The wizard sat in his tower, gazing out the window toward the horizon. The sun had set a few moments ago, but it's light still lingered just enough, a guttering candle at the edge of the world. At last even that final remnant of day faded and night settled in. The wizard sighed and stood, crossing the small bedroom to the stairs that led to his library and observatory. As he climbed, he smiled wryly. At least the job afforded him the luxury of books and instruments. He'd lived in enough hermit's caves during his career to appreciate a warm bed and a place for a telescope.
The sky wasn't clear enough for stargazing, so he took down one of his older spellbooks and set to memorizing a chapter. A wizard was always studying, or so his old masters taught him. And it was true. Any wizard who wanted to be worth a damn was always studying. With another sigh, he put the book down and closed his eyes, leaning his head back in the big comfortable armchair in one corner of the library.
He remembered when he'd been worth a damn, back when the world needed wizards, when creatures from the Outer Dark threatened all humankind and only the wizards stood to bar their way. He remembered that last battle, his victory leading him to this job, that of the Court Magician for the Ch'Ten Empire. The wizard shook his head. He who had once wrestled a demigod back down into the netherworld now spent his days making jeweled light for courtiers and children. He had saved them all from everlasting darkness and they made him their pet, demanding pretties and amusements because they couldn't comprehend what he'd saved them from. If they'd known what he'd sacrificed, at what price he'd bought their salvation... He shook his head. No, they'd have done nothing different.
He rose from his chair, crossing to the balcony outside the observatory. He looked out over this world he'd saved, the one he'd given up his dearest love for, and he wondered why he bothered. Most of the world really wasn't worth saving, and the parts that were became fewer and smaller each year due to the efforts of those that weren't. Just six months prior, the Merchant Princes leveled a sacred wood, the sentient trees of its Hidden Grove falling to axe and saw. When the wizard went before the Princes, and then before the monarchs of the Seven Kingdoms, to protest the slaughter, his listeners just smiled politely. They made many deep and grave pronouncements, lauding his honor and his bravery, his skill as a wizard, all while mourning the loss of such venerable trees.
"But the land there is fertile," he mimicked the corpulent Chief Executive of the Merchant Princes, "perfect for farming. And with the way the peasantry breeds these days..."
"And of course," King Borach of Ch'Ten -his own monarch- had said, as though it justified everything, "the Merchant Princes do own the land."
And so the wizard went away, back to conjuring pretty lights for pretty fools, all while living through the casual suffering they caused. Then, as night fell upon the kingdom, a creature of the Outer Dark flew in through the wizard's window. It was a small black winged creature, a minor demon of little consequence or threat, but alarming in that the Outer Dark was supposed to have been sealed.
"Pay me no mind, pay me no mind," the demon said, doffing a miniature hat and offering a rough bow. "Me and mine is all can come through to this plane, the biguns all still stuck behind your wall."
The wizard raised an eyebrow. "So the wall still holds some of you back," he said. "How is it you made it past?"
The demon chuckled self-depricatingly. "Aye, you set your wall so's 'none from the Outer Dark could ever threaten the world'," he quoted the spell that built the wall, "but me and mine ain't a threat to this world. Hell, a thousand of me and mine wouldn't threaten this world." He shrugged. "We can pretty much come and go as we please. Good many of us decided to just escape to this world, but was some of us decided to make ourselves handy to the biguns as messengers."
"And you have a message for me, I take it."
"Aye," the demon nodded. "From one Skargk the Pestilent. You know him?"
The wizard's jaw tightened. "I know him."
"Good. Says he has an offer."
"What is he offering?"
The demon smiled. "Your one true love, of course. Returned to you, body and soul, whole and healthy and unspoiled."
The wizard tried to hide the stabbing pain in his heart at those words. Alive? She was alive? All these years playing the fool to these spoiled dandies and she suffered among the Dark! He forced his voice to be calm. He'd show no weakness to this thing. "And I suppose in return he wants me to hand this world over to him," he said.
The demon smirked, looking around. "From what I've seen of it, you're better off trading it in for the girl." He shook his head. "But no. No, you don't have to just hand the world over, you just have to give the biguns a shot at it. Just open the wall. You can fight them all tooth and nail after that if you want, they just want the wall down."
The wizard considered the offer, stroking his chin and pacing slightly. "So," he mused, making his tone much lighter than he felt, "all I have to do to get the one great true love of my life back is open the door and let things go back to the way they were?"
"That's about it."
The wizard smiled. "Are you familiar, demon, with the mortal adage that cautions one not to shoot the messenger?"
The demon nodded.
The wizard raised his hand, uttered a few syllables of an ancient and dying language, and a bolt of crimson lightning charred the little demon to its bones. A quick banishing spell sent them back behind the wall to the Outer Dark. The wizard made his way to the Wastes, where he would open the only gate in the wall.
Once there, he spoke the words and made the necessary gestures to open the gate. Darkness swirled beyond it, a seething pulsing darkness that screamed for its release in tortured whispers.
"You come," it said.
"You come for your woman," a dark chorus rasped, "and to free us."
The wizard held up his hand, a glowing orb causing the darkness to cringe back from the gate. "A couple of things I thought I'd mention: One, I don't honestly believe you'd give her up to me just to return to the status quo. You'd figure you owned me, and I'd rather be their lapdog than yours. Two," he held up two fingers, "no matter how vain, selfish and empty a lot of those people are," he stepped through the gate, locking it behind him, "they don't deserve you." He set his feet in a fighting stance, energy crackling around his fingertips.
"So yes," the wizard said, grinning his challenge in the face of that roiling hate, "I am indeed here for my woman, but you aren't going anywhere."