Soft sunlight filtered in through the trees, highlighting random spots of the clearing, and silence echoed where previously there had been battle.Not now though, thought the Nu as it poked its’ head above the bushes, now they are all finally gone.Being the cautious type he ducked back behind the bush and slowly poked his head up again, noting every disturbance of leaf and splash of blood, before stepping timorously out from the large bush it had been hiding behind.
The past few days had been quiet hectic, people coming here to visit the frog person that lived next door and then fighting one another. Not only did they run about and make a mess of things, they’d also managed to get the trees’ and bushes’ dirty with their blood.How rude! Then again that’s what I get for letting a frog live here, the Nu scolded himself,they ALWAYS cause trouble.
Sighing it went about the task of bending the branches back, healing injuries caused to the foliage, and, using spit and a large rock, he also removed the blood that soaked the ground. A blood stain was hard to remove once it settled, doubly so with only a rock, and so the Nu worked furiously to finish his work before it settled too long. Luckily it was just pass mid-day so he had plenty of daylight with which to work with. “I am kicking him out first thing when he comes back,” growled the Nu as he worked “I haven’t seen manners this bad since that Ioka girl.”
At that moment he sensed something else was approaching, something else much, much, worse than the last two groups combined.Someone else to visit the annoying frog, angrily though the Nu, crushing the cleaning rock in his hands,that is it! I am putting my foot down.Determined, and while still having that determination, the Nu stood proud and tall as a large time portal appeared before it, materializing only feet away. Time portals didn’t intimidate the ageless being, he’d seen plenty of them, and if they thought he’d be spooked so easily then they had another thing coming.
The first person to step out was a purple haired girl, light brown skin with exotic features, and the Nu smiled as it pictured the girl running away in abject terror as he exploded in anger. The smile vanished as her steely eyed companion, clad in a leather breast plate and dark leather pants, stepped out to stand mightily next to the smaller girl. The tall man’s gaze locked with the Nu’s for a brief second before the Nu decided to launch an attack while he still had the courage.
“This clearing is closed to public use,” it angrily said, gaining a curious stare from both of the intruders “I am going to have to ask you to leave.”
Stepping out of a time portal and seeing a Nu was surprise enough, hearing the very same Nu tell them to beat it was just too much. It took Spekkio a moment to process the Nu’s request, and a second more to laugh inwardly at the Nu and the polite request that it maintained while angry.
“Well that’s a new one,” commented Spekkio as he squatted down to get eye level with the Nu “A Nu sticking up for himself, and here I thought they were all cowards.”
“WHAAAA!” angrily screamed the Nu, blue arms shaking furiously in the air, before attempting to run up to the girl and smack her with its’ oversized face. Unfortunately it tripped on itself, thumping harmlessly, but loudly, into the soft earth and leaving a nice Nu size imprint. The blue creature struggled for a few moments before ceasing its’ battle and lay where it fell.
“….” commented Janus, rubbing his forehead in an attempt to erase the stupidity of what had just happened. Spekkio on the other hand laughed aloud, laughing so hard that soon the shape-shifter fell on his backside, but still continued.Sometimes, thought Janus to himself,I understand why a civilization that sought wisdom from the Nu’s ultimately failed.
Leaving behind the unmoving Nu, and the still laughing Spekkio, Janus wondered the clearing and examined the grass and trees, as well as the few blood spots that the Nu had been unable to remove with the cleaning rock. Janus sighed aloud, already he knew that they were off by a day or two, but one last test would confirm it. He poked his head down into the hole, not even bothering to climb the small ladder, and spotted the torture tools, various blood splotches, and a variety of tracks. Not only had he arrived after Lana had rescued Frog, it also seemed he’d arrived after the ex-Observer team had made it back as well.
Janus walked back over to the Nu who, for some reason, was still unmoving; perhaps in hopes that the two strangers would go away and leave him be. Spekkio, on the other hand, had grabbed a small stick and had taken to poking the Nu repeatedly, giggling with each prodding. At that moment Janus questioned his own sanity at agreeing to let the shape-shifter accompany him.
“You’ve seen others come through here, describe them.” Janus ordered, bending down to remove the Nu from its’ hole. The creature seemed asleep, eyes closed and snores coming from its’ mouth, but the warlock knew better. A quick backhand brought the Nu’s eyes flying open as Janus harshly explained himself, “I don’t have time for your games Nu.” Once he saw that he had the Nu’s undivided, yet angry, gaze, he continued. “Who else came through here?”
The Nu was reluctant to answer at first but thought better of remaining silent, that backhand had hurt, and, instead, decided the faster he answered the faster the two would leave. “There was a snake woman and a purple haired girl that looked exactly like that one right there,” the Nu pointed at Spekkio who quickly hid the stick and smiled innocently. “There was also a group of green cloaked ones. They didn’t talk much and were out of there pretty quick. The snake woman and the purple haired one made a mess of things though, getting blood on the poor trees and grass, and upset the greenery very much. I’m of a mind to…” the Nu continued to prattle on, promising a painful demise to those who ever did such a thing again. Janus silenced it was a measured glare and chose his next question.
“The snake woman, describe what she looked like.” ordered Janus. The Nu looked helplessly at the warlock, receiving another hard glare, before sighing. “She looked like with a woman with scales. What, do you expect that I draw pictures of everyone that comes through here? I can’t remember much else.”
Spekkio stepped up beside the warlock, though Janus noted now that he had changed his shape yet again to resemble Lana except now her light brown skin had been replaced with light green scales. The purple hair and every other aspect of Spekkio’s previous shape remained. “Like this?” Asked the squirrelly shape-shifter.
The Nu looked very confused, but only for a second, before a twinkle in his eye indicated he was interested “Just like that, except a little taller, and the hair is all wrong. She had a bunch of green stalk things that ran down past her neck. I also don’t remember her wearing any clothes, a most un-decent guest.” Spekkio made all the proper adjustments, now looking nothing at all like Lana, save the face, and the Nu paced around the newest model.
“Much better,” it applauded “But you have the face all wrong, she had fearsome canines and eyes like a reptiles, a dark red.” They continued for several minutes, the Nu advising Spekkio on what to change and Spekkio making the changes for the Nu to observe. It was rather comical, thought Janus, but it was more amazing that the shape-shifter had actually come in useful. The image that was resulting from their work resembled something Janus had once known, or at least he thought he had once known it because it was vaguely, yet intimately, familiar to him.
“Perfect,” smiled the Nu “That is an amazing ability you have!” Spekkio, for all purposes, now resembled the monster Lana had encountered down to a tee. Spekkio also smiled, glad to have a challenge, and commented, “You said that the last time we did this.” That gave the Nu pause as it stopped to think and Janus used the silence to examine Spekkio himself.
I know this from somewhere, thought Janus to himself,somewhere…from the dark ages. That was it! I made her in the dark ages to help me defeat Lavos, but… I thought she was dead!Janus’ realization never dawned on his face and Spekkio wondered why the warlock had paused and kept staring furiously at this forms face. The shape-shifter smiled predatorily, the only smile this form seemed able to do, and Janus grimaced in response. There was no mistake about it, this was Geon.
“Spekkio, keep looking for Lana.” said Janus aloud. Spekkio deadpanned, that had been a sudden request, before regaining his mental facilities.
“While you what, sit here and relax?” Responded Spekkio, “No way!”
“I know what that creature is, something much too dangerous to be left alive. I’m going to go after it, you find Lana. I have some measure of confidence that sometimes you know what you are doing, so don’t fail. I’ll find both of you once I’ve disposed of my mistake.” Janus explained, only confusing the poor shape-shifter even more.
There was one thing Spekkio had learned after all his time with Janus; there were times to argue and times to take his orders to heart, now was one of the later. Janus wouldn’t abandon them both here, Spekkio knew that with certainty. It wasn’t that Spekkio believed Janus to be a kind hearted individual, but Spekkio did know that if he disappeared people would ask questions, Gaspar being chief among them, and then Janus would be in some real trouble. Best to let Janus handle the dirty work anyway, reasoned the Geon look-alike, and leave me to frolic through the forest.
“Don’t forget,” Janus reminded Spekkio, almost as if reading the shape-shifters thoughts “Lana and Frog are at risk, don’t do anything stupid.” That seemed the last of Janus’ requests as he walked a short distance into the woods, hiding himself in the oaks and pines, before he began the spell.
Like all creations Janus, nay Magus, had built, he’d designed them with certain magic features. One was the ability to teleport to her exact location, if she was alive, and if the spell failed then that just meant less work for the already stressed warlock. Again he reached through the stuff of the cosmos and tweaked and altered that which he needed to change. His great will enforcing the changes he desired and as he continued to chant, he continued to make changes. Energy surrounded him and then he was traveling through space, to his creation.
His creation which, at that very moment, was kneeling at the foot of her creator’s throne.
“Ah ha,” shouted the Nu after Janus had left Spekkio, still slightly puzzled, by himself. “I remember now, you were the shape-shifter from Zeal. I thought you’d perished with the rest of them when it fell but I’m glad to see I’m wrong.”
“Me too, though I’ve been stuck in a really strange place.” laughed Spekkio, reverting to his normal white fur-ball form. Recognition dawned on the Nu’s face, Spekkio’s recent form was the guise he most often wore when they had ventured to the surface. “I’d love to stay and chat but if I don’t find my mage hunter, Janus is going to kill me.”
“The purple haired one?” Guessed the Nu and Spekkio nodded affirmative, causing a smile to spread across the Nu’s large and oblong face.
“I can help you with that, I know which way they went.” cheerfully chimed in the Nu for his friend, a long lost one but friend none the less. Talking directions from the Nu the two started walking; Spekkio enjoying the sights and sounds of the forest again, and the Nu enjoying the opportunity to talk to someone equally ageless.
“So, I take it everything went according to plan?” Inquired the Nu as they walked, Spekkio laughed in response.
“Boy did it ever!”
Dark blue flames burned in the large braziers that lined the walkway to Magus’ throne. An equally dark blue carpet, golden edged, formed said walkway and circled about the throne as well, forming the platform where the throne ultimately sat. It was an ebony hue, the legs and armrests resembled large bones, with the body of the seat looking like a twisted and mutated piece of petrified flesh; there were no cushions or luxuries to this seat of power, only the menacing shape. Behind sat the four armed demonic statue, further casting the room in a doom and gloom aura, and smaller golden braziers hung from the hands that each muscular looking arm ended with.
No one, save Ozzie and at times Slash, would ever interrupt Magus when he was in this room. While it served as his throne room no one ever stepped foot inside, save those two, and returned alive, unless they had been invited. It was there that the King of the Mystics did his research, his experiments, and planned strategies that would erase the foolish humans forever, or at least that’s what he let them believe. He had other plans, plans far more important than killing humans, or mystics for that matter, and those were the plans always at the foremost of his thoughts.
A piece of his plan, a piece he’d thought long lost, was now kneeling before the dour warlock. Injured, but not broken, Geon had somehow returned after more than a year of absence, even though he had been unable to sense her magically. He wasn’t sure which was more important; the fact that she had returned, or that fact that she had been away for so long and without his supervision.
At that moment Ozzie, his tub of lard second in command, ran frantically through the doors. The white voluminous robes that constantly covered his form, conveniently easy to slip over his large flub, flapped about as he ran full out to take his position at Magus’ right side. Ozzie looked surprised, glancing at Geon as he ran and then back to Magus, but the warlock’s cold hard gaze was unreadable.
“OZZIE!” Magus boomed, catching Ozzie mid-run and causing the mystic to try and move even faster. Apparently he was so afraid that he’d even forgotten his levitation spell; Ozzie always hated running.
“Yes o’ lord of darkness?” called out Ozzie, breathing hard as he reached Magus’ side. Sweat poured from every pore and the tub o’ lard was retching in breaths as if he were dying, perhaps he was knowing his physical condition, and Janus mused that perhaps Ozzie should be frightened more often.
“Geon has informed me that you sent her on a mission to kill the frog swordsman, is that true?” Magus asked in unreadable tones. This sent Ozzie to blabbering this and that before a sharp glance from the warlock told Ozzie he’d better explain this nice, and slow.
Ozzie though had no idea, not an answer you want to give to Magus, and so the blabbering had really been more of a cover-up until his brain had time to come up with an excuse. Never mind the fact that Geon was here, instead of locked away below his keep in a statis spell like she should be, or that he’d never told her to kill anyone, yet. But Ozzie, while cowardly and fat, was not as stupid as it first seemed. He’d weaseled out of worse, he figured, and he could do it again.
“I had information that the frog was planning against you master,” blurted out Ozzie “I was only trying to eliminate the frog before he could gather more momentum and attack with a greater force.”
Magus’ icy glare slid from Ozzie and back to Geon and then to the ceiling. “And how did you get a hold of Geon? You last reported she’d fallen in battle.” The question was bone chillingly cold, as if Janus had been affronted from Ozzie’s use of Geon, and Ozzie swallowed hard to keep his teeth from chattering.
“I found her sir…” meekly responded Ozzie, seeming more a question than an answer, and Magus’ cold gaze rested once again on the mystic.
“Found her?” The question was both mocking and an order to further explain himself.
“In the forest around the castle…” Ozzie peeped, his voice squeaking, and his arms now just starting to wave around wildly. Magus locked eyes with the fat mystic and Ozzie knew at that point he was going to die a rather messy death, he just wasn’t sure how yet. In fact, Magus was just about ready to cut the troubling general in two. A series of unpredicted event stopped him before the thought became action.
Strong magic flared in the center of the throne room, snapping Magus’ attention from his fat general and directing it to the powerful magical aura. Something strong and magical was teleporting, here, this very instance, and he quickly jumped from his chair, scythe materializing immediately into his hands. Time slowed as he felt reality bulge and shift, conforming to the changes that the caster had placed upon it, and a lone figure appeared. Before the magic cleared, before reality was finished inserting the new, powerful, figure in the middle of his throne room, Magus went on the offensive.
Very few times in his life had he truly been afraid, this was one of those times. Whoever, or whatever, was coming through was just as strong, if not stronger, than the warlock. That meant he, or she, had to die and die quickly.
Janus was just now getting the contents of the room in focus, it was a very dark room and he’d forgone casting a spell to see in the dark. As it came into focus he realized that he’d made a very, very, large mistake seconds before a blast of Dark Matter took him in the chest and knocked the senses out of him. His vision was dotted and his breaths pained as he materialized a staff into his hands, but it was too late. Another Dark Matter slammed again into his chest as he had begun preparation for a defense. Darkness greeted him as he cursed at the stupidity of teleporting right into the middle of his own throne room.
Ozzie jumped back frantically as his master cast the most powerful spell he’d ever seen, TWICE! Unlike his muscles, which refuse to move from the wondoruos, and terrible, spectacle, his brain was still functioning just fine. Here was more proof to his story, yes that was it. The frog had sent the wizard after Magus, hoping to kill the warlock once and for all. Perfect.
“See, there is one of the frog’s wizards!” pointed Ozzie at the unconscious form lying, still and unmoving, behind Geon.
Magus seemed to pay the accusation no mind, his face covered in sweat and breaths seemed labored and pained. Ozzie had never seen Magus sweat from anything, much less spell casting, and realization dawned in his mind. This would have been a worthy foe, had they not had the first strike.
“Ozzie,” calmly said Magus as he stilled his trembling hands, resumed normal breathing, and wiped the sweat from his face “Alert the soldiers on the Porre continent, tell them to find this frog and kill him.”
“Certainly master.” smiled Ozzie as he turned to leave, his exit interrupted by Geon.
“Master, his last location was in the Cursed Woods. I ask permission to return and finish my job.”
“Correction Ozzie,” noted Magus “Tell them to search the Cursed Woods and kill everything in it. Have Geon healed and then send her out as well.”
“Of course master, right away!”
“And Ozzie, this matter is not settled. I will deal with you in time, for now you still serve a use. Best, for you, if that continues.” Magus ordered them both to leave the room, Ozzie leaving happily and Geon leaving with no discernable expression.
Only when they’d gone did Magus allow his hands to finish the trembling they had started and he breathed a gasp of relief. How that had hurt! He wailed to himself. How powerful that wizard must have been if it had taken two Dark Matters to knock him out.ONLY knock him out, Magus reminded himself. His fingertips hurt, smoke rising off the ends, and his mind was a pounding drum, still, from the hasty casting.
Minutes passed and slowly the effects left Magus, leaving him only sore and with a small migraine, but it was better than the previous pain. He breathed slowly, noticing the wizard’s body did the same, and his thoughts turned to the sudden surprise visitor. He wore a dark leather breast plate and dark leather pants, much like Magus, but his hair was a light brown and his skin a healthy tan hue.
Slowly, and painfully, rising from his throne, Magus walked carefully down to examine the wizard. The staff, Magus commented as he picked it up, was well made and contained many spell runes running down the side, spell runes that even he didn’t know. It was even weighted perfectly and, if the warlock didn’t favor the scythe, perhaps he would have taken it as a weapon. Instead he tossed it to the side in disgust; but not at the wizard lying before him or the thrown staff.
The disgust was aimed inwards, towards himself, and his inability to gain the strength he would need. If this mysterious and unheard of wizard was more powerful than Magus, then what chance did the ex-prince have against Lavos when the time came to save his sister? What good would he be able to accomplish if he remained as weak as he was? The question angered the warlock and he roared aloud, to the empty room and to fate, expressing his hatred.
All was not lost, realized Magus after his anger was released,I’ve learned something valuable today. Even the mighty can be surprised. Even I can be surprise, he added mentally. Also, he now realized the wizard was at his mercy; he could kill the intruder, or, perhaps, find another use for him. Force him to teach the warlock a few of those spell runes for example; make Magus stronger, strong enough to destroy even Lavos.
“Again!” Shouted the purple skinned Slash as his opponent, the wide and bulky Henchmen, grunted and managed to hoist the large war-hammer off the ground. The burly Henchmen’s arms shook with the effort, his legs shaking as well to keep him standing, and he was clearly unready to make an intelligent attack against the much more skilled Slash. Slash, though, was expecting just that.
One of Magus’ three generals, and at times a company leader of soldiers, stood poised in his battle stance, perfectly formed, with his sword out and at the ready. He wore a thin white cotton shirt, complete with a dark purple vest covering it, and lighter purple pants that served as the only form of armor and was barely moist with sweat from the long training session. Anxious, calculating, eyes examined his opponent piece by piece as he awaited the inevitable attack. Though he stood shorter than the henchmen, he’d learned long ago that size didn’t matter, what mattered was how quickly you could kill your enemy.
“Don’t just stand there all day maggot, attack me!” Slash ordered the aforementioned henchmen. The henchman came on, raising the large war-hammer high above his head, or as high as his tired muscles could go, and ran full tilt at the general. Slash easily side-stepped the hammer as it sailed downwards and impacted in the ground with a great THUMP. In the next instance Slash grabbed onto the handle of the Henchman’s own hammer and, using it for a brace, kicked out at his opponent’s windpipe. Forced to either relinquish the hammer or have his throat kicked in, the Henchman let go of the hammer and furiously back-peddled away.
The back-peddle was hasty and ill-planned and the Henchmen now tried to regain his balance, finding it just as Slash’s sword stopped millimeters away from the now frightened warrior’s neck. Slash moved the blade slightly closer, watching the Henchmen’s eyes move with it, and rested it against his adversary’s neck. The Henchmen immediately held his hands up in defeat, an inevitable defeat but defeat none-the-less. Slash nodded, informing the terrified warrior that he acknowledged the surrender and, quick as lightning, had his sword back in its’ sheath. The Henchmen visibly relaxed and collapsed, his muscles tired of supporting his weight and from the sudden relief he felt.
“Today’s lesson,” explained Slash to the watching group, compromised of more henchmen, diablos, and free lancer’s, that had every eye and ear glued to the general’s actions. “Do not attack without a plan. Running at your opponent with the mere intent of smashing him IS NOT a plan.” Slash eyed the henchmen sitting on the ground, the mentioned soldier nodded in understanding, or at least Slash hopped it was understanding. These Henchmen weren’t the smartest kids in the class.
“Always think ahead of your opponent, if he has a sword realize this and attack him with the greater reach of the war-hammer. If your opponent has a shield take into account how large it is, how sturdy it looks, how strong the arm behind that shield is, and then overcome the obstacle. Do no blindly rush into waiting steel. Victory isn’t won with smashing, victory is won through planning. Think on this or else meet a quick death in the next battle.”
Slash ended his lecture and dismissed the troops for chow, something they all eagerly looked forward to. The battle hardened general, though, sighed and shook his head. Half of them wouldn’t last the next battle, but the remaining unit would be stronger for it. He didn’t need useless soldiers slowing him down and, in his opinion, the more that died meant the stronger the rest must, and would, become. A small vibration beneath his thin cloth shirt shook him from his thoughts. Perhaps the next battle would come sooner than expected.
He quickly walked through the meager camp, a few tents and large meeting area for meals covered by a filthy canopy, and entered into his private cottage tent. The general quickly reached down and removed the small blue orb from his armor and placed it on top of the many maps that were spread across his large table. Immediately the plump green face of Ozzie appeared in the small globe, a most unwelcome sight. Slash grimaced, a sight not unnoticed by the ex-mystic leader, and pulled up a wooden chair so at least he wouldn’t have to stand AND listen to Ozzie.
“Hello Ozzie,” greeted the general “What brings you calling?”
“Orders from Magus.” quickly explained Ozzie, and Slash noticed that the fat one looked as if he’d seen a ghost.
“Well get on with them,” urged Slash, afraid that perhaps Ozzie had died in the middle of the conversation.
“Ah yes, Ahem, You are to take your unit and dispose of every, and any, living thing in the Cursed Woods. More specifically, though, he wants the frog swordsman dead. You are close to the area correct?”
Slash nodded, they were just due north of the Cursed Woods and just below the town of Dorino. He could have his company there before the next morning if they marched through the night. “Why this all of a sudden? We are supposed to attack the town tomorrow, why such a diversion for one annoying frog?” Asked the surprised general, from all accounts the frog had left them alone after Cyrus’ death, except for the occasional small raids.
“The great Magus was just attacked in his own thrown room by a wizard sent by the frog. We were the victors though and now he thinks that the frog needs to learn his place,” smiled Ozzie evilly “And we get to finish the job Magus started 5 years ago.”
“Also,” gulped the fat wizard “I’ll be sending … Geon … to help when she is healed. Do no wait for her though, it might … be a few days.”
“Geon?” Asked Slash, “Don’t tell me he found out about…” Slash stopped as Ozzie quickly shushed him. The tub of lard looked around, fear evident in his face, and then kneeled down closer to his own orb.
“I don’t know. She was down THERE this morning and all of a sudden she bursts into the throne room asking Magus for additional units to help kill the frog. A mission she claims I sent her on.” Ozzie quickly whispered to Slash and then stood back up to normal height. Slash knew they’d talk about it once he returned, whenever that might be, and Ozzie would work out the details in the mean time.
“Send word once you’ve disposed of the frog, and if Geon manages to meet an unmentionable demise while there, well … so be it.” Ozzie looked around again, winked his oversized eyebrow at the general, and quickly cut off communications.
Slash quickly tucked the orb back into a small pouch worn around his chest on a sash like a bandolier. Most of the human troops were surrounding Dorino at this very moment, preparing for the inevitable attack, so he should be able to take his company straight to the forest without any run-ins with the enemy.A pity, he thought,but I’m sure the frog will weed out some of the weaker ones himself.
“Cram down what you’ve got left and pack up camp, we march in a half an hour!” Slash yelled as he walked forcefully from his tent and, hopefully, to another engaging battle.