We sprint towards the light, fleeing dust and debris from the cave in. Zorg Bloodbane’s laughter echoes along the tunnel, his dwarven lungs impervious to rock dust. Glancing back, he shouts, “Ha, to hell with ya! You won’t stop us finding tha Sun Sword.”
Choking and half blind, my heart, if not my voice, doubts our thwarting of the daemon horde that pursues.
“Ya did it Srinivasa, ya did it. That broken-toothed baffoon will never catch us.”
Through the crystal eye fixed atop my staff, I see Zorg’s aura—a swirl of reds that reveal his anger, passion and deceit.
“We’ll get tha damn Sun Sword, and other treasures to boot, for sure. We’ll kill that demon, and be throwing our guts up in tha tavern before nightfall.”
Telepathically, I say, ‘Zorg, I doubt White Fang is so easily defeated. He possesses the power to teleport. If he finds us, meet him head on, while I counter his magic. If things get dicey, we can always trust our destiny to Gygax.’
“Gygax?” Zorg barks. “That damnable imp? By the gods, trust a wizard to bring an imp to a demon fight.”
‘My homunculus is not an imp, Zorg,’ I defend. ‘He is the Drawer of the Deck of Destiny.’
“He is a royal pain in me arse.”
Ignoring the insult, I say, ‘And White Fang is a Daemon, not a demon. Have you heeded none of my instruction during the days we have journeyed together?’
“My mother once told me, ‘Pay no heed to pedantic demonologists. Split ’em with ya axe, Zorg, if ya have to. Split ’em with ya axe!”
‘Then ready your axe, Zorg, but not for me; I sense a spatial distortion.’
“By the stone!”
Forced to retreat, we shield our faces from erupting flame. The Wall of Fire—evocation from the fifth circle, splays across the tunnel’s surface, and blocks our path to freedom.
“Srinivasa?” Zorg cries. “Do somethin’, ya damn idyot.”
We face the inferno, as from the vermilion curtain steps a wolf-headed silhouette. I bring my staff before me. The armoured dwarf roots himself into a battle stance.
“The great mage, Srinivasa Thrandrai, accompanied by a … dwarf?” The daemon’s rasping voice consumes courage, and I sense the dread of my stout-hearted comrade. Zorg’s stumpy legs threaten to uproot and run as the arch daemon says, “Pity. I find dwarf meat gamy compared to succulent, tender, elf.”
Reinforcing the dwarf’s mind with a mental bastion summoned from my psyche, I study White Fang’s blood-red robes. The garment’s weave, blazing in sharp contrast with his jet fur, emits a shadowy aura of its own. Tormented souls?
“Yes, Srinivasa, your third eye sees truth,” the arch daemon says. “Woven from the souls of sinful psychics. I had the soul weavers of Gehenna make this robe especially for you. Do you think it flattering?”
The robe’s woven souls allows White Fang to read minds? Encasing my thoughts with psychic power I become a fortress of iron will, and hide my battle strategies. “Your robe will look more flattering when you are banished back to Gehenna.”
“Banished? No, I shall not return to Gehenna until you are damned to its fire.” Withdrawing a dagger with a white blade, the daemon grins. Three incisors, sharp beneath his curled back lips, gleam. White Fang’s missing incisor, now rooted into his dagger’s silver hilt, also gleams bloody in the fire’s light. “I will damn you with the very tooth you knocked out when first we met.”
Raising a clenched fist, armed with an iron ring, I say, “Come closer, and you will be wielding two tooth daggers.”
My nemesis, eyeing the ram’s head embossed on the ring, laughs. “A lucky blow from a trinket, nothing more. A blow that has granted me a name among mortals I am quite fond of. In the years since you released me upon this mortal plane, all have learned to fear the name, White Fang.”
To anger, I reply, “Trinket? This ring I wear has offered the infernal courts much amusement. Devilish jesters tell of your defeat, and the laughter of dark princes echoes throughout the outer planes. White Fang is name to be laughed at, not feared.”
Maddened, the daemon steps nearer and looms over us with eyes of burning malice. Yet, he remains beyond my magical ring’s range as he extends a finger. From it sparks an orange fleck. The cinder drifts towards us. I warn, “Fireball!”
Zorg leaps clear. I thrust forwards my staff and meet the point of exploding light that deafens with a dragon’s roar. Flames splay across the staff’s force shield.
“For the Stone!”
Half-blinded, I see Zorg’s ice-edged axe arcing through the blaze. As enchanted steel impacts on infernal flesh, the dwarf staggers back, jarred and bewildered. White Fang, eyes blazing ruby with the power of his next spell, regards him with contempt. To defend my friend, I incant arcane fury: lightning blasts holes in White Fang’s robe, exposing undamaged fur; a hail of eight electric-blue bolts shoot from my outstretched fingers, and glance off his skull; from the darkness above, a summoned silver sword descends, hits White Fang, and shatters.
“By the stone!” Zorg cries, as stubbornly he tries his axe again.
White Fang laughs. Raising the tooth dagger, he summons a lava whip in his other hand and strikes. The pain of burning flesh silences my Maze spell. Zorg backs away, shielding himself as whip melts armour and sets alight his beard. The daemon prince booms, “Lament for a bleak eternity in Gahenna, Srinivasa. You shall not recover the Sun Sword, and have failed the filthy mortals.”
White Fang’s lava tendril strikes, coils, ensnares. Yet my staff’s power draws it around itself, and with a tug I pull the giant daemon wolf off balance. Marking the air with arcane gestures, speaking words that bend reality, I evoke a green ray. The ray penetrates the daemon’s magic resistance, and disintegrates the daemon’s arm. Lava whip falls among a shower of ash, and White Fang’s ire flares.
Stepping before my companion, I stand side on and draw my clenched fist back out of sight. The ram’s-head ring I wear pulses, vibrates, as the enraged wolf-demon charges. Just a little closer, and White Fang will feel the ram’s head-butt….
“For the Stone!” Zorg meets White Fang’s charge with his own. A moment later, the dwarf’s axe clatters into shadow, and his cry drowns the roar of the fire. With eyes fixed on me, he splutters, “Sriniv …”
White Fang regards the metal and flesh squashed beneath his foot. Lowering himself on his haunches, he raises the dagger that damns above the dying dwarf. “You can shield your mind, Srinivasa, but never your heart. Though meant for you, this blade perhaps will pierce more deeply if this dwarf suffers in Gehenna in your place. Another ghost to haunt—”
The eye atop my staff blinks. White Fang becomes an insubstantial, churning shadow. In the blink of the eye I take one step through the ethereal plane, which on the mortal plane brings me within claw’s grasp of the arch daemon. Reappearing, I punch the air and release my iron ring’s magic. Telekinetic force shatters White Fang’s diabolical blade.
Wolf eyes glow red. White Fang fumes. Insulted by the mortal who again dares to defy him, he foregoes fireballs and other spells, and allows his feral rage to blaze. From the dwarf’s crushed body he pounces with impaling claws extended.
Staff’s eye blinks. Daemon’s claws rend not flesh but dusty air. Reappearing, I ensnare with webs that bind, slow, then melt away. Lightning bolts and ice storms stagger, tear enchanted robes but never flesh. And when my staff’s eye finally sleeps, unable to blink again, the daemonic man-wolf wearing smoking rags looms.
My magic spent, staff depleted, I am doomed. Neither spell nor magic trinket can save me. Unless … As blistering eyes sear, I change my destiny by summoning, “Gygax!”
A psychedelic vortex appears. From the pocket plane, a bubble between realities, flies a miniature man—the image of myself. My homunculus, aloft on bat wings, holds a card drawn from the Deck of Destiny. Letting it fall, it tumbles, slowly, slowly, ever slower through the colourful rainbow swirl….
I see the hourglass painted on the card… tumbling, tumbling, slowly….
… Sunlight. The Sun Sword levitates before me. Shimmering gold, the god-forged artefact’s radiance heals my wounded flesh and despairing soul. TIME has brought me to quest’s end.