Something wasn't right. Magus woke but kept his eyes closed, only opening them to slits. Beside him, Alfador lay still, every muscle tense. The torch had burned out but now a blue glow filled the room. Peering through his eyelashes, he spotted the slight blue tinge that was the signature of a short teleportation spell as it opened up at the far side of the room. One shadow appeared in front of it and stepped out, followed by another. He could make out the familiar outlines of their shapes and the sound of metal sliding on metal told him the first was Slash. The second had to be Flea.
That they were alive didn't surprise him. He clenched his hands into fists. They were too close to try a spell and his scythe was too far to grab. He shifted as if asleep and let Alfador creep into his shadow. Slow seconds crept by. Slash came closer, the shadow of sword falling across Magus. He forced himself to wait, to hear for Flea's steps as well. When he came around the same side of the bed that Slash did, Magus relaxed slightly. That would make it a little easier.
The waiting was the worst part, listening to their footsteps on the stone floor. He heard no one outside his room, but the wooden door was so heavy that he figured no one could hear through it. He'd have to face these two alone. Slash was right beside him now, his whole shadow covering Magus. There was a whoosh of air as he raised his sword and brought it down as hard as he could.
An empty mattress met the blade. Cut in half, the blankets fluttered down as Magus flickered into sight on the other side of the bed. Before Flea's wind spell could reach him, he teleported again to the far side of the room, landing behind both of them and grabbing his scythe. The small tornado smashed the bed into the wall, breaking it to pieces, but it gave Magus the split second distraction he needed to lunge forward and draw his scythe in a broad arc while he began his chant. His enemies backed away from the swinging blade and then dove for cover as his finished fire spell sent flames shooting across their clothes.
By now they heard footsteps and yells coming down the hall towards the room. Flea held up his hands and sent a blast of wind up against the door to hold it shut, and he glanced over his shoulder at Slash. "I'll hold them off. Finish him!"
Knowing that a constant attack was the only thing that could keep Magus from concentrating on another spell, Slash rushed the wizard and slammed his sword into the scythe. Sparks flew from the grinding metals as they pushed back and forth.
"I'll repay you," Slash grunted out, "revenge for your betrayal!"
"How many times do I have to kill you?" Magus turned hard to his left, letting Slash's blade slide off of the scythe. A second later, Magus had jerked his blade's tip deep into his former general's stomach. Slash dropped his sword and put both hands around the scythe, trying to yank it out. The wizard leaned close enough to whisper.
"Can you hear that? It's the sound of the reaper."
A tornado spell struck him to the floor, reminding him that he'd forgotten about Flea. As Slash staggered backwards, Flea grabbed the swordsman and ran to the back of the room the same time the door flew open and Frog leaped in, followed by several guards with swords drawn. He hopped over the shattered debris and raised his sword, about to cleave off Flea's head when there was a blue flash and the two Mystics vanished.
The guards gasped and pointed and stepped closer, poking their swordtips where the pair had disappeared. Sheathing his sword, Frog sighed and looked at Magus. The sorcerer had already let Alfador out and was drawing on his boots.
"Art thou well?"
Magus didn't even look at him. "Well enough."
"Those two have more lives than thy cat." Frog left the soldiers to their poking and stood beside him. "Though that wound thou gave'st Sir Slush surely hath killed him."
"No. He's alive."
"How canst thou know that?"
"No black wind." Magus picked his cape up from the floor and shook out the splinters and mud splatters. It was a lost cause, too singed and torn for repair, and he dropped it again. He could pick up another from the market before he left. Or rob the treasury when no one was looking. People in this world, he'd found, were rather lax about letting treasure boxes lay around with any guards or even locks. He glanced at Frog. "You came pretty damn quick. Extra guards around my room?"
"Extra guard hath been placed everywhere," Frog said. "And 'twas mere coincidence thou art placed so closely to the quarters."
A single, humorless laugh. "I'm sure." Last to go on were his gloves, and as his hands disappeared inside, he heard a single gasp from one of the soldiers. He glared at the whole group of them. "What?"
None of the guards would face him, but he knew they'd seen how his fingers ended in claws. He tossed his hair over his shoulder. Who cared what they thought? Without another glance in their direction, he walked out of the room with Alfador close to his heels.
Sunlight streaming in through the windows told him how long he'd slept in, and inwardly cursed. There was the matter of Slash and Flea to attend to before he could even consider resuming his search in the library, and already half the day was gone. Worse, most of the castle inhabitants seemed to awake and clustered near the hallway. His dark look and the scythe in his hand made them back away so he could walk by, but he still heard their whispers.
"--last night was so dark but now--"
"Did you see--"
"--that scythe isn't normal--"
"--purple cat acts almost human--"
He was glad when he reached the stairs. Being talked about was nothing, but being gawked at was annoying.
Behind the wizard, Frog left the maids to clean the damaged room and hopped after Magus. Without the man's glare to cow them, the servants and guards crowded back into the middle of the hall to stare. Frog had to push his way past a few of them, edging towards the stairs.
"Some sorcerer," the cook said to no one in particular. "Did you see his eyes? He looks half-dead."
The Knight Captain glared at his brother. "That sorcerer destroyed most of the mystic army in less than half an hour and helped save the queen. There's a reason he looks half-dead."
"Mm." The cook shook his head. "I don't know. There's something awfully familiar about him."
"I'm sure I'd remember if I'd seen him before." He smacked his brother's head. "All that jerky and 'eye scream' is ruining your brain."
Frog hopped a little faster. Without his cloak and the cover of night, Magus ran a real risk of being identified and...he shook his head. And what? After their journey, could anyone besides himself truly stand against the wizard? If recognized, would the queen order him to destroy Magus? He finally caught up and slowed his gait to match.
"A moment," he said. "Where art thou going? Thou needst more rest--"
"Where there's Slash and Flea," Magus said without looking at him, "there's bound to be Ozzie. I can't search the archives here until I kill them. Again."
"I shall accompany thee--"
"Like hell." Now he glared at him, but he didn't stop walking. "That's all I need, her majesty's royal lap dog yapping at my heels."
It took all Frog's patience not to let him simply walk away, no matter how much the other man aggravated him. "Thou must needs accept mine help. Thou'lt be sorely outnumbered otherwise--"
"Oh, can it!" Magus whirled and faced him, speaking in a hiss. "You think I can't see right through you? You're too much of a coward to face the queen--"
Frog growled and put his hand on his sword. "Thou shalt not finish thy sentence--"
"--because you know damn well you could've saved her king--"
"I warn thee, hold thy tongue!"
"--and you're so damn bored that you're actually happy for the fight now, even if it took his life."
The sword flew out of Frog's scabbard and into his hands, held poised to strike. "Damn thee, Magus!"
The instant it left his mouth, he froze. Magus' eyes slightly widened, and they both looked around to see most of the castle gathered around them, watching their fight. Jaws dropped, and several of them visibly paled, recognizing the wizard finally from half-descriptions and rumors of his appearance. For a moment, no one breathed. After the initial shock, the servants pressed back against the walls and hid behind the guards, who drew their swords and stared at the Zealan prince. Sensing trouble, Alfador walked into the shadow at Magus' feet and disappeared, which in itself caused more gasps and whispers.
When he saw that all of their sword hands trembled and that none were advancing, Magus looked down at Frog. The knight could see the thought in his head, knew exactly was coming, but could do nothing to stop it. Honor dictated no less, but moreover he couldn't make his mouth work to stop him. The familiar smirk on Magus' face took a vicious twist.
"Oh...we're on a first name basis now, Glen?" and he pronounced the name loud enough for everyone to hear.
His name echoed down the halls until their whispers swallowed it up. Frog winced. What he wouldn't give for one of Ozzie's trap doors to open up and swallow him up too. Now everyone would know that Glen was the Queen's faithful Frog whom everyone ridiculed, even the Knights of the Square Table, at least when he wasn't around. He swallowed reflexively. He was no coward but...but regardless, he would not face them with this now. "Thou hast sealed it. I am accompanying thee."
Magus glared at him, but there was no changing the look in Frog's eyes. He growled. "You better not slow me down."
"Thou'rt the one still talking."
Magus glared at him for a moment longer, then turned to the broad castle doors only to find several of the soldiers lined up in front of him, and the Knight Captain before him.
"H-halt. By the order of King Guardia the twenty-first, for treason and other high crimes, I order you to stand down and surrender yourself." The Knight Captain's voice wavered at first but steadied towards the end. "And you, Frog or Glen or whoever you truly are, are likewise ordered to surrender yourself."
"What?" Frog's jaw dropped. "Upon what grounds?"
"I've always suspected you might be a spy. Your duplicity with Magus proves it. Both of you, give yourselves up."
Dark laughter echoed through the hallways, making everyone take a step back even though Magus didn't move. "And if I refuse? Will you shake your swords at me some more?"
"We have you surrounded," the Knight Captain said. "Brazenly infiltrating our stronghold will be your last arrogant mistake."
"No, thinking you can defeat me will be yours. After all, there's always time for a little fun." He raised his hands into the air. "How about it, Glen? How about a whole castle full of frogs?"
The threat and the screams from the servants roused Frog from his state of stupefaction. He tightened his grip on his sword and prepared to attack Magus. "Thou shalt not attack these people," he said. "Wrong or right, they do not deserve such a guise."
"True," Magus said. "Spineless slugs would suit them better."
Frog steeled himself. He didn't want to fight, especially not an enemy as strong or resourceful as Magus, but to protect the castle, his queen--a flash of light caught his eye and he turned. "Magus, look out!"
The wizard looked back as the Knight Captain brought his sword down towards his blue hair. A second later, Magus held the edge of the blade in his gloved hand. He smiled as the knight captain's eyes widened underneath his helmet.
"Surprised? I'm stronger than I was a year ago, much stronger. There's only one sword in the entire timestream that can possibly hurt me." He leaned a little closer. "And you don't have it."
"Magus, this serveth nothing," Frog said. "Our true enemies await."
"So eager to enter battle?" Magus grinned, showing off his fangs, and again everyone backed away. He stared at the crowd. "The only reason I'm letting you live is so that time is not disrupted. Presume to fight me again, and the history books will all tell of a great Guardia massacre." He sent a bolt of lightning down the captain's sword, making the knight drop, and stepped over him as if he were not there. The doors blew open in a great gust of wind and he walked out, head held high.
As Frog followed, the Knight Captain grasped at his leg. "Don't think your evil sorcerer can hide you," he said, his voice hardly more than a rasp. "We will find you and bring you to justice. We will destroy you, destroy all you evil mystics..." He blacked out then, and Frog jerked himself out of his hand. Unable to look back at his former allies, he hopped after Magus and vanished with him when the wizard teleported them out of sight.
When they reappeared again, they stood in front of the sign warning people not to trespass in the castle. Frog couldn't bear to look at it. It now warned him, too. Before anyone came out after them, they started moving, careful not to slip in the ground still soaked with rain and blood, and sidestepping the corpses yet to be moved. The stormclouds from the night before hadn't disappeared, now blotting out the sun and leaving the land in a pale gray light.
They traveled south to the bridge, finding that they were well ahead of news of their "betrayal." The lone guard positioned at the bridge welcomed him and his strange friend, waving them by and staring at how Magus floated rather than walked. The moment Magus had cleared the bridge, though, he extended his arms, pointed towards the center and summoned a dark bomb spell, blasting the bridge to splinters. Stunned beyond words, the guard stared at the damage for a moment, then turned and ran for the castle.
"Don't even start," Magus said. "I'm in no mood to deal with those fools and this will keep them out of my face. And alive. You don't like it, swim back across and help them rebuild it."
Frog would rather have tossed Magus into the strait, but he said nothing. The walk to the nearest town was short, and he hoped for news of their quarry, if nothing else for a fight that would distract him from his traveling companion. He was not surprised when they drew stares in Sandorino, they'd done so before when traveling with Crono and his friends.
Instead of the inn, however, Magus walked first into the local merchant's shop. If his strange appearance was odd, Magus' glare was downright terrifying and made the shopkeep stumble back into his shelves. Ignoring the man's wide eyed stuttering, Magus scanned the shelves and trunks around him. "Your strongest ethers," he said. "And any capes and cloaks you carry."
The merchant bowed once and bent under the counter, coming back up with a large chest. He took out a heavy iron key and unlocked it, then opened it and began pulling out several cloaks, spreading them out enough for Magus to see them.
"If you d-don't need help with th-these," he said, "I'll see about those ethers."
Without looking at him, Magus nodded once. He took one glove off and ran his hand over the cloth of each cape, as if he could tell their properties by touch alone. If they were ensorcelled capes, Frog thought he might be able to at that. After a moment, Magus took one of the cloaks and threw it around his shoulders, raising the hood over his head. He glanced down at Frog, then grabbed one of the cloaks meant for children and tossed it at him. It landed on Frog's face and he yanked it off.
"What art thou doing?"
"Think, you little fool. You're too distinctive." Magus pulled out a leather pouch looped onto his belt and scooped out a handful of gold coins. As soon as the merchant returned with his ethers, he slipped the glass bottles somewhere under his cloak and tossed a few coins on the counter. Mistaking the gesture as an attack, the merchant stumbled backwards, but he soon recognized the stamp on the coins as Guardia currency. Even as the merchant was bowing again, Magus was walking out again. Hastily thanking the man, Frog hopped after the sorcerer.
"I see a year hath not taught thee better manners," he said.
"I paid for everything, didn't I?" He tugged his leather glove back on and made for the inn.
"Aye, there's that, at least."
A gust of wind blew over them, carrying a handful of snowflakes with it. Frog shivered and put the cloak about his shoulders, drawing the hood up over his head. He was surprised it fit.
"I...thank thee. I'd not noticed winter hath begun," he said.
Magus glanced at him but didn't answer. The inn doors creaked open and a few heads turned to see who was coming inside. Frog followed close as they went straight to the barkeep who was cleaning glasses behind the bar. Magus dropped a few coins onto the counter. The gold, well over what anything cost, sparkled in the firelight from the hearth. Though the man stared at the small pile a moment, he didn't reach for it.
"I need information," Magus said in a low voice. "Regarding mystics."
"We live in harmony with them," the bartender said. "You Northerners may despise them, but we've no quarrel with them now that Magus is gone."
"I don't plan on killing them. All of them, anyway."
"Are you a Guardian agent?" the bartender asked.
"I work for no man. My own life has been threatened by two mystics in particular. Have you heard anything about Flea and Slash lately?" He lowered his head so that only his red eyes gleamed in the firelight. "I know they're alive. I want to know where."
"The mystic generals?" His hands fumbled on the glass he was holding. "I...yes, there's been rumors...just speculation..."
"And what rumors would those be?"
"They...they're raising an army again...we've seen fewer mystics about."
"Yes, yes," Magus said, waving one hand. "I know all about that. Do you know where they are?"
"Even if I knew where they are, and not that I do, we have a truce with the mystics since the last war. They leave us alone and we do the same. It'd be suicide if any of us said anything--"
The glass had crashed to the ground before anyone had seen Magus move. An eyeblink, and he'd wrapped his hand around the man's throat, raising him a few inches from the floor. The noise in the inn stopped as everyone fell silent, watching the cloaked figure slowly strangle his victim. Frog's hand went to the Masamune, but Magus heard the steel slide in its scabbard and he spared a glance at his companion.
"Draw your sword and I will kill him," he said. "And everyone else in here. You know I can do it before you can stop me."
"Monster!" Frog tightened his hand on his hilt but he did not draw. "I'd thought thou wert showing signs of honor, but I see now I was truly deceived. Thou hast not changed at all."
"Spare me your philosophies," Magus said. "Suffice to say, you were wrong."
"Thou arrogant cur--"
"Arrogance is only confidence in someone you don't like." Magus squeezed the throat in his grip, making the barkeep's face turn a sick shade of blue. "Now back off."
With a glare worthy of the wizard, Frog took a step back. Magus coldly smiled at him. "Was that so hard?" He set his victim back on his feet but he didn't let go. "Now you listen, fool, and you listen well. If you think Flea and Slash are bad, you haven't seen anything. It's suicide if you rat them out? It's suicide if you don't tell me, and I'm the one with his claws around your throat. Where are they!"
"I said...didn't know..." The man's eyes were starting to bug out and wet gurgles came from his throat as he tried to breath. His feet scrambled on the floor, trying to back away, and his hands grasped Magus'. "S'truth..."
"Dammit," Frog said, "let the poor man go. He cannot be lying."
"You think I'm going to believe that?" With his free hand, Magus grabbed the barkeep's hand and raised it into view. "You forget, I know those two well. I'd know Slash's mark anywhere."
With the hand in the light, Frog could clearly see the blue ring on the human's hand. The crest on the top was the same as the shields held by the dragon statues in Magus' old castle. "A spy?"
"Not quite." He dragged the barkeep over the counter and threw him onto the nearest table, splintering it. "You remember Slash's cadaver friends, don't you?"
Now that he was looking at the rest of the people, Frog saw that they were all standing and facing them, unblinking. He leaped back as blue flames engulfed each of them, burning away their skins and flesh and leaving them skeletons. Behind them, the door to the sleeping quarters opened and more skeletons came out. As one, they moved forward, drawing spears and swords as they surrounded him and Magus.
Frog hopped up onto the bar, sword held high. "Magus, come off the floor. One rush of water shouldst dispel these creatures."
Not wanting to get wet, Magus alighted next to him, but as he turned to face the monsters again, he frowned. More than usual, at least.
"I don't think so," he said, sweeping his cape back. "Look out the windows."
The glass in the closest window shattered even as Frog turned his attention towards it. Shards blew into the room as each window exploded with more skeletons coming inside. As they piled inside, the center of the room swirled with shadows, as if the skeletons already inside were caught in a dark whirlwind. With the roar of the storm and the mystics' screaming, they could hardly hear their own spells.
"Damn," Magus said. "They're merging!" He launched his fastest spells, bursts of lightning and fire, trying to break the creatures up. As many as he vaporized, though, more poured inside to take their place. Even more ignored the merging storm and instead attacked head-on, using their sheer numbers to drive the pair behind the bar for shelter. In such close quarters, Magus couldn't draw his scythe and Frog couldn't use the Masamune for fear of slashing the wizard.
"They're weak little bastards, but there's too many of them," Magus said, burning swaths through their numbers. "They've cut off our exits."
"Think not of running!" Frog yelled over the noise. "Who wouldst run from glorious battle?"
Crazy knight, Magus thought. With the enemies immediately around him dead, he could spare a brief glance at the space behind the bar. Cords of wood, a roaring hearth, a cask of wine...
A moment later, the screech of a fully formed merge drowned out everything else. Frog and Magus dispatched the rest of the mystics around them and looked up. And up. And up.
Gray bones filled the room from floor to ceiling, and although its shape was awkwardly made, Frog though that it was probably taller than the roof and was simply crouching down. It looked like the skeleton of a dragon, its four legs bracing its weight up off the ground as its tail swept back and forth, splintering what chairs and tables had remained intact and smashing any skeletons unfortunate enough to be in its way. It reared back its massive head, the horns gouging out chunks in the roof, and its roar shook the walls. Bits of mortar and stone crumbled about it.
And when it looked at Frog, turned its glowing red eyes on him and opened its mouth, displaying its sharp fangs with another howl, he certainly thought of running. Charitably, though, not from the battle itself, but at least into open ground.
The pause in the battle was broken as Magus drew his scythe. Even as he raised it, the dragon leaped forward, slamming through the bar and into the opposite wall. Frog was only saved by diving out of the way behind Magus and using the cloak as a shield from flying debris. Magus swung his blade through the cask of wine, spilling the red liquid across the floor. He wasted no time putting the scythe away and instead carried it in one hand, grabbed Frog with the other and teleported across the room, next to the door. He threw his blade and his companion out into the snow and turned around.
The dragon was back on its feet, but it was still facing the wall. It craned its long neck around so that its head faced Magus, and through its opened mouth the wizard could see the red glow as it began to laboriously cough up its flames. He looked at the floor. There was no way its fire would hit the ground, not at that angle, and there was preciously little time now. He cast a fire spell as fast as he could, but even as the wine ignited, the dragon spit its own fireball at him. It streaked towards him like a comet, but its aim had been off. Magus' fire had partially obscured him, so that instead of punching through his body, it merely exploded at his feet.
His ability to float saved him from slamming into one of the trees and breaking his neck. Able to control himself even in midair, he slowed down and landed on his back in the snow. He shook off the excess snow in his hair and face and stood up, watching the flames consume the inn. A fireball exploded out the side, destroying half of it in a blaze, and the dragon stumbled through the hole it had made. Its bones were charred black and smoking, but it was still moving. It roared in anger and spit another fireball in anger, destroying another building. By the way it swung its head about, Magus figured it couldn't see him.
A meow whispered in the back of his mind. "Not yet," he said softly. "Stay put, Alfador. It's not over yet."
A loud crunch of snow to his right got his attention, but he didn't bother looking. "Didn't think I threw you this far out."
"Methinks thou took more pleasure in throwing me than thou knowst." Frog already had the Masamune in his hands, ready to attack. "Art thou well? That explosion--"
"It's a dragon," Magus said, as if that explained everything. "And it's not dead yet, if you hadn't noticed."
"Where are the townspeople?" Frog asked, looking around the buildings. Every window was dark. The only light came from the burning inn and the smoldering ashes along the dragon's bones.
"Probably they're what the dragon's made of," Magus said. "I had wondered what happened to the village, why we didn't see it in the future."
They watched it for a moment as it stumbled on three legs. One of its front legs was pure black and looked as if it was turned to charcoal, but the dragon didn't seem to feel any pain. It lit another house on fire simply for more light by which to search for its enemies.
"Magus, how shall we defeat what is already dead? We cannot burn it, and methinks we cannot blast it apart."
"Like hell we can't," Magus said as he stood up, brushing the snow from his cape. He picked up his scythe and started towards the dragon. "We just aren't trying hard enough."
As he came closer, he stepped into the glow of the burning buildings. Firelight reflected off his scythe. The dragon had turned its back to him as it scanned the whole town, but soon it heard the snow crunching underneath his boots. It whipped its tail around, trying to strike him, but Magus leaped into the air and landed on its back. His scythe sliced deep into its spine, cutting it in two, and he jumped sideways to dodge the fireball it spit at him. While he escaped unscathed, it blackened its own bones and the deep crack that Magus had made now widened, splitting down the length of its back.
The distraction wouldn't last long, Magus knew, and he rushed to take advantage of it, sliding underneath its ribs. He started to chant a dark matter spell but before he could finish, the dragon tried to lay on top of him. Its ribs crashed down around him, the sharpened points missing his skin as he slid between the large bones, but he couldn't dodge them again as the dragon rose back up. The curved ribs caught him as if they were a cage, and he found himself trapped inside its body. His scythe was knocked from his hand and landed in the snow out of his reach.
After a moment, he realized this was safer, despite the bruising ride. The dragon couldn't spit at him now, and its claws couldn't reach him. He cast an ice spell on its back, covering the gaping wound in frost. Another ice spell, and another, and another, and now the backbone was frozen solid.
"Frog," he yelled, trying to be heard over the fires and the screeching. "You useless amphibian, break its back!"
Frog heard him easily. He stood only a few feet away, waiting for a opening that wouldn't force him to slice the wizard in half as well. Since Magus couldn't actually see him either, he didn't try to hide his laughter as he watched him struggle to hang onto the bars of his "cage" lest he slip down and skewer himself on those ribs.
"Mayhap this is the only time I shall see thee in a prison," he said in a low voice. "A shame it shan't last."
The Masamune hummed, as if the spirits inside were straining at the leash, and the blade glowed with its true energy. Frog raised it into the air and leaped as high as he could, coming down right on top of the weak spot on its spine. His blade swung down, the ice and bone shattered, and the dragon split in two.
With the back legs lying useless on the ground, the dragon dragged itself by its one good arm. Magus toppled out of the severed ribs, grabbing his scythe as he landed. His footing cut out from under him, Frog landed several meters away, headfirst in the snow.
Magus was already chanting a dark matter spell as the dragon struggled to come about, its one set of claws digging into the ground to drag itself in a broad circle. By the time it could actually see Magus, two triangles had formed above it, circling closer together. Magus didn't get to see the imminent explosion, though. Behind him, the dragon's lower half was still moving. With the dragon able to see him, it could control its severed tail long enough for one last attack.
All Magus felt was something heavy slamming against his side, flinging him again through the air. There was no time to slow himself. He crashed into a stone wall and slid to the ground, stars flashing before his eyes. There was a dark matter explosion some distance away, but he couldn't be bothered now to look, too occupied with the pain. His leg was bent at an unnatural angle, he couldn't move either of his arms, and he was coughing blood. Something was bleeding on the inside, and he couldn't move to find one of his healing draughts. After a moment of pain settling on his body, the darkness swallowed his vision and he blacked out.
The dark matter spell shattered the dragon apart, sending bone shards falling from the sky. Frog hid in the doorway of one of the few houses left unburnt, waiting for all the debris to land and making sure the lower half was inert before venturing out again. He hopped towards the fallen sorcerer, kneeling beside him and taking stock of his injuries. Blood everywhere, the jagged end of a snapped bone protruding from one of his legs, his arms with the limp, useless look of shattered bones. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth. He reminded Frog of the dead king, but there was still a ragged breath, a shuddering of his body even as he fought to breathe. Alfador slipped out from a fold in his cloak and lay down on his master's lap, a small bundle of purple fur that was already starting to shiver.
There was no hesitation this time. Frog's healing spell appeared as thousands of tiny lights appearing inches above the wizard and slowly drifting down onto him, sinking through his clothes and skin. Frog still wasn't sure how the spell itself worked, but the wounds closed and Magus was soon breathing easily again. He didn't wake up, though, and the snow was starting to come down harder. Frog looked up at the sky. Though there was no moon, the flames gave him enough light to see the snowflakes flying by thicker and faster. The wind was picking up, too, threatening a blizzard.
"Hold a moment," Frog told the cat. "I shall return."
He stood up and walked to the center of town. By now the fire had spread over the wooden rooftops and now engulfed most of the town. Only the corner they were in were unscathed. First things first, he had to stop the fire from consuming these last few buildings without dousing himself or Magus in the process. His spells poured across the town, the water freezing in midair and sparkling like diamonds until they melted again in the fires they doused. One by one, each blaze went out, a sodden, smoking rubble of an inn, a house, the merchant's shop. Everything but a handful of structures was gutted and ruined.
Slash and Flea, Frog thought. Sure they art the ones responsible for this. Killing and turning every single person...
He grimaced and turned away. There was nothing to be done for them now. The best he could do was somehow manage Magus' unconscious body into the nearest house and find shelter from the elements. Again he found himself pleased with his body's strength, if not its form. Though Magus was not heavy, he was larger than Frog and maneuvering him might have been difficult otherwise. He set him on one of the beds and went to the hearth to rebuild the fire. The family that had once lived there had left a roast cooking before it, and he doubted they would be coming back. He wondered how long ago Flea and Slash had slaughtered the people there. Perhaps immediately after their attack on the castle. Or maybe the people had gone through the motions of life for days, weeks.
Alfador left his master for the warm stones around the fire and sat down, letting his fur soak up the heat. Outside the howled, rattling the door in its frame and shaking the windows. Frost patterns were already forming on the glass. With the fire built, Frog turned his attention to the rest of the house. He barricaded it with the excess furniture around the house. One by one he shut the shutters on the windows, hiding the light inside from any mystics that might try to brave the storm.
Hours passed. Frog couldn't tell how long. He drifted in and out of sleep, lulled to sleep by the constant howl of the wind. The only light came from the fire, and he tossed another log into the hearth. The flames slowly crept over it, bringing a wisp of smoke from it, and the wood turned black and glowed around the edges. Frog leaned back in his chair and watched the fire flicker. He could feel the draft coming down from the chimney, but the fire warmed it so it at least wasn't too noticeable.
A faint groan came from the bed. Frog looked over in time to see Magus sit up, one hand pressed to his head, his eyes closed.
"Thou art well, I trust?"
"I was thrown against a wall, stupid pond-hopper, how would you feel?" He took a deep breath and swung his legs over the side, sitting up straight. "How long was I out?"
"In this storm, I cannot say." Frog laughed once as he looked at the windows. "Thou didst not have to destroy the bridge after all. No one can move in such weather."
"Some mystics can."
"'Tis why I have shut up all these windows," Frog said. A pity I can't shut up thy mouth. "We are lucky to have this house. The rest of the town is destroyed by thy fire."
"I wasn't the one spitting fire." Speaking of fires, he glanced at the rest of the roasting meat on the spit before the hearth. No doubt Frog had left it for him, but the sight of that dead flesh turned his stomach. He ran one hand through his blue hair and stood up, swaying slightly.
"Thou should not get up so soon," Frog said. "Thy injuries were nigh fatal."
"As fatal as the king's?" Magus said. He wasn't surprised when he didn't get an answer. Instead he walked through the room, giving Alfador a brief pat on the head, and then went to the door and brushed the barricade aside with a wave of his hand.
"Where art thou going? Thou canst go outside, thou shalt surely freeze to death. Stay and eat."
Magus held up one hand. "I won't freeze. I should be back in an hour."
Too late. The door opened, letting in a blast of cold air and snowflakes, and then Magus disappeared into the white wall, his cape swirling a few seconds just before he slammed the door shut.
While Frog cursed his stupidity, Magus walked through the snowstorm, head bowed and his cape drawn tight over his shoulders. He could barely hear the snow crunching underfoot, though he could see it well. If anyone had been with him at the time, they would have noticed his eyes reflecting the scant light and glowing a light shade of red. Though ideally he would have gone to the mountains just outside the town, a blizzard was not the best traveling condition. He also had a feeling his enemies lurked nearby, and he didn't want to change meeting them in a dark, snowy mountain, especially after his recent battle. Despite Frog's spell, his muscles ached with every movement.
Hunting in a snowstorm was normally a fool's errand, but already he'd spotted his prey. A brown rabbit huddled at the base of a tree, hiding from the elements. Magus had a feeling it was drowsy from the cold, perhaps even freezing to death. As he came up behind it, he nodded to himself. Either it couldn't hear him or it was already half-dead. No need to even use his claws. Slowly bending and sweeping his arm out, he grasped its ears and yanked it up, then put one hand on its neck and wrenched its head around until he heard a crack. The rabbit became so much dead weight. He hefted it once. Large, too. Plenty to feed from.
In the minor shelter the tree gave from the wind, he bent its head back and sank his fangs into its throat. Blood welled out of the wounds and he drank deep, not stopping until the blood wouldn't come anymore. He raised his head and sighed, his mouth red with blood. After a moment's thought, he carried the body with him back to the house.
The Masamune nearly took his head off when he opened the door. Frog stood in front of him, sword raised, ready to slice. Despite himself, Magus froze. He'd been on the receiving end of that blade before, and he still hated to think of it. Bad memories.
"Thou fool," Frog hissed, putting his sword back. "I might have slain thee."
Magus ignored him and walked inside, tossing the rabbit beside the fire. "We may be stuck inside for awhile."
Frog closed and barricaded the door again. He sat down at the hearth and picked up the rabbit. "A good sized catch, I must admit. How didst thou find it in such a storm?"
For a moment, Magus hesitated. "I can see better in the dark than in daylight."
"That surpriseth me little," Frog said. "I should've expected that answer." As he turned the body over, the rabbit's head lolled on its snapped neck, exposing the two fang marks and the streak of blood still on the fur. "Fangs? Didst another creature beat thee to the mark? If there is any chance 'twas rabid, we canst not eat."
Magus sat down on the bed, smirking. "Not quite. That's my handiwork. As for eating it, the body's yours. I've had my fill."
It took Frog a moment of puzzling over the unfamiliar marks and the lack of blood dripping out of the carcass before he fully understood. "Thou...thou drank its blood?" Frog recoiled from him, his large mouth twisting into a grimace. "Truly?"
"Truly." With the back of his hand, he wiped a few stray drops from his mouth. "What are you staring for? I drink its blood, you eat its flesh. Consider which is more ghoulish."
"Thou art a vampire?"
Magus shrugged. Didn't know, didn't care.
The rabbit was quickly skinned, spitted and roasted, though Magus wasn't sure if that was because Frog was hungry or afraid the rabbit might come back from the dead. He watched the knight hunch over the fire, never venturing closer. Hopefully the storm would die down soon, or at least lessen so they could head out and kill his enemies. Not tired, he leaned back in bed and thought back over what he remembered from his research. He couldn't figure out which queen had first received Schala's pendant, he hadn't found any mention of a blue-haired woman, nor even mention of magicks until the Mystic war of 600 A.D. He put one hand on the amulet around his neck, Schala's amulet. It had safeguarded him through the years. He had no doubt it would eventually lead him to her.