This story takes place after the events in the novel Sidequest: In Realms Ungoogled. I highly recommend you read that first as that starts the story where I always felt it had to start, and it changes things too much to enter this world at any other point.
But I’m not your boss. You do what you want.
It was a cold, dark afternoon in July. The wind howled, perhaps as displeased as the citizens of Goldenleaf with the freezing weather. The wind was wiser than them, though, for it was quickly seeking elsewhere to go.
Jarl put another log on the fire hoping this one source of warmth might give the customers in his pub some cheer, but none of them noticed. There was no joy left with these people. They simply came to the Singing Sparrow Pub to forget for a while — the closest thing there was to happiness. Just for a moment, they wanted to not think about the one who resided in the castle in the Dead Forest.
It was hard not to worry about him, though, especially as there was talk that the mines would soon be tapped out. And then what would happen to them? They all remembered the fate that befell the dwarven village of Harendean when it was no longer of use.
Jarl returned to the counter. Business was good for him, at least, but he hardly had a smile left in him. And he had the best of it.
The door burst open. Jarl immediately knew it was not a regular — no one in Goldenleaf had that kind of energy. In walked a young man with a dumb grin. He wore a bright, puffy red jacket with the label “The North Face” and cloth pants of the color indigo. He was a relatively unthreatening figure, even with the sword strapped to his belt. The other patrons of the bar regarded him with fear. This was something different. This was trouble.
“Oh man, it is cold out there!” said the stranger as he took the sword and sheath off his belt, placed it on the counter, and took a seat across from Jarl. “I mean, I brought my winter jacket, but I still don’t feel quite prepared for how cold it is. What’s the wind chill factor out there right now?” The man took off his glasses, pulled a cloth from his pocket, and began to wipe away the pieces of snow that had melted to water now that he was near the fire.
“It gets colder,” Jarl said gravely.
“Oh, well that... well, that sucks.”
Jarl had many questions but decided curiosity was a dangerous thing. “Do you want something?”
“Yeah, I guess while I’m here, it might not be a bad idea to have a little something. I’m just a bit anxious; that could take the edge off.”
Jarl almost asked why he was anxious but let the moment pass.
The stranger put back on his glasses and looked around. “I don’t see a menu.”
“We serve ale here.”
The stranger frowned. “Oh. Do you have anything gluten-free?”
“Not made with like wheat, rye, or barley.”
“Do you have a problem with those things?”
“I don’t,” the stranger explained, “but they can make my girlfriend sick, and if she knows I have had gluten, she won’t kiss me.”
“And you want to kiss your girlfriend?”
The stranger chuckled. Jarl couldn’t remember the last time he heard a genuine laugh. “I’d prefer it to not.”
“We have mead,” Jarl said. “It’s made from honey.”
The stranger nodded. “Huh. I’ve never had that before. Let’s give that a try.”
Jarl went to get a bottle of mead and pour it into a mug. They had used to make their mead natively, but there had been no flowers in Goldenleaf in some time. He placed the golden liquid in front of the stranger.
“Hmm.” The stranger stared at the mug for a moment and then said in a high pitch voice with a strange accent, “Letsa go!” He lifted the cup, took a sip, and grimaced a little. “Well, that’s... that’s interesting.” A thought seemed to strike him. “Oh, I didn’t even ask what kind of payment you take here.”
“Well... all I have on me right now is a debit card. Do you have a Venmo account?”
Jarl could sense more dread among the other patrons. Everyone knew something about this young man was trouble. “How about it’s on me,” Jarl said. “You drink up that mead, you walk out that door, you go find your gluten-vulnerable girlfriend, give her a kiss, and never think of this village again.”
The stranger took another sip of his drink and grimaced slightly less this time. “It is cold here,” he said, “but you can imagine I didn’t trek out here because I was dying for some mead.”
Jarl took a deep breath. “Who are you?”
“My name is Terrance Denby. I’m a computer programmer. I guess that’s not the relevant thing, though. What is relevant is that I am one of the Infinite — a warrior of light who fights against the Darkness.” He tapped his sword. “And I can’t help but notice it’s kind of dark around here.” He took another drink and could almost sell that he enjoyed it.
“We don’t want trouble here,” Jarl said. “I think I need you to leave.”
“And I will,” Terrance said, “when you tell me where Oramir is.”
There was a gasp throughout the pub. Now everyone couldn’t pretend to be ignoring the stranger. All eyes were on Terrance. “Do not say that name,” Jarl told him.
Terrance laughed. “Oh, come on, is this a Voldemort-type situation? What are we worried about here? If you say his name three times, is he suddenly going to appear like Beetlejuice? Oramir. Oramir. Oramir.”
“You do not fear enough the trouble you are inviting,” Jarl warned him. “The trouble you will bring down on us all.”
Terrance took another sip of his mead. No more grimacing. “I think it’s the one who comes in and enslaves a whole town that’s inviting trouble.”
For the briefest moment, hope kindled in Jarl, but it just as quickly died when he took another look at the unimpressive young man in the puffy red jacket. “You don’t know Oramir’s power. You think this sword you have here will be enough against him? Are you even skilled in its use?”
“I...” Terrance hesitated a bit. “I know to hit the bad guy with the sharp parts.” He smiled like it was a joke, but no one there was laughing. He said more seriously, “I know I can handle this Oramir.” Terrance took his sword off the bar and stood up. “It is time for his reign to end.”
Everyone else just stared at the stranger. No one else had hope, either — only fear. “You’ve done this sort of thing before?” Jarl asked.
“Yeah,” Terrance answered. “I mean, pretty much. I haven’t faced a demon that can turn a whole region into eternal winter, but I’ve faced... I’ve faced things before. Really bad things. Worse than this.” He chuckled a bit, but this seemed more a nervous habit. “This is my first solo mission, though... so that’s... that’s new. But I... I... I got it.”
“You claimed to be confident,” Jarl stated. “You do not seem confident.”
“I sometimes forget for a moment that I’m confident... which isn’t the same as not being confident.”
This fool seemed determined. Jarl shuddered at the thought. “Here’s what I know: You are a small man with a little sword. The last time anyone defied our ruler, the entire dwarven village of Harendean became a glacier. Where once a happy people were, there is now just ice.”
What confidence Terrance proclaimed to have faded from his face as he thought about what Jarl had just told him. But he soon shook the dark thoughts from him as he secured his sword back to his belt and smiled. “Well, there you go. That just tells me it’s all the more important someone stops him right now before he does something like that again. Now, where is he?
The winter jacket was a good idea, Terrance thought, trudging through the snow as the howling wind attacked him. His sneakers, though, were not entirely cutting it, and it was beginning to feel like his toes were going to fall off. He wished he had stopped at Walmart and purchased a cheap pair of snow boots before he headed through the Wolfwater Wasteland, over the Hills of Cardend, past the Arby’s, and through the Tunnel of the Whistling Gale into the fraught land of Goldenleaf.
They called it the Dead Forest. It used to have another name, but now the trees were bare, the empty branches creaking in the wind. A light snow fell about Terrance, just sparse flakes as if the clouds above were slowly falling apart. Terrance stared up at the clouds. So dense were they, it was hard to tell where the sun was. Still, some of its light made its way through to allow Terrance to see the path before him in this quiet, empty forest. There was a great evil here, but the sun was a hard one to defeat entirely.
As Terrance walked and hummed the theme to Game of Thrones, he soon saw the castle ahead of him. It was a crumbled ruin, no longer standing taller than the dead trees of the forest. A moat surrounded it, but that was frozen; the drawbridge lowered over it looked like the chains that held it had broken. Terrance crept closer to the ruined castle, but all he could see inside were shadows and ice. And he noticed the wind had died down as if even it was afraid to go near this evil place. It was so quiet now he could hear the tiny pitter-patter as the flakes of snow hit the ground around him.
“Grah!” Terrance exclaimed as he tripped on one of the drawbridge chains and went face-first into the snow. “Blathering blatherskite,” he muttered to himself as he spat out snow and wiped it off his face while getting back to his feet.
Terrance now saw something within the darkness of the castle: two glowing blue eyes. There was a sound like ice cracking as the eyes came nearer. Into the dim light of the muffled sun appeared what looked like an eight-foot-tall knight in blue armor, with spikes upon his head like a jagged crown. But Terrance could see the armor was not metal, but thick ice, just barely translucent so that he could see the faint outlines of a skeleton beneath it. Peering out the crowned ice helm were the two cold eyes as blue as that stuff you put in toilets to keep them clean with each flush. And those eyes were locked on Terrance. “Who dares come to my abode?” hissed Oramir, the ice demon.
“My name is Terrance Denby, and, well, see you...” Terrance began to realize how awkward this conversation was. “You... um... you came here and froze this area and enslaved everyone and—”
“I go where I please, and I do as I please,” Oramir said. “And no puny mortal man ever dares question me.”
Terrance reminded himself this guy was a grade-A jerk, and there was no reason to be polite about this. “No, you are getting questioned here, bucko. If you think you can...” Terrance paused a moment. “I don’t know why I just said ‘bucko.’ I’ve never used that word before in my life.”
“You are wasting my time, little man,” Oramir declared. Terrance could faintly see the jaw of a skull moving beneath the ice helm when Oramir spoke.
“Do you think this is how I wanted to spend my Saturday?” Terrance rejoined. “It’s been a rough week. The same thing kept breaking on the login page, and I couldn’t figure it out, and it’s just been a headache. So it would have been nice just to relax this weekend and binge some TV with my girlfriend — there’s a lot of shows we’ve been meaning to watch — but I hear about this ice demon terrorizing people. So I say, ‘Someone has to do something.’ Well, guess what, bucko, I am someone and...” Terrance let out a sigh. “Why did I say ‘bucko’ again?”
Oramir stared at Terrance, perhaps confused. “Are you threatening me?”
“Yes! Exactly!” Terrance exclaimed. “Sorry, it’s not something I have a lot of experience at, so I’m just going to cut to the chase.” Terrance patted his sheathed sword. “Now, if you want to flee, you probably run faster in the snow than I do, so I’m not going to bother going after you. But if you do not leave here — if you do not free this land and these people — I’m going to...” Terrance grabbed the hilt of his sword. “...do bad stuff to you with this sword.” He rolled his eyes. “Why am I so terrible at this?”
Oramir again looked down on Terrance as if he couldn’t quite comprehend what was going on. “You think you can defeat me? I see before me one pathetic man with a little sword.”
Terrance stood up as straight as he could — though that still left him more than a head shorter than Oramir. “What I bring is that I know — know — that one way or another, this is your last day here.”
Oramir narrowed his toilet bowl eyes. With one deft move, he snatched the glasses from Terrance’s face. There was a sickening crack as Oramir squeezed them in his fist, and then he dropped the shattered remains to the snow below.
“Oh, come on! Not again!” Terrance shouted. “I meant to take those off before this started — I even brought the case for them.” Terrance drew his sword and waved the point at Oramir’s eyes. “All right. Here’s the... the part with the sword. You’re gonna really... I should just stop talking.”
Oramir raised his hand. Before Terrance understood what was going on, ice had formed around him, holding him in place. The ice crystals rose so high they went around his torso, and he couldn’t move his arms. With a strong kick, Oramir shattered the ice, sending Terrance flying backward. Terrance barely held onto his sword as he landed in the snow past the moat.
“You just totally Sub-Zeroed me,” Terrance said as he struggled to his feet, already feeling quite sore.
“I’m going to freeze you, starting with your insides,” Oramir said as he held his hand aloft. A long spear of ice began to form in it. “Ice will grow in your gut, ripping apart your intestines with icicles.”
“Your threats are hollow,” said Terrance, pointing his sword at Oramir. “You can’t make icicles in someone’s gut like that. Icicles are made by dripping and refreezing.”
“Ice crystals, then,” Oramir shouted, holding up the now completed spear.
“I guess that would work, but—” The sword slipped from Terrance’s hand, his winter gloves now slick with snow. He quickly dropped down to grab it, Oramir’s spear slamming into the ground near his head as he did. Terrance let out a shriek — the exact sort of sound he would not like to have publicly made had he more control over it. Terrance scrambled back to his feet — keeping a tight grip on his sword. He decided to close the distance between him and Oramir, but as he approached the demon, Oramir waved a palm at the ground, and it became slick ice. Terrance slipped and fell, hitting his butt hard on the cold, unforgiving surface.
“Ow! Frick!” Terrance exclaimed, struggling on the ice to stand again. “And that’s another Sub-Zero move — from Mortal Kombat II.”
Ice crystals formed from Oramir’s hand, taking shape now of a sword. “I don’t know of what you speak.”
“Yeah, yeah; play dumb,” said Terrance as he carefully got off the patch of ice.
“Now to cleave your limbs,” said Oramir, wielding an ice sword nearly twice the length of Terrance’s.
“If that means we’re done with the ice powers stuff, that’s cool with me.”
With surprising speed, Oramir closed in on Terrance, swinging his sword. Terrance barely reacted in time to attempt a parry with his sword. His steel blade bounced off of Oramir’s ice sword like it was composed of an even stronger metal.
Terrance thought he saw an opening, though, and sliced at Oramir. Oramir simply raised his arm, and Oramir’s ice armor was as unyielding as his sword. Terrance’s blade rebounded off it so hard he once again lost grip, and his sword flew out of his hands and slid back among the trees.
“Uh oh. Need that,” Terrance yelped as he ran back to grab his sword. He didn’t need to worry for the moment, though, as Oramir just stood there and laughed a stereotypical evil laugh that expressed little mirth.
“You said you were confident you could defeat me,” he said, “but you are not very good at this.”
As Terrance grabbed his sword, he could see movement among the trees behind him. It looked to be the citizens of Goldenleaf who quietly came to watch. Terrance stood to face Oramir again. “If I were good at this, then confidence wouldn’t be much of a trick, would it?”
Oramir raised a hand at Terrance, but Terrance moved just in time to avoid an icy blast that hit a tree behind him instead. Terrance ran at Oramir, but Oramir tried the ground freeze move again. This time Terrance was ready and jumped to the side onto steadier ground and continued his charge. As he reached Oramir, Terrance swung his sword with all his might, but Oramir swung back even harder, knocking Terrance’s sword from his hand and sending it shooting up into the air, spinning like a boomerang. It hit a nearby tree, sticking into it over a dozen feet off the ground.
“Oh, come on!” Terrance exclaimed.
Once again, Oramir just stood there and laughed down at Terrance. “It matters not. Sword or no sword, you can do me no harm. But do you know what I’m going to do to you now?”
“Rip my head off with spine attached because that’s another move you stole from Sub-Zero?”
“That wasn’t the plan,” Oramir said, “but it’s not a bad idea.”
“What do I do? What do I do?” Terrance muttered as he ran from Oramir. He looked over the ground for something to grab. He found a pine cone in the snow and chucked it up at his sword, but he missed by a wide margin, plus it didn’t seem like enough to knock it loose anyway. Oramir just slowly walked toward Terrance, chuckling at the pathetic sight. Terrance went to the tree his sword was stuck in, stood in front of it, and turned to face Oramir. “Well, come at me, Elsa!” he shouted. He then started an off-key rendition of the chorus of “Let It Go.”
“You’re trying to enrage me so I’ll attack you and instead hit the tree so you can retrieve your sword,” Oramir said. “Do you think I’m a fool?”
“Kinda,” Terrance answered. “I didn’t think ice demon was your second choice after astrophysicist.”
“If only you could live long enough to see my plans, then,” said Oramir. “When I have the sapphires I desire, I will spread my influence far beyond this little realm to...”
Terrance wasn’t really listening to him explain his evil schemes as Terrance was too busy trying to figure the next course of action. He spotted out in the open a decent-sized tree branch that looked like it could be a crude weapon. Those never did Link much good, but it still seemed better than nothing.
“...and when they glow with the energy of— Hey!” Oramir exclaimed as Terrance dashed for the tree branch. Terrance almost reached it, but then his feet caught on something, and once again, he plunged face-first into the snow. He had tripped a second time on the drawbridge’s broken chain, but he quickly realized that was an even better weapon than a tree branch. Terrance grabbed it and stood just as Oramir was approaching him. Terrance swung the chain a few times in a circle over his head and then launched it at Oramir’s face.
Oramir stepped to the side and raised his sword arm. The chain wrapped a few times around it, and Oramir yanked it, pulling Terrance to him. Oramir then backhanded Terrance in the head, sending Terrance to the ground. Before Terrance could get back up, Oramir waved his hand over Terrance, and ice crystals formed around him, holding him to the ground. Oramir shattered the ice with a stomp while hitting Terrance in the gut, knocking the wind out of him. Oramir followed with a kick, sending Terrance flying until he landed with a plop in the snow elsewhere.
Terrance was dizzy and so sore he wasn’t sure he could stand again. He heard gasps somewhere amongst the trees from the villagers who were watching but trying to stay hidden. Oramir laughed his sickening villain laugh, the sort that would never be sampled for a sitcom laugh track. “This is pathetic,” he said. “Are you doing this for my amusement? But I am not amused. No, when I am done, and you are but a frozen corpse, the people here must then be punished for letting such insolence approach me.”
There were cries of despair among the villagers in the woods — more despair from people who had not known hope in so long. And Terrance could barely move — and it was not like if he could move, he had any idea how to fight the powerful demon against which he had started this fruitless battle. Once again, Terrance had stumbled into a situation that seemed far over his head — like a gnat fighting a bear — having just wanted to help but only having made things worse while finding himself in certain doom. It all felt... familiar. He had been in this exact situation a few times before. It made him laugh.
Though it took most of the strength he had left, Terrance forced himself back to his feet. “You’re not going to hurt anyone after this. I thought I explained this to you: There is no after this for you. This is the end of the line, bucko.” Terrance shrugged. “I guess that’s my thing now.”
Oramir roared in rage. That made Terrance realize that maybe, in addition to the resolve to stand, he should have devised some sort of plan. He had no idea what Oramir would do next — though it would probably be something else ripped off from Sub-Zero.
And that thought gave Terrance an idea.
Oramir charged at Terrance, and Terrance charged back. Seeing the unarmed Terrance run at him confused Oramir for a moment, a moment which Terrance used to launch into a slide on a patch of ice next to Oramir, sliding past him as Terrance grabbed the chain still danging from Oramir’s arm. Oramir quickly turned around to face Terrance, which put Oramir off balance for a moment. And a moment was all Terrance needed as he got back to his feet, holding on to the chain.
“GET OVER HERE!” Terrance let out in guttural yell as he yanked on the chain as hard as he could. Oramir stumbled toward Terrance, who jumped out of the way before Oramir slammed headfirst into the tree where Terrance’s sword was lodged. The tree shook as if it might topple, and the sword fell loose, striking Oramir on the head and breaking off a piece of his ice crown before landing near Terrance’s feet.
Terrance grabbed his sword and swung it at Oramir who barely was able to weakly meet Terrance’s sword with his own as Oramir struggled back to his feet. “This is what I was saying about confidence,” Terrance said.
Oramir swung wild at Terrance, but Terrance ducked under and struck at his legs, tripping Oramir and sending him back to the ground.
“You had power and bluster, but as soon as things start to go wrong for you, here you are flailing about.”
Oramir got back to his knees and raised a palm toward Terrance, but Terrance struck the hand with his sword, sending the icy blast downward, freezing Oramir sword arm to the ground.
“But me, no matter how badly things go, I still know the truth.”
Arm still stuck, Oramir roared, grabbed the sword with his other arm, and swung it at Terrance, but Terrance deflected it easily.
“No matter how overwhelming the dark, the smallest light will always pierce it.”
Oramir struck the ice around his arm, shattering it. He then charged at Terrance, but Terrance deftly slid out of the way and slapped Oramir with the broadside of this sword.
“Because darkness is nothing. And that’s what you are. Nothing.”
Oramir prepared to charge again, but now Terrance pressed into him, knocking aside his defense.
“And you know the truth as well, and that is why you panic now.”
Terrance landed a blow to Oramir’s head, shattering off another piece of his crown.
“No matter how much power you displayed, deep down in your evil heart, you always knew one day this was coming.”
Oramir tried to overpower Terrance with a series of powerful swings, but Terrance dodged each of them and countered once again, hacking off a piece of Oramir’s ice crown.
“Well, your destruction is here. And his name is Terrance Denby.”
Oramir jumped back, putting distance between him and Terrance. When Terrance charged, Oramir froze the ground between them, but Terrance simply slid on the ice toward Oramir, clashing swords with him again.
“And when you are in the abyss where all evil things go, I want you always to remember the face of your conqueror. But remember it with the glasses that are supposed to be there!”
Terrance swung back for a mighty blow but lost his grip, the sword flying into the snow.
“And I dropped my sword again.”
Terrance dived for his sword as Oramir roared so loud it shook the trees. He reared back with his giant ice sword and came at Terrance with all his strength as Terrance got his hand around the hilt of his sword. Just in time, Terrance turned, rose to his feet, and swung up against Oramir. His blade shattered Oramir’s and continued up into Oramir’s neck. The ice demon’s head fell to one side as the giant body collapsed into the snow on the other.
Terrance stared quietly at the decapitated Oramir for a couple of seconds and finally let out a big sigh of relief. “Oh, good. That’s over.”
Terrance could see the villagers begin to emerge from behind the trees surrounding him, all staring at the fallen Oramir with disbelief. He heard one person slow clapping and turned to see a figure in a white cloak approaching him, hood drawn over her dark hair. It was his girlfriend, Talia.
“I thought the whole point was me to do a quest like this on my own,” Terrance said to her as he returned his sword to its sheath.
“And you did,” she answered. “I came to watch just in case intervention was needed.”
“And none of what you saw looked like it needed intervention? Like when he froze me and stomped on me?”
Talia shrugged. “I know your style. That was normal for you.”
Terrance chuckled. “Did you see when I yanked him with the chain and yelled, ‘Get over here!’? I was thinking, ‘How do you handle Sub-Zero?’ and suddenly Scorpion came to mind.”
Talia raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Mortal Kombat. You, know. The video game.”
“You know I don’t play video games.”
“It was movies, too.”
Talia shrugged again.
“Well, if you knew anything about it,” Terrance said, “that was a really cool thing I did.”
“I’ll just have to trust you on that because that part seemed weird to me.” She smiled at him. “But other than that, you were quite impressive. You did not relent. You had this.”
Terrance smiled. “I did have it, didn’t I?” He leaned in to kiss Talia.
She shoved him back. “What are you doing? We’re in public!” Talia motioned to the villagers. “Are you trying to make a pornography?”
“Sorry. Sorry.” Terrance looked again at the villagers. There will still no smiles yet, just shock as they concentrated on what was left of Oramir and ignored Terrance and Talia. “The demon is gone,” Terrance announced to them. “Your land is free. And remember: If evil ever comes again, there are warriors of light who—” Terrance accidentally stepped on a patch of ice Oramir had made earlier and slipped and fell right on his butt. “Ow! Frick! It’s still sore from the last time that happened!”
Along with his posterior hurting, Terrance noticed it was starting to get warmer. He looked up and had to shield his eyes. The clouds had finally begun to part, and the sun shined down from a blue sky. There were drips of water as the snow in the trees started to melt. Melting fastest of all was the body of Oramir, which acted as if it were an ice cube on a hot skillet. As Talia helped Terrance back up, he finally saw a few villagers smile as warmth and light returned to the land. “It’s really over,” uttered one woman.
“It is,” Terrance assured them.
“What can we ever do to repay you?” one man asked.
“Just be ready to fight next time,” Terrance said. “The one thing you can’t do with evil is let it go unchallenged.”
“He just seemed so powerful,” said another villager.
“They always seem that way,” Terrance answered. He looked back to where the body of Oramir had been, but all the ice armor had fully melted away. And despite it having looked like there was a skeleton under the armor, all that was left was a puddle of water.
Terrance gave another nod and smile to the villagers before walking off with Talia. He hoped there was still enough time in the day to binge some shows.
“If you ever want another mead,” the bartender called to him, “you can come any time.”
“Thank you,” Terrance responded. When he was a little further away into the forest, he turned to Talia and whispered. “I didn’t care for the mead. It was weird.”
Already, all the snow had melted on the ground. The wind was now warm, and Terrance had to unzip his coat. It felt good, but he was again aware of the aches throughout his body from his beating. “Does this ever get easier?”
“Oh no. It only ever gets harder,” Talia said. “And that’s why you must always get tougher.”
Terrance sighed a little and touched his bare face. “You think LensCrafters is still open, right?”