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A Look On Another One Part 2

The air smelled like dry sand, and the light was strangely gray. The only light source was a distant hole in the cave's ceiling, way up high.
The silence, however, wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. It had a hard time claiming its place since silence is the lack of sound, and somebody was swearing quite a bit.
“You blasted cross dressing freak!” the female voice snarled.
Her flow of insults turned into a hissed groan, accompanied by a stumbling sound.
“Cross body, sweetheart, not cross dresser,” a voice that could be both male and female smiled, soft as silk.
“Leave her alone, thou foul beasts!” somebody harshly croaked.
The last speaker also hissed in pain a moment later, even though this time there was more sounds of struggle.
“Hey, hey now, greeny boy,” the second voice smirked, “careful there or they’ll have to break your little arms.”
“Why can’t you just stay dead you damn witch master?!”
“It’s hard to stay dead if you never was. Your boyfriend should learn to aim better. Or maybe not…”
Flea smirked at Lai’s twisted grimace.
“Come to think of it I rather prefer this, don’t you?”
“Thou foul villain!” Frog spat, giving the two sorcerers holding him back a hard time.
“Go to hell!” Lai snapped at the pink Mystic.
“In due time, sweetheart,” Flea smiled, waving his hand dismissively in front of the taller prisoner’s nose.
He wisely and swiftly moved his fingers out of the way before the female magician managed to bite.
“Stop calling me sweetheart or I’ll break your damn neck!” Lai snarled.
For the record, perhaps “damn” wasn’t really the word she used. You may be the judge of that.
“You and Janus are so alike it’s sickening, lady. Ah well, it was fun seeing you two again. Ta-ta now.”
Winking with one eye in a warped imitation of a cute smile Flea snapped his fingers.
Somehow Lai managed to bend away as the freelancer behind her raised his sword at her neck, nearly twisting her wrists free from the fat hands of the goblin. But only nearly. She hissed as the bird-creature sent out his other hand and grabbed her hair.
Of course, Frog wasn’t one to just watch all this happen in silence.
“Thou snakes crawling in the scum, accursed beasts! Let her be! At the least kill me first, thou rats!”
The sorcerers brandished their yellowed, curved teeth as they laughed, as did their friends. Apart from Flea, who cutely covered his lips with his hands as he snickered.
“Ah, always the hero. Not that it matters, it’s fine by me.”
Frog growled as the freelancer turned at him, struggling despite his offer.
“Hey, it was your idea,” the giant bird screeched, sounding like a hen as he spoke.
The monsters laughed even more at that, but the laughter ceased suddenly in surprise as a fireball slammed into the bird’s back and threw him onto the ground with its sheer force. Through the rage Lai blinked, frowning upon noting that her desperate blow hadn’t even left a burn mark on the simple armor of the monster. She exchanged a quick glance with Frog before turning back at the monsters before her.
Growling the freelancer got back to his feet, not for a moment letting go of his sword.
“Bad girl,” Flea tsked, waving warningly with his pointing finger, “even though shooting a fireball with your eyes was an interesting one.”
He looked closer and chuckled, cocking an eyebrow.
“I think you lost your eyelashes however, for shame…”
“Will you just shut the hell up?!” Lai roared, about to fall over as she struggled.
Her face twisted into a grimace again as her broken ankle screamed in pain. The fall through the ground and into the cave should have rendered both her and Frog unconscious, but Flea had made sure they stayed away from at least that. As the two warriors fell into the trap, the magician momentarily stopped their fall just midway before letting go again. They hadn’t been knocked out, but weren’t left unscathed. Frog could stand, but Lai highly suspected he had broken at least one rib. The sound as he hit the ground was unmistakable.
‘Damn, damn, damn!’ the woman desperately thought, trying to fight back the crippling pain.
She knew well that her green friend desperately wanted to help her, but he could do nothing more than save her life for a few more seconds by sacrificing his own. Any attempt to use magic would easily be blocked by his guards, and Lai couldn’t heal.
‘Hell no!’
“Don’t touch him you giant rooster!” she snarled as cold metal neared Frog’s neck.
The knight’s big lips twitched a little in a joyless smile, trying to silently tell her that he was grateful for her care in these their final moments.
Lai glared at him, furious that he already seemed to have accepted that nobody was going to come running and save them. She knew it all too well herself, but still her mind refused to embrace the cold truth.
“The two of you would make such a cute couple,” Flea said with a roll of his eyes, “I think I’m going to be sick…”
“Just out of curiosity, how long did it take you to plan this shit?” Lai spat, desperate to win Frog any second she could.
Just like he wouldn’t stand see her being murdered, she couldn’t allow it either.
Flea waved at the freelancer to wait another moment, and the big bird straightened up a bit, lowering his sword.
“Sounds to me like your loosing your grip of insults, sweetheart,” the pink Mystic stated with a smile.
“Don’t call me sweetheart.”
“Ah, royal wizard alike royal wizard… that’s also nauseatingly cute.”
“That pet name is a goddamn thing between me and Janus, you stay the hell off it, you freak!” Lai snarled.
“I figured as much.”
Flea smirked and shook his head.
“It’s always about Janus when it comes to you, isn’t it?” he said, snickering at the young woman.
She bared her teeth in rage.
“’Oh damn, I’m in a jam, come and help me Lai’!” Flea mockingly said, waving his hands melodramatically, “that’s our great hero in shining armor.”
Shut the hell up, Flea!” Lai and Frog (very much despite himself) hissed at the same time.
“I should have had you killed years ago, girl,” the Mystic sighed, “now that would have been a show. But it doesn’t matter much now I suppose.”
As Lai was completely focused on glaring heatedly at Flea, she – alike the others – did not notice Frog blink.
“Perhaps he didn’t manage to kill you, but you didn’t get to kill him either!” the wizard’s student lashed out at the Mystic.
“Oh, I am hurt,” Flea mocked a gasp.
As the next voice spoke, time seemed to slow down for as long as the sound floated into the air.
“You really will be soon, because I strongly plan to make a ribbon of your entrails and hang you from a tree in it.”
Flea straightened up and slowly turned around as the other monsters began to growl and Lai’s grimace melted like a blackened icicle in spring. Not even the pain in his chest could stop Frog from grinning.
“Or is this a bad time?” Janus coldly said, taking his staff in both hands.
“No, you’re just in time,” Flea icily smiled and snapped his fingers.
The freelancer drew back his sword, spinning at Lai.
“Freeze!” Janus roared, dashing forwards.
With Flea’s mind immediately starting to corrode the paralyzing spell it didn’t work for more than three seconds, but that was all the wizard needed to reach his friends and tear them away from their guards. In the haste he couldn’t be as gentle as he wished, and there was no time to chant a healing spell as he moved. Despite their doubled pain due to the rough escape, Lai and Frog weren’t too spiteful.
Janus more or less threw them aside to whirl around at the first sorcerer after only a couple of yards. His staff sent it flying backwards, and Flea neatly sidestepped the crashing monster. The remaining three servants growled hungrily but instead of attacking they seemed to wait for an order.
The wizard frowned.
“Powers of the world…” he whispered as he got a moment’s peace just before whatever move Flea was going to do.
“What the hell took you so long?” Lai softly grunted as the pain in her ankle numbed.
“Sorry,” Janus muttered without turning his eyes away from the monsters.
“I am but grateful that thee came in time, my friend,” Frog said with a smile.
The wizard nodded absentmindedly, changing the grip of his staff warily.
“Are you done reuning yet?” Flea sarcastically asked.
Janus dared a glance at his friends.
“Not quite, I think we’re missing some equipment,” he replied.
“Right over there, cutie.”
Flea pointed towards the distant wall to his right, slightly behind him and his cohorts.
“Come and get them if you want them,” he invited with a smirk.
The goblin, freelancer and sorcerers looked too sure of themselves for being so few. They should know well that they weren’t any match for the wizard, even together. Flea’s presence shouldn’t be able to bring them that much confidence.
“You two notice anything funny about those four?” Janus hissed from the corner of his lips.
“We hath not much chance to fight, but Lai’s fireball seemed to cause the bird mystifyingly little harm,” Frog whispered.
Lai nodded, even if Janus wasn’t looking. He was watching the Mystics suspiciously.
“I thought all monsters were in fear of Skeeza,” he pointed out, experimentally.
“Ah yeah, Ozzie’s sweet little wife…”
Flea rolled his eyes.
“True, she’s got sovereign power over the regular Mystics, but I don’t fear her like the others.”
“You should, you know.”
“I’m keeping my distance, if you hadn’t noticed.”
“Ah,” Janus said with a faint smirk.
He turned grave again just as quickly.
“And how about your playmates then?” he wondered.
At this, Flea gave a dangerously sweet smile.
“I’m glad you asked, Janus my boy,” he said and held up his hand as if showing something off, “if these were regular monsters they would be covering under that boring tyranny.”
“I figured as much,” Janus growled and moved his feet into a defensive stance, gripping his staff tighter as the freelancer straightened up.
And the bird continued to straighten.
His hand and sword grew into each other while his beak shrunk into an insectoid face and his eyes became bigger. The free hand grew a sword-alike claw of its own and giant, transparent wings sprouted from the hardening, now greenish back.
“Of all foulness…” Frog growled while the familiar mantis took on the air.
Janus backed closer to his two friends, protecting.
“I hope you have a backup plan, sweetheart,” Lai hissed as one of the sorcerers began to quickly grow thinner and shadier, while the other one sprouted legs.
“I’d teleport us out of here if I could,” he muttered back, “but I have a tingling feeling in the back of my head that Flea’s planned for such a thing.”
The pink Mystic just smiled, folding his arms casually while his servants finished their transformations.
Janus glared at the skeletal form that had been a sorcerer mere seconds ago. It still had its original face, but it was much taller now and its even earlier fierce claws had turned to daggers. Bluish skin was now a somewhat transparent gray, seemingly floating around the creature’s bones as it moved.
It reminded far too much of his first magic-proof assassin, which caused Janus to clench his teeth even more. He knew he could handle one, possibly two of the specialized beasts at once, but not four. Especially not if he had to protect Frog and Lai at the same time.
He knew he should have seen something like this coming and moved with more care, but seeing that his friends were inches from having their heads severed he had been forced to reveal himself.
The second sorcerer finished its altering of form, ending up as a sturdy wolf-being standing safely on his back legs. Drool already showed around the razor-sharp teeth as the almost completely yellow eyes hungrily scanned the wizard.
Meanwhile the goblin had lost all resemblance to its earlier looks, save the green color. The bulky body had become long and slithering, supported on three pairs of strong legs. A long, yellow tongue licked the air, sickly greenish poison dribbling from its teeth.
“You don’t have a backup plan, do you?” Lai darkly concluded from Janus’ lack of decent reply.
“Masamune, cometh to my hand!” Frog shouted.
Over by the wall enchanted steel reflected the poor light as it rose from the floor.
“Hey, cheater!” Flea said, but without any true anger.
The monsters didn’t even try to stop the sword as it zoomed past them and into Frog’s trained grip. He stumbled as the weight flexed his muscles, with a groan touching his chest.
“Na matala sela…” Janus snarled, numbing the pain again.
Broken bones took more than a simple healing spell like that to heal, they needed a bit more care. And the monsters were fully aware of that.
The teleporting was blocked, and Lai definitely wouldn’t be able to run with her ankle. She was still on the ground where Janus had left her, unable to stand. Frog could maybe run, but the pain would slow him, and if the wizard tried to carry them they’d never get away.
No teleporting…
Janus’ eyes thinned a little.
‘Hang on, I just got a backup plan,’ he sent to his friends.
‘It better not involve thy poor sense of diplomacy,’ Frog sharply told Janus only.
‘Not this time, I promise,’ Janus lightly smirked at his green friend before turning to both again, ‘I’m not sure if it’ll work, in any case we’ll need to break Flea’s concentration for a second so that he won’t be able to stop me.’
‘I can try something,’ Lai grimly thought.
‘Alright. Frog, be ready to help her stand, you’ll only need to take a couple of steps.’
“Fine,” he said aloud and warily changed grip of his staff again, “let’s get this over with, Flea.”
“Sounds like a plan to me,” the leader of the pack nodded.
He raised his hand and gave a quick wave.
Janus swung his staff at the ghastly creature, using his momentum to duck away from the mantis’ claws. By more luck than skill he stumbled out of reach for the lizard’s tail that tried to catch his ankle. Two seconds into the battle he had already had to avoid certain defeat three times, and it was obviously only a question of chances. Lai winced, shifting nervously.
The ghost snarled and tackled the mantis aside as they bumped into each other, giving the wizard one extra moment to twist out of the way for the werewolf’s claws.
He stumbled over the lizard’s slithering tail but rather gracelessly got back in balance with some help from the staff. Frog growled, his muscles tensing as he watched. But he had caught Flea’s eyes and the small movement of the magician’s hand, clearly stating with small means that any try to help would be thrown backwards. The warrior clearly understood, but his whole being flared with rage and will to attack.
Janus punched at the werewolf, in the next heartbeat swinging his staff at the whole snarling group.
“Oh hey, I forgot to tell you something!” Flea shouted over the growls from both teams.
“What?” Janus snapped, trying to catch his breath while his enemies spread out before him.
Half a second later he made a choked sound and the staff clattered against the floor. The wizard’s arms ripped against his sides, pressed down by an invisible force.
“Janus!” Frog shouted, rushing forwards only to be flung back again by a wave of Flea’s hand.
The swordsman crashed beside Lai, luckily the Masamune landed on his other side and didn’t nearly threaten to hurt her. She didn’t even look at her short friend, eyes thin as they flew between Janus and the leading Mystic.
“There’s five of them,” Flea purred.
‘Anytime now, Lai!’ Janus harshly sent his student.
‘One sec…’ she grimly replied, her lips whispering the words.
“And you call Frog a cheater?” the wizard snarled aloud, furiously trying to tear himself out of the unseen grip.
“Haven’t you heard that everything is allowed in love and war?” Flea asked with an evil glistening in his eyes.
Lai’s hand moved like a lightning bolt and the Mystic’s smirk died instantly as he doubled over, clutching at the small dagger in his left arm. The assassins spun at their master, their focus shattered.
“Funny you should say that, you bastard,” the woman coldly snarled with a killing glare.
“Oh, you’ll regret that dearly…” the crossbody growled, tearing the bloodied steel out of his robe and flesh.
Janus rammed his head backwards, slamming its back into the face of whatever it was that held him. The invisible monster screeched in pain and rage; the grip loosened enough for the wizard to break free. Still dizzy from the pain he spun down and around to get his staff and move out of the way, snapping his fingers somewhere in the process.
A dark, flashing portal opened just where he had been standing before the battle started, as Flea’s pain broke his concentration it was possible for Janus to work his escape plan.
Frog was a little wobbly after his head had hit the hard ground for a second time in a rather short while, but he was much steadier than Lai who despite numbing magic was quite pained by her ankle.
“Get in!” Janus shouted, dashing away from the assassins that dove for him in rage.
The swordsman had gotten up and was giving Lai a hand, the Masamune hanging in his other grip. They stumbled towards the darkness, as Janus reached them getting the final push needed to get into the unearthly colors.
“We’ll finish this later, Flea!” the wizard shouted just before he dived for safety.
The Mystics’ roars of rage rung in his ears and he clearly felt a hand sweep by his foot, loosing the grip due to his momentum however.
He fell out on the other side, the Gate already closing as he came out.
With a grunt he got up on his knees, looking around with small gasps for air after the intense seconds. Nothing had followed them through.
“I think we made it,” he concluded and turned to his two friends, both of them also breathing a bit harder than normally.
Frog’s breath was a little ragged due to his chest of course.
“But we art still here?” he said with a frown, glancing around.
The wizard looked up. The enormous cavern surrounded the three, but it was lighter than before. The hole in the roof was much bigger, and small plants grew in the light falling through it. Frog was getting to his feet again, sheathing the Masamune. But Lai remained on the ground, prodded up on her arms somewhat but not feeling like moving too much.
“Let me see…”
Janus pressed two fingers against his forehead and muttered a few words in Zealan. Then he smiled a bit.
“I guess a hundred years keeping us apart should make even Flea and his pets stay away,” he reported, “so we’re…”
“I digress right there,” Lai cut him off, “how… did you find us?”
The brief pause after “how” spoke of held back curses. She was still unable to completely shake off the rage and despair, but quickly getting there. Janus nodded.
“When I read a history book about Guardia I found a text telling about your tragic deaths here,” he explained, pursing his mouth a bit with a frown, “so of course I came back to save you.”
“I thank thee from the bottom of my heart, my friend,” Frog said with a smile despite his lurking pain.
“You’re welcome.”
Janus smiled a bit. But as the wizard turned to Lai again, Frog noticed a strange glistening of uneasiness in his eyes. The swordsman choose not to ask though.
“Where have you been?” she demanded, but there was a soft tone in her voice, “one damn year without a single word, you should know better!”
Even when facing her chastising, Janus only smiled.
“I’ll tell you everything later, alright?” he said, “as for now, we should get out of here. I’ll put you to sleep and carry you outside, can’t heal your ankle just like that. Shama na se.”
Yellowish stars tingled around his fingertips.
“Now just a darn minute…” Lai protested, but Janus moved his hand in a gentle bow before her face.
She blinked in protest but helplessly lowered herself onto the ground, her eyes closing and the frown melting.
With a soft sigh Janus moved over to her side and carefully scoped Lai into his arms, wary of not moving or touching her wounded leg too much. Even if she was asleep there could be aftermath pain and he wanted to save her that.
“Can you manage?” Janus asked Frog, standing up and touching the staff with his heel.
The weapon flashed softly and disappeared like a puff of smoke, to whatever place it went through when being summoned as a thread of flames.
“I believe so,” the shorter warrior nodded with a smile.
“Tell me if you need healing, at any sign of pain.”
“Worry not, I canst use my own powers in need. But I thank thee.”
“No problem.”
They began to walk towards the other end of the cave. Frog spotted a hole in the furthest wall, earlier it had been hidden by the dusk and his own situation.
For a short while the two walked towards their goal in silence.
“But we must return later,” the green one finally said with a grim frown, “how shalt we confront Flea and his warriors then?”
“We’ll have to figure something out…” Janus gravely nodded, “I don’t think just the three of us will be able to fight all of them, even in the best condition. As for now we can pretty much relax though, we should be safe here…”
He suddenly pinched his eyes shut and groaned.
“What is it?” Frog worriedly asked.
“Damn it all, Glenn…” the wizard growled and opened his eyes again, looking down at Lai’s peaceful face.
Her head was gently rolled towards his shoulder for support, no viewable or hidden pain darkening her soft features in her slumber. He briefly wondered why her eyelashes seemed to be gone, but the reflection dove back into oblivion as quickly as it had been born. Janus had much more troubling things on his mind.
He sighed and shook his head.
“That you two were killed by Flea wasn’t the only thing I found out,” he bitterly said.
“What ails thee, Janus?”
The wizard held back another groan and looked at his concerned, waken friend.
“Lai’s going to kill me, Glenn,” he bitterly said, “I’ve really managed to mess up…”
Frog stopped and carefully crossed his arms, tapping his foot against the sandy ground. Janus turned around at him with a faint grimace, knowing what was to come.
“What hast thee done now?”
Janus told Frog.
Frog blinked.
Frog took in a deep breath, slowly.
“She will have thy hide, thou poor fool.”
Janus nodded and winced as he turned to walk towards the exit again. The green friend followed, with a very uncharacteristic thought refusing to leave his mind.
He felt guilty for even thinking that about his comrade, but for the moment being not even the chivalrous swordsman could help himself. The truth that had been unveiled was simply too twisted.

Chapter 2, Truth to be Told

The sun sent its rays warmly streaming down into the area of ruins, and the grass was fresh and lush despite the early May. The trees already carried new leaves in the young spring.
“Whatever happened to the soldiers accompanying us?”
Frog shifted a little where he sat on Janus’ traveling cloak, leaning against the sun-warmed stone wall that once had been the fortification of the Mystics’ dark lair. Now it was just a crumbled remain.
“I met them as I searched for an entrance to the cave,” Janus said while he directed one final wave of healing magic at his friend’s chest, “I told them that Flea was somewhere on the island, that they should get out and leave him to me.”
“I am relieved to hear that.”
Janus grimly nodded. Then he stretched a little and tried to lighten up.
“Well, I’ve been gone for two years, what’s been going on?” he wondered.
“We hath been working hard on the relationship with the Mystics, and apart from that incident today it has been all well.”
None of them bothered about that “today” was highly incorrect. In their view it was true.
“Of course, as I did not revert to a human as thee had promised we began to worry that perhaps Flea had survived the killing blow, alas we had no way of reporting it to thee,” Frog continued with a shake of his head, “Lai, the soldiers and myself traveled to the western island after a fisherman reported strange lights coming from the forest, thinking that maybe we had to find the answer for ourselves. I see now, it was surely a trap.”
“Definitely,” Janus nodded with a grunt, “I don’t know how he managed to survive… suppose that damn Mystic just had to have revenge in some way. Anything else?”
Frog smiled a bit, with pride.
“Though I protested His Majesty saw it fit to knight me and make me general.”
“What took you so long to spurt that out, Glenn?” the wizard said with a wide smile, “you’re too humble. That’s great!”
“Mayhap so, but I cannot see why he regarded me as worthy of such a post.”
“You deserve it and you know it.”
Janus chuckled and rubbed the bridge of his nose to emphasis his words:
“Very few can punch the former royal wizard straight in the face and survive.”
At that, Frog laughed and cracked his knuckles just for the sake of it.
“And I repeat thy own words: thou deserved that,” he stated.
“Painful as it was, indeed. How’s that for a job, then?”
“I am still Her Majesty’s guardian, but it requires little trouble now. Since we art at peace I am mostly overseeing the recovering of the army, as we suffered much during the war. ‘Tis not always a joyful task but I know well I am helping.”
“Glad to hear that,” Janus nodded with a smile.
He glanced over at Lai who now laid on the wizard’s bedroll, still asleep. His smile wavered a little.
“And she?” he muttered.
Frog’s lips twitched a little, but not more than that since the happiness he felt was blurred by worry and a little bit of irritation.
“She hast been keeping her air of pride, yet I cannot speak for her soul,” he honestly said.
“It doesn’t surprise me…” Janus mumbled, somewhat idly.
The general choose not to comment on his friend’s find furthermore than the brief comment he had dropped when the truth was told. He knew Janus already was pained enough. Instead Frog choose to thread a parallel path.
“I hath a request,” he said.
Janus dragged himself out of his thoughts and turned back at the amphibian.
“What?” he asked.
“When she awakens, put me to sleep with the same spell,” Frog said with a faint smile, “for thy privacy and…”
He couldn’t help but smirk.
“… I dost not particularly enjoy watching bloodshed.”
With a deep sigh Janus gave his friend a look of mocked hurt.
“You traitor…” he grunted and folded his arms.
“’Tis nothing but instinct of self-preservation, which thou apparently sadly lacks.”
“Now that’s harsh,” the wizard complained.
“The harm truth bring is nothing but what thou hast brought upon thyself,” Frog smirked.
“I think I should put you to sleep right now…”
They glared at each other for a few seconds until they couldn’t hold back the chuckles anymore.
“Well then, and what hath thou been doing?” the general asked after a moment of collecting himself again.
“Not that much, I traveled through history aimlessly for a little, asking around. Then I found a gigantic library in the future, in which I sought for any recordings of a blue-haired woman. That’s when I found the tale of your deaths.”
Janus had no plans of telling Frog in which book he had found the story. He felt bad enough about it himself, and his friend had a much stronger sense of honor.
“What will thee do now then?” the shorter of the two carefully asked.
The wizard smiled and nodded slightly.
“Duty calls me back to Guardia, so I’ll be coming with you back there…”
There was a sound from Lai; a low grunt. It sounded suspiciously like she was about to wake up.
“… Provided I survive her,” Janus muttered with a small wince and raised his hand, “shama na se.”
“Good luck, my friend,” Frog mumbled somewhat ironically as the yellow stars swept past his eyes, “thou will need it.”
“Yes, and if I don’t make it you’ll wake up normally in about three hours.”
“A relief…”
The general gently slumped to Janus’ cloak on the ground.
‘All out of allies…’ the wizard sarcastically thought and clenched his teeth against the tension he felt.
Lai stirred and turned over with a mutter, covering her eyes with her arm against the light even if she laid in the shadow of the broken wall.
The first thing she noticed was that her left leg felt much heavier than it should, and somewhere far back in her brain she wondered why it didn’t hurt. The rest of her hadn’t really caught up yet.
She heard somebody move.
“Welcome back, Lai.”
Her arm snapped away as her mind tumbled over itself with memories, triggered by the three words said by that one voice.
She heaved herself up with her hands behind her back, perhaps not that graceful but she didn’t give a damn as she grinned despite herself. Janus smiled back.
“Hello again yourself.”
“You’ve got one heck of a feeling for timing, sweetheart, at least when it really counts,” Lai said, much softer than she normally spoke.
“Finally a compliment,” he said with a light chuckle.
He reached out and carefully touched her ankle. To Lai it felt like everything below her knee had fallen asleep.
“Does it feel alright?” Janus asked.
“Just bulky, but I prefer that to the alternative.”
“Good, we better give it a day or so to heal naturally before I finish the healing. Just to make sure.”
Lai sat up better, using her right leg and hands for balance.
“You never answered my question of where you have been,” she pointed out.
“Just going through time, it was rather confusing really. But now I’m coming back to Guardia with you to fight Flea,” Janus said, smiling.
For the first time in a very long while, Lai actually smiled genuinely.
“Good, things have been awfully normal without you around,” she said, but even if she honestly smiled there was an uneven edge in her voice as she spoke.
Janus heard it all too well and shook his head, his smile dying.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Any luck finding your sister then?” Lai asked, not willing to hang on to the subject.
She’d never been one to show any pain if she wasn’t cornered, and it wasn’t such an occasion.
“Not yet, I’m afraid,” Janus said.
Lai said nothing then, letting her eyes fall to her knees.
So you’re leaving again just as suddenly when you’re done.
‘Damn you.’
Janus coughed, uneasily. This caused Lai to quickly look up again and watch him suspiciously.
He’d never do that if something wasn’t horribly wrong.
“What?” she sharply said.
“Yes, there’s… something I wanted to tell you...”
Lai tried to stop her mind from getting the immediate image of a woman by Janus’ side.
She failed miserably.
“And what would that be?” she said, forcing her voice to stay calm.
Janus reached up and rubbed his neck nervously, only managing to double Lai’s tension.
“When I found the text telling me that you and Glenn had been killed I was about to rush through time at once,” he rather awkwardly began, “but I… uh, remembered another book I had seen…”
His sense of survival had been screaming at him to start running for quite a while, and it didn’t get better as Lai’s confusion began to melt into something else for every word he spoke next.
“I went back and looked up the book about ah… mechanics written by… eh, Lucca and…”
Janus hand went down to the ground and he leaned backwards at it to work against the movement that Lai made.
“… Of course, if you had died without… children…”
He leaned further back, starting to retreat so slowly that it was hardly noticeable.
“… And that book still existed…”
It was hard to suppress the will to teleport far, far away, preferably to some place a few thousand years away.
“… Then… uh… well… you can’t really be her ancestor and I…”
The prince of Zeal, hero of Guardia, warrior feared by evil throughout history, gulped.
“… I did a horrid mistake and eh… you’re gonna snap my kneecaps, aren’t you?”
“Yes, that’s a great start,” Lai growled, continuing to advance, “then you won’t be able to run...”
“A little late for that, isn’t it?” Janus rather weakly said.
“Hell yeah.”
She grabbed his collar in an iron grip and tore him with her backwards so that he ended up leaning very closely over her, their chests almost touching. His blink revealed that he’d expected at least a punch.
“And stay there!” Lai snarled as her hand forcefully moved to his neck instead.
Then they said nothing for a while.
Janus smiled gently against Lai’s lips and broke their kiss, carefully sitting up. Since his arms somehow had moved around her during the past, sweet moments she followed and leaned her head against the soft cloth covering his chest.
She smiled contently as he stroke her hair, removing the ribbon that had fought the hopeless battle of keeping her disheveled ponytail under control. The strangely brown-purple locks spread over the dark shirt she wore, dancing when his fingers moved them.
“And I was sure you’d crush my vital organs with your bare hands,” he muttered with a soft chuckle.
“Don’t get relieved yet, I’m still contemplating it.”
“Aw, damn…”
She looked up and met his eyes with a smirk, which he returned.
Then her features softened quite a bit.
“In fact, I think I’m going to make you miserable for the rest of your sad life, sweetheart,” she said in a lower voice than before.
“You’re great at everything you do,” Janus said with a soft smile and wrapped a thread of her hair around his pointing finger, “but you, plainly, are awful at making me miserable.”
He sighed lightly and shook his head, moving his eyes away from hers.
“That’s my job.”
“I won’t hear another word about it, understand?” Lai firmly said and grabbed his chin so that he turned back to her.
“Yes, Lai.”
Janus’ smile returned and he carefully ripped the single hair free. The female magician’s eyebrows merely twitched a little, as it had done when he had created her necklace.
The wizard reached up with his free, right hand and took a hair from his own head. Then he held up his fists with the threads safely kept in his strong grip. All he did was nod, at least that was all that was visible.
The two threads flashed with a soft light and flowed inside of his fists. The fingers were pushed outwards a little by the new contents.
Smiling softly Janus opened his left fist to reveal the new item resting in his palm. He waited for Lai to carefully pick it up and then turned his hand, spreading the fingers so that she could thread the simple, golden ring over the finger meant for it.
Her smile was so gentle that it cut against her overall character, but it wasn’t anything the two of them minded while Janus took Lai’s hand and put the engagement ring made from his hair in place as well.
There was another warm silence.
Lai used less force this time as she dragged Janus down with her, laying her head on his shoulder. He complied, keeping his arms wrapped around her.
The clouds peacefully floated past above the treetops, moved by the brothers of the wind that sang in the young leaves.
“Where’s Glenn, by the way?” Lai mumbled after a comfortable silence.
“He’s over there,” Janus said and raised his hand to vaguely wave in the right direction, “asked me to put him to sleep so that he wouldn’t be in the way when you went berserk.”
They both softly chuckled. The wizard’s hand came down to rest on Lai’s cheek and she closed her eyes with another uncharacteristic smile.
“Speaking of nothing, whatever happened to your eyelashes?” Janus wondered.
“Tried something against those freaks back with Flea, didn’t really work,” she replied with a light grunt.
“Ah, I see. Guess I better fix that, you somehow look much less threatening without them. Only reason I didn’t run when I should have…”
She punched him in the chest.

Chapter 3, Memory Lane and Disrupted Spells

Author’s note:
As you’ve already noticed, we’re in Magus’ Quest, Janus style. There will be many parallels, but things will not – as you surely can guess with ease – be the same. Hehehe…

It was rather impossible to miss the fact that Janus and Lai suddenly were wearing engagement rings. Then again, Lai’s clearly possessive leaning against the wizard gave the first, strong clue. Not that their knight-friend had expected less, though the lack of blood was a bit puzzling.
“Aye, so Cyrus’ wit spoke true once more,” was Frog’s first observation as he sat up in a cross legged position, smiling warmly.
“Welcome back. And you mean his that wasn’t what I meant when I said you should get a girlfriend!’ comment back when we first met Lai?” Janus casually smirked.
Speaking of their dead friend has been painful once, and the two men had avoided it. But the guilty pain had faltered after the release of the fabled knight’s soul. He had assured them that it hadn’t been their fault, and now his soul could rest in heaven.
But as for now, things were heading in a less than peaceful direction.
“Oh really, the golden hero said that?” the lady of the three asked, dangerously soft.
“I believe thy threat to punch Janus was the wellspring of such a dishonoring remark, my friend,” Frog diplomatically said.
“Don’t say it wasn’t called for, he’s got no social graces.”
Had none, I hope,” the wizard said in a mocking hurt voice.
In his own silent mind he grunted about having been around a certain spirit too much.
“That’s still under prosecution, sweetheart.”
Lai smirked and pushed his shoulder with her own.
‘What the hell are you looking at?’” she tried to snap without starting to laugh as she quoted herself.
Janus caught on, accompanied by Frog’s chuckling.
‘Dunno. What am I looking at?’” the wizard replied.
‘It’ll be stars dancing with fish fins soon if you don’t get lost,’” Lai growled, unable to stop herself from grinning.
“Love at first sight…” Janus ironically snickered.
“Yeah, sure. I think that was the only time you actually ducked, too.”
“Such is not the truth,” Frog smirked, “I took a hold of his shirt and tore him out of harm’s way.”
“I was perfectly able to shield myself,” Janus protested through the chuckles.
“You could just have told me you were staring at my head because you tried to figure out if you really felt slumbering magic vibes,” Lai snorted, “you were just lucky that your pals were smart enough to recognize danger.”
The wizard absentmindedly rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“I knew danger. It was just that I was too used to it having fangs and a mission. Though getting a fist covered in fish scales and entrails in my face is one thing that I’d like to keep avoiding.”
He blocked the backhand with his wrist.
“And I’m never ever gutting another damn fish in my entire life,” Lai triumphantly said and let the hand fall, “got to hand you as much.”
“Glad to be able to help, milady.”
‘Oh, I’m so happy that there aren’t any spirits watching me now…’ Janus thought with great relief.
He paused in his thoughts for a moment, bracing himself for hearing Flea’s snicker.
It didn’t happen.
Thank God.
After the laughter died down, Frog spoke again with a slightly grimmer tone.
“What is our next course of action?” he enquired.
Janus straightened up.
“I think that if we’re going to fight Flea and his pets we’ll need help. We better try to collect the team again. But first of all, you two need to recover. And I think that first of all we should let king Guardia and queen Leene know that you are safe.”
There were determined nods to that.
Then Lai smirked faintly.
“Since we were walking down memory lane and speaking of the cross dresser anyway,” she said and poked Janus’ chest, “in all honesty you still owe me seventeen silver coins.”
Frog tried to save his ribs, fighting not to explode with laughter at the memory. He sounded like he was one inch from death by choking as the wizard glared at the young woman.
“Your loss,” Janus sourly said in a not too honest tone.
“No, it was your fault,” Lai insisted, snickering.
“You were putting your money on my assassins!”
“Well, everybody else put their bets on you, had to make a difference!”
“You wanted me dead!”
Frog had to lie down, though perhaps “crashing” was the proper word.
“Ahh…” he groaned, clutching his chest, “the look on thy face!”
Janus rubbed his forehead with two fingers, sighing deeply.
“Enemies wherever I look…”

As night seeped in, Janus sat on guard while Frog and Lai slept. Listening to their breathing he leaned back against a crumbled wall with the shadow of a smile. Crickets lazily chirped, but their choir was growing fainter in the chilly air.
Of course, no chill would touch these three warriors if the wizard among them had anything to say about it.
Janus smiled again, looking towards the shadow of Lai’s form on his bedroll.
This was a good feeling…
But as he looked up at the stars, he realized that there was something he had forgotten up until now.
Raising two fingers to his forehead he sent out a mental call that pierced dimensions.
A moment passed. Then the answer came.
‘What’s up?’
Janus ignored the choice of words, at least he tried to. In the back of his mind he was groaning at how the male Flea had manipulated the youngster.
‘There’s something you should know, about Lai…’ the wizard told his student, smiling in his thoughts as well.

Two days later they prepared their return to Guardia. Despite all attempts to make him laugh to death Frog had survived, and with Janus’ healing both he and Lai were ready to face the assassins and their puppet master again.
It really wasn’t much to prepare considering their light packing, only healing had been required.
Janus secured the button of the light cloak by his throat and stretched a little. Despite the fact that it was only temporary and for the purpose of fighting again, he was looking forwards to seeing his home again.
‘Guardia,’ he corrected in his thoughts.
It had been his home, but as it was right now he didn’t have one. Not until he found Schala so that his soul could relax enough to find a secure place in the world. Or history.
But for now, he would be the royal wizard again for as long as it was needed.
The thought brought a wide smile to his lips as he raised his arms and begun to prepare the time travel. Lai and Frog stood beside him, waiting.
‘Better make it a day later so that we don’t get a split time stream by existing in two places at the same time,’ the wizard thought and focused as there was a flash of darkness in the air before him, ‘eleventh of May, 60- huh?’
He saw something in the corner of his eye, swiftly ducking. A stone at the size of a fist flew over the stream of blue hair, barely missing.
“Freelancers?” Lai growled to the sound of the Masamune being brandished.
Janus squinted against the sun, frowning as he saw the mass of giant birds approaching. Most of them casually juggled with a projectile each, and they had enough small rocks to go around in this stone filled area should they need more.
“What seeketh they here?” Frog grimly wondered, changing the grip of his weapon, “treasures within the ruins?”
“Or dinner, but I don’t understand why they didn’t come for us earlier if so,” Janus scowled, calling upon his staff.
The buzz of the Gate grew loader as it fully opened, the command completed despite the fact that the caster had been disturbed. He wasn’t sure if it would lead them to the right place after the distraction, but on the other hand there were about forty birds. Not that the monsters were among the strongest, however they were not to be underestimated. Especially not in these numbers.
“I say we withdraw,” the wizard muttered so that only his companions heard, “there’s no use risking our throats on a pack of hens.”
“Sounds sensible to me,” Lai nodded, warily eying the advancing force.
She was perky and foulmouthed. Not stupid.
Frog grunted his agreement.
“But be careful,” Janus warned as he motioned at the Gate, “I’m not sure if it’ll lead us to the right place since I didn’t complete the direction commands. I don’t think it’ll send us into a lava stream or anything though.”
“It’s with words like that you set a girl’s heart on fire,” Lai dryly said.
However, she leaped into the darkness and her companions quickly followed before the warrior monsters realized that they were loosing their quarry.
The Gate closed, leaving only angered and disappointed screeches behind.
And the three travelers stumbled out on a grassy hill, finding themselves showered in warm sunlight.
“Okay, where are we?” Lai immediately demanded, looking around.
From their vantage point they could look out over the blooming meadow encircled by a lush pine forest. Most of the trees weren’t very tall though, showing that they had only started to grow a few years ago.
“One moment, I’m not sure…” Janus said, pressing his right fingers against his forehead while holding the staff in the left hand.
After a couple of seconds he blinked.
“We’re in Zeal,” he said and looked ahead in confusion.
“Zeal?” Frog repeated in disbelief, “but ‘tis not a floating island…”
Janus shook his head, frowning.
“True, we are on the ground,” he said, “it’s the year 11992 BC.”
“How can eight humble years change the winter lands so thoroughly?” the knight said in wonderment.
“The sun stocked up on power out of boredom?” Lai absentmindedly suggested, curiously looking around as well.
“I guess that once the clouds cleared it went pretty quick,” Janus nodded.
He shrugged.
“Well, that’s nice to know, but we have to get going.”
Expelling the staff again he raised his hands once more.
A shadow fell over the area.
Lai looked up.
Frog looked up.
“What in the…?”
“Hmm?” Janus murmured, turning to his companions as he heard the surprise in their voices.
He noticed their fixed gazes.
He looked up.
The sun almost fearfully glistened on black metal and the crazily blinking lights of the giant contraption as it hovered over the world. The plan was without a doubt that the monstrous creation would appear to be the personification of lazy evil.
And it worked.
“’Tis the Black Omen?” Frog said in disbelief.
“No, it’s smaller…” Janus scowled, clenching his fists in confused irritation, “what in Lavos’ name…?”
The idly blinking lights suddenly flashed all at once, as if in alarm.
“Can it see us?” Lai worriedly asked.
“I don’t kn…” Janus began.
Another flash of light, a visibly bigger and red one, gave them the warning one second before a thick glowing beam burnt a crater in the hill. But by then, the three time travelers were already on the flat ground and heading towards the forest.
“No need to answer!” the lady of the troop growled between the curses.
A second beam sent burnt grass and crumbling flowers flying but once again missed its prey. There was a third one taking out a few trees, but Janus and his companions were already shrouded by the lush branches and whoever was aiming the cannon gave up after a couple more blasts.
The dark fortress floated onwards towards the southwest.
“Whoever is up there has no sense of honor!” Frog growled, trying to catch his breath again after the dashing.
Lai shook her head with a dangerous scowl, while Janus just silently looked towards the moving shadow.
“My belief was that magic and its technology was lost in this era,” the knight added, “who wouldst be able to create such a thing?”
“I’m guessing that whoever it is somehow salvaged pieces of the fallen Black Omen and sew them together,” Janus said without taking his eyes off the fortress.
“Don’t you know?”
The three snapped in the direction of the new voice. It was a young woman with her long blond hair in a pony-tail, wearing a simple grayish dress with a leather belt. She couldn’t be older than sixteen, eying the strange group in confusion.
“No, we’re…”
Janus paused for a second, wondering just how much to say.
“… Not from around here,” he finally settled for, himself hearing the idiocy in that one.
But it seemed the lady didn’t listen, her eyes darting between Frog and the wizard.
“I am not a monster,” the general quickly assured, “although I might appear otherwise.”
“No, no…” the stranger absentmindedly said, her eyes narrowing at Janus.
“What are you staring at?” Lai asked, warningly.
She had spent the better part of six years in heartache for the wizard’s sake, and now that he finally was hers she was bound to be itchy.
The girl caught the tone and took a step backwards, apologetically.
“Fear not, I can divert her attention towards me so that you have time to run if need be,” Janus assured with a vague smirk, earning a punch in his side.
“What ails thee, young lady?” Frog gently asked to calm the girl.
She managed to get a grip again and pointed at the wizard’s head.
“Blue hair,” she rather awkwardly said, “who are you?”
Good one.
Janus gave up.
“Do you remember the fall of Zeal eight years ago?” he asked.
“Of course,” she replied in a hesitant voice, “I was an Earthbound one… you…”
“I am prince Janus,” the wizard said, as gentle as possible.
At first, the girl’s eyes bulged. Then she blinked.
The final reaction brought the blue-hair and his friends rather close to the stranger’s state of mind, however.
“Prince Janus, princess Schala is here!” she blurted out.
She nearly fell backwards, but the strong hands on her shoulders held her fairly upright.
What?! Where?”
The girl gulped and once again tried to pick herself together from the swirling chaos in her mind. She weakly waved at the sky.
“The fortress… Dalton took her…”
A blood vein nearly popped on Janus’ temple.
“Sweetheart, you’re going to crush her bones if you don’t let go,” Lai growled, grabbing his arm, “down, boy!”
Janus’ brain finally caught up with the girl’s wince and he quickly released her.
“I’m sorry,” he honestly said, pressing his fingertips against each other.
Swiftly whispering a prayer for power and a spell so silently that he hardly heard it himself, he released a small stream of healing stars. The girl blinked again as the faint ache subsided.
“I’ve got a little magic left,” the wizard briefly explained to avoid any questions that could slow down his answers, “now, what about Schala and Dalton?”
He had to clench his teeth to remain patient as the girl tried to calm down enough to explain. It only took a few moments but it felt like hours.
“Dalton returned five years ago,” she finally began in a still slightly shaking voice, “he started collecting pieces of the Black Omen and most of his old soldiers returned to him, as well as some other people who were scared of what he’d do if we revolted. Just a week ago he finished his castle and since then we’ve truly lived in fear of him. Princess Schala showed up a few days ago and he captured her and her friends at once… we don’t know if they are alive or not.”
Her voice grew even weaker towards the end, sounding like she was trying to ask for forgiveness.
Janus’ lips were thin as needles, his eyes narrowing dangerously as he looked towards the sky.
“We’ll get them back,” he promised, “I swear I’ll kill that bastard…”
A thought pierced the darkness in his mind and his expression softened a little.
“Who was with her?” he asked the girl, gentler than a moment ago.
“A man with red hair and a gigantic snake…” she hesitantly replied.
The wizard almost smiled. But just almost.
‘Her husband and Molor… will be interesting.’
“Very well. Go back home and tell everyone that we’re going to do something about that lunatic,” he said aloud.
The girl nodded, nervous hope glistening in her eyes.
“Thank you, prince Janus.”
With those words she spun around and hurried away between the trees.
Janus glared at the distant fortress for a moment.
Then he noticed the silence and looked around.
Lai faintly smirked.
“Never seen you angry like that before,” she acknowledged, “it suits you.”
“I dost not know if I can share that opinion, Lai,” Frog said and shook his head.
Janus just chuckled dryly until the green one grimly crossed his arms.
“Now then, how shalt we proceed? We must confront that filthy slime, but how?”
“I can get us there, but we’ll need a plan,” Janus nodded.
Frog was about to drop a comment about that being revolutionary, but let it slide.
“Dalton will doubtlessly focus on me,” the wizard continued, “that means you two should get chances to strike.”
“I’ll need new daggers for that,” Lai concluded and patted her waist where her belt of throwing weapons should be, “my own are left in the future.”
“Fair enough, I’ll see what I can do.”
A few loose hairs, a simple pigtail made of dry grass and a transformation spell later Lai buckled the new belt while Janus leaned against a tree, Frog casting a healing spell over him to ease the headache. Spells that changed the appearance of things should not be done too much or often, as it was a strain on the mind to transform any being or thing.
But Janus recovered quickly with the help. As he straightened up, Lai spoke.
“Alright,” she said with a glance at the sky, “how will we get up there?”
“I could try to use a wind spell to bring us up, but then I’d only be able to carry one of you with me at the time or it would be too heavy,” Janus explained.
“How about teleportation then?” Frog suggested.
But the wizard shook his head.
“There are two rules for that one,” he dryly said, “no using too old memories and no going to things that are moving.”
“That doesn’t apply, the world moves all the time, albeit slowly,” Lai pointed out.
Janus paused for a moment.
“Don’t make things needlessly complicated, please…” he finally muttered, earning a smirk from her.
“Jokes aside, flying it is then?” Lai said.
Janus nodded.
“Yes, I suppose. Hmm…”
He frowned.
“Then again, since we were attacked he must already know that we’re here.”
“Wise conclusion,” Frog acknowledged, nodding, “we cannot make a surprise assault, then.”
“Precisely,” Janus said, narrowing his eyes, “as I said, we don’t have to make things needlessly complicated.”
He raised both his hands and pressed two sets of middle and pointing fingers against his forehead, closing his eyes.
The mental call probably shook the entire fortress.
Dalton! Land that damn thing, your son wants a word with you!’
Even the breeze seemed to falter for a moment.
“T’was a new approach…” Frog dryly commented.
“Well, it’s not like he’s not expecting us anyway, might as well irritate him,” Janus said, lowering his hands.
None of them had really awaited a reply. So it was a bit of a surprise when it came.
What, you’ve settled for the fact, son?’ Dalton’s voice called back, smirking slightly.
I have spent almost fourteen years making peace with the idea, I think I can handle it,’ Janus replied in suite, catching himself quickly.
His voice turned colder.
I know that you have Schala. Either you land and I and my friends walk in the front door or we come up there and rip your walls apart.
There is no need to be that harsh, boy,’ Dalton said, dangerously amused, ‘be patient for a few minutes, my castle moves slowly.
I’m not dumb enough to not think it’s a trap,’ Janus informed.
Dalton mentally laughed.
And I was not going to deny it either. Come on in, if you dare.
Oh, I dare,’ the wizard grimly said, watching the distant shadow slowly move towards the ground.

Chapter 4, Meet the Fiancée, Dad

“We are walking straight into a trap, and we’re well aware of it too. This better go to the history books,” Lai grunted.
They could see the dark walls with their flashing lights in a short distance, just behind the trees. Janus had managed to calm down well enough to walk instead of running, though it had taken his friends a while to get him to that state of mind.
He was still very irritated.
“Hopefully,” he murmured through his teeth.
Attempting to settle a little for practical things, he held up his free hand without slowing down and created an illusion of a reddish, vaguely glowing orb in his palm.
“And if you see anything at all with this color, we have to scatter immediately,” he warned, “I’m not sure if it goes for everything but most of Dalton’s traps have this hue. He can’t hunt all of us at once.”
“Understood,” Frog nodded.
Lai just muttered something, glaring ahead at the darkness.
“I hath a query,” the knight said in a neutral voice while Janus hand fell, dissolving the image, “dideth the lass tell us that there was a giant snake in Schala’s group?”
“Yes, but I don’t think there’s any reason to worry about that,” the wizard said while his staff met the ground along with his steps, “if Schala trusts him he can’t be a danger.”
“And you find nothing strange about that?” Lai dryly commented.
She met the meaningful gaze of two dark and two red eyes.
“Forget I asked…”
“Not possible I’m afraid, your voice is too memorable,” Janus informed.
He absentmindedly bent away from the elbow.
“Sometimes I think you would have been better off growing up among the Mystics,” Lai snorted with a smirk, “then maybe you would have acquired those social graces we were talking about.”
“You mean Flea could have done a better job raising me than the allied forces of Guardia castle?”
“I am certain he would have educated thee in the fine arts of diplomacy and preservation instincts,” Frog dryly commented.
“Oh, he taught you how to jump around like a giant lice, has to be a good teacher…”
“Dost not tempt me to cleave thee.”
“I’m drowning in all these empty threats… ow!”
Janus almost fell flat on his face due to the small, gloved palm smacking the back of his head.
“Show thy superior respect, soldier!” the knighted general growled with faked anger as he landed again.
“I’m a civilian now!” Janus protested while still working on his balance, “and don’t talk like lieutenant South, you’re making me nervous.”
Frog snorted, trying to sound shocked.
“I dideth not sound like that old demon of a lieutenant!” he snapped.
“Yes you did,” Janus smirked, “let me hear you say ‘Into the mud, now’!”
“I refuseth to hear thy outrageous accusations, blasphemer!”
They had to pause for a moment to pick Lai up from the hysterics. Then they could continue the walk.
But as they stepped out on the other side of the trees and looked down the sand dunes towards the fortress that rested just by the softly green ocean, all amusement was sent down into the depths of their minds.
Silently the three warriors slid down the hills of sand and continued their journey into the scorpion hole.
At least silently until the front gate opened, which released a stair going down to the ground.
It also released three muscular creatures reminding much of bulls, but with thicker legs and longer heads. Their color was a yellowish hue with a dull gray on the sides of their bodies.
“Oh boy, he’s got cattle,” Lai grimly muttered, not even bothering to reach for her daggers, “what are those?”
Frog unsheathed the Masamune without a word, eying the incoming welcome committee with thinned bulb eyes.
“They are monsters formerly inhabiting the lower caves of the Earthbound ones,” Janus said, glancing around for something to release the staff’s blades with in the sand, “and they carry the glorious and prominent name ‘beasts’.”
“The people here have little imagination, neh? I guess that gives you a good excuse for being you.”
“Oh, thanks. I think.”
Just what in all the powers’ name is that?’ Dalton sent, sounding rather curious through the amusement.
For the moment Janus gave up the search for something solid and raised his free hand to his forehead. Since the nearsighted beasts were still working on determine where their distant enemies were, the wizard felt no real stress about those.
To me they look like beasts from the Earthbound caves,’ Janus dryly replied, ‘do you want me to dissect them and write an essay about their anatomy for you?’
He could have sworn that he heard a faint intake of breath, like Schala used to do when she had wanted to laugh but was too afraid of her mother’s wrath to do so. But the sound was suppressed, and Janus wasn’t so sure if he had heard it or not afterwards.
You know what I’m talking about,’ Dalton snorted but made an exaggerated mental pointer.
Being pointed at like that kind of itch Lai noticed. She snarled and batted at thin air just above her head as if trying to chase away an irritating bee.
“Cut that out, you pansy!”
Frog pressed a hand against his massive lips in a theatrical attempt to stifle laughter while Janus “coughed”.
“I fear he dost not understand the word, my friend,” the knight said, smirking slightly.
I say,’ Janus sent via telepathy, only since the rest of the people in the fortress most certainly couldn’t hear the words spoken in a normal way, ‘she’s got an extraordinary sense of judging character, being able to call you a pansy before you’ve even met.’
He could feel Dalton’s last eye grow thin in rage.
Have fun while you can,’ the master of the fortress snarled in a chilly voice, ‘but I swear you’ll see both of your friends die.’
“Oooh, scary!” Lai mocked, glaring towards the dark walls.
Janus, who had been about to reply to Dalton’s threat in a similar way, found his anger cracking before the lady’s snort.
Cunning enough to summarize the feelings of three people within two words, and on top of that pretty indeed,’ the wizard smirked, placing a hand on Lai’s shoulder, ‘I thought you’d like to meet my fiancée, father.’
It took a moment before the reply came, as if Dalton had to take in a deep breath. Then:
Oh please. Don’t make me sick, boy.’
“No matter how I try, I just can’t regard that as an insult since it comes from a moron like you,” Lai snickered at the fortress.
“It breaks my heart to disrupt thy family bonding, my comrades,” Frog interrupted the flow of insults, “but it appears that the beasts have finally noticed us.”
And indeed, the bull-resembling creatures had caught sight of the far-off blur and were approaching as fast as their bulky bodies and the sand allowed. It was obviously a strain for them to run in the soft ground.
“To roast or to fry, that is the question,” Lai murmured, cracking her knuckles thoughtfully.
“I’ve have always preferred the roasted alternative,” Janus suggested and gave up the idea of using the staff’s blades as there was nothing to release them with. There was obviously a crack in his planning after all…
Lai tilted her head and winked at her friends, smiling in an eerily silly way.
“Anything for my sweetheart!” she cooed.
And she knew exactly what she was doing to the audience.
Inside of the throne room, Dalton’s pride allowed him the small gesture of pinching the bridge of his nose.
‘And here I thought they came with the plan to kill me, not torture me…’ he sarcastically thought.
It wasn’t the first time he’d seen Lai since he had watched his son’s progress, but with Janus’ treatment of her the spy had never imagined that they would end up an item. Not it was truly surprising to it’s core, the plain idea of sour little prince Janus considering marriage was simply… disgusting.
Dalton glanced downwards. A figure in purple robes stood like a statue by the side of the throne’s stair, lush blue locks flowing around her shoulders and almost touching her eyes. No hair in the world could however mask the astonishment in the green crystals as they stared ahead, through all the space that kept them from the outside.
Princess Schala was watching the small group of warriors as well, and her thoughts were written all over her beautiful features. They were practically screaming out “Is that Janus?!” in the purest case of bewilderment that history had ever seen.
The king of the castle leaned back and flicked his vision back to the other side of the walls, with interest spying on meeting of the two opposing sides. The Masamune flared with magical electricity from Janus’ hand as Frog cleaved a thick head in one cut, Lai carefully aiming a swarm of fireballs at the second beast who dared to charge towards the wizard.
‘Wonder, princess. You and me both,’ Dalton thought, smirking slightly.
In a dark, damp room a man uneasily shifted, his whole being itching as the movements made his chains cruelly jingle. The sound echoed in the thick silence, laughing scornfully at him. And still, confused hope had been lit and refused to leave after the strange telepathic calls had rung out.
His eyes had since long gotten used to the weak light, and he could see his fellow prisoner well. Not that this one had moved much as of late, and never had been one to hold longer conversations. Sometimes his body language was violent, though never perfectly readable.
Blood eyes seemed to glow in the dusk, one half of Molor’s massive body raised high above the floor. He appeared to be listening to something that Cered couldn’t hear.

Same Old, Same Old Tricks

“Does your dad really call these things minions?” Lai scoffed as the flames in the insane eyes of the last beast died.
The monster fell into the sand with a strangled thump, knocked unconscious instead of killed by a well-aimed swing a la wizard.
“Shall we brand them ‘warm-up’, Dalton?” Frog called to the fortress’ walls, with swift, professional movements cleaning the Masamune on cooling fur.
I prefer the term “test”.’
Whatever you say,’Janus grunted and started towards the still open gate, ‘now, if you’re done we’re coming in.’
Go ahead, the throne room is straight forwards up the stairs and through the great corridor,’ Dalton smirked, ‘but if you should change your mind the dungeons are down the first stair to the right. Would save us all some time.’
“You know, in the land where I grew up the freaks know how to pull off threats,” Lai snickered at thin air while she and Frog followed Janus up the foldable stair.
I will admit that Flea had very… shall we say special qualities,’ Dalton allowed and pressed his thumb and pointing fingers against each other, ‘I prefer the more direct alternative however.’
His fingers snapped, and in the entrance hall the massive black gate slammed shut behind the three intruders. The sound echoed throughout the entire fortress like a giant gong, imitating the crash of a jail door.
Dalton glanced at Schala again, smirking at her wince born from seeing her brother with companions whip around a second before darkness engulfed them. The servants that hung around the walls exchanged terrified glances, unable to use magic since they were void of the knowledge. For all they knew, the sound could have meant the closing of a trap and thus the end of their frail hope.
But then Janus turned almost all feelings around with four simple words.
Oh, for heaven’s sake.’
“Powers of the world, lend me pure power…” he murmured aloud.
Those who’d be able to see him – magically or naturally – if the darkness hadn’t been so thick soon got their visions cleared by a gentle light spreading from Janus fist, raised high above his head while he casually leaned on his staff.
The light grew, without becoming intense. Instead it seemed to flow from the wizard’s hand to fill the entire area, sticking itself onto walls and floor to ensure illumination.
A giant stair faced the gate, leading up to an open hallway on the second floor. An opening in the wall was on either side of the way upwards, but there was not a living soul or piece of furniture in sight. Things looked very much like the Ocean palace with the black, mirror blank walls and floor, everything carved just like in the dark stronghold of queen Zeal and Lavos.
The only difference were the red tapestries on the wall, wearing great embroideries of a big D each.
I think we’re all past being scared of the dark,’ Janus dryly commented, ‘though I’m grateful of your attempt to save our eyes from the decoration.’
“Aww, I wanted to say that!” Lai snickered while Frog chuckled.
“Perhaps thy father still hast enough morals to be modest, despite all?” the knight smirked.
Janus glanced sideways at his short friend and lowered his fist to thoughtfully tap his chin.
“Could be,” the wizard said in an overly examining tone, “either that or he’s trying to excuse his poor fashion sense.”
Are you coming up here anytime soon or are you trying to bore me to death?’ Dalton cut in with a snort, ‘after I ordered all of the soldiers to stay out of your way it’s rather rude to keep me waiting, isn’t it?’
Shrugging, the three warriors started up the second stair.
“The lethal boredom was worth an attempt at the least,” Frog sighed.
Lai thumped his back without slowing down for a second.
“Very good, Glenn,” she cheerfully said, “I think we’ll manage to teach you about sarcasm one of these days after all.”
The teasing chuckles faltered and were replaced by grim resolution once again when the end of the stair was reached.
A dusky corridor lead towards a golden lined gate in a distance, towards the heart of the fortress.
“Are you ready?” Janus said in a low voice without looking around.
Lai silently reached out and put her hand on his upper arm, without a word assuring him that she wasn’t going to take a single step backwards.
“I highly doubt that the battle ahead in any way can touch the horrors that Lavos served us,” Frog murmured and began walking again.
His allies fell into step beside the knight without looking back.
‘People like to claim that they have been into worse,’ Janus thought to himself, pursing his lips, ‘what they always seem to forget is that just because you’ve survived inferior situations doesn’t mean that you’ll manage all the time. It just means that you’ve got past experience.’
It was a long corridor, which didn’t help their mood the least. All the gleeful mocking they had showed Dalton was being pressed down for every step, with a force that sent out needles of tension for every bit closer the end of the road came. A battle is always easier to look upon when it’s not rushing towards you.
Finally the gate rose up before the small group.
Without a word Janus slammed his staff into the floor to set the blades free. He didn’t really need them for his next trick, but it felt better knowing he was prepared.
He took in a deep breath.
Schala was waiting, he could almost feel her presence now.
Sadly that also involved Dalton waiting, and the wizard had no idea what kind of situation his sister was in. It would surprise him highly if his father hadn’t planned on using such a weak point.
He raised his hand.
The gates split in four pieces and fell inwards with a set of deafening crashes.
Dalton leaned back on his throne while his son and company entered, glaring dangerously at the setting. The servants pressed themselves against the walls in shock.
“Don’t you think that was a little overblown, boy?” the dark-blond man sighed with a roll of his good eye, casually massaging an ear with his fingertips.
“Not half as overblown as I could have done it,” Janus replied.
“Ah yes, of course.”
The king of the fortress held up his hand.
“I know, I know. This is when you demand to have your sister back and all. I’ll save you the trouble, she’s already here.”
He spread his right arm to his side, motioning towards the floor.
Schala snarled as she stumbled into view, pushed by a couple of Dalton’s traditionally masked soldiers. Her heavy purple robes flowed around her like water, a thought only strengthened by her flourishing blue hair. But though she looked just like she was remembered deep within a grown child’s heart, there was something else within her. The snarl spoke for itself, the gentle sister who had obeyed her mother’s wishes would never have growled at anything before. And her beautiful green eyes sparkled with rage as she ripped herself free.
But there was never a doubt in the wizard’s heart that it truly was his sister, despite any change. No illusion or trick could ever make it past the siblings’ bond.
Janus stopped breathing for a moment, too mesmerized by the buried emotions of longing to even notice that Lai turned tense as a bowstring upon seeing the princess. Frog did however, worriedly glimpsing at his friend.
With a quick glance towards their master who waved his hand at them to move, the two soldiers quickly backed off.
Schala snapped her face towards the middle of the room and panic flashed in the green gems as she met Janus’ momentarily paralyzed stare. For a second her gaze pecked at the throne’s direction, glistening with hatred.
“Dalton, you fiend!” she snarled, whipping back at her brother and throwing up her palms towards him and his friends in a desperately dismissive movement, “Janus, get out of here! Get out now! It’s a trap!”
The wizard joylessly smiled, taking his staff in both hands.
“I know, Schala,” he said in a soft voice.
But on the inside he was less calm than he acted. It was a little bit too suspicious that Dalton would bring such a precious upper hand as Schala’s imprisonment out of the game. Something was foul, but he couldn’t figure it out.
However, she clearly knew as she shook her head wildly.
“No, you don’t!” she hoarsely claimed, “Janus, get away from here!”
“I will, as soon as I’ve finished something.”
The brother’s voice turned hard as steel, as did his eyes as the gaze moved upwards. Almost without noticing it themselves, Frog and Lai prepared for shielding their own eyes quickly.
Fingers moved slightly against the staff’s familiar, trustworthy shape while Janus’ mind raced with focus and preparing for an attack at the same time.
“There’s something you should know, son,” Dalton said, a little too quickly for courage.
“What then?” Janus spoke through his teeth.
Schala shook her head at him, but as the king removed a dagger that had been resting in his belt her eyes were mercilessly drawn to the sitting man.
Janus frowned as Dalton raised the knife to his own cheek, alarm bells going off in the back of the wizard’s mind.
Sharp metal met soft skin and cut downwards.
Schala winced and pressed a hand against her cheek, trying to strangle her cry of pain and more than anything else fear for her little brother.
A red liquid slipped between her slender fingers despite her attempts to disguise the truth.
Janus froze like a statue.
“She is cursed,” Dalton smirked.
“Thou filthy snake!” Frog snarled in rage, deep down almost wishing that he could feel more disbelief for the dirty trick.
He found himself the only one of his companions able to speak, clenching his teeth. Knowing the man beside him, there was something that the swordsmaster was well aware he had to try to prevent.
“Janus, I swear,” the knight growled in a low, dangerous voice, “if thou dost allow this demon’s schemes to snare thee, I shalt never forgive thee and I am certain that Lai and thy sister feels the same.”
The reply was a violent shove, sending the general stumbling backwards. Lai fell over with a surprised shout, a second later seeing why just like Frog did.
Janus threw his staff aside to be able to move freely, somersaulting over the red tentacles that lashed out at him from the floor. But as he evaded the first two for a moment, three more erupted from the smooth floor just in his path and he had to throw himself aside. Somehow he managed to land on his feet and leaped further away.
“If Flea just could have chopped you up at once back there in the future we wouldn’t have to go through this now, you know,” Dalton smirked, the fingers of his free hand twisting as he controlled the tentacles.
There was no reply, and the servants threw themselves out of the way of the living trap and the prey.
“Janus!” Schala shouted.
“The wall!” Lai roared in sync with the princess.
The wizard looked up, sadly one second too late. He had come very close to the wall on Dalton’s right side, and his father had taken note of this.
In the middle of a step and trying to keep his eyes on the pursuers Janus had no possibility to avoid the red, snaking thing that erupted from the red tapestry.
That was all he had time to utter before the force of the thick snare crashed into him, sending him flying back to the middle of the room. He landed gracelessly on his stomach and stumbled to his feet, but before he could get further, and before his friends reached him, tentacles wrapped themselves around his arms and waist. With a half-strangled shout of protest he was ripped down on one knee.
“Aren’t you a little paranoid now?” Janus snarled, having to fight just to straighten up enough to glare heatedly at his father.
“One cannot be paranoid enough when it comes to you, which I’m certain I am not the only one to have found out.”
Janus just snarled at the reply, Lai’s hands crushing down on his shoulders as she dove to his side with a growl rising from the depths of her throat.
“Thou filthy rat!” Frog spat at Dalton, leaping up behind Schala’s back as she threw herself to her knees before her trapped brother, “I give the monsters that roamed our fair era this one praise; unlike thee they fought with their own hands and the bravery of their dark hearts!”
“Could be.”
The king rose from his throne, his softly brown cloak dancing over his every movement.
“But the thing with the Mystics was that they failed, keep that in mind,” he pointed out.
“So I hear that you did as well,” Lai snarled, “quite a few times, too.”
Dalton’s triumph flinched with anger for a second, but then his smirk returned and he snapped his fingers with his free hand. Obeying the signal, the two soldiers that had pushed Schala earlier stepped forwards, brandishing their thin daggers.
The sound of dangerously many feet turned a couple of heads, though Schala only had to straighten up and Janus really couldn’t look around that well. He didn’t have to however, just listening to the sound and seeing his sister’s lips turn thin as needles was enough to give him the idea.
“I want you to run,” he spoke through his teeth, fixing his eyes on the floor.
Lai’s nails rather painfully dug into his shoulders.
“Like hell,” she snapped, shaking him slightly as if she wanted to wake him up from whatever made him delirious.
Her hands left him and she stood up, narrowing her eyes at the two dozens of soldiers that were entering through the smashed entrance. It was an ocean of expressionless masks.
“There is still hope for this land as long as the two of you live,” Schala grimly murmured, getting to her feet as well.
“Lady Schala,” Frog resolutely said, moving his feet into a defensive stance, “to tear Lai from Janus will require her demise, if even that will bring her away from him. And I will not step back either.”
Schala looked up at the roof for a moment, sighing with a bitter smile.
“I believe I have heard something similar… Janus, I’ll borrow this for a moment.”
“What?” her brother said, blinking as he watched his sister pick up his staff, quickly weighing it in her hands.
“I don’t think so, princess,” Dalton called, threateningly turning the dagger towards his own chest.
“You demon scum!” Schala hissed, her eyes almost literally shooting lightning bolts at her nemesis as she took a step backwards.
Lai glanced at the princess from the corner of her thinning eyes.
“Powers of the world, lend me the power of Wind…” Janus snarled.
But his chant was cut in half at Schala’s half-strangled yelp of pain. She was trying to fight it back, but the slice down her right arm was too painful. Still she clenched her fingers over the polished wood she held, seeking strength in the grip.
“Dalton, cut the hostage game!” she growled, with little hope however.
He just coldly smirked.
Frog eyed the soldiers as they kept moving closer, vary of the dangers ahead but more afraid of their king. The small army would definitely be too much for him and Lai alone, since it was apparent that Dalton’s blackmail was horrifyingly effective.
The knight clenched his jaw.
Brave last stands were things for the ballads, but what they were in reality had little to nothing to do with the term bittersweet. Only the first part of the word applied.
Lai’s voice brought him out of his reflection.
“The irony will kill me before these lapdogs do,” she icily told the room in general, the fingertips of her right hand briefly touching Janus’ shoulder.
She removed her touch and turned towards the throne, glaring heatedly at the amused king.
“Well, if it comes down to this and we are all going to die here,” she continued while clenching and unclenching her hands, “there is still something that I need to do.”
“If so, you better hurry up,” Dalton informed, but there was a hint of suspiciousness in his voice and the dagger was held close to his chest for the occasion of a trick.
Schala turned away from the eerie sight of the man who could kill her with a stab at his own heart, looking at Lai with her lips pressed white due to the pain and despair.
Lai’s own lips twitched in a bitter smile, relaxing her tense stance. For a second her fingers hovered above Janus’ shoulder again and she glanced down at his tiredly gleaming ruby eyes. Meeting his eyes right then was too painful however, and she quickly looked away before her courage wavered. Instead the sister of her fiancé was the one who met her gaze.
Yes… it could work. And she could.
“There is… something that I always wanted to tell you, Schala,” Lai said, her voice eerily calm.
Janus’ eyebrows twitched and he cocked his neck, trying to catch his companion’s eyes again to no avail. There was something in her voice that sent a chill down his chest.
Apparently Frog noticed it too, as the dark bulb eyes swept to his right before turning back to the soldiers.
“What?” Schala said, her voice hardly audible.
Lai joylessly smiled.
She moved faster than should be humanly possible.
Go to hell!”
The blade of the dagger cut into Schala’s robe, for half a heartbeat seeming to float in the air against the root of her right arm. Dalton screamed in pain and dropped his own dagger, blood breaking through his cloak as he clutched his bleeding shoulder. Before anyone could react Lai sent another throwing knife through the air, masterfully hitting the stumbling princess’ throat.
Schala fell backwards of the pure shock alone as the weapon slid down to the floor without harming her, but Dalton’s legs crumbled as his own blood mercilessly streamed into his breathing channels.
The murderess’ knees hit the carpet and she pressed her hand against her eyes, desperately trying to block out the disgusting sounds the false king made during his last moments of life.
“Twandor na chamei!” Janus roared, while the tentacles were still disintegrating he released the spell that had been forbidden by Dalton.
The fact that the soldiers had frozen in shock upon seeing their king die was cast aside. And so were they. The spell released a tornado that swept every single masked warrior into the walls. It wouldn’t kill them, but they wouldn’t be a problem for at least a few minutes. Janus didn’t even wait to watch the fruits of his work, as soon as he could move he dived aside.
Lai made a retching sound when two tanned hands grabbed her arms and rather forcefully tore her up against the light shirt covering the wizard’s chest.
“Lai!” Frog scowled with concern, reaching over Janus’ shoulder to touch their female friend’s arm.
Her face was gray as ashes, eyes pinched shut below a constricted frown.
“Blech…” she rather weakly murmured, the attempt to at least fake toughness failing completely.
“Never actually killed before, did you?” Janus asked in a low voice, gently pressing his hand against the back of Lai’s head.
The voice was still rather shaky and she showed no signs of a quick recovery, as was quite natural. Frog recalled the first time he had killed, the young soldier and his friends slung into a battle against a group of goblins. Monsters were monsters, but they were quite humanoid too, and they were living creatures as well as everything else.
Ballads and tales call it bravery and tend to happily glorify it, but killing can never be anything but slaughter in a greater or lesser sense. The adrenaline rush supporting a scared soldier or a teenage wizard in training might relive them for a moment, but it’s a filthy thing to do and no matter how brave one can be it’s impossible for a human heart to prepare itself for slaughter – not without brainwash. A great piece of innocence is forever lost, and there is nothing honorable nor great about that.
Janus knew this too, all too well.
“Breathe, you’ll feel better if you just breathe…” he murmured, carefully straightening up a bit to more or less crawl over to Schala without letting go of Lai.
Truly graceless, but he couldn’t be bothered to care.
Frog felt rather out of place as he just followed, absentmindedly sheathing the Masamune as he did so.
A hand reached out and Schala gratefully took it, though she regarded the pale Lai warily.
“Are you alright?” Janus asked, a careful smile daring to touch his lips as things were slowly settling.
“Yes… just a bit shaken.”
Schala pushed the staff aside and sat up properly. Her gaze moved between the face of her brother and the one he was holding, confusion sparkling in her gem eyes.
“I’m grateful, but… she…?”
Her voice trailed off and she shook her head a little, unsure on how to voice the obvious question. Janus understood, pursing his lips slightly as he looked down at the halfway hidden face of his fiancée.
“Lai, are you still angry?” he wondered, as carefully as he could.
He could feel her grimace against his shoulder.
“Noth’n persn’l,” Lai grunted and straightened up a little to force herself to look at Schala despite the sinking feeling in her stomach, “I don’t hate you, not anymore. The idea from the past still stung a little, ‘s all.”
Her forehead crashed on Janus’ shoulder.
“I don’t mind you guys reuniting now, but I need a hug and I’m getting one. What?”
She added the last rather bluntly when the wizard’s fingertip gently tapped her head.
“I’m complying, but tell me one thing,” he said in a neutral voice, “when you threw the dagger, were you aiming for Schala or Dalton?”
“Dalton, you dolt!” Lai grunted, both her words and tone lighting relief of both the immediate kind as well as the one about signs of recovery, “I wasn’t sure if it would work but I’m not that sadistic.”
“I am most comforted by thy rising spirit, my dear comrade,” Frog mildly said, squeezing Lai’s shoulder lightly.
She muttered something inaudible that sounded vaguely reassuring.
“You have strange friends, Janus,” Schala said, a weak smile creeping onto her lips since the light trauma had begun to melt.
“Really?” the wizard said with a twitch of his mouth, “I hear you have a giant snake in your party.”
Schala’s smile helplessly grew wider at the comment.
“I guess you’ve got me there, little brother.”
Then her expression softened as she raised her hand and carefully touched her brother’s cheek, lightly stroking the sharp scar running down his face with her thumb. Janus gently smiled, only moving his eyes towards the touch but remaining still otherwise.
“He saved you, I see,” Schala spoke in a soft voice, “you’re nothing like that other, grown you.”
“My teacher, yes,” Janus murmured, “not without complications, but he did it.”
He chuckled slightly, nodding to his side.
“I can assure you that Glenn and Lai here can attest to the fact that I’ve been doing a good job trying to get unsaved, though.”
“Truly,” Frog mildly chuckled, “now that we hath found thee, lady Schala, I pray that thy guidance will mend thy brother’s lack of preservation instincts. It has brought us great grief already.”
At this he lightly whapped at the thin blue stream of hair.
“I still claim that all of it was necessary!” Janus defended himself, smirking by now however.
“Like fighting Flea alone? And fighting Slash alone? Getting caught by the Mystics? Arguing with Cyrus? Even worse, arguing with lieutenant South? Diving into the ocean to beat that octopus assassin? Hunting Yakra on your own?”
Lai was apparently feeling better and better as she sat up in Janus’ grip and looked him straight in the eyes as she finished her listing. Finished – for now. She could go on forever.
“I’m going to love telling your sister all the details on what she’s missed during your childhood,” she almost brightly said.
“Now I’m really starting to worry,” Schala said, raising her eyebrows.
“Oh, you don’t know half of it.”
Lai was starting to smile a little again, though how forced it was, was hard to tell. Reaching out for her shaken mind in order to help further, Janus let the mild torment continue.
“Neither do you, you weren’t there all the time,” he pointed out.
“But Glenn was,” she shot back, “and when he wasn’t, the king still was.”
Janus groaned, finally managing to draw a braver smile from Lai. He dropped the pained expression and patted her back lightly.
“Feeling better?” he asked.
“A bit,” Lai replied, her pride still hiding somewhere in her stomach after she had been forced to swallow it.
“Will do, I wanted to get to introductions. Ow.”
He grimaced at the minor punch, not any more honest about that than about the groan earlier.
“In any case, you remember Glenn I believe, Schala.”
“My lady, I never got the honor of meeting thee before, though I heard my dear comrades speak highly of thee,” Frog said, bowing his head courtly.
The smile of recognition that had touched Schala’s face was stricken down by grief, and she nodded quickly in an attempt to hide it.
“No need to thank me, I should thank you and your friends for your… sacrifices…” she said in a low voice, her fine hands clenching.
Frog and Janus exchanged quick glances.
“Aye, thou speaketh of Crono?” the knight said.
“Yes, he…”
“He was resurrected,” Janus interrupted her, smiling calmingly, “we reworked time and managed to save him. As I am sure that my teacher also managed.”
The pain flashed from Schala’s face in surprise and she smiled once more.
“He was saved? How did you manage that?” she wondered.
“By exchanging his body for a doll bearing his exact guise, with the help of a magical item,” Frog simplified the tale.
“I’m glad…”
But as Schala looked back at the knight, the recognition that had shown earlier returned and she frowned with a bit of confusion.
“But, how come you said that we never met?” she asked in puzzlement, “you were with Crono and the blond woman in the group that Janus and I freed from mother’s prison, weren’t you?”
Now it became Frog’s turn to look confused.
“Nay, I was never imprisoned by thy mother, neither were Crono nor Marle…”
“Ah, I think I know what this is about,” Janus said.
He paused for a second, trying to figure out how to explain it. It all worked in his head, but describing it would be a bit trickier.
“Schala and I… we remember what happened when I was the little prince, when there was no Janus of Guardia who could warn the heroes of time about queen Zeal and her minions. In our memory, there was no one who had lived through Lavos’ rule of the kingdom up until the last few days of Zeal, and that grown Janus was my savior and teacher. As far as we recall, we had to save you three from the palace after Dalton caught you. But you remember it differently because what I remember from my childhood didn’t happen when I returned to Zeal. Do you follow?”
Frog massaged his massive forehead.
“Of that, I believe time will create sense. For the time being, I will only be grateful of never living that shame.”
He was rewarded with a few chuckles. Then Schala’s glance fell to Lai and hesitance swept over both women’s features.
A couple of seconds passed, during which the two men figured it would be wise not to intervene.
Eventually Lai figured that perhaps it was her duty to reach out since it was she who had been the hostile part.
“I’m Lai,” she said and held up her hand, for her it could pass as carefully, “Leila Martindaughter really, but just say Lai. And I’m sorry. I panicked.”
The last two sentences were spoken in a rather dull voice, and it was pretty clear to everyone listening that if they spread that information they would regret it dearly.
But despite everything, Schala was prepared to be open-minded about the woman who had freed them all from Dalton. Especially with Janus’ arms still encircling the lady.
“I believe I understand how you felt,” Schala said, stretching the term “understatement” quite a bit.
She cautiously smiled a little wider as she added:
“And thank you, you saved our lives.”
Lai’s eyes shifted briefly, obviously still uncomfortable with the subject. Janus’ hand squeezed her shoulder lightly, but it was his sister that with the duty of creating the situation also saved it. And she did this by carefully turning the hand she held to make the golden band around Lai’s finger visible.
“Apart from that,” the princess gently said, “congratulations. Not that I could ever have imagined Janus considering getting married, but…”
She looked at Frog and Lai with a soft chuckle.
“What on earth have you done to my brother?” she demanded.
“Schala!” Janus protested, failing completely to sound honestly hurt.
“I pledge innocent on the matter,” Frog claimed.
Lai had no plans of imitating the knight, however.
“Don’t listen to him,” she said, freeing her hand to point at the green one with her thumb, “he knows fully well what we’ve done to Janus here. We’ve hit him over the head repeatedly since he was seven years old, and he deserved it every time.”
The wizard glared at his fiancée for a moment, not too honestly though.
“Enough of that. What have you been doing, Schala?” he not so elegantly changed the subject.
“Looking for you,” she mildly said, chuckling sympathetically at him, “after the Ocean Palace I fell into a time gate and ended up in southern Garadia, a kingdom covering the mainland around 5300 BC. Cered…”
Her voice faltered and she quickly stood, not even bothering to brush off her robes.
“He and Molor are in the dungeon, we have to get them out,” she said, scowling at thin air as she silently and furiously reprimanded herself for briefly forgetting the situation of her friends.
Janus nodded and stood, carrying Lai with him as he got to his feet. She stepped back with a hardly strangled sigh.
“Why certainly,” the wizard said, reaching out his hand to call the staff, “do you know the way?”
“I think so,” Schala nodded, grabbing a handful of cloth to get the hem of her dress out of the way as she began to walk with quick strides, “let’s go.”
The soldiers had begun to move, but were still too dizzy to do anything as the group of four hurried through the broken gate. And the servants had no plans of protesting in any way, still trying to get over their shock mixed with relief that Dalton’s sudden death had caused.

Far down in the bowels of the fortress, Cered frowned as Molor began to hiss. It sounded strangely much like a purr.

Chapter 6, Cered and Molor. And of course those Pesky Golems again.

“I take it ‘Molor’ is that snake?” Lai commented while the four quickly walked down the great corridor.
“Yes, but he’s not dangerous, I assure you,” Schala said with a glance over her shoulder.
She paused for a moment.
“Well, not to friends at least.”
“And you called me and Glenn strange…”
“Without lying one bit, if I may speak my opinion,” Janus commented and ducked.
Schala glanced at him with a twitching smile and a raised eyebrow.
“Are you sure that you are Janus?” she questioned.
“Pretty sure, yes,” he replied, lightly tugging at a few blue strands of hair.
“When me and Cered were looking for you we searched many historical archives for records of a blue-haired boy,” the princess said with a soft smile, “I can’t say that it was very difficult once we moved a few hundred years past the first century. You left quite an imprint, little brother.”
Janus would have smiled if it hadn’t been for the obvious question.
“But if you knew where I was, then why didn’t you come?” he wondered, without malice as he already had a strong clue.
“We tried,” Schala said, pursing her mouth, “believe me, we tried. But it seemed like the late sixth and early seventh century were closed off, I couldn’t open a time gate going there. I have a pocking feeling that it was Dalton’s doing.”
“Sounds quite sensible,” Janus muttered, nodding.
They walked in silence for a short while until the wizard’s mind caught up with something and he stopped planting the staff in the ground as he walked, holding it up with a quizzical look.
“By the way…”
At this time they had reached the end of the corridor, and Schala grunted slightly as she had to assemble even more cloth in her hands to make it down the stair. She looked around at her brother’s half question, smiling a bit.
“It’s funny that you’d chose that weapon as well,” she softly said, “there were times when magic didn’t suffice, therefore Cered talked me into using a weapon.”
“I believeth I hath heard a whisper about something similar to thy fate,” Frog commented, glancing up at Janus.
“Aye,” the wizard nodded, reaching out an arm to squeeze Schala’s shoulders while they reached the end of the stair, “that finalizes the fact that shared blood does create bonds. As long as one part doesn’t try to kill off its offspring.”
He added the last thing, throwing up his hands rather dramatically to emphasize how much he cared about Dalton’s fall.
Schala looked at him.
“Are you sure that you are Janus?”
Lai loudly snickered, not even bothering to hide her smirk with her hand.
“Ah, Janus the motto-creator,” she said, causing Frog to chuckle as well.
Schala glanced around with a carefully amused smile while Janus pressed his hand against his eyes with a groan.
“How so?” the blue-haired woman asked.
“In fair Guardia thy brother hast brought a saying upon himself,” the knight rather cruelly grinned, “one known by the entire kingdom and widely used.”
“Really? What then?”
Upon Schala’s query Lai and Frog exchanged glances, then spoke simultaneously:
“’What has he done now!?’”
“Oh my.”
Schala put her hand on her brother’s shoulder.
“We will have to have a little talk, Janus,” she said, trying to sound grim.
“I don’t wanna!” he theatrically whined, despite the snicker silently cursing blond princesses and alternate reality monsters.
But Lai’s cruel chuckle made any twists of character worth it. She needed all help her friends could possibly offer to get her mood truthfully up again.
The talking had made them slow down in their walk down the stair, but by now the four finally reached the floor and turned left to face a door hidden behind the dark steps leading up. The black metal made it look very resolute indeed, especially with the golden crest that reminded a little too much of the Mammon Machine. No keyhole nor a handle was to be seen.
“One would almost think that even Dalton would refrain from things like this after all that happened,” Schala muttered, touching the smooth surface, “it’s not a real magic door however… let’s see…”
She raised her hand but froze with a wince, glaring at the purple, blood stained sleeve. There was one thing that she had managed to forget completely with all the confusion and excitement.
Frog put his hand on Janus’ arm in a friendly gesture, closing his eyes to chant in a low voice. The wizard smiled a bit, though he could have healed his sister himself it was a kind move of his friend’s.
“Thank you,” Schala gratefully said as the stinging pain melted away under the soft light of the healing stars.
“Nothing to speak of,” the knight kindly replied.
The princess’ fingertips touched the crest’s left arm and pushed it downwards, then lifted the right one.
With a light swooshing sound the door opened to reveal a duskier corridor than before; Janus’ illumination spell hadn’t reached inside here. That was easily mended however.
“Does he have any guards down here?” Lai asked while Janus lowered his hand, streaks of pure power rushing down the smooth walls to make things visible.
“It would surprise me if there was nothing at all,” Schala grimly said, “though I doubt it’ll be humans. Dalton seldom trusted people to guard important places, unless he was feeling cockier than usual.”
“’Tis possible to be more arrogant?” Frog dryly asked, keeping his hand on the Masamune’s hilt just to be sure.
Janus shrugged.
“I’m not sure,” he thoughtfully said, “I’ve never seen anything like him. Not even Flea; he’s more irritating than arrogant.”
Schala glanced at her brother again.
“Flea, that was something else that I wanted to ask you about too,” she said, frowning, “didn’t the other grown you mention that his mentor’s name was Flea?”
Pursing his mouth Janus nodded, without taking his eyes off the turn of the corridor ahead of them.
“But in the history books you two didn’t seem to have a very friendly relationship,” his sister pointed out.
The wizard clenched his teeth, still not looking around. He knew that there were things that his teacher had wanted to keep secret, but there seemed to be no way around it except lying. And he highly doubted he could keep a straight face when telling an untruth to Schala.
“The other me and his Flea weren’t that good friends either,” he murmured.
“It’s not that Flea doesn’t want to make friends with humans,” Lai grunted before Janus could stop her, “it’s just that he hates our guts except for when they’re deep fried and served with rice.”
Schala’s eyes narrowed, slowly.
“Janus, was he…”
“He avenged himself with help from Crono and the others, that’s why he came to save me,” the wizard quickly cut her off.
“What did they put him through?” she pressed, frowning deeply.
But Janus was saved from having to answer that, as they entered a much bigger room at that very moment. And a small, bluish shadow dove for the wizard’s hair since he had taken the lead.
Ducking, he punched at it since he didn’t dare swing his staff with his companions just behind him. The blue scout swished away from the fist and fled back to the roof, from where half a dozen big eyes blinked down towards the intruders.
“Are you saying Dalton thought those things were better than humans?” Lai asked, disbelief tainting her sarcasm.
“Scouts are mainly used as spies, but they can be difficult to kill unless you know the right spells since they have been given incredible immunity,” Schala briefly informed.
Lai glared as three pairs of eyes turned at her almost simultaneously.
Her mind did a replay and caught on to the thirteenth word the princess had spoken. The young lady from Guardia frowned.
“Will I have to skin you alive to get respect back?” she coldly questioned and folded her arms, “seriously, one mental breakdown and… what are you doing?”
She raised an eyebrow as two red shapes fell to the floor, encircled with flames. Janus looked a little too innocent.
“Oh for heaven’s sake!” Lai snorted, “you don’t have to treat me like a baby!”
While she spoke, Frog had caught on and quickly drowned the fire of life in the soulless, blue little monster. Schala was no slower to neatly zap the remaining three yellow critters. Not that Lai would have been able to do anything against the last two sorts, but it maybe made the tallest one look a little less guilty if nothing else.
“We humbly apologize for the suspicion darkening your mind and pray to higher forces that you will realize that our actions are nothing but signs of affection,” Janus said with a chuckle.
Lai rolled her eyes, but when she thought that nobody but the wizard saw it she briefly smiled back at him.
They continued across the empty, circular room and reached another corridor. Janus walked quickly, hoping that Schala’s mind would stay off stories he wouldn’t like telling. This wish made him feel almost relieved when he entered the next room and narrowly missed getting smashed by a gigantic, stony fist.
“Now these are guards!” he growled and somewhat clumsily dove further into the room while sending lightning bolts at the golem to divert its attention from those who made a tactical withdrawal into the corridor, where they couldn’t be reached.
The beast roared, and it wasn’t alone. Janus’ eyes narrowed as he looked around to find two more giants lumbering at him from behind, their fists swinging madly as they moved. The first golem was clumsily turning, its tiny bead eyes burning with annoyance at the pesky midget.
Janus took a careful step back and almost fell over as his left foot didn’t touch solid ground but what felt like a slippery cross above a void. For half a second he slipped, then his brain automatically clicked to activate the floating technique that he had learnt from spirit Flea. His balance was restored by the fact that it wasn’t needed when he drifted upwards a few inches, breathing a sigh of relief.
Above his own breath he heard another sound, one that cut through the deafening crashes of moving golems. A hissing.
He threw a glance downwards, into the darkness below the bars that had caused him a moment of panic. A red ruby glistened back up at him, resting in a grayish, slowly swaying shape that was obscured by the weak light.
It felt as if something rooted within the wizard’s mind and grew to gently fill any empty spaces in his soul, covering even the faintest feeling of loneliness with a soft mist.
The wizard of Guardia felt completion.
And he could finally feel the other being.
‘Friend, yes.’
All this took merely a moment, during which the world faded.
But then it made itself known again.
‘Look out!’ Molor silently screamed.
Waking up from the brief trance with his mind clear as glass Janus dashed out of reach for the giant fist that shook the floor.
“What is happening up there?!” a man’s voice came from the darkness, the words swimming in confusion and worry.
“We’re coming for you, Cered!” Schala shouted, but her voice was nearly drowned in the flaring roar of Lai’s fireballs.
The first golem fell forwards with a roar that spoke more of irritation than pain as the red orbs exploded upon touching its back, ripples of sand and small stones falling out of the holes in the massive body.
“Don’t just stand there watching the scenery!” Lai snarled, drawing back to prepare another blast since her daggers would be rather useless against moving rocks.
Janus had no time to reply since Frog flew from the entrance in an impressive arc, turning the sacred blade to turn downward when his leap began to falter. The fallen golem angrily snarled as the Masamune plunged into its back, unlike a normal sword quite able to cut rock.
“Call upon lightning, Janus!” the green knight shouted, letting go of the hilt and quickly leaping backwards.
“I’m not Crono, but I’ll let it slide!” the wizard called with a faint grin, “powers of the world…”
He didn’t stand still for a second even as he chanted, running along the wall towards the corridor to get out of reach for the two other beasts.
Lightning bolts flared from his chest and obediently found their way to the convenient piece of metal. The unlucky golem screamed in real pain this time as the magical power surged though it and tore up any and all cracks available. The giant monster began falling to pieces, arms crashing into the floor as they disjointed.
But while Janus worked the spell itself, he had to stand still. His enemies might have had brains made of flint, but they weren’t stupid enough to pass up on such a chance. The one furthest from Janus raised its massive fists, but not for a hit as he was still way out of reach. The other one swung closer towards the wizard, who couldn’t take his eyes off the spell in order to control it. Though the fallen golem was crumbling it could still get up and put itself back together if released too soon. Only a couple of seconds… he would have wanted to use one single, deadly bolt, but the pressure would make it dangerous for the two prisoners below the floor. They couldn’t risk that the ceiling of the dungeon fell inwards.
Seeing this, Frog moved backwards in the other end of the room, chanting hesitantly as he realized that something must be done, but without the Masamune he couldn’t attack physically and Water didn’t sound like the best weapon against stone.
“Voice” was not really a suitable label of the rumble that crawled out between the feet-long jaws, but it was still just barely distinct enough to recognize.
“Hey!” Lai growled in disbelief as she heard her own incantations being mimicked, raising her hands in an attempt to stop the attack.
“Laohn sha nebal!”
A glowing half moon cut through the air and buried itself between the bead eyes of the moving golem. It stumbled backwards in surprise. Frog immediately released his spell and a flood erupted a few feet in front of the front giant, sweeping it further backwards. Its flailing arm hit its chanting companion and broke the magic in the making momentarily.
“They can copy our magic powers!” Schala called at Lai, shouting to be heard above the violent fizzling of the remaining lightning.
She hadn’t been able to hear her future sister in law’s snarl, but it wasn’t hard to read such an expression.
While the blue-haired woman still spoke, the magician-golem pushed his friend away and into the fading magic water in an attempt to finish the chanting. But before it even had time to properly raise its fists, the lightning bolts faded and Janus turned to the remaining two beasts. He didn’t attack, instead casually backed with his staff held tightly as he tried to catch his breath. Something far back in his mind was muttering about that something was wrong, but it wasn’t loud enough to prove itself important.
“Cometh, Masamune!” Frog called, holding out his hand.
The blade obediently rose above the rubble that was the remains of the first unlucky monster and flew to its owner. Used to the heat that the attack named Spire placed upon his weapon, the knight had already enclosed his gloves with gentle, magical water to be able to grip the hilt.
This didn’t, of course, stop the golem’s spell. Roaring it released gigantic, flaming balls that tore their way through the air and melted the metallic floor where Janus had been standing a heartbeat earlier. The wall was no better off, but though several holes were created, none of them was more than a couple of inches deep and thus didn’t break through the building.
The fallen golem was getting to its feet.
“Any suggestions on how to finish this quickly?” Janus shouted, scowling.
It wasn’t that he was loosing strength – though he was starting to feel a headache prickling the inside of his skull after all the magic he’d been using while straining his body for a long time. And apart from that he was starting to think that this took far longer than should be allowed. Being in his father’s castle had never been anything he had planned to do, and it was getting on his nerves.
“A collective assault would bring the desired conclusion, I believe,” Frog called, sounding somewhat amused at his friend’s lack of patience.
“Sounds like a good idea…”
The wizard looked around at the women in the group, who nodded and smirked in reply. You may guess who did what, shouldn’t be too hard in my humble opinion.
Schala held up her hands and two glowing half moons appeared in the grip while Lai crossed her wrists, bending her fingers slightly.
Frog and Janus exchanged glances.
‘Something like Marle and Lucca’s dear Antipode as they called it?’ the wizard sent over.
‘I live to serve,’ the general replied, almost chuckling.
‘As do I.’
“After you, ladies,” Janus called.
“See? Our attempts to make him civilized did pay off even if it’s rare that he rewards us!” Lai snickered to Schala.
The princess couldn’t help but chuckle slightly.
“For that, I am grateful. I think,” she murmured.
She squinted her eyes at the snarling golems who had used the precious seconds – that the humans had used for planning – to lumber forwards. The one who had used magic, farthest to the left, almost stood on the bars in the floor.
‘Move, Water magic,’ Janus warned Molor.
The feeling, knowledge of how the other being moved was mesmerizing in its wondrous mystery. But Janus couldn’t let himself get distracted by the fascination. The snake was rearranging his long body, laying himself like a wall before Cered to protect his chained fellow prisoner from the planned magic.
But they couldn’t wait for him to settle completely, the golems were getting too close for comfort. Schala narrowed her eyes further as she aimed and flung the two half discs at the beasts, seeing that standing idle any longer could be dangerous.
She hit them both, the magic user successfully between the eyes, the second was luckier as the blade cut into its pointy head causing little less irritation. It distracted them long enough for Lai to set her spell free, sending two highly concentrated fireballs from each hand.
The golems roared as they were hit, even their hardened bodies glowing faintly as the waves of pure heat evaporated around them.
Perfect. Janus wasted no time calling for new powers while his friends worked their attacks.
“Crancha na lishoro!” Frog called, once again releasing the magical flood.
The water rushed over the golem’s lower bodies, a cracking sound being heard as chill met heat. According to the sound the beasts made, they both heard and felt it.
“Ta keich sanea wyh!” Janus ordered, his staff meeting the floor.
Gigantic blocks off ice materialized above the twitching monsters, smashing down on top of them. The weight and cold slammed into the red hot stone bodies, and they cracked. Rocks and smaller stones thundered against the floor for several seconds before the demise of Dalton’s pets was fulfilled.
Some water had of course rushed down into the prison through the – for liquid – poorly barricaded entrance. Janus’ triumphant relief at the victory was broken by a wince at Molor’s protesting snarl of pain even as the magic disintegrated.
Schala was already hurrying towards the hole in the floor, falling to her knees and unceremoniously pushing rocks aside with no respect for her clothes. As nothing else seemed sensible, the three warriors from Guardia joined her.
“Are you alright?” the princess called down while her friends were still moving closer.
“Aye!” the man’s voice called up, much more relieved than last time he had spoken, “I fear our comrade is less than amused however!”
There was an irritated hiss.
“Such was not my intention,” Frog called, his voice holding a slight tension as he peeked into the darkness.
The voice was dry, like the rattling of dead leaves. But below the slight aggravation it almost sounded soft.
Janus raised an eyebrow.
“Is that snake… talking?” Lai slowly said, squinting at the dusk.
“Molor seldom says anything,” Schala mildly said and shook her head, “this is the most talkative I have ever known him to be. He’s quite special.”
The grayish form grew out of the dusk again, but couldn’t be viewed perfectly. The glistening, crimson eye that was turned upwards seemed to shine with its own light, however.
“Hurts my throat,” Molor somewhat impatiently said.
That voice in Janus’ head saying that something was wrong woke up again, and now he had enough time on his hands to realize what it meant too.
‘It doesn’t surprise me, in all honesty…’ he thought to himself.
Then he lashed out his mind, calling through times and dimensions.
‘There’s something I think you should see.’
For half a heartbeat, there was no reply. Then a familiar sensation entered his mind.
‘Yes?’ the Pawn said, smiling faintly.
He looked around.
‘Oh, I see. Congratulations, I just returned with Schala and the others to Cered’s time,’ he said in a rare, soft voice as he took in the view, ‘what is Lai doing here, though?’
‘Ah, I found she’s… not Lucca’s ancestor,’ Janus replied, rather sheepishly.
The Pawn covered his lips with a hand, trying to conceal his smirk. While he did this, the Prince floated into existence with a deep sigh.
‘I’m not hearing this,’ he growled and rolled his eyes, ‘and I don’t want the details.’
Janus had to fight a snicker.
‘Oh wait you two, you haven’t seen what I wanted to show you yet.’
“One moment, I’ll open it,” he said aloud, putting his staff aside.
He took a hold of the bars with his right hand, spreading the fingers of his left above the closed entrance.
“Powers of the world, lend me the power of Lightning!”
Tiny bolts hit the joints of the metal and would have given the wizard himself a few nasty shocks had he not controlled the magic so well, not allowing it to come back to him through his grip of the metal. With ease he stood, taking the grid with him.
“Stand back,” Molor’s raspy voice almost purred.
Finding it unwise to question him, the humans obediently took a few steps backwards.
‘He’s talking already?’ the Prince said, raising his eyebrows in rare surprise.
‘Doesn’t he always?’ Janus said, thinking back on the time when he had met the Prince’s companion in the other time stream.
The two older ones shook their heads.
‘Hasn’t said a word aloud,’ the Pawn said, glancing at the older one.
‘Took him five years to open his mouth, figures he’ll be the same by you,’ the one with more experience acknowledged to the one who wore the same clothes.
He glared towards Janus with the shadow of a tired smirk.
‘But knowing you, things can’t be the same.’
‘Wait a second…’ the wizard grinned, looking intently at the hole.
With a forceful hissing Molor shot up from the prison, using all his strength to bring his long, heavy body upwards and on to safe ground.
Even the Prince’s eyes widened slightly, but for a completely different reason than Frog and Lai’s.
Eyes glowing red as blood took in the entire room as the gigantic, slithering form settled on the floor. The mystic illumination glistened over the pearl scales, creating sparkling stars on the snake’s body.
He was pure white.

Chapter 7, No rest for the Wizard

‘I wish I could say I’m more surprised,’ the Prince finally said.
‘I must say that it feels almost like a relief,’ Janus retorted with a silent chuckle.
He reached out and touched the big, almost silvery head. Molor made another strange purring sound, rubbing his forehead against the hand.
“After this,” Lai slowly said, glancing sideways at Schala, “don’t you dare claiming that I and Glenn are strange.”
“But you do have your moments as well,” the princess replied with a chuckle.
“Yeah, but we decide when we should be.”
Lai somewhat hesitantly stepped forwards, closer to her fiancé and Molor.
“How do you greet a snake, anyway?” she muttered but then carefully reached out to touch the massive neck with a finger.
“’Hello’ works,” Molor commented, sounding rather amused.
“It really does help that you talk, you know,” the young woman conversationally said, “I still fear that our queen will have a heart attack when Janus comes home with you, though he has brought a few weird things before.”
“I never brought any of those damn assassins, they came to me,” Janus protested, letting his hand fall.
Schala just shook her head and turned to the hole.
“Don’t worry Cered, we haven’t forgotten about you,” she assured as she kneeled, “just wait a moment.”
“Allow me,” Frog offered, walking closer to the hole with one last disbelieving glance at Molor.
Schala followed his gaze and smiled slightly, but didn’t comment. It wasn’t the first time the snake made people nervous, and she understood the knight’s feelings. Even the bravest tended to be shocked at the first sight.
The princess offered her hand to help Frog into the darkness, and though he was heavier than he looked she managed to hold him until he let go and dropped out of sight. Muttering a spell she opened her hand completely, a glowing orb popping out of her palm to spread its light over the cell.
She could hardly hold back an affectionate chuckle as she saw Cered blink at the visitor in confusion. He looked so cute when he was surprised.
‘Lovely, here we go again…’ a spirit dryly muttered, unheard by all but his mirrors.
“Though my guise speaks differently, I am human,” Frog quickly said, somewhat tiredly, “I am merely the victim of a magician’s twisted sense of humor.”
He frowned slightly, regarding the chained, dirty man by the short wall. The knight couldn’t put his finger on it, but the red-haired Cered looked strangely familiar to him.
The prisoner blinked again, then carefully smiled.
“I hath not heard any man nor woman speak my native tongue anywhere throughout history before,” he said, “I must say to thee, ‘tis quite uplifting though a simple blessing.”
It was Frog’s turn to blink. Then he smiled as well.
“’Tis surprising indeed, however I cannot claim it to be nothing but pleasantly so.”
He unsheathed the Masamune.
“One moment, I will free thee.”
Cered moved aside and helpfully held up his arms to stretch the chains, making it easier to cut them. As Frog looked up he noticed that the prisoner’s gaze went upwards towards the princess who was watching the process. Pretending he hadn’t seen by focusing on the chains binding Cered’s ankles, the knight smiled to himself.
‘Thou art not the only one with surprises for thy sibling, Janus…’
The thought was, in its own right, quite refreshing. Suited the wizard right for shocking his friends over and over again.
Cered stood, leaning on the wall as he did so. Seeing the tired and stiff body shake slightly as the owner tried to move, Frog quickly chanted a healing spell for Schala’s companion.
“I thank thee, Sir…?” Cered gratefully smiled, with a hint of hesitation for the last word.
“Glenn, and I request no title,” the knight kindly said, but added in a slightly dryer voice, “I bear the second name Frog due to the curse I suffer from.”
“Then I shant let it touch my tongue,” the more human of the two assured, “my name is Cered, though I believe Schala already told thee so.”
“Aye, so she did,” Frog said, looking up at the smiling lady past her illumination, “may we request aid to escape this accursed place, my friend?”
Schala chuckled at his deliberately overdone speech and straightened up a bit, looking to her right.
“Janus, will you lend a hand?”
“Of course.”
The wizard became visible as he sat down on his knees by the other side of the hole. Afterwards Frog was sure that he had imagined it, but for a second he thought that he saw a sparkle of recognition in his blue-haired friend’s eyes as Janus looked at Cered. But then it was gone, and the man from Guardia lowered his right hand into the dungeon.
“Thank you for helping my sister on her journey,” Janus conversationally smiled as Cered somewhat still unsteadily walked forwards, allowing Frog to lend him support.
“’Tis a welcome irony to be aided by the one we have sought for so long, I must say,” the former prisoner said and reached up to grab a hold of the offered hand.
At that, Janus just chuckled slightly as if he found something amusing about what Cered had said. With little trouble he straightened up, hoisting the one he knew would be his brother in law out of the prison. To help Frog was hardly worth mentioning; the knight could leap high enough to bring himself out but grabbed the offered hands as he reached the surface and let himself be pulled to safety though he didn’t really need it.
“They didn’t treat you too well, I see,” Schala grimly said, carefully lifting a heavy lock of Cered’s fringe from his dirty face while Janus straightened up.
‘I think I can live without seeing this again,’ the Prince said, but his voice was far from as rough as he probably had meant it, ‘if you excuse me, I have own matters to deal with.’
‘Do they possibly pertain an empress whom you once mentioned?’ Janus smirked.
‘Don’t push me.’
‘You should know better,’ the Pawn snickered, ‘the kid has a dangerously good memory.’
‘Kid?’ Janus protested.
‘Truly,’ the Prince grunted.
Shaking his head, the oldest of the three faded away.
‘I believe I’m superfluous here as well, though I must say that it was quite amusing seeing your version of Molor,’ the Pawn smiled.
Janus silently chuckled and backed off to let Lai greet Cered. On the way over the floor she gave Frog a friendly shove and order to “tell the big worm hi already”. Molor hissed more of surprise than protest.
‘Call me if you need help, but not against her,’ the Pawn mildly snickered, ‘she scares me.’
‘With the full right, I’d say,’ Janus smirked.
Chuckling, the Pawn’s spirit left as well.
Frog was regarding the snake somewhat still warily, and Molor appeared to be making an effort not to appear threatening by calmly lying down on the ground.
“To call Molor a worm, ‘twas something I did not believe anybody to do,” Cered was telling Lai, throwing a glance at the animal in question.
“In order to avoid hostilities I will blame the power of habit,” she somewhat gently replied.
Molor waved with the tip of his tail in a dismissive movement, though it was hard to see since his other end almost was on the other side of the room.
“Humans taste bad, don’t worry,” he hissed.
“You wouldn’t dare,” Schala said, calmly.
“To anyone else I’d say that I’d love to see you try, but there are limits to how taunting I can be,” Lai announced, crossing her arms.
At that, Molor laughed. It was a very strange, hoarse sound, but not wicked.
“Now that was something I believed I’d never hear from you,” Janus commented to his fiancée and bent aside.
“Why art thou seeking thy own demise by the hands of thy love, my comrade?” Frog chuckled, rolling his eyes.
“Just to make Flea angry, of course,” the wizard explained, ducking for another sweep.
Lai shook her head, smirking to herself while she turned to Cered and Schala again as she heard the princess speak.
“Are you sure that he’s Janus?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t know him first,” Lai chuckled, “ask the knight there, he’s been trying to keep the darn wizard alive for years.”
“Crying tears of blood, I assure thee,” Frog dryly nodded.
Cered caught Schala’s eyes.
“Thy brother has strange friends,” he said.
Then his eyebrows went up when his traveling companion covered her mouth with her hand, trying to conceal the laughter that fought to break through.
“Did I say something funny?” the warrior asked in confusion, looking around at the smirks.
Schala tried to reply but couldn’t.
Lai snorted.
“We’re strange, eh?” she said in jocular irritation, “I’m not the one who’s got half of Janus’ arm down my throa- JANUS!!”
To be perfectly honest, the wizard’s hand was barely resting above Molor’s forked tongue, but it was still a rather creepy sight. Cered took a step backwards and Schala’s eyes bulged as they saw what Lai was hysterical at while Frog just sighed, pressed a hand against his face and shook his head. He couldn’t find it in his heart to be shocked, which was what saddened him.
“Don’t worry, I’m just trying to fix his voice so that he can speak without pain,” the wizard absentmindedly said, narrowing his eyes at the back of the snake’s throat, “powers of the world…”
Stars sparkled from his fingers and disappeared into the blackness. The wizard withdrew his hand and regarded the snake, who made a slight twitching movement with his head that traveled down through his entire body as a wave. Finally he coughed.
“I believe it helped… ah, much better,” he hissed, his voice clearly less hoarse than before.
“One day, Janus,” Frog slowly sighed, “one day thy actions will be the demise of somebody.”
“I sure hope not, unless it’s somebody like Flea,” the wizard said with a slight chuckle, picking up his staff.
He straightened up to smile reassuringly at his still slightly pale sister.
“Shall we try to get ourselves and everyone else out of here, then?” he mildly questioned.
Schala just blinked at first. Then she glanced at Frog and Lai.
“Does he do things like that often?” the princess wondered.
“All the time!” the two warriors of king Guardia of the seventh century groaned.
“Oh dear.”

Nearly an hour later the group of five humans and a snake stood beside the stair of the fortress, watching the former servants and soldiers hurry out onto the shore. Some of them smiled or at least waved slightly at their helpers, though most just seemed to wish that they could get away from there as soon as possible. Such was the general idea that the soldiers gave, if it was for fear or shame was hard to tell.
“That’s gratefulness around here?” Lai dryly said, “some people in this era have no manners.”
“Oh, but they know when to fear a woman like you, I’m certain,” Janus commented, nodding at a soldier who’s mask had turned at the group faintly but quickly turned away as his pace accelerated.
“Thus they are wise,” Molor agreed.
When you’re a snake, you’re damn good at bending aside. Which was lucky for the reptile.
“Thou seem to have learnt well in a short time,” Frog chuckled, having to leap aside to avoid the massive, white body’s escape.
“Janus is a good teacher,” the snake hissed, nearly toppling over himself.
Lai halted her pursuit at those words, straightening up and throwing a glance over her shoulder at the wizard.
“I guess that you are excused then, Molor,” she said and turned around completely.
In a very bad defense, Janus crossed his pointing fingers at his fiancée; a sign against evil forces.
Schala watched all this happen, absentmindedly fiddling with the pendant which was back around her neck after they had retrieved it from the engine room of the fortress. A smile touched her lips as she saw her brother retreat.
“One would think she’s put a spell on him,” the blue-haired woman murmured, shaking her head, “I have a hard time seeing the sad little boy in that man. And yet…”
She chuckled at the sight of Janus pressing his back against the black wall.
Cered lowered the piece of purple cloth with which he had been trying to dry his dripping arms; a piece of Schala’s right sleeve. Half her arm was bare now, but it was a sacrifice she’d done willingly for her friend’s and her own freedom’s sake.
The reason that the man from Garadia was drying his arms was that he’d tried to wash off the worst dirt with water from the ocean. Salt water wasn’t the best, but magical couldn’t help much when it came to cleaning off dust that was this stuck.
“’Tis perhaps in a twisted sense,” Cered spoke with a short laugh, “but in my eyes he appears joyful.”
Schala regarded her little brother as he suddenly turned the play fight around by easily lifting Lai by the waist which got him out of reach for her fists.
“You’re just a coward,” she claimed, placing her hands on his stretched arms.
Janus shook his head.
“You can swear that you’ll make my life miserable, but don’t blame me for fighting back,” he stated.
“Do you mean you’ll at last start acting like a man?”
“Now that hurt.”
The last servants gave the fighting two strange looks as they ran down the stair, but apparently had no desire to ask stupid questions.
The princess of Zeal smiled strangely, thinking about the grown Janus whom she and her little brother had met in the snowstorm far below the magical kingdom of their birth. It felt like ages had passed since she had seen that crouching man and looked into the red eyes veiled with memories of agony. Even more distant it seemed as she now watched what that bitter warlock had created.
And she silently thanked him with all her heart.
Cered broke her out of her thoughts, placing his now fairly clean hand on her shoulder.
“We should search out our stolen equipment from the bowels of this foul creation before we leave,” he pointed out.
“Of course,” she nodded, turning to their shortest troop member, “tell me Glenn, which is the best way to break Lai from fighting with Janus?”
Frog looked up, smirking slightly as he caught her tone.
“Methinks the only way would be a well placed blow to the back of her head. However, I will not be the one earning her wrath, for ‘tis a horror which I fear I would not survive.”
“Then I suggest we simply leave them here as guards,” the princess said with a chuckle.
Cered looked at her with his eyebrows raised.
“It appears to me that whatever curse surrounds thy brother and his friends has caught thee as well, Schala,” he commented, his lips twitching.
“Aye,” Frog said, shaking his head, “the air of madness is a foul and powerful plague that touches all who dares to come near the royal wizard of Guardia.”
“Why does everybody blame me for everything?” Janus called, still holding Lai at an arm’s length.
“Thou bring it upon thyself, poor fool!” the knight snorted.
‘Happy your teacher and friend isn’t here?’ Molor chuckled, silently.
‘I thank all higher forces that be,’ the wizard replied, mentally rolling his eyes.
“Be nice now, girl,” he said aloud, taking the risk to put Lai down.
“Fine, I’ll get you later,” she promised, but the vague smirk was more of a smile this time.
“Let’s go and find your things then,” Janus nodded at his sister and Cered, “then we can think of a way of destroying this overgrown cottage and decide our next step.”

The sun was starting to set, its last rays dancing over the waves of the seemingly endless ocean that had swallowed an entire kingdom. It also glistened on the dully black walls of Dalton’s fortress.
Standing on top of a massive sand dune, a man raised the staff he held in both hands, pointing it towards the ground. His long blue hair waved peacefully in the somewhat chilly winds of the evening; a sharp contrast to what he was about to do. He took in a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“Na sela uloro worch netal vonodra kchar!” the royal wizard of Guardia roared, burying several inches of his staff in the sand.
At first, it seemed as if he had done nothing but ramble gibberish in a very loud voice. Nothing happened.
Then, without a sound, the black fortress by the water simply disappeared, melted into the golden sky, the sand and the ocean. The only trace that remained of it was the holes it had dug up by pushing the sand downwards with its weight.
And Janus fell backwards with a heavy sigh, getting caught by strong hands and a massive, white head however. Cered and Molor carefully helped the wizard to lay down on the ground as he without force pressed his hands against his burning forehead.
“Na matala sela,” Frog gently murmured, sending several waves of healing light over his friend.
“Well, that was interesting…” Janus muttered as the pain began to subside, waving at the empty space where the fortress had been.
He smiled slightly as Lai caught the raised arm and hung it over her shoulders to support him.
“You really are a masochist,” she muttered, shaking her head.
“I just do what I have to… urgh…”
He pulled a face and rubbed his forehead.
“Do you get a headache every time you use Shadow magic?” Schala concernedly said, hunching down beside her brother.
As she after some searching in the fortress had found her staff… and the clothes she had worn when Dalton had captured her and her friends, she had managed to startle a couple of people. Her brother had pretended to be surprised as well, but having seen her in the alternate future he wasn’t too surprise. Her older version had been a bit more modest, but the short skirt and the sleeveless shirt were quite… eh… not so modest.
Cered had to his great relief retrieved his twin katanas, which now rested in their sheaths on his back.
“Somebody said Shadow didn’t work well as my element,” Janus said, his face almost completely hidden behind his hand.
“They were right, I believe,” his sister said, frowning, “Shadow doesn’t suit your personality. Maybe as you used to be when you were a child, but…”
She shook her head.
“Not much to do about it, I guess. I’ll just have to deal with it…” the wizard shrugged and started to get to his feet, but was stopped by a quick and democratic vote.
Settling in the sand, Cered nodded.
“Well then, my friends,” he said, “what is our next course of action?”
“Dost thee have any pressing matters?” Frog asked with quite a bit of hopeful hesitance in his voice, looking at the three newest parts of the group.
Schala and Cered exchanged glances.
“During our journey we ran into a few disturbing discoveries,” Schala finally said and smiled at her brother and his friends, “but with the power of time travel at our hands I believe that cleaning up history is something that we can deal with later.”
“As long as it’s nothing that you believe is pressing, I would like to say that going to Guardia is desirable,” Janus said with a nod, “time might not pass normally in the way we travel, but I would like to deal with the problems we were aiming for before stumbling to this place.”
“In other words he’s itching to punch Flea’s lights out, and I’m agreeing,” Lai helpfully translated.
Schala softly chuckled.
“Fully understandable,” she smiled, “and I do look forward to seeing the era that managed to corrupt my little brother so gravely.”
Janus looked at Molor, who did his best to look indifferent.
You are on my side, right?” the wizard questioned.
The snake just laughed.

Chapter 8, Of Memories and Knights

Guardia was enjoying an early spring. Leaves not bigger than mouse ears were tickling the branches of the trees and bushes, drinking the sunlight that flowed from the skies onto the world. The first few strands of grass curiously made their way above ground to explore the forest roads.
The first thing Schala saw as she stepped through the Gate together with Cered and Frog was her little brother, resting his hand against a thick tree trunk beside the grassy road they had stepped out on. Sunlight sparkled in his long blue hair, caressing his cheeks and closed eyelids.
Lai silently stood beside him, in an almost alien show of affection resting her hand on his shoulder. Just as silently, Molor had curled up by their feet. His dead, cold eyes held a soft, content look and he almost seemed to smile.
A sad smile touched the princess’ lips as she watched. And she knew. She’d seen Cered in the same state of mind several times when they had returned to his home to rest. But for her sake, he always pushed it away for another amount of time. It was however something she knew that she could not ask of either of them to give up forever; the serene, welcoming embrace of the place they loved as their homes.
Her heart ached dully, still it didn’t hurt as much as she’d thought it would. Her little brother was happy, and now she knew exactly where he was, just like he would know where she was in the past with the man she loved. The siblings had found each other only to realize that they had their own lives.
‘I understand, Janus,’ she softly sent to his mind, unwilling to break the peace by talking aloud.
It took him a moment to reply.
‘I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to break away from here again, but I didn’t want to hurt you,’ he finally replied, his thoughts heavy with hesitance.
‘You love this place, I can see it. That’s all that matters,’ she softly assured.
Another pause.
Janus opened his eyes, smiling gently at nothing though there was a hint of sadness in his gaze.
‘I’m sorry.’
‘You know that I can’t stay?’ Schala whispered, and now it was her turn to sound sad.
‘Better than you believe, sister,’ he replied with a vaguely strange tone, ‘but it’s not like…’
‘… We’ll loose each other again, no,’ the older sister gently agreed.
Janus looked around, the sadness in his eyes faltering.
“Fine, I’m done.”
This earned him a few smiles and chuckles. Frog held up a hand.
“As well as thee dost feel it, my heart aches to calm the worried souls of our friends. But may I suggest that we save at the least Her Majesty from a heart attack?” he asked, nodding meaningly at the white tower of muscles on the ground.
“Actually, I was thinking of that. Don’t give me that look,” the wizard defended himself.
“Sure. We believe you,” Lai murmured, nodding slowly.
“Bah. Molor?”
The snake straightened up with a nod, uncoiling himself as he slipped over the road towards the wizard. Then he suddenly lowered his head to the ground, turning himself straightly at Janus’ shadow. Like a gigantic worm he slipped out of sight, into the hole of sunlight on the ground.
“That was a new one,” Schala commented as the white tip of Molor’s “tail” disappeared without a trace.
“Glad that you like it,” her brother somewhat dryly said, but smiled and let his staff disappear, “shall we?”
“Would it be possible to see a map of this land?” Cered asked as they began to walk towards the north.
“Certainly,” Frog nodded, “how so?”
The warrior of the past smiled, glancing up at the sky.
“I find a strange joy in studying how Garadia has changed over the thousands of years through which we have traveled,” he explained.
“’Tis not a joy I would deem peculiar,” the knight said in a friendly, conversational manner.
“Perhaps so… ‘tis the castle?”
Cered squinted at the spires that could be seen just above the treetops.
“Yes, that’s it,” Janus replied over his shoulder, as he and Lai walked a couple of steps ahead.
“Indeed, ‘tis very different from the palace in my homeland,” the Garadian almost absentmindedly said, still watching the towers.
Schala pursed her mouth so that it truly looked like a very dry smile. It seemed that she had thoughts about the palace in Cered’s time, which she would not voice however. She knew that the emperor was like a god to the people of Garadia, and there were limits she did not want to push.
They met a patrol as they neared the castle, ten soldiers following a knight. The sound of their armors had been heard a couple of minutes before the group met the troop.
The military men almost fell over each other as they came face to face with Janus, Lai and Frog, the latter slipping up beside his old-time friends to smile at the men under his command.
“I thought you said things had been peaceful,” Janus commented, glancing at the general with a twitching smile.
Frog was about to reply, but was cut off by the cheer of the soldiers.
“You’re alive!”
“Order!” the knight snarled, throwing out his armored arm which nearly smashed out the teeth of the nearest, unlucky soldier.
“Order” was not exactly the effect by that.
“’Twas uncalled for, Sir,” Frog grunted and stepped forwards together with Janus to see if anybody in the fallen heap required healing.
But before he kneeled to help the soldiers however, the wizard narrowed his eyes slightly at the knight, then raised his hand to his forehead in a salute. His dry smirk was less than respectful, though. Frog glanced upwards and then closed his eyes with a silent groan. And at the same time he had to conceal a snicker.
Of course, Lai was less courteous, halfway hiding her smirk with her hand. Glancing around her shoulder at their two guests, she removed her hand slightly and mouthed “here we go again”.
“What joy,” Janus dryly said though he smiled, “Sir knight South. Still alive?”
“It’s more than you should be, you damn traitor,” the knight replied in an icy voice.
The blue-haired man raised an eyebrow at the angered eyes that were visible under the shadow of the dully gray helmet.
“Excuse me, Sir?”
“You claimed that you killed Flea, but then we receive reports of that he’s quite active. You should know better than to lie to the king, wizard,” Sir South growled, crossing his arms with a violently clanging sound.
Lai opened her mouth in anger, considered it for a moment and then took a step backwards instead, shaking her head.
“Who in all powers’ name is that?” Schala muttered to the younger woman, frowning.
“Former lieutenant South,” Lai replied from the corner of her mouth, without taking her eyes off the two men, “he was in charge of the new recruits during the time of Janus and Glenn’s training days.”
“I think I get the picture,” Schala said with a somewhat tired tone, watching the back of her brother’s head.
That at least meant that he still knew how to raise hell with his teachers. Always something that remained true to his childhood.
During the women’s short conversation, the chilly argument had continued.
“I did not lie to anybody, it was my full and true belief that Flea was dead,” Janus said, pointing downwards with the hand not used for the never ceasing mock-salute, “general Frog is my witness if you don’t believe me.”
“Then why was the Mystic trying to murder the general and our new royal wizard?” the knight retorted, scowling.
Janus didn’t lower his hand, but his eyes were steadily turning colder and thinner.
“That is exactly why I returned, as I found out that the damn magician was still in one piece,” he explained.
“You used magic for the final blow, didn’t you?”
South’s voice carried a hint of triumph by those words. Cered happened to glance at Frog, noticing that the general cringed slightly.
Finally Janus lowered his hand to fold his arms over his chest.
“I suppose that you’ve got me there, Sir,” he coldly said.
“Aha. Of course,” the knight scoffed, his lips twitching towards a smirk.
“Yes, of course,” Janus echoed, slowly nodding, “raw, dumb strength beats the power of a mind every time, Sir.”
“As does Flea’s continued life prove, wizard.”
The knight snorted.
“And now you make your grand return, I see. I hope you realize all the trouble this means for the rest of us, considering the defenses we’ll need to reestablish because of the assassins that will start showing up again because of you.”
“What defenses? As far as I remember I haven’t needed guardians since I was thirteen,” Janus said in a coldly calm voice, “but I must say it’s sweet of you to care. And here I thought that you wanted me hanged from the castle walls.”
“Quit trying to be a wisecrack, it’s not working.”
“Funny, I was thinking the same about you. But as I now am a lowly civilian, I have no right to speak up to a knight.”
At this, Janus glanced downwards at Frog, who was straightening up from healing the swollen upper lip of the unlucky front soldier. South tried not to follow the movement of his opponent’s eyes but threw a quick glance at the green head, clenching his teeth. Glenn might have been a giant amphibian, but it was no longer a secret who he was – as Janus had more or less guessed by luck. And the one who had been a recruit in the much older man’s not too gentle grip had in a depressingly short time reached a position far higher than his instructor.
Lai held back a groan, thinking to herself that the hidden and clear insults were getting really damn low on both sides. At least Janus didn’t speak the last thing out loud, but it was borderline. Turning her head to meet Schala’s eyes, she saw that the sister was reaching the same thoughts. Cered was watching the show with his eyebrows raised and a look of slight disbelief all over his face.
Janus was apparently growing sick of it too, for he took a step backwards and performed the salute again.
“Speaking of which, I am certain that you have better things to do than to chatter with me, Sir,” he said, “I sure know that I have.”
“And dost thee not, then so dost I,” Frog firmly cut in before another wave of the argument could crash upon the beach of time, “let us be on our way. Now.”
He made his way past the troop, smiling at the soldiers as he did so. Janus followed without a word, looking over his shoulder and waiting a second for the three who had stayed out of the line.
The soldiers quickly started moving in their own direction upon South’s order, and soon the two groups were out of each other’s sight.
“Sorry about that,” Janus said after a short while, looking around and rubbing his neck, “he drags out the worst in me, I’m afraid.”
“Aye, ‘tis a gift the man has,” Frog dryly agreed, shaking his head without slowing down.
“Come now, art not all men who train soldiers harsh?” Cered pointed out, tilting his head slightly in remaining disbelief.
The two in the front stopped and turned around, nodding in agreement at the red-haired man.
“Certainly,” Frog said, “believeth us not to speak ill of him for no reason. Our discontent is born from Sir South’s love of handing out punishment.”
“Would you like a man who might lock you up for one day because you tried to help a friend get to his feet after falling into the mud?” Janus said and waved slightly at the green warrior at his side, shaking his head at the memory of Cyrus’ disbelieving face.
“And punish a youngster because the beast that attempted to end his life disrupted the training?” Frog grimaced.
He paused for a moment.
“On the other hand, I will hand him that the memories of some of his actions have caused us many a merry moments,” the general added, as if to make peace with the old tormentor.
“Just tell us the truth, you’re both crybabies,” Lai smirked and patted both their heads as she brushed past them.
“One grain of respect for the pain we have to remember for the rest of our lives, is that too much to ask?” Janus called after her back, but it was hardly with an angry tone.
Lai glanced over her shoulder.
“Do you want me to answer that?” she shot back.
“Not really. Hmm?”
Janus turned to Schala as she draped her arm around his shoulders, laughing.
“With the risk of earning your love’s wrath as well,” the princess said with a wide smile, “I would like you to forget your torments and listen to a bit of sisterly advice.”
“Yes?” the wizard said, his lips twitching with her laughter.
Schala pointed at Lai who was walking backwards now to keep an eye on what was going on.
“When it comes to knights like him and women like her, brother… run, run for your life. That goes for you too, Glenn.”
“It’s far too late for that, I fear…” the wizard chuckled while Frog shook his head and started to follow Lai, laughter trickling from his giant mouth.
“And where dost I fit into such a warning?” Cered questioned, stepping up beside Schala.
“I know that you already are too far gone already, dear,” she told him, laughing softly as he tried to fake surprise.

Chapter 9, How very eerily familiar!

It was a practical truth that in order to make it into the castle in broad daylight without getting spotted, one would have to be invisible. Peace with the Mystics did not change the fact that there always were guards by the gate.
That was, unless they saw something really surprising that caused them to run inside and yell in euphoria at the people in the throne room. The message turned all heads and drove the king and queen up from their thrones in relieved joy, but before they could rush to meet the bitterly missed friends, Frog, Lai and Janus entered behind the happy guards.
“You’re alive!” rung through the castle.
Schala stopped in the gate to give her brother and new allies a chance to explain themselves, Cered standing just behind her. He held back a chuckle as he watched her facial expressions.
That Frog kneeled to greet his king and queen did not surprise Schala at all. Neither that Lai did, really. But though the big sister had gotten an inkling, the picture of her Janus gracefully going down on one knee before the much older man in the red robes was still a sight that shook her universe.
She could feel Cered shake with silent laughter as he put a jocularly calming hand on her shoulder. Meanie.
“Your Majesties…” the three said almost simultaneously, but were cut short.
“Stand up, all of you,” king Guardia smiled, on the brink of grinning of joy, “you had us worried.”
“We apologize from the depths of our hearts, my liege,” Frog smiled as he stood, still courtly bowing his head.
“The troop that came back from the eastern island told us that you had ordered them to flee because Flea was alive and had caught general Frog and wizard Lai, Janus,” the king continued, his smile fading a bit, “but you claimed that he was dead a year ago, did you not?”
“It was my full belief that he died,” Janus nodded without looking up, “but somehow he must have escaped the final blow. As monsters disintegrate when they die, it can be difficult to be absolutely sure. As soon as I heard a rumor about him being alive I returned here.”
He cleared his throat.
“I apologize for giving your soldiers orders without the authority, my liege,” he added in a somewhat jocularly serious tone, “my intent on the old Mystic island was however pure.”
“Blasphemer!” Lai muttered, loud enough for everyone to hear.
Leene hid her smile with her fine, gloved hand, and as many times before many found it natural to mirror their queen.
“I will let it slide this time, Janus,” the king said, fighting to contain his laughter.
“I am most grateful, my liege,” the former royal wizard said, throwing a fake glare at his successor.
Schala bit her lower lip not to chuckle aloud, shaking her head to herself. This was truly nothing like the honor-heavy throne room of Zeal kingdom. Glancing at Cered, she saw a glistening of the same disbelief in his eyes. He had never been in the palace of Garadia, but the people of his homeland were very serious about status and what was appropriate. This was an entirely different world for both of them.
“The most important thing is that you and the soldiers are safe, after all,” king Guardia said after assembling his endangered composure, “I am most relieved about this. And you are truly welcome back, Janus.”
“Thank you, my liege,” the wizard said, smiling.
Schala listened more to his tone than his voice, and a warm glow of joyful pride bloomed in her chest. In her brother’s words was true happiness, mixed with respect and gratefulness. To stand before the much older man and greet him offered Janus far more joy than any pleasure that his homeland could have provided for its sad prince.
Only halfway knowing about it, she placed her own hand on Cered’s, which rested upon her shoulder. He softly smiled just behind her pointy ear.
With her lips twitching with the merry knowledge of the reactions that the news would bring, Lai sunk back onto one knee.
“My liege,” she said and bowed her head in a rare show of respect that was almost as shocking as Janus’ improvement over the years, “I wish to resign from my position as the royal wizard, for I believe that there is one who deserves it better.”
This earned her a few slightly confused glances.
“I respect your wish, Lai,” king Guardia somewhat hesitantly said and looked at the smiling, blue-haired man, “but…?”
Janus gently shook his head.
“My liege, there is nothing that calls me away from Guardia now.”
He turned around and held out his hand towards the gate.
“Your Majesties and my friends, this is my sister, Schala. And her traveling companion Cered.”
A little hesitant about how to greet royalty that was not his emperor, Cered settled for stopping one step behind Frog, press his fist against his heart and bow. Schala took Janus’ hand when she could reach it, and curtseyed with her other arm crossing her chest, moving surprisingly gracefully considering how strict her new skirt seemed at first glance. Her heavy blue locks tumbled around her shoulders for every movement she did.
“I wish to thank you from the bottom of my soul for all you have done for my little brother, Your Majesty,” she softly smiled as she straightened up, the words and warm tone screaming against her earlier “are you sure…” comments.
It took a couple of seconds for the surprised inhabitants of the throne room to digest this information. Janus fought back a fond chuckle at the blinks.
“Since I now know that she is safe,” he warmly spoke, “I have no reasons not to return to your service, my liege.”
Schala regarded him and smiled, her lips twitching.
“You truly, truly have changed since I last saw you,” she murmured, trying to wipe the laughter off her lips with her free hand.
“I thought you had realized that already,” Janus retorted.
Leene reached out and placed her fine, gloved hands around the siblings’ grip of each other.
“I cannot say how happy I am to know of your success, Janus,” the queen gently said, and turned her softly blue eyes to the sister, “you are warmly welcome to Guardia, lady Schala. So are you, Sir Cered.”
“I thank thee, Your Majesty,” the man of Garadia smiled, sending surprised and briefly amused glances flying between him and Frog – who smirked slightly as he had expected it.
“If you keep this up, Janus, Lai,” king Guardia said and shook his head with a smile, “we will have to think of a ceremony for appointing new royal wizards. You would like that, wouldn’t you, chancellor?”
The elderly man allowed himself a rare chuckle that was shared by several in the room as Janus shook his head with a pained look.
Frog crossed his arms, faking a thoughtful expression.
“A query comes to mind,” he said with a gentle snicker, “would the title be an inherited one?”
“What?” Leene said, looking down as Janus moved his hand to reveal the ring on his finger.
The queen opened her mouth again, but Lai came in between, raising her adorned hand.
“I got him!” she triumphantly announced, grinning from ear to ear.
“I think that would be something Flea would say…” Janus grunted, but smiled at her.
For a moment, the throne room was silent.
Leene turned her head and looked at her husband.
“I believe that I won, dear,” she declared, smiling widely.
King Guardia looked at his wife in surprise at first, but then started laughing.
“And the cook owe me now!” the chancellor triumphantly nodded.
“Curses, I lost ten silver coins!” the knight to the right of the king’s throne sighed.
Similar mutters were heard from several directions.
Janus blinked.
Then he tugged his hand free from the grip of the two royal women and pressed it against his face, closing his eyes.
“Isn’t there anybody who doesn’t place bets on my life?” he grunted, glancing at his snickering fiancée.
“I dost not,” Frog helpfully informed.
Then he cleared his throat, innocently looking up at the ceiling.
“’Tis merely too simple, I know thee too well,” he admitted.
“Oh, don’t worry Janus, so far I haven’t let you down like that,” Schala promised, putting her hand on her groaning brother’s shoulder.
She looked around.
“Say, Cered… would you like to guess on whether…”
Schala!” Janus cried in a tragic voice, raising his hands to the sky as laughter exploded around him.
Letting his arms fall he folded them across his chest and stoically waited for the laugh to die down and give him a chance to speak again. Finally, as Leene was drying her eyes with a handkerchief, the wizard tilted his head a bit.
“Now, I believe that we have covered most of the issues…” he said and coughed, “this might be a little more difficult though. There’s another friend of Schala and Cered’s, but he’s not a human.”
Frog froze for a second and then cringed, giving Janus a pleading look.
“Is he a monster?” king Guardia asked in mild confusion.
Before the wizard even could open his mouth, the green general held up his hand.
“I beseech thee, Janus,” the knight sighed, “leave at least this matter to one whom is a better diplomat.”
Janus smirked at that, but nodded.
“Fine,” he said and stepped back.
“My liege,” the knight said, shaking his head with closed eyes while he could feel Lai snicker at him, “this last companion was hidden by Janus due to his appearance. Molor as he is named is indeed a beast, yet not a monster. He is a snake, but he can speak.”
“Don’t look at me like that, he’s Cered’s pet,” Janus defended himself as quite expressive gazes turned on him.
“But I notice that he hast been favoring thee since thee met,” the man from Garadia mildly commented.
“Snake,” Leene spoke, flatly.
“Aye, a huge one,” Frog sighed, bowing his head.
“Do not worry, Your Majesties,” Schala gently tried to smoothen the expressions, “I assure you that Molor is a friendly creature.”
“And he can speak for himself, after all,” Janus said as he bent down a bit, stretching his arm downwards with the palm turned to the floor.
“Eh…” king Guardia hesitantly began, but was cut off as the gigantic, white head gracefully arose from the wizard’s shadow.
Frog quickly stepped up before Leene, turning his back defensively at her to assure the queen that she would be safe. He did not feel like taking chances about her fainting.
Armored backs hit the wall as knights and soldiers without thinking stepped back in shock, eyes widening in fearful fascination as the pure white creature continued to crawl out of Janus’ shadow, seemingly for an eternity. But all the while, Molor kept his head resting against the wizard’s hand, which made it rather clear that he was calm.
For the sake of Leene Frog was not very amused, but his traveling companions had to fight hard not to grin or chuckle.
As the tip of his tail finally made it above ground, Molor calmly curled up before the wide eyes around him. And chuckled slightly.
“One would think that I was at least twice as big and had three heads,” he said in his softly hissing voice.
“Or spat fire,” Janus said to add up.
But as he spoke out those words he felt a faint pang of anguish deep down inside his friend’s mind, but it was so well hidden that he hardly caught it. And before he could ask, king Guardia spoke.
“Good God.”
However it was more tiredly than in fear, and the king leaned his cheek in his hand while shaking his head to put more emphasis on his state of mind.
“Ah, simply regard me as a friendly… what are they called? Mystic,” Molor said, a smile to be heard.
“Mystics are normally smaller,” the king commented, but now he was straightening up.
The mere fact that he replied strongly proved that though he was still quite hesitant, there was a chance that he could grow to accept the gigantic creature before him.
Janus could feel Lai bite back a comment about Ozzie for the pure sake of diplomacy, though there were no monsters present.
Or so he thought.
On the wall outside of one of the throne room’s windows, the wind found itself taking turns around something that it couldn’t see. Something that growled and took off at amazing speed however, heading towards the island carrying the crumbled remains of a castle.
Upon arrival into the great cavern, the creature was quite shocked to find that its ghastly companion was being throttled by their master, but as it eventually got the explanation from the others it could only wince.
Flea was in a worse mood than ever, and for a bloody bad reason as he expressed it himself. While the royal wizard and his friends discussed more practical matters such as rooms for the night, the magician made a decision.

“You people are true optimists,” Janus said as he with a pleasant sigh had looked around his old room to find it in the exact same state that he had left it in.
“Either that or stubborn as hell,” Lai nodded, stepping in behind him, “hey!”
The small shriek was due to the fact that Molor slithered inside past her moving feet and curled up on the simple blue carpet beside the bed with a content hiss.
“Sleeping in a dungeon is not very comfortable even for me,” he said, resting his big head on top of the tower that he had created out of himself.
Schala stepped inside the room, closely followed by Cered.
“Neither is a prisoner’s bed, I assure you,” the princess somewhat dryly informed, but then smiled, “it’s a nice room, Janus.”
It sounded a little awkward coming from her, as she was not used to rating her brother’s choice of life just yet. But the wizard just smiled.
“A bit empty now, I’ll take care of that. Tomorrow.”
He added the last bit while rubbing his neck, glancing at the reddish evening sky outside of the window.
“The guest rooms that the king promised you are down the…”
He didn’t get further as running steps came down the corridor outside. The wizard almost closed his eyes, instinctively knowing that this meant the end of any plans of a peaceful evening.
The guard diving into the doorway was no calming sight with his wide eyes and face red with the strain of his dash.
“What?” Janus demanded with a scowl, absentmindedly reaching for his staff while his sister and Cered turned around in surprise.
The moment it took for the poor man to gain enough control of his breathing to gasp out the broken information stretched out like ages.
“Queen Leene… Flea!” he finally choked.
“Where?!” five voices shouted in shock.
“Royal… room…!”
“Damn him!”
Janus didn’t think, he simply teleported. And stumbled on the floor of the royal bedroom just when Frog leaped over the heads of five shocked guards and the king, uttering words that seemed alien coming from his knightly lips.
Flea glared daggers at the room in general, standing by the far back wall behind the royal bed. The all too well-known mantis was with him. And the insect was holding one of his sword arms against the queen’s neck. Leene meanwhile was desperately gripping the steel-hard, thin green arm pressing her shoulders backwards into the armored chest, her face pale as death with tears of horror flowing from her eyes.
“About time,” Flea said in a cold, bored voice, folding his arms.
Janus narrowed his eyes further, confusion being added to the rage. There was no triumph in the magician’s voice, only a dull hatred despite his obvious upper hand. This was strange enough to cut though the anger that otherwise clouded the wizard’s head.
“Release the queen, thou bastard!” Frog roared, the green fingers turning white-green under his gloves as he clenched his hands around the Masamune’s hilt.
In any other situation, such a phrase coming from the knight would have driven anybody off focus, but right then it was too diminutive to bother with.
“I’m not talking with you,” Flea just said, his icicle glare not for a second leaving Janus.
“Let her go, Flea,” the wizard hissed, his fingers twitching as he dearly wished that he could have summoned his staff without endangering Leene’s life further.
Janus opened his mouth again, but whatever he desperately was trying to think of was cut off by Schala’s telepathic shout.
‘Lai says that she’s calling for help, try to win time!’
The wizard wasn’t in the right mind to care to ask, he didn’t have time for that. Gripping for hay he desperately replayed what had been said so far.
“What, no nicknames for us today?” he dared, with a rapidly sinking feeling realizing that he was pushing a limit which he couldn’t see as Flea’s teeth became visible in a growl.
“No, Janus, not today, not ever again,” the magician hissed, “and your queen is going to die.”
Janus clenched his teeth tightly while Frog tried to keep himself under control. Vaguely he heard king Guardia suck in his breath and saw Leene tense further, her already wide eyes growing even bigger in fear. Armors clanked hesitantly as the soldiers made movements only to realize that they were worthless in the next moment.
‘Schala!’ the wizard shouted to his sister’s mind, on the verge of pleading.
‘Hang on, he’s on his way she says!’ the princess harshly replied.
Janus opened and closed his fists, his brain racing for ways to delay Flea’s plan.
“Why Leene all of a sudden?” he finally said, hoarsely.
“You’ll suffer.”
The chilly reply was not exactly what Janus had expected, but it gave him more options though he didn’t dare to look at Frog, nor anybody else in the room.
“There are other ways that you could make me suffer,” the wizard said in a controlled voice, though large parts of him were screaming things similar to “not again, not again, good powers, not ever again!”.
He had at least expected Flea to sneer, but the magician’s cold, indifferent face did not change.
“This is the way I choose,” he said, in the same way as the whole conversation had gone in.
Leene made a pathetic squeaking sound as the mantis’ grip tightened.
Janus’ jaw almost broke.
“No, Flea, listen,” he quickly said, all pride discarded for the safety of the queen though it left a bitter taste of hopelessness in his mouth, “you’ve got me, alright? You win.”
The last words did have an effect, however it was yet again nothing that was expected. Flea’s eyes closed and his head fell a slight bit.
“No… I don’t,” he muttered, bitterness lacing his voice.
Even Frog lowered his weapon a little in pure surprise at this.
“Flea…” Janus said in a much softer voice, through the confusion aiming for the sudden weakness.
This again did not have the desired effect as Flea snapped back up with rage flaring in his eyes. The wizard tried to fight a wince to little avail.
Without another word the magician raised his right hand, pressing the thumb and middle finger against each other to snap his fingers as a signal to the mantis.
“No!” half a dozen voices shouted in despair.
Flea’s lips were pressed white as the muscles in his fingers constricted.
Suddenly the room was showered in a rain of broken glass and the mantis stumbled aside to avoid the blade cutting through the air. A pair of leather boots hit the ground, a pure white jacket fell to wave behind a tall monster as he straightened up with the pieces of the broken window still hitting the floor around his feet. The sinking sun outside painted flames on his bare, purple head and the Slasher’s thin edge.
“Put the queen down, you damn insects,” Slash said, cold as ice.

Chapter 10, Royally Twisted

Flea spluttered in rage as he stared at the other general past the hissing mantis and the queen, the wine-colored eyes glistening with hatred.
“Why… you!” he finally managed to hiss.
Slash looked no more pleased, his white eyes narrowed and the thick lips withdrawn from his sharp teeth.
“Flea,” he spoke without disconnecting his two rows of fangs, “you are under arrest for treasaugh!”
His announcement was cut off since he was sent flying backwards into the wall. The spread fingers on Flea’s still raised hand twitched as the purple monster got to his feet, swearing in a forgotten language.
“You’re not one to speak of treason, Slash!” the magician snarled.
He saw the movement from the corner of his eye and spun around, raising his other hand against the staff and the Masamune. But the mantis screeched and let Leene unceremoniously fall, diving between his master and the attackers.
Without thinking Janus released his weapon and dove for the shocked and trembling queen, knowing that he got under the sword arms of the insect but prepared to take that risk. Grabbing Leene’s arms and dashing backwards he noticed to his further disbelief that the assassin was focusing completely on parrying the Masamune, ignoring the wizard completely. Normally not even an earthquake would have kept the transformed Mystics from a chance to wound their target.
Leaving the still pretty much paralyzed woman in the safety of the soldiers – who quickly closed their lines behind her as one of them led the queen to her husband – Janus reached out and silently called his staff to his hand as he swept back towards the two monsters and Frog again. Just as his fingers closed around the wood he saw Slash from the corner of his eye, the purple Mystic back on his feet and dashing forwards with his eyes set on the cornered couple.
Flea put his hand on the mantis’ steel arm, his pretty face a mask of rage.
“Come and get me if you dare!” he snarled, disappearing in a bright light together with his ally.
Frog stumbled forwards and the Slasher cut through the bluish wisps of magic that remained for the brief moment after the teleportation spell had gone off. Janus just barely managed to avert the staff from its arc which otherwise would have left quite a mark on his short friend’s back.
“Demons take that son of Lardon!” Slash cursed, punching the wall so that it left a small imprint in the unlucky stone.
While Frog straightened up and with a growl sheathed the Masamune, Janus took in a few breaths in an attempt to calm down while he glanced at the monster. Slash gave him a cold glare and let his sword slide into its sheath.
Turning away from the wizard, the swordsman addressed another part of the room.
“I apologize for the window, king Guardia,” he said in a neutral voice, “I was in a hurry.”
“That is quite alright, Slash,” the king hoarsely replied, still pressing his trembling wife against his chest.
Janus let his staff disappear, glancing between his liege, Frog, and Slash.
“I feel as if I am missing something here,” the wizard finally said.
“We have been on friendlier terms during thy time of absence,” Frog shortly explained though he was still scowling at the place where Flea had been standing, “though Slash was not the help I would have expected either.”
“I came here because your second royal wizard suddenly had our entire fortress shaking with a ‘do you know what your crossdresser is doing?!’,” the monster said, folding his arms across his chest and giving the ceiling a glare.
He sighed briefly and looked at the king again.
“I have been given the mission to catch Flea, king Guardia, for he is dead to the Mystics. This assault was an act he did on his own, and it will be added to his list of crimes, I assure you.”
“Very well,” the king rather absentmindedly replied, most of his focus still on Leene.
Janus regarded the monster for a moment.
“How long was I really gone?” he muttered, but natural thoughts of the queen got in between for any longer reverie.
Mentally slapping himself for being careless the wizard turned and quickly walked over to the royal couple, reaching out to carefully touch Leene’s shivering shoulder.
“Powers of the world…”
Magic could do very little for the mind, but he could at least help the queen to calm her breath and slow her thundering pulse to a normal pace so that she would be able to regain herself quicker.
As the healing light gently showered Leene in its warmth, a little color returned to her face and she threw a weak but grateful glance at the wizard. But Janus’ lips were pressed thin, his eyes hard as steel. Confusion at the expression clashed with her shaken state of mind and she simply couldn’t bear to ask, leaning her head against her husband’s calming heartbeat instead.
“My liege,” Janus said in a stern voice as he backed off, pressing his fist to his heart and bowing briefly while he still moved.
Something in the wizard’s voice awakened the king from his trance, and he looked up with a frown.
“Where are you going?” he demanded as the soldiers that had moved closer to the door warily backed away from the turning blue-hair.
“To kill Flea, my liege,” Janus replied in the same voice without looking around.
“Halt thy steps, what art thou saying?” Frog called, leaping past the frowning and ignored Slash.
The door was already open and Lai happened to enter right then, pushing her way past the crowd of soldiers, servants and knights outside closely followed by Cered. Schala was just one step behind, as was Molor. The snake moved easier than his allies, not because of his convenient form but the mere presence causing people to make way.
“Move,” Janus snarled, pushing his fiancée aside as she opened her mouth.
“Wha?” Lai managed as she was discarded.
“You could just follow their magic track and teleport after them, you know,” Slash soberly pointed out.
“I’m not angry enough to be that stupid,” Janus coldly informed without turning around, as gently as he could manage right then moving Schala sideways, seeming deaf to her questions.
His eyes met Molor’s but before the snake could hinder the human kindred soul, a metal glove brashly grabbed the wizard’s collar.
“One does not run off from a scene like this without permission, wizard,” a chilly voice stated, the hand shoving Janus backwards.
The wizard stumbled but regained his balance a couple of steps back inside the room, with help from the staff and Cered’s hand on his shoulder. And the fact that the hand in the glove kept its grip, sending flares through Janus’ already misty brain as he lost his breath for a moment.
Angrily gasping for air he glared at the knight, grabbing the armored wrist with his free hand.
“Let go, South.”
“Janus, calm down!” Schala called, but her voice seemed to come from afar.
All the wizard could see were the ice cold brown eyes that fiercely glowered at him without any triumph in a personal vendetta but pure hatred.
“I would have rather seen that my warnings about you being a danger to the throne had remained nothing but hot air, Janus!” the knight snarled.
Now that stroke a tender nerve. In fact, the nerve which had driven the wizard forwards in a short moment of blind rage. But instead of stringing the anger even more, the blow was a shattering one as the sin was exposed to all whom might have let it slide in the choking grip of anguish.
Janus’ first, natural impulse was to plant his fist in the snarling face before him. But the wish was extinguished like the tree lit by a lightning bolt, only leaving a charred skeleton behind. His fingers sagged, the grip slipping from South’s wrist and the staff falling to the floor.
His lips were parted, but he had nothing to answer with.
“Why Leene all of a sudden?”
“You’ll suffer.”

‘You do win, Flea…’
“A peculiar custom,” Cered’s far-off voice reached out through the storm of raw self contempt, “to blame one who helped, for a crime another attempted.”
With the metal clinking in protest South’s fingers clashed when another man’s hand took a hold of the grip and removed it from Janus’ shirt.
“Dost thee hang the innocent child of a villain as well?” the warrior of Garadia coldly questioned.
“You very well know that I and Janus might have our disputes,” South snapped back, “but this has nothing to do with that. Did you hear what Flea said about his reasons for killing the queen?”
“The queen is alive,” Lai’s voice growled, though the stitch of hesitance in her tone stung like a poisoned spear through the heart.
‘Friend, do not listen to the knight,’ Molor gently urged.
“Janus? What do you have to say yourself?” South demanded, his voice seemingly the only one that the wizard’s pointy ears managed to properly register for his aching brain.
The silence couldn’t have been as deep and long as it seemed, but right then logic made little sense.
Shaking his head though the movement ripped his dry throat, Janus made another stumbling movement towards the door.
A small hand wearing a leather glove caught his arm.
“I wouldst rather not see the mistake I made after Yakra’s fall be made anew,” Frog spoke sincerely, but Janus shook himself free with a dull, irritated grunt.
“You hold it right there, you moron!” Lai called, moving into the wizard’s path with her palms turned to him.
His ruby eyes rested on her, and for a moment he had to fight to remember who she was.
Slender hands grasped his upper arms.
“Little brother…” Schala’s soothing whisper flowed through his burning mind like a river through the desert.
‘Friend,’ Molor repeated, reaching out with his supporting presence to embrace the linked soul.
But again the wizard just shook his head, trying to free himself. Lai’s hands on his shoulders helped Schala and Molor to stop him for another vital moment, however.
“The king has been trying to talk to you for a while, sweetheart,” the female wizard said with gentle boldness, “one would think that those big ears worked better than that.”
That worked better than a slap it seemed. Janus straightened up and turned to king Guardia, who hadn’t moved much. Leene now stood beside him, but her husband still kept his right arm draped around her shoulders for support, as she still was a little pale. By now her eyes had regained their life however.
“Thank you, Lai,” the king nodded, then turned to his first royal wizard, “and as for you, Janus, I was saying that you should calm down. I will not allow you to pursue Flea alone. It’s too dangerous.”
“My liege…” the wizard began.
“Where have your mathematic skills gone?” Lai snapped, “he’s got five assassins, how do you plan to survive that on your own?”
Janus shook his head, glaring at the floor. He could hear Slash mutter in a low voice, idly guessing that he was reporting to Ozzie.
“I can’t let him move this battle from the personal level,” the blue-hair growled, “he has never attacked anyone else like that before… not after Thomas’ death.”
“Because you wouldn’t let the assassins touch anyone else,” king Guardia said in a softer tone, “but I know what you mean. However, I will not allow you to go alone.”
His gaze turned to those he addressed next.
“Glenn, Lai. You go with him.”
“Yes my liege,” the two replied, something in their voices saying that they had expected it – or hoped.
The king gave Schala a brief smile as she placed her hand on her brother’s shoulder again.
“You and Sir Cered are not within my jurisdiction,” he said, glancing downwards for a moment, “and neither is Molor.”
“Worry not, Your Majesty,” Schala nodded, “I have no plans of staying out of this battle.”
She turned her head to look at Cered, who grimly nodded.
Molor didn’t even bother to reply.
“Schala…” Janus begun to protest, but she cut him off.
“No Janus, I am coming with you,” she resolutely said with a force that would not be questioned.
Her brother opened his mouth again, but seeing the steel resolve in her eyes his tired mind gave up.
“Then I can allow you to leave, Janus,” king Guardia decreed.
“Yes, my liege,” the wizard numbly said, finding no space to argue though ‘Placing Schala in front of an assassin’ still was among the things he didn’t feel a burning desire to do.
The king nodded and opened his mouth, but his order to send people away so that plans could be discussed less openly was disrupted by Slash.
“Excuse me, Your Majesty,” the purple Mystic said with a glint of weariness in his eyes, “Skeeza says that she wants a word with your wizard.”
Frog bristled slightly, though it seemed to be more reflex than anything else. King Guardia hesitated, looking at Janus for this decision. Exchanging glances with Lai and Schala, the wizard finally nodded.
“Very well,” he said, holding out his right hand to Slash.
“Delighted,” the monster dryly commented and grabbed the offer.
He glanced upwards while Schala’s hand slid off her brother’s shoulder.
“Get us out of here,” left the pink-purple lips.
Janus felt something warm wrap itself around his left ankle half a second before the flashing light of teleportation enveloped the two men. As it flashed away he looked down, already knowing what he’d see.
‘Still need support,’ Molor mildly chastised, gracefully letting go of the wizard’s leg to curl up on the dark stone floor.
The wizard’s lips twitched slightly, humor-less.
“That’s the wrong magic-user, Slash,” Ozzie’s voice cut in, acidly.
Janus looked up, but the king of the Mystics had turned his attention to Molor.
“And now he’s spawning, I see,” the toadish beast dryly added.
“Skeeza’s orders, Ozzie,” Slash coldly replied, “and don’t blame me for that pale caterpillar, he followed us.”
Molor rose up until his head was at the same level as Janus’ and Slash’s.
“Don’t tempt me to eat you,” he hissed, “it would be a pain for Janus to heal my metabolism.”
“Not only that should you try, I assure you,” Slash snarled back, their heads almost clashing as they engaged a glaring contest.
Janus stepped away from the two, idly rubbing his forehead with two fingers. Ozzie glowered at him, several imps, freelancers and a pair of naga-ettes suspiciously standing around the floating king and watching the wizard’s every move. The room was rather big and lacked windows, but lit candles on the wall and in a somewhat irregular circle on the middle of the floor lit up most things that needed to be seen. It was within the circle that the two warriors and the snake had emerged. Janus walked out of it while Slash and Molor continued to stare angrily at each other. Their personal chemistry didn’t really seem to work out.
“What is it?” the wizard tiredly said, lowering his hand as he stopped just outside of the circle.
Ozzie angrily opened his mouth, but his wife’s voice came in between.
“The men are, as usual, idiots.”
Janus turned his head left and raised his eyebrows as he saw the queen of Mystics. Her flight was somewhat insecure, she seemed to stagger slightly through the air. And her right arm was in a sling, the hand limply hanging. Another naga-ette crawled after her, doing her best to keep the climbing-happy heir of the Mystic throne from crawling into her pink hair. The child hadn’t grown much since the wizard had last seen him, and he vaguely recalled his guardians talking about Mystics and their slow aging. It was hardly enough to keep his interest though, as his state of mind still was rather wobbly.
“What happened?” he asked, trying to get a grip of himself though he clearly heard the weary tone of his voice.
Skeeza probably noticed, but she ignored it completely as she stopped beside her husband and spoke.
“Flea sent us a message, and I got in the way when the ghost assassin relaying it tried to get out,” she summed up, “fell down a stair.”
“He told us to go to hell and attacked you!” Ozzie growled.
The queen rolled her bead eyes.
“Fine, he did tell us to burn, but I got myself in the way. The poor thing was just trying to leave, get it through your thick skull.”
A bell in the back of Janus’ mind started ringing, kicking at the bitter mist that still remained and clouded his thoughts.
“I don’t care!” Ozzie harshly snarled, waving his hands furiously, “Flea is a goddamn traitor!”
The Mystics muttered among themselves but didn’t dare to make an input in the discussion. Janus glanced over his shoulder as he heard sensed that Molor moved, finding that Slash had left the staring contest and now was glaring at the floor with his lips almost pressed to a normal human size.
‘Think,’ Molor frowned, ‘something wrong. I know too little of them.’
Janus fought to mentally slap himself out of the depression that still kept its chilly grip of him. He was better than this and he knew it.
‘… That’s it!’
“Flea was depressed…” he thoughtfully said, breaking through the mist.
The monsters’ beady, white, sharp, small and cold eyes turned on him, almost too quickly for people who heard such information about a traitor. The wizard could have sworn that he saw a glint of hope in Ozzie’s eyes before they turned colder again after the surprise.
“He appeared more dead than alive,” Janus evaluated, “when I told him that he had won, he seemed close to a breakdown.”
“Suits him right!” the king snarled with a snort.
“Shut up, Ozzie,” Skeeza snapped and turned to Janus, “really now… I’m not sure why Flea doesn’t want anything more to do with the rest of us but if he’s acting like that there must be something more to this. Not that we know much.”
Her eyes narrowed.
“Slash reported that he had five assassins with him, is that true?” she demanded.
Janus rubbed his temple with a sigh at the thought of how lovely the battle would be.
“Yes… you know of the ghost creature and the mantis, then there was an invisible one, a giant lizard and a werewolf,” he reported.
“Fantastic…” Ozzie growled, rubbing his head.
His glare at Janus was rather tired this time.
“Do you realize that he means business now?” the monster asked.
“What do you mean?” Janus frowned.
“There has never been more than one assassin at the time before,” Slash grimly said, crossing his arms, “we kept telling him to send several at you at the same time, but no, no. He kept turning those who survived back into their original shapes, making a new one for each that failed.”
The wizard slowly nodded. The information completely failed to surprise him – he had almost guessed as much long ago. It had just been a game to Flea.
“But now he really does want to kill me,” he concluded.
He paused, bringing his hand to his face.
“Or rather, he was attacking queen Leene to make me suffer.”
“Well, you did try to blow him up,” Skeeza somewhat dryly said.
Janus snarled and let his hand fall.
“I’m going to kill that bastard!”
“He doesn’t choose his targets well if I may say so,” Molor commented, his forked tongue dancing.
“Killing Flea would be Slash’s current task,” Skeeza said before her husband even could consider speaking, “but we can’t send him off to fight Flea with five assassins.”
“I have allies,” Janus shortly said, his hands clenching.
“That’s good, but just to make sure…”
Slash wished that he could have been swallowed by the floor when his queen set her merciless gaze on him. Molor slapped his own forehead with the tip of his tail. Only Janus was taken by surprise as he had been lost in thought, but he was hardly happy either.

Everyone that were still left in the royal chamber looked up at the flash of light that reflected in the shards of glass that a servant was assembling from the floor with a broom. He was not the only one to jump.
Leene was now seated on the bed, the king sitting beside her worriedly. They would have to sleep somewhere else with the window smashed, of course. The room was already rather chilly with the night winds given free entrance through the hole.
“How did it go?” Schala quickly asked first of all.
Then she noticed someone and tilted her head slightly in hesitance.
Frog fought down a groan, but Lai openly smacked her forehead.
“Don’t tell me…” she growled.
“Yes,” Janus said in a tone that suggested that he had already vainly tried to argue against the whole thing, “he’s coming with us.”
“And don’t you think for one second that I like it,” Slash snarled.
“Don’t worry, I think we’re in agreement,” Lai dryly said.

Chapter 11, Not what it seems

“There isn’t much to plan,” Slash said, raising his hands in an irritated movement, “he knows that we’re coming, he’ll be ready. We might as well teleport to the island.”
“Not tonight,” Schala cut in, placing her hand on the wizard’s shoulder with a determined look, “we just came here, we need to rest. Especially Janus.”
“Now, now, I’m not seven anymore…” the little brother said with an almost helpless smile.
“She’ll keep regarding you as a little kid no matter what happens, as the rest of us probably should as well,” Lai snorted with a smirk.
Slash heavily leaned his back against the back wall, below the broken window. That was as far away from the humans and Molor that he could possibly get. He wasn’t scared of them, but he didn’t like being among them either.
“And you are?” he grunted at Schala, the right side of his forehead sporting a frown as if he’d be raising an eyebrow if he’d had any.
“Schala, Janus’ older sister,” she replied, causing a small spasm to rip at Slash’ left eye though he’d probably guessed that it was something like that, “this is Cered and Molor.”
“This is going to give me a headache…” the Mystic swordmaster muttered under his breath, rubbing his forehead.
Janus was one inch from dropping a comment, but realized that nobody would know what he meant when talking about stupid headaches.
When he considered it though, now that he had had a handful of minutes to clear his head – and a cold shower of an order from Skeeza to wake him up in the form of Slash’s unwanted help – he realized that having that particular headache might have been a great advantage. But he also realized that though he could call his teachers through the dimensions, calling to the other side of death would be a completely different thing. Getting another Flea’s advice would without doubt help; but if the spirit wasn’t watching what was going on, the wizard knew that he couldn’t count on reestablishing contact. He could hardly count on his oldest mirror to step outside, look upwards and shout at the sky’s inhabitants to lend a hand to another dimension.
Pressing the image from his mind he straightened up, trying to get a grip of himself.
“Alright, jokes aside,” he said and looked around, “listen now. There are five assassins, apart from the mantis you all saw, there’s a lizard, wolf, ghost creature and an invisible one. And all I know about that is that it seems to have at least four arms.”
He directed the information mainly to his sister and Cered, who hadn’t heard it nor seen the beasts before. The two nodded in silence, letting him continue.
“The thing is that they are all almost invincible when it comes to magic, the best you can hope for is to push them backwards with it and use shields to parry,” the wizard went on, “so weapons are needed. I’d rather see you using a bladed staff like I do, Schala, but I don’t have a spare one.”
“Don’t worry about me, I’ve had time to practice,” the sister assured with a slight smile.
Janus held back a sigh; he did not want to bring her along. The mere idea of the assassins harming her sent a taste of bile through his throat. But the new, brave glistening in her eyes quite clearly informed him that she would not step back for anything he could possibly say.
He was of course worried about Lai too, but in her case he knew of the abilities and trusted them – as with the strength of Molor and Frog. He had little doubt in Cered either.
“Fine,” he said, avoiding the argument he didn’t want to start with Schala, “we can hardly count on them giving us a chance to stick to any plan they can figure out, but we can try.”
Janus looked up at Slash. If they were to be allies, they’d have to try to at least communicate or they’d be stumbling over each other.
“Any ideas?” the wizard asked, somehow managing to keep his voice neutral.
The swordsman pursed his mouth at the idea to hold a war-council with humans, but stood up straight to remove his back from the wall.
“You know them best after all,” he somewhat dryly told the wizard, but then nodded, “however, the only thing we can do is decide which one of them whom of us will try to concentrate on. We can safely assume that they will be together, as Flea isn’t stupid enough to stay with his idiot one-at-the-time tactics in his situation. That much I will acknowledge him.”
Though he tried to hide it, the bitterness was apparent in Slash’s voice as he spoke of the traitor. Part of Janus was hesitantly trying to look closer into the Mystic’s obvious distaste for the idea of killing one of their own, and trying to figure out why Flea was acting so strangely. However, a bigger part of him was screaming for revenge for the attack on Leene.
“The lizard is as I understand equipped with tough hide,” Slash continued, “and though a little slow, the tail and the claws are highly dangerous.”
“Yes, that’s it,” Janus agreed.
“How many legs does this one have?” the Mystic asked with a roll of his eyes.
“I will handle that beast,” Frog cut in, folding his arms across his chest.
Janus hesitated for a moment, considering the offer. Then he nodded.
“Very well. The invisible one would be the greatest trouble, I believe…”
“Mine,” Molor said without a doubt, his thin tongue tasting the air reassuringly.
They soon got it down to the grouping Schala-ghost, Cered-wolf, and Lai-backup since she didn’t use melee weapons.
The mantis and Flea remained.
Slash and Janus intently watched each other, the air between them almost sparkling. The wizard had with little trouble guessed from the swordsman’s badly hidden dislike that the Mystic didn’t really want to kill his old friend, but he’d die before he admitted it.
As none of them would make a clear offer, Janus stepped up on the middle ground.
“Whoever gets close to Flea first,” he said, testing.
Slash gave a dry half-smile.
“As much as I abhor the lack of precision,” he said, “fine.”
Translation: “Deal.”
“Then we’ll attack, when?” the wizard offered further.
Without hesitating, Slash answered.
“Sometime early in the morning. Any upper hand we can achieve counts, and Flea has always been a late sleeper. I doubt he’ll have changed much in that regard.”
“Fair enough.”
It wasn’t without a deal of irritated relief that Slash teleported out after the decision to get ready for battle by sunrise. He was dearly looking forwards to the next sunset.
King Guardia stood, giving his wife a hand. None of them could claim to have been active in the discussion, but after what had happened earlier that evening it had felt much safer to stay close by the best warriors of the land.
“I shall stay on guard, my liege,” Frog announced, bowing briefly.
“You will need your sleep, Glenn,” queen Leene kindly said, though in a still somewhat hoarse voice.
“To rest while my heart is worried for thy safety is not possible, I fear,” the guardian immovably stated.
Janus was about to comment on the fact that Flea attacking again hardly was believable due to the “come and get me” taunt, but he realized that the crossbody was a little less than trustworthy. And anyway, he didn’t have the energy to argue.
“We will spend the night in the healing quarters,” king Guardia said, smiling a bit at Frog, “you can sleep in the same room, thus you both guard and rest.”
“As thee wish, Your Majesty,” the knight accepted.
“I will stay on guard as well, my liege,” Janus said, making a somewhat sluggish salute.
He was regarded by all for a moment.
“Isn’t it just South you salute to?” Lai somewhat gently said and grabbed his arm, “come now you big baby, you’re going to sleep or I’ll get you drunk.”
Schala froze as she reached for her brother’s other arm, giving Lai an incredulous look.
“Drunk?” the princess repeated, “Janus?”
“Wouldn’t be the first time!” Lai smirked, ignoring her fiancé’s groan.
“As fair as their looks appear to the eye, I am beginning to believe that women’s souls are darker than a man can ever perceive…” Cered murmured to Molor and Frog, who happened to be closest.
He got an amused hiss from the snake and a brief, warning headshake from the amphibian. Then he got to feel that Lai had heard him, via a slap to the head.

The humans were trying to put up a brave face in the castle, but they couldn’t really fight back the grim shadow hanging above them all. This battle didn’t promise to get easy.
Slash and his clansmen were less secretive.
“Why, Skeeza!?” the swordsman exploded as he returned to the fortress, unable to contain his irritation any more, “isn’t it enough that I have to kill Flea, what have I done to earn your wrath?!”
Suicide like arguing with his queen was normally not part of his disciplined mind, but he had built frustration for a few days and had enough.
Despite the time that had passed since his second disappearance, the other Mystics hadn’t moved away from the magical circle of candles but patiently waited for their general to return.
“We need to keep an eye on those hot-heads,” Skeeza calmly replied as Slash stepped out of the teleportation area.
“When they’re doing our work-”
“Look me in the eyes and tell me you want Flea dead!”
Slash opened his mouth but the words were stuck in his throat. Skeeza whirled to her husband as fast as her condition allowed.
“That goes for you too!”
“Skeeza!” Ozzie snarled, but his grimace was constricted of hesitance.
“Admit it already!” the queen snapped, “damn, you’re all idiots! Idiots!”
“How can we forgive him for attacking you and Leene?” the king roared, the smaller monsters scooting away from him in shock.
“For the last time, Ozzie…”
“Fine! But he attacked Leene in front of half the castle, we could have gotten the war started again for that!”
Before Skeeza could retort, her husband pressed a hand against his face and shook his head.
“By Lizard, I know you’re right, but he can’t come back now. He could have before, but now he’s gotten himself too far within Lardon’s dungeon! Himself and his pets!”
“But why is he doing this, and why now?” Skeeza snarled, but it was in a much softer tone than before, “he’s been gone for a year and never made a sound, never let us know he was still alive!”
“Lardon take me if I know…”
“There is no way that I can save Flea, if that was your plan, Skeeza,” Slash darkly said and crossed his arms, “I’d have to fight off those berserking humans and the snake. Janus and the amphibian wants to drink Flea’s blood after the assault on Leene, and Lai is no better. Don’t get me started on the others.”
Skeeza sighed, shaking her head.
“You must understand that I am sorry, Slash, but you’re our only hope. And Flea’s, too.”
At that, the swordsman just sighed. Deeply.

Lightning bolts tore through the dark air, illuminating every last crack in the walls of the huge cave. The whips of electricity exploded as soon as they happened to touch each other, raining embers over the area.
The assassins nervously huddled together in a corner, or as cornerish as was possible since the area was rather rounded.
Flea’s hands fell and he staggered backwards, shaking his head. The power of rage was draining, which allowed him to realize that wasting his powers would do him more harm than good, especially since it didn’t even manage to ease the tight knot that was his mind.
His ragged breathing was the only sound heard apart from the distant whispering of the waves and the wind in the trees far above the cave. The darkness engulfed everything after the bright light had been extinguished.
Clutching his throat, Flea pressed his eyes shut and tried to ignore the metallic taste of blood in his mouth. It took him several seconds to realize that it came from the wounds on his lips, born from his frantic chewing on the soft flesh.
He spat in disgust, trying to wipe his mouth with the back of a hand. It didn’t help, but he wasn’t sure if it was just his mind playing tricks on him. To top it off, pain shot through his jaw as he touched the torn lower lip.
Trying to calm his ripped nerves enough to remember how to heal, the magician turned around and heavily leaned his right hand against the wall he had been standing by. As far back in the cave as possible. He felt somewhat safer there.
But his head refused to stop spinning, and after a few moments he gave up trying to organize it. He knew it would explode again at any given chance, and he was giving himself lots of thoughts useful for lighting the fuse. The taste of blood wasn’t helping.
As he opened his eyes and looked up at the cave around him, he involuntarily shuddered. The empty space spread out above him, the dark ceiling and walls rising like demon’s wings in their enormity. The hole high up there, the only source of light, seemed to be a coldly glowing eye that searched for a victim. And Flea felt very, very small.
Somehow, he never managed to figure out how, his close to hysterical brain remembered how to teleport. With a weak shriek the magician fled in a blast of light, reappearing in one of the much smaller caverns which connected to the main one via the tunnel to the surface. This one was the one he had been sleeping in lately; a heap of soft spruce twigs with a blanket covering them laid on the floor. But Flea wouldn’t sleep, he couldn’t sleep.
Punching the far back wall in a desperate attempt to satisfy the devouring whirlwind in his soul he only managed to draw more blood from his skin, tearing up his fingers and muscles.
More blood, more blood, wouldn’t there be enough tomorrow? Or tonight? They’d come for him, soon, soon…
He could make peace with the mental picture of a pair of flaming red eyes that burned with hatred, and the heavy, gleaming Masamune. But the knowledge that the Slasher was calling for his blood hammered at Flea’s writhing mind.
‘Why him, why Slash, why them, how could… I didn’t mean…’
Guardia was his born enemy, the kingdom and all its servants. But when his own people turned on him once more, Flea shattered.
He jumped as he heard a soft sound, but relaxed back in the tensed state from before as he recognized the gentle steps.
“Leave me alone!” he croaked and tried to push the furry paw off his shoulder.
“I don’t think that being alone is what you need, Flea,” the wolf beast carefully said in her snarling voice.
Flea wanted to reply, but he couldn’t.
One by one the assassins sneaked in, even the ghost that had managed to mess up so completely in the Mystics’ castle. And eventually they got their master to sleep, tightly curled up with his guardians resting around him.

Chapter 12, Flea’s Fury

Not long after sunrise, Kada’s ears twitched and her golden eyes shot open a moment later.
Teleport magic!
Flea just muttered something and wrapped his graying robes tighter around him, sleeping too deeply to have noticed the disturbance.
But the other four assassins stirred. However, their agitated growling was cut short as Kada landed her paw on Syreth’s sharp mouth. The mantis’ black eyes oogled her in surprise, but accepted being silent at the wolf’s warning wave.
With a quick glance around, Kada pressed her free paw against her snout in a silencing sign and then pointed upwards. Her friends skeptically watched her, but she shook her head. Hesitantly, they let her go as she stood up without a sound and sneaked out.
The werewolf creature slipped up the tunnel outside, starting to run as fast as her transformed body was able to as soon as she could. And she was quite happy that her new form allowed her far greater speed than her normal “sorcerer” body would have been able to offer.
Ah yes, she was a sorcerer, but it was more an assembling name for her sort and cared very little for details such as true sex.
She was fast, but the tunnel still seemed far too long to her. After what in her view appeared as several long, precious minutes she finally reached the stair and the horizontal door that lead up to the ground. Knowing that the hinges were questionable she opened it with as much care as she dared to, afraid of wasting more time. And praying to Magician that she wouldn’t be met with a blade as she got out.
It seemed that her wish was heeded as she glanced out through the first small crack and saw nothing. Opening the door further she crawled outside and closed the opening behind her. Quickly she straightened up and spread her long ears, with her eyes scanning the crumbling, overgrown remains of the castle walls around her and trying to determine where the intruders were.
The wind decided to be on her side and carry the distant voices to her sharp ears from the east, though the speaking ones cautiously talked as quietly as possible.
“… Was in a hurry, my mind is rather blurred.”
“It’s here somewhere… harder to tell when everything’s ruined.”
Kada’s lips twitched a little in a dry, humorless smile as she heard the acid tone of Slash’s mutterings. She silently moved towards the sound, making sure that there were remnants of walls between her and the intruders.
“’Twas nothing but a fault of thy own!” the frog’s voice hissed.
“No, your wizard and his teachers were the ones summoning the earthquake if I recall correctly!” the Mystic snarled back while looking around, surely for the entrance door to the underground tunnel.
“To preserve their comrades and him, if I may add!”
“I believed that causing earthquakes were beyond human capabilities,” a hissing voice calmly intervened.
Kada peeked though a small crack in a wall to see the magician hunters. She blinked at their numbers, and especially at the pure white snake. That hadn’t been a part of the equation…
A blue-haired woman looked at Janus just then, frowning. Not only did their hair have the same color; even though Kada didn’t look too close she noticed that they had similar features. That the woman also carried a battle staff didn’t make a wider difference.
Janus didn’t even return her gaze, but hid his wince by turning his head as if searching for the entrance.
“We’ll talk about that later…” he muttered.
Kada didn’t bother to wait. They were a bit distracted by their argument right then, but soon they’d be completely focused again. She took in a deep breath.
And stepped aside, into sight.
“Look out!” the first one to spot her hissed, a young human male with red hair reminding mostly of a bush held up by a headband.
A pair of thin swords flashed into his hands from his back, and his weapons weren’t the last to be drawn. Kada quickly raised her paws, taking a step back before the six intruders had come to the decision to attack her.
It was easier to think now. The first time she had seen the royal wizard in her new body, the only thing her brain had been able to conjure was a mantra going “killkillkillkillkillkillkill!”, but now after the adjustments Flea had made since he had left the Mystics she was able to control herself.
“Hold up!” she harshly snarled, trying not to show all her teeth in order to seem a little less intimidating, “I’m alone!”
They hesitated, but didn’t seem too happy to do so. Distrustful eyes watched her as she let her hairy arms slowly fall.
“Listen to me,” she said, unable to keep her voice from growling.
“What do you want?” Slash coldly demanded, “where is Flea?”
Kada shook her head with a snort.
“I know that you won’t do it, but I beg of you to leave him be,” she said in a low voice.
“We can’t do that,” Janus said, his words laced with ice.
“No surprise.”
The werewolf held up her right paw.
“At least listen.”
“Make it quick, furball,” Lai snapped, her fingers drumming against her belt of daggers.
Kada forced herself to ignore the insult, grunting to swallow the frustration. She knew it was hopeless as she already had stated, but besides fighting there was nothing else she could do. It could be the only hope, if the traps failed they’d… not even if they worked it would help, not in the long run. If this troop failed then two armies would be next, sent by even further enraged kings. Flea knew that too, but he had appeared more afraid of this assault.
“Flea didn’t want to betray the Mystics,” the werewolf said, knowing her master probably would make her a necklace of her own fangs if he knew what she was doing, “what happened to Skeeza was a mistake on Gyde’s, the specter’s, part and he would answer for it if allowed.”
“‘Tis the shadow of queen Leene’s blood on Flea’s hands which call us to battle!” Frog snarled, changing his grip of the Masamune warningly.
Slash glared briefly at the green general, but let it slide for the moment.
Kada held back a wish to sigh.
“Flea loves the Mystics, but he has been angry with you for a long time,” she said, watching the monster of the troop as a new frown appeared on his forehead, “he didn’t trust you anymore. He knew it was a mistake to attack the human general and the new wizard when they fell into his reach, but his hatred for Janus made him ignore it. But as he sent Gyde to relay a message to the Mystics, it was more an attempt to let you know he was alive so that you could stop him before he lost control though he probably didn’t understand that himself.”
Well, that sounded really sensible. She quickly went on to avoid comments; they all looked highly skeptical but at least they were listening for whatever it was worth.
“But when Gyde accidentally hurt Skeeza, Flea knew who was going to get the blame. He never admitted that he wanted to return, he was too proud. But it was still a hope, that died when Gyde returned and had to tell what had happened. There was nothing left for him then, apart from the blame he placed on Janus.”
“He could have returned before and we wouldn’t have turned him away, but it’s a bit too late now indeed,” Slash growled through his teeth, “he got himself into this mess and he will pay for it!”
He paused, the frown growing deeper.
“But answer me this, why was he mad at us, why didn’t he return?”
“It was whe-”
But Kada was cut off by a shriek and a blurred vision of pink and gray-white, which dove at her from her right. The walls had hidden Flea until then, and now as the werewolf stumbled aside he set off a teleportation spell to bring both of them away from the intruders.
“Damn it!”
Slash was on the other side of the wall almost sooner than anyone else had managed to take a single step. But it was too late of course, the spell had worked long before even the swordsman could arrive.
“Bring us in, Janus!” the monster called, furiously slapping at one last wisp of magic light.
“What of traps?” Lai warned while she passed through the opening where Kada had stood, following the first wizard of Guardia.
Frog just leapt over the broken wall though it was three times his height.
“He seemed a little too distraught to… argh!”
Slash’s voice turned into a wordless growl and he pinched the bridge of his nose.
“I don’t care even if he’s been eating glowing mushrooms and decides to blame that!” he snarled under his breath, more to himself than anything else.
Janus, who had been moving his hand back and forth above the ground to ensure the teleportation track, heard the monster but pretended not to. He was himself doing his best to ignore the hesitant voice in the back of his head. It was irritating, but too weak. He was angry.
“Hold up, are you sure about this?”
Schala’s words brought him out of his thoughts. She stood in the opening between the two walls, leaning slightly on her staff with a concerned look in her eyes while Molor silently slithered past her feet like a river of pearls.
Slash refused to turn around to look at her.
“I’ve been fighting Flea since I arrived here, Schala,” Janus said, fighting not to let his frustration at the pecking hesitance show as he spoke to his sister, “he’s caused nothing but grief. He went too far when he attacked my friends and the queen, I cannot forgive him for that.”
Schala looked aside at Frog, who grimly shook his head. The one who had cursed him and helped murder Cyrus, tortured his other friend and tried to murder his liege deserved no mercy in the knight’s eyes. And had never done so. Peace with the Mystics had never quite fitted into Glenn’s bitter soul.
Lai pursed her mouth, similar thoughts apparent in her mind.
The princess of Zeal looked back at her brother, who’s ruby eyes were set on her intently. For a moment he looked at Cered however. It appeared that he did not feel a need to question the snake.
“If you…”
Cered shook his head, cutting off the wizard’s words.
“I shall come with thee, worry not.”
“As will I,” Schala said and folded her left hand around the staff as well, “I rather wondered if you would.”
“There is no choice here, not for us,” Janus said, shaking his head.
He straightened up.
“I’m teleporting then, so prepare yourself. Ready?”
As he had received the simple nods as answers, he raised his staff and reached out his mind for the magical footprints that Flea and the werewolf’s escape had left behind. In a flash, the six left the island’s surface.
The dusk of the huge cavern was hardly silent. Because Flea was shouting at the cowering wolf, the other visible assassins standing a bit to their master’s left, apparently unsure what to do.
“… can just write my memoirs while I’m rotting in my grave you hairy basta-”
Flea spun leftwards, at the light flashing around the intruders. Light reflected in the blades that hungered for his flesh.
The assassins were between him and the invaders before the skipped heartbeat had passed.
For a moment the two sides just stared at each other.
The thunk and the zipping sound as Janus released the metal hidden in his staff echoed through the cave hall.
Slash’s left arm slammed into the wizard’s chest and sent him half a step backwards. But he had almost expected the restraining demand.
“Why were you angry with us, enough to stay in hiding, Flea?” the swordsman questioned, in a dark voice.
The werewolf pinched her eyes closed as she felt the burning gaze at her neck. But it moved away, nailing itself onto the purple general.
“I think I had fully valid reasons, Slash,” Flea spoke in the same dead voice as he had used in Guardia castle.
“Humor me, because I see none.”
At those words, rage flared up in the magician’s rose quarts eyes and his face turned into a grimacing mask of fury.
“How dare you, how can you?!”
His voice even drowned the hissing and growling of the assassins, dark lightning bolts crawling around his fingers.
Simultaneously, Schala and Janus threw up a magic shield to fight back the explosion of power that appeared guaranteed, but a head-on attack was not what they should have prepared for. The real assault was silent until it hit.
“What the hell?!” Lai shrieked, each syllable more distant than the last.
Her friends and Slash spun around in time to see her fly upwards, pulled by the black threads that encircled her arms and waist. The fire flowing from her hands did little more than illuminate the huge black spider web she was ripped into high up there. Her cussing was cut off as the threads crawled over her face to cover the angry lips. It didn’t stop her from continuing to struggle, of course.
“Let her doouff!”
Janus’ staff hit the floor and so did he, with the full weight of the invisible assassin pinning him down. As he was on his stomach he had few means to fight back but the well-hidden beast sprung away quickly as several weapons and fangs blindly aimed for him. The wizard rolled over and stood almost in the same moment, holding out his hand for his staff…
Just in time to hear Glenn shout in rage and surprise.
The Masamune was torn out of the knight’s hands by the same kind of threads that had captured Lai moments earlier, and which now encircled the green warrior as well. He was placed on his companion’s right side, several feet away from her however. His sword was left hanging below him.
The assassins drew closer as the remaining warriors turned towards Flea again, the intruders’ eyes shifting suspiciously all the while however. Diverted attention would not win them any favors and they knew it, but it was hard to focus on one danger only.
This would normally be a scene where Flea laughed or at least smirked, but what could be seen of him over the ghost’s shoulder only showed the same bitter fury from before.
“Cered!” Molor called in alarm, giving his friend a chance to throw himself aside.
The threads barely missed the man from Garadia, Schala stumbling in the other direction to get away from the hundreds of thin ropes. Janus grabbed her shoulder as she came within reach, pulling her up behind him for whatever good that would do. Swinging his staff at the threads proved to little surprise useless; they were just thrown aside but then shot after Cered again.
Molor got himself in the way, hissing wildly and rising up until he almost stood on the tip of his tail. Now that was a sight that even got the mantis backing a couple of steps. The red-haired warrior got to his feet behind the snake, cautiously holding his katanas ready even if he had a feeling they’d help very little.
“Laohn sha nebal!” Schala called, sending one of her glowing half moons through the air.
It hit the threads, and though the crescent didn’t catch all it nailed a bunch of them to the ground as it buried itself in the stone.
Flea’s eyes thinned.
“You’ll have to teach me that,” Janus muttered with a moment’s small, grim smile.
Schala’s returned smile was cut short as she felt something around her waist. Threads had slithered over the floor, unseen.
“Oh no…”
She was ripped backwards, desperately reaching for her brother as another few ropes tore the staff out of her grip.
Janus dove forwards, stretching his right hand after his sister’s twitching fingers. Vaguely, he felt Molor hit the ground and shoot forwards as fast as he could, carelessly running over the twitching, caught threads. Those that were still free tried to catch him but he tore himself free and continued, Cered dashing forwards by his side. But even as they moved, Schala was pulled out of Janus’ reach though their fingers briefly touched.
“Look out, you idiots!” Slash shouted.
He slapped his own forehead with a groan as Cered’s protesting shout pierced the air half a second later.
‘This is what I get for teaming up with humans. Thank you so much Skeeza, I swear that I will haunt you.’
With a hiss Molor threw himself after Cered. Which Flea seemed to have counted correctly on. Janus rushed towards his violently twisting friend as even the snake got caught by several bunches of threads, but the lizard swept up in the human’s way and he was forced to leap backwards to avoid the whipping tail. Even as he did, the wizard saw the other visible assassins dash forwards and around until the last two remaining intruders were surrounded. According to the moving sand on the ground, the invisible one was filling the hole to Slash’s left.
Janus caught the swordsman’s mildly said vexed gaze, the crimson eyes not very joyful either.
Brave last stand, hm?
"Well, you know Janus, it's kind of funny," Slash dryly said as the man and monster backed up against each other cautiously, "ever since I saw you the first time I have wanted to see you die, I just didn't expect us to go together."
The wizard didn't bother to answer, his eyes darting between glares and pained glances as they switched from the assassins to his hanging family and friends.
"Who wants the honor?" Flea coldly said.
Where glee and scorn would have been proper was only chilly rage, as it had been for a long time now. Perhaps there was still something that could help…
“Answer my question, Flea!” Slash growled, knowing he was probably asking for it but seeing no other hope but pushing his luck, “why did you leave?!”
Flea’s already pale face whitened even further in fury.
“You… have… some… nerve…!” he hissed through his teeth, hardly moving his lips at all.
“No, I really don’t understand!” the swordsman snarled, trying to keep track of the assassins and their master at the same time.
“Stop pretending to be stupid!”
Flea was shivering with anger now, his fists clenched so hard that the fingers almost broke.
“You sold me off you bastard! You and all the others!” he screamed on top of his lungs, the words nearly incomprehensible by the force of his voice.
What?” Slash and Janus said almost simultaneously, brought slightly off balance by the accusation.
The magician took half a step backwards, trying to catch his breath. In a calmer voice, though it was colder than ice and the eyes was petrifying with hatred, he spoke again.
“I knew Janus was probably stronger than me,” he hissed, “but one of the reasons I still dared to fight him was that I believed that if I failed, somebody would still avenge me.”
“Oh hell…” the wizard murmured as the realization hit him.
“But as I woke up, hidden,” Flea went on, seething, “all I see is you and a group of warriors calmly, without a scratch, talking peace with the man who you thought killed me.”
Slash shook his head, trying to make sense of the idiocy of it all.
“We were loosing, damn you!” he finally called out in frustration, “all of us were on our knees when Janus suddenly decided to be friendly and healed us to…”
“Shut up!” Flea shouted, “I don’t care about your half-assed excuses!”
The assassins drew closer, growling.
“Didn’t you see anything of it?” Janus snarled at the werewolf as she bared her claws.
“No! Traitor!” the mantis hissed, slashing the air a couple of yards from Slash.
And the wolf shook her head, growling. The time for diplomacy had run out. All that remained was battle to the death.

Chapter 13, Turncoat Allies

Janus clenched his jaw tightly, the grip of his staff whitening. One would have at least thought that the wolf would have offered help since she had tried diplomacy earlier, but it seemed like the only thing on her mind was to help her master.
Glaring at Flea and then throwing another desperate glance upwards at the prisoners, the wizard’s eyes thinned.
‘Slash,’ he whispered with his mind, ‘I have an idea.’
He paused and elaborated for less than a second.
'Well,’ he added, bitterly, ‘a theory...'
'I think I liked the first name better,’ Slash said with little trust, ‘theories are not for battle, that's knowledge.'
'But I always use theories; I never have time for anything solid,' Janus said with sardonic, humorless humor.
Slash mentally sighed, very deeply.
'Fine whatever,’ he mentally growled, ‘I have no suggestions. Get us out of here with your theory.'
'I'll do my best. But it'll be mostly up to you to make it work.'
'Suddenly I feel that I understand why the amphibian smashed your face after the treaty.'
Janus held back a wish to grimace. But he didn’t have time, the assassins were slowly moving closer, cautiously still but preparing for the attack.
‘Alright. We need to get Ozzie here to make my theory work,' he grimly said.
Slash threw a brief glance over his shoulder.
'How in the blazes would that fix anything?' the Mystic questioned.
'I’ll explain, but we need him to get here. Any idea how?'
'... I swear, I'll see you die,' the swordsman snarled, frustrated, ‘fine, I’ll try.’
"If you want a showdown Flea, then we're not doing it right!" he called aloud.
A red eyebrow went up.
"And just what do you mean with that?" Flea snapped.
"If you blame me for letting you down, you should blame Ozzie as well."
Flea looked almost amused as he shifted his gaze to Janus.
"And what are you pulling this time, wizard?" he asked straight out.
"Why do you always blame me, it's the Mystic's code of honor as far as I know," the human warrior defended himself, trying to sound clueless through the tension.
'Friend, this plan?' Molor sent with deep worry, though the net that wrapped itself around him almost blocked even his link to Janus.
'Try not to worry, but I have no other ideas...’ Janus whispered back, clenching his jaw even further, ‘I'll get us out of this, I swear.'
'I hope. Insane...'
Janus gritted his teeth.
'God, if I live tomorrow I'll hate myself in the morning...' he thought to himself.
"Are we doing this like we should or not?" Slash demanded.
Flea smirked, but it lacked all spirit. He looked as deeply indifferent as he sounded.
"Oh whatever," he said and waved a bit with his hand, "go get him if you want, Janus. I don't expect you to run away."
"I said I wasn't..."
"Do I have any bloody reason at all to believe you? Get him before I change my mind."
The wizard glanced up at his allies, who all stared back as well as they could from their positions.
'I'm sorry...'
He pinched his eyes shut and murmured the needed spell, disappearing in a flash of light. Seconds later he returned, with a very angered green monster.
"... Can’t do... damn!" Ozzie snarled, glaring at the assassins and their coldly watching leader.
"This is about us four, Flea," Janus growled, ignoring the king of the Mystics completely, "leave them – " he pointed at the prisoners " – and those out of it."
At the last part of his speech he motioned at the assassins.
'Listen you two, we only have one chance!' he hissed to Slash and Ozzie in the meantime, 'and you'll have to help me, alright? Ozzie, Flea thinks that...'
Flea gave another joyless snicker.
"Three against one is unfair, don't you think?" he pointed out.
"So is six against three," the wizard said aloud, even as he spoke finishing the brief explanation of Flea’s misunderstanding.
‘Oh for Lizard’s blood…’ the king of Mystics growled.
‘He won’t listen to us!’ Slash snapped, ‘bloody fool, he… whatever, what’s the plan already?!’
"I don't give a flying damn, Janus," Flea said, unaware of the silent, rushed conversation.
‘It’s rather simple,’ the wizard said, his thoughts turning into a hiss, ‘this is what we’ll do…’
It took only half a second to convey the gist of the plan, and Flea thankfully didn't catch that his two former companions were doing their best not to blink or glare rather stupidly at Janus. The human clenched his teeth hard enough for the jaw to nearly break.
'Understand?' he thought.
'I strongly believe you are to be labeled insane, human,' Slash stated, however the harshness in his voice had been colored by a faint snicker, 'though I admit it might actually work.'
'Don’t think I enjoy teaming up with you two,' Janus growled, 'but it seems I've got no other options.'
At this, the pair of Mystics could hardly contain their amusement, despite the situation.
'Oh, but don't worry, Janus,' Ozzie said in a somewhat neutral voice, 'we'll watch your back.'
The wizard held back a dear wish to shake his head.
'I'm going to regret this...'
'Serves you right for dragging me into this mess,' Ozzie smirked.
The wizard clenched his teeth and thought the words he never had believed he would have to tell these two monsters. But to save Schala, Lai and the others, it was a sacrifice he was prepared to make.
'Very well, it's up to you then. I'm counting on you.'
'Worry not,' Ozzie said.
Janus chose not to comment.
The silent conversation had barely taken a moment, led by thoughts as it was.
And there was no turning back now.
Without another word the wizard vanished from view and appeared behind the wolf-demon. The monster ducked for the staff with perfectly trained reflexes, but it wasn't prepared to find Slash at it's throat in the middle of its movement. A well planned slam of insanely strong, condensed wind sent the lizard flying on Ozzie's command as it tried to attack. The wizard rendered the wolf unconscious with the help from Slash's distraction and tackled the ghost which tried to get a grip of the swordsman.
All the while Flea watched in silence, indifferent.
Janus took a blow from the back from the invisible creature and it apparently got his arm since he furiously tried to break free from thin air while the mantis rushed at him. The insect got slammed off course and onto the ground by an ice block, and Ozzie smirked a bit.
However the magic could only push away, not hurt.
'They like this too damn much...' Janus grimly thought as he fought to free his arm.
The bad feeling of future regret was growing, but he was as cornered as ever.
Finally he scored a hit even if he couldn't see his foe, and he managed to tear himself free.
'Hang on, everyone...'
Not that they had much of a choice.
'Now, how to fight something that I can't see?' he thought, eyes narrowed as he tried to keep focusing on the empty space that he thought was occupied.
It wasn’t the first time he’d “faced” an invisible assassin, but the circumstances were less than good. The otherwise helpful dust on the floor had already been thrown around due to the battle, and he couldn't fully concentrate with the sound of the other assassins behind him.
'Bloody screw this!' he thought despite himself, spun around and seemingly blindly charged at the lizard.
Afterwards nobody really could tell how it happened. One moment the creature was standing up on his hind legs to claw at Janus who raised his staff, in the next second the transformed goblin hit the deck due to a slam from behind. Janus didn't even stop, hardly touching the floor with his burning eyes set on the target.
Finally Flea reacted, with a hiss tearing up his hands to protect himself. The wizard ducked for the magical bolts of electricity and sent the staff whirling through the air. With a shriek of mixed anger and shock the magician threw himself out of the way for the uncontrollable weapon and hit the floor. He rolled over on his back and was halfway into a sitting position when his eyes locked on Janus' gaze that was moving closer at the speed of lightning. The wizard's hands were stretched out in front of him and his teeth bared in a raging growl.
The magician threw up his hand in front of his face, trying to call upon a spell before the impact...
Through the fingers he saw Janus' head-on flight suddenly change direction to the sound of a surprised and pained shout. A flashing light from aside also added to the rather shocking effect.
The prisoners up by the ceiling froze in shock, their frail hope once and for all broken by one single blow.
Unceremoniously the wizard crashed on the hard ground several yards from Flea, the magical impact not simply stopping his dash. Snarling and clutching his burnt side he got up and stared with eyes filled with hatred in the same direction as Flea glared, dumbfounded.
Ozzie held up his stretched pointing finger and smugly let out a flow of breath on it, though there was no heat left.

Chapter 14, Final Battle

"You damn bastard..." Janus growled, getting to his feet with narrowed eyes.
"Face the simple facts, wizard," Slash said and sheathed the Slasher in front of the stupidly blinking ghost, whom like everyone else was looking at Ozzie in stronger or weaker surprise, "it was only a question of time until your 'theories' would eventually fail you."
"I knew better, I really cachore did..."
Janus held out his hand and the staff leaped into his grip, almost creaking under his whitening fingers. It took a good deal of control not to glance upwards again; he didn't want to see Schala and Lai's eyes.
With a smirk Slash quickly passed the hesitant assassins who didn't know who to fight anymore. He reached Flea, who glared up at him with nothing but remaining anger. The bald monster was about to speak when Janus charged with a roar, and the Slasher cleaved the air as the swordsman leaped out of the way. The wizard furiously followed him, but the man suddenly stumbled and almost hit the floor again. In his rage Janus hadn't seen the lizard, who finally had managed to catch a leg with his tail.
Somehow Lai's fiancé managed to keep his balance while Slash danced further out of reach. But before the wizard had time to fully get control again the staff was ripped out of his grip and his arms were torn backwards. He growled in fury and pain as they were locked against his back by invisible hands.
Slash snickered and calmly walked back towards his placement before the attack.
"Come on now, Flea," the swordsman said with a scornful glance at the struggling Janus, "use your head. Did you really think that we'd choose him over you?"
"Yes," the magician coldly said, "'you’re under arrest for treason' didn't leave me much of a doubt."
"If you're talking about the episode in the castle, I sent Slash to get you out of trouble," Ozzie said as he too approached, "the treason thing was just something he would use in an emergency to retain the peace since we cannot have another war."
"And why the hell would I believe you now?" the magician snapped.
Ozzie smirked.
"Flea, my friend," he said and crossed his arms, "Skeeza has been pounding all of us to understand the fact that it was an accident. And she should have noticed."
He met the cold, distrustful eyes and glanced aside. Janus' teeth showed and his breath came out ragged due to his fury, but he couldn't do anything. Magic couldn't get him out of the assassin's grip and he was locked in a position where strength was neutralized as well.
Looking back at Flea, Ozzie let his own – sharp – teeth show.
"Still don't believe me, do you?" he asked.
"Not exactly," the magician sourly said and stood, without brushing himself off.
"Oh, let's see then," the king of Mystics said with a snicker, rubbing his chin, "to harm the queen is treason, indeed. I suppose not even you can pass without some kind of punishment."
"There we are," Flea snapped and turned away.
"About three quarters of a year in exile sounds pretty good to me. What do you say, Slash?"
The swordsman chuckled.
"Fair enough. And it seems to have expired right about now, as well."
Flea looked around and glared at the two monsters.
"Don't come here and try to feed me that crap," he heatedly stated.
"We're not toying with you, Flea," Slash said almost softly, "you are not our enemy."
There was no trust in the magician's voice, nor in his eyes.
"We didn't make peace with the humans back there because we wanted to, but it was pretty obvious that we were on the verge of our powers," the swordsman said, unfazed, "you know that as well."
"You took the first bloody chance offered without even trying!" Flea heatedly accused, "no attempts to make him pay!"
He waved in Janus' general direction; the wizard hadn't moved. For some odd reason.
"How much did you see really?" Ozzie asked with a frown.
"Enough! You couldn't take a beating and just bowed to Skeeza. And her little 'it's tragic that Flea died, woe art us' speech made me sick."
Slash and Ozzie exchanged brief glances, then looked back at Flea. And they took him completely on surprise when smiling.
"Back then she said that you wanted it so, didn't you hear that?" Slash pointed out, "anyone of us would have stopped you from fighting Janus alone if we had believed you'd listen. You'd do the same now if you could, wouldn't you?"
"No, I would not," Flea snapped, "I have nothing left to prove."
Ozzie's lips stretched again, but his teeth didn't show. Reaching out, he quickly moved his hand around in thin air, as if painting several circles. And something was drawn with a sickly reddish light, acquiring proper form as the fat green hand grabbed it.
Flea blinked, but his arm automatically swung up and the fingers grasped the slender material as the green monster tossed the item at him.
"It's not you who need to prove yourself now," the king said with the remains of the smile starting to turn more bloodthirsty, "but you'll need that."
"What the hell are you pulling?" Flea snapped, his skilled hands hesitantly taking the whip in a better grip.
Instead of replying, Ozzie turned to the wizard again. But the monster didn't look at Janus, instead he glared at the air behind the wizard's shoulder.
"Let go and stay out of this," Ozzie commanded, with more authority than he'd ever shown in his entire life before.
Janus stumbled forwards with a snarl as his arms were freed and quick steps brought up the settled dust from the floor. The assassin withdrew.
The staff came back to the wizard's hand, but his eyes never once left the three monsters.
"You know, coming here and commanding my last allies isn't going to earn you any favors," Flea icily said, crossing his arms but not letting go of the whip.
"You damn traitors leave me no choice!" Janus snarled, raising the staff in both hands, "Powers of the World, lend me the power of Lightning!"
The weapon connected with the floor and lightning bolts erupted from the wizard's chest as he threw out his arms, keeping the wooden pole in his right hand.
"Didn't they teach you anything about courtesy in the castle?" Ozzie snarled as he dove out of the way, his voice barely heard over the sharp fizzling.
Janus didn't reply, concentrating on keeping the bolts alive.
With a snort Flea leaped backwards to avoid getting hit and Slash dashed aside. None of them completely avoided the magic however, even if it was nothing deadly in any case.
Not without great effort Ozzie forced his mind off the violently stinging burns on his back and threw his hands in Janus' direction. The wizard perfectly directed a few of his bolts to meet and deflect the attacking fireballs, but in doing so he was forced to divert his focus.
In the last second he noticed the movement from the corner of the eye and spun around, barely getting a worthy grip of the staff. Before he managed to add his left hand to the hold, the Slasher had almost forced the wizards own weapon straight into his face. Metal dug into wood and Janus threw himself backwards, hearing the swooshing sound of an approaching fireball. The flames brushed by his shoulder as he fell, somehow managing to tear the staff free from the sword in the movement. Slash had to bend away from the magic attack.
"Watch it!" the swordsman growled.
Ozzie just snorted and kept his hands raised. As he glanced aside he saw Flea just stand there, watching Janus get to his feet and rush at Slash.
But the pink fingers twitched, ever so lightly.
Leaving it, the king of Mystics fixed his eyes on the fighters, trying to predict the swift movements.
"After all that’s happened in the last day I guess I should say something like 'sorry, nothing personal', but, you know…" Slash smirked at the wizard's raging grimace.
The monster ducked and tried to thrust the Slasher at Janus' momentarily defenseless stomach. But the wizard's elbow came down on Slash's shoulder and brought him off balance, forcing him to half stumble, half roll aside to avoid getting hit.
"Truly sorry," Janus growled and moved into a defensive stance with the staff ready to parry again.
"Oh yes, but you'll just have to go for Flea's sake."
Slash's hand clawed the air and tiny fireballs flew from his fingertips, gaining size as they zoomed forwards. With a snort Janus easily deflected them all by spinning his staff to change their flight.
Too late he realized it had only been a distracting maneuver. Ice blocks at the size of his head slammed into his back on Ozzie's patiently awaited command and the wizard stumbled with a groan, only keeping his balance by desperately planting the staff in the floor.
The dark nets around Lai flared, but she didn’t manage to break free no matter how hard she tried. And as she was unable to speak out the spells, the magic didn’t have any real power, which surely was why not even Schala’s wild attempts to blast herself free didn’t help.
Throwing her head aside Lai saw Molor’s red eyes glowing strangely, staring at nothing.
‘Can you help him!?’ she silently screeched, loudly the words being an incoherent mumbling through the dark threads that covered her lips.
‘I’m trying!’ the snake hissed back.
Janus more fell than ducked out of the way of the Slasher again, but this time his right arm got a cut. Wincing he pressed his left hand over the stinging wound, trying to avoid receiving anything worse.
Slash’s white eyes glistened and he dashed forwards again. Janus leaped aside and backed further away from the swordsman’s new position, as the monster advanced.
Frog tried to scream, and he wasn’t the only one. For as the wizard moved backwards, he left his back wide open for attacks.
Ozzie glared at his turn-coat general. His own green hands were itching to release another lightning storm, but he was in this fight for the same purpose as Slash.
Flea’s fingers twitched as the staff and Slasher met again, the owners locking hateful glares.
Slowly the magician’s right arm fell, most of the whip streaming over the floor. But the movement was sluggish, lacking all interest.
Ozzie clenched his teeth. He was risking the peace by fighting Janus again, just to achieve Flea’s trust.
‘What more does the damn cross dresser ask for?’
Slash held his ground pretty well, but after all Janus had a weapon offering use of full power in a lock such as the combatants’. The bald monster grunted as the wizard snarled and grabbed the staff tighter, twisting it around in order to open for a hit.
Growling Slash had to leap backwards, but the wide arch of the staff got the side of his chest and he choked, trying to stumble out of reach. But he was still in the right area for Janus, who swung the staff around in a wide arc.
The restrain got him so suddenly that the weapon fell out of his hand and he lost his balance, with a pained wince clawing at the red rope that was wrapped around his upper arm.
“About damn time!” Slash grunted, straightening up with a faint smirk.
“Don’t you get any ideas, it was just too tempting,” Flea snapped and lightly pulled at his whip, as if to only mark his statement.
The effect of the small move was quite impressive, however. Janus gave a half strangled, gurgling sound and his hand flew to the right shoulder to violently press at it.
“Na mat… ala… se…” he rasped.
There was a disgusting popping sound as he pressed the bone back in place, sweat covering his forehead. Despite the healing magic his arm looked quite stiff as he ripped the whip away and stood, collecting his staff again. And now he held his weapon in the less experienced left hand.
“What an end for the wizard, I have to give you as much,” Flea said, his lips twitching faintly, “but at least it’s not as pitiful as when you were hanging on the wall.”
“Oh gee, thanks a lot!” Janus snarled, throwing out his good arm.
Icicles pierced the air and Flea lashed the whip around, its red glow growing stronger. The ice shattered, only a couple made it past the spin. And both of them only hit the floor. But while the first attack still was in the air, Janus had directed new blasts of ice at the other two monsters, forcing them backwards.
Slash had to just try to get out of the way, Ozzie did a pretty good job fighting the ice back with fire.
“I think we’re nearing a conclusion, wizard,” the green monster commented as Janus’ hand fell.
The blue-haired man gritted his teeth, trying not to lean too heavily on his staff.
Not good… not good at all…
Forcing his eyes upwards he saw Slash sheath his sword and hold up his hands with the palms turned at the wizard. There was a dangerously sparkling sound in Ozzie’s direction.
Clenching his left hand until the staff shivered, he tried to summon his last strength.
“Powers of the world…”
Flea had crossed his arms again, silently watching.
“… Pure power…”
“Flea!” Slash called, his palms flashing in a blue light.
No reaction.
“Twandor!” Janus hissed, spreading his fingers.
A bubble of light formed around him, just as Ozzie and Slash released their magic. Walls of pure magical power, Lighting and Water based, flowed around the globe.
Janus gripped the staff tightly and closed his eyes, focusing all his will into keeping the wavering shield alive. It shrunk and expanded in a quick pace, beating like the wings of a dying butterfly.
Lai dared to tear her eyes away and quickly glance at Molor for a second. The snake’s eyes were literally flaring.
“Give it up, damn you!” Ozzie snarled, his fingers twisting as he forced more power into the magic.
Janus growled but didn’t move, even if the beating of his shield grew more desperate as the walls flowed between blue and yellowish.
The whip fell to the floor and Flea’s hands swept upwards.
The wizard looked up, eyes widening in pain by the movement.
“… Kills Janus without me!” the magician snarled.
A red wall shot into the shifting one, sliding in two directions upon the meeting. The magic expanded between the three monsters, creating a triangle form with Janus in the middle.
It flashed in blue, yellow and finally red.
The staff fell out of Janus hand as the bubble shattered and his feet left the floor, arms spreading by the pressure and his mouth twisting open in a silent scream.
Lai heard Schala hiss out a whimper, but no sound could leave the younger woman’s lips. Not a breath made it through her sandy throat. Not one single thought lived in her petrified mind.
The triangle flashed in bright white.
It was gone.
“… ah…”
Janus’ fall seemed to go on for eons, and when he hit the floor the dry, dead thump echoed through the cave.
He didn’t move anymore, sprawled on his back like a rag doll.

Chapter 15, Finale

Schala’s neck couldn’t support her head and it dropped, Cered helplessly watching her and trying to reach far enough to touch her, give just a tiny drop of comfort to the desert of her torn soul. But the dark nets wouldn’t allow it.
Glancing at Lai with tears craving release in his big, dark eyes, Frog couldn’t help but shudder. Her expression was not unreadable. But there was nothing to see. Her gaze was a void.
Molor wasn’t moving at all, his head bowed. What he felt was shrouded by his cold eyes.
Small boots clicked against the floor.
Heads snapped up and finally a growl rose in Lai’s throat as Flea bent over the fallen wizard.
“Heh. Well what do you know…”
Pink fingertips touched a clammy, pale forehead. Straightening up, the magician put his right fist on his hip and glanced at the others in the room. The wolf assassin watched her master together with the other transformed monsters, leaning on the lizard as she was still dazed.
Flea smirked slightly and announced the verdict.
“… The lil’ wizard… is still alive.”
The prisoners froze, far from relieved by the news. In Janus’ situation that was hardly a blessing, it only meant he was still breathing – in the clutches of the Mystics’.
“Well damn, must be getting rusty,” Ozzie said, cracking his knuckles.
“Don’t look at me, you know I’m no good with magic,” Slash commented with a wave of his hand.
A strange sound filled the dry air.
Flea laughed.
Lai clenched her fists, snarling furiously though the net plastered over her lips wouldn’t let her curse the sadist. Her friends shared her opinion, sparkles of energy flying from Schala’s new attempts to tear herself free.
The Mystics paid no heed to the pathetic hatred of humans and snake.
“You two…” Flea chuckled, hiding his lips behind a slender hand, “priceless!”
Slash and Ozzie exchanged rather puzzled glances.
“What did we do?” the swordsmaster asked, frowning.
Flea nearly choked with glee, a “hanging” opinion being that him really dying with laughter was hotly desired.
‘How can you laugh?!’ Schala silently screamed in anguish.
Lai’s thoughts were not meant for print.
But as the other’s raged, a creeping suspicion began to grow in Frog’s heart, although it was far too twisted to believe.
Or so he hoped.
It took the magician several seconds to recover from the hysterics, even his assassins eying him strangely.
“Alright, alright…”
The final giggles died away and he just snickered.
“… I’m fine. Sorry about that, cuties.”
Confusion was replaced with careful relief among the monsters.
“Are we back on cute terms now?” Ozzie almost mildly asked.
The magician chuckled, but managed to control himself and just nod.
“Are you coming home then, Flea?” the king wondered, carefully.
“Oh I…”
Flea turned his gaze towards the hesitant assassins.
“What do you guys say?” their master cheerfully asked.
For a second they seemed stunned, then profusely and collectively nodded. Well, one could guess that the invisible one also agreed.
“Fine then,” Flea smirked at the king and swordsman.
“Glad to hear it,” Slash said with a slight smile.
“Ah yes…”
The pink skinned one looked at the broken body by his feet.
The humans hissed as a hand went down and Janus was lifted in his collar, hanging motionlessly in the grip of his nemesis.
“And this poor thing, what in the world shall we do with you?” Flea purred.
There was a silence.
Finally Ozzie spoke, sighing.
“As much as I hate saying it, king Guardia will want to hear a story he can believe, and with his servants dead I doubt he’ll trust us.”
Flea looked like he was going to explode with laughter again but managed to restrain himself.
Frog felt a spasm by his left eye as the suspicion grew stronger.
“Oh fine, fine…” the magician said and rolled his eyes dramatically, “no more trouble for anyone of us, right?”
“Sad as it is, I doubt we can take it.”
“I guess I’ll have to play along. He’s a reasonable boy after all. Lemme just wake him up.”
Flea’s free hand pressed against the back of Janus’ neck, supporting his hanging head as a deadly smirk grew on the pink face.
Slash’s eyes bulged as he realized what the magician was about to do, Ozzie’s triumph drowning in pure panic a moment later as his brain also caught up.
“Eh… Flea?” the swordsman said in a slightly high pitched voice, “there are other ways of working healing magic!”
“Oh shush you,” the magician snorted, his smirk mere inches from Janus’ defenseless lips.
Frog dared to tear his horrified glance away to worriedly glance at Lai. He quickly looked away again. Her eyes were about to pop out of her skull, the color of her face sickly pale with terror and rage. The general hoped that he’d someday be able to forget the look in her eyes.
And then Janus crashed on the floor.
Flea’s snicker was one inch from exploding.
“You thought I’d really do it?” he squeaked as he fought to keep his voice under control, “powers of the world…”
For once, Slash didn’t care a damn about his image. He sighed deeply, pressing a hand against his chest in an attempt to calm his heart.
“Lardon take you, you twisted… good gods…”
Ozzie was too busy rubbing his temples to say anything.
The nets sagged as the prisoners more or less collapsed in relief.
From Flea’s hands a storm of healing stars flew, covering the wizard in a warm light.
“What kind of sick, twisted freak do you think I am?” the magician sniggered.
There was a weak groan.
Intent stares bore into Janus as he slowly moved his left arm and tried to use it for support, reaching a half sitting, half lying position before he managed to speak.
“To answer your question, Flea,” he grunted and finally straightened up with a heated look through the exhaust, “be glad that you couldn’t hear me screaming.”
“Oh, I had a feeling you were watching from the outside,” the magician evilly chuckled and poked Janus’ face further upwards with a finger under his chin, “now… since Ozzie seems to have troubles with his stomach I guess I’ll handle the diplomacy today.”
The wizard just glared. Flea smiled cheerfully.
“I think the deal is that we let you and your sweet collection of family and pets go if you swear to shut up about this when you get back to the castle,” the magician said.
He flicked his finger and in his weak state Janus couldn’t help but waver at the small movement.
“I’d still like your head on a platter but I guess I can live with that,” Flea added and straightened up.
Janus scowled.
“And are you ‘dead’, then?” he sarcastically asked.
“Like a stone, promise!”
Flea grinned and looked up at the prisoners, raising his hands.
‘Oh, and by the way,’ he chuckled to Janus, Slash and Ozzie only, ‘you three can’t act worth crap.’
Janus dearly wished he could have smacked his forehead, hearing the Mystics silently laugh after a moment of surprise. But if he gave an indication that something was wrong and his friends found out the truth, he knew that he’d wish he had been killed.
‘That bad, eh?’ Ozzie smirked.
‘Saw straight through you,’ Flea snickered, ‘though you have to admit this wizard-muffin has guts.’
‘Yeah… one of my worst plans ever,’ Janus grunted, allowing himself to rub his forehead innocently.
‘Oh, but you’re such a dear…’
Flea nearly laughed aloud, snapping his fingers. The dark nets obediently shattered, leaving the prisoners gasping for air that had almost been neglected them, and of course due to the fact that they were now floating freely a couple of dozens yards above the ground. Supported by Flea only.
‘Not every madman would let himself get beaten to a bloody pulp to cheer up his mortal enemy,’ the magician cheerfully ended his sentence.
At that, Janus just snorted and let it be unsaid that he hadn’t held back a single grain of power.
‘And you still went with it?’ Slash somewhat less than tactfully asked.
‘Too good to pass up on. And I saw that you really did have fun, boys.’
Flea began to lower his hands, the levitation spell following his movements. Janus’ gaze was set on the descending forms of his allies, tense like they were about their situation. As relieved as he dared to be, he all too well knew of the magician’s unpredictable sense of fun and he was not in the mood for cruel, stupid jokes.
Apparently not very fond of it either, the released prisoners showed obvious signs of trying to keep from moving; the twitches of hands and nervous turns of heads spoke loudly.
Flea’s eyes narrowed.
“Ah, one problem.”
He bent the fingers of his right hand, all but the pointing one which he held upright for a moment before beginning to bend it towards and away from him in a quick pace; a summoning gesture.
Frog croaked in surprised protest as he helplessly shot forwards, ending up floating a couple of feet above the ground before Flea. The most primitive part of his mind decided that this was probably a really good time to start struggling, whether it brought anything or not.
“We better do something about you, I’m afraid,” the magician said with a theatrical sigh, snickering in the next second.
“Let him down, Flea!” Janus harshly called, trying to get to his feet.
Slash grabbed his aching shoulder and threw him back onto the floor in a fluid movement.
“I will, sweetie,” the pink-skinned Mystic promised in a smirk, “soon…”
Schala and the others touched the ground, but their dash forwards was blocked by the assassins, whom forced them back against the wall. The Masamune hit the hard stone floor with a sharp metallic clank.
For a moment longer Flea regarded the pathetically cursing and struggling green knight, leaning his chin on a finger.
“Ah, one of my grandest spells…” he finally sighed, “and it comes down to this…”
He raised his hands again.
“This won’t hurt a bit. I think.”
Janus’ second attempt to help his friend was hindered in the same way as the first. He was too weakened to make it past Slash.
“Powers of the World, lend me pure power!” Flea hissed.
Sickly purplish light flowed from his hands as he chanted words in old Zealan that Janus couldn’t really make out due to the loud buzzing of the magic itself. The ribbons of stained color encircled Frog’s flailing body, forming a circle around him.
Flea suddenly called out in a wordless shout, spreading hands in a commanding wave. And the bubble obediently expanded. The shape vaguely seen within froze completely. Before a heartbeat had passed, pure white light exploded from the ball, crawling along its outer shell.
The imprisoned shadow didn’t move.
But it grew.
Arms, legs and body stretched out, face flattened and Janus could swear he saw hair erupt from the once bald skull. The cloak that had frozen spread out behind the knight’s back like a wing melted out of existence. The wizard’s eyes widened.
And Glenn hit the ground with a groan.
“It wasn’t irreversible, silly boy,” Flea snickered at Janus while the shocked swordsman stared at his once again human hands, “you just didn’t know the spell to do so.”
The wizard held back a dear wish to say “I hate you so bloody much”. It was the first thought coming to mind.
“If you’re done,” Ozzie gruffly cut in between everything, “I think we better leave before that banshee breaks through.”
He motioned at the people and assassins by the wall. The mantis was trying to avoid being strangled.
“Surprisingly sensible coming from you,” Flea nodded, apparently returning to his old self at top speed.
The king gave him a sharp look, with a smirk tugging at his fat lips.
“Don’t push it too far, my friend,” he said, “I’m fairly sure that my wife has plans on how to make sure that you stay in line in the future.”
Flea winced briefly, then sighed and shrugged.
“Spoilsport. But oh well…”
He grimaced one more time, then clapped his hands.
“Always a pleasure to beat you up Janus,” he said and winked with one eye, “let’s do it again someday!”
“Over my dead body,” the wizard replied, but Flea had already been swallowed by the teleportation light, taking Ozzie and Slash with him.
By the wall, five bright flashes signaled the exit of the assassins as well.
But before even Molor had made it over the floor, a still slightly shaking but strong hand grabbed Janus’ crag and he came face to face with the face he hadn’t seen since he had gone dimension hopping to save another version of himself and his nephew, and really hadn’t seen “naturally” for several years. Red-brown, unruly hair seemed to flame in the dusk around the man’s glare, the shadows crawling over the human face to turn it into an intimidating mask.
Glenn’s voice was a low hiss, burning with a hardly contained mix of anger, disbelief and denial.
“Tell. Me. Thou. Did. Not. Tell. Them. To. Beat. Thee.”
Janus knew that no matter what he tried, it wouldn’t save his nose from being broken a second time.
“You’re human again, Glenn!” he attempted, fighting to sound blank of faked remaining shock.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw the other human-colored – and now that Glenn had his real body back, much bigger than before – fist clench while the knight’s reversed, normally cheerful features constricted into a deadly scowl. Nope, didn’t work. He hadn’t really managed to hope it would, either.
Wincing, Janus tried to brace himself for the impact. But he got a respite for that moment as Lai more or less tackled him out of his friend’s grip, pressing herself forcefully against him. Schala was more gentle, falling down on her knees beside her brother to enfold his shoulders into her embrace.
Chuckling dryly as he heard his friends weak groan at the weight, Molor slithered up to give Janus support with his long, bendable body. Cered meanwhile gave Glenn a hand to get up on rather unsteady, suddenly twice as long legs.
“Not half bad, really,” Janus tried to assure Schala as she stuttered a question about how he felt, “Molor managed to rip my mind out of my body during their last attack, I was unconscious before it really hit me.”
“Janus,” Glenn scowled, still not halfway to forgiving the desperate idiocy, “shut thy mouth and suffer like a man.”
“What do you m…” Lai began, turning to Glenn with a growing, angry frown.
Knowing well what would happen if his friend got tempted to tell everyone else about his conclusion, Janus let his undead survival instincts rule. Grabbing Lai’s shoulder before she could finish her question he tore her upwards and forcefully pressed his lips against hers.
While she was still blinking and Schala chuckling softly at the strange sight, Janus smiled drowsily at his fiancée’s surprised face.
“I’d like to just go home now…” he mumbled.
Then he fell backwards to be supported only by Molor, skewering the last will that kept him conscious despite his exhaust.

Glenn still broke his nose the next day after dragging the wizard away from the spying eyes of friends in Guardia castle. Then the general promised not to tell anyone else.
All that was quickly forgotten however, as Schala and Cered as carefully as possible told the rest of their already and future family about the remaining Lavos’ spawns.
And in the Mystic’s lair, Flea grudgingly put his glasses in place, disdainfully looking over his reflection.
“Horrible. And if I go blind over time, I’m blaming you and those meddling Guardians,” he snapped at the smirking Skeeza.
She rubbed her chin with her still functional hand, gaze running over the once again male, but still dainty, form before her.
“I wouldn’t say horrible,” she finally said, “you’re too harsh on yourself.”
Flea smirked casually, glancing at himself in the mirror again.
“And my, my, Skeeza, you shouldn’t go around saying such things, married woman that you are.”
He would have started running right then if he had seen the queen’s devious grin. A moment later he clearly heard it, however.
“True, true… but Flea, let’s not talk about me. We were talking about you.”
Every single hair on the magician’s body stood on end as his worst qualms were proven true.
“Oh, no. No, no, no, no…”
“Oh yes!” Skeeza spoke with the voice of a titan, grabbed Flea’s arm and dragged him out of the seclusion of the room, “but first of all, everyone will want to see you again.”
Deaf to his whining, the queen dragged the head magician towards the fortress’ center, towards the rest of the Mystics.
Flea sighed. He knew he was doomed if the queen had been scheming against his personality. But it wouldn’t stop him from fighting against his fate with fangs and claws.
The throne room was filled to the brim, the screeches and sharp chirps of the monsters enough to turn a man gray-haired. And for a moment Flea’s growing headache let him be as he brightly grinned at the chaos.
Ahh, sweet home…

Epilogue, better wear a safety belt

Marle yawned as she wandered up the stair towards her room. It was ten am, but in her view she had been up all night despite the fact that she had sneaked out to meet up with Crono and Lucca just an hour ago.
It just went easier that way, her father would hardly notice that she’d been gone when they messed with time like that. With a little wizardly help in the Middle ages the Epoch could be quite precise. And even if not, Marle would have had a good reason to give if asked where she had been. One couldn’t pass up on a friend’s wedding like that, especially not a friend like Janus’. They’d do the same for Glenn whenever he decided to marry as well, guaranteed. And Ayla too, of course. Though if humans in her time married per say was another thing… whatever… Marle wasn’t up for questions like that.
Seeing Schala safe and sound had been a relief, to realize that the man draping his arm around her shoulder was Crono’s ancestor had been quite a surprise. And the snake… well, Crono could handle some extra, panicked weight for a minute or two. The fact that the giant creep talked helped a little, but only so much.
Despite the trauma that Molor had caused, the princess felt very happy as she almost skipped up the stairs, a smile playing on her lips at the memories of her past day. Lai could be very pretty when she actually wanted to…
She was nearing the end of the stair, hearing familiar steps closing in above her. But she couldn’t really tell who it was.
Reaching the top she turned around the corner as she heard that whoever it could be still was a few steps around and thus held no threat of a crash of bodies.
“Good morning, Nadia,” the approaching man said, smiling slightly.
“Morning Gareth,” Marle replied.
They passed each other and he began descending the stair. The princess walked about three more steps before she stopped dead. Her eyes bulged.
She spun around to see him looking around the corner of the stair’s entrance. Strong fingers gripping the edge of the wall and a thin, sunburned face. Eyes colored like crystallized blood and short cut, bluish hair that did nothing to hide his pointy ears.
“Uh…” Marle said, not fully realizing that she was staring.
A blue eyebrow went up. Then suddenly a smile cracked Gareth’s confusion.
“Messing with time again, are we?” he said, coming up the stair and changing the grip of the book he had been carrying in his left hand.
Marle had to lean against the wall, ignoring the priceless tapestry that pictured the land of Guardia. Her head was spinning.
“I should be reprimanding you, Your Highness, and believe you me I’d be ranting for ages had you not traveled with my forefather,” Gareth said, shaking his head with a sigh.
His ears were not as pointy as Janus’, but the magic in their blood refused to fully let go as such details in his appearance showed. Thirteen generations had not been able to erase all similarities, even though the descendant had a slightly different shape of his head and was a bit shorter than his ancestor.
“You… Janus… and… oh my God…” Marle stuttered, pressing a hand against her forehead.
Memories filled her mind like bubbles rising in hot water, memories of things she knew could not have happened. This man that stood before her had not existed when she left Guardia to attend Janus’ wedding.
He had not stubbornly given her magic lessons, she had not called him a half-Mystic in anger – an act that she felt deadly ashamed for now – he had also never after a lot of persuasion agreed to help her get out of the castle to go to the Millennial fair and he had not stalled the trial against her father, nearly loosing his own head in Yakra XIII’s schemes. To name a few things that Gareth the thirteenth royal wizard of Guardia had not been through since he simply hadn’t existed.
Marle knew all this, but the new memories spoke differently. They weren’t even new memories, they had been there all the time, she’d known Gareth since she was a baby. He and his father… oh dear Lord…
“Ah…” she began, forcing herself to stop blinking like an idiot, “you’re real?”
Gareth laughed at that, shaking his head.
“Oh dear, this is worse than I thought…” he muttered.
“But I just came back from Janus’ wedding, you weren’t here before!” the princess blurted before she could stop herself.
“When’s my birthday?” Gareth calmly asked without even raising an eyebrow.
“The twenty-fourth of July,” Marle automatically replied, then blinked again.
The royal wizard nodded, chuckling slightly.
“Then all is well. If you can remember me even if I didn’t exist before, then you haven’t fallen into a new time stream – as I warned you about a hundred times, mind you. Our stream has simply been modified.”
He said this with a sense of pride. Marle regarded him for a second, still trying to accept that he was a part of reality.
“You really do take the studies of time seriously,” she finally said.
“I really have no…”
Gareth fell silent as running steps were heard from the stair, light but just audible. He slowly closed his eyes.
“Oh, no…”
Before she even knew why, Marle had sidled several steps away to avoid impact.
“There you are!” a shrill voice shrieked.
The book in Gareth’s hand fell to the floor as he crumbled under the tackle performed by a vision of white, blue and pink. Lush, bright red hair fell like a veil over the arms encircling his shoulders from behind, matching eyes sparkling between the half closed, pink eyelids. A smirk revealed two rows of sharp teeth.
“Did you think you could get away from me, eh?” the assaulter demanded, grinning from pointy ear to pointy ear.
“Never dreamt about it,” Gareth muttered, making no attempt to pry off the arms as he knew it to be futile.
It was a woman. And she wore a set of tight, white pants and a similar shirt with short sleeves. Unruly, big blue spots crawled over the cloth and below the dark belt where several mysterious pouches hung. They made a jingling sound as she moved, the strange bells accompanying the sparkle of her golden earrings.
Marle leaned even more heavily on the wall.
More steps came up the stair and an even more scantily clad Mystic woman showed up. The soft sandals on her feet contrasted the lack of shoes of her companion, but that was not what widened the princess’ eyes further.
She was probably beautiful to the monsters, humans might have different ideas of course.
Her clothing was hardly more than thick white ribbons, one such being the only thing covering her chest. They were also what made up her pants, if one could call it that. The fluffy, thick strands of cloth were held up by a golden belt around her waist and tied to her ankles, sewn well together from her stomach almost all the way down to her knees – at that point they were cut, leaving more air than cloth.
Humans probably thought that the thick pink lips didn’t go well her purple skin, and though she had enough darkly purple hair to almost hide it, it was plain that her head had larger proportions than what appeared comfortable.
“Manty, will you stop fooling around?” Dancer tiredly growled, grabbing her friend’s shoulder with a fine hand.
At this point, Marle simply pressed a hand against her face and shook her head.
“Aww…” Mantis grumbled but released Gareth who scooped up his book as if nothing had happened.
“Good morning to you too,” he said, surprisingly soft, “how did our dear Ozzie XIII take the news about Yakra of the same number?”
Teeth flashed.
“Ah. And what did you do with the big bug?” the wizard said, his lips twitching.
“Oh no, no, no…” Dancer said, reaching out to playfully tug at a human colored, pointy ear, “such things are not meant for virgin ears such as yours and the princess’. Your Highness.”
She and Mantis paused their grinning at Gareth to perform an exaggerated bow to Marle, who somehow managed to nod.
As she straightened up, the pink-skinned acrobat smiled brightly at the wizard.
“Mystics do not like traitors, especially not if they try to kill off our allies,” she smiled.
Gareth braced himself for the impact, showing excellent skills in fortune telling.
“Nobody tries to frame my little brother and gets away with it!” Mantis stated, affectionately burying her face against the sighing wizard’s chest.
Marle was certain that she heard the universe creak. Then her newly acquired memories jumped in to save her from going insane, and she remembered that Mantis kept calling Gareth “little brother” just to mess with him. By blood, they had no relation at all.
Another memory popped up, and she didn’t know if she wanted to wince or laugh at the picture of Janus’ face when they just had beaten Yakra XIII in the courtroom. Seeing Mantis and Dancer had been a great shock. Not to mention when the acrobat cursed the giant bug with the words “No one threatens my little bro and lives!”. The poor wizard had been near a mental breakdown it had seemed.
Yet another thing that couldn’t have happened.
And still… there they were. All three of them. Only one thing to do about it.
The princess took in a deep breath and stepped away from the wall, smiling at the two Mystics.
“Have you gotten any breakfast yet?” she asked.
Gareth gratefully smiled at his helper as Mantis happily let him go to smile brightly at the princess.
“Not really, Your Highness,” Dancer quickly cut off, politely nodding, “we came here as soon as possible to report to your father and Gareth.”
“Then we better make something about that, you deserve nothing less after saving our royal wizard,” Marle said.
She willed her smile not to waver in further confusion as the descendants of Flea and Slash gratefully but no less playfully bowed to her.

The End.

Kwehehe, yes, I am inzane! Didn’t you realize that earlier?
Now, keep your eyes open for the full trial scene (the one mentioned in Marle’s new memories) in “Failed Takes and Scenes never Seen”, it’s one of those things that I wanted to do but couldn’t due to the plot forbidding it. I believe you can see why it didn’t work just by looking at the epilogue.
Yes, I know I cut the ending short. But I couldn’t make a complete rewrite of Magus’ Quest, it would be nothing but just the same stuff but with slightly altered characters. No fun to write, nor to read. So, I decided that the Janus’ Saga would end here. Next up is the Author’s note. Be afraid.

Author’s note

Wow. I finished the Janus Saga. I’ve been working with it since the first time I came in contact with fanfiction. Magus’ Quest could probably use another revision, but that’s something I won’t do for a while. That’s a piece of nostalgia, and therefore it’s holy I tell ya. It wasn’t the first piece of fanfiction I finished, but it was in the works while I spat out several of my first short pieces.
I still prefer to regard Those Not Chosen (Seiken Densetsu 3) as my masterpiece, but this series is my baby.
Magus Quest was of course the beginning, more about that further down when I start babbling about the characters. However, Another Life I like to regard as my real huge step between two kinds of quality. While writing this, I was forced to try to think like Janus, and our personalities are not made to fit. It was a great challenge but I hope I made okay.
A Look on Another One and The Prince’s Story were hardly planned ahead. In fact, they were strewn notes on what could be interesting “what ifs”. Then they started to piece together, and the idea of writing a short story about what happened to that lil’ saved Janus was the takeoff. I hadn’t planned to write more than five or so chapters. Man, was I ever wrong!
I had also planned to mold those two together. But I soon realized it wouldn’t work, it’d be too confusing.

And since I’ve never written one of those massive author’s notes before, I might as well do now. So, first comes the characters!

Original Magus/Janus: Ahhh… I’ve always had a weak spot for traitors that turn their back on evil and become really reluctant heroes. Before I finished Magus’ Quest I had dragged this poor guy through several questionable humor fics (I’m so ashamed and he’ll never forgive me… even if he got to kill Power Rangers in one…). For a long while a running gag among the authors at RPGclassics – where the stories were first published – was that Magus hated all of us and especially me, doing his best to kill most of us. You see some of that in that humor chapter in “The Prince’s Story”. There’s still some of that humor lingering, a short while ago d_Galloway wrote a fic in which he poisoned me and thus set of a wild competition among the authors… but I still don’t understand who the heck made Magus chancellor in the castle of Fanfiction…
My plan was to slowly change Magus into a nicer fellow, I had just met fanfiction and hadn’t seen too much, but I got a good idea about the business reading a bastardization in which the only nice thing he didn’t do was to hug a puppy (non-humor, mind you) followed by a really cruel one which cracked down on all the “niceization” the poor character had gone through in so many fics. While I liked the idea of Magus being a nice person, I knew him to be a cold and sarcastic fellow. Hence all the dull hatred between him and Frog in Magus’ Quest, which turns into a bit of a strange friendship as the series progress.
His way from Janus to Magus and back again towards the end of the first story was probably not very innovative, but I had just started to evolve as a fanfic author then. Bear with me, please.
And I never, ever could bear to kill him in the game, either. He always got to come along and save the world.

Original Frog/Glenn: When I played through Chrono Trigger (five or so times in one year. Good lord…) I kept feeling that Frog never really could put his anger aside, his hate for Magus. Not after the second play through, when I got to know everyone better and took heed of the “filthy urchin” comment. The fact that the two of them couldn’t stand each other just made it funnier to force them into battle together.
And to this day I know I have no idea how to really work old English. But I try. Pathetically. I had an editor for Another Life, but… bah.
At first, the idea of him marrying Schaliya was a spur of the moment. One can wonder if it was hers or mine. But in my mind I evolved it until it fit just perfectly and could become part of the plot.
One thing I really could have done better was the “two sacrifices needed for a resurrection” in Magus’ Quest, I can’t really put my finger on it but something with Frog there just isn’t working out. Probably that he agrees too lightly. Unlike Cered he’s not in love with Schala, though he thinks highly of her.

Schala: She’s been the same all the way through the series, turned from a bit of a wimp – as my sister cruelly but at least partly truthfully expressed it – in the game to a strong, able fighter and eventually mother. In the back of my mind I still have a plan to write down her, Cered and Molor’s journeys through time to show how this change happened.
At this point, note that I have never played Chrono Cross, though I know what happens. When I wrote Magus’ Quest however, I had no idea. I don’t think I had any during the birth of Another Life either. But even after I had learnt about what really happened to Schala, I kept working with the world I had built up. This turned out to be an AU, due to my ignorance. But I like it this way and I wouldn’t change anything if I could go back and mess things up, because it’d wreck the entire thing.

Cered: I tried, I really tried to make him seem alive. I feel that I didn’t do too well during A Look though; he became more or less a shadow of Schala. Guh.
He’s a rather funny character though, and in his full glory in Another Life when he fights to make Janus show the emperor respect, I think. In retrospect though, overall he appears to be the bandwagon guardian and guide of the female “lead”.

Molor: Aside from Magus, my favorite in this gang. Though I really, REALLY hate snakes, I figured that Magus, being surrounded by all these goodiedoers, needed some support. And the big beast really did become a really lovable character, I always did like the way he and Magus/Janus interacted and cared for each other.
Originally I didn’t plan on having him be a dragon though, but from the very beginning it was rather apparent to all that he was no regular snake, I’m sure. Even to me. See, characters can evolve as they go…
One thing that irritates me is that I think I made him too small in the story. It’s specified in Magus’ Quest that he’s about twelve feet long, but in my mind he’s at least twice as big. But I guess that there are limits to what that stair in Cered and Schala’s house can support.
Molor is actually based on another snake, from one of my original stories. Incidentally, the name I took my penname from – which now is a problem since it makes me feel like a bloody Mary Sue writing it. Anyway, the first snake was named Sere (the name of Lashey’s husband, you might notice), a highly poisonous beast which an assassin let into the emperor’s bedroom to kill the man in question (and as a side note fails quite miserably considering the circumstances). In my rewrite of this story though, Sere is a three-headed snake demon, the pet of the evil god.

Crono, Lucca, Marle: Bit characters I’m afraid. Writing about meanies is funnier, though these guys got a few glorious moments such as the fear for Molor and the corruption of Schaliya’s vocabulary.

Ayla: God. The only reason I brought her in was so that she could shock a world by kissing Magus to heal him… I’m so ashamed. And Magus still hasn’t forgiven me for that either.

Dalton: Yeah. Generic villain. But he didn’t really die in the game as far as I saw, so he had to pop in somewhere. Besides, he was nice enough to find Schala for Janus and even set their reunion. In the first draft of Magus’ Quest I had absolutely NO plans of making him Janus’ father. But when the plot hit me over the head, I went back and fixed in some suspicious dialogue between him and Schala to make is so that it wouldn’t come completely out of left field in Another Life.

Flea-and-Slash: If I did this today, Flea wouldn’t share his body with his pal. Really.

Original Flea: Another favorite, though he hardly was one from the start. He grew into that position, mainly during A Look and then finalized his role in Prince’s Story. What can I say about Flea, he’s… a freak of nature. And so darn funny to work with, his personality and stupid comments come naturally. The bastardization I’ve wrecked on him is similar to the one I’ve been wrecking on my semi-own character Kerr (Kefka) in Alternate Fates (FF6, in the works). They’re really much alike, though Kerr is a lot more violent. Of course, Flea is violent too, though he softens in death he never really lets go of the sadism (and masochism!) as seen in the first part of A Look where he constantly brings the wrath of two Maguses upon himself.
The idea that he transformed into a woman to avoid going blind is something that I might delve further into in “Failed Takes”. I might have one last story for you on this matter.
Bah. I wish I had thought of Janus saying something like “The fact that Flea is an idiot doesn’t make him a fool” somewhere in Another Life…

Slash: I remember that when I took my first tentative steps into fanfiction, I was amazed to find a story about this guy, and a long one to boot. I didn’t think that he was that interesting. That was way before I had realized how over(ab)used the main cast were.
He’s a good fellow, though rather bullied out. He seems to always be the only sensible one out of the evil trio of Mystic generals, and his advices are never heeded when it counts. I believe that if I wrote Magus’ Quest now, he’d be a bit nicer to the child Janus than Ozzie and Flea. He did at least get to be the one who helped the child get a resolution… now if that was good or bad can be discussed.
His common sense would be another thing to work with in that idea I mentioned about Flea. Don’t worry though, I will write no more novels about these guys. There is a limit to what you can press out of a cast before even you grow tired of the taste.

Ozzie: Idiot. I never liked him, he was so stupid that it wasn’t even fun to kill him in the game. So he got no room in Magus’ Quest. His last words in the game however, “I can’t fail, what will happen to my Mystics?” (or something similar, it was a while ago) stroke some nerve; he was an idiot but he cared about his subjects. It was enough a reason to give him a bit more dignity in the future. And in the form of Lizard, his ancestor.
And again, that idea comes to mind…

Schaliya: Here we go, now I was really torturing Janus. I’m not sure when I got the idea to give him a niece to make him nervous, but I loved the scheme as soon as I thought of it. You don’t get to see much of her as an adult I’m afraid, though the people up in heaven hints at that she can have quite a temper. She was also the main reason that “Magus within”, that voice that Janus thought was himself, was created, in order to make his inner struggle and confusion stronger. The fact that she is so completely innocent, unaware of what her beloved uncle has done, makes her almost seem like a reversed version of little Janus. She was fun to work with while she was a child, as an adult she didn’t really have that shock value anymore. I really adore the scene where Glenn sees and hears her the first time, which makes him spit out a mouthful of tea in pure shock.

Lashey: As if Schaliya wasn’t enough. She works like a counterpart against the women that Janus love. Perhaps she also has a resemblance to all the rabid fangirls that Magus and all his poor likes have all the full reason to hate ^^;;
The fact that she falls in love with him at first sight, and that Janus somehow unconsciously realizes this right from the start, set the scene for some situations in which he would be one inch from exploding and go on a murderous rampage. Down boy!
Somewhere along the line I got a horrible, horrible, HORRIBLE vision of Lashey winning Janus over somehow. It got pushed back in the gutter where it belongs. But in the end she was kinda victorious, even if I never let it evolve too far.

Charash: Second generic villain and an extremely generic dragon, but it made for a good story. Sadistic, mean bastard. And he’s Molor’s son. And we probably don’t want the details.

Lizard, Magician, Warrior, Snake: I do want to write a (short dammit!) story about how these guys created the Mystics. What little has been seen of them has been very fun to write, and I think their characters are rather well developed despite their short time on the stage. Snake is a psycho and Lizard loves her, Magician is a wisecrack and Warrior can’t stand him.

Lardon: The man leading the hunt against the original Mystics. Seems like Lizard killed him in a one-on-one battle, though I haven’t really planned out what happened. The Mystics use his name for curses, and he’s pretty much their version of the Devil.

Lord Amon: Schala’s father. Has yellow eyes and green hair. That’s about it.

Azran: Guardian angel of Janus and Schala’s bloodline. Has a weird sense of humor.

Sere: Lashey’s husband. Third generic villain, and a woman beater too. I bet he’d tell the heroes all about his evil plans and then walk off laughing, leaving them inside a badly guarded cage above a snake pit if he was allowed.

Levana Zeal: Hey, she finally got a name! Much nicer in death, don’t you think?

Lavos: Mindless evil parasite eating away at the world? I think not. That’s why I gave him another chance in the form of that voice in the original Janus’ head. I think that the “diplomacy” between the warlock and the parasite on the battlefield in The Prince’s Story is one of the best scenes in the whole series, due to the power of hatred between them. Then again, a fellow author claims that I’m a sadist as well… bah. Lies! All lies! I’m just insane! There’s a difference!

The Pawn of the Mystics: Hardly more than a side story for Another Life, though the title comes from there (the original title was Another Life and the Dragon though… I hate naming stories). He’s mainly Janus’ worst nightmare of what could have happened to himself. Or so it seemed until those meddling kids invaded the Mystic castle and gave him a second chance.

The Royal Wizard of Guardia: Ahhh, another of my babies, so to speak. I love this guy as much as the original Janus wants to tear his own hair out at the thought of him. He started out as an experiment, kind of like the idea that the realists in the 1800’s thought; the soul is created by the human’s life, sin and virtue is a by-product of this creation.
He’s Magus, completely turned around since he’s grown up surrounded by people who’s really cared for and supported him. Of course, there is still similarities to Magus other than just the looks, a few times when the Wizard gets angry and highly dangerous to boot he gets drifts from his mirror.
One thing that I wanted to include in A Look but couldn’t fit in was Spekkio exorcising him of his Shadow powers, replacing them with Light. Ah well, I might write it in Scenes Never Seen.
And of course, since this man was so different from his mirror(s), I couldn’t let Molor be the same either, hence the albino look and the fact that he’s so talkative.
And I think that we all can agree after seeing the child Janus this guy saved, that they’re just getting worse and worse… poor ol’ Magus is going to take to alcohol to calm his nerves one of these days.

Lai: A little too much a Lucca-look-alike, as it turns out. I was planning on making her fate my first tragic romance story, but found that I didn’t have it in me ol’ heart to do so, I grew too fond of her. And I pray to God that nobody thought she was a Mary Sue, because then I’ll commit Seppuku in shame.
It’s funny how I tend to turn all my original characters into psychos one way or another. On the other hand, it’s funnier to work with those since your control is a bit limited at times.

The Wizard’s king Guardia: The original one did little else than be terrified of Magus, or smirk at him as his niece played jokes on him. The Wizard’s liege, on the other hand, is more like a surrogate father to this Janus than really a superior. I guess that that showed best in Schala’s musings when she watched her little brother greet the old geezer.

The Wizard’s Glenn/Frog: Old childhood friend of the “corrupted” Janus, he and Cyrus (while the knight was still alive) share a lot of memories – most of them involving assassins and training under lieutenant South. He’s given constant headaches about his friend’s safety, and so has it been since he first entered the scene in chapter one. He seems to learn more about Janus during the game time than he did during the twelve or so years they spent in friendship in Guardia – and most of those things he probably didn’t really want to know anyway.

The Wizard’s Flea: Is this guy worse than the original? Difficult to say… it seems as though he and Janus hasn’t seen each other face to face for thirteen years but through assassin after assassin after assassin, they understand each other quite well and do share a sense of respect. Despite the curses and insults. Really!

Skeeza: If Ozzie had a successor in the present, he must have had a kid with somebody. Damn scary thought *shudders* And she made a good diplomat. Besides, the Mystics needed a strong hand somewhere along the line…
I got her name from my pal Pokefreak.

Phew… I probably missed someone, I tend to. Remind me and I’ll add ‘em.
Now for some thanks.

To my parents: Thanks for giving me life in the first place.

To my lil’ sister: I love it when you’re insane. I don’t think Janus of Wild ARMs 3 will like being named “Dustbunny” (or however she’ll manage to cram that in) though… bit it serves him right! Muhahaha! I know I shouldn’t try to peek into your world, but you won’t really accept the invitation into mine. I miss you, you know.

Robert: Thanks for being the sweetest supporter, fan and boyfriend I could ever hope for. Here’s for many more years of making evil, evil plans for our poor slaves… eh… characters. And just gimme a holler whenever you need to be whipped back into working ;) And may we one day turn Janus into a true WarMage! (“Enter a WarMage” by StarStorm, warmly recommended) I still want to see him train Kuja! (yes, THAT Kuja. The one with the tail.)

Erik/Pokefreak: Again, thanks for Skeeza’s name, and for all the encouragement. You’re a neat get-back-to-work-pusher. And promise me you’ll torture Rakadra real good, then I’ll promise to work more on the FF1 fic!

Natt: I don’t even know if you still read any of this. I sent you a mail long ago but maybe it never reached you. You were one of the pillars keeping my hopes up during the year I studied at that artschool and felt so out of place that I thought I’d go crazy, and for that I am eternally grateful. Thanks for being my friend, and taking the time to beta read Another Life.

Archone: A Look on Another One is dedicated to you, and you very well deserve it. For many, many laughs and fond smiles born of many great stories, and many kind letters and funny comic tips. Keep on truckin’!

Mintbaby: I guess I never told you that when you submitted A Wyndian Princess to RPGC I almost fell off my chair in pure shock. You were the first fanfic author that I really adored, and you have kept a strong lead through these few years I’ve been into the genre.

Jade Dixon: You reviewed every single chapter of A Look and Prince’s Story. Always as enthusiastic. Wow. Rest assured that all (well eh, most at least… ^^;;) your questions have been heeded and will be answered in the final draft of A Look. Thanks a lot for all the encouragement, you followed me all the way through this baby.

Lord Cirenmas: Even when your reviews said nothing but “Good story!!”, it made me smile.

Darth: Enthusiasm in a bottle *chuckles*

Dancing Homer: Heh. You published my first fic ever, and for that I thank you. Even if you said afterwards that it was just since it was so short that you accepted it. I know what you mean now, though. Horribly well.

Mazrim Taim: You accepted Bored Beyond Compare. And then you accepted Hanging Around (against better judgment, I’m sure…). And then Magus’ Quest. And then it went on, and on, and on. You really opened my floodgates of fanfiction and made my presence and work at RPGClassics possible. You can’t be thanked enough.

On RPGClassics I also want to thank… too many to list… but what the heck, we’ll try. Ahem. Hundreds of thanks to: d_Galloway (if you turn me into a kid ONE MORE TIME, so help me God…), Zero (I promise I’ll stop sending the goblins to fetch the mail…), Merlin (no piano joke here. Author’s honor), Sinistral (“Kagon. I am your father.” “NOOOOOOO!!” XD), Tenchimaru Draconis (you’re doing great as a co-librarian, really! :)), Faetan (where aaare you? We need more Rendezvous madness!), Macc, SpoonyBard, John, Cidolfas, Ashbear, Pierson (verily, what about the penguins?), Chris-Chris, Wilfredo Martinez, Sorcerer, Charlemagne (you never ate my face, which I’m also grateful of!), Valkyrie Esker, Wertigon (for the love of God, I don’t want to hear anymore about Linux! MERCY!), Mabatsekker, and all the other authors that make our media board and fanfic archive possible.
And guys, I hope we’ll get back to that collaboration crossover and finish it. I mean, we got Ultimecia over to the good side, now we just need to beat her and Magus’ son Gunti to a bloody pulp so that he stops invading random Final Fantasies, sending zombies at the heroes, being a psycho villain with rather pathetic demons as henchmen and kidnapping people including his own father just so he can torture him by attempting to feed Schala to Lavos! (… yes, yes, there are that evil people on the net. Be afraid. Most of it got eaten by a worm virus though, even if we’ve tried to salvage bits of it.)

On I want to thank: Solarwind Starfire (I’m still praying for Dragon’s Crest!), Starx (I could never really tell how harsh you were but you sure had a sarcastic tone in your writing methinks. But don’t get me wrong, you pointed out some good stuff), Spoony Man, Taiga, Imania, Chrono Eternal, some guy1, Arthas (sorry about the html tag problem :P), The Crystal Wyvern, Tifalee, ffn (I hope you got the plot as it was revealed ;)), KD Zeal, Novalon, KCbakaneko, Shon (I think you better read the prequels, otherwise this will make little to no sense I’m afraid), KC, Jagar, Dark Knight Librarian, FF, Sarah, Kit Thespian, Princess Janus (that name will give him nightmares for sure! Muhahaha…), Thanatos, Sarita, tekniklir (I THINK I got that almost right…) and Aquarian Wind. *gaaaasp*

There, I’m done. Frolic off now, children. Shoo.

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