'Show yourself, Wizard!' said Krin coldly as everyone rose.
Hank's breath caught in the back of his throat, and there was a shimmer from the shadows, and Shawn stepped out to stand beside the creature, the heavy gold staff still in his right hand. Casually, he reached out to pet the lion, giving it a friendly scratch behind its ear. The creature pushed back against his hand, obviously enjoying the attention, but its baleful, grey eyes never left the group.
The two Wizards stared at each other. Krin's fists were balled, and he held himself rigid, in stark contrast to the casual air of Shawn, where only the slight frown on his face gave any hint of what he was thinking.
As the silence grew more uncomfortable, the Ranger took a tiny step back, in front of Sheila and her brother. He'd spent hours in Shawn's company earlier, and he didn't relish the thought of being stuck in the middle of a showdown between these two Wizards. And especially not with their weapons in the state they were in. They had no way of defending themselves, if it was necessary. And as he looked at the Wizards, Hank had the feeling that it would be.
Shawn still had his hand on the lion-creature's mane, and the Ranger suddenly realised the animal had been staring at just one member of their group: Uni. Taking a surreptitious glance to the ground, Hank was surprised to see the young unicorn glaring back at the creature. Oddly, she didn't seem afraid this time.
As he looked back to the lion, Shawn seemed to take notice of them for the first time, and suddenly smiled.
'I take it you've never seen one of these magnificent creatures,' he said, sounding smug. 'This is a Manticore.' The creature lifted its head, knowing it was being talked about.
He'd heard of Manticores before. They were evil creatures; vicious, dangerous and anti-social. Not only did they have all the fighting talents of a real lion and the intelligence of a human, they were armed with a nasty, spiky tail that could shoot short, metal bolts. As if to emphasise what Hank was thinking, the Manticore swished its tail from side to side.
'They are quite rare in the Realm these days,' continued Shawn conversationally. 'I was lucky to meet one.' The smile changed suddenly into a sneer. 'But you're not!'
'Why did you bring this creature?' demanded Krin. 'And why do you come here? Now? After all this time?'
Shawn gave an expression of mock surprise.
'Please!' he said. 'I know what you're trying to do.' He looked across to the ring on the floor. 'You must think it is going to work. This time!'
Hank "felt" the scowl on Krin's face rather than saw it, the anger in the Wizard was suddenly tangible as magic radiated out.
'I don't think it will work. I know it will. And so does the Dungeonmaster!'
Shawn looked unimpressed, and Hank thought back to their Guide's words: "Krin may be able to send you home…". That wasn't exactly a glowing recommendation, even by Dungeonmaster's usual standards! As they had learned from Presto's Hat, magic didn't come with any guarantees.
There was another short silence before Shawn said:
'Well, are you going to tell me?'
'I'm leaving!' he replied. 'I won't stay for the Guild any more! And you can't make me!'
'But you couldn't have done it on your own,' said Shawn reasonably. 'Are you going to tell me? After all, I think we deserve some… small …part.'
The other Wizard snorted again and didn't reply, giving Hank the impression that "small part" was an understatement.
'The concerns of the Guild are no longer my concerns!' snapped Krin. 'I am no longer within its influence. I have found a new source.'
He turned to gaze at Diana, and even though his face was obscured by magic, Hank could feel the delight and the despair.
'A child?' asked Shawn.
'The "Child" of Light!'
Shawn made a scoffing noise.
'She CAN do it!' retorted Krin. 'All this time I've waited. But she came to me and she can help.'
Beside him, the Acrobat shifted uncertainly, but Shawn and his pet were too concerned with Krin to bother looking round.
'But you have told them? Haven't you?' asked Shawn. 'As the Pure of Heart, I'm sure they would like to know just how you got this far!'
It was Krin's turn to be stared at by the group. As Hank watched, Shawn gave another smirk, obviously enjoying Krin's discomfort.
'Tell us what?' asked Diana. But Shawn answered for him.
'This little machine of his is pieced together from parts of other people's work. Stolen pieces of work.'
'It doesn't matter how I built it anyway! But I didn't steal anything!'
'Rimush would disagree with you.'
'Leave him out of this,' hissed Krin. 'It was not his to begin with.'
'That's an interesting statement, considering how you got it!'
'I did not steal anything!' repeated Krin more loudly. 'But I have to get away.'
The Wizard turned to the face the kids, the magic swirling chaotically around. Hank could sense his pain and his frustration, and his fear. But he also understood more clearly why Dungeonmaster had been wary of giving them information: Krin was a desperate man, driven beyond rational behaviour by the magic that tormented him. Behind, Shawn's face grew suddenly harsh.
'But you brought all this on yourself!'
Krin swung round like a striking snake, magic streaming out behind him in a rainbow arc.
'You knew! You knew all the time what would happen!'
Shawn seemed unworried by the accusation, and idly ruffled the Manticore's mane once more.
'I had assumed you had the intelligence to understand the risks when I explained…'
'Explained!' growled Krin. 'You're a liar!'
Having spent a while with Shawn, Hank knew how unwilling the Wizard had been to explain anything, unless is was to his own advantage. He could easily imagine Shawn omitting certain vital information, if it suited him.
'Me? What kind of convenient lie did you tell them to get their help?' asked Shawn in a mocking tone.
'I told them the truth,' replied Krin.
'The truth? And she's going to help you after that,' scoffed Shawn. 'I don't think so! And no matter what you've done, I doubt that a mere child can…'
'You know nothing about it!' said Krin, his voice rising. 'She will follow her Star wherever it may lead. The burden in her heart is too heavy, the call of her home is too strong. For her, the portal will open, and I can be free!'
'Is it really that simple?' asked Shawn. 'I don't think it can be!'
'It is! It's ready! And I'll be free!'
The air of elation around Krin was unmistakable, but Hank was distinctly uneasy. There was something about this conversation that wasn't quite right. There was a cold, exultant gleam in Shawn's eye that hadn't been there a few seconds before.
'I don't need the Guild anymore!' said Krin.
The other Wizard looked amused by this statement.
'Really? Is that what you really think, Krin?'
'What do you know!' sneered the other Wizard. 'You've missed your chance this time! No matter how deep your lore, you've missed the opportunity to stop me!'
'I know a lot more than you think,' said Shawn, his voice suddenly quiet. 'And now, you're going to force me to take drastic action.' He looked at the kids once more. The Ranger's hand tightened round his useless Bow, but he looked back at the Wizard defiantly. Shawn wasn't going to scare them this time!
'You wouldn't dare!' said Krin with a short laugh. 'You know too much about them to try!'
'You think that the Dictates of Fate would stop me? But then, perhaps you're right; there are much more interesting possibilities for them. And you have forgotten the weakness I warned you about, all those years ago…'
Hank just had time to sense a flicker of confusion and fear from Krin before Shawn levelled the Staff at the other Wizard and a bolt of golden light shot out, slamming into Krin's chest and sending him sprawling backwards.
'…You talk too much,' said Shawn coldly.
A couple of seconds passed as Hank and the others stared in shock at the fallen Wizard. Diana finally broke the stillness and darted to his side, but Krin didn't move. Slowly, everyone turned back to the remaining Wizard.
Shawn laid a restraining hand on the Manticore that had stood patiently by his side as it turned to sniff in Krin's direction, it's eyes suddenly gleaming in anticipation of an easy lunch. The Wizard lowered his Staff.
'You've… you've… killed… him!' gasped Sheila.
'Maybe, but I doubt it,' said the Wizard with a shrug. 'We'll just have to wait and see if he's strong enough.' He looked keenly at the Thief. 'But I'm not interested in him anymore, I have the information I wanted.'
From beside Krin, Diana looked up, tears in her eyes.
'You don't care about what you've done? You don't care if he lives or dies?'
Again, Shawn shrugged, and Hank felt sick. He knew Shawn better than any of the others, but he found it hard to believe that he was capable of that level of heartlessness.
'You see, Acrobat, I'm a pragmatist,' Shawn explained with an unbearable grin. 'And sometimes I'm nice; and sometimes I'm nasty!'
The Ranger could find no instant reply, but the Cavalier pushed past him.
'Oh, yeah?' retorted Eric. 'And sometimes you like to sing songs about Goblins!'
There was a shocked pause, then Hank heard Bobby snigger. Eric was glaring at Shawn with an expression of contempt, and Hank was suddenly very cold. He'd seen that expression before, and very recently, too!Here we go again…
This was the last straw. It was all very well for the Cavalier to be a little out of sorts after the Trogs, and picking a fight with a group of thugs might be his kind of "therapy"; but picking a fight with a Wizard, an obviously powerful Wizard who had just taken down one of his own kind without a second thought, was going beyond the realms of even Cavalier-level stupidity!
And Hank was just sick of it! Totally, and utterly sick of it!
How was he supposed to lead them, to get them home, with Eric behaving like a one-man-army? He'd never been a violent person; he'd always run from trouble. What had gotten into him? Ever since the Trog Lair…
A cold, prickly feeling crept down Hanks' spine: Ever since the Trog's Lair he'd been different. They'd never gotten a straight answer about what had ACTUALLY happened.
But it was too late to worry, as Shawn slowly lifted the Staff and pointed it in the Cavalier's face. The two stared at each other. When Shawn finally found his voice it was thick with malevolence.
'You! What do you know! You're nothing! You've failed in everything you've tried to do! I know. I can see.' Shawn's expression changed to a smirk, the mirror of the Cavalier's own and he took a step forward. 'You don't have to tell me. You can't hide it, I can see it inside you! You didn't really think you could hide something like that from ME, did you?' Eric flinched and Shawn advanced on the shocked Cavalier, his eyes bright with malicious pleasure. 'You're weak! And you're afraid!'
Hank couldn't understand what they were talking about, but obviously Shawn knew something the others didn't. All of his friends were staring at the Cavalier, looking as confused as Hank felt.
And then Shawn smiled, one of the most unpleasant smiles Hank had ever seen.
'The Dungeonmaster has been proved wrong before; many, many times. You had nothing to tell us! Even that fool you call a Magician was more use than you!' Shawn turned to Presto, the smile wider than ever.
'You are not worthy of the title, Magician! And you too are afraid, afraid of your own weapon! Afraid of a Hat!' Presto muttered something incomprehensible, but pulled the Hat off his head, and held it tightly to his chest.
Shawn looked between the two boys. Even from the sidelines, Hank could feel the malevolent magic as the Wizard spoke.
'And you should know, Magician, that even if this Cavalier is too weak and cowardly to use it, his power will ALWAYS surpass yours!'
Eric turned redder, and looked round at the Magician in shock. Presto, for his part, just stared back.
Hank didn't know what to say, as the two boys looked at each other in fear and surprise. But out of the corner of his eye, he caught the smile of pure delight on Shawn's face.
'Stop!' he blurted out. 'Leave them alone!'
Shawn slowly looked round at the Ranger.
'What did you say?'
Suddenly with Shawn's full attention on him, Hank felt the full weight of magic on him. He could hardly breathe, let alone reply.
'Have you lost your voice, Ranger?'
'Leave… them … alone…'
How, he managed to get the words out, he couldn't tell. But now he had, he felt stronger. Shawn looked surprised.
'You're not going to try and stop me? Are you?'
Hank forced himself to nod.
'But you have no more power, Ranger. No power. No weapons!'
Hank glanced down at the Bow, knowing full well that Shawn was right. What could they do without their weapons? He lifted it, reaching across to pull an arrow. Nothing happened.
'Well, it seems they don't seem make magic Bows the way they used to,' Shawn said with a mirthless smile. 'Do you still think you can stop me?'
Knowing his Bow was useless, knowing how powerful the Wizard was, Hank still nodded again.
'We will stop you!' he said, his voice shaking only a little.
'You really think you can?' snarled the Wizard. 'I can crush you! I can rip out your heart and soul and leave nothing but a pure, empty shell!' Shawn's expression was one of fury. 'How dare you presume to think you are a match for ME!'
Hank shivered, suddenly regretting his words. After all, what could they do without their weapons?
'So, you have no reply this time, Ranger?' sneered Shawn. 'What a shining example to your friends! No wonder you will never get home!'
Behind him, someone gasped, but Hank couldn't stop staring at the Wizard. What did he mean "never get home"? What did he know? Some part of the Ranger tried to stay confident, but it wasn't going to work.
'I have looked into the Void of Past and Future, and you'll never get home! Not if I have anything to do with it!' Despair swelled up through Hank, but Shawn hadn't finished. 'You've failed them before, Ranger! You will fail them again!' He tried to speak, to challenge those words, but his voice wasn't working. 'They don't believe in you anymore, they can't even defend their leader!'
He looked round to the others. Shawn was right; none of them had said a word. He'd lead them to Kilan, he'd urged them to find the Guild in the first place, it was his decisions that had brought them to this place. He'd let them all down, now none of them thought he was up to the job of leader, not any more. Not even Sheila…
Not even Sheila. He'd failed her, most of all. How could she love him, after all he'd put her through?
And through the paralysing fog of despair and shame, he thought he heard the Wizard laughing.
Diana was still kneeling by Krin, but she saw Hank turn pale, the firm grip on his Bow starting to slip. Shawn was laughing, a high-pitched ringing laughter that was going to give her a headache. Beside him the Manticore licked its lips, still eyeing the prone Wizard beside her.
Having decided that the Ranger was obviously not going to challenge him further, Shawn looked down at her with an air of mocking finality.
'So, Child of Light. You are the key, are you?'
Listening to the insults Shawn had used on the others, she had realised that the Wizard took great delight in tormenting them with their worst fears and paranoia. Maybe it was magic, but more likely it was just that Shawn was just very good at it. Steeling herself, Diana chose not to reply. Apart from the fact she had no idea what either Wizard had been talking about, she was not going to do anything to help Shawn. Especially not if he was gonna call her by that title!
She stood, and waited, thinking about Dungeonmaster's words: Everything has a price; but what would the price be this time?
The Wizard finally spoke again.
'You are strong,' he said. 'And I would expect nothing less from you, Child of Light, considering the great sacrifices you made in the Temple of Light. But there is only so far you can go.' She was finding it harder to breathe, every time he spoke it was more difficult to respond rationally. He seemed to know exactly what to say.
'I know about Turad,' continued the Wizard, 'all about it, Child of Light. I know of your choice.' The Wizard paused, with a nasty little smirk on his face. 'What was it the old man told you? "To choose between home and the heart"? Are you really going to put your own selfish need above those of your friends? Again?'
For a second she couldn't move, and Diana just stared in shock at the Wizard in front of her. Her mind was filled with those few final moments she'd shared with Kosar, the tremendous feeling of love and closeness, mirrored in equal measure by pain as they were ripped apart, perhaps forever. But there was something more this time, maybe something she hadn't wanted to see before. She could remember lying there on the ground as the bells of celebration rang through the city, she had looked up at the others knowing full well that, as well as losing her one true love, she had let the portal close. But there was no look of reproach from her friends, far from it; they were proud of her. They understood what she had done. They understood!
She lifted her head defiantly.
'You'll have… to do better… than that!' she said.
A flash of confusion and fury passed over Shawn's face, and he lifted the Staff.
'Perhaps, then, it is better to just destroy you, now!'
He didn't want to, she could see that. For some reason, he believed she did have the power to open a portal, using Krin's machine. She glanced down at her Javelin, knowing she couldn't win against Shawn, not directly. But she wasn't gonna go down without a fight.
She'd seen how he'd reacted to the Cavalier's taunt earlier. In those few seconds, Diana understood: Shawn was afraid of them. He enjoyed manipulating and tormenting them because that was all he dared do! Well, two could play at that game!
'You can try,' she replied, 'but I think you're too old and slow!'
It wasn't the greatest comeback in the world. Perhaps if she'd had less to worry about, she could have come up with a punchier line. Nevertheless, it had the desired effect. Only incoherent spluttering came from the Wizard.
But Shawn wasn't the one who retaliated. The creature by his side moved suddenly, letting loose a volley of barbs; Diana just managed to twist out of the way in time. Hank, Bobby and Sheila were unharmed too. But one of the bolts had just clipped the side of Eric's cape and another two were stuck in the front of the Shield, directly in front of the shocked-looking Magician.
As relieved as she was that Presto was OK, she couldn't help but wonder how Eric had gotten there so fast; he'd been standing a couple of feet away at least, just before the Manticore moved to attack. Glancing at the two boys, she saw the look of total surprise on Eric's face; he was looking at the Shield! For barely a second she stared too, before realising what had happened; the Shield had done it all by itself!
But now, far from looking grateful, the Magician looked like he'd just been stabbed in the back!
A low hiss front Manticore stopped her from wondering more. Annoyed it had missed them all, it was looking round at the group, picking its next target.
Its gaze stopped on the Thief.
Reacting out of habit rather than good sense, Sheila pulled the hood up, but didn't disappear. Instead, there was a flash of light and she changed; into another version of Shawn, identical in every way except she was smaller and had no Staff.
The Manticore paused in its attack, looking between the two matching Wizards with an air of great suspicion.
So Diana moved forward, taking advantage of the pause to get into a better position. Hank was trying ineffectually to pull an arrow. Little golden sparks danced down the handle, but that was all. He looked angry, and frustrated, and close to just throwing the Bow at the creature. Beside him, Sheila had realised the Manticore wasn't gonna stay fooled for much longer, and pulled the Cloak back, changing back into her normal self.
In the lull that followed, Shawn gave them a slow, ironic round of applause. Disappointment and fury welled up inside the Acrobat. This wasn't fair! With the protection of the Manticore, and his own magic, he couldn't be stopped, as there was nothing they could do against this Wizard with their faulty weapons. The Javelin was locked seven inches long; the Cloak had developed a malicious sense of humour; the Bow was more like a welding lance than a weapon; the Club kept missing the target, the Shield had gone into Protection-Only mode and the Hat…
Presto hadn't tried the Hat yet. Maybe it was now working better than it had before. Maybe it could give them some advantage over Shawn. They needed anything they could get!
She glanced round, seeing from the expression on Hank's face that he thought the same as she did.
Presto seemed to guess what they were thinking, and looked from Hank to Diana to the Hat, the colour draining from his face. She'd had no idea the thought of using the Hat would be so hateful; he'd used it earlier, to magic up the payment for the Guard at the gate. Why was it gonna be so different now?
All eyes were on him, including Shawn's, and that answered her question for her.
'Presto,' said Hank as reassuringly as he could. 'Presto you've gotta try!'
Please try, Presto. Wipe that smug smile of Shawn's face!
The Magician lifted the Hat, in spite of the unpleasant sniggering from their opponent.
'Magic Hat I need your help…' he paused, and the sniggering grew. It looked like he couldn't speak to finish the rhyme.C'mon, Presto! You can do it!
A slight movement to the left suddenly attracted her attention. The Manticore was shuffling sideways, away from Shawn. It was trying to get to Krin as he lay unconscious! She had been so concerned with Shawn, she had forgotten about the other Wizard!
But before she could move, Uni dashed forward, followed by the inevitable howl from the Barbarian, who followed. The unicorn glared at the other creature and, strangely, the Manticore took one look at her and stopped. Behind Uni, Bobby stood brandishing the Club with an angry scowl on his face.
It took a small step back, then a larger one, then it turned tail and retreated out of the door.
At the time, it seemed odd to Diana that something so well-armed should be afraid of the two smallest of them, but she was too distracted to think more about it.
Shawn looked after the creature, contempt on his face.
'Hired help! It's always the same!' he hissed. 'If you want a job done properly, killed the hired help before you start!'
He looked back to the group.
'So, Magician?' he said. 'Aren't you going to finish?'
It seemed to be too much for Presto. He narrowed his eyes.
'Hat, just… do…something!'
The Hat glowed, but nothing else happened and Shawn began to laugh at the Magician's crestfallen expression. How sick of that laugh she'd become, and she'd only been around the Wizard for a few minutes!
Casually, Shawn lifted the Staff, and muttered a few words, and Diana braced herself for the incoming bolt of magic, vaguely hoping that the Shield and its wielder were still paying attention.
But, from her left, there was a flash of green lightning from the Hat that knocked the Staff out of Shawn's hand. It hit the ground with a resounding clang and the Wizard stumbled to the ground, clutching his arm.
She'd expected Shawn to be up on his feet again instantly, but something was happening. Without the Staff, he seemed to be loosing strength much faster. Weakly, he reached out to try and get it back, but there was a terrible rumble of thunder and the building began to shake. Looking to the floor under the Staff, a small puddle of molten gold was slowly forming, with thin wisps of steam lifting off its surface.
There was a gasp from the Wizard on the floor.
'You! You broke my Staff! My Magic…'
It wasn't shock or anger in his tone. It was fear.
The floor gave a wrenching shudder, the stones under their feet bucking and cracking, and only Diana was able to keep upright. She looked round at the others as they sprawled on the ground, and reached out to Hank, who was the nearest to her. But even as she turned, she could see the golden liquid flowing as if it had a purpose; towards Krin's machine.
Then she felt it.
Inside, it was lifting her up, wrapping her in white light, sending waves of magic all through her body. She felt like she could do anything.
She had felt like this once before. Time hadn't dimmed the memory of that day in Turad. Nothing ever would. But still, she was confused. How could this have happened? Why was she feeling like this?
The feeling couldn't be ignored and everything else faded out. She couldn't even see what had happened to her friends, and was dimly aware of shouting, and the splintering of stone.
In her mind, the wheel of Time stopped and locked on to the Amusement Park, the same day they left. They could go back, without anyone knowing they'd even gone. They could go back to the place and time they were, before they'd come to this hateful place. The price didn't matter. They could go home.
They should go home.
She tried to step forward, but something grabbed her arm firmly, making her stop. She turned, to find Hank looked deeply into her eyes and he had to shout to make himself heard over the sound of crunching building.
How could she explain, she had to send them home. She owed them that. It didn't matter what else happened.
'Diana, it's already to late.'
He wasn't making sense.
'It's already broken,' he told her.
She had to try, regardless; she had to. Surely Hank, of all people would understand.
She still paused.
'Diana! Please… it's gone.'
Where it was the words, or the sight of Hank's concerned smile, it was impossible to say, but the feeling left as quickly as it had come. She finally managed to glance to the ground. Hank was right; there was almost nothing left of Krin's machine, it was half-buried by the falling masonry. They were almost the only ones left inside. And if they stayed much longer, they were gonna get squished. The house was going to shake itself apart.
The Ranger pointed to the floor. Krin was still lying there, just beside her and she helped Hank lift him off the ground, and together they staggered out of the building.
There was a sickening thud from behind. Hank didn't look back, but Diana flicked a last glance back over her shoulder to the machine. She could still see Shawn's broken Staff lying where it had fallen, the floor beside it slick with molten gold. The ring was smashed in two, a large chunk missing out of one side. Bits of roofing were lying over it, and all the carefully laid magic items were strewn about.
But the centre of the ring was no longer grey floor. It looked like a distorted mirror, and the images the surface reflected changed to quickly for her to understand. She saw her homeworld, her house and family, her friends, in a swirling kaleidoscope of past, present and future. She could feel Darkness, and danger, but couldn't make sense of the images. Abruptly, they stopped and the far wall made a low groaning noise. Hank was pulling Krin faster.
With all her strength, she moved as quickly as she could, and they reached the doorway just as the wall collapsed, sending a huge billow of dust round them. They ran forward to their friends. Coughing, Diana looked back at the huge crater were the building had been. They were all safe. But more than that, she could feel the change. The magic of the Guild was gone. Quite how they had managed it, she wasn't sure.
'Wow,' said the Barbarian. 'Never seen anything that could do THAT before! It was cool!'
Beside her, there was a movement, and a thin, young man with a narrow face and dirty blonde hair push himself upright. It was Krin, but not as Diana expected to see him. The magic had gone from him too. She couldn't help but stare.
'Thank you,' said the ex-Wizard. 'How can I ever thank you enough?'
The Ranger shook his hand with a grin.
'It's ok,' he said. 'We weren't going to leave you behind!'
'That wasn't what I meant,' replied Krin. He looked down at himself. 'Maybe I should have stuck to Alchemy.' He looked back to the crater and sighed. 'Now all my work has gone along with the magic of the Guild, and I'll have to start from the beginning.'
'Good job you got out' said Presto, looking between Hank and Diana, and giving the Acrobat an inquisitive stare. 'What were you doing?'
Not understanding what he meant, she frowned. Surely they had seen what had happened to her? A nasty quip formed in her mind, but the innocent look on his face stopped it from going further. They didn't know. Only Hank had realised what had happened to her. It made her glad, Hank knew her the best. But the way Krin was looking at her made her wonder if he had guessed too.
'Hey look, my Club works!' said Bobby suddenly, rousing Diana from her thoughts. The young Barbarian was swinging the weapon back and forth, a familiar glow around it. One by one the others all checked their own weapons, and were relieved to find them all back in working order.
'At least that's one thing we don't have to worry about any more,' said Hank. 'I don't know what you guys think, but…'
'Well, since you asked,' interrupted Eric, 'I think we should never have trusted anyone with a Staff!'
That the Cavalier had finally rediscovered his mouth came as a surprise. But is this good or bad? wondered Diana with a covert smile. Hank's change of expression suggested he thought it was the latter. But his reply never came.
'Greetings my Pupils!' said a voice to the left. 'And greetings to you, Krin!'
As tactful as ever, the old man appeared walking through the dust, and he bowed.
'I am pleased you are all safe, my young Pupils. The collapse of the portal into the Void was most explosive, it would seem. And the magic held by the Guild is returned to its rightful place.'
'What do you mean "returned"?' asked Sheila.
'The Guild was a great source of Magic, too much magic. It affected everything that came into contact with, such as your weapons, and it grew too powerful, and too dangerous. But the danger has now passed.'
They looked at the shattered house behind them in silence, until Bobby piped up:
'Say, what happened to Shawn?'
'I didn't see him as we left. Guess we'll never know.'
'Well, whatever it is, I hope it's not pleasant,' said Eric firmly. 'And I'm not volunteering for the search party! Let's just go!'
'Your Cavalier is right,' said Dungeonmaster abruptly, before the Ranger could speak. 'I suggest you leave. Throughout Kilan there will be turmoil as the people discover what has happened here. The loss of Shawn and his magic, and the demise of the Guild will have far reaching repercussions here.'
The old man looked nervous, something that Diana found very odd. She glanced at Hank.
'I suppose if the Guild controlled the City, and the Guild is gone, then…' he stopped. Now he was looking nervous too!
Dungeonmaster turned to Krin, who shook his head.
'No, I must stay. This is my home, after all…'
'They will have need of you,' Dungeonmaster replied. 'I am glad you choose to stay.'
Krin gave a sigh.
'And I suppose I should look for that Manticore,' he said. 'Can't let one of those loose round the Cityport!'
'But why did the Manticore just run in the first place?' asked Bobby.
Dungeonmaster smiled in his usual cryptic fashion and looked at Krin, who replied:
'I think the creature was promised an easy lunch, not a stand-up fight! And they're not the most loyal of animals.'
'But Dungeonmaster…' started Bobby. But he'd gone.
'Typical,' muttered the Cavalier.
'Suppose we should go too,' said Hank. He turned back to Krin and they shook hands once again.
'Good luck in your journey,' said the ex-Wizard. 'I'm sure we will meet once more, perhaps if I ever managed to salvage my portal machine.'
'But we won't hold our breath,' added Eric.
Krin gave a resigned smile and nodded.
'Goodbye, my friends.'
They took one more look at the place were the portal had been, then turned away, walking down the road towards the far wall of the Cityport. At first, Diana walked alone, then Presto came up beside her as they headed past the harbour, and they walked in silence.
With a heavy heart, she followed the others though one of the gates, the noise of shouting (and singing) drifting up from the streets behind them. Diana noticed Presto watching her, and smiled.
'So, do you think you could have done it, Diana?' he asked eventually. 'You know, open a portal and gotten us all home? Would you?'
Thinking back to the ring, she just shrugged and replied:
'I don't know.'
But as she looked round at her friends; Sheila and her brother, their heads bowed slightly as the walked next to the tired-looking Ranger; Eric, walking behind them in frosty silence once more, and finally Presto himself, the hopeful gleam gone from his eye, she knew what the truthful answer would have been.
Yes, Presto. Yes I would!
Next: Dragon-hunting Season.
While waiting for Dungeonmaster, the kids run across a group of mercenaries intent on capturing dragons for their Master. And their next target: Tiamat herself!
On Quotes. (or spot the Blackadder references)
"You don't have to talk to me like that, I'm not a tourist"
"Sometimes I'm nice, sometimes I'm nasty, and sometimes I like to sing a song about goblins."
… not to mention Bob (also known as Kate) and Mrs Miggins, who owns that pie shop.
'If you want a job done properly, killed the hired help before you start!' is actually a misquotation, since I couldn't justify the Manticore being called Baldrick.
(And a big "Ta very much, luv…" to Random Scribbles for not picking really difficult quotes!)
Sheila's change to Venger was inspired by a conversation with my friends RK and RS. The behaviour of the Shield was taken from the original Series Bible, where it had an extra property of levitation.