ‘it wouldn’t surprise me if he can dance too.’
He pinched the bridge of his nose at the final phrase, tightly shutting his eyes in disgust.
‘Well, at least I didn’t teach him that,’ the old teacher said with the hint of a smirk.
‘I give you as much.’
They were silent for a moment, during which the Prince threw a glance at Flea while frowning as he tried to place the melody.
‘I know I shouldn’t ask,’ the Pawn finally sighed, ‘but…’
His mirror even smiled a little, despite the repeated glance at the Mystic.
‘You’re near the right place,’ the older said, ‘keep looking.’
‘They could have saved us some time and made the damn library a little smaller.’
The Pawn watched the older warlock for a few seconds, then followed his deepened frown towards Flea. The Mystic smirked without looking up or letting his humming stop.
‘What is it?’ the younger asked with a raised eyebrow.
‘Quit singing that idiotic song,’ the Prince growled.
Finally the third spirit looked up and snickered with wide eyes.
‘But, but milord, I wrote it myself just for you!’
‘What?’ the Pawn said, rather surprised.
‘It’s one of the worst things he ever thought of,’ the Prince coldly said and glared at his old general, ‘now stop it or you’ll “have something to fear because I’m near”.’
‘No, no, you got it wrong,’ Flea instructed and swiftly ducked, ‘it’s “as long as you’re near, there’s nothing to fear”, you rephrased it. Yikes!’
‘It wouldn’t have made sense if he hadn’t,’ the Pawn commented, unheard since Flea was too busy trying to get away and the Prince too occupied with trying to get a hold of his throat.
The younger spirit shook his head.
‘I don’t want to know…’ he muttered to himself.
The castle and Truce bristled with activity even before the sun rose, as the inhabitants tried to fix the last minute preparations as quick as possible, before the evening even begun thinking about approaching.
With a hundred things to do, nobody noticed that a small group of people weren’t participating in the happy laughter and talks. Especially as those three did their best to stay alone, managing more or less.
‘You’ll just give us a call whenever you need us and we’ll do our best to show up,’ the Pawn kindly said.
Janus tried to smile a bit, idly turning the pages on the book before him, leaning his cheek in his hand.
‘Hate to admit it but I think I’ll miss your bickering,’ he admitted.
‘Oh, you’re welcome,’ Flea said, his arms loosely hanging like his pigtail.
He looked up with a slight grunt and wrinkled his nose at the Prince.
‘Hey, are you going to let go or not?’
‘At least now we’ll all be free of headaches,’ the oldest blue-hair calmly said, completely ignoring the Mystic whose ankle he casually held on an arm’s length.
Janus joylessly smiled.
‘Always a good thing. You three take care now, as well.’
‘Don’t worry about it, as long as this guy here keeps from getting poss…’
Flea didn’t get any longer as the Prince said his goodbye and vanished, taking his old general with him.
‘Keep an eye on the boy you saved, will you?’ the Pawn said with a faint smile, ‘no telling what he and his Flea manage to get themselves into.’
‘Good luck on your journey.’
‘The same to you.’
‘Just promise me to never again do anything alike the things you’ve done with us watching.’
Janus even chuckled at that.
‘I’ll do my best not to,’ he said.
‘I can’t really believe you, but there’s always hope…’ the Pawn smiled and vanished.
The wizard leaned back and sighed a bit. His head felt utterly empty again, it would take a while to get used to it.
‘I hate facing losses…’
He stood and put the book aside, running his hand over the small shelf of books. Half of the shelf was occupied by the scrolls of magic that he had studied, all well sealed with magic not to fall into the wrong hands. Of course, no human apart from maybe Lai and Glenn would have any use for the texts, but you could never be too sure.
The books were some notes he had done on his own about magic – sealed just like the scrolls – and a few historical novels that he’d gotten from various people as gifts. When there wasn’t any training to take care of or assassin attacking, even Janus needed something to do.
With a snap of his fingers the scrolls and books disappeared. That was about it, he hadn’t exactly collected many personal objects.
He crossed the floor to his not exactly impressive wardrobe and opened it. Well, he could use the change of clothes of course. Off they went with a snap. All but one set, which he took out with a grunt and held up for inspection.
It had taken a bit of a strain to keep this off his mind when thinking of the ball. His oldest mirror had vented a lot about Janus’ way of acting – several times truly rightfully – but this might just have done it. The wizard hadn’t even wanted his teacher commenting, and definitely not Flea.
It was bad enough as it was.
Frog did his best to smile and reply well whenever anybody greeted him, but he couldn’t really muster the joy that the celebration asked for. He already carried the loss that the following day would carry to Guardia.
And it seemed he wouldn’t be able to use the evening as he would have wished; talking about old times with Janus and Lai would have been favorable. But the lady of their troop was nowhere to be seen, and getting a hold of the wizard would be quite a problem.
Leene’s guardian got his share of praise as a hero, finally everyone was treating him as an equal despite his appearance. He wished he could enjoy it more, even if it soon wouldn’t mean much since the spell was about to break.
But the main attention was put on Janus. Frog couldn’t even see his friend for all the people, but he could hear him trying to excuse himself. A faint smirk touched the guardian’s big lips, however it had a short lifespan.
“Is something wrong, Frog?”
He turned and looked up at queen Leene, bowing politely.
“My mind is simply clouded with a slight worry for the future, my liege,” he admitted.
She crouched down a little to get into his eye-level, with the whisper of moving flounces and silk. Her dress this night had a shade of teal, not much unlike the light-green dress she normally wore. A golden necklace with a few blue gems glistened around her neck.
He guardian hadn’t bothered to dress up for the occasion; he still didn’t like mirrors and anyway he didn’t have any special clothes. He wore his normal white shirt and blue pants, but had at least exchanged his green cloak to a somewhat lighter one in a blue hue.
“What is it?” the queen said with a friendly tone that ached in her friend’s chest.
Frog figured that he might as well let some of his worries go. She and everyone else would discover the lie about him soon enough and he would hopefully feel less like a traitor…
As for Janus’ leave, it was not his place to announce it.
“The nature of the curse that binds me to this form is that it is connected to the spell casters’ life,” he told his liege, “and thus, as Flea is dead I will soon become a human again.”
“But that is wonderful, is it not?” Leene said with a careful smile, confused by her guardian’s sadness.
Frog slowly nodded.
“’Tis true, I desire my human guise. However I fear that when I revert, the truth that was hidden will anger many.”
“How so? Don’t worry, I promise I won’t get mad at you.”
“As the war raged on, I saw the need for people to retain their hope less they would suffer greatly. Thus, I…”
He trailed off and looked away.
“I could not bring the sad news to thee, to anyone,” he bitterly said, “that Cyrus had fallen under the hand of the Mystics and his friend was left alive but horribly twisted by evil magic.”
The sound of a quick intake of breath hurt like daggers.
“So is the truth,” he forced himself to say, “I hath deceived thee and I even made Janus follow the lie in my fear of bringing such foul news.”
For a moment none of them said anything. Then Leene finally spoke.
“So you are Glenn?”
He nodded, silently. The queen reached out and put a hand on his shoulder, making him look up.
“I understand that you had reasons, since everybody put their trust in Cyrus to defeat Ozzie,” she said and smiled a bit, “lying is not a particularly good thing, but we did need the light of hope during the war. So let’s call it a guardian lie, shall we?”
For the first time during the evening Frog managed to smile honestly.
“I thank thee, my liege.”
“We’ve gone through too much in the last few years to let such a thing tear up alliances,” she gently said.
She chuckled a little.
“I know you have a problem dancing as it is now, so let’s say we’re saving that until the curse wears off.”
“’Twould be an honor,” Frog said, returning the short laugh.
He glanced at the crowd surrounding Janus and smiled a bit.
“Right now I trust our wizard would be happy to be saved from the attention, however,” he said.
Leene straightened up, still letting her hand rest on her guardian’s shoulder.
“I can see that…”
She looked around and frowned.
“Where is Lai, come to think of it?”
“I hath not seen her…” Frog said and shook his head.
“Oh well, I’ll see what I can do to rescue Janus, as she’s not here. I will see you later, Glenn.”
“I thank thee, Your Majesty.”
The queen smiled at him one last time and then crossed the floor, slyly using her authority to get through to Janus. He gratefully bowed as she asked for a dance and followed her to the open floor.
This was another thing he was glad his guardians did not see. He hardly believed it himself.
Frog’s smile managed to survive for a few more moments, floating in relief. But eventually the next problem returned to haunt him again.
‘Where is Lai?’ he thought, glancing around again.
Her absence was starting to worry him. She should be present in the castle… Lai definitely wasn’t the kind to duck out of something like her teacher’s last night in the country. Her feelings for the celebration in itself was shared by the rest of the magic using trio though.
For a moment his mind touched the possibility of still hostile Mystics, until his logical sense pointed out that if any monster had attacked Lai then it would have been heard. If not for the burning screams, then at least Janus should have gotten a telepathic call.
In the middle of the thoughts Frog couldn’t help but smirk a bit. Everything seemed to circle around Janus sometimes.
‘No matter how much he attempts to shove it away…’
He collected himself quickly though and started moving through the great hall, looking around for the female magician. But she was nowhere to be found.
The heat inside was starting to wear him out, and as he couldn’t find his friend he decided to take a break to get some fresh air. Exiting the great hall and walking outside, he threw a glance down the stairs and couldn’t help but roll his eyes at the coincidence.
“Why art thee here and not inside?” he gently asked as he sat down beside Lai on one of the lower steps.
Despite the early October it wasn’t a very cold night, but the last days had been unusually warm overall. It was probably the only reason that Lai could sit outside, considering her outfit. Despite herself, everyone’s given up hopes and the laws of the universe she wore a dress.
It was in a smooth, creamy white cloth and plain without any adornments, reaching down just above her ankles as it was stretched by her pose. The sleeves were slick against her arms down to the wrists were they fell down in a few big waves of silky material. A matching cloak gently flowed down Lai’s back and the flame necklace glistened around her neck.
The wearer didn’t look very gentle, however, not with her heavy leaning on her own knees and the half emptied wine glass in her hand.
“Why would I?” she gruffly said and took a deep swing of the liquid.
“Art thee drunk?” Frog carefully said.
“Not yet, but I’m working on it.”
She glared at the glass and smirked for a second.
“This is about what he needs to go out like a light. Weakling…”
Her sneer died and the glass shattered against step higher up the stair.
“Goddammit!” Lai snarled and slammed her forehead down on her knees.
Very carefully Frog put his small hand on her shoulder.
“If thou care for my advice, this night should not be spent in pity like this.”
“There’s no damn use, Glenn!” she snapped and shook her head without looking up.
“Thou will regret it.”
“I already am…”
She straightened up and leaned her cheek in her hand.
“The worst part is that he expects me to get married and have a bunch of stupid kids so history can bloody close. I swear I’d strangle Lucca if I could…”
“’Twas probably why neither Janus nor me allowed her to enter the castle if we could prevent it,” Frog mildly said.
“Damn traitor…” Lai grunted.
“I apologize, my friend.”
Lai muttered something inconceivable, looking away to avoid the big, black eyes’ understanding sadness. For a moment none of them said anything, then she frowned when she heard Frog chanting in a low voice.
“What the heck are you… aww, Frog!” she complained as the light mist she had managed to assemble drifted away from her mind, “now I have to start all over again!”
The short swordsman smiled warmly as he stood.
“I wish thee the sweetest evening of thy life,” he said and walked back up the stair.
“Fat chance…” Lai muttered, turning away again as a white figure took the green one’s place, “and you look like a bloody saint in that outfit as usual.”
Janus heavily placed his arms on his knees with a soft sigh.
“Yeah, I know.”
It was simply described as white. White shirt and pants, with a belt decorated with a golden buckle. Spiraling and twisting embroideries in gold threads fell down his chest as well. And on top of that the cloak even carried a picture of Guardia’s royal crest.
In golden threads, what else.
“Was wondering when you’d get out here,” Lai finally muttered, bitterly.
“Took Frog to find you for me and Leene to get me away from the peacocks.”
“You really can’t do anything on your own, can you?”
“Not in these situations.”
Janus tried to chuckle but it turned into a groan and his forehead connected with his arms.
“And quit mimicking me,” Lai said, rather harshly as she wasn’t in the best of moods.
“Alright, how about ‘shohkon’ then?” Janus muttered without moving.
“You just said the same in Zealan, didn’t you?” she grunted in a bored voice.
They sat in silence for a while.
Eventually Lai glanced at her teacher and couldn’t help but feel a softer bitterness as she watched his slumped form.
A couple of people passed by on their way into the castle, giving the pair of magic users on the step puzzled looks. But they came to the wise decision of staying off and just passed by.
“Come on now, you look pathetic sweetheart,” Lai finally murmured, much kinder than before.
Janus looked up and managed a joyless smile.
“I still can’t define why your insults makes me feel better,” he said, absentmindedly somewhat.
Lai shook her head and plopped her cheek back into her hand.
“Probably because you know I’m not really insulting you,” she grunted.
Sighing, the wizard bent his neck and watched his white-clad arms.
“Yes, that’s it.”
Another silence fell, so thick with unsaid words that you would need the sharpest sword in all history to cut through it.
It was broken with the sound of gritted teeth.
“I can’t believe this!” Janus snarled and straightened up.
“Hey!” Lai shouted in pure surprise as his arm encircled her waist and swiftly pulled her closer.
She wasn’t against it, it was just that that had been the last thing she had expected.
Janus shook his head and avoided her raised eyebrows.
“I hate the mere thought of what I have to do,” he growled, “this is my last night here and I refuse to spend it in this damn cold!”
There was a snort and the side of Lai’s head gently landed on his shoulder, almost making him jump. He had rather awaited a backhand straight in the face and been prepared to take it too. After all the times he’d chosen to neglect her due to history’s needs, punishment for a badly timed sign of affection was the least Janus thought he deserved.
“Now you’re all tense,” Lai muttered, finally smiling a little.
“Awaiting to be well done any second now.”
“Bah, you need to relax, sweetheart.”
“So you say?” Janus said with a chuckle.
“You’ve got too much on your mind, and you deserve some enjoyment,” she continued in a sweet, mocking enticing voice, “besides, you’re funny when you’re drunk.”
The wizard rolled his eyes and softly laughed.
“I was rather hoping you’d do me the honor of lending your lovely company for the rest of this tiresome ball, my lady,” he said.
“You’ve been around Frog far too much, hon.”
“My nose thinks so too,” Janus muttered, absentmindedly rubbing the now healed nose bridge that the swordsman had broken.
Lai laughed and straightened up, stretching her arms before her.
“Oh very well, just since you asked so nicely and I’d love to piss off those noble hens in there,” she said.
With a chuckle he stood and offered her his arm, and she hooked hers on his with a light smirk.
“Just one thing, royal wizard,” she said as they began walking up the stair.
“Do something fairy taleish tonight, and I’ll set your hair on fire.”
“Oh no,” he deeply sighed, “and the rain of roses by midnight would have been so pretty!”
“Can’t be helped.”
They exchanged grins and entered the music and warmth spilling out into the autumn night from Guardia castle. Tomorrow would be later, but this night was theirs.
Chapter 29, Farewell, my Guardia
The swordsman stopped beside one of the storage rooms of the castle, on another platform making a difference in the stairs. With a sigh he rubbed his thick neck.
It would be a sad day today, the suppressed anguish he had felt last night would be set free throughout Guardia at the loss of their wizard. Frog sighed deeply again, shaking his head.
Then he looked up in surprise as he heard the sound of somebody nearly falling down a stair; insecure, quick steps and a cry of someone desperately trying to maintain balance.
Janus – now in a less white set of clothing but more normal purple and gray – almost tumbled down the steps, heavily leaning on the wall and pressing a hand against his forehead.
"God, I'll kill Lai!" he snarled.
"What ails thee?" Frog worriedly asked.
"The hangover is becoming my demise!"
Despite his sinking feeling a few moments ago, the queen’s guardian couldn’t help but smirk.
“I believed that thee had decided to fight against her attempts last night,” he mildly commented.
“I thought so too… argh…” Janus groaned and leaned his pounding head at the somewhat cold stone wall.
He sort of melted down into a sitting position. There wasn’t any more suitable word for the movement.
“Can’t see the king like this…” he winced, weakly rubbing his temples.
Frog’s sneer died and he sat down beside his friend.
“I suppose that is becomes my task to heal thee, so that thee can resign from thy position in a suitable way,” he bitterly said with a hint of irony.
“Would appreciate the healing at least,” the wizard grunted without looking up.
“Powers of the world…”
Janus straightened up with a relieved sigh a moment later.
“Thou art welcome.”
With a sigh Frog leaned his chin on a fist.
“I’m sorry,” the wizard said in a low voice, shaking his head.
His friend attempted a smile.
“Thy sister means a lot to thee, and ‘twould be a dark sin to leave a fair maiden lost in history without seeking to aid her. Thou dost only what thou must, even so it pains us all.”
Janus stood, briefly putting his hand on Frog’s much smaller shoulder.
“But I promise you, Glenn, I’ll return someday.”
“I dearly hope so, my friend,” the green warrior said as he got to his feet, managing another small smile, “but also promise me to be careful during thy travels.”
The wizard smirked a bit.
“Yeah, I better do that since I won’t have anyone who can break in and save me anymore in case of emergency.”
“In conclusion, thou art doomed,” Frog stated with a chuckle.
“Probably… by the way…”
Janus stopped and looked up at the roof.
“Wouldn’t Lai be feeling terrible too?” he said, a hint of concern in his voice despite all.
“Heh,” Frog said with a renowned snicker, “I believe the amount of water she drank last night saved her from the pain.”
The shorter one got a pained glance.
“That’s all you have to do to avoid that living hell?”
“Aye. So I hear.”
Janus sighed and shook his head.
“I swear, one of these days I’ll kill her …” he muttered as he descended the stairs.
“Should thee not wait for her?” Frog called after him.
There was a brief pause before the reply.
“She told me that she didn’t want to watch,” Janus finally replied, and after another moment, “at least, I think she told me that. I can’t really remember…”
The queen’s guardian walked down a few steps to see the wizard press two fingers against his forehead.
“Are you awake?” he muttered in a low voice.
Three seconds’ silence.
He let the hand fall and continued down the stair without meeting Frog’s eyes. With a sigh the swordsman followed in his friend’s steps.
One couldn’t claim that anyone in the throne room looked very alert. Even Leene was slumping a bit on her throne, as nobody really was in the right mood to care for proper behavior she and a couple of guards held a cup of coffee each.
Janus halted for a second in the door to take in a deep breath before stepping inside. Turning right and walking a few more steps brought him to the middle of the thrones’ platform. He turned to the king and queen, bowed his head and placed his fist on his chest to greet them.
“Good morning, my liege,” he said without looking up.
Frog silently took his place on Leene’s left side, closing his eyes momentarily. He opened them again and forced a smiled reply as the queen mumbled a good morning.
“No use for such formalities this morning, Janus,” king Guardia said and cleared his throat to get rid of the slight hoarseness, “I don’t think any of us are up for it.”
“I understand, Your Majesty,” Janus said in a controlled voice, “and even though it pains me, since I know how tired we all are and because it already brings me sorrow, I must bring up one formality.”
Leene slowly put down her coffee cup, a frown seeming misplaced on her smooth forehead. Frog looked down at the floor, clenching his fists. The guards looked up in confusion by his words.
“What do you mean?” the king concernedly said, straightening up.
Janus kept his head bowed, his eyes tightly shut as he sat down on one knee. As he had been many times before, to greet the king who he owed gratitude and respect.
As he had been on his birthday nearly three years ago, when he had arisen as the royal wizard.
It took a great deal of will to keep the voice calm.
“I came here as a child, I don’t know how many of you remember it. A man very alike me brought me, some thought that he was my father. In a way, that was true but not fully. What I want to tell you about him is that he had gone through many ordeals to save me from death in the land we were born, and from the Mystics as we came here.”
He had to take in another deep breath, without really wanting to creating a moment where dark realization began to grow in the listeners’ hearts.
“The reason that both of us knew magic was never fully explained, as none of us wanted to create confusion. But I will let the truth be known now, that I was born in a world different from this one and a magic accident threw me and my savior here. However, my sister, my only relative, got left behind and I do not know what happened to her.”
Again he paused, the hand that had been spread over the floor in front of him clenching. He continued before anyone else had time to speak and bring him off balance.
“I lacked the ability to go back to my world and search for my sister Schala before, my liege, my friends, and even as I gained it I still knew that Guardia needed me. But now that the Mystics are no longer a threat, the need to help Schala is calling me. Therefore, I wish to resign from my position as royal wizard and leave Guardia in pursuit of her.”
A thick silence filled the room.
Frog glanced aside and saw Leene’s hand squeezing the armrest so hard that her delicate knuckles were turning white.
King Guardia had lowered his head.
Another moment passed by before he straightened up again.
“I hate to see you go, Janus,” the king slowly said, sadly, “and I am not alone either. But with the reasons you give us, how could I refuse you to leave?”
“Thank you, my liege. Believe me, I’m not leaving here with a light heart.”
The king smiled a bit, joylessly.
“I can hear that very well in your voice,” he admitted.
Janus finally stood, his hand drawing a flaring stroke in the air to summon his staff. He took the familiar wood in both hands and planted his weapon in the floor before his feet, still without raising his head.
“You have done more for me than I think you’ll ever fully understand, my liege,” he said with half a smile, “and you all have my word that if I can, I will come back someday.”
‘I keep promising,’ he thought with an inner sigh, ‘if I’ll be able to, that’s another thing…’
It felt somewhat empty not to get an encouraging, sarcastic or silly comment on thoughts like that anymore.
He finally looked up and moved the staff aside, taking it in his right hand only to bow to the king and queen.
“I’m sorry for choosing this moment when everyone is exhausted,” he said, “but I didn’t want any commotion, I hope you understand that.”
Slowly king Guardia nodded. Queen Leene sighed and lowered her head for a moment.
“As for now, I bid you farewell, Your Majesties.”
“Be careful, Janus,” Leene said with a hint of harshness in her eyes, “even if the Mystics are peaceful here I highly doubt you’ll thread any paths free of enemies.”
At that, the wizard managed to smile properly.
“You are probably right, Your Majesty. I’ll be careful.”
“You’re always welcome back,” king Guardia clarified in a friendly voice, “and that’s to your title as well as your home.”
Janus’ fingers clenched around the staff as he tried to keep the sorrow from shoving in his eyes. The kindness in the king’s words cut like daggers down his throat and chest.
“Thank you, my liege. Farewell.”
He turned around and walked out of the gates from the throne room and further ahead through the main gate, passing drowsy guards giving him puzzled looks.
For a brief moment he felt guilty for letting almost everyone only know through rumor about his leaving, but as the grief of loss clawed at his heart that feeling singed off.
The two soldiers that stood outside of the castle mumbled good mornings, but Janus only waved a little without even looking at them. He hurried down the stair onto the muddy road, his steps growing faster until he ran. Not until the castle was completely hidden by the trees and their last remaining leaves did he stop, trying to catch his breath for a second before he clenched his teeth and began muttering the spell to open a Gate.
A sparkling dark hole opened before him in thin air, quickly growing until it was big enough for him to step through.
A pebble hit the back off his head in the middle of his step.
With a wince Janus turned, expecting to see a smirking imp. He saw a glaring Lai instead.
“You know, any other woman would probably say something like ‘I forgot to give you something yesterday’ and then kiss you goodbye,” she said in a cold voice as she passed the distance between them and crossed her arms.
“I know, but we both hate those sappy scenes,” Janus said with a powerless smirk.
She reached up and grabbed the back of his neck.
“I’m just going to kiss you and that’s it, alright?” she snarled.
Even if Lai already was pushing at him Janus freely bent down the bit needed to meet her lips for a brief caress.
At the same time as a gentle, warm stream flowed within him, the tearing of loss was stronger and it was only painful.
When his student let go he smiled a little without any joy behind it, turned and disappeared into the darkness. It closed behind him and Lai stood alone, watching the empty spot and growling bitter curses of suppressed rage.
With a final snarl she spun around and hurried back towards the castle to find whatever alcohol was left from the night before. She wouldn’t normally use such means to dull inner pain, but it was pounding at her with every furious beat of her heart and quickly growing to more than she could handle.