The Barbarian pushed hard against the heavy door. He paused to let his vision adjust, then glanced around the cavernous chamber, searching the darkness for hidden guards.
The Red Griffin stood on the dais watching the man the prophecy told would end his reign.
“Welcome, Barbarian.” He nearly spit out the word. “I suppose you intend to kill me?”
“That is an interesting prospect. One I would be willing to explore.”
“I have another prospect,” the Red Griffin tossed off his outer robes, revealing the black armor so many feared.
Behind him, the cauldron flared bright as daylight, casting the darkness away from the platform. The orange material inside it roiled and flowed like thick, iridescent water.
The surface of the strange substance rose above the edge in a large bubble, expanding ever bigger until it burst in the center, sending droplets of the molten sludge into the air. Various sized blobs perked at odd intervals, though nothing overflowed the sides, and none of the drops hit the floor.
With a deep throated, deranged laugh, the Red Griffin taunted his opponent. “Only now, Barbarian, you will take your final challenge!”
He spun to face the huge pot and flung his arms into the air, fingers splayed, head lowered. Though he spoke in the arcane language, the Barbarian understood the incantation. His words echoed off every wall, reverberating a fraction of a syllable apart, making four voices speak the same incantation:
“To the depths of the hell within Hell; Heed my voice, and listen well:
An army of one to do my will. To find mine enemies and then to kill.
Be your offense Anger, Pride, Envy or Greed;
To my commands alone you shall pay heed.
As I beckon, so shall you obey,
Victory rewarded with Life for a day.“
As he spoke, the magma reacted violently. Changing from orange to yellow to red, and cresting crimson. From within the depths, a dark shadow took form and shot out into the pitch black above them, the aura of the projectile glowing bright. It arched over the Wizard and splattered on the flagstones before the Warrior.
The Barbarian stood with his blade drawn and held out beside him. He backed two steps as the stuff seemed to absorb the stone beneath it.
The form hardened, erecting from the floor itself. The Barbarian warred with the powerful urge to flee as the giant shape rose to its full height nearly three times as tall as the man it faced. He drew a deep breath, calming his nerves with his eyes closed.
The Red Griffin took the breath as surrender. “I’ll not let you off that easily, Barbarian,” he hissed toward his enemy. “Once summoned, the demon must fulfill its purpose or be banished from its fiery lair.”
He leveled his long finger towards the target as he demanded, “Demon, destroy the one called Barbarian,” forever branding the man to whom it indicated.
The Barbarian opened his eyes, glinting as hard as the steel blade he brought to bear. Grasping the handle with a firm, two-handed stance, he readied himself as the giant lunged at him.
He sprung to his left, but the demon had long arms and swatted him hard. The impact knocked his sword out of his hand before he slammed into the wall and crumpled to the flagstones. As he tried to erect himself, the giant wrapped its hand around his body, pinning his arms to his sides.
The man felt the thing tighten its grip. He flexed his whole body, concentrating on breaking free. The pressure of his defense eased the crushing feeling in his chest, as he continued forcing the huge hand open. The giant slapped its other hand to try to retain its captive, baring its small, pointed teeth with the effort.
He felt his space lessening again and felt a white heat in his gut as a guttural yell escaped his lips. The hands holding him shot away, orange blood gushing from its shredded skin. The demon howled in pain, causing the very floor to shake as if in an earthquake.
On hands and knees, the Barbarian heaved air into and out of his lungs. He saw his weapon near and scrambled the few feet to get it. As he stood and faced the monstrosity, armed again, the thing looked at its damaged palms and back to the man. A tangible hatred radiated from its red eyes.
It stepped toward the Barbarian beginning a roar, so he rushed with sword ready. He leapt high, slashing down to cleave into its skull. When the thing flung its arm to deflect the blow, a loud twang accompanied the snap of the blade.
The Barbarian, still in flight, held the hilt as he impacted with the chest of the beast. With an iron, one handed grip he held onto the thing as he he drew back his other arm, letting the remnant of his sword spin around and catching it reversed. He drove the partial blade deep into the things clavicle, shoving hard as the giant fell to a knee, its yell announcing the effectiveness as the man twisted and yanked the metal in the wound, slicing the muscles underneath.
He wrenched his weapon out and drove it into the eye of the giant as it sank to the ground, writhing and thrashing. The thing began melting as the Barbarian pulled his damaged weapon free and backed away.
Before the mess had disappeared, a white-hot blast hit the Barbarian full in the back, throwing him again into the wall. He didn’t have the time to raise to his elbows when he felt his body yanked upward and hurled across the cavern, sliding along the flagstones and leaving some of the flesh of his back to mark his path.
“What’s wrong, Barbarian? Forget about me?” The Red Griffin had walked down the stairs, approaching his nemesis with hands raised. “I know not how you defeated my demon, boy, but I shall not go down so easily. I promise you that!”
The Barbarian suspected the splitting of magical attention may weaken the hold on him enough to try to escape. He saw the fire liquid from the vat bubble more violently, drops of it suspending above until a large blob had been formed.
The Red Griffin had turned to look at it, one arm towards each target. He lifted his left hand toward the dripping mass of magma and looked back at the Barbarian. “Here, have a taste of this.” He redirected his energies, using both hands to control the fireball and heaved it towards the man on the floor.
The Barbarian felt the pressure ease as the Red Griffin threw the ball of flame at him. He rolled toward the door, avoiding a direct hit, but the concussion of the blast sent him sliding and tumbling along the flagstones yet again.
The Red Griffin loosed another maniacal laugh as the Barbarian skid to a stop, clutching ribs that might have been snapped from being tossed around like a child’s doll. Clicks of the madman’s stroll made a dull echo through the loud tones in the wounded warrior’s ears. A solid kick knocked the remaining air from his pained chest.
Clutching a fist full of blond hair, he leaned close the bloody face of his enemy. The wizard glared into the eyes of the wounded Barbarian and whispered, “Your people will die. Your land will wither and your King will fall. Even your gods will wail at the utter ruin I shall bring upon you.”
The Barbarian, breathing heavily, stretched his arm behind him, searching for his broken sword, and in a raspy breath retorted, “I have no people; I have no land.” He closed his own fist around the hilt he felt. “I have no king.” His muscles coiled in preparation of the final blow. “I… have… no… gods!” He swung with all his might, but the Red Griffin had sensed his move and backed away too quick for the attack to be effective.
The only blood for the blade to taste came from a trickle brought forth as the edge glanced across his enemy’s upper arm, rending the armored leather meant to protect him. The Red Griffin looked at the wound, surprised that one could get the better of him, as the Barbarian forced himself to his feet.