One Shred of Light: Part Ten
Caelum smiled as she looked up to see the familiar figure leaning against her fence. This time, he had landed inside the fence and was leaning on the inside. She was in the first week of her second month, and for the last five days, he had come every day. She suspected that she might be able to accomplish her mission in the next four weeks, but she was regretting the time limit. It wasn't that she was afraid of the time limit; she was simply enjoying herself. Magax was as friendly as she suspected he would ever be, and she liked the day to day of the existence she was living.
She couldn't believe the turn her life had taken. She was living as a Neopet, and her only friend and acquaintance in the world was the very creature who had felled her sister two hundred years before.
She knew that Anastasia was correct about Magax. The shred of light that Anastasia had seen in her last moments was apparent to Caelum now too. She could see it in his eyes when he laughed, which was more often than it used to be. It was not the cruel sound that he used around Fiona, but a genuine sound that expressed the part of him he hadn't been aware of before.
"Good day, Magax. I'm sorry the bench is covered in things today. I was doing some washing, and there was more than there was room on the clothesline. The bench is in direct sunlight, so I decided it was a good place for it."
He waved away the apology. "I've been sitting most of the day, standing feels good."
"What have you been up to?" she asked conversationally.
"Listening to the grousing of a dark faerie," he replied.
"The one?" she asked, knowing he would understand who she meant.
"Yes, her. Take heart in the fact that she's being watched by her better sisters and as such forced to be on her best behavior. She's very annoyed by this," Magax said with a smirk.
"You don't like her much, and yet you spend a good deal of time with her? Or am I wrong about that?" she asked.
"No, I don't like her much at all. She likes me as well as she is capable of liking anyone. We share ties, and avoiding her isn't the easiest thing. I suppose I was ambivalent before she set her Werelupes on you. I never realized how little I liked the underhandedness of Dark Faeries and their willingness to attack those who they know to be defenseless."
"Have you never attacked anyone who was defenseless?" she asked, knowing the truth.
"None that I knew were defenseless. I made a mistake with you; I'm sure I may have made that mistake in the past as well. She knew you were defenseless and picked you for that reason," Magax explained. "I have a few morals, not as many as maybe I should have, but I do not sink to that level of cowardice."
Caelum shrugged. "I don't know enough about you to judge. Still, there is always time to change. Whatever you've been, you don't have to continue to be."
"There is not much else for me out there. I've made enemies that will never forget me," Magax replied.
"Pish-tosh," Caelum grunted as she pulled a particularly stubborn weed out, getting all the roots out. "You can turn over a new leaf regardless of who will carry a grudge. Who knows, perhaps they will move on if they see you have."
"I can never be forgiven for what I did. I will never be forgiven, no matter what I do with my life."
"What did you do?" she asked, though she already knew the answer.
He was silent a long time. She looked up to see him craning his head over his shoulder to look out the rolling fields. Somewhere out there, he and Anastasia had fought, and she had lost.
Anastasia's pride had been her undoing, Caelum knew that. She had been young when Anastasia had been slain, only a few decades old, but she had been mature enough to have noticed the arrogance that had slowly crept into her sister's manner over the years. She had not treated anyone differently than she had in the past, but she had grown too confident in her abilities. She had reached what she thought was the pinnacle of her existence, and had stayed there. She hadn't moved on, and so she had finally met her match.
Caelum rose and looked out over those hills, wondering what Anastasia had been feeling that day when she had challenged Nox to a duel she thought she could win and had instead fallen to the blade of his Second.
Magax's eyes were distant, lost in the mist of long years. He too was remembering that day, that battle, old crimes that could never be erased.
"You'd hate me if I told you, Caelum," Magax said, his voice soft and as faraway as his voice.
"No I wouldn't. I don't hold grudges; I don't judge what you did in the past. Not if you move on. Stagnation is what kills people. Arrogance. The blindness that comes with staying in one place and never wanting to see if there is more to you than you are now. You're not like that; you're not what you were."
Magax turned to look at her again, a rueful smile on his lips. "A pity she didn't feel that way. She might be the one standing here today. The world would certainly be a different place than it is today if that had been the case."
Caelum walked over to him and leaned on the fence next to him, silently encouraging him to tell her more. He sighed and gave in.
"Her name was Anastasia; she was the Battle Faerie. She was the leader of the Faeries' army. There was a war. The final battle was fought here, on this very field. She challenged the commander of the rival army to a one on one. He sent me out in his stead. I won the battle; she lost her life. The Faeries are not a forgiving race. They live eternal lives; their memories do not fade. They revered their Battle Faerie second only to their queen. She was their champion and their pride. They considered us an diabolic foe to begin with, killing their champion only cemented this in their mind. Their anger is all directed against the one who felled her, not against the master who ordered it, or the fool of the Faerie who was arrogant enough to pick a fight she could not win. They told me that I was forever branded for my deed. They will never forgive me. Nothing I do can blot out that moment. I could save their lives, each and every one of them, and collectively, they would still not be able to forgive me."
Caelum kept her face straight as she listened. She could feel the frown that wanted to come out, the way her head wanted to move up and down, acknowledging the fact that he was correct. She, Anastasia's own sister, could forgive him. She as an individual could do it, but she knew her race would never forgive him for what he had done. Fyora had said as much when she had blessed Caelum's mission. She knew that even if she redeemed Magax, Valeane would still come for him to avenge Anastasia in some distant future. It was a cruel reality, but it was the truth.
"I dislike speaking ill of the departed, but Anastasia was a fool. I could feel from the beginning that she matched me in battle prowess, but not in strength. She should have seen it too, but she was too arrogant to admit it. She fell because she would not admit that there were those who might be greater than she," Magax said.
"As I said, arrogance corrupts and brings destruction. More tragedies are caused by simple arrogance than we would like to admit," Caelum said.
Magax looked over at her, a wry smile on his lips. "So, do you hate me now?"
"Who could hear you speak with such regret in your voice and still hate you?" Caelum asked.
Magax scowled and looked away. "There was no regret."
"Yes, there was. You clearly don't think what you were involved with all those years ago was a worthwhile endeavor. You think it was a mistake," she insisted.
Magax laughed bitterly at that. "What could it be but a mistake? So much was lost and nothing was gained. Nothing for either side. We ended with a stalemate that has lasted centuries. So much was lost, and two hundred years later, we're still where we were when it ended. We are stagnating as much as Anastasia and her Faeries were up in their perfect little world. I can't help but question what we did. I know it wasn't worth it, and I never truly considered the motivations that drove it. I served a Neopet who I considered my friend and I did as I was bid. Now, time and distance make me question the rightness of such a course."
"What drove you to follow him so blindly?" Caelum asked.
"Admiration, and a battle fever. I am a warrior so I fought for him. I chose a side and I took my orders. I fought, and I loved it, and I never questioned it. That may be my greatest flaw. I enjoyed it," Magax confessed.
"If the war broke out again tomorrow?" she asked.
"I'd have conflicted feelings. I still have my loyalty to my friend and master, yet I no longer have my thirst for battle. I was much younger two hundred years ago. Youth is wasted on the young; they use it for foolishness," Magax said, shaking his head ruefully. "I would not have killed Anastasia today. I would have thought about the consequences of such an action. I might have even refused to fight her."
Caelum turned, her elbows resting on the fence and her hands clasped together. She rested her chin on them, looking out over the field. Anastasia had also been young, by Faerie standards. She was only two hundred and fifty years old when she fell to Magax. She had seen the arrogance, but she had not associated it with her youth. Caelum was young, only a little older than Anastasia had been when she had fought that battle. She regretted that that battle had to take place so long ago. Perhaps Anastasia would have grown wise like Magax had. Perhaps she too would not have fought that duel.
"Do you know what the most remarkable thing about the conversation we are having is?" Magax asked, a sarcastic smirk on his face.
Caelum looked over at him and shook her head, truly unable to guess.
"You're not the least bit surprised that that I've been alive for well over two hundred years," Magax told her.
Caelum laughed embarrassedly. She had not been surprised because she knew all about it; she too was over two hundred years old. Still, she couldn't tell him that, so she came up with a quick lie. "Honestly, Magax, very little surprises me about you. You can fly, you use some kind of spectral lightning, and you associate with Dark Faeries wherever deep in the Haunted Woods you live. Being long lived or immortal is one of the least surprising things about you."
Magax chuckled and shook his head. "I should have realized you were intelligent enough to make that connection easily enough."
"I could pretend if it would make you happy," she offered, trying to lighten the mood.
"No, that's all right," he laughed.
She smiled at him and laughed too. Then, she brought the subject back to its original topic. "So, even with that in your past, and the regret you feel, you can't change? You would be bound by what the Faeries expect of you, even if it dooms you to a life you no longer believe in?"
The brief joviality died from Magax's eyes as he shook his head. "I won't be bound by anything the Faeries think about me. What I do with my life is my own decision and won't be dictated by anyone."
"Not even this friend and master of yours?" Caelum asked.
His expression became troubled. "That... that is a harder question."
"You will have to make that decision someday, and I think you'll have to make it soon," she said.
"Why soon?" he asked.
"Because once things start moving, they generally keep moving. The question has been asked, and by you. How long will it be before it fills every silence, before he can see if lingering there? When he sees it, you will have to answer it."
Magax nodded slowly. He looked as if he had something more to say, but he couldn't get the words to come out. He looked out over the fields, and then back at her.
"Isn't it time for you to be going to the river?" Magax asked.
Caelum knew the conversation was over. There was no point in pushing it. The shred of light was there and it was as bright as she could get it to be at that time. If it won or lost would be up to Magax, as was when he answered the question.
She picked up her bucket, telling him that it was certain to rain in the next few hours, so she only needed the one. He walked with her through the fields to the river. She could fly now if she wanted to, but she liked walking. She didn't have so much she needed to do that she had to hurry, and it was more time with Magax.
They talked as they walked along, but it was the same general nothings that occupied most of their conversations. Her plants as opposed to plants in the Haunted Woods; life outside of the Woods, life inside of the Woods. Banal and safe topics, but still speaking volumes in how far they had come since the first days.
As they walked back from the river, Caelum stumbled over a rock. Magax reached out and caught her hand to keep her from falling and to help her regain her balance. She held tight to it, and retained it even after she was steady again. She looked over at him and grinned, daring him to be offended and pull it back. He wasn't offended, and he smiled at her. They walked back together hand in hand.
He stayed around until dark, helping her with the rest of her daily chores and staying to dinner. She said goodbye to him at the gate and waved as he flew into the forest. She went back into her house and Magax began to make his way back to Nox's Castle.
However, he had only gone a few yards into the forest when a voice calling out to him stopped him. Fiona stepped out of a shadow and leered at him.
"So, this is where you have been spending all of your time. No wonder you didn't want me bothering the girl. That didn't look like surveillance of a potential problem," Fiona said accusingly.
"What I do is none of your business, Fiona," Magax snapped.
"Please tell me you have some ulterior motive for going to see that girl. Because, after what I saw this afternoon, I cannot invent one," Fiona said, her voice becoming slightly plaintive, like she wanted to be reassured that he was the monster she had always believed he was.
Magax's eyes narrowed as he stared at her, wondering how long she had been watching. Only long enough to see him helping her with some chores and having dinner, or long enough to have seen him holding her hand as they walked back to the house. He didn't regret that, but he certainly didn't want Fiona thinking she had something on him.
"I say again, Fiona, it is none of your business," he said in a low voice.
"We're on the same team; we both serve Master Nox," Fiona said. "If you're softening, if you've developed some kind of weakness, it is my responsibility to find out and do something about it for all of our sakes."
"You do anything that brings any kind of grief to Caelum, no matter how superficial, and we won't have anything in common any longer," he threatened.
"She has a name? See what it has come to when you care enough to learn her name because you want to, not because you have to? Think, Magax! What happened to the stone-cold monster who earned the eternal wrath of the entire Faerie race?"
"He was a fool; do not mention him to me. What I am now and what I was are two completely different things, and what I do and who I spend my time with is none of your concern. You can't even handle your own mission or you would not be constantly sneaking off and endangering it. Do not talk to me about my choices; I have not done anything that may cost me dear," Magax warned.
"Oh, no? What if Nox hears of this and disapproves?" Fiona suggested with a bitter smile.
"Then he can take it up with me if he feels he needs to. Do you presume to know Hubrid's mind. He will not take such a impertinence lightly," Magax said. "If I were you, I'd look to your own problems. Return to Faerieland and focus on your mission. I want neither your company nor your advice. Begone with you."
Fiona was fuming, but Magax ignored her and resumed his flight toward Castle Nox.
"I won't forget this, Magax!" she shouted after him. "I won't ignore your indiscretions, and I won't be intimidated by you!"
Magax ignored her, and Fiona vowed to make him regret it.
To be continued...