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The Duel of the Ages

Chapter 8

By Samuel Stoddard

His stomach churned. He wanted to be sick. One step at a time, he told himself. One step at a time. He tried desperately not to look down, but when he wasn't looking down, his imagination only amplified the horrors beneath him; so he looked down, and, with a fresher image of the depths below him, felt his stomach reel again.

1 Kind of like Wile E. Coyote.
His knuckles were as ghostly white as his face as they clutched the ropes on either side of him. Slowly, he gained enough courage to move his left foot. He placed it somewhat ahead of the right but then paused, for he was terrified of loosening the grip he had with his hands to bring his upper body forward. He looked down again and cringed. The cliffs went down unendingly. The canyon floor was so distant it was scarcely visible. Were he to fall, it would take minutes -- enough time to remember all the wonderful things in life he'd never see again -- to reach the bottom, where he would smack the ground in a puff of white smoke and never fear anything again.1 He wasn't afraid of dying so much -- the heights petrified him more. He wanted to melt into the wind and die.

The worst was yet to come.

Just then, as he was nearing the very middle of the rope bridge, there was a flash of light, and a curiously dressed man came flying out of thin air and landed none too gracefully on the rope bridge, sending shock waves rippling back and forth, from end to end.



He was jostled from head to toe. His feet slipped away; if his grip hadn't been so tight on the ropes, he'd have been lost. Yet, through some harrowing miracle, he was once again able to plant his feet securely (as securely as was conceivable) on the walkway, which was slowly calming itself.

"What are you trying to do to me???" he screamed angrily and fearfully.

"Shut up," the other man said, floundering to his feet. "Stupid fourth dimension; I took another wrong turn," he grumbled to himself.

"Stop shaking this--" Dave began, but forgot to finish. He had a good look at the man's face, now, and wondered what new trick the mirror was playing on him.

2 The "Dave" referenced here is not Dave Parker, but a character from his earlier novel. As is Darius, Dave is a character modeled after himself, even in physical appearance. Thus, I decided the two characters had to meet.

3 I thought it would be fun to kill off the main character of one of Dave's other stories, but I messed up. Falling off the rope bridge would not have killed the fictional Dave at all. In the actual novel, the bridge exists only within the confines of a magical mirror which contains several different realms. Falling off the rope bridge would not have killed Dave; rather, it would have brought him relatively unharmed to another of the mirror's worlds. Too bad I hadn't remembered this earlier! I could have had Darius strangle him to death for no particular reason. That would surely have done the job.

The other man, nearly identical to himself in physical appearance, noticed him too. They stared at each other curiously for a moment, marvelling at each other's faces.2

Then the other man's brow wrinkled in anger. "I told you to shut up," he muttered. With the back of one hand, he unbeknownstingly changed the course of history in the world he had stumbled upon -- he slapped Dave in the head, knocking him aside as if he were absently shooing away a bothersome fly. With a bloodcurdling shriek, Dave plummeted to his death.3

"Fool," Darius muttered and entered the fourth spatial dimension again, this time hoping he'd end up home.

Blood Drops tore through the passageways in panicked flight. "No!" he screamed at the top of his lungs at every turn. His boots pounded against solid rock and grated on loose gravel. His body slammed into unforeseen twists and corners.

It was only his gift of stealth -- his ability to melt into his very surroundings -- that got him through the Wraith Territory without alerting them to his presence. It was hours before he reached the Sage's den, the room where he had found him twice previously.

The room was empty.

"This cannot be!" he cried. "This cannot be! Why did you deceive me? Why did you manipulate me?"

He stumbled and crashed to the floor. A small pile of stones scattered.

His magic had suddenly been stripped away; there was nothing he could do. He couldn't even chase the Sage through the Portal, for he could not do so safely without his magic. Oh heavens, what was he to do?? His clouded eyes focused themselves on one of the disrupted stones.

Then he bolted upright. They were gemstones! Gemstones were one of the very few types of magical objects that had true magic within them. Their magic was already invoked by someone else in the past; it was harnessed and stored by the stone. With these gemstones, he had some degree of power restored to him.

"Ah, ha!" he said. "You old fool Sage, I have you now!" Blood Drops picked up a red gemstone and peered into it intently. The red gemstone would not teleport him through the fourth spatial dimension -- the magic that powered it was only configured to transport matter along the first three dimensions -- yet he might be able to use it still.

Similarly, the blue gemstone, of which he found three, would not adequately protect him in a journey through the fourth spatial dimension, for it was only configured to shield in the first three. Besides, it allowed the free passage of air through the force field it created. It would not be sufficient.

Yet still, these gemstones provided a start. With these, he might yet win an advantage over the Sage. You are not forgiven, Blood Drops, he had said. Bah! Before this is over, the Sage would be begging him for forgiveness.

Like there's room in one trilogy for two all-powerful characters, he had said.

But -- wasn't there? Of course there was! In every good fantasy trilogy there has to be two all-powerful characters. If there were only one, it would be sheer boredom. There has to be one good all-powerful character and one bad.4

"Hmph," Blood Drops hmphed. The Sage was obviously the bad all-powerful character. A good all-powerful character would have forgiven him. A good all-powerful character wouldn't have slaughtered that poor old man outside of Larosis. A good all-powerful character would never even think of asking somebody else to barbeque his ham hocks -- he'd have done it himself!5

So, if the Sage was the bad all-powerful character, then who was the good?

The answer came to him almost instantly.

"I can't believe this! Will somebody tell me how to get OUT OF HERE!?!?" Darius shrieked above the tooting horns and roaring engines. "YOU sir, come here!" Darius stopped an angry-looking man walking from a building to a cab, suit bag in tow.

4 Dave and I talked about this later. He disagreed that all good fantasy epics have to have both a good and bad almighty character. But, as I told him later, I don't believe this either. This stereotypical statement about good fantasy epics, however, works well within the bounds of parody.

5 I goofed again. Dave had to correct my error later -- that it was Death who said, "barbeque my ham hocks" previously, not Darius.

6 A quotation from The Gods Must Be Crazy II.

7 This entire scene is a reference to another of Dave's short stories about a futuristic America.

"Tell me how to get out of here! I need to get out of here!"

"Don't we all," the man said with a smirk. He got into the cab, then flicked a small black object out the window at him.

"A compass?" Darius said with a raised eyebrow. "Gimme a break, I'm trying to get to Larosis you stupid fool. Fine! I'll get there myself. I know the way anyway; I was just trying to find the most convenient route. I'm a perfectly capable all-powerful human being. Go about your business you silly fool. I know my way!"

"You know why a compass has a mirror on the back?"

Darius flipped it over and gazed at his reflection. "Why?"

"So you can see who's lost."6 With that, the cab pulled away and merged with the flurry of traffic, leaving a very miffed wizard behind.

"Move along sir," a man in a grey uniform urged.7

Millions of miles down the chasm, there was a blinding flash of red. The knight appeared from nowhere and, at that point, started his breakneck-paced fall into the bottomless pit. He chucked away the gemstone, once an elegant vermilion, now darkest ebony. He felt the pouch at his waist. Yes, the other gemstones were still there. Then, with the wind beating at his face, he looked around. If his calculations were correct, Wyrgna 8 shouldn't be far away.9

Nor was he. The white-cloaked, indestructible body of the wizard was a mere twenty feet above him.

8 Wyrgna is the arch villain in my first novel. At the end, he was knocked unconscious and dropped into a literal bottomless pit and has been falling steadily in the two years since.

9 This elementary calculation, which Blood Drops made in his head, is this: the terminal velocity of a falling body of mass is equal to the square root of two times the body's mass times acceleration due to gravity, divided by a drag coefficient, the density of air, and the cross sectional area of the body, or, TV = sqr(2mg/cAd). Assuming a homogenous and euclydian Wyrgna, his cross sectional area can be estimated at 0.84 meters squared. His mass can be estimated at 91 kilograms. Assuming 20 degrees Celsius and 1 atm, the density of air would be 1.21 kilograms per meter cubed. Finally, with an approximate drag coefficient of 1 and an acceleration due to gravity constant equal to 9.8 meters per second squared, Wyrgna's terminal velocity can easily be computed to 59.1 meters per second, which works out to about 132 miles per hour. This is 1,157,112 miles per year. Since 2.2487100695 years (or 70,963,892.89 seconds, if you prefer) had elapsed since Wyrgna started falling, the total distance he would have fallen would be 2,602,009.406 miles. Of course, this calculation assumes Wyrgna would have been falling at terminal velocity the entire time, when in fact this is not true. When Wyrgna first started falling, there would have been a short amount of time when Wyrgna's speed would be accelerating up to terminal velocity. However, this time is negligible compared to the total time of Wyrgna's fall.

10 In the real story, it's the other way around.

"Wyrgna!" Blood Drops called, and the upward rush of air carried the sound to the other's ears.

The wizard's head turned. "Blood Drops, you son of a gun, what are you doing here?" Even the wind could not muffle the booming voice of the wizard.

"Thank heavens you're alive!" the knight shouted.

"Yeah, but not for long! I've been out of my coma for a year and a half, now, and if I don't get out of here, I'm gonna die of boredom!" Wyrgna called. "Listen, Blood Drops! I never meant to do all those terrible things to Llagimlyn! Ravellin cast that stupid mind subversion spell on me and subverted my mind!"10

"I figured it was something like that!"

"How did you know!?"

"Because there isn't enough room in one trilogy for more than one all-powerful bad character! Well, at least not most of the time!"

"So who's the real bad one, then!? I thought it was you!"

"Nope, it's the Sage!"

"Why that devil!"


"I said, 'Why that devil!'"

"Oh! I thought you said, 'Buy that anvil!'"


"I said I thought you said, 'Buy that anvil!'"

"Don't be silly, I'm not going to cry on your ankle!"

"I never asked you to hide your camel!"

"You most certainly did, I heard you distinctly!"

"Oh yeah, well you don't smell so beautiful yourself! At least I've taken a shower in the last year and a half!"

"Only one?"

"Oh hush!"

"Listen, Blood Drops, I think we could talk better if we didn't have to scream at each other!"

"Good point! Hang on a second!" Blood Drops pulled out another red gemstone from his pocket but dropped it before he could invoke it. It hovered in the air before him, falling just as rapidly as Blood Drops himself was. The knight grabbed it again and mentally invoked it.

A fraction of a second later, Blood Drops and Wyrgna collapsed on the floor near the Portal, breathing heavily. There was a moment of silence, then Wyrgna piped up.

"OHHHH, good heavens have I got a wind burn!" The wizard clutched his face in agony.

"Here, take something for it," Blood Drops said, tossing him a green gemstone.

Wyrgna invoked it. "Thanks. I needed that."

"All right, to business," Blood Drops said, picking himself up from the floor. "We've got to go after this Sage. He's an evil man; he's got to be stopped."

"I'm with you," Wyrgna said without hesitation. He stood up next to the knight of Llagimlyn. "What's our plan? We need a plan. Bad all-powerful characters don't take a dump, son, without a plan."11

"Quite right. Now, unless I'm wrong -- and I'm never wrong12 -- the Sage has returned to the environs of Larosis, posing as a common wizard-hating scumbag by the name of Darius. To get there, we'll need to journey into the Portal, and to do that, we'll need you to cast a spell that will protect us on the way."

11 A near quotation from The Hunt For Red October.

12 A Princess Bride reference.

13 A Princess Bride reference.

14 A reference to both The Gods Must Be Crazy movies; this is a somewhat accurate rendition of a song some of the Africans sang.

"Sure thing, what did you have in mind?"

"First let me explain a little bit about dimensions. No, there is too much. Let me sum up."13 Blood Drops told Wyrgna all about the theory of dimensions and universes, just as -- ironically enough -- his newfound enemy had taught him years ago. He told Wyrgna about the fourth spatial dimension and how it related to the physical universe.

"So in short," Blood Drops was saying, "you need to come up with a spell that will protect us in the fourth spatial dimension as well as in the other three. Wyrgna? Wyrgna? Yoo-hoo? Hello?"

"Wha-wha-who-wha...?" Wyrgna snorted, awaking. "Oh yeah, ok." Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, he stepped over to the Portal and began his magic chant. "My-owwa-chow-ya... my-owwa-chow-ya... my-owwa-chow-ya, hoo-ay, hoo-ay, hoo-ay, hoo-ay...."14

In the short span of twenty minutes, a blue dome, dim at first, then shining brightly, materialized around Blood Drops and Wyrgna.

"Ready?" Wyrgna asked, finally.

"As ever," Blood Drops replied hungrily.

They jumped into the Portal and navigated the blackness.

"I always wondered what it was like in here," Wyrgna said.

An hour later, they emerged onto the sunny path that led to Larosis. They took the journey at a casual pace -- they had no reason to hurry -- passing a handful of travellers and merchants (and one eccentric fellow who was peering into a sack of heavy gold coins like there was some great mystery to it) until they reached the gates of the city.

"Splendid view of the mountains, don't you think?" Blood Drops said, breathing in the fresh air. "Hey, what's that?" The knight pointed, and the wizard followed his gaze.

Far away in the mountains, a large section of the ground seemed to shift and move.

"It looks like an army!" Wyrgna said.

Blood Drops went white. "An army of Vampires, it looks. Oh good heavens, I never thought of that!"

"Vampires? Here? Where did they come from?"

"That's just it. Here is where they come from! Under Ravellin's evil spell, you summoned the Vampires into the Caves from this world! I wouldn't be surprised if this is the home planet of the Dragons and Trolls and Wraiths as well!"

"Splendid," Wyrgna muttered.

"There don't seem to be any other cities around. They must be marching on Larosis!"

"How bothersome. We'd best find the Sage now and get out of here. No sense in sticking around to see whether they're on a diplomatic mission or not."

"Indeed. Come, we've got several hours before they reach here," Blood Drops said and passed through the main gates into Larosis...then dropped his jaws at the sight of the humongous throng of people clogged in the streets.

"We'll never find him in here," Blood Drops said.

"Why are some wearing rocks on their heads?"

"Fashion, maybe."

"Excuse me, miss," Wyrgna called to a passer-by.

The woman turned. Wyrgna hadn't noticed, for he kept talking, but Blood Drops saw what was different about this woman almost instantly. It made him shiver. She had eyes like a cat.

"...looking for a man named Darius," Wyrgna was saying.

The woman came awake at the name and looked at the two men who had stopped her with interest.

"Where are your stones?" she asked.


"Usually the people interested in Darius are those with stones. Wizards."

"Oh stones! Like, uh," -- he made a vague hand motion at his forehead -- "we have stones!" Wyrgna said and reached for the pouch at Blood Drops' waist. "See, we have lots of stones. All different colors, too: blue, green --"


"-- yellow, red --"


"-- I always liked red --"


"What? What?"

"Shut up."


A faint smile crossed the woman's lips. "You're from out of town," she remarked. "I'd say you've come from a very long way away."

"Well, ah, you could say that," Wyrgna said.

"My name is Jacquillinos. A pleasure to meet you...?"

"Wyrgna. Yes, and this is my esteemed friend Blood Drops."

"What a curious name," Jacquillinos said and winked at the knight. "Come, let's find a place to talk."

No sooner had she spoken, however, when there was a blinding flash of light, and Darius appeared from out of nowhere and lay in a tattered heap on the ground.

"Darius...?" Jacquillinos said.

"Oh, Jacquillinos! You don't know what I've been through just trying to get back here. You remember that Blood Drops fellow I was telling you about?"

"Uh, Darius..." Jacquillinos said, nudging him.

"Well, I think I finally pulled one over on him. I revealed my true identity and tricked him, then got out of there as fast as I could before he figured it out. Ha ha! What a dummy. Heh, I'll never see that regurgitated bag of diseased chicken pox puss again. Nope, never ag--"

Darius' jaw dropped as he turned and found Blood Drops right in his face, noses almost touching.

"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!" he cried, holding his head with his hands and falling backward. Then, composing himself, he shifted into his Sage identity.

"Ah, Blood Drops," he said in a deep, ominous voice. "I knew you'd come."

"Tricked me?" Blood Drops said, but more to himself than anyone else. How could he have been tricked? He saw with his own eyes his magic fail! He saw with his own eyes the Sage use his magic to escape to Larosis!

"Now you're done for!" the Sage lashed. "RAKNAFAIT!" he cried. Blood Drops and Wyrgna leaped out of the way, a huge explosion erupting behind. "RAKNAFAIT!" he said again, and they dodged a second explosion. Jacquillinos trotted out of the way and watched the battle. The crowd of people froze where they stood and peered over the heads of those in front of them to see what was going on.

"Wyrgna, do something!" Blood Drops cried.

"I can't!"

"What do you mean you can't?"

"Look I'm only a--"


"--two bit--"


"--wizard. I never had any supreme powers in the first place!"


"What the heck are you talking about? You got magic, use it!"


"Yeah I got magic, but it's not all-powerful! It took the merger of my magic with Ravellin's to work the things we did!"

"Now you tell me!"


"Stop saying that!"15


It doesn't make any sense! Blood Drops cried to himself. It didn't fit! Wyrgna wasn't the goodguy superhero after all! And what did the Sage mean when he said he had tricked Blood Drops? What horrible thing did he fear Blood Drops finding out?


"You keep using that word," Wyrgna said to Darius. "I do not think--"16


"Then again--" Wyrgna reconsidered.

15 A Princess Bride reference.

16 Yet another Princess Bride reference.

17 A reference to The Return of the Jedi.


"Geez, aren't you exhausted of casting those yet?" Wyrgna said.

"Not in the slightest," Darius said sarcastically. "And now, young will die...."17


"I don't know about you Blood Drops, but I'm getting tired of dodging."

Blood Drops didn't hear him. If Wyrgna isn't the goodguy all-powerful hero, then who is? It can't be me! I don't have any power of my own at all! Or do I?

It all made sense, then.

"Darius, you fool!" Blood Drops shouted, with such force that it made Darius pause in his mindless destruction to listen. "I am the goodguy all-powerful wizard!"

"Fool! I proved it to you otherwise!" Darius shrieked with a confident voice, though his expression faltered nervously.

"No, you had me believe my power was reliant on yours. That's precisely why my magic didn't work! I didn't believe it would, so naturally it wouldn't, since belief is the true source of magical power."

The Sage's face fell. He grew angry...angrier than he had been before.

"Ok, Blood Drops. So you are an almighty wizard. But that doesn't change the fact that I am also, and that I taught you everything you know. You can't hurt me!!"

"SKEPLEGAF!" Darius cried, and Blood Drops' arms and legs went stiff. Blood Drops moved to utter a counter-spell, but Darius' second was out first (for a double play).

"RAKNAFAIT!" he hollered like a thing possessed. Blood Drops, unable to dodge out of the way, cringed and waited for the end to come.

But nothing happened.

Darius was shocked. "Where's the kaboom??" he exclaimed, bewildered. "There was supposed to be a knight-shattering kaboom!"18 He stared at the knight, then his own extended hands, then back at Blood Drops. "RAKNAFAIT!" he cried again, and still nothing happened. Then, oddly, he stared at Jacquillinos.

She stepped forward. "I wondered when the time would come when you abused the power I gave you. I warned you then, that I would and could take it away if this ever happened. Look at yourself. Look at what you've done."19

18 A Marvin Martian quote.

19 Jacquillinos is one of Dave's characters. She has no magical powers at all, of course, but I thought it would be interesting to throw this twist at Dave anyway.

20 The line of dialogue is fairly generic, but I was thinking of one of Scar's lines from The Lion King when I wrote it.

Darius looked at the streets of Larosis and hung his head. The place did look pretty messy, with the crumbling buildings and spattered mud.

"Please give me my power back!" Darius cried suddenly, falling at Jacquillinos' feet.

"Kill him," Jacquillinos told Blood Drops unmercifully.20

The knight strode up to the cowering, mud-covered beggar who had reverted to his Darius form. He picked him up with one hand and set him on his feet. The glare of Blood Drops' eyes was too strong for Darius to meet.

"Oh please, Mr. Drops! Please Mr. Drops!"

Blood Drops said nothing, but, instead, took his fist and laid it against the man's stomach. Then, without uttering a word more, raging flames shot from his fist into Darius' blood stream. They coursed through his veins in a frenzied torrent, searing his inner soul with an excruciating, unquenchable fire. He shook and convulsed and vibrated. His eyes turned orange from the flames within. A stench rose to Blood Drops' unflinching nostrils. Then Darius began to melt. His flesh and bones ran as liquid. His hair turned to ash. In moments, Darius was a soggy mass of pulp hanging limply from Blood Drops' extended fist. The knight intensified his flame, and Darius' body ran like water, spreading outward, running in small streams with the mud into the vast holes Darius had made with his extravagant RAKNAFAIT spells.

There was a long moment of dead silence. Wyrgna's voice was the first to break it. "YAY BLOOD DROPS!" he cried. Blood Drops turned and wiped off his fist. Then he walked down the street into the crowd -- which parted widely and silently at his approach -- to find a tavern where he could sit and rest. He still had a moment or two to spare before the Vampire army descended upon the city.

"Well, Darius," the Grim Reaper said with a ravenous grin. He pulled out his little book. "Beam him...up...Scotty."

Darius shivered in the deathly cold.

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