Part 2 – Magus
One who loses memory loses identity. A spark of feeling that there was something before, a painful ember of emotion that marks a great loss of some sort, is perhaps all that remains. That ember then becomes a mourning of the self, a wake and burial for what was lost, what will never be again. But such is felt only through fragments of dreaming, impurities among mostly black, vacant sleep, night after night without lullaby.
I sat up with a gasp, disoriented and feeling as if my body had moved for the first time. I was without a name, my only companion a few dim memories that felt like dreams, hints that perhaps I might not be waking into life for the first time. I was lying on a grassy clearing, my body seeming tiny and inadequate. I rolled around, feeling the small protest of a fading nest of bruises across my body. I could not remember where I had come from, only that I had lost something or someone dear to me, and I would never be the same without it. I still had the heart, though not the mind, of a child, and because of that I whimpered and sobbed until I was half blind.
So absorbed in was in my misery that I failed to notice the shapes surrounding me until the beastly laughter interrupted my thoughts. When I finally wiped my eyes enough to see, a gaggle of green and brown little beasts, no larger than myself, greeted me with impish laughter. Some were leaping up and down in either extreme glee or extreme fury, though I judged these beings barely intelligent enough to understand the difference. "Go away." I whimpered.
It was only then that I took note of their leader standing behind them; a great, obese lizard that stood on its hind legs and might have devoured me without notice, entirely by accident. Its foggy white eyes, though full of alertness, showed no particular capacity for insight, and I felt a bit more secure. I was frightened, yet at the same time I felt a new strength grow in me as I was forced to draw on my enigmatic grief to combat the fear.
"Food!" One of the imps chirped, its voice sounding like what one might expect a stuffed toy animal to sound like if it were able to speak. I began to laugh, though as my mind expanded on the situation I restrained myself, perhaps thinking it would benefit me to keep them thinking I was afraid for just a little longer.
"Food!" The others followed in similar voices, repeating the word over and over. I put on my most frightened face as they continued to chant awkwardly and out of sync. "Food! Food! Food!"
"Stand aside, fools!" The fat leader shouted, shoving a handful of stumbling imps aside with each arm. He had the voice of what I might expect from a very large old woman offering her child’s children a warm drink, the comical contrast with his outer appearance banishing all desires of such a drink from my mind.
"Well, well, well, well…" He purred, rubbing his oily green hands together and looking at me in a most uncomfortable manner. He then knelt down, drawing close to me until his reptilian nose nearly touched mine. His voice dropped to a sickening whisper. "What do you say, cub? How ‘bout some more of those tears? Some whimpering? A cry for help? A scream, perhaps, or the name of your worm-feeding mommy?"
I did my best to oblige him, but I was yet a terrible actor. "You can do better than that!" He snapped, licking his grotesque lips.
Frustrated, I launched a wad of spit at him, striking true squarely between those glazed white eyes. "You’re ugly. Get out of my face." I said matter-of-factly.
It took him a moment for him to snarl. "Not as ugly as you, cub. Have you ever looked at yourself?"
A part of me could not help giving his question some thought, and it dawned on me that I had little, perhaps no memory of what I looked like. It occurred to me that my face might very well not look much better than these beasts, and thus began the long history of that thought haunting me.
"Ha-ha, but I will overlook your insolence, my little peach. I, Ozzie the great, will overlook it, I will, yes. I will, this once. Have you a name, my pitiful little morsel?"
"I—I can’t—" I began to answer, then saw the folly of admitting my amnesia. I would allow this stumbling, blithering nose crumb who had somehow stumbled upon size and sentience to gloat no more than necessary. "No." I concluded.
"Hm, well. I am your mommy now, and my chums are your family. Do you understand? Hmmm?" His eyes only grew more hungry as he said this, and twin lines of yellow drool spilled down his scaly sack of chin.
"Family!" One of the imps shouted, followed by others.
"Yeah, we’re your family!"
"We’re your mommy now!"
Ozzie boxed that last imp to speak atop the head, then wiped his chin, looking about him and returning his cow like gaze to me. He moved his great jaw in an attempt to say something, but I saw nothing clever brew beneath that thick, glistening brow. "Off we go!" Was all he managed to stammer before he hefted me across his shoulder with one meaty hand. I knew it was pointless to struggle.
The last time I ever remember crying did not happen in a solitary room, or in the dark arms of night, or before any tangible grave, as it seems to happen for noted figures of dignity. Instead, it began perhaps a quarter hour later, while I was still atop Ozzie’s rough, yet almost malleable back, surrounded by his gaggle of munchkin-imps marching toward their nest, smitten with venomous glee. The pain of that mysterious something I had lost was overpowering my little mind, my essence that was still very young and at the mercy of even such clumsiness as that which surrounded me then. Without warning, I broke into a loud, bawling fit. I tried to cry a name that refused to leave the tip of my tongue, tried to whine that I wanted to go home, that I wanted to be away from these frightening, ugly beasts forever. My crying nearly drained out the string of presumed obscenities Ozzie was shouting at me to keep silent.
I cried long and hard, cultivating, sowing, reaping and dissolving the last of my childish fears. While I did this, I gathered strength from this sorrow, from this loss that I must one day regain, and felt it changed me. At last, several minutes before we reached the surface and entered Ozzie’s rotting lump of castle he called home, I stopped as abruptly as possible, neatly cutting away all traces of misery from my demeanor. The new strength surged within me, and I knew this marked the last hour of the last day I would cry.
Smirking, I began to travel the beginnings of a plan I was concocting from desperate intelligence, a plan to keep from falling under the feet of these oafs. "What a burnt-out molehill. And it’s not half as large as my home." I said in my clearest, most confident voice.
This gave the big reptile some pause, as no doubt he expected me to still be talking through broken tears.
I then hopped from his shoulders, vaulting in a half-arc onto my feet and holding his stupefied expression. "What’s the trouble?" I dipped my voice in mockery. "Are my words having a hard time crossing from ear to ear?" Inside, my surprise at my own words mirrored his. After shedding my emotional weaknesses, my eloquence and clarity of mind seemed reborn.
"Quiet, you! Quiet!" Ozzie shouted, still sounding like a mountain of aged female despite all his anger. "You little beast! You have no idea who you address! You are now the property of Ozzie the magnificent, crown king of the second-born polyblooded Mystics and successor to the great Cold King!"
"And who kissed you, the Iguana princess of wind?" I intoned.
His face grew comically taut, and he leaned forward. "Be. More. Respectful. Lest you are elected my salad dressing for the evening. My pups already think you look delicious . . ." He knelt an inch closer, lowering his voice an octave. "Though between you and me, cub, I’d forget you halfway to dessert."
"I’m not scared of you." I said quietly.
"Why not?!" He screamed, spraying spittle and scattering his army of imps a few feet. He looked about to jump, and I was sure the ground would complain.
"Because you’re all at my mercy." I shot, then impulsively stuck my arm out and obliterated his ornate gold belt buckle with a small bolt of electricity. I had felt the next stage of my powers unfold from distress, felt everything I was now capable of, so this came without a resurgence of my earlier surprise. Ozzie’s jaw dropped in sync with his three layers of trunks, and I wasted no time darting over and past him. I knocked several imps blocking my way aside, speeding the rest of the way to his castle.
Once at the gates, I forced them open, then closed and willed them locked behind me. I allowed my nocturnal vision to stir, then used my new power to light a few torches until an orange light danced across the glossy black interior. I had to admit, the inside was far more impressive than the carcass. I marched back and forth, humming to myself and exploring one great hall after another back and forth for a few minutes until I began to hear noises. Until this point, I had only noted the company of the occasional bat. My boyish impulsiveness had blinded me to the obvious truth that yes, of course the castle would be filled with worlds upon worlds more of the vermin Ozzie had brought with him.
It was not yet evening, and I realized my romping had probably woken these beasts prematurely. I only smiled to myself, knowing my good timing would prove all the more fun if Ozzie was truly their toughest. I waited eagerly for two adjacent doors to fall sloppily open. Out stepped what looked like a pair of emaciated gargoyles with pale gray skin. When their beady red eyes fell on me, they frowned and exchanged glances.
"Seems a little early for breakfast, eh?" One spoke, his voice sounding like pretentiously hearty gravel that did not fit his body.
"Ayeh . . ." The other responded. "But if the master’s out huntin’ his food early, who’re we to grumble?"
"Right! So, uh, shall we…?"
I chose that moment, as others began to pour into the hall. I surrounded them with a small circle of fire, then began zapping electric bolts at their feet. "You idiots! The fat fool was my breakfast. I run this place now!"
Too excited to wait for their response, I darted from hall to hall, door to door, spreading similar havoc and watching gleefully as the creatures began to scramble around in panic. I encountered cloaked avian warriors, floating creatures that looked like phony magicians, snake women with tails in place of legs, and other varieties of creatures, all running from my demonstrations like sheep from a loud noise. I was having the time of my life, and marveled at how easy it would be to have my way around here, to be under no one’s dominion. I was intoxicated by my new strength, as any unprepared boy my age might have been.
At last, I decided to wait for my corpulent new guardian to arrive at the gates. I heard him when he was a mile away, then giggled as the expected pounding and shouting began. Thud. Thud. Went the large wooden doors.
"Open up, you brat! Lord Ozzie the Unctuous demands it! Open or suffer, boy! Suffer! Suffer, suffer, Sufferrrr!!"
"Hey!" I shouted to all the vermin around me. "Gather over here. Your old master’s back! Don’t you think he’ll be mad if you don’t open the door for him?"
The beasts slowly looked from me to the entrance, then began to condense just behind the doors.
"This is your last chance, cub! OPEN THESE DOORS RIGHT NOW!"
"Okay, ’mommy’!" I answered. Then, timing my will perfectly just as he rammed himself against the door, I snapped my fingers and willed them wide open. The great lump of green that was Ozzie, clad in only his undergarments, flew right into the mass of his cohorts who had just been about to open the doors themselves. Many fled, but few escaped being momentarily flattened under his weight.
I laughed until my chest hurt, then suddenly felt very tired and exhausted. My legs gave, and I collapsed dreamily onto my back, only lazily keeping an eye on Ozzie as he brushed himself off and waddled over to me.
"You would be an unforgivable indigestion." I heard him mutter in his slimy tone, but only barely. I raised an arm to shoot more lightning at him, but my powers were long gone. I had used up too much of my new energy far too quickly, as other children wolf down sweet foods with wild abandon and pay for it later. I yawned, in a strange state of ecstasy as I felt him lift me by the back of the neck and carry me down one of the halls, to tired and happy to care what my punishment might be. I had already judged that, for some reason he had not yet mentioned, he intended to keep me around for a long, long time.
Ozzie was telling the truth about his status, as he soon explained. He was a missionary destined to wage war against the oppressive humans who had persecuted him and his race ("our race", he would correct me) since the dawn of time. As much as I enjoyed causing trouble for the beast, I began to feel specks of sympathy for him as darker pieces of my own memory returned, memory of my peers, of my own mother looking at me with disgust. He revealed to me that an old legend had decreed he would die fighting the oppressive humans alone and without an heir. He had then consulted what he believed to be a dark god, and had been told he would find a child who would grow into a strong and powerful wizard worthy of succeeding him precisely where I had been sleeping. The "god", he claimed, said I was to be the strongest champion to their cause yet. Ozzie had only been repulsed by my ugliness (after all, he said, I had no fangs or scales or claws, and my mouth and chin were always so dreadfully dry), but had never seriously considered feeding me to his servants. As the days passed, I continued my rampant tantrums of terror, but with slightly more care and reserve. My green godfather, or ‘mommy’ as he appointed himself, knew I was well beyond his ability to control, yet fueled by some hope that puzzled me, he still endeavored to complete my upbringing in the best way he knew how.
I was given a dark, cozy room with a large mirror behind the door. Days passed, then weeks, then months. I made sure Ozzie and all his most trusted aides had the darkest of circles under their eyes from lack of rest. The gates, windows and parts of the roof had to be rebuilt every fortnight or so, victim to my urges and experimental whims. I was informed I had tripled the castle’s food intake, and only Ozzie himself rivaled me in appetite. I forced him to carry me on his shoulders from time to time and crawl on all fours, galloping about the halls, until such childish urges began to appeal less to me. When he began to truly lose his sanity due to sleeplessness, I would calm myself accordingly until he was ready for more mental and psychological exploitation. I allowed him to train me in the ways of simple warfare and teach me the texts of old strategy and magical philosophy, with various reminders that he was, in fact, at my mercy. While I could hardly grasp his lessons at first, as my mind and body grew I began to absorb more and more. He was preparing me, preparing us all, for the revenge we would exact on those who had cast us out of society and tried to enslave us.
As the next several years passed, two important things began to happen. First, bit by bit, I began to regain my old memories of home, and the events that had transpired until the point of me waking up surrounded by the school of imps. I regained knowledge of my approximate age, remembering how old I was when I was discovered here and adding the time since. I knew I had been very close to a certain young woman, a sister who was more dear to me than all the world, though I could not remember her name. While the longing to see her again returned and the pangs of homesickness set in, I knew I must keep it all a secret. Instead of sharing my past with Ozzie or any of the rabble, I released my frustration with increased anger and destructive rampage each morning before bed. More than once, everybody would wake to find the castle inconveniently missing. It was only when they bothered to contemplate the nature of the various flavors of ash that had become their collective blanket did their primitive minds dawn upon the truth. With each rebuild, I would offer a few suggestions for aesthetic improvement that always pleased Ozzie in retrospect.
Second, a certain element of my powers that seemed to control aspects of my physical appearance began to work in strange ways. I had no contact with any society of humans; none came to the castle, nor did we travel to any of their villages, wherever they might be in this strange new world. I began to associate myself more and more as a mystic, as an aberrant one of Ozzie’s own brood. For why else had nearly all of my own people rejected me? Why else had my own mother always been a stranger to me, and why else did this bumbling but marginally successful lizard taken me in as one of his own? The answer was simple; I had to be one of these creatures, in heart if not in body. As I studied myself in the mirror, I noticed my teeth growing just a little sharper, my ears becoming just a tad less round with each year, perhaps each month. Though I later realized this was the result of my innermost powers altering my outer appearance to fit my new self-perception, at the time it only strengthened my beliefs.
When I was ten or eleven years old, I had my first contact with human society in this world.
It was just before dawn, and I was sitting on the roof preparing for a sleepless day, memories of my sister especially strong that morning. I was in the midst of contemplating which floor of the castle to destroy today, and considering my favorite way of going about it. While fire was thorough and left a rather pleasant aroma, I felt I was in more of a lightning mood; lightning was ever so more pontifical. Perhaps a seasoning of frozen rain once I had compromised the roof would accentuate my feelings nicely. Just as I began to work up my energy, I heard Ozzie’s heavy footsteps behind me.
"Neh. What mischief are you stirring up here tonight, cub?"
I turned to face him, raising an eyebrow at the red coat and tailed hat with white, fluffy trim that he was wearing. If I had not been angry, I would have laughed. "I’m not a cub. I do have a name, and I’ll remember it one day. Make no mistake about that!"
"Neheh. We’ll give you a name soon enough, don’t you worry. But come down from here, we must prepare to pay out first visit to Truce village. I’d have preferred broad night, but then those silly humans might just fall back to sleep and convince themselves I was a bit of rebellious drink in their imagination. It’s time to make our presence known, and then in a few more years, we’ll really make our presence known! Mwaha."
"I don’t want to go to any village." I whined.
"You must! Your powers already exceed mine. Our timing will be flawless! They’re holding some pathetic festival. Without you, they’ll think we’re just part of the act unless I destroy the place. And I don’t want to destroy the place, no, not yet, I want them to shake and scream and cry to their mommies! Their mommies! Their--"
"Of course you won’t scare them. Why are you dressed like that?"
Ozzie frowned to himself, then cleared his throat and scowled. "Your ignorance is far too ostentatious, grasshopper. You’ll have to do something about that. Allow me to explain. This suit is worn by a figure of fear in their legend; it is the very augmentation of their great daemon, the Saint of Claws!" He finished with a bearing of teeth.
"How could a daemon be a saint?" I asked in a skeptical tone.
"Fool! Once again you flaunt your ignorance. He is an evil Saint! He terrorizes cubs younger than you in the middle of the day, invading home after home through the chimneys and—"
"I thought humans slept at night? Isn’t that why you’re waiting for the sun to go?"
"No--! I, er…yes but—no! You’re wrong, and I’m right, and you must listen! Come with us. It will be an invaluable learning experience for you. He who is to lead a great war must know the face of his enemy."
"NO!" I shouted. My interest had been piqued, though not by any wind from him, and I intended to concede, but not just yet.
"YES! Our success depends on you!"
"Stuff your success. I’m not going, and you know you can’t make me."
"You’re going!" He bellowed, jumping and landing on his feet to accentuate his words. The roof reverberated slightly.
"You’re going! You’re going!" He shouted and jumped up and down. At long last, the section beneath his feet compromised. I heard several more crashes as he plummeted through floor after floor as I doubled over in laughter. When I regained a measure of self-control, I climbed all the way down the wall to the ground floor and burned a likeness of me through the doors as I entered.
Ozzie, in his red outfit, was spread out on his stomach atop a small mound of gargoyles and avian soldiers. His cap had fallen over his face. I pointed and laughed more, until I felt my stomach about to burst. I then sat down and stretched, waiting for him to wake. When he did, I almost felt a trace of pity at the hurt on his face as his lazy eyes seemed to assess me.
"Okay, I changed my mind. I’ll come with you." I broke the silence in a patronizing tone. At that point I truly did feel sorry for him, and lent him what little physical strength I had in lifting his great mass to his feet.
"Now, listen you little—wha? What did you say?"
"I said I’ll come with you. Maybe I’ll even help you clean up when we get back. But I go where I want. Okay?"
My small hand was still buried in his huge paw, and at that moment I thought I might have felt a softening between us. An instant later it was gone, and I jerked my hand free by forcing it against his thumb, one of the most basic defensive fighting techniques I had learned.
The human village was unremarkable, and humans themselves made me nauseous when they brushed by too closely. Perhaps it was that I had not been around them for some time, or perhaps these humans seemed more like the weak, petty surface dwellers I remembered from my own world. Or perhaps it was their treatment of their most talented alongside lesser animals that angered me.
"I’ve a good mind to raze this place." I muttered as I watched the circus beside Ozzie, who was clothed enough to show as little skin as possible for the moment. Human spectators surrounded us, and I was most disgusted at the children who seemed to be of my age.
"Not yet, master, not yet." He pleaded. The title ‘Master’ served to both define my youth and acknowledge my superiority, and I had grown used to it. "When the time is right, you’ll know. I’ll do something!"
I sighed, making eye contact with one of the lions jumping through fiery hoops. You poor, poor beast. I mused. Wouldn’t you like to be free, and maybe snack on a few of these idiots? The animal’s eyes waxed, as if it could read my thoughts, but a moment later it joined its comrades as a shrill whistle cut through my attention. The master had marked the end of the first act.
The circus master was a small man, not much taller than I, with dark hair and a fine, pointy mustache with a voice to match. He stepped forward, dismissing the lions and their trainers with a few cracks of his own whip. He then made a few signals with his hand, and four strong men dragged a large barred chamber onto the center of the stage.
I choked on anger as I saw the figure step out of the cage, guarded and surrounded by the four carriers. This was no animal, but a human just slightly different from the others. She had long, dark hair and a face painted red and white. A silvery cape opened to reveal a one-piece suit matching the face paint. She bowed and waved nervously to the crowd, and a moment later I gasped as the four men hurled torches at her. They were going to kill her!
I began to step forward in panic, but then froze as my jaw dropped. This woman had managed to catch all four torches, and was juggling them at an increasing speed, not even remaining in one place. Every so often, the men would throw one more, and she only added it to her collection without so much as a flinch. My lower lip drooled down to the bottom of my neck, as I had never seen such a thing.
Finally, with a strange wave of her arm, the woman winked the torches out in one brilliant yellow-orange explosion. As I joined the crowd in clapping, the four men suddenly collapsed, and a moment later they were snoring like babies. This magic woman then put a finger to her lips, motioning the crowd to quiet down so she might speak.
"For my next act, I will choose a volunteer from among all you lovely children." The voice was somewhat deep and coarse, most definitely not that of a woman. Just as I was frowning, I saw her hand suddenly shoot out directly at me. I looked, and her large eyes were locked with mine. "You there. I have a good feeling about you, my boy, so why not step forward and participate in my next delight?"
Thought I did not like being called ‘my boy’, I was too flattered to care. I shot out, paying no heed to a few gasps and murmurs of those in the crowd who noticed the unusual shape my ears were taking.
"What’s your name, boy?" This remarkable clown asked in an even deeper voice.
"Are you a man or a woman?" I asked, my curiosity winning over what few manners I had. I did not know much about tact, even to those few I cared to impress.
The clown laughed nervously. "Aha . . . well, that’s not important, but you may as well assume I’m a man." After scratching his chin momentarily, he gestured sharply at me. "Ipso facto presto cadaro!"
A moment later, I was roughly the size of a human foot, green, slimy and sitting on four legs. The pain of betrayal from this figure I had admired felt more horrible than anything yet, almost as painful as the loss of my sister. I was furious, and tried to gather up my most vicious of cursed. All I managed to hurl at him was "rrrrrrrrribit!!!"
"Calm, calm now. No need for such naughty words." My great eyes blinked. Had he somehow understood me, or was he only pretending to? All I felt was the anger, the misery of this horrible form as the crowd laughed and cheered with delight. "Don’t worry, I’ll restore you in a flash. Ardua unravala inerto manifesto!"
Without so much as feeling a crack between thoughts, I was myself again, though my anger remained unabated. "I’ll fix you for that!" I shouted as I pointed at the clown, envisioning becoming the lowliest of worms.
What happened next was the biggest surprise to come. A multicolored aura wrapped around the clown, and in a moment a simple, albeit unusually large worm stood before me. It was not very close to human size, though it was certainly larger than a simple earthworm. It took me only a few seconds to realize that somehow, from something done to me by my own transformation or from a natural coming of age, more of my powers had developed.
The clown remained a worm for only a few seconds more. He was magic, after all, and I was not surprise to see him return himself to his own form. The shock spread uniformly across his features was enough to satisfy me. "That was…interesting…" He muttered, then hardened his face. "But it shan’t happen twice. You must be the challenge destiny promised me." He then gestured and shouted "Huzzato!"
I suddenly found myself a slug, but just as easily returned to my true form with a simple will of the mind and heart. "I hope that wasn’t your best!" I shouted as I prepared my next form. Another gesture from me, and he became an iguana. By now, I was beginning to lose my hearing from the crowd’s excitement.
We sparred like this for a few more minutes, changing through a variety of animal forms until, exhausted, we reverted to normal and sat down.
"You are skilled, boy. Quite skilled, if I may judge."
"You’re not bad yourself. But stop calling me ‘boy.’"
"Well then, do you have a name or not? I can’t very well call you much other than what I see if I know nothing about you."
"I…well…" After a moment of hesitation, I found myself explaining the situation.
"Ah, well, a tragic story. Tragic, but best forgotten. My name is Flea. At least I’ve been called that since I was a lad half your age."
"Well, Flea, I’m happy to meet you." The words were strange, alien to my mouth, and it sounded quite out of place to hear them in my own voice. Yet for lack of a better way to explain it, I had a good feeling. I decided to be blunt. "Why don’t you come home with me?"
Flea laughed, his voice rising a few octaves. "That’s all well and swell, and I’m sure there is much to be learned between us, but have you no family? I’ve been just above slavery for my remembered life, but—"
"You, a slave? With powers like this? Pathetic! How could you let that happen?"
"I, ah . . . well, that’s another story. The master’s had me believing bad things would happen if I ever tried…"
"And you believed him, all this time? Look at him! He’s a wimp! Turn him into a slug and feed him to the fish!"
At that moment, several interesting things happened at once. The angry owner came up to us, shouting incomprehensibly beneath the roar of the crowd. Ozzie decided it was time to declare himself and begin his reign of terror, so he, too, jumped onto the stage and revealed himself, trying to look as intimidating as possible. To his dismay, the crowd only erupted in laughter. Some children a few years shy of my age even pulled toward him against the hands of their parents.
Flea and I decided to focus our attention on the circus master, who was intruding on our nerves slightly more. Simultaneously, we threw a spell at him, and a blink later there stood a giant rooster with the legs of a frog. "let’s see how well you jump!" I screamed in my shrill voice as I sent one bolt of lightning after another at his rump until he had hopped well out of sight. By now, the horde of human spectators had begun to assess the continued health of their amusement, and began to flee. I motioned for Flea to follow, and pulled a complaining Ozzie along in the homeward direction.
"You ruined everything!" The fat reptile was shouting. "Because of your meddling, the name of High King Ozzie the Ornate will not be spoken to bad children to incite fear! At least not until my expenses allow for another attempt! And who is this Peacock you’ve scraped up?"
Flea casually flicked his wrist, and a moment later Ozzie was spreading brilliantly colored feathers. "That is a good question, my boy, who is he?"
The talk was long and the work was difficult, but by sundown I had effectively made peace between them. This sort of deed was also alien to me, and I felt a bit of discomfort, though the results were practical enough. Flea was impressed by the castle, and after a few demonstrations of his power Ozzie readily accepted him as a comrade-in-arms. He was even given his own wing of the castle, and began to train some of the more able mystics.
A Name True
I finally began my man’s growth when I reached my thirteenth year, and my voice began to crack slightly. It was also the year I began training with a heavier weapon, and the year I was to test my skills against a line of fully grown knights.
That morning I was busy amusing myself by beating a hench and two gargoyles to a bloody pulp outside the castle gates, surrounded by most of my cheering and feasting subjects. Today would be an important day for me, the pride and future of this microcosmic kingdom. I was to complete the last leg of my physical training in a series of single combat matches against prisoners Ozzie and a small number of us were busy securing from a raid on the Guardian army.
Unfortunately, Ozzie had again ignored my counsel that while we took to bed at this hour on normal days, humans were rising and at their freshest. He did indeed return, but only after a few more battered subjects than I had anticipated, and he was in shackles. To either side was a heavily armored human dragoon with the Guardia crest on their helmets, and many rows more following behind.
Just before Ozzie and the two guards marched what looked like the leader of these invaders. He was half again as tall as the tallest of his men and leaner than most, though he looked quite deadly. My subjects parted and cowered as he approached with the rest, and his coal-black eyes began to scan our assembly.
"If this be all there is to the rumors of a beast kingdom amassing against us, I will crush it with my own right arm and return home to breakfast." His men laughed, and for only a moment I felt the beginnings of fear. It then dawned on me that the fates may have meant this to be my true test, and I shook together a plan in my mind.
When this tall soldier’s eyes met mine, they almost passed me before disbelief crept over his brow. "Boy, some of your features unnerve me but not enough to judge you deserving of this lot. Unless you are a fool, stand aside."
"I am no fool." I said in my most adult tone, though I still looked and sounded mostly a boy. "And I see something in you that beats differently from that of your men. I have a proposition for you."
"Now listen, I don’t play games—"
"This is no game. You against me, single combat. I’ll even fight you at your own level, without using any of my powers. If you win, every last one of our lives are yours to do with as you please. If I win, your head remains on a stave and your men carry the rest of you home."
A mixed uproar followed my last statement. Ozzie looked angry, but I silenced him with a scowl as I waited for the human leader to finish laughing.
"You’re brave, boy, I’ll hand you that. And such arrogance and effrontery would not glaze your words if you were not more than you appear to be. Allow half a score minute for my men to place wagers on how long it will take me to flatten you."
I granted his request, and eleven minutes later, his sword and my scythe began to sing. I was still reasonably shy of a man’s size, and he gained a rapid advantage. But once I had warmed up, I made the best of my smaller size and kept a clear mind. I toyed with him, allowing him to force me back for a time and even throwing a frustrated little-boy grunt in every so often for dramatics. When I judged the moment ripe, I split one of his mistakes down the middle and ruined his balance, pressing my new advantage without mercy. I changed hands, as I am ambidextrous, and darted everywhere as I attacked. Though he did manage to surprise me and mark my cheek once, I must have cut him in six or seven minor places before his weapon finally flew. My scythe licked a thin splash of blood along the side of his throat. "Hmph." Was all I could think to announce my victory. I expected this bitter-faced man to spout curses or forget his word, but he remained quiet. A long silence followed amongst his men and mine.
"The brat was swaddled in luck." One of my opponent’s subordinates called. "Let’s clean the place now and be done with it."
"No!" My defeated opponent shouted, though his eyes remained at his knees. "The boy defeated me in all fairness. This is a disgrace, more so that I am the most trained among you. If I cannot defeat him, our ranks have no hope of defeating any of them. I cannot say it has been an honor, but this chivalry-besotted kingdom has milked its duty of me. Back to your liege with my head. I lived a knight, and I shall die one with few regrets." His eyes then rose a few degrees to my chest. "Well, boy, on with it."
I had not intended to murder in cold blood, especially one as contrasting of his kind as this soldier. A sudden idea came to me, as I realized he was probably the only of his men to have a chance against any of us. The eyes of the others were, as he had put it, drunk with ignorance and short-sightedness. I saw in this man’s rock-hard eyes and expression a defiance, an understanding at the pathetic nature of the order he had been imprisoned in for all of his life.
"Your life belongs to me, though I do not choose to end it. Had you hit me a few marks further down, I would be feeding worms and your men would have devoured our kingdom."
"You ask me to betray my kingdom? To spit in the eyes of the service that has raised me since I left my mother’s swaddling blanket, and awarded me honors and medals enough to build a crown with since?"
"Yes." I answered, whipping my scythe into the ground near his knees. "What you see around you is a small kingdom, a threatened kingdom that I intend to raise to its fully glory."
This was a truth of truths. For some years, I had known I was the backbone of these people, and that they would help me fulfill my goal. What this goal was, the small remnants of fog in my memory would not yet tell me, but I knew with time it could come clear.
"You honor me, my young lord. My service is yours."
I waited for the curses and murmurs of "coward", "backbiter", "traitor", "eel" to pass among his men before speaking. "Do you have a name?" I asked my new servant-at-arms plainly.
"My family named me Evanor. Since I was but a page in training, my skill and my table manners have earned me the surname ‘Slash’."
"Evanor is the name of humans. I clean the taint from your honor and mark you to begin afresh. Among us, you will be known only as Slash."
I lifted my scythe and touched it to his helmet, then turned to his men. With a small gathering of will, I formed a great circle of flame around them. I then moved to where I judged my voice would be heard by all, and used a bit of my power to carry it. "I have mastered magic beyond magic, and I have completed training with my chosen weapon. I have defeated wizards among wizards without fighting, and I have bested knights among knights without chicanery. The name given me by my family is lost. As I have bestowed upon Slash, I, too, ask for a name from my subjects. Let it mark my achievements and denote all I have meant to you, all I mean to you, and all I will do for our children’s children."
It was a somewhat rehearsed speech, with a rehearsed answer to match. Ozzie, Flea and the rest of my subjects knelt. Slash looked to me, and I nodded for him to repeat their words a step behind.
"We name you, Magus. Your eyes are our stars, your hair the waves of our ocean. We name you, Magus. No sad sunny day nor frightful blue skies can harm us under your shadow. We name you, Magus. May your tears be the rain that shields us, may your dreams be the night that guides us. Hail Magus. Hail Magus. Hail Magus."
When they finished, I smote the fire around the remaining human soldiers. "Return to your king and let it be known that I, Magus, will be at war with the kingdom of Guardia five years from this night."
As the months and years passed, my moods grew darker. I left my room only to train or sup. The perceptive side to my magic was still at work; my teeth grew sharper than the fangs of the vampire bat, my ears close behind. Though I had long since outgrown most of my large-scale destructive whims, the castle began to rot from neglect, slowly descending to the state it had been before I had arrived. My new status, the promise of a future for my new people, my ability to lead, recognition of my own greatness . . . none of these gave me any comfort. I was searching for something deeper, for the reason that had pushed me to all this. Rather than whet my appetite for intrigue and intellectual adventure, the elusiveness of my purpose depressed and infuriated me.
I dreamt of my sister at night, tearing my sheets and leaving holes in the walls from the anger that came when I realized I was forgetting specifics of her face. Though I never murdered my own troops, I often left them beaten and bloody if they happened to cross me at the wrong time, literally or otherwise.
I began to study archaic texts of old civilizations, yellowed scriptures and spells and any lost lore I could find in the cellar library, one section of the castle I had never damaged. In fact, I had saved these books from a very primitive, careless demise under Ozzie’s idiocy. Often I would not emerge from my reading for days at a time, save to scare away those who tried to distract me. When I did surface, I would call for a grand tournament and participate to release my tensions.
"More than this old castle is falling apart, sir Magus." Slash began to warn me shortly after the turning of my sixteenth year. "Our home is only a reflection of the hearts and the morale of these men. You need to do something. Train them before their fighting abilities erode, search the lands high and low for others who might join our cause. Even Ozzie hardly does anything anymore, anything other than lie in the dark and fill his belly. "
"Ozzie hardly ever did more than that." I answered sourly as I tried to out-pace him through the halls. "And why don’t you train them? It’s more your boon than mine."
"Me? I never lead anything a quarter this size, sir Magus. And I was never even knighted."
"Well, then. Let me change that." I turned to face him, unsheathing my newest scythe. "Kneel."
"But sir, I—"
"Kneel. Or have you taken it upon you to disobey me?"
When he dropped to his knees, I touched his right shoulder with the scythe’s edge, followed by his left, then his forehead as he removed his helmet and craned his neck. "You are now the first night of my empire, Sir Slash. Train my men as I trained you during your first days here."
"I . . . am honored, as I have never been honored before, sir Magus. Ah, I . . . I’ll take my leave now, by your dismissal."
"What else did you want to ask of me, Slash?"
"S . . . sir?"
"Your credit to my perception is far too lacking for your health. You best ask me and be done with it."
"Well, come to think of it I did mean to ask your permission to enter the Guardia tournament this year, now that I’ve been knighted. I had hoped to knock the wind and the honor from a few of my former . . . associates."
"So be it. Such matters do not interest me. You need not ask, and see to it that you don’t waste the breath henceforth. Now get you from my sight, I have research to do."
A week later, Slash returned one evening with a gold medal around his neck, bragging about defeating the Knight Captain’s Squire, Glenn, in melee combat in the final round after being unhorsed. Flea took more of an interest in his stories, while Ozzie lamented that Slash had not returned with any foreign blood on his weapons or armor. I listened to as little as would suffice to be thought proper of me before returning to my cave of literature.
I read the histories of Guardia and El Nido. I read of the gods most humans worshiped, deities from the sky with powers that far exceeded the humans of this age. Apparently they were cast down by a greater god, perhaps even an evil god, and stripped of their powers. All this began to ring old, solemn bells in the depths of my thoughts and feelings; these sky gods reminded me of something, yet my memory had not yet regained the names of most that had been familiar to me. I sought more information on this evil arch-god, to no avail.
Where mysticism failed I sought texts of science and reason, tracing the origin of simple machinery and the use of natural electricity. I thought perhaps that might lead me to remember or discover how I had come from my old life, a member of the royal family in an esteemed kingdom, to this new world, a seed to bloom and fulfill an ancient prophecy of an exiled, dying race. In the area of logic, I fared no better.
As time continued to pass, this enigma only ate at me further. Thoughts and memories of my sister did not grow less painful as I had expected it to by this phase. I had long since forgotten the concept of crying, and I could not appear deranged and unbalanced in front of my subjects, so I took to destroying something every morning in private.
I had Ozzie, Flea and Slash train the mystics fully in my place as I withdrew more and more. I did not emerge for my eighteenth birthday, though by morning the entire castle’s ritual chanting in my praise echoed endlessly in my ears. When I caught myself dozing, I took the book before me and hurled it across the room. The force was enough that it split it in half with a loud protesting crack, scattering a small dust storm of yellow page crumbs.
As I rose to pace, for the first time in countless weeks I came across a looking glass. It was old, man-sized and tilted against the side wall, and had apparently been left here to rot. My appearance my breath in my throat like a spiked razor.
I did not recognize myself in the least, yet I felt it naturally fitting enough for who I had become. I had the body of a somewhat tall, thin male humanoid – I stood a full six feet, and with my heeled boots I would be two inches more. The rest of me could only barely be called ‘human’ – as if whatever god that conceived me had gone awry, or fouled as I grew older, or forgotten how I was supposed to look as I matured. My skin was nearly snow-white with a hint of blue, as if I were perpetually oxygen-starved. My teeth were now fangs in the most certifiable sense, two of them showing even with my mouth fully closed. My nose looked as sharp as my scythe’s tip, my ears longer and more pointy than most of my subordinates. My blue hair swept below my shoulders, the only true connection to my childhood.
With an angry fist, I smashed a crisp white web in the glass, watching as a myriad of lesser, distorted images of myself sprouted to life. I then clawed across it with my other hand, noting that my nails were virtually claws themselves. I finally resorted to destroying the mirror with my favored bolt of lightning.
I fell asleep on the ground, moaning and groaning in frustration against a pile of books.
In my dream I saw a young girl, calling a name through tears of rage and sorrow. I knew almost immediately that it was my sister, as my feelings always seemed to grow their own will in her presence. This dream, however, was uncharacteristically real.
"Janus?" She moaned, walking in her own bubble of darkness within darkness. "Janus . . . Janus . . ." It was a strange name, one that held no meaning to me, except perhaps in some past life, yet I knew it was me she sought.
Forgotten longings thawed as I scrambled toward her. "Schala!" I called, the name finally clicking and snapping. "Cease this crying. I’m coming. I’m coming!"
"Janus!" She shrieked, turning one way then another. It was as if she didn’t hear me.
"I’m here!" I shouted, finally reaching her and reaching my arm out. The ice of her shoulder shocked me as she turned, still somewhat blind, and I saw she was changing. Though her hair had lost its color she was as pretty as I remembered, only gripped by a deeper state of sorrow and despair than I had ever seen or imagined. The sight almost made me sick. "I’m here…" I repeated, my voice giving way to dread.
"Who . . . who are you?" She cried. "You’re not Janus! You’re not . . . go . . . monster . . . go away…"
No… I wanted to say, but my voice was lost. All I could do was squeeze her watery grave of a shoulder tighter, trying to communicate by feeling.
"Janus . . . no . . . no, no, no no …NOOO!" I found that the more intense my touch, the more she seemed to hurt. She let out a wild moan that became a scream, doubling over, and I had no choice but to let go. Her form grew smaller and smaller, at last dissolving into dancing red blobs behind my eyelids as I woke.
I screamed a scream none in the castle had heard as I destroyed a nearby table with brute force, cutting all sounds of chanting short. I did not wait for them to continue as I stormed upstairs, lifting beasts who happened to obstruct my path by the neck and throwing them aside like dolls as I made my way to the castle gates.
At first I wandered aimlessly, keeping quiet note that Ozzie was following me without making him aware that his bumbling had given it away. I stormed through the cave and came out through the cliff side before stopping to rest. I drifted back into a dark, dreamless twilight before jerking awake at the onset of a storm and continuing on my way. I relieved traveling peasants of their food, frightening them away and sometimes doing an injury or three.
"Leave me be, lizard, or crawl where I can see you." I announced to his shadow the next evening as I sat atop a rainy hill.
"Sir Magus," Even Ozzie had taken to the meek intonation by now, and his voice was unusually sober. "A leader of war does not leave his army to rot at the beck and call of bad mood. Return with me, lest you take in too much rain."
"Is that all you have to say?" I growled. "In that case, leave me be. I will return when it suits me. My pain needs the sky as witness."
"Your pain can be alleviated! You think me a fool, but I know the onset of anger when I see it. I might be able to lead us to the answer to all your problems, my liege."
Lightning cracked the sky overhead, followed a second later by the accompanying thunder as the rain continued to hammer the soft ground, finding purchase in my hair. "Speak, then." I spat.
"There is a legendary sword. The Masamune. With it, it is said a single soldier may level kingdoms at his feet as if they were lumps of sand on a beach."
A spark of hope began to mix in with, though not replace, my hatred that had become as aimless as my wandering. I wanted nothing more than to destroy something, perhaps many things, and I had read of this sword in my sleepless studying. "I have heard of it. A sword formed by the souls of two brothers of an ancient race. It feeds and is fed by the emotions of its bearer. If I read that correctly, this sounds like a weapon that could destroy me. Why should I want it?"
"It could never destroy you, Sir Magus. Never you. Your anger is such that it would only make it a weapon of that much greater power, and help you achieve victory for us. It lies in a cave atop the Denadoro mountains, which are close by. Come, I will lead us to it."
Though my better judgment went against this, screaming silently that Ozzie was a fool and knew not the first thing about the magics involved in this weapon, I let my emotions decide for me. "So you shall." I answered with resigned conviction, standing up and shaking some of the small puddles from me. "This had better work toward my interests. Lead, then."
We reached the Denadoro Mountains after another half-night and began the climb. It was long and aggravating, and we left more than a few charred skeletons of various creatures that lacked the intelligence to differentiate between us and a fresh, compliant meal. Just as we approached the cave that seemed to fit Ozzie’s descriptions, my relief ran short. My blood heated with fury as I spotted two humanoid shapes walking just outside the cave, near the cliff’s edge. I did not welcome interference now, particularly not that of humans.
"H—humans!" Ozzie shrieked in a whisper.
"Very perceptive." I answered snidely, walking toward them. They seemed to be soldiers of the same order that had tried to seize our castle; one was my age or slightly younger, the other seeming perhaps two or three years my senior. They had been talking, though I had not heard any of what they were saying, nor did I care. My eyes were only on an oddly shaped, strong-looking blade they carried, each by a hand. I knew what it was, and my fury surged; I had marked it as my property many hours ago, and I would have it no matter the cost.
When they took note of us, they froze. The older one’s brow creased, and a hand reached for his blade.
"I wouldn’t try that, if I were you. I’m not in a good mood." I growled at them.
"Look!" Ozzie shouted, pointing to the strange-looking blade they held between them. "It’s the—"
"I know what it is." I answered menacingly, raising an eyebrow to the humans. "Well? You aren’t going to just hand me my rightful property and give me no reason to spill blood, are you? By all means, if you intend to strike the great Magus, give me your best shot!" I spread my arms, indicating that I would not move.
The younger soldier started to rush me, but his slightly older companion held him back. "Beware, Glenn!" He shouted as he dropped his end of the Masamune and drew his own weapon. Ozzie and I shared a laugh at those unbelievably pathetic two words. My blood began to boil with anticipation of using some of my anger to punish these fools for their insolence.
Finally, the older one charged and attacked me. I drew my scythe in a blink, and his strength surprised me as our weapons bit into each other. This only made me angrier, more so when the tip of his weapon came close to my face. I released everything I had built up, turning his blade away and slicing cleanly through his mail and across his hip to his shoulder. A spray of blood splashed as he was sent spinning to the ground beside the other quivering youth. He lacked the strength to rise, though he was making a petty attempt, and as I watched him squirm from the wound, the need for me to damage or destroy was satiated. He was all but helpless, and would most likely be weaponless for a time.
Ozzie, however, was not finished. I watched in surprise as he gestured forward and set the wounded soldier’s body aflame. It was one of the few times I had seen him use his own magic, and though I was slightly put off that he would murder a defeated and helpless opponent for no reason, I pushed the distaste away and turned to the unfortunate soldier’s companion.
"Well? Try your luck, kid?" Ozzie taunted.
"Er…!" The youth stammered as he tried to lift the Masamune, looking at me with naked hate in his dull, stupid brown eyes. "Er . . . er . . ."
"I think he’s trying to say something." I whispered mockingly.
"Yes, yes you’re right! Ozzie rubbed his hands together. "Yet, it sounds distinctly inhuman, don’t you think? Oooh, why not give him a more fitting form?" He ended his sentence with the tone of a goose-bumped elderly fool talking excitedly about ideas for gifts.
For the first time in months, I smiled. It had been too long since I had used this power, and it would make almost as delicious a treat for me as it would for Ozzie. I thought of the first time Flea had used his power on me, transforming me into that despicable frog. I had developed a pathological hatred of frogs since that day.
Gathering my will and that hated image, I gestured at the youth and worked my magic. His form became enveloped in the swirl of colors as he cringed, his form changing before my eyes. To our deep regret, he tumbled off the cliff, taking the Masamune with him, before the morph was complete.
I stood there for a long moment, cooling. "It serves the fools right." I said under my breath.
"Come, my liege!" Ozzie was screaming happily. "Surely the creature did not survive the fall. Let us retrieve the Masamune from his carcass, and bring it back as part of our feast tonight."
"They toyed with things beyond their control," I continued to no one in particular.
"Yes . . ." the image of the first youth burning, and the second falling over the cliff repeated in my mind. For a few moments longer, I saw only that. Did I need to bask in what I had done that terribly? Or could I not let them go from my mind for another reason? "Hmph. They challenged us. What could they have expected but the clean death from loss to a superior opponent? It is the order of things, is it not?"
My mind snapped back to the present. "Yes, Ozzie. Come. Forget the Masamune, it could not have remained intact from that fall. Something about it looked wrong, anyhow."
"What?! Sir Magus…!" He whined, sounding even more like an upset overstuffed grandmother than usual.
"Shut up! We’re going home, and that is absolute."
The failure to obtain the Masamune did not bother me as much as I expected as we walked home. Some of my anger had abated, though I felt only an emptiness in its place. An irrational concern surfaced in my mind. What if we had been seen, and the deaths of those two soldiers had been traced to us? What if their comrades would amass and chase after us in revenge? Would I have the experience to fend them off, with our army as it was?
That night, I had an odd dream that the youth I had transformed and forced off the cliff had survived, and cried my name in anger and fury. The scenery then faded to an old memory, one that had been lost until now; the memory of my mother submerging me in strangely tainted waters at birth, marking me for the same power that had emptied her soul. I watched, and I heard a name repeated at decided intervals of the chanting, over and over.
For only a moment, I saw this creature as I knew none had seen it. I saw what lie beyond the name. I saw a glimpse of Schala, lost and trapped and full of sorrow as she had been the other night. I saw the virus that had invaded the very roots of my life and climbed upward, ravaging and consuming and destroying as I had destroyed that day. I saw what I had been, and what I had become.
I had put a name to my enemy, and witnessed how it cheated time. I was ready to continue my work, to free my sister and reclaim what I had lost.