Better the Devil You Know
Chapter 7 – Balance Restored?
The Thief could only watch in terror as Okus fired directly at her and Eric, unable to run, and the Cavalier unable to defend them.
"Sheila," Hank shouted, too far away to do anything.
"Okus!" Venger roared, blocking the attack as he got to his feet.
The larger wizard had obviously not expected any resistance and the shot rebounded, sending him flying backwards.
"Thief, the shell," Venger snapped.
Sheila placed it into his outstretched hand and jumped back with a scream as it immediately burst into flames.
A howl of pain came from overhead and Okus landed beside them. The Thief could see it had worked as he had shrunk back to his original size, but that still meant he towered over her.
"What have you done?" he rasped, glaring at the Thief.
He reached for her and once again Venger intervened, stepping forward and placing himself between Okus and Sheila.
"Get back," Venger ordered. "Okus is mine."
The three friends hastily retreated as Venger and Okus began fighting again. The Barbarian had spotted Uni hiding behind some rocks and Hank had quickly ushered everyone else to join the little unicorn as the spot offered good cover from the ongoing battle.
The Ranger slipped his arm around Sheila and she gladly leaned against him. Being that close to Venger, even when he appeared to on their side for once, had been frightening enough and that was before Okus had tried to kill her, again.
"What's that?" Bobby asked, pointing at something that had appeared in front of the portal.
"I don't know," Hank replied. "It wasn't there a minute ago."
"I wonder what's inside," Diana whispered.
The object in question was a small, multicoloured, cube that was spinning at an angle and it appeared to be getting bigger, increasing in size on each rotation. The yellow-faced wizard did not seem to have seen it but Sheila could tell that Venger had, as he was slowly and deliberately driving his opponent towards it.
The box suddenly stopped spinning and one side, the one facing them, disappeared to reveal its contents.
"It's empty!" the Barbarian exclaimed, sounding disappointed.
"That's a good thing," the Cavalier remarked.
Sheila had to agree with him. She had been worried that something nasty might have been inside, a weird three headed monster, a vicious dragon, or some other kind of evil creature wanting to destroy them.
"But then what's it for and where did it come from?" the Acrobat asked.
"I think Venger created it," Presto commented.
"I agree," the Ranger stated. "I think that box is a trap of some sort."
The two wizards were now directly in front of the cube and Okus, twisting to avoid a blast of energy, suddenly saw it for the first time and his reaction seemed to confirm their suspicions. His black eyes widened in horror and he began fighting back with renewed vigour, successfully striking Venger with three shots of his own.
"You will not imprison me again," he spat.
Until that point Venger seemed to have been winning with ease, but Okus was retaliating, blocking attacks and forcing Venger to be more defensive. However, it was short lived and Venger quickly regained the ground he had lost until Okus was once again directly in front of the box.
Venger aimed at the yellow-faced wizard and struck him with a particularly bright flash of light, which sent him flying backwards into the cube. Sheila barely had time to see him land in a heap before the missing wall reappeared, hiding Okus from view and sealing him securely inside.
It then began spinning; just had it had been doing when it had first appeared, slowly at first but getting faster and faster until its shape became indistinct. At the same time it got smaller and Sheila thought it was going to shrink into nothingness when it suddenly stopped moving and hovered, completely motionless, about a meter from the ground.
"It looks like a Rubik's Cube," the Magician remarked, which was a fairly accurate description given its size and colour.
"Never mind that," Eric snapped. "Something's happening to the portal."
The Cavalier was right, something had happened to the portal; the amusement park was gone and it now showed a vast, sandy desert instead. As they watched it faded out to be replaced by lush, green fields, which then also vanished and a wintery forest appeared in it place.
"But the druid said the portal could only show one location per day," Sheila stated.
"He might have been wrong," Diana suggested.
"I think it's the portal that's wrong," Presto claimed. "It's going too fast."
"What do you mean too …" the Cavalier began, stopping abruptly as he obviously saw for himself what Presto meant. "Whoa, that is weird," he added.
The portal was now flicking through images to different worlds at an incredible speed and Sheila found it impossible to see any of them clearly, the odd glimpse of trees, mountains, sky, all becoming an indistinct blur.
"The cube's moving again," Bobby cried.
"It's going though the portal," Diana exclaimed.
The cube had indeed begun moving again and Sheila saw it fly into the portal as it continued to show locations at a relentless pace. She then spotted Venger was backing away but before she had time to mention it to her friends the portal began buzzing and Eric suddenly pushed himself forward, his shield raised and ready.
He had reacted with impeccable timing, being in position as the portal exploded and the rocks they were hiding behind were blasted to pieces.
"It everyone all right?" Hank asked, to which they all either mumbled a reply or nodded to confirm they were unhurt.
"Damn it," Eric muttered, "another portal gone."
"Yeah, well at least we're all OK," the Acrobat added.
"What happened to Venger?" Presto queried.
"It looks like he's OK," Sheila replied, seeing the wizard standing with his back to them a short distance away.
As she watched he turned and began walking towards them and she automatically pressed herself closer to Hank, finding his closeness reassuring.
"Master," Shadow Demon hissed, conveniently reappearing now that the battle was over.
"Oh, back working for Venger again now are we?" Eric commented snidely at the creature.
"Explain," Venger demanded.
"I … err … I mean …" the Cavalier stammered.
"I think he's talking to Shadow Demon," Presto whispered.
"I serve only you, Master," the dark shape insisted.
"But he called Okus, Master," Sheila murmured.
She had deliberately spoken quietly so that only Hank should have heard her but Venger immediately turned his head and stared at her for a moment before looking back at his servant, his eyes glowering menacingly.
"You have betrayed me," he declared.
"No, Master, she lies," Shadow Demon claimed.
"Silence," Venger snapped, his voice dangerously low.
His hand glowed and Shadow Demon was enveloped in a red light.
"No, Master, please," the creature begged.
Venger ignored his cries and they quickly stopped as the light faded to reveal a clear glass bottle, which contained a dark cloudy substance. The wizard grasped the container by the neck and peered into it.
"I will deal with you later," he stated and suddenly the bottle had gone.
He then turned once again to look at the Young Ones and Sheila found herself looking fearfully into his glowing red eyes. She shuddered and Hank stepped forwards, putting himself between Venger and the Thief, his bow gripped tightly in his hand as Venger surveyed them.
"Ranger, Magician, Cavalier." Venger acknowledged, nodding almost imperceptibly at each in turn.
And then he too vanished, a swirling red and black cloud, shooting skywards. Sheila looked at Hank in amazement, having expected Venger to attack them, not just disappear.
"What was that about?" Eric asked.
"I think that was a thank you," Hank replied hesitantly.
"Dungeon Master!" Bobby cried, and they all turn to look at the small wizard who had appeared behind them.
"You mean Venger was really saying thanks?" Presto asked.
The wizard simply smiled in response, his eyes twinkling genially.
"Dungeon Master, Venger trapped Okus in some sort of box," Diana commented. "What was it exactly?"
"The cube you saw was a Capirikiouit," Dungeon Master informed them, "a prison from which he will not escape."
"So he won't be back?" Sheila queried, needing to hear the wizard confirm that she would be safe from more attacks.
"No, he will not be back," Dungeon Master assured her.
"Good riddance," Hank whispered, placing his arm protectively around the Thief.
She reached up and laced her fingers through his, relieved that Okus really was gone and always happy to be so close to the Ranger.
"There's something I want explained," Eric demanded.
They all looked at the Cavalier and Sheila half expected him to make some snarky comment but changed her mind upon seeing the serious expression on his face.
"I want to know how Sheila was thrown off a cliff and…" he began, but stopped abruptly when he saw her watching him.
"And lived?" she finished for him.
She smiled to let the Cavalier know that she was not upset with him. Despite how frightening it had been at the time, she was very curious to know the answer to that particular question herself and so turned her head back to look at Dungeon Master expectantly.
"The juice from the Fruit of Deneia is extremely powerful," the wizard stated.
"We know that," Eric replied. "We saw what it did to that guy."
Sheila barely even noticed Eric's retort as she stood staring at Dungeon Master while he smiled kindly at her.
"But I only drank a couple of drops," she murmured.
"You drank some of the juice?" Hank queried.
"By accident," she confirmed. "When Okus broke the shell some of the juice splashed my face."
"Wow, powerful seems an understatement," Diana stated. "Two drops and you can fly."
"Not fly," the Thief corrected. "I just … didn't hit the ground."
She remember the ridiculous idea of not wanting to land that had flitted through her head while she had been falling but could that one chance thought and a few drops of fruit juice really have saved her life?
"I wanted to stop falling," Sheila revealed. "And so I did?"
"Precisely," Dungeon Master confirmed.
"So Sheila has super powers?" Bobby asked excitedly.
"No," the Thief informed him.
"Venger destroyed the shell and reversed the effects so he could defeat Okus," Presto explained.
"Aw, it would have been cool if you could still fly," the Barbarian complained.
"I think I'd prefer to keep my feet firmly on the ground for a while," Sheila told him.
"Good plan," Hank agreed, squeezing her fingers gently.
"Speaking of plans, with the Kellia portal gone what do we do now?" Diana asked.
"I have no other portal to tell you about," Dungeon Master informed them sadly, "but you would be welcomed in the town of Netay. The people are very hospitable and are always happy to make new friends."
"Netay it is then," the Ranger decided. "Come on guys, we have some walking to do."
"Great, more walking," Eric grumbled.
"You love it really," Diana claimed as she grinned and looped her arm through his.
"Not with all this armour," he complained.
"Like that makes any difference," the Acrobat quipped.
The Thief saw Dungeon Master smiling as he watched their cheerful banter and after a moments silence the group turned away to began their journey down the mountain and head for the town their guide had suggested. They had only gone a few steps when Sheila thought she heard Dungeon Master speak and so she stopped and turned her head, only to find he had disappeared.
"Sheila, is everything all right?" Hank asked.
"Yes, it's fine," she assured him and fell into step beside him.
The voice she had heard had been barely a whisper but she found it oddly comforting. Just two words; balance restored.
Venger held up the small bottle and studied its contents. The demon within was trapped so tightly that he could not even move and the wizard wondered what he should do with the creature. Shadow Demon had shown that he could not be trusted, so releasing him would be unwise, which meant for now he would have to remain where he was until a suitable punishment could be devised.
He set the container down and considered the details of his battle with Okus, well aware that it had not just been the Young Ones who had aided him. He had felt his magic reaching out to him, as he had lain helpless on the ground, giving him the power he needed to defend himself.
The materialization of the Capirikiouit had then been further confirmation that Dungeon Master planned on taking an active role in ridding the Realm of such a dangerous wizard. While surprised at its appearance he had not hesitated and made use of it to imprison his adversary.
However, Okus had been trapped in a Capirikiouit before and the only means of escape was supposedly for someone with knowledge of both its exact location and its content to deliberately open it by choice. How could Dungeon Master be so sure that it would not happen again? Only he and his former mentor had known these precise details the first time and neither one of them would have freed him.
The only thing different this time was the Capirikiouit had been sent to a different world after it had been sealed. Another thing Dungeon Master must have been responsible for. It certainly had not been an accident that the portal had changed from showing the birth world of the Young Ones to flicking between locations, far too quickly for anyone to see, and ultimately causing it to self-destruct. This meant no one, not Venger, not even Dungeon Master himself, could know where the Capirikiouit had been sent. But why should that make any difference?
As Venger considered this he realised that there was one other person who would have known of the location of the original Capirikiouit, Okus. This in turn would mean the Nameless One would have been aware of exactly what had happened to his servant, just as he had the known of the countless times that he himself had been defeated, trapped, or banished.
But would his master have intervened? He had never done so before and yet it was the only remaining explanation. The Capirikiouit must have been opened from the outside. Dungeon Master obviously considered it possible and Venger reluctantly agreed with him. He just hoped that Okus been denied the crucial knowledge of his prisons whereabouts would mean he truly was trapped forever.
Venger now began pondering Dungeon Master's earlier visit where the older wizard had informed him that the link with the Nameless One was not just weakened, but broken. He had more than enough evidence to suggest that this was true and wondered exactly where this left him.
Was it something temporary or was it permanent? Had the wizard he replaced so long ago now replaced him in return? Was Okus' re-imprisonment going to change things again? Did he want things to change again? So many questions and no one to ask, no one to guide, no one to help answer the two questions troubling him the most.
What do I do now? Am I free?