There are legends in our world. Legends of gods and demons; of creatures that lurk in darkness; of things we do not invite into our house. But even the demonic folks in our legends have their legends.
One of them was the Cliff.
The Cliff is a dark place even by demonic standards, and lies at the edge of Hell. It is not uncommon to lose your way, take a wrong turn and step off the Cliff.
None of the demons themselves know what happens when they fall off the Cliff. Those who had stumbled off never returned to tell the tale.
Some says it is a field of spikes below. Some says an abyssal demon lies in wait. Still others say you don’t end up anywhere. You don’t hit a bottom. You don’t die. You keep falling and falling and falling… in a sea of darkness for all eternity.
Another such legends was the Witch of the Cliff. There were two reasons you do not visit the Witch.
First, as her name suggests, the Witch of the Cliff dwells at the Cliff. Second, the Witch kills with a mere point of her finger. If you ever see the Witch, your fear grows only until her finger points at you.
Then, there is nothing. No fear. No pain. No hope.
Whatever the demons did, they stayed away from the Cliff.
‘Gor-Ka’thul! Sek alatho,’ an enormous, filthy-green demon bellowed. He sat on his mighty throne made from skulls and bones, which served double as a collection of trophies of the enemies he had slain. ‘Gor-Ka’thul! Do not make me speak your name a third time.’
A short, purple-skinned creature hurried into the chambers as fast as his short, stumpy legs could carry him. He knelt down on one knee in front of his King. ‘Arkosh,’ he said.
‘Kish!’ the Baron of Zovmir, Ma’Quela swore. ‘Dimwit, what took you so long?’
‘Long? Arkosh, I came in as soon as you called.’
‘You speak against your lord?’ bellowed Ma’Quela. The servants in the room jumped. The demon lord stood up from his throne. He was at least four times as tall than the servants in court.
Gor-Ka’thul knew what was coming. It was not the first time, and certainly would not be the last. The demon lord took out his favourite toy, a drainstzne—a red gem that drains mana from one and transfers it to the user—and directed it at Gor. A blue stream of energy stretched out from the smaller demon to the Drainstzne. Lord Ma’Quela flicked his thick wrist and the stream of energy broke.
It lasted only a second, but Gor-Ka’thul felt so weakened that he fell to the ground, shivering and shuddering.
‘Speak against me again and I shall drain every drop out of you,’ warned the demon lord, and sat down again.
Endure, Gor told himself. At least until when the time is ready. Politics are a simple enough affair in Hell. You rule if you have power. You serve if you do not. Sometimes, to serve is to mean to serve as food. Gor-Ka’thul mustered his strength and resumed his kneeling position hurriedly, keeping his head lowered.
‘The Witch of the Cliff has not paid tributes to Ovdoq Domosh for a long time,’ said Ma’Quela, digging his ear with a claw. ‘The old baron may be afraid of her, but I am not. I am the new Baron of Zovmir, the lord of the Ovdoq Domosh, and she needs to know who is in-charge. Go. Collect the first tribute from the Witch.’
Gor’s eyes widened in disbelief and was fortunate that his face was lowered such that the demon lord could not see it. No doubt the new lord, new, and eager to flaunt his power, would have deemed the look on his face as an act of defiance and have his head removed to be part of his throne.
‘Acha,’ obeyed Gor. What else could a powerless minion do?
As the messenger demon went out of the court, a small serpent slithered behind him. Its scales were a mix of a bright turquoise and a purple one shade lighter than Gor. It trailed behind for a while, then flapped its wings, landing on Gor’s shoulder.
‘It’s a terrible thing isn’t it, that stone of hisss… What he did to you,’ hissed the serpent. Its mouth had a natural curve up at its sides so that it looked like the serpent was smiling all the time.
Gor-Ka’thul opened his mouth to speak, revealing rows of tiny sharp teeth, but two patrols turned round the corridor. He waited till they were out of earshot, then, flaring his large snout, said, ‘Wait till I get my powers.’
He walked towards his room in the fort and packed the necessities for the trip. Of course, the only necessity when you’re going to the ends of Hell to demand a tribute from the Witch of the Cliff was an extra life. Gor only hoped the Witch wasn’t the type to shoot the messenger.
‘You should not go,’ advised the flying serpent, which was coiled around itself on the table where Gor was packing. ‘That fat, inept lord is sending you to your death.’
Gor stopped what he was doing, and grabbed at the serpent. ‘What do you mean he is sending me to my death? Are you saying I am not up for the job?’
The snake writhed and twirled in Gor-Ka’thul’s grip. ‘Ease, Arkosh! My Master! Eaassse!’ it begged. ‘The Witch of the Cliff is a powerful demon. Even our lord himself will not fight her unprepared.’
Gor-Ka’thul gave the snake another glare before he flung him away. Syl unfolded its wings and glided back to the table. Gor swung his bag around his shoulder and headed for the stables. Syl quickly followed Gor, perching on his shoulder again. On the way, they met a group of three other messenger demons. When they saw Gor, they started cheering.
‘Heard you’re going to the Witch,’ said one with horns so tiny they were just two triangles popping out of his head.
‘Don’t fall off the Cliff!’ laughed the second one, with wings on his back and spells under his command, but without ambitions in his life.
‘It was nice knowing ya, Gor,’ said the last, a Putrid Cyclops.
Gor paid them no attention and only kept walking. But Syl would have none of it. The serpent reared up, hissed menacingly and spat a ball of saliva at them. The three friends dodged, and it landed on the wall where it burnt a small hole.
Six transit beasts were in the stables. Four of them were rov’nith— large nightmare hounds, one of the fastest creatures in Hell. But Gor didn’t need them today. He walked past them, and over to the last two stalls where the eylmes were. They were flying transit beasts with the head of a bat and the body of a snake. They had no eyes, but exceptionally big ears. Gor opened the door to their stalls.
‘Chron,’ said a voice from behind. It was the stable master. A copper-coloured fiend about the same size as Gor. He strode into the opened stall and stood next to the eylmes, raising a hand to stroke her belly. ‘Why are you taking her with you?’
Eylmes were one of the few hellish beasts with wings. Wings, like horns, were seen as affirmations of power and statements of beauty amongst the demonic race. Demons born with both are naturally respected and feared more. As such, even a transit beast like an Eylme was deemed more worthy than the messengers—than him.
‘I’m collecting tribute from the Witch of the Cliff,’ said Gor. He stressed his next few words, ‘Who lives at the ends of Hell, Fev. I need a flying beast.’
‘Not unless you have permission,’ said the stable master.
Gor cast his eyes sideway at the stable master and rummaged in his backpack. He took out a parchment and handed it over to the brown fiend.
Fev took it with his free hand—his other hand never stopped petting the eylme—and read it. He read it over several times, even brought it close to his face to inspect the signature at the bottom. He finally returned the parchment to Gor while eyeing him up and down. ‘If I find even a scratch on her…’ and he raised a claw at him threateningly. It was then that the stable master saw the flying serpent perched on Gor’s shoulder and broke into a smile. ‘Syl, why don’t you become my pet instead? I’d give you the best food every day.’
Syl slithered over to Gor’s other shoulder and hissed at the fiend.
‘Consider it. This fol doesn’t know how valuable you are,’ said the stable master, and he went on his way.
It took them a few days of flying before they saw the colossal onyx-coloured spire, and another day to reach it. There was only a short distance of ground further up the spire. Beyond that was darkness. A vast sea of pure, unforgiving darkness. A single structure, a stone house stood a distance from the edge of the Cliff.
‘That must be the Cliff, Arkosh,’ said Syl as Gor tied the eylme to a tree. ‘Ow, I hope the Witch is not in a bad mood today.’
‘Keep yapping and I will be the one in a bad mood,’ said Gor as he walked towards the house. The turquoise serpent flew behind Gor at shoulder level.
As they approached the house, they saw a large figure sitting, cross-legged, near the edge of the Cliff and facing the black emptiness. The figure was of a charred black, and they would not have spotted it had it not been for the bright orange streaks all over its body. They looked like dozens of mini lava rivers that coursed through the demon. Its body was rough and uneven, like a huge rock, and about twice the size of Gor.
Gor and Syl were apprehensive about the mysterious figure and kept their distance. ‘Izh,’ yelled Gor. You. The demons had no word for hello. ‘I have come to speak with the Witch of the Cliff.’
The charred demon kept perfectly still.
‘Izh,’ said Gor.
Without turning back or even so much as a stir, the demon replied, ‘First time at the Edge?’ Its voice was raspy and its words were slow and deliberate, but no doubt female.
‘Yes. Are you the Witch of the Cliff?’
‘The Witch you seek is no more,’ said she. ‘The Witch lives only in stories and myths now.’
‘Gor is a messenger. Gor brings word from the Baron of Zovmir, Lord Ma’Quela. Every demon in the Ovdoq Domosh is to pay their tributes to him,’ said Gor. Syl peeked out from behind Gor’s knee and stole a glance at their new company.
‘Lord Ma’Quela is the new ruler of Ovdoq Domosh, and is now the baron of Zovmir. He demands tributes from every demon in this Layer. Gor is appointed to collect from the Witch of the Cliff.’
‘Tell your lord I have nothing to offer him.’
‘Lord Ma’Quela does not take no for an answer.’
‘Then let him come to me.’
‘When he does, he brings a legion.’
She laughed again, though this time it was a snicker. ‘The problems of tomorrow are for the me of tomorrow. So, little demon, why were you sent to collect from the Witch?’
Gor shrugged. ‘Ma’Qu—Lord Ma’Quela hates Gor.’
‘Why is that?’
‘Gor speak against his lord. Sometimes. Lord does not like that.’
‘And you, little one, you do not like your lord.’
‘Gor did not say that.’
‘But you think that. Come, little demon,’ said the older demon, patting at the spot beside her with a hand. ‘Sit with me.’
Gor was stunned, and not sure whether to take up on her offer. It seemed there was a way for either situation to go wrong. What if it was a trap? What if he went over and she pushed him off the Cliff? And if he refused, would she take offence and in her annoyance, kill him? Demons needed no excuse for violence, but anger was certainly a good motivation. He stood there as he couldn’t decide either way.
The turquoise serpent, which had been hiding behind Gor all this time, slithered up to his shoulder, and whispered, ‘Don’t go, Arkosh. The Witch is dangerous.’
‘If I wanted you dead,’ she said. ‘I assure you, you would not have the time to be afraid.’Syl flinched and hid
Syl flinched and hid itself behind Gor’s neck.
Though it did nothing to alleviate the fear in Gor, he knew she was right. He had drawn the short stick and had been sent on a death mission by his lord. Unexpected ends are expected by all messengers. Such was their lives; such was the fate of the powerless. Gor made his way to the demon, and realised she didn’t just sit close to the edge—she sat at the edge so that there was not enough space for a foot in front of her. Gor picked a spot that was further back where the Witch indicated.
From this vantage point, Gor could see the face of the charred demon. Her head was like a small boulder, with spikes jutting out. Her eyes had been closed, but they opened when Gor sat down, and revealed a pair of searing eyes with little tails of fire licking out the corners. Besides the mini lava ‘streams’ on her body, he could see there were concentrations of the lava in a few parts of her body—chest, belly, and tips of her fingers.
‘Look at it,’ she said, staring at the nothingness in front. ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’
‘Vo,’ said the purple-skinned demon. ‘Gor sees nothing here.’
The rocky demon let out a small laugh. It was unlike any laughter Gor had heard before. It was not boisterous. Not sarcastic. And not followed by a killing blow. ‘Yes, you’re right. Nothing is here, yet everything is here. That is why it is beautiful.’
‘You like this place?’ This is the last place any demons wanted to be. Yet she chose to make her home here?
‘There is no one here. No demons. No fighting. Only the abyss and me. What is your name, little demon?’
‘What about your friend over there?’ she said, leaning forward, further still toward the black emptiness, to spot the serpent hiding behind Gor.
Exposed, the serpent had no choice but to present itself. The small turquoise serpent reared up sheepishly. With its blue forked tongue flitting in and out, it hissed, ‘Ssssyl.’
The charred black demon extended her arm across Gor, and down towards Syl. The snake, though hesitant, climbed onto her palm. Her hands were warm, and the serpent found it surprisingly comfortable. There were tiny spikes jutting out of her palms, too, and they only made Syl more comfortable as it coiled and wedged itself snugly between two of them.
A pang of emotion rose up in Gor, though what that emotion was he did not know.
The Witch looked down at the little creature in her hand and stroked along its scaly body with a finger. Slowly, Syl shut its eyes as the warm tip of the demon’s finger ran along its back. As she continued doing so, she said, ‘When I left the mortal plane, I found I could no longer be around our kind. We are a callous race, little demon.’
‘You have been to the mortal plane?’ asked Gor.
‘Oh yes,’ said the old demon. ‘A long time ago. It is a lovely place. Many colours, many plants and animals. Unlike here. But when the Mad Moon shattered, chaos ensued. Humans waged wars to claim fragments of the Mad Moon.’
‘The Ancient Shards,’ said Gor.
‘Yes, Ancient Shards,’ she said with a sigh. ‘A friend was killed because of it.’
‘Friend? Human friend?’
‘He was a master of transmogrification, and he disguised me as a human girl,’ said the lava demon. ‘That was how I was able to live on the mortal plane. But when he died, I had no more reasons to stay there. Go to the mortal plane if the chance comes. There is much to experience there.’
‘You are Witch of the Cliff. You possess unquestionable powers and a deadly spell at your fingers. If you wanted, you could easily obtain the Ancient Shards for yourself and gain even more power.’
‘And what do I do with more power?’
‘You can rule a domosh. Take Lord Ma’Quela’s place.’
‘What do I want to rule for?’ she asked.
Gor did not understand. What for? More power. More respect. More fear. Does a demon require a reason to acquire more power? The messenger demon replied, ‘For more power, of course.’
‘Don’t you see, little demon? When does it end? How much power is enough power?’
Gor-Ka’thul was completely baffled. Is this the Witch of the Cliff in legends and demonic tales whom every demon feared? Perhaps she was right, the Witch of the Cliff was no more, after all. ‘I must go now. I will tell Lord Ma’Quela what you have told me.’ Gor got up to leave. Syl opened its eyes and flapped its wings after Gor.
‘Wait,’ she said. ‘If you return empty-handed, you are sure to be punished. Come with me.’ She got up too, and started walking towards the stone structure behind the Cliff.
Gor had expected to meet death on his errand. But it turned out the Witch of the Cliff was merely a shadow of her former self. Now, it seemed like he was even going to complete an impossible errand. Maybe he’d even be appointed the Abiding Fiend of Messengers.
Gor followed the Witch inside her home. The Witch’s home was constructed with large rectangular slabs of stones.
Noticing his perplexed expression, the Witch said, ‘These are how homes look like in the mortal plane. After sleeping in one for so many years, I have grown fond of it, and built one of my own here in Ovdoq.’
There was a large wooden chest with a set of runic inscriptions on it. The Witch muttered something, and the inscriptions glowed a faint blue, then returned to normal again. She popped open the lid, and Gor felt a surge of energy rushing out of the chest. The Witch lowered a hand into the chest and retrieved a wand. Its body was of a dirty, sooty red, like the colour of clotted blood. At its head was a large oval orb, surrounded by four sharp claws. When the Witch gripped the wand, the orb shimmered to life, turning from a muted grey to an angry glow of amber.
‘This wand was given to me by the friend I spoke of,’ she said, turning it over in her hand and caressing it. ‘It has the power of a hex.It will turn your target into an utterly harmless critter temporarily. This should amuse your lord for a while.’ She opened her palm and pushed it towards Gor.
‘Gor-Ka’thul has indeed received the tribute from the Witch of the Cliff for Lord Ma’Quela.’
‘Make sure your lord receives it,’ said the Witch.
‘Gor-Ka’thul will,’ he said.
‘And tell your lord to bother me no more.’
‘Gor will take his leave now,’ he said.
And when the Witch made no sound, he turned and left the Witch’s dwelling. The Witch was vastly different from the legends Gor has heard since he was a newt. Was she really the Witch of the Cliff whose name strikes fear in the hearts of even demons themselves?
Gor-Ka’thul hurried through the corridors of Fort Zovmir. When he entered a large circular hall with a throne made from skulls and bones, he kneeled.
‘Arkosh,’ he said, keeping his head down. ‘Gor has returned from the meeting with the Witch of the Cliff.’
‘And?’ His master’s voice was softer, but with a slight tinge of annoyance in it. He must’ve just woken up from a nap.
‘And…’ Gor hesitated, deliberately. ‘The Witch refused to offer any tributes to my lord.’
‘Sof! She dares…’ the gargantuan moss-coloured demon pounded his fist on the armrest of his throne, shattering skulls. The court demons jumped and briefly shot the messenger demon with vile eyes. How was it that this miserable creature managed to make their lord furious every time? Lord Ma’Quela was not known for his patience, and often in his rage he would throw his weight about, literally, squashing objects and demons alike.
‘The Witch also made me give you a message, but I dare not speak the words the Witch had used on your name, Arkosh.’
‘Spew it,’ commanded Ma’Quela.
‘I dare not,’ repeated Gor.
‘SPEAK!’ Ma’Quela’s voice bellowed, echoing through the passages of the stronghold.
When the echoes died down, Gor spoke, loudly, ‘The Witch said you are a fat and lazy lord who has forgotten the ways of the Demon.’
Ma’Quela’s jaws clenched furiously, but his brows furrowed in worry. The Witch was a mighty foe, and even if he were to win he would not get away unscathed. But he would lose the fear his minions has for him if he were to run from this battle. An arm or a leg he could lose, but respect and fear he would not. He gripped his fist tightly and turned to face his court, and gnawed out a single word, ‘Voth.’
The messenger demon immediately set off for another trip to the Cliff. When he saw the familiar figure of lava streams against the vast chasm, he shouted, ‘Witch of the Cliff! Gor is here.’
As the first time, the Witch made no movements. ‘Little demon,’ she said. ‘Did I not tell your lord not to bother me again?’
‘My apologies, Witch,’ Gor said. ‘But Lord Ma’Quela was not happy with your tribute, even though I suggested there are many utilities to a hex curse. But he saw your tribute as nothing but an amusement for infants. He snapped the wand in two, and declared war on you. I came to warn you Lord Ma’Quela comes soon. He does not know I am here.’
At this, the Witch spun around. ‘Fol. Such is the nature of us demons. Very well. Thank you, little one.’ The Witch rose from the edge of the cliff, then she added, ‘Hide.’
Gor obeyed and immediately scanned the area. He found a large cluster of rocks a short distance away and hid behind. Shortly, from the dark distant, a rumbling of hooves and wheels, and grunts and cheers could be heard.
Ma’Quela has arrived.
He walked to meet the Witch at the cliff. Behind him, a horde of demons and foul beasts stood at the ready.
The Witch stood her ground, unfazed before hundreds.
Heralding his army, the enormous demon lord bellowed, ‘I am Ma’Quela, lord of Ovdoq Domosh, the baron of Zovmir! You made yourself an enemy of Ma’Quela, and you will learn to fear me,Witch of the Cliff! ALATHO!’
At the last command, the legion raised their weapons and charged.
‘Devour me?’ The Witch snorted, but moved not an inch. She began chanting,‘Vo’ses sol poz, ulatho Sol’nith!’
When the horde was about the Witch, columns of flames materialised around her, surrounding her. The pillars of flames expanded outwards, away from the Witch. The ring of fire burnt every demon it touched, scorching flesh and vaporising bones. Those who are killed instantly were fortunate. The unlucky ones who survived the first touch of the flames were roasted slowly. Had he not hid behind the rocks, Gor would have been one of them.
Tortured screams and wails sounded off in every direction. Some rolled on the ground, hoping to snuff the flames on their flesh. But the devilish fires summoned by the Witch were not so easily smothered. In their terror and desperation, they scattered all about, eventually plunging off the cliff and swallowed by the abyss. But they will not find salvation in the mouth of darkness.
The battlefield was filled with blackened, smouldering corpses. Tiny flames lingered on the charred bodies, licking at any remaining bits of flesh. The smell of burnt meat rose into the air.
As such, the demon lord’s army fell. Single-handedly destroyed by the Witch.
Ma’Quela brandished his enormous halberd and charged at the Witch.
The Witch of the Cliff, though inferior in brute strength, was quicker on feet. She sidestepped the charging big lump of green, and in one motion, swung herself behind him, and gave him a swift kick from behind. She had intended to make use of his momentum against himself and kick him down the Cliff where he would never see the light again. But the kick did not so much as nudge him. Ma’Quela spun around, deceptively quicker than his body should allow. The halberd sliced across the air, finding its target.
In her attempt to dodge the blade, she staggered backwards, lost her balance, and fell. But she immediately followed-up with a roll backwards and got up on her feet again. Bright orange liquid seeped out from a line across the Witch’s chest. But now that she had gained some distance, she summoned a ball of molten lava in each of her hands and flung them towards Ma’Quela.
The Baron of Zovmir swung his halberd and knocked one of the lava balls away, sending it flying down the abyss. However, the other one landed squarely on his chest and seared it black. Ma’Quela let out a groan, but otherwise, it was not fatal.
‘Not bad, whelp,’ quipped the Witch. ‘But you cannot hope to win with only thick skin and fat flesh.’
‘That’s Lord Ma’Quela for you!’ The demon lord raised his arm and clutched his claws together as if crushing an invisible object. Gor recognised that movement, and immediately looked at the Witch’s feet. Vines erupted from the ground and wrapped themselves around the Witch’s ankle, binding her in place. The Witch struggled to break free but it was no use, they were too strong.
Gor saw Ma’Quela had something in his hand. A small, red gemstone. The Drainstzne. Gor winced at the painful memories it brought forth, having been a frequent victim of it. Ma’Quela directed it towards the Witch. A blue stream of energy drifted from the Witch to the gemstone. The Witch swept her arm in an upward motion at Ma’Quela. Globs of molten lava spewed out of her arm, raining onto Ma’Quela.
He swerved himself to dodge most of the lava globs. But his body was huge, and a glob landed on his shoulder. He dropped the Drainstzne, and it rolled just a small distance away from the rocks where Gor and Syl were hiding.
Gor immediately ducked from sight. ‘Syl,’ he said. ‘Ma’Quela’s Drainstzne is behind us. Go grab it.’
Behind them, the sounds of metal against rock and things whirling through the air could be heard.
The snake slithered to the side of the rock and peeked out. There was the red shiny stone, yes, on the ground. But there was also the big foot of its master’s master. ‘Eeks! No, it’s too dangerous.’
Gor grabbed the serpent and hurled it, as low to the ground as possible, towards the Drainstzne.
Syl spun in the air, then he spread his tiny wings and regained his balance, gliding down to the red gem. The little serpent saw that Ma’Quela was engaged in a tug-of-war with the Witch. She was grabbing the pole of the halberd and pushing the blade away from her. But Ma’Quela was stronger, and the blade clawed into the Witch’s shoulder, drawing blood. She let out a yell in pain. Syl grabbed the Drainstzne with a quick twirl of its tail and sped for the rocks. Before it got to cover, Ma’Quela spotted it and cried out, ‘You! Why are you here? What are you going to do with my Drainstzne?’
Sensing something was wrong, Ma’Quela knew he needed to deal with the Witch, fast. Instead of continuing to drive his halberd towards the Witch, he gave it a strong pull. The Witch, caught unaware by the sudden change of momentum, was dragged forward along with the halberd. Leveraging on the momentum, Ma’Quela lifted the halberd, along with the Witch, and began spinning in circles. He then let go of his halberd and the Witch flew in the air, the bowels of Hell behind her.
The momentum was too great. She would drop straight into the cold darkness. The halberd was still in her hands, and she saw a sliver of hope. She dropped and dragged the blade of the halberd across the ground and effectively slowed herself down. Her feet touched the edge of the cliff, barely, and slipped.
But that was enough. She survived, for now. The Witch hung at the edge of the cliff. The closest she had ever been to the abyss she faced in solitude every day. She hoped this was as close as she would get. But it looked like Ma’Quela wasn’t going to grant her that hope. With his victory so close at hand, Ma’Quela rushed towards her.
Gor-Ka’thul had been standing on the sidelines for far, far too long. From the time of his birth, he had been a demon of servitude, a powerless demon who could only dream of reigning a domosh of Hell.
He had planned for this right from the start. The opportunity of a lifetime, a chance of ascension, his single shot at power and glory. His heart gave a little lurch and before he knew it, the messenger had dashed out of his hiding and was running towards Ma’Quela.
Gor managed to catch the enormous demon off-guard and with a wave of his hand, he cast the only spell he was capable of. A line of large spikes jutted out of the ground in front of Gor and raced towards Lord—no, Gor-Ka’thul corrected himself—the moment he decided to bare his fangs at him, he was no longer his lord.
He was Ma’Quela. Just Ma’Quela.
These spikes stretched taller than its caster, though, to the demon lord they were only mere annoyances. But it was enough; it did what Gor needed it to do. One of the spikes shot through Ma’Quela’s foot, sending a jolt of pain and crippled him. Then he pulled it out of his foot like it was nothing, spilling blood, and flung the spike away. There was no turning back now. Pushing his advantage, Gor, who was no longer a messenger but free, flicked the first and only wand he had at Ma’Quela.
The Witch hung perilously on the cliff, and from her vantage point, she could see nothing but the green, bald head of Ma’Quela, thanks to his incredible size. He was running towards her, determined to end things quickly. Is this the end of her? She could end things immediately, but that would exhaust herself completely. She preferred to use it as a last resort.
Then, Ma’Quela got distracted by something. She could not see what distracted him, but there was only one possibility. Gor. That little demon would not last long against the demon lord. She tried to pull herself up, but she managed only a few inches before the pain in her shoulders got to her. She looked around for a foothold. If she could at least get a boost, she might somehow make it work. But the bottom part of the cliff sloped inwards, away from her, and her feet found no such hope.
Then, before her very eyes, Ma’Quela disappeared from her vantage point. Where did he go?
Ma’Quela, so tall and almighty in his reign, shrunk before his eyes and morphed into a harmless, hapless toad! Gor had never dreamed he would one day stand before his lord, towered over him. It was a wonderful feeling. But it was not over yet.
His faithful pet snake flicked his tail, tossing the Drainstzne to its master. He activated the Drainstzne and sucked the energy from the toad which was hopping around idiotically. Gor felt an immense amount of energy filling every corner of his soul. Stealing the Drainstzne and using it against Ma’Quela would not have worked when he was rested—draining him dry then would take too much time. But it was different now. Expended by the tedious fight against the Witch of the Cliff, he estimated it was enough to suck him dry. Mana continued flooding into Gor with no sign of stopping any time soon.
‘GOR-KA’THUL!’ roared Ma’Quela. The green toad had reverted to its original form—the lord of Ovdoq Domosh, the baron of Zovmir, Ma’Quela now stood before him and towered Gor again. Ma’Quela had more mana than he estimated. And at this distance, he would not outrun Ma’Quela with his short stumpy legs. He was done for. ‘Where did you get that!?’ he yelled. But it was clear he had no intention to find out as he was already bringing his fist down from the air.
A dreadful sound crackled through the air. It was the sound of sincere hatred, the sound of a fiery execution.
The Finger of Death.
Incandescent streaks of flare flogged into the moss-coloured giant’s fleshy back. There was not even time for him to let out a scream. Ma’Quela was reduced to a heap of green-black goo and splatted to the ground. Another bout of burnt smell wafted into the air.
Was that it? The demon who plagued him all his life was gone just like that? Was he free, now? No… not yet. The only path to freedom for a demon was power. He walked over to the edge of the Cliff where the Witch hung, panting heavily.
‘Little demon, you have my thanks. If not for you I might have—’ Gor was holding a large spike in one hand, but it was what he held in his other hand that made the Witch paused. ‘That wand… Didn’t Ma’Quela—’ The Witch of the Cliff froze for a second time.
The little demon laid the wand on the ground and took out the Drainstzne. Gor-Ka’thul saw the change in her expression. She had been relieved, and had a smile on her face. But the glare in her eyes was one of hatred and… Fear.
For the first time in the pathetic messenger’s wretched existence, he witnessed eyes that looked at him with fear. Was this how his eyes looked like to Ma’Quela every time he summoned him? Was that why Ma’Quela loved to pick on him? Ah… He understood now. He forgave Ma’Quela all that he had done onto him. He couldn’t blame him. This truly was an ecstatic feeling. What a wonderful feeling it was to be feared! To be feared was to be respected; to be respected was to be powerful; and to be powerful was… liberating.
He used the Drainstzne on the Witch. The blue stream appeared, but disappeared abruptly. Gor let out a smile. The Witch was harmless. He squatted down, and with the spike in his hand, started to work on the Witch’s arm.
The Witch said nothing. Perhaps she too, saw the change in his eyes. She giggled. ‘Take it. Take my arm if you think you can handle it! Mark my words. I will come back from the abyss for you, little demon.’
With a last hack, the Witch’s arm came off.
Gor stood at the edge and watched with cold, indifferent eyes as the Witch became smaller and smaller… until the darkness swallowed the legend, the Witch of the Cliff.
Syl flew and landed on Gor’s shoulder. ‘What are you going to do with that, Arkosh?’
‘Rule,’ said Gor.
With the spike that was still in his hand, he severed his own left arm with a single strike. His arm fell to the ground with a squish, and blood dribbled from the stump.
Syl flinched, and fluttered away, landing on a rock a distance away. Noticing the madness in his eyes, the snake spoke cautiously, ‘Arkosssh?’
Clenching his jaw, Gor-Ka’thul jammed the Witch’s hand into his arm. The lava that still coursed in the veins of the Witch’s hand served to fuse itself to Gor’s arm. Bone to bone; flesh to flesh; veins to veins.But as with all things, there was a price to pay. Gor let out an agonising scream. Screams he never once allowed himself for centuries long when he was bullied, beaten, and tortured to within an inch of his life by other demons and his old master. It was only a while when his throat became parched; as with such intensity that he growled in pain as the arm of the Witch affixed itself to him. He writhed and rolled on the ground. He tossed and turned and he slammed his right fist into the ground repeatedly.
But as with all things, there was a price to pay. Gor let out an agonising scream. Screams he never once allowed himself for centuries long when he was bullied, beaten, and tortured to within an inch of his life by other demons and his old master. It was only a while when his throat became parched; as with such intensity that he growled in pain as the arm of the Witch affixed itself to him. He writhed and rolled on the ground. He tossed and turned and he slammed his right fist into the ground repeatedly.
Syl watched its master in excruciating pain and wondered if there was anything he could do for him. It looked around, but all were rocks and stones and charred bodies, and a heap of green-black goo. Realising there were nothing it could do, Syl hid behind a cluster of rocks. The pet snake could not bear to see its master suffer.
Gor opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came out. Tears rolled down his face as he clutched at his arm. When the pain seemed to have reach an apex and Gor thought the pain could only ease from now, it spread to other parts of his body—his head, face, shoulders, his arms, everywhere. He felt tiny things pushing out from his face. He considered impaling himself with a spike through his heart to end the torment. Only one thought kept him going.
He had endured so much through the centuries—pain, abuse, humiliation, shame. What was this compared to the lifelong suffering he had endured up to this point? Was it not for this moment, for this opportunity had he suffered in silence and bided for time? What was the point in all that if he gave up now?
Power… Power! POWER!!!
It was with this thought, and this thought alone that, Gor-Ka’thul—a demon of low birth, a messenger demon— fell unconscious, and all was dark and silent.
Gor-Ka’thul stirred, and the first thing he felt was the sore all over his body, especially on his left arm. But the pain was gone. The next sensation he felt was his parched throat. He raised himself up, leaning only on his original hand and looked around. A pile of foul smelling brown-black goo and his own severed arm which had started to rot. It was only then that he remembered what happened.He immediately examined his left hand. The black hand with lava veins were infused to his arm. He tried using his new hand and fingers. It was slow to react at first, but otherwise, everything was fine. In fact, Gor felt more alive than usual. He could feel a well of power residing inside him, a big well full of power. And this well came from the left hand of the Witch. He let out a smile, baring his teeth.
He immediately examined his left hand. The black hand with lava veins were infused to his arm. He tried using his new hand and fingers. It was slow to react at first, but otherwise, everything was fine. In fact, Gor felt more alive than usual. He could feel a well of power residing inside him, a big well full of power. And this well came from the left hand of the Witch. He let out a smile, baring his teeth.
‘Arkosssh!’ came a hissing voice. ‘You’re awake.’ Syl slithered on the ground toward him, leaving a dead critter on the ground. Its master’s face looked different now. Rocky spikes, like those of the Witch’s, except smaller, poked out of his face.
‘You were out for three nights,’ Syl said, flapping its wings so that it was eye-level with the demon. ‘Syl was so, so, soooo worried. Worried arkosh might never wake up.’ He flickered his forked tongue excitedly.
‘Yesss,’ Syl glided down to the ground where the critter laid and picked it up with its jaws, then put it in front of Gor. ‘Arkosh must be hungry. Eat up, eat up!’
Gor looked down at the critter, then realised Syl was right. He was hungry. He picked it up and bit off a chunk of its flesh, until he finished it and spat out its bones. ‘Let’s go,’ he said.
‘Where to?’ Syl said, flying up and perching on Gor’s shoulder.
‘To become the new baron of Zovmir.’
The serpent would’ve been surprised if this was his old master. But Syl knew he was different now. He saw it from the way he walked; heard from the way he spoke; he flickered his tongue out and tasted the tremendous amount of power in the air that now radiated from Gor-Ka’thul.
‘Syl has one question, however.’
‘Arkosh fused himself with the hand of the Witch to get the finger of death, yes?’
Gor-Ka’thul said nothing.
‘Why did you not just fuse the Finger of Death itself, where the power comes from, instead of the whole hand?’
Gor-Ka’thul stopped abruptly. The serpent was… right. That way, he wouldn’t have ended up with an oversized arm much too large and heavy for him. He turned to the snake and said, ‘Are you questioning me?’ He snatched the little serpent by its neck and flung it up in the air. Then he pointed his finger at the snake.
Lord Gor-Ka’thul sat on a throne of bones and skulls, his arm supporting his head. His face has taken a change yet again since that fateful event. He found the Drainstzne to be so useful that he ordered a demon highly skilled in the practice of grafting to embed the red gemstone onto his forehead. This way, he would not drop it, and it would free up his hands.
Here he was—had finally gained the powers he always dreamed of; had finally earned the fear from his kinsfolk; had finally claimed his position as the new ruler of Ovdoq Domosh and the Baron of Fort Zovmir. Yet, why was it he felt so utterly bored with his new kingdom?
One day, when he was sitting in the throne room—as was his usual past time—and brooding in memories, he remembered the things the Witch had told him. Her stay in the mortal realm, her adventures, the people she had met, and artefacts she mentioned briefly—Ancient Shards. It then dawned on him that he was bored out of his mind because there was not enough power in his life. He needed more. And he needed to conquer the other domosh too. Maybe even extend his reach into the mortal realm…
He perked up and at once told his court he would depart for the mortal realm at once. He took only his wand with him, left Fort Zovmir and stepped through the rift gate.
There was a dazzling bright light and Gor shielded his eyes. His feet found nothing and he landed on soft ground with a thud.
Lord Gor-Ka’thul grunted. He later realised the bright light was not caused by the gate. The mortal realm was annoyingly bright. It took his demonic eyes a long while before it adjusted to the light, but his ears picked up some sounds. It was a short distance away, but they were getting closer.
‘Who’s that?’ said one of them.
‘Wow, did you see that!?’ exclaimed another. ‘He just appeared out of nowhere!’
‘He looks weird.’
When his eyes adjusted, he was in a large, open field, surrounded by a group of human whelps.
Gor waved his arms and shooed them away. ‘Get away from me.’ Then he climbed to his feet, and stood about as tall as the human whelps.
‘He’s about the same age as us,’ said a male whelp with curled hair.
‘Did you lose your way?’ asked another, who wore something on his head.
Finally Gor said, ‘I need to know something.’
‘What is it?’ said the one with a cap.
‘What is the most powerful on this planet?’
‘My father!’ said the boy with curly hair.
A whelp with two teeth missing shouted, ‘Your father’s not strong, Ray.’
‘He is!’ said Ray to his own kind. Then he turned back to Gor, ‘My father’s really strong! He can carry one barrel of water on each shoulder.’
‘But he ran when he saw a lion didn’t he?’ said the whelp. And the other whelps laughed at Ray. They began to run away, shouting along, ‘Ran from a lion! Ran from a lion!’
Ray was turning away with his head down, Gor stopped him.
‘Oy, where can I find this Lion?’
Ray pointed towards a direction. ‘The lion came from there. Why? Are you going to find the lion? It is very scary! Sharp teeth and powerful claws.’
The demon lord walked away from the whelps and towards where he pointed. He had walked for hours before he saw any beasts roaming the lands. There was a herd of huge, brown-skinned beasts grazing on the fields. They even had horns! Horns that even he did not have. Is Lion one of them?
Then, several different beasts, slightly smaller than the Horned Ones, sprinted towards them at a furious speed. Although the Horned Ones outnumbered the Yellow Furry Beasts, they scrambled and fled. (It reminded him when Ma’Quela’s minions were scorched by the Witch’s ring of fire.) Some of the Yellow Furry Beasts had long, flowing fur around their heads, and some were bald. But even from a distance, Gor saw they had rows of sharp teeth and eyes that were determined to kill.
At last, one of the Yellow Furry Beasts caught up to a Horned One that trailed behind the herd. The Yellow Furry Beast pounced on the back of its prey and sunk its teeth into the Horned One’s neck. The Horned One reared its head in pain and galloped back and forth in a desperate attempt to fling its predator away. But it was too late. The rest of the pouncing creatures caught up, and they too, sunk their teeth and claws into the brown flesh, pinning it down in an orchestrated effort. Gradually the Horned One became docile, and slower in its movements, though once in a while it still reared its head or kicked in the air. When the Horned One at last became completely still and laid in the fields, the band of yellow animals bit into the flesh and tore chunks by chunks off.
Gor-Ka’thul stood motionless on top of a rock, witnessing the bloody scene in awe. The images of the Yellow Furry Beasts hunting down their prey burned in his mind and he felt a rush of excitement flooding into him. He knew then, that without a doubt this creature was the Lion the human whelps spoke of—the strongest creatures in this realm.
When he turned on the rock to leave, he inadvertently lost his footing and slipped. Gor became aware of a pair of eyes staring at his direction, and when he turned his head, he saw one of the Yellow Furry Beasts sprinting towards him. Its yellow eyes bore into the demon lord’s eyes. Its jaws were wide open and Gor had the horror to saw the head of sharp teeth and incisors charging straight towards him. Ruthless and cruel as Ma’Quela was, Gor could resort to flattery. But he was utterly helpless against this mighty beast—the Lion!
Like the Horned Ones, he scrambled to his feet and ran.
After a distance, Gor turned his head, and realised that Lion had turned back for its meal. The ruler of Ovdoq Domosh, Baron of Fort Zovmir, demon Lord Gor-Ka’thul let out a heave of relief.
The innkeeper was recording something in her books on the counter when she heard the wooden doors swung open, and promptly announced, ‘Welcome to Meadows Inn!’ She looked up from her books but she saw no one.
‘Down here,’ came a voice from below her counter.
She leaned over the counter and saw a dwarf-like man with purple skin and a large red gem on his forehead. There had been so many strange travellers coming into this town recently. Humans aside, there were also centaurs, elves, gnomes, and other beings she wasn’t entirely sure what they were. Thanks to this influx of travellers, her business had been booming, so she wasn’t complaining. Though, there was one time she had to turn away a guest who was entirely liquid and would leave puddles of water wherever it went.
‘Looking for a place to stay? It’ll be five coins for a night. How long shall you be staying, sir?’
‘Two nights,’ said the purple-skin dwarf.
‘Well, that’d be ten coins. Thank you. Your room is the second on the left on the second floor. How should I address you, Sir?’
‘Lion,’ replied the guest.