The rain had finally ceased. Completely soaked and utterly furious, the man in the grey robes walked a slim path through the hills. Noise of displaced mud followed every step he took, and under his sore feet, he felt the slippery and unstable soil. It was the blackest of nights, and a harsh wind was blowing, rustling distant trees. Combined with the man’s heavy footsteps, this was all there was to hear. His face was mostly hidden by his ashy, worn-out hood. It had been a long and exhausting journey, but he was close. No landmarks stood out, yet he knew exactly where he was going.
Nobody but he walked that path. His rage kept him going and it kept him warm throughout the chilly night, but the source of it was strangely unclear. There was an impenetrable fog in his mind, shrouding all memories of the seed from which his fury had sprouted. Yet he did not question it. He simply kept his quick, tense pace as he moved onwards.
After a while, he strayed from the path and walked over one of the hills to his left. From there on, it didn’t take long before he could see it in the distance: A small cabin near the cliff, overlooking the ocean. Stopping temporarily at the top of the hill, he noticed a faint glow in the window. Someone was in there.
Walking up to the cabin made him reluctantly sentimental. It was an old building, small and humble, with one door and one window, each on opposite sides – he had been making his way around to avoid being seen.
The place was pretty worn down, yet looking at it had a profound effect on the lone traveller. It had him longing for better times, even if memories of those times didn’t come to him. As he approached the door, he took a moment to gently put his hand on it.
Buildings were but buildings though, and this sentimentality was not nearly enough to soften him. Once the moment of hesitation had passed, he loudly kicked the door in.
“Ragnel!” he screamed. His voice was raspy, deep and weary.
The inside of the cabin was lit up by an active fireplace. Wooden shelves covered most of the walls, each filled with either books or various other objects; glass bottles containing mostly plants or colourful liquids, gemstones of unique shapes and sizes, and crudely carved wooden figurines. In the middle stood a table, and on it was a bowl surrounded by empty bottles. The withered remains of a flower’s stalk laid there as well, headless and miserable.
A large chair was placed by the other end of the room, facing away from the door and towards the fire. In this chair, the silhouette of someone could be seen; a robed figure, reading a dusty book.
“Of all places known and unknown, you really thought it would serve you to hide here?” he continued. “You really thought any of this could ever end well for you?”
Ragnel closed the book, carelessly tossed it on the floor, and slowly turned his head, revealing himself to be an older man with a long, greying beard. “I gave you a choice,” he said. A tense moment passed.
“Don’t you dare,” seethed the man in grey through gritted teeth.
“Oh, but I’m in such a daring mood these days,” responded Ragnel as a wide grin appeared on his face. “You’ve opened my eyes to what’s possible, that much I will admit.”
“If you seriously think I’m letting you get away after this… do you even understand the magnitude of what you’ve done?”
“It only happened because you refused my offer. I was about to relieve you of a great burden.”
“They are gone, Ragnel! Two of the bravest souls I have ever known, no longer among us thanks to your arrogance! And their lives are but a fraction of the devastation. You’ve made a lasting dent in the world, damage that even the gods would struggle to undo. All because you couldn’t accept that I didn’t find you worthy.”
Ragnel snickered maliciously and stood up to face his visitor. He was dressed in blue, with several crescent moon symbols on the fabric.
“And what do you wish to do about that?” he asked.
The man in grey wasted no time. He shot a vibrantly green flame with a wave of his bare hands. To his confusion, however, it came out tiny and was easily extinguished by his adversary.
“So, that’s how you want it,” laughed Ragnel. “Fine by me.” With a snap of his fingers, he demolished the old cabin with a loud crack, sending pieces of wood and glass flying through the air.
By being quick to put up a strong barrier made from pure, hardened defiance, the man in grey survived, but he couldn’t stop himself from falling over. He scrambled to get up while the dust was still settling.
Ragnel levitated himself over the cabin’s remains. A sharp, green glow pierced the man in grey’s eyes while he regained his posture. Several chunks of wood from the cabin’s broken wall were all floating in the air, burning with ghastly flames. They were flung at him.
He dodged them with elegance, even deflecting a few as he sprinted towards Ragnel. Once he saw an opportunity, he conjured up a ball of fire himself, but he did not direct it at the bearded sorcerer. Instead, he aimed for the rubble right below, which had been oozing and bubbling since the different elixirs and ingredients got mixed.
The result was madness. It started with a quick series of colourful explosions, followed by every strain of grass surrounding the wreck morphing into something huge and different: Tentacles, cactuses, giant arms that moved by themselves, anything that could roughly resemble an ordinary grass strain, in all sorts of sizes and colours.
While not a perfect plan, it sure had worked. Ragnel got swallowed up. He was in there somewhere, and it was time to enter the magical mess to finish the fight once and for all.
It was hard to see anything clearly from within the chaos. Perfect recreations of human hands and feet were swiping at him. Oversized beanstalks, feathers and bull horns cluttered everything, and a purple mist filled the air.
Suddenly, what appeared to be a flea jumped at him. It was Ragnel. He was tiny, but he could punch like a raging gorilla. The man in grey got a taste of it, stumbling backwards with a sore cheek.
“Why would you even think to do that!?” he yelled after regaining his balance.
Ragnel grew back to his proper size. “Because you wouldn’t,” he remarked. “That’s how I’m planning to win.”
Lightning struck from Ragnel’s muddied fingertips. The man in grey evaded and responded with his own lightning, but as they continued, he had a hard time keeping up. This was not going well. At this rate, Ragnel would win. He couldn’t let that happen. Much as he tried to think of another plan, it was too late. One of the beanstalks was snapped in half and he felt the top of it hit him with great speed, knocking him out of the chaotic jungle. He landed by the edge of the cliff, where the breaking waves made their usual sound below.
“You’re strong,” he heard, too winded and hurt to move. “Even with everything the spell took, you still have some fight in you. That’s why it has to end here.” Ragnel cracked his knuckles, and it was as loud as thunder. “But before that, I should mention that I saw the beast crawl down before the whole place crumbled. He is majestic beyond words, is he not? A tail longer than most trees are tall! Teeth like a perfect predator! Eyes as white and bright as the moon! Our little disagreement has made the world a good deal more interesting and I might even begin to miss it.”
With those final words, Ragnel made the slightest wave with his hands and his opponent was flung far into the cold night.
The man in grey felt the rush of falling through the air. Try as he might, he couldn’t put a stop to it. He was too tired and far too beaten.
Splash! Hitting the ocean surface from such a height was so devastatingly painful that he began to lose consciousness while sinking quickly. As his eyes closed and his mind drifted off, he was unable to do anything but hope that the depths would show him mercy.
© 2021, Mikkel Høst
Illustration © 2020, Florian Garbay