Authorís notes: Yay! Finally finished a new chapter . . . I hope you all like it. A big hearty thanks to everyone who reviewed, and to Dawn Wilkins, for being the first person to give me feedback on this story.

Oh, hey, Iím on the look out for a Beta Reader . . . anyone interested?

And, to protect my butt, Mirven, Krimla, and Anna are all mine. Everybody else is not. Though Iíd sell my soul to own them. Okay? Donít sue me?

C+C is appreciated! Peace!

Chapter 4: Distant Thunder

This summer night was truly gorgeous. Moonlight, a cool, soothing silver, dappled the emerald forest floor with splashes of radiance. It reflected off of the streams and pools of water, and sometimes of patches of translucent fog that lovingly embraced the ground and twisted around the tree trunks. The dark smelled of vanilla and magnolia, and held a gentle fae quality that lent to itís mysteriousness.

Walking by the silver light, the Knight bodyguard breathed in the sweetness, letting it wash down his throat. One green and brown hand wrapped itself around the hilt of Masamune, though Frog felt no danger. The sword was like a fifth limb- he felt more natural when his palm was enclosed around itís smooth leather hilt, soaking up itís power and majesty and making it his own.

Frog felt good in these forests, better than he did in all courtly situations (unless the involved Queen Leene). There was a peace here, silent quiet, yet behind that, the sense of bustling activity, and secrets hidden and discovered. Secrets . . . like him. like his identity.

Frog never let anyone know he had been Glenn, no one but his Queen and his friends. It hurt to much to even consider letting the world know that it was he who failed to save Cyrus. Glenn was a stigma, and insult around the palace. The cowardly boy who ran off after his mentor and hero was killed. The transformed man never said anything in his, in Glennís defense.

That was the past though. All the past. Cyrusís ghost had been put to rest, Frogís prayers to wake up one morning and find himself once again wearing his human form having gone to the world of the dead along with his friend. He would change back when Magus finally died. At least, he assumed so. He did not think the man would have made a spell that could be so easily reversed as it had been cast.

Suddenly, Frog stopped, frowning. Something had changed about the woods. There was no longer any crickets singing, and smell had gone sour, reeking of sulfur and rotting meat.

The grip on his sword this time for real, Frog scanned the woods. Something was obviously here. Something nasty and vicious. He could sense it. One thing about being half animal, he inherited a frogís better senses.

A rustling and wet scrabbling off to his left caught his attention. Some manner of monster that would no doubt be more use dead than alive was feeding, it seemed. Frog unsheathed the sword, itís glow leaving it as its two inhabiting beings realized the need for stealth. He moved forward silently, dodging moonbeams and leafy, whip-like branches.

Blood glinted wetly on the ground, painting a trail to a roiling, shadowed form bent over a shredded corpse. The beast was snapping itís jaws, bits of flesh and splintered bone hanging out of its teeth. Itís mouth was a gaping, sharp hole and its face looked like melted glass. The limbs were uneven, and when it moved its arms he could hear its bones creaking and could see the skin hanging off its muscles. The body below had been male, and young. A child.

The creature jerked its head up and stared at frog with nightmare scarlet eyes, glowing circles without pupils. It didnít move, for a moment nothing moved, and the only sound was the steady drip drip of spattering blood, reverberating in the now seemingly chill air. Then it attacked.

Frog hadnít time to draw the Masamune as the monster tore at his face with its mismatched, nightmare claws, and had to sacrifice his left arm to keep it away from his throat and eyes. The talons cut to the bone, and Frog yelped with pain, hand trying to pull the enchanted sword from itís scabbard. It wouldnít come, the hilt was stuck on his belt.

Spitting curses like a barbarian, Frog jumped back, to avoid another vicious assault. The thing bounced from one leg to another, coming towards him in lopsided bounds, the arms slashing out in front of it, looking for all the world like a sapling tree in heavy wind: lashing, no conscious thought behind itís flailing branches.

Finally, the blade slid free. Ungodly shrieks accompanied a spiraling form as Frogís opponent leapt away, burned by the bright white light emanating from Masamune. His wounded arm streaming blood, Frog stood tall and straight (albeit shaky) and pointed the sword at the angered monster, making it cringe and move back more. Pressing his advantage, Frog stepped carefully over the gore that used to be a boy, and tried to look unhurt and still strong. But he was loosing a lot of blood- the thing had harmed him badly.

They seemed to be at a standoff. The creature eyed the Masamune with fright, and hate, shrinking back from every half-hearted thrust, yet Frog knew that if he attacked, the beast would quickly find out that he was in no shape be battling. It was time, it seemed for a spell.

His mouth was suddenly filled with words, and he whispered them slowly, letting each one cautiously touch the air before the others pushed it off his tongue. The monster took a step forward, seemingly enraged by the words, but Frog waved his sword and fist menacingly, and, hissing like wind from a balloon, the thing moved itís misshapen feet back again.

Only too late did the half human, half amphibian realize his mistake. The hisses werenít fear, they were glee. The fiend had seen his hurt arm. Had seen all the blood that soaked the armor and cloth around it.

There was a quarter second in between when his opponent sprung, and when Frog moved away, but it was just enough, and as the monster hit the ground beside his shoulder, Frog rolled away, leapt to his feet, and raised his arms to bring a sheet of water crashing down on his enemy.

Suddenly, he slipped. The ground was red mud with his blood, and the victimís. His feet went out from under him in the filth. The animal attacker screamed gleefully, understanding its chance, and leapt atop his chest

Much to his surprise, it then spoke. The words were twisted so badly they hurt Frogís ears, but they *were* words, and the heroís eyes opened wide with stupefaction.

"Krimla do good. Krimla kill. Krimla kill one, kill two now. Get treat? Getting treat." It mumbled, red still frothing over its teeth from its last meal.

The thing jerked all of the sudden, and it punctured his armor with its claws, digging deep, beneath his skin, between his ribs, heading for his heart. And it *hurt*, it hurt so bad there wasnít any air left, and the only thing he could do was raise the Masamune and hack away.

Krimla wailed like a banshee with just a touch of laringitus, and toppled off of him, claws sliding out of his chest with a nasty schlep-ing noise. He knew he must have hurt it, and tried to stand, so he finish off the evil thing, but he was getting dizzy and his mouth was wetter than usual. Why couldnít he think strait? And why was there blood *everywhere*, all over him, bright red and pumping? There shouldnít be that much blood . . . . And why wasnít there anything to breath, like all the wind air was sucked out of the forest and locked in a big metal box? Strange thoughts. And why was all scent gone, and then all sight? All he could sense now was the screaming, the shrieking and howling and ungodly screeching that reverberated in his marrow, and then even that echoing noise was fading from view and all of his senses were taken away from him except to the thumping of a drum or maybe his heart in the background and he tried to cast cure but finally, he was gone and never got a chance to finish it.

*****

At first, he thought he was in his old bed in Zeal. The feeling was much the same- warm, comfortable, his haired splayed around him on the pillow and his eyes closed to the morning world. Therefor, he almost believed, when a soothing hand moved some of that hair away from his face, that it was actually his sister come to wake him up and that the whole nightmare of his existence had been a dream. He was still Janus, and this was Zeal, and Lavos had never made his presence know to his world. Go away Schala, Iím asleep still, I donít want to get up yet . . .

Something cool and wet pressed itself against his head, dripping liquid down the side of his face and over his eye lids. It felt good, but confused him. What was Schala doing? Pouring water on his head? Well, sheíd tried every other trick in the book to get him up sometimes, why be surprised if she was forced to this--

It wasnít cool anymore. Suddenly, a vile sensation, it turned warm, then hot. A rusty taste filled his mouth, salty and thick and sticky. Blood, it was blood. He recognized it. Where was he? He wasnít laying down anymore, he was kneeling, on the ground. It was cold, and dark. Blind. Reaching to try to make sense of his surroundings, his hands (bare hands why are they bear open to air filth shock blood) tangled in something stringy.

The image, the memory, dropped in front of his eyes like a curtain. Her brown eyes stared at him, glassy and empty, her children screaming at him, hysteric and grieving. His first kill. He remembered now, heíd been 13, stuck the scythe into her chest, as smooth as slicing butter. His face was spattered with her. His clothes were reddened with her. His hands were stained with her. They were tangled up in her wet hair, *truly* tangled; heíd wound his fingers in the strands so tightly, itíd all tuned into a knotted mess, capturing his quivering palms. The blood in his mouth coated his teeth and tongue. It was also hers. Sheíd put up an admirable fight, yet had not been able to even scratch him. He remained untouched, except by the stark, red droplets, but they were already drying, looking black against his alabaster skin.

His breath seemed to have gotten lost somewhere in his chest, and a world away, a body that might have been his began to shake, violently.

He remembered the time after that first kill, as well. Heíd stumbled towards his room, pushing past a worried Flea, a congratulating Slash, and a whining Ozzie, shoving his way through the celebrating Mystics, the taste of bile threatening in the back of his parchment-dry throat. He stood at the basin of water, washing and washing, scrubbing his hands till the water was crimson from his own raw palms. Till salt tears, bitter, tasting of her blood, dripped down his face. The bile no longer threatened, and, abdominal muscles clenching, he vomited until there wasnít anything left in his stomach, and with one red, wet hand clenched over his mouth he crawled away from the basin, and halfway out the door. Some imps found him about a half-hour later.

Looking up, suddenly, from his forever stained hands, he saw the dead woman again. Her mouth was slightly open, eyes halfway shut. It looked like she wanted to kiss him.

He killed her children, too, when he got his weapon out of her breastbone.

******

It was pure revulsion at himself that finally drove Magus to consciousness. Fear was a factor, too, so when the dreams and delusions finally gave way, he found himself reluctant to open his eyes, or give any indication that he was awake. Someone was moving around him, and would periodically wipe his face with a washcloth.

Opening his eyes slowly, he found himself staring into the face of yet another woman. Yet this one wasnít dead. And her eyes were blue, not brown.

He shoved her away, sitting up quickly, ignoring the fact that he was trembling, and the wave of queasiness that accompanied the quick movement. Yanking away several blankets, he tried to stand, get up, out of that strange bed, and *away*. He didnít know who this woman was, or what he was doing in this place. The last thing he remember was running as fast as he could away from the castle ruins, running towards the magic cave that connected the mystic island with the continent beyond.

His legs wouldnít support him, and they buckled traitorously, sending him latching onto the bedpost for support, another surge of nausea taking his breath away.

The woman went for him, grabbed his arm, and, with surprising strength, pulled him back into bed. She was blushing furiously, and it was then that Magus became aware that he was stark naked. Covering her eyes, she handed him the blankets that he had cast off.

"If you donít mind." She said, with half a nervous smile hidden in her words.

Magus snatched them away from her hand, and hurriedly used them to cover himself, before glaring at the woman. "Who are you?" He asked angrily, eyes blazing. Sheíd *undressed* him! The nerve!

With a chuckle, she brought her hand away from her eyes, and then sat on the edge of the bed. Magus noticed the a damp cloth was clutched in her hand. "My nameís Anna." She offered. "Iím a healer."

A healer . . . he reached up to his hand, and for the first time, realized it was swathed in bandages. "Why am I here?"

Anna the Healer stood , and walked closer to his head, where a bowl of water sat on a nearby small, wooden table, and dropped the rag into it with a small splash. She smiled at him. "I found you unconscious in the woods, with a bruised side, and a bloody head." A pause, as she regarded him curiously, then: "Who are *you*, mystic?"

Magus flushed. Mystic!? He was no lowly mystic, he was a former prince, feared warlord, and savior of this sorry world. He regarded her icily, from the smudge of dirt on the side of her cheek, to the plain brown dress she wore. Obviously a peasant. Why, he had a mind to cast a spell on her just for-

Cast a spell-

Despair, remembrance fell upon him once again, like a flock of vultures, picking away at the pride that had soared in his blood just moments ago. ĎNothing.í He thought. ĎI am nothing. I am myself just as lowly as any who fill this filthy planet.í He felt himself slump suddenly, the strength leaking out of him, and fell backwards, hitting his skull against the headboard. Stars frolicked behind his eyelids.

******

"Hey!" Anna slipped an arm under his shoulders before his head could hit the mattress, and lifted him up, hissing quietly as she noted the blood soaking through his bandages. She pushed a strand of brown, curly hair behind her ear, and looked down into the mysticís face. His eyes were closed, tightly, but he wasnít unconscious. "Whatís the matter?" She asked cautiously.

He opened his eyes only slightly, and she was shocked to see the rage theyíd been brimming with replaced by- by some other emotion. She paused, staring into his eyes for a minute, trying to understand what upset him, before pulling the stranger into a sitting position. "Donít move." She said, concern in her features. "Itíll just make it worse." Anna stood, and walked over to one of the many shelves nailed to the rough wood wall, fingers briefly running over several jars of dried herbs, before pulling off one filled with what looked like thin, white wood shavings. She also grabbed a rough roll of clean strips of cloth, to re-dress the head wound. This time, when she reached over to the bedside table, it was to pick up a small clay cup.

The stranger watched her with unemotional eyes as she first filled the cup with water from the pitcher, add a dash of the stuff in the jar, and then set it aside, before sweeping up the new bandages. He didnít react when she exchanged them for the bloody ones already wrapped around his head, but when she offered him the drink afterwards, he eyed it with suspicion. The bits of unidentified herb had dissolved. "White willow bark." She said. "For the pain."

He said nothing in return, only took it from her hand and downed it in one gulp, all the while watching her.

Anna smiled then, and sat at the end of the bed. "Now." Her voice was soft, but slightly impatient. "Letís try this again. Who are you?"

******

Magus met her eyes. She was leaning against the bedpost, legs off the side of the bed, watching him expectantly, and he felt himself being examined keenly. Maybe he had underestimated her, because her gaze was intelligent, and when she spoke, her words were articulated, and chosen carefully.

He wasnít sure why he decided to answer her, because it didnít really matter to him if she had a name to call him by or not. Perhaps it was just one of those rare moments of politeness, or maybe it was the fact that this woman probably wasnít going to give his clothes back unless he gave her some sort of acceptable title. So, without thinking, he said the first name that came to mind- "Janus."

"Janus?" Her voice was curious. "Any clue to why in the world you were unconscious and bleeding in the middle of the forest?"

Janus. Why had he said that? "I was . . . attacked. I donít remember much." He lied, and his tone was sullen, words clipped. Anna sighed, and ran a hand through her loose hair.

"I should have expected as much. Youíre the third patient Iíve had this month that has been, and the only one whoíll be leaving without scars." She stood up, and moved gracefully towards the window, pushing the rough canvas curtains aside. Mid-Morning sunlight and the smell of magnoliaís in full bloom instantly swept the stale air outside, replacing it with the breezy warmth of early summer. "Beautiful day." she murmured, then glanced back at him. "Mind telling me a bit about yourself?"

He frowned, inexplicably suspicious again. "Why?" Anna gave him a brief half smile, hands tying the leather thongs that held the curtains back into precise knots, and shrugged.

"Itís nice to have someone to talk to. Gets only out here." She went back to the table, and this time poured nothing but fresh water into the now empty cup, and handed it to him. Magus took it without hesitation, but sipped it slowly, savoring its slight chill. Regardless of the nasty stuff heíd drunk a few moments ago, his throat felt like sand paper.

"Donít you have a husband or son, or something?" He asked, glancing at her over the lip of the glass. She laughed, but it was without humor.

"Oh, good heavens, no. Nothing like that."

Unusual. There certainly werenít a lot of women in this time period who lived alone, without any man her life. She must have something wrong with her, then. Maybe she was barren? That would probably explain it, females that couldnít bear children were often shunned, had to find other uses for themselves. A pity, really. It certainly hadnít been that way in Zeal. Nor with the mystics.

Abruptly, he fully realized what sheíd said to him earlier. Sheíd called him a mystic- sheíd helped him, believing he was a mystic- all humans hated mystics. Didnít they? Magus examined her once again. She was simply sitting, staring out the window with a sad look in her blue eyes. He didnít see any sign of a concealed weapon, but then, she wouldnít need one, would she? Mentally cursing himself for being so dense as to drink that Ďmedicineí earlier, and he glanced back into the glass. Fuck, sheíd most likely poisoned him.

"Listen," she said. "Iím going to Medina tomorrow to get some supplies. Iím assuming youíll want to come with me?"

"Medina?" Magus said in shock. ĎBut, Medina . . . I thought it existed in the future only? It must have been just recently founded, but then how would she know about it? Unless sheís part mystic- no, her ears are round, and all half mystics have pointed ears.í

Anna was staring at him strangely. "Yes . . . Medina . . ." She frowned. "Maybe I should keep you here a bit longer. I can put off the trip for a few days. You seem a tad- confused."

Magus shook his head, even though it made his temples throb. "Er, no, Iím feeling fine. I was just surprised . . . that . . ." He trailed off. She was looking at him with caution, like one would regard a madman.

"Look," He said tersely "Iím not confused. Iíve just been living alone for a while. I didnít know any humans had contact with Medina."

"Oh." She shrugged. "Itís been about a year since I stumbled upon it. Are you hungry?"

"Er . . . " The quick change in subject made it quite clear she didnít want to talk anymore on the subject. "I suppose. Yes, thank you."

She nodded. "Iíll be back in a moment."

******

Lucca wiped her brow with the oily cloth she had at her side. Almost finished. The Epoch sat before her in all itís futuristic, time skipping glory. Damn, it looked good today, as if it knew that its time had come to fly again, and had spiffied up for the event. The new gate key gleamed in itís belly, not yet covered with the grease and grime that coated all the parts around it.

She wasnít sure how she did it, how even she, Lucca the great, had been able to solve the puzzle of making a new Key that would re-open the seemingly closed gates. It had kinda, just *came* to her one morning, as if sheíd gotten subliminal messages from some strange source in her dreams. Well, where ever she had got the idea for the plans, theyíd worked- and here was the final product, the embodiment of 3 years worth of blood sweat, tears, and one morning of sudden inspiration.

To say the least, Lucca was pleased. She picked up the metal panel that would cover the guts of the machine, and began to re-attach it, mind spinning with possibilities.

Next Chapter- Robo! Nightmares! Medina, murder, Mirven and Magus!