With a last painful moan, the creature returned to the scorching purgatory as Tibicus drew his sword from the dying demon's chest. Blazing flames had wrapped the room in unbearable heat and fire while demons, screaming with laughter, danced on the charred bodies of fallen Tibians.
Their attempt would fail if the slaughtering continued like that. All the deaths, the pain, the agony, everything would have been in vain. He had to risk it now.
Another demon rose to the surface right in front of Tibicus, crushing a pile of corpses as its heavy body solidified at an enormous speed. For a moment, the demon just gazed at the small, mortal human being in front of him but Tibicus had fought against enough of its kind to knew that his opponent was about to let hell break lose.
He set off for a sprint and bravely manoeuvred past the demon's attacks. Sidestepping to the left to avoid the rotating fire surge that was pouring down on him, he successfully passed the demon. Swerving at speed, he almost slipped on a puddle of blood but caught himself at the very last moment and charged further into the middle of the room. Left and right of him, pointed claws of countless demons and fiery streams of fire crashed into the ground but Tibicus was too fast, too agile.
He had almost made it. There he was, their commander, their master, standing in the centre of the massacre. The white beard soaked with the blood of Tibicus' fallen friends and comrades, his staff raised high into the air, he commanded and coordinated the deadly attacks of his legions.
Finally, the time was ripe. He was so close, the magician's hat was within reach. He had successfully broken through the defense rows of demons, one strong blow with his sword and the staff with the golden F would drop to the ground, he would put a stop to the dangerous and sinister plans and the hat would pass into his possession.
Now or never!
He threw himself into the air, raising his mighty sword to strike into the magician's heart and ...
A stabbing pain ripped Tibicus out of his faint. Someone had removed the bolts which had fixated him to the wall with a jerk and gently laid his weakened body on the floor. "Tibicus... Tibicus! Wake up!" This voice... it sounded so familiar to him. When he tried to open his eyes for a peak, he could only recognise the blurred outlines of two faces bending over him.
Tabea had put his head in her lap while Emilio's hands pressed against his shoulders. Even though he was quite skilled, the druid had trouble taking care of the heavily bleeding wounds. Tibicus felt how the skin on his collarbones began to tingle. At first, barely noticeable and only in certain areas, the healing effect of the magic spells finally widened over his whole body.
Winged by the spreading warmth, Tibicus was about to return into the realm of dreams and carelessness when Tabea brought him back into reality with a resounding slap in the face. "WAKE UP" she shouted. "We need you and I believe Fridolin too".The mention of this name awoke Tibicus' life spirits. Still slightly disoriented, he got up and stared at the two of them. "Tabea... Emilio... It's you... Where... Where have you been?"
"We were held captive! Beefo had ambushed us a week ago and locked us in his guild hall in Venore."
"Ambushed?" Tibicus raised his eyebrows. "Come on Emilio, since you had been beaten up so badly by his people a few months ago you have become very careful. How the heck did he ambush you?"
The two mages glanced insecurely at each other. Tabea started to sob and Emilio looked shamefaced to the ground.
"It was Fridolin. He had called us the other day and said that he wanted to show us something very important. When we followed him to Mount Sternum, Beefo and his people were already waiting for us and they cut us off in one of the narrow mountain paths. Resistance was futile".
"So Fridolin betrayed you too?" Tibicus felt this unrestrained rage boiling up again, but his body was still too weak to provide a stable shelter for such destructive power. Dizziness overcame his mind and with shaking feed, he had to lean against the wall in order to not lose ground. "Emilio, could you please?" The druid hastened over and continued the healing of the wounds.
Tabea had gotten up from the floor as well and wiped the tears out of her eyes as she began to walk up and down the room. "Yes, it was Fridolin who betrayed us. He handed us over to Beefo but I believe there's more behind this treason than meets the eye. I mean, how long have we known each other? How long have we hunted, laughed and cried together? I refuse to believe that he would just stab our backs like that. Espec...""ENOUGH!" Tibicus rudely interrupted the sorceress. "Do you have any idea what I have been through the last days? The humiliations I endured because of this coward? There's no deeper meaning behind his treason! He flipped on us. All these years, we've been fooled, we got infiltrated by this snitch and now we've paid the price for our naivety! But they've made one big mistake. To believe that I would die miserably on this wall, was as preposterous and arrogant as letting you two walk free. It will cost them dearly. Fridolin won't get away with his perfidy. I will purge this maggot, erase his very existence from the surface and with him Beefo and every single one of his miserable brood. He's been messing with the wrong ones. Once I have regained my..."
"TIBICUS SHUT UP!" this time, Tabea cut him short. "Back in Venore, we heard the guards talking about the robbery. That Fridolin took your hat and about the ransom letter. But do you really think they just opened the door and set us free? No, they were about to execute us. If it was not for Fridolin, we would be nothing but rotting corpses in the depths of the Venorian swamp! He was the one who helped us escape. He opened our prison cell and told us where to find you. His emberwing blocked off the streets behind us to impede Beefo's stooges as we fled from Venore."
Tears began to well in her eyes again. "Tibicus, I know you are furious. You of all have every reason to hate him and I cannot explain why Fridolin did this to you or to us but why in the world would he help us escape?"
Tibicus stared with a confused look at Tabea. Seeing his dear friend sobbing and crying, hit him hard. She was right, it all made no sense.
What was the paladin up to? Second thoughts? Guilty conscience? No, Fridolin was too stubborn, too convinced of his own genius when he had confronted him in his house. Tibicus was not buying this whole "good at heart" story. So, was this all part of an even more devious plan? Was helping them escape some kind of a sick mind game?
He was not sure how he should reply to the sorceress since he was afraid that sharing his thoughts right now would worsen her fragile condition even more.
"Let's head out to Venore." he said. "Maybe we'll find some answers there.."