Epilogue

…after a long and arduous battle we defeated her. She died by my hand and in my hands. As much as I loath to admit it, a part of my soul died with her. Her blood will stain my clothes and her madness will forever stain my mind. I made no effort to clean it off—my companions thought me odd for that. I cared not. I needed the reminder of her foolishness to curb my own…

Each word held Meredith spellbound. For the past few days the cave was filled with her voice articulating the prophet's deepest secrets. There were times that voice rang with laughter One such time was when Magus detailed his prank of hiding the guru's hats. Other times her voice lowered, anguished as he recounted his first slaying.

Munching on some buttered bread Ian only half-listened to the young woman as she expounded on Magus's history. She knew the youth discounted many of the statements—thinking them either understatements to cover the prophet's inadequacies or exaggerations to buff up his case.

Meredith didn't care. He was a silly Earthbound boy and wouldn't understand anyway.

What she did care about, however, was that this beautiful read was coming to an end. This was the last page. Anxiety crawled up her throat. What was that end? Was the prophet dead as all others thought…as she herself had acknowledged as possible from time to time? Had he at last beaten the evil creature that had stolen every joy from his life?

at long, long last we were here. I did not recognize the core of this creature but its very presence felt like evil breathed straight into my heart. Never had I dreamed that I would stand here so close to Lavos, my former enemies now my allies for this final fight. I looked at my companions…they looked at me…

It was time…

The writing ended there.

"What? No!" Meredith's cry tore through the cavern. Shocked out of his half-sleep, Ian leapt to his feet and dashed over to her. She held the book tightly, eyes scanning the blank page as if to will more of the prophet's writings to appear. Worried, Ian tried to console her with a hand on her shoulder but Meredith just shrugged him off.

"That's it…There's no more."

"Oh." Ian's blonde eyebrows climbed high on his forehead. "Maybe he really is—"

"No!" The aspiring prophetess's face burned with anger. "He's not. He's just…not. I know it. I feel it. He just didn't…have time to finish! He can still be found. I'd thought he might have perished but I just can't believe that anything could never defeat him…" Sadness washed over her face and the book fell from her fingers.

Ian snatched it up, peering at the spine. "Meredith, this book is over a hundred years old. There's no way he could still be alive."

He offered her a sympathy smile but all that won the youth was an even angrier Meredith. She stormed about the cave, her form losing detail as the magical blue flames went out one by one. "I don't know…" Then her eyes lit up as the last fire died. "He's Zealian! I know the elder said that some Zealians lived longer than Earthbounds…"

Ian smiled. "A Zealian? We're not even sure he is one."

She bristled. "He is so! He has blue hair."

"We're not even sure he has blue hair. I say he's an Earthbound and—"

"I am no Earthbound! Say that again and I'll cut out your throat!"

Much to Meredith's amusement, Ian gave a most singularly satisfying yelp. Both stepped back, awestruck, as a shadow appeared at the cave's entrance. That shadow shifted, as if observing them and then stepped into the light. Neither could make out much of the newcomer's features for the entire body was covered in navy-blue robes.

Softly, the words were repeated, revealing his gender: male. "I am no Earthbound." Then, Meredith didn't know why but she felt that he smiled, sardonically. "…though I am starting to lose my blue hair." He lifted a single shaft of sapphire and inspected the slight shine of silver. Sighing, he released it. "Now, speak quickly and truthfully—what are you doing here?"

As if slapped silent by his presence neither the so-called prophetess nor the youth could come up with a comment. Ian because he was scared silly; Meredith because she was so overwhelmed by the sudden manifestation of her dream she couldn't push the words past her mouth. Here was the man she'd given her whole life to meet…

Can it truly be….him? Magus?

With a sigh of irritation, the cloaked man waved his hand dismissively. "You know what? I really don't care. Just leave. I have things to do." Not waiting to see if his order had been carried out, he took to examining the cave, fingers lightly brushing the tabletop. His gaze flew from bookcase to bookcase, clearly searching for…

"My pendant? Where is it?"

Jolted to action, Ian rushed over to the man with the pendant. "Ugh, here, Magus."

Meredith frowned deeply. "Great Lord Magus!"

"Urm, Great Lord Magus, here it is!"

The prophetess studied the man's stance carefully, fearful of any displeasure. Ian's lack of proper decorum wore on her patience and she worried that it bothered Magus too. Still, it didn't seem to for the prophet snatched it up without a word. For a moment, his gaze was steady on the necklace; then, with a sigh of relief, dropped it into his pocket.

"Lord Magus?" Meredith ventured, stepping over to the cloaked man. The prophet didn't acknowledge her, his hands flying to the books again. Several fell to floor as they did not interest him but one caught his attention and he brought it to the table. After a minute, the man gave a grunt, his answer. It was also an admission.

It is him! It is Magus!

"Did you defeat it? Did you save the world?" Her hands couldn't remain still.

There was lilting, biting laughter. "The world's still standing isn't it?"

Staring at the bent figure of the prophet, his fingers casually flipping the page of a book, Meredith simply could contain herself no longer. This was the moment she'd give her life for. Gasping softly, the so-called prophetess stumbled to her knees, snaring his gloved hand. "Please, oh great Magus, let me be a part of your great plans to restore the Kingdom of Zeal. I am your humble servant…Give me purpose, give me life…."

Magus tore free. His voice was as winter winds. "What manner of a fool are you? Restore the Kingdom of Zeal? Madness…." Then his head titled, considering. "Ah, I know who you are now…You're the person who read my manuscript….the fool I tried to turn from a dark path…" His shoulders shook as he laughed. "And you understood nothing of what you read!"

Flushing, Meredith climbed to her feet. His words were like a hand stealing into her chest and ripping out her heart. Hot tears came to her eyes but she did not give into them. All her dreams, all her hopes…like a discarded cup he cast them away. Did he not share her ambitions? Did he not defeat the evil Lavos to bring glory back to his people?

As if those thoughts traced along her forehead, Magus sighed softly. "I see. You are a fool…as I once was." Meredith bit her lip as the prophet withdrew the pendant and held it aloft. His tone was harsh and filled with pain. "I thought I had it all figured out too, until…" As his head rose further, his blue cowl flew away.

Meredith gasped. Half of his hair had turned silver and his face…It was paler than she'd imagined, with black circles surrounding sunken eyes. This was not the immaculate, powerful prophet she'd envisioned. This was a broken man, a bitter man, a lost man. She'd pinned her hopes on him and found it left wanting…

A few tears slipped down her cheeks. It was all too much to bear.

"Power has a price. Ambition steals the soul. Vengeance alters a person…My mother learned that, too late. I learned that, too late…" Magus fixed his fiery eyes upon her again, smiling that smile he knew how to use so well. A soft wind began to blow…where it came from could not be told. "Will you join us? Will you join the damned?"

Shaken to the core, Meredith took a step backwards. "Is that what you see in my future?"

"A prophecy?" Ian asked. Meredith had forgotten he was even still there.

His eyes narrowed, amused, dangerous. Magus's eyes dropped to the pages and he quoted from them, voice both oddly sharp and soft. "For she shall hand herself over to doom willingly, gleefully and doom will receive her… "Then Magus's face hardened. His gaze was distant, glazed, his eyes and mind far away.

Now the winds swept through the cave with a vengeance. Ian squealed, casting his gaze about worriedly. Having studied the history of the prophet for years, Meredith understood the significance of the wind and its source—she was looking at it. She shivered, but not so much from the cold. Her soul shivered from what the winds implied.

Ill omen. Evil fate. A destiny with death…

No, thought Meredith, this was not the dream I'd envisioned. He is right. I am a fool. The confession struck deep and hard, like a blade…or like a fire, for it may have burned her but it also cleansed her. Going back to living life as an ordinary mortal, bereft of her dream…But then, what worse fate awaited one who gazed up at the sun so long they lost their sight?

"I'm leaving. Now."

Magus hardly seemed to care. His gaze returned to the book.

"Ian, let's go."

"Rightio!" Ian hurried over to her side and she didn't wait for him to stop for Meredith grabbed his arm and spun him around. Purple robes whistling across the pentagram, face pale in the blue firelight, she led Ian toward the exit. She did not look back. She would not give the prophet the satisfaction of again seeing the pain in her eyes…

Nor did she want to see the pain in his.

Had Meredith glanced over her shoulder, she'd have seen Magus lift up the discarded book, dust it off then set pen to parchment.

The story was not over.