The planks creaked alarmingly as strong waves clashed against the brittle bow of their ship. The boat had seen better days for sure but it was the only one that Tibicus could find in such short time. He had tried to reach Tabea but she had moved to an unknown place in order to sift through ancient documents looking for clues related to the demon world. Thus, it was only the druid Emilio and Tibicus himself who set sail in the darkness of the night to reach the most unholy of all citadels.
The cold sea air stung his nostrils while the humid wind had already blown hundreds of small salt crystals into his hair. Huge waves splashed their white foam across the deck soaking through their shoes and sticking their drenched clothes onto their skin. However, Tibicus couldn't care less about the weather, he had other things to take care of. There was an awkward silence between the two and Tibicus knew it was his fault that the friendship between him and Emilio had suffered greatly in recent months.
"Listen, Emilio, I know that since the Venore thing..."
"Just leave it alone..." Emilio knew Tibicus better than he knew himself. In his eyes, Tibicus was a brilliant knight and fighter but certainly no great speaker. As good as he could handle the sword as bad he was with words. A half-share apology filled with inappropriate statements and attempted excuses would only unnecessarily burden their first journey together in a long time. Emilio was just happy to be back with his old friend.
Tibicus nodded and while he was somehow relieved that Emilio showed so much understanding, he would have wanted to get things off his chest...
Today was the day. Ferumbras' return was imminent. A pleasant shiver ran down Tibicus' back. How much he had longed for this day. The hat, he would soon call it his own again and then this ordeal would finally come to an end. He would be able to make peace with the darkest and most sinister chapter of his life and after a few more months even Tabea would come to terms with the fact that searching for the traitor Fridolin was nothing but an impossible endeavour from the very beginning. They could look ahead. Reinvent themselves and continue their adventures. Yes, Tibicus was quite confident: Starting from tomorrow, everything would turn back to the way it used to be.
A loud rumbling on the horizon made him startle from his daydream. The top of the citadel was already visible from a distance. Blue flashes were shooting out of the black clouds, which hung threateningly over the island, brightening the night.
The closer Tibicus and his companion came to the forbidden island, the clearer the grey outlines of fighters that had gathered in large numbers in front of the citadel's high walls at dawn became. Countless Tibians had reached that place by sea and had set up their camps in the deep-cutting coves of the rugged shores.
Their ship was only a few metres away when Tibicus was able to recognise the first familiar faces. Jose the Butcher stood directly at the shore. He had made himself a name as a merciless slaughterer in numerous arena battles even beyond the borders of the mainland. A few metres to the left stood Maria who talked to her husband Eduardo. Both knew Roshamuul like the back of their hand and were said to have received their Antelope mounts from Walter Jaeger by only killing guzzlemaws.
Further east John Bookworm just mounted his flying book. He was the first to gain access to the Secret Library and return alive. Since that day, he was missing a few fingers on his left hand and only had a charred stump where his right arm used to be. However, his entire guild had recently begun to venture into these dangerous halls and has already grown significantly stronger. Even Marco and his team had left the Falcon Bastion to prove their strength today. Tibicus could hardly believe it, the who-is-who of all continents had gathered at this very coastline. The strongest of the strong from all over the world all together in one place.
It was only now when Tibicus realised the full extent of efforts Tibians had put themselves through to prevent the evil sorcerer from returning. He himself had only competed against Ferumbras once in his life and emerged victorious. He knew that afterwards Ferumbras had tried again and again to seize the power in Tibia. But each time Tibicus got wind of another attempt, he had been preceded by other, no less brave, Tibians who had already thwarted the sinister plans.
How could he have been so naive to believe that he was the only one who would oppose Ferumbras today?
The gathering place of the greatest strategists and commanders Tibia had ever seen was right in front of him. Heroes who, over time, had done far greater deeds than he ever had. Teams far ahead of his own in both manpower and combat experience. How would he ever be able to surpass this superiority?
With a loud creaking their boat landed on the stony beach.
"Tibicus my friend, what brings you here?" Jose the Butcher stretched out his mighty paws to help Tibicus off the boat.
"Good to see you Jose", Tibicus replied. "Yet, I am sure that you know the answer to your question already."
Visibly confused, Jose raised his eyebrows.
"I haven't seen you here for ages. Don't tell me you're here to collect a second hat? You already have one. I still remember how people celebrated you for your triumph back then. Tibicus, the legend, the hero! The first to own the legendary hat of Ferumbras."
Tibicus grinned slightly ashamed. "Well... It's been a long time..."
"I insist that you take me on a tour through your treasure chamber soon, my friend. You know, since your victory many of us have tried to prevent even the smallest attempts of the magician to regain his power. Some have even unearthed more hats but theirs are only cheap copies compared to yours. You own the original! It's said that your hat was the absolute source of his power. You can't imagine how jealous everyone here is of your treasure."
"Well..." Tibicus stammered. "Apparently you really don't know why I'm here... I'm not here to fight for a second hat... It's a long story, but the original hat is no longer in my possession and I'm here to get it back again."
Jose's skin tone turned pale within a second. "What do you mean by that? Who has your hat?"
"Okay, now don't make yourself more stupid than you already are. Everyone has heard the news about Beefo and his greasy business with Ferumbras. Beefo and Fridolin, these two offspring of a rotworm are responsible for Ferumbras getting his hat back."
Shocked by this news Jose staggered backwards. "Ferumbras regained possession of his original hat?? No, no, no! That's not good at all!! That is a catastrophe!!! QUICKLY, EVERYONE!!! GET AWAY FROM THIS ISLAND!!! HURRY!!! RUN!!! GET OU..."
All of a sudden, an invisible force interrupted the panicking cries of Jose. Unnoticed by everyone, the unknown power had spread out all over the island. Like a well-hidden snare, it had wrapped itself around their ankles and now threw each and every one on the island high into the sky. Helplessly, they dangled headlong several metres in the air, far away from the ground. Like everyone else, Tibicus was taken by surprise. He screamed and shouted, flailed around kicking and punching but there was no target to hit. He was twisting and turning his body in order to free himself from the tightening grip but he had no chance.
All around him he saw other Tibians desperately trying the same thing. All without success. They were trapped. Like a worm on a hook they were helpless at the mercy of this mysterious power.
Another jolt dragged Tibicus further up. The force pulled him away from the crowd and lifted him to dizzying heights with an unimaginable speed which nearly caused Tibicus to faint.
"How nice of you to join me on this lovely day, Tibicus!"
This voice... Tibicus immediately knew who spoke to him and opened his eyes wide open. He hung upside down in front of the citadel's highest point. The most powerful magician Tibia had ever seen standing right in front of him. The source of the power which held him prisoner: Ferumbras!
"As the saying goes, you always meet twice in your life..." Ferumbras rode his fingers through his dense, long beard. "You can't imagine how much I longed for this day."
With a hint of his finger, he made Tibicus float closer to the balustrade so that they could speak face to face.
"I'm going to k... - GNNNHH!!!" A paralysing pain rushed through his body as Tibicus tried to open his mouth.
"Shhhhh..." now is not the time for verbal failures. You should consider yourself lucky. You will witness my resurrection. My retaliation. It's an honour, you know? Come, I'll show it to you."
With a small hop Ferumbras jumped over the balustrade and was now hovering next to Tibicus in the air.
Slowly they glided from the heights of the citadel down towards the coast where the others were still dangling upside down in the air.
"You know Tibicus, actually I was planning to wipe your miserable existence from Tibia's surface as soon as I regained my hat. But then I thought to myself, why the rush..."
"You ... GNNNHH" another wave of stabbing pain penetrated Tibicus' body.
"Just be quiet Tibicus. Shut up and enjoy the show."
With another swing of his hand, the bodies of the other Tibians moved into an upright position.
Ferumbras cleared his throat and began to speak: "You all came here today to fight me, didn't you? To humiliate me again. You cowards! Just look at yourselves. You who only dared to come here because you believed that once again I would not be in the full possession of my powers. You who hoped that you would have an easy game with me. You who are..." Ferumbras paused. "You who laid hands on my daughter! You who bestially murdered her and desecrated her soul. You will feel my true power today!"
He snapped his fingers and suddenly the ground under them split in half.
Tibicus couldn't believe his eyes, a deep black abyss had engulfed half of the island within seconds. A dark chasm absorbing every source of light. A pitch-black emptiness. A bottomless pit without life nor hope.
You will pay for your atrocities!! Revenge will be mine!! FRIDOL, RISE!!! Rise from your prison and take what is yours!!! Collect their souls and fulfil your destiny!!!
From the infinite depths of the abyss a shattering roar arose. A glowing pair of eyes broke through the utter darkness and blasted towards the surface. Huge claws clung into the rocks at the edges of the chasm and an enormous monstrosity emerged to the surface. A demon of unseen proportions rose from the underground and focused his gaze on the small figures dangling in the air.
"TIBICUS!!!" Tibicus recognised Fridolin's voice and their eyes met. Fridolin hung directly above the centre of the abyss and waved desperately with his arms. "TIBICUS! HELP MEEE!!! PLE... AAARGH!!!"
The demon swung his arm through the helpless crowd. The sharp claws pierced through every armour. Nothing could withstand such brutal force. With a single blow, the monster had torn Tibia's strongest fighters to pieces. A rain of blood and guts pelted down on the demon, who sucked them up with a joyful breath. The blast had ripped Fridolin's upper body from his waist and Tibicus could only watch the lifeless torso falling down right into the demon's open mouth.
"EMILIO!!!" Tibicus yelled at the top of his lungs, stretching his arm towards his dead friend while tears were running down his cheek. "Emilio... I... I am so sorry..."
"Don't be sorry!" Ferumbras had turned around grabbing Tibicus' face with his hand. "Those men got what they deserved! They are not worth the grief."
Now or never, Tibicus opened the cord on his scabbard, pulled out the long blade and drove it right into the magician's heart. "The only one not worth mourning for will be you!"
The sorcerer gasped, swayed backwards, his hands clenching around the protruding part of the sword.
At the same moment the grip around his ankles loosened causing Tibicus to fall from the mountain heights towards the abyss. Passing the blood-drenched demon he dropped down into the deep black hole.
"So this is how it ends..." he thought as he fell through the black emptiness accompanied by nothing but complete darkness. There was no way to orientate. No wind, no light, not even a sound penetrated these dark spheres. It almost felt like he was weightless.
Tibicus could not tell how much time had passed since he had fallen into the abyss. He did not care either. His thoughts were with Emilio and with all the Tibians who had lost their lives today. So many unnecessary deaths. How will Tabea take it when she learns that neither he nor Emilio will ever return? Poor Tabea, she is all alone now... Yet, Ferumbras has fallen. He had rammed his sword right into his chest. He could only hope that she will be the one who finds the hat and takes good care of it.
At that moment a small, bright light shot past Tibicus. As fast as it had come, it had disappeared into the darkness again.
Tibicus turned his body in the direction the light had originated from and tried to see something in the black void.
"Don't get your hopes up. There is no escape for you." Tibicus flinched and could not believe his eyes. Ferumbras. "Impossible, I have killed you. My sword has struck you down! You are not real!"
"Oh Tibicus, as if a weakling like you could kill me... No... No one can defeat me anymore. The pact is sealed. Thanks to Fridolin I have finally reached my goal!!! I AM INVINCIBLE!!!
"Fridolin? What do you mean?"
"You know Tibicus... this hat", he took the hat from his head "it provides me with incredible powers... And yet you managed to snatch it from me back then... I could not take that risk again... So I looked for a way to increase the power of the hat, my power, even further... And I have found it... A Tibian willing to betray his own kind, to give up his life at his own free will in order to purify his soul. A sinister trade whose conditions only very few could truly fulfil."
"The demon you saw on the surface is the result of such trade. It is able to absorb the souls of his victims and bundle their powers and transfer it into this hat. In return, his own soul was freed..."
"You mean this demon was..."
"Yes. He had nothing more to lose. A scum of society, outlawed for his deeds. Abandoned and rejected by his friends. Fridolin was perfect.
A broken being, animated by only one wish that he had left: To be reunited with his parents.
I was the one who could fulfil his true desire in exchange for one last diabolic favour."
While Fridolin's soul traversed the sacred gates and reunified with his parents, his physical body became the most powerful demon Tibia has ever seen. A soul-feeding atrocity under my control. All power will be mine. And there is no one who will stop me this time.
"I WILL!!! I WILL KILL YOU" Tibicus shouted.
"You? No... No, You won't... Look around you. You've built your own prison and didn't even realise it. Your narcissism and self-regarding allowed the deepest fears of your former friend to spread in the first place. It was you, who abandoned him when he needed you the most. It was you who deserted him when he realised that he had been manipulated the whole time, too. In times a true friend would have been essential, you were only focusing on my hat. Thinking only the worst of those who dared to betray you without questioning their motives even for a second. Fridolin was horrified by the certainty that loneliness and condemnation would continue to contract his soul like an inexorable disease. A pesterous infection his fragile mind wouldn't be able to withstand for long.
While Fridolin has left this world, this very infection remained. In fact, it is surrounding us right now. You fell right into it. And now it will keep you prisoner for all eternity. This is my revenge on you Tibicus. You have chosen my hat over those who loved you the most. You neglected and abandoned your closest friends for an item. And now, you have lost both! No one will miss you Tibicus, enjoy your eternal damnation!"
With these words, Ferumbras faded into thin air leaving Tibicus with his emerging feelings and doubts:
He was alone, had lost every friend he had over the course of recent years. Maybe Ferumbras was right, maybe he did deserve this punishment. Forever alone, lost in an endless sea of fear and dispair that he had failed to prevent. Accompanied by nothing but his own guilt for all eternity. He had lost sight of all the things that really mattered.
All he could hope for now was that one day, a new, better version of him would arise. A brave Tibian who really deserves to be called a hero. A fighter pure at heart and strong in mind, ready to reestablish the fight against Ferumbras. He would not be there to witness it but he was confident that the day would come.
As a wise old man once told him: A flower blooms and fades within one year and yet another flower will do the same the year after.