Truth or Dare.
'What are they,' asked Diana, staring at the creatures in front of her.
'These are Water Devils,' said Korlock shakily. 'They have come for our magic.'
The huge creatures pulled themselves out of the water, leaving trails of black slime in their wake. The stench of rotting weeds hit Presto, and he swallowed against the sudden sickness. They didn't seem to have any weapons, but then again they didn't seem to need them. They had long, thick fingers like hotdogs on huge hands and Presto guessed that once they had a hold of you, you weren't going anywhere but down; deep, deep down…
The group of five huddled together and both Presto and Diana looked at Dekkion to see what he would do next. But the Knight looked more than exhausted. He was standing, but his sword-arm was limp by his side. Fear made it hard for the Magician to breath properly. If the Knight fell, they were done for.
'Dekkion,' he whispered. 'Dekkion, what are we gonna do?'
The Knight didn't reply, instead Korlock said:
'You… must go. Quickly!'
The other wizard was not looking at them, but instead down at his own hands, an expression of fear on his face. Abruptly, Korlock turned to glare at the Knight.
'Guide them forward, Dekkion,' said Korlock firmly. 'You must. You are too weak to help here.'
They looked eye to eye for a second, then Dekkion turned away.
'Presto, Diana, this way! Lorne!' the Knight said.
Diana hesitated, then followed. But Presto didn't move. They weren't seriously going to let Korlock face those evil things on his own? OK, so the other wizard was kinda spooky and odd, but they couldn't just run away! It wasn't right!
'We can't just leave him,' said Presto, looking back. 'We can't!'
But the Knight had gone, staggering up the side of the mound. Diana grabbed his arm and dragged Presto forward. He stumbled up a few steps, constantly looking round to see what was happening.
'We're not going to abandon him too, are we?' he asked her. 'We can't!'
'We should go,' said Diana, not looked happy either. 'I don't know what…'
She suddenly looked up, behind him and he followed her gaze. Lorne had taken up a position near Korlock, and had lifted the Stone of Astra. It was already starting to glow.
'They're trying to help us,' said Diana tearfully, pulling him on again. 'We have to go! We've gotta get to the Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn.'
The Magician staggered after the Knight and the Acrobat, but he still wanted to know what the others were going to do and kept watch over his shoulder. Korlock had lifted his arms, facing the five monsters.
'Powers of the Evil Twelve Talismans, aid me now!' he shouted. Blue fire erupted from his hands. Lorne raised the Stone, red magic flickering at the edges.
'We have to go!' urged Diana from close by. 'Don't waste this chance…'
But Presto wanted to argue; he wanted to go right up to Lorne and pull him along regardless, but he couldn't reach him, the Water Devils were almost on top of them. Korlock was right next to the boy now, his hands glowing a fierce blue. He looked down at Lorne, a fierce and frightening look in his eyes. The other wizard was staring at the Stone as if it was the only thing he could see.
Presto pulled his ragged sleeve away from Diana and stopped to stare. Which side was the other Wizard on anyway? Would Korlock turn on the boy, and take the stone for himself? He stood still, watching desperate to know what would happen. There was a sharp tug at his arm. He slipped.
'Presto!' hissed Diana, 'We've gotta go!'
He tried to argue, but they were almost at the top of the mound. There was a hole just in front of him and Diana pulled him towards it, holding his arm tightly. The sounds of the battle were clear behind them, howls and screams and the sharp hiss of angry magic.
Dekkion was standing, breathless, against a wall as Diana and Presto reached him. His eyes were closed, and he didn't say anything as they approached. He pointed forwards.
The hole widened out suddenly just ahead, changing into a huge tower with steps winding down around the side. It was dark, but there was a soft blue glow from the base that lit their way.
'At… the base of…the tower,' gasped Dekkion, 'is the Dungeon. We are almost…there.'
Relief spread through Presto, making him feel dangerously light-headed. He pushed the worry and shame at abandoning the others to the back of his mind, and concentrated on what was next. Perhaps they would get there after all, perhaps they would find the Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn, perhaps they would find enough magic to recharge the Hat, perhaps he would change it back.
At that thought, the relief was replaced by fear again. What if the Hat was recharged; would it work? Would he find a way to change it back without making everything worse? And what then?
What am I gonna do? (Worry about it later, Presto) Yes, but…(Worry when we get there)
Diana took his arm, more gently this time. There was a smile on her face. It was small, but it was also a real smile. It looked weird.
'C'mon!' she said. 'Let go!'
They made their way down the steps as quickly as they could. Diana seemed especially nervous, and looked around constantly. But nothing came to challenge them.
The steps wound down for a very long way. Beside him, Diana kept urging them forward, taking the lead and leaving Dekkion a good way behind. The Knight clunked down the steps, getting slower all the time, but the Acrobat wouldn't wait. Only when they reached the bottom did Diana pause.
Presto looked around uneasily. The pure white crystals in the walls glowed, making the base much brighter than he'd thought. They looked like ice, but they weren't cold, just sharp and dangerous. There was an archway close by, presumably the entrance to the Dungeon, but there was something about this place that wasn't pleasant. He clamped down hard on the feelings inside. He had come so far, he couldn't let the fear win now, of all times. And, besides, he had to know.
Still a way behind, Dekkion waved them forward without him and so, together, the Acrobat and the Magician walked on.
It was the first thing he saw as he stepped through: This is what he'd feared. This was a tomb too.
He'd known this was what must have happened. But actually seeing the body made Presto want to be sick again. He'd done this; he'd changed it all. It was his fault.
Hank was sprawled on the ground with one arm flung to the side, the useless Bow lying just out of reach. He was face-up, but his head was turned to look towards the crystal caves beyond with expression of pure despair in his cold, glazed eyes. There were no marks anywhere on him, but he was undeniably dead.
Presto didn't move, but Diana stumbled to her knees beside the fallen Ranger. She stroked his blonde hair tenderly.
'I'm s-s-sorry, H-hank,' she whispered. She leaned forward, crying over her fallen friend, resting her head on his chest. 'I'm so sorry.'
This hurt more than finding Eric's memorial; Hank was more than just his friend, he was the one he looked up to, the one he trusted the most, the one who'd always believed in him. Seeing Diana crying over the Ranger almost made him pass out it hurt so much.
But he didn't approach the body, he couldn't; it was too much to bear. He was too numb and shocked to do anything but stay still, he couldn't even cry. Instead he stayed where he was, looking down on the dead Ranger from afar.
Eventually, he felt Dekkion's hand on his arm.
'Diana, Presto,' said the Knight quietly. The Magician managed to look away from his dead friend and see where Dekkion had pointed. Presto shuddered, more in surprise than in fear. Venger's body close by, as still and dead as the Ranger.
Prompted to move by his friend, Presto stumbled forwards, his legs wobbling as he walked. The Acrobat obviously found it hard to leave Hank, but she followed after Dekkion and Presto, her head bowed.
Further on, they found a scrap of material from Sheila's Cloak and the end of Bobby's Club. The Knight looked down at the remains of the weapons sadly, as if he'd been expecting to find them. With the pieces still in his hand, Dekkion looked onwards, and Presto followed his gaze. Just ahead was another opening in the crystals: the way to the Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn.
A warm, glow passed through Presto, in spite everything that he'd seen. They had made it. They were here, in spite of everything. Now all he had to do was…
'So we finally meet, Magician!'
Without having to move, Presto recognised the voice. It was just as high and creepy as before, but it had a sinister edge to it, as it echoed loudly around the chamber. It could only be the Shadow Demon himself.
The Magician turned, extraordinarily slowly, cursing himself for thinking it was over so easily. The new Ruler of the Realm, the Demon of the Shadow, full of Evil and anger was hovering in the air close to the entrance way, flanked by two slaves, robed in black.
The Demon had become an imposing sight, and it caught and held Presto's attention. It was a thick, dark Shadow, almost three times as big as it had been. On its head was a glowing, gold crown and a small unicorn skull hung around its neck on a gold chain. Its wings were outstretched, and it hung in the air looking down at the group, filling the chamber with an evil presence.
Presto had meet Evil before. He had been alone in Venger's presence at least twice and he had faced the No-Named-Evil as well, but he had never before felt so overwhelmed by its power. Shadow Demon waited and its empty, white eyes seemed to stare at him constantly, as if trying to see into his soul. Presto felt his skin crawl as he stood under the gaze of that vile creature. He had never really looked at it before, not properly. All he could see was its shiny, white eyes but no expression in its gaze. it was like looking at a picture or a painting. There was nothing there. It was worse than facing down Venger. At least with him you knew what you were dealing with. At least Venger had looked like a human.
They stared at each other in silence for almost a minute, and Presto was unaware of anything else. Then slowly, he heard the sound of Diana crying beside him. A frown crept across his face. Why would she be doing that?
Shadow Demon moved, sweeping his hand down in a mocking bow, as if to introduce its companions. Presto looked at the Demon's entourage, and froze in total shock. This can't be happening…this CAN'T be happening… (This can't be HAPPENING!!)
'You recognise my companions,' it said. 'But you have yet to be introduced.' It lifted its right hand and the slave took a step forward. 'She has no name but what I have given her: Taker of Lives and Bringer of Sorrow. She is Pain!'
At the Demon's right-hand side, Pain stepped forward once more as her name was spoken. And Presto felt like he'd been hit in the stomach.
The one-time Thief looked up at them, her eyes glowing an inhuman red. She wore a black robe, with a gold belt. Presto fought back a tidal wave of nausea. Sheila was the closest thing to a sister he had ever had, his trusted friend and confidante, the only one who he could really talk to.
This can't be happening…This can't get any worse…Please, don't let this be what I think…
There was a movement at Shadow Demon's other side. Presto glanced to the other slave, already knowing who he would see, and dreading the confirmation.
'And this,' said Shadow Demon gleefully, 'this is Torment: Torturer and Oppressor of Innocence! The violence inside his soul now has perfect form.'
On the left of the Demon, Torment took a stride forward as well. The young boy looked up, his eyes as red as his sister's.
'Bobby,' whispered Presto.
Neither slave reacted to their true names now, and the Demon of the Shadow suddenly gave a nasty, high-pitched laugh. The sound cut through Presto. He'd let this happen. He'd let Shadow Demon take his friends and destroy them. Hank was dead, Eric was dead, the Bobby and Sheila he knew were gone.
This is what Dekkion had meant. The Knight knew his friends had been enslaved, he himself had fought Bobby (no, he's Torment now) in the city of Amulree. Anger started inside the Magician; Dekkion should have told him, he should have said something not leave him to be faced with this…this…revelation with no warning!
What would I have done if he'd told me? (This would have tipped you over the edge) But I had the right to know! He shoulda said! (I think he tried to)
He wanted to shout at the Knight, but he didn't move. The Demon of the Shadow was staring at him, and he couldn't move.
'And yet, even with all my power, I still had to come and see for myself,' said Shadow Demon, sounding smug, 'to see these few Young Ones who try to steal my magic. And to watch them fail!'
Presto felt an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It was three against three: One half-dead Celestial Knight and two weapon-less children against the Realm's Master and his two most powerful slaves. They didn't stand a chance. There was no point in even trying. He'd failed. He'd failed the instant he'd awoken in this terrible place. There was just no way to win.
Shadow Demon looked directly at Presto.
'I know what you have done, Magician!' it said. 'I know that it was YOU who wrought this change. But I will not let you change it back; I shall rule the Realm forever. I shall do what Venger could not!'
Presto had started to shake, and he shuffled backwards, trying to get away. It was just as Shadow Demon said: It was all his fault.
'I know what you feel, Magician. It is guilt. This is the consequence of your failure, Magician; do you like it?' The Demon gave a gurgling hiss, that might have been a laugh. 'And what would you do if you did restore your past? Would you tell them? You think they would forgive you?'
The Magician couldn't find anything to say, not even to acknowledge the truth in the Demon's words. That one spell had destroyed everything…Dizzy, he took a wobbly step back.
'This feeling inside,' continued Shadow Demon. 'There is no spell that can ever take it from you. The consequences of your foolishness will haunt you. Forever. I will make SURE of that!'
The crushing shame brought Presto to his knees. He'd failed them all: Hank and Sheila. Bobby and Diana. And Eric.
'Magician!' said the Demon commandingly, and Presto looked up. The next words were spoken softly, and had a strange seductive sound to them. 'Now rise, and take your appointed place with me, and your friends. Be free of this pain and guilt. You deserve nothing more; this is your new fate…so come!'
For just the tiniest part of a second, Presto want to. He wanted to be free from this feeling, and unable to remember what he'd done. He would do just about anything to get rid of the feeling of shame and guilt. Slowly, he got to his feet.
But then, there was a sound close by, making the Magician look round. Dekkion was just beside him, his Sword now drawn and held tightly in his hand. The Knight stood tall, imposing even with half his armour missing and blood seeping out from the wound in his side.
'No!' he said. 'You shall not take him too.'
The Demon of the Shadows gave a low hiss.
'What do you know, Knight!' it growled. 'Your time has gone and you are nothing! The boy's life, and power, are mine!'
The Knight raised his Sword, his face paler than death itself. Presto stared at Dekkion, trying to blink back tears. Why couldn't he just let it go, he wasn't worth it, he was nothing without his friends or his weapon. He was nothing! And he deserved his fate…
'No, Demon. I shall not let you.'
Shadow Demon laughed again, and the sound seemed to stab into the Magician. He shrank back.
'You came all this way, just to die!' sneered the Demon, facing Dekkion. 'Why do you care, Knight? This boy, he has destroyed you all! He has destroyed each one of your lives as surely as he lives and breathes! Why do you defend him?'
Then there was the strangest sound, as Dekkion laughed, right in the Demon's face.
'It is something beyond your knowledge, Demon!' he replied. 'It is faith, and it is friendship. So I have sworn, and so I will do.'
'Even to the end?' hissed Shadow Demon.
The Knight stood up as tall as he could.
'Even to Hell itself,' replied Dekkion.
It just took a few seconds, for the memories to come. Another day, another fight, another friend standing in front of him, his Shield raised… All the others had come through for him at some time or another, no matter what. He'd said so himself, that fateful evening, who knows how long ago; I don't know what I'd do without you guys. They were his friends, and in this awful place, they were his family, closer than brothers or sisters could ever be.
Was this what the Knight had meant? You fear powerlessness, and believing yourself to be weak, you rely on others to control your fate.
At the edge of despair, he stopped. Guilt and pain and fear were knotted tightly in his stomach, but there was something else. How many times had Hank looked at him, his eyes glowing with confidence? How often had he helped cheer up Bobby by doing stupid tricks with the Hat? How often had Sheila been there, beside him, ready to help if she could? He couldn't let them down; they were his friends.
And this was his fault, his responsibility. Somehow, he had to change it all back again. He just had to, no matter what. But only through facing reality, can victory come to us. And only you can achieve this, Magician.
It had only taken a second, and neither Shadow Demon nor Dekkion had moved. Then the Knight levelled his Sword at the trio, and it glowed with a bright blue light. Beside him, Diana waited, tall and proud and defenceless. He looked at her, seeing the fear in her eyes, but she didn't flinch and his heart gave a tiny lurch. She was amazing.
The Demon raised his hand.
There was a movement from behind the Demon and his entourage that suddenly caught Presto's attention, and he gasped.
Lorne! Complete with Stone of Astra! But there was someone else; Korlock, standing beside him. Both looked injured, but both were very definitely alive. Presto frowned in surprise, despite the imminent danger. Had they really managed to call a truce? How?
'Hey, you!' called the young boy, holding the red Talisman up. 'You! Demon! Try this!'
At his side, Korlock raised his hands, magic fire rising up from his fingers. There was an ugly snarl across his face and he glared at the Demon with undisguised hatred.
Huge arcs of red lightning lashed out from the Stone towards Shadow Demon. At the same time Korlock sent the angry blue fires straight at its two slaves.
Amazingly, the Demon retreated, howling in pain.
'Deal with them,' it screeched, turning back to face the Knight, the Acrobat and the Magician. 'DEAL WITH THEM!'
It happened so quickly, Presto barely had time to register everything. Dekkion dropped his guard and whirled round, ignoring the Acrobat as she leaped towards her one-time friends. The Knight reached for Presto, giving him an almighty shove through the crystal entranceway and into the chamber beyond. Presto couldn't do anything but stumble backwards. But, even as he was falling through, he could see the determination in his friend's eyes. Then the Knight swung his Sword sharply up, digging deep into the bright stones above him. There was a terrible splintering noise and a shout of anger, then the whole lot came crashing down just inches from Presto's feet.
He lay still for just a few second, before realising what had happened. Then he pulled himself up slowly, his head thumping. The fight was continuing outside; the screech of magic, the cries of pain and desperation, but they were muffled as if they were very far away. He knew Dekkion was dead, buried under a huge weight of rock. Diana, Korlock and Lorne probably were too. He hoped they were; he hoped they weren't Shadow Demon's slaves now as well.
Moving as fast as he could, he struggled to the glowing pool. He fell down to his knees, and leaned forward, scooping some of the glowing liquid out, filling the Hat to the brim. For a few seconds nothing happened, then the liquid slowly vanished, replaced by the familiar glow of magic from the Hat.
It surprised him that he didn't feel relief. It surprised him that he didn't spell himself out of there as quickly as possible. He tried, but he just couldn't form the right words for a spell. He didn't know what to say, and all he could think of were questions; what were the chances of it working? What if he just made it worse? What if it didn't work? What if it did work, what would he tell the others? For Heaven's sake, Presto! How could it be worse? (GET ON WITH IT! QUICK!)
But, frozen by indecision, he didn't speak.
There was a low growl behind him. The wall of splinted crystal had just vanished, the Demon of the Shadow, and the enslaved were standing there. He could see Sheila and Bobby, and now Diana too, all standing behind their Dark Lord their eyes glowing a baleful red. There was no sigh of the others.
Shadow Demon looked at the Hat and growled again.
'Foolish child!' it hissed. 'Perhaps you think you have won. But you will never master the weapon sufficiently to save them from their Fates.'
In spite of the danger, and knowing that the Demon was probably just playing for time, he had to know.
'What do you mean?'
Shadow Demon gave a soft laugh.
'Child, you have no idea what awaits you and your friends. You cannot see the pain and suffering ahead.' It stopped, hovering just above the ground. When it next spoke, its voice was barely a whisper. 'Do you think they will ever forgive you for this, Magician?'
For a second, Presto couldn't even breathe. They will never forgive me for this. (Do I even have to tell them?) What if they never know? (But what if they find out afterwards) What should I do…?
Then he caught the sly smile from the Demon in front of him. What had Dekkion said about it? "Its power resides in lies and deceit and regret." Even if the others didn't forgive him, it didn't matter. At least they would be there to make that choice.
Before, he had wondered what to say, how to be clear enough to erase this history and make everything change back. But there were no riddles or rhymes that would help, and he just spoke from the heart:
'Hat, change it back to the way it was before.'
He clutched the weapon to his chest and waited.
The creature in front of him hissed loudly, angry that it had finally failed.
'You may have won for now,' said Shadow Demon, 'but I will not forget this, Magician. This is how the Realm should be and I will not let you take it away from me! Somehow, I WILL return!' It raised its wings proudly. 'But, meantime, perhaps YOU need "something that you will remember"!'
A thin line of fire shot out, slicing across Presto's cheek, just as the Hat started to glow. There was a tingle that started in Presto's hands, and spread over his whole body and very, very slowly, everything went black.
'C'mon, guys, we've gotta do something!' said a female voice.
'Like what,' said a boy, his voice dripping with sarcasm, 'get a bucket of water?''Knock it off, Eric!' said another boy. 'He might be…'
Presto's eyes flicked open suddenly, and he sat up with a jerk, almost smacking into the boy beside him.
'Hey, watch it Presto!' said Eric.
For a few seconds, the Magician couldn't speak; he just looked around in amazement at his friends. He was back, he was BACK!
Hank was kneeling by his side, holding his arm gently. The Thief was next to him, smiling in relief. Bobby was at her other side with Uni cuddled into him. Opposite Hank, Eric knelt close to the Magician's head, and expression of delight on his face. And, pressed close to the Cavalier, was Diana.
'Easy, Presto,' said Hank with a calm smile. 'You're OK.'
His head was spinning. Eric was there beside him; and Hank, and Sheila, Diana, Bobby. Could he really have done it?
'W-what happened?' he asked eventually.
'You did the spell,' Sheila replied, 'and reached into the Hat. Then the next thing we knew you were lying on the floor, like this!' She reached out to point at his face. 'And you've been cut.'
Presto immediately reached up to his cheek. The cut was still there, fresh blood on his fingers. He caught his breath sharply, new fear slicing through his heart. Oh… No… Oh no, oh no, oh no…(Don't panic. Don't panic! DON'T PANIC!)
'I-it… really… happened…' he muttered between gasps. 'I…don't…'
'What?' demanded Diana. 'Presto, you've gone pale. You OK?'
He started to shake, feeling dizzy and light-headed as Sheila produced a handkerchief and started to dab the blood away. He couldn't breathe; he could only gasp for air that wouldn't stay. He looked around at his friends in a blind panic. This was just a trick; this was just a dream. How, why, what…had…happened?
He looked at the Hat in his hand, glowing with a soft green light.
'Guys…' he whispered. 'I…'
The next few seconds were the longest of his life. He couldn't tell them? Could he? He couldn't share what he'd see and heard. He couldn't share the knowledge and the pain of what had happened. They were never in a trillion years gonna trust him again if they found out what he and the Hat had done.
'Presto, what's happened?' asked Hank, his voice so full of concern that Presto almost began to cry. Mutely, the Magician shook his head.
'Can't…tell…' he managed.
'C'mon, Presto, you can tell us,' said Sheila. 'You can tell us anything.'
'Yeah, ' added the Cavalier. 'C'mon, ol' buddy! We're your friends.'
Tears started in Presto's eyes and he tried to blink them away. He sniffed.
'It's my fault…My fault… the Hat…'
The others seemed to understand that something serious had happened, but they all looked round at each other in confusion. Finally, Hank put his hand on Presto's shoulder.
'Sheila's right Presto, you can tell us anything. Anything at all.'
At his side, Uni gave a quiet whine, and rubbed her silky nose against his hand, trying to comfort him.
He wanted to tell them, and they deserved to know, no matter what the consequences.
And there it was, that word again. "There are always consequences, you should have learned that by now." Was this what he had to learn? Was this what he had to face?
They said he could trust them with anything. They were his family. He had to trust them.
His voice was shaking, and he seemed to stumble over every second word. He told them everything, down to the very last detail. For hours he talked, and in all that time they said nothing; they asked no questions, just sat there.
At the end, for almost a whole minute, they sat there in silence. And every second in that minute Presto was even more convinced they would hate him. The Demon was right, there was no way they would forgive him for something like that.
He looked at his friends, seeing expressions of shock and fear, but not anger or hatred. Sheila gave him a small smile, then pulled him into a big, warm hug.
'I-I'm so sorry, guys,' said Presto, his voice choked with emotion. 'The Hat, my magic, everything… it never goes right.'
There was the briefest pause, then he heard a snort of disgust from next to him. The Magician looked round. Eric was smiling. Smiling? (Yep. That's definitely a smile, a real smile…)
'Who say's your magic never works!' demanded Eric. His voice sounded strained, and he was eyeing the Hat with a great deal of suspicion, but…yep, he was still smiling!
The Magician looked round, confused. The others looked at the Cavalier too. It was plain from the looks on their face they were just as surprised at Eric's statement as Presto was.
Eric just pointed at the Hat.
'The spell, it worked.' He flicked his eyebrow up in the usual Cavalier way that Presto had really, really missed. 'You asked for "something to remember!" Well, it's not like any of us are gonna forget THIS in a hurry!'
Next: (sometime in January 2005)
The Hall of the Mountain King.
When the gang run into a Clan of steel-loving Troglodytes, it's up to Hank to solve Dungeonmaster's riddles before time runs out.
Originally, in the episode "Dungeon at the Heart of Dawn", the guys wandered through a place filled with fire, and it seemed reasonable to assume that there were other sections of the Underworld filled with other Elements.
Dekkion, Lorne and Korlock are also characters form other episodes: Dekkion - "The Quest of the Skeleton Warrior", Lorne and Korlock from "The Twelfth Talisman".
Almost all of the creatures in the underworld are based on things from the D&D Monster Manual, except the Water Devils, which just sorta happened.