"I have been searching for you for months, wizard."
It was an unwelcome interruption; the sorcerer was enjoying his porridge. Mungk's food was decidedly better than what he could cook himself in his cabin in the hills, and when he craved culinary satisfaction, he walked down to the tavern. A fair hike, but always worth it in the end.
Without looking up, the sorcerer said, "I've been right here; it would appear you have finally looked in the right place."
"Do you know me?" The voice was familiar. The sorcerer glanced up to find a callow young man
"...Ollial, if I remember correctly."
"Your memory has yet to fail, I see. Excellent. This would not have been as satisfying if you had been a crumbling old invalid."
Between spoonfuls, the sorcerer asked, "What is 'this'? Why are you here, Oll-isle?"
"I would think it obvious even to you, old man." Ollial's robes were resplendent, screaming of power and wealth, in sharp contrast to the sorcerer's simple garb. The staff, gnarled and dangerous, was well-known to the sorcerer.
"You hold your father's staff."
The implications were obvious, but it was no surprise Ollial felt the need to speak them: no doubt he had scripted this encounter in his imagination and played it to himself many times. "I have taken my rightful place at the King's hand. My father was old and weak, like you. The King saw that."
Of course the King had stood aside for the challenge: regardless of the outcome, he would possess the stronger court wizard. Unless both had died, which hardly ever happens. "A shame. Your father was a good man and a talented conjurer. Did he ever tell you the story of our fight against the demon Wyxlock? He—"
"I care not for your reminiscences, old man." The inn's small dining room had quietly emptied of patrons. Only Mungk, in his place behind the bar, remained.
"Again a shame. It's a good story." He called to Mungk, "Barman! I'll have a wine, I think. A red, and not the swill you keep for the locals. Something from the basement." He would be safer down there, and Mungk was smart enough to arrange not to find anything suitable for a time.
"Right away, my Lord." The owner's enormous frame shifted as quickly as the sorcerer had ever seen him move as he disappeared through the kitchen doors.
"Ollial, if you already have the King's confidence, why bother with me? Surely a tired old man taken to the hills is no threat to you. Especially if you have so handily dispatched your father."
Ollial snorted. "My father at his best was not your equal. As for you: your retirement was voluntary — I simply propose to make it permanent."
"Then I can put your mind at ease. I will never return to the Palace, not tomorrow, not ever. Not for power, not for gold. I have put down such cares."
Ollial shrugged. "You could change your mind. Seek to regain your place—"
"I won't." The sorcerer was final in is tone, but the youth made no move to depart. The sorcerer knew he would not convince him. "Very well. Let's adjourn to the road, then." He slurped up the last spoonful of porridge, thankfully still warm enough, and dug in his pocket for a gold piece, which he tossed onto the bar. More than enough to cover his running tab with Mungk.
Outside, on the dusty road, they made an odd pair. Ollial fairly glowed as the sunlight fell upon his finery. The sorcerer, on the other hand, looked the part of a peasant. The youth — having taken his position — called, disparagingly, "You don't even have your staff!"
"I won't need it."
With an exasperated tone, Ollial muttered, "As you wish." He began chanting under his breath, staff held in the standard attack position.
The sorcerer knew the spell from the words. Ollial likely didn't even know their meaning; most young wizards learn phonetically at first. "What's that, Shurlough's Wilding Embers? It won't work..."
The youth ignored him, and flaming ash spat from the end of the staff, focused on the sorcerer. To Ollial's apparent surprise, the column of fiery debris parted in the middle and bypassed its target. The sorcerer was unaffected.
The youth quickly recovered his composure. "No doubt you have devised counters for many of my father's spells—"
"I taught him that one."
"—but that is not all I have in store for you, wizard!"
"It's not too late to go home and forget this nonsense, Ollial. You could tell people that you defeated me and they would believe you. I'll never show up to contradict your tale."
Ollial ignored him and began another incantation.
"Redborn's Wracking. A better choice, but—" As if on cue, the ground underneath the sorcerer began shaking, kicking dust up around his feet. "—unlikely to have much more effect than the Embers. Give it up, now, before any damage is done." A crack appeared in the ground, through which a faint red glow emerged, but the tremor was already dying.
Ollial cursed him, crying out, "Only one of us will leave here alive, wizard."
The sorcerer only shrugged. "I didn't even have to counter that one, boy. You don't know enough about geology to use a spell like that. What will you throw at me next, lightning? Ice? What will you throw at me that I haven't seen a thousand times? With your father at my side, no less? Haven't you been paying attention to his stories all these years."
Ollial grinned. "Better than you know, wizard." He reached into the folds of his robe to produce a shining green emerald, as big around as a clenched fist, flecked with red and seeming to glow from within. "Remember this?"
"Only too well."
"Even with my father's help you barely survived long enough to imprison Wyxlock inside this stone."
"And there he should stay, Ollial. For your own good—"
"Enough of your patronizing. The demon shall have his revenge and I shall be free of you!" He cast the stone upon the naked ground and it immediately began to glow brighter, shaking, until it finally began to spin on one facet. "See, It draws power from the Earth. You should run, old man; give the demon a good sport of it—"
"You're a fool."
The stone grew, malformed, and with a great tearing sound became a cloud of dust which dissipated to reveal the bony, black, terrific form of the demon. It hissed and snapped and surveyed its surroundings, including both duelists.
"Why have you released me?" It addressed the sorcerer with a death rattle of a voice.
"He released you." The sorcerer nodded towards the youth.
"Yes, demon, it is I who—"
The demon ignored Ollial. "And what is your price for my freedom, my Master?"
"Hungry?" The sorcerer asked, and again nodded towards Ollial.
Ollial took a step backwards and held up his father's staff. "Wait—"
"You never learned the order of things, Ollial. Perhaps it's your father's fault for failing to teach you. He appears to have paid dearly for that oversight. Wyxlock here understands the order of things, don't you, Wyxlock?"
"I do, my Master." The demon turned and bared four rows of curved, pointed teeth at the youth.
"Master? He imprisoned you for a century!"
The sorcerer laughed, "Only a century? To a demon, do you imagine that to be a long time? Wyxlock was terrorizing man before he was man, hairy and without words. Left to his own devices he is immortal — but I could have destroyed him and he knows it. Instead I only jailed him for a time. I could likely destroy him now, and he knows it. Better than you. He seeks my favor, now, so that he may later return to his avocation. Go on, be done with it. Leave the staff."
Ollial began frantically reciting a spell as Wyxlock lunged, but the youth was nowhere near fast enough. In a streak of motion the demon's claws ripped the staff from his hands and knocked him spinning to the ground, taking an arm off at the shoulder for good measure; the severed limb windmilled through the air and disappeared into the long grass on the far side of the road. The gurgling screams ended as quickly as they began, as Wyxlock began his long-deferred meal.
The sorcerer's eyes did not linger on the gory scene as he walked over to pick up the staff. He pulled a rag from his pocket to wipe the blood away from the gnarled wood, and then turned to walk back into the tavern. Over his shoulder, he called to the demon, "Your debt to me is paid; be on your way and do not trouble me again."
"I understand." There was no 'my Master' at the end of it, but the sorcerer did not doubt that Wyxlock would obey; the demon understood the order of things.