A Debt Must Be Paid
It was the night of the Magical Tournament, the final contest of the Festival of the Moon. The silvery face of the Moon Goddess gazed down on her subjects as they assembled round the concave lawn of pale moongrass, the site of the magical combat.
Cassie would be judging this time. Kirder felt proud to sit beside the finest mage in the kingdom as she sat in her throne like seat ready to evaluate the performances of those lesser mages. And how dignified she was in her ornate black dress with intricate silver threading. Her beautiful face seemed to glow in the moonlight. Really he didn't even notice any of the other ladies present, she surely outshone them all. He noticed the men present of course. With a surge of anger he saw Horstman in the crowd, his hair gleaming silver in the moonlight. Kirder felt himself stiffen with indignation. How much perfumed gel must it take for him to smooth down his hair that flat? Kirder envisioned him at it in the bedroom, probably without even the decency to wear any clothes...
While his thoughts had been wondering, the time for the contest had arrived. Cassie held up a slender green hand and and the ring on her finger caught the moonlight. It was the ring that signified her status as Chief Mage - a gold band into which an amethyst stone was set. Some of those lesser mages came up to greet her. Wilhelmijn arrived first and knelt before Cassie, who extended her hand. Wilhelmijn kissed her hand and they gazed into each other's eyes for a moment. Kirder guessed they were conversing in thought.
"You will fight honourably, Wilhelmijn, for you know no other way," said Kirder.
Wilhelmijn beamed and curtseyed to him. "I will take your good wishes and those of my husband into the arena with me." He husband must be an exceptional specimen of a man to have landed a mage of her prowess. Kirder looked to where she was gesturing. Her man was indeed a fine specimen, broad shouldered, with a handsome face, golden hair and well kept golden beard. Kirder was particularly intrigued by how judicious or otherwise he had been in wearing such tight fitting trousers. Still, he could see evidence of why Wilhelmijn had been attracted to him...
A round faced girl with short brown hair hurried forward, almost stumbling and fell to her knees to kiss Cassie's hand. Then she looked up and stammered. "I – I – Lady… Chief Mage… I…" She blushed.
Cassie gave a gentle smile. "Welcome, Wendy. I know that you will give your best effort tonight."
The girl grinned. "I wanted to say that I really admire the Chief Mage and hope to be like her someday and want to wear this. The girl held up a thin, bright green material. As she turned it over in her fingers, Kirder could see it was a green mask. Probably she supposed that this kind of flattery of the judge would help her win.
But strangely, Cassie gave a sad smile and gripped the girl's shoulders. "Your love means much to me dearest, but we can only be who we are, no more, no less."
Kirder was already bored with Wendy and turned to glare and Horstman furiously. Horstman was aware of his gaze and scowled back. Kirder hoped he was afraid.
Wendy was already running towards the arena as Kirder turned to Cassie. "How can Horstman be allowed to compete? That conceited fop is not man enough to get the white stuff up. He cannot do magic."
"I agree, he doesn't stand a chance, particularly not against Wilhelmijn. Frankly I expect him to lose to Wendy."
Wendy and Horstman now stood facing one another in the arena. Wendy had put that green facemask on and it fit like a second skin. It made her face as bright green as Cassie's. Horstman, sneering as usual, was holding up a set of crystal balls. Kirder was no mage and yet he could have held his balls better than that! Kirder had held his stout staff which no one could take from him.
It was now time for the tournament, but at that moment, Cassie looked up, alarm showing in her green face. In the sky there appeared to be a swarm of bloody lights, growing... becoming more distinct.
"Everyone, take cover!" Cried Cassie as the fiery lights dived towards them. Cassie raised her arms to the heavens and a stream of dazzling silver magic streamed from her finger tips, slicing into the fiery creatures.
What were they? Wilhelmijn and some of the other mages were firing magical bolts at them as well and many were riven asunder. But the rest were swarming closer and had begun to spit what appeared to be gobs of burning yellow flame...
Cassie gave a shrill cry and her face glowed, her fiery hair swirling around her. He eyes suddenly turned bright silver with no pupils. Then her slender form glowed with an icy white shine and a bolt of searing bright blue energy burst from her, battering into the fiery swarm and sending them scattering.
Kirder raised his sword, feeling unfortunately inadequate against supernatural horrors, not that he would admit that. However, what could he actually prick? Suddenly his attention flickered towards Horstman again. One of those horrible fiery things was flying at him and he was too stupid to notice. He was still trying to manipulate his balls to get the white stuff out!
Kirder leaped forwards, regardless of the peril and knocked Horstman out of the way, just as the fiery beast swooped at him. Horstman yelled his passionate anger as he squirmed beneath Kirder.
"Accept it graciously, pampered fool, I'm saving your life," said Kirder his excitement at the situation growing. The fiery thing was swooping again for another attack. Kirder stiffened in anticipation and clutched at his sword. But then there was a bolt of silver lightning and the creature was riven asunder. Cassie was there, panting. In the moonlight he could see that her brown eyes were wide, her pupils dilated and her green face gleamed with a sheen of sweat as she gazed down at them.
"How dare you knock me down," cried Horstman, flushing a rosy pink with indignation. "Ward of Ithric or no, my father will have something to say about this."
"Fool, Kirder just saved your life and I witnessed it," said Cassie, her dark green lip curling. "As a member of the nobility you are honour bound to pay back such a debt."
Kirder allowed Horstman to stand. "Well you know how the nobility are honour bound. And Cassie is the foremost among the nobility so knows best of all." He did not care that his voice sounded smug. Horstman's pale face was flushed and his gleaming white blond hair dishevelled.
"Kirder is within his rights to suggest how you should pay back your debt," said Cassie gravely.
"And I suggest that Horstman should accompany us into the Western Desert," said Kirder, gratified to see Horstman give a little start and turn pale.
Cassie nodded, her bright red hair rippled and bounced. "That sounds like a fair exchange."
"Fair exchange?" said Horstman his voice rising hysterically. "With the horrors that lurk there? The ruthless hobgoblins? The fire breathing dragons? And those tainted green harridans. To gaze upon the lurid yellow green faces of those unnatural harpies would be a nightmare prospect... erm... no offense lady..."
Cassie folded her arms. "As Chief Mage I order you to pay the debt, exactly as Kirder says." Her voice was cold and uncompromising. Kirder smirked at Horstman's discomfort.
In the caverns of the underworld, beyond the lava fields west of the Western Desert, the Incubus General had reason to be afraid. The barrier that the Moon Goddess had put in place to keep Sschlangg and his minions from emerging from the lava fields had begun to fail - the time the goddess had allocated for their banishment was now drawing to a close. Sschlangg had ordered him to send a swarm of fire buzzards through the barrier - ethereal conjurations with no sentience that could now slip through the weakening barrier. Schlangg's order had been prudent - to take out the greatest threat from the human kingdom. The mages. But the attack and failed utterly and the prospect of reporting failure to Sschlangg was terrifying.
The General glanced at his reflection in his crystal which showed images of places remote. He had witnessed his attack fail from afar. Now the images were faded and he saw his bright green features - fine boned and handsome to many human women. During the reign of Lucifon, the original ruler of the underworld, he had visited human women before and made love to them. He missed their soft touches and caresses and how their fragile bodies heated with passion. Sschlangg was a usurper, although who would dare point that out? For Sschlangg had been a fiend strong enough to overthrow Lucifon and wrest away his cosmic power. And Sschlangg had such an infernal superiority complex. Intent on wiping out humanity. If only there was some way of removing him... but there was none. The bounds he had laid on the demonic realm could not be broken so easily.
And so the General came to stand before the dark throne in the great cavern of darkness and impenetrable shadow. Who could endure Sschlangg's terrible gaze for long? The incubus dared not look directly at the figure wreathed in fire and shadow and instead prostrated himself on the floor, folding his wings in submission.
"Forgive me, my Liege Lord, I have failed."
"Forgivenesssss isss a human concccept. Your ruler knowsss it not. And you know what you musssst do."
Sschlangg cast a blade of obsidian, curved and wickedly sharp, onto the rocky floor of the cavern.
So it had come to this. Sschlangg was in origin one of the most powerful demons. A purely ethereal being of ancient and malign consciousness. But the incubae, while having ethereal powers, had physical form. Sschlangg wished him to undergo the pain of his physical form being killed.
The general gritted his teeth, picked up the blade and pierced his bright green torso. Steaming dark green viscera flopped out onto the floor. The pain was excruciating. Sschlangg watched and malicious satisfaction emanated from him.
"Firssst, you are to polish my ssssword of sssspite!"
The incubus blinked, gazing dizzily at his guts on the cavern floor. "And then?"
"That is a chore as punissshment for your blunder! And then write a formal letter of apology."
"So you just wanted me to write a letter and polish a sword. Not disembowel myself?"
"That was ambiguous, the way you just threw the sword on the floor like that."
"Well now you know. I may have exxxecuted every other incompetant, but isss that a reassson for you to jump to conclusssionssss?" Sschlangg's mirth was not very well concealed.
"Thank you, my liege," said the general, gritting his teeth and gathering up his viscera. "Oops, that bit looks important." He picked up a dark green organ. He stumbled out of the cavern, too weak to fly, Sschlangg's hollow laughter echoing in his ears.