(Part Two of “Weapons Quest”)

Diane Gardner woke up slightly confused. Where was she? This didn’t feel like her bed! As sleep fled from her brain and her eyes focused on the gauzy bed curtains and the mountain of silk pillows that she lay on, she recognized the bedroom of Golden Goddess’ private sanctum. She quickly remembered her situation. She had taken some of her vacation time and left the earth behind so that she could continue her quest to retrieve her stolen weapons. She had already reclaimed the Chariot of Air and freed Queen Atma and her land from the rule of Tornakain, the Chaos Demon of the air. After a day of celebration, she had returned her to her sanctum so that she could rest before resuming her mission. She hopped out of bed, and pulled on a pair of slippers before grabbing a bite to eat and then proceeding to the room holding the elemental doorways.

Diane studied the three remaining doorways. There was little doubt in her mind where she would go next. Retrieving the Chariot had been a necessity. Now it was time for some fun. Her favorite of the four weapons had always been the Sword of Fire. It was time for her to journey to the land of Queen Pyria.

“I invoke the Golden Goddess,” she said as she touched her belt buckle. The familiar warmth and light enveloped her, and Diane Gardner disappeared, replaced by the blonde heroine. Golden Goddess touched the red doorway and summoned the Doorway of the Void. It worked in conjunction with the magic of the castle to open a gateway directly to the elemental land of Fire. Golden Goddess stepped through and summoned the Chariot of Air, so that she could observe the area from above the get the lay of the land.

The land of Fire was starkly beautiful. In earthy terms, it resembled a vast desert, but one of sands that were different shades. When the winds blew the sands across the dunes, they created a soft musical sound. There were lava-like fire lakes in some spots, and vast oases where most of the inhabitants, the Efreet, lived. It was not the kind of place Diane Gardner, or any sane person, would want to vacation, but it was stunning. Most impressive of all was the huge black castle, composed of lava-rock, which sat atop a dormant volcano. This was the home of Queen Pyria, and it was Golden Goddess’ destination. She summoned the Chariot of Air and took to the skies.

Before too long, Golden Goddess spied one of the oases below and landed in the center of the square. People began to scatter as soon as they saw her, as if her very appearance frightened them.

“Wait,” the heavenly heroine cried out. “Come back, I need to talk to you!”

After a few moments, one large Efreeti man slowly stepped out, brandishing a heavy club. He studied her carefully before he began to inch forward. “You’re not Tornakain,” he said. “Who are you?”

“I’m Golden Goddess,” she replied.

“Golden Goddess!” the man exclaimed. “It’s the Golden Goddess!” People began to pour out of the building, rushing towards the heroine, jabbering excitedly. She felt a bit like Dorothy as the munchkins came at her, and half-expected the man to ask if she was a good witch, or a bad witch. Instead, he asked a more important question. “Are you here to free Pyria?”

“Yes,” Golden Goddess said. “What happened to her? Can you tell me?”

The man motioned to one of the buildings. “Come inside, so we can talk.”

Soon, Golden Goddess was sitting with the man, Laran. He offered her some spicy stew and iced ginger tea, which she accepted as they talked.

“It was a few days ago,” he began. “I was on of the guards with Queen Pyria on her monthly tour of the kingdom. We had just passed the Coal Forest, when we were suddenly set upon by hoards of Salamanders, lead by the cursed Infernac. We were outnumbered, taken by surprise, and totally unprepared for any attack. Most of the guards were killed, and Pyria was taken prisoner. The people of this village found me near death, and nursed me back to health. I’ve been trying to rally the people to join me in an assault on the castle to free our queen, but they’ve been afraid. But, with you here, I’m sure we can succeed! Will you join me?”

Golden Goddess reached out with her mind and used her sense of empathy to view Laran’s body before shaking her head. “I appreciate the offer, but you’re still to injured to lean an assault. Perhaps, however, you can tell me what I need to know to save Pyria.”

Laran argued the point, but eventually caved in with the understanding that he would continue to work on the people of the village, as a back up plan should Golden Goddess fail. He described the castle and it’s secrets in detail, as well as how it could best be fortified. The war council lasted late into the evening.

“One last thing,” Golden Goddess said. “When I arrived, you thought I was Tornakain. Is he here?”

“He was,” Laran replied. “He left not long ago, but when we saw a human in the sky, we assumed you were him, come back to help squash any rebellion.”

Golden Goddess sighed. “I took Tornakain by surprise, but he must be warning the other chaos demons about my presence. That will make things more difficult, but so be it. With each weapon I regain, I become more powerful.”

* * *

Golden Goddess got an early start the next morning, using the Chariot of Air to cover ground quickly, but flying low, as close to the ground as she could. She wanted to maintain whatever sense of surprise that she could; Infernac may have known she was coming, but he had no idea when. Golden Goddess knew that he couldn’t remain on full alert ALL the time, so she hoped to be able to sneak under his notice so that she could use the secret entrance to the castle that Laran had told her about. Travelling in this way wasn’t as fast as a full flight, but it was much smarter and safer, she reasoned. It would have been nice to use the Doorway to just appear in the castle, but it had been magically sealed to prevent anyone from teleporting in that way, without the proper knowledge.

As the sun grew high in the sky, Golden Goddess felt the land of Fire begin to live up to it’s name. Even with the breeze on her skin as she flew through the air, the sweat began to evaporate instantly from her flesh. She needed to stop for a drink, and was happy to notice an oasis ahead. Not only was she glad for the chance to rest, but Laran had told her of this place; it meant that the castle was not far at all. She guided the Chariot in for a landing.

The Chariot touched the ground next to a pool of crystal clear water and vanished as Golden Goddess stepped off and knelt to sip some of the cool water. It was refreshing, having an almost sweet taste on her tongue. She stood up and turned towards one of the fruit trees to get something to eat. At that moment, however, a half-dozen creatures burst from the underbrush and set upon the attractive avatar! They had firey red skin of a leathery, reptilian texture; faceted insect-like eyes and long thick tails that hung down to their ankles. While she had never seen them in person, she recognized the Salamanders from the description she had heard over the years.

Salamanders are fierce creatures of destruction, and this particular band was well armed. As she fought valiantly against her attackers, Golden Goddess couldn’t help but remember that these were the same creatures that had defeated the well-trained troops of Queen Pyria. Two of the beasts fell to her powers; one of them falling into the pool of water, effectively ending its’ threat. As Golden Goddess kicked another in the gut, she felt a heavy blow to the back of her head and sank to her knees, dazed. She tried to raise herself up, but a second blow knocked her into unconsciousness.

* * *

Golden Goddess woke up to find herself tied spread-eagle to four stakes that had been driven deeply into the ground. She didn’t know how long she had been out or how far they had travelled, but she was no longer in the oasis; but on the floor of the desert itself. Salamanders were pulling some items from a small cave in the rocks and screwing the various pieces together. The heavenly heroine’s limbs had been pulled to their limit, stretched so that she had no slack at all with which to work. A heavy leather gag over the lower portion of her face prevented her from summoning either the Chariot or the Doorway. She could only watch helplessly as the Salamanders went about their work, erecting what seemed to be a giant magnifying glass!

When the work was almost finished, one of the Salamanders, who seemed to be the leader, looked over at Golden Goddess and saw that she was awake. He grinned and walked over to her, pulling a deep red ruby from his belt pouch as he did. He rubbed the gem and a small magic fire rose from it. The flame parted like a curtain, to reveal the image of Infernac!

The Chaos Demon of fire was as ugly as his brother. He had reddish skin, slightly lighter than the Salamanders’, and hair that swept upwards on his head like a flame. This motif was carried through with his eyebrows, and even the ends of his moustache and beard, which also turned up at the ends. His eyes had no whites; they were coal black pits which seemed incapable of pity. When he opened his mouth to speak, Golden Goddess could see that he had jagged teeth and a forked tongue, like a snake. He smiled evilly as he greeted the captive.

“Hello, Golden Goddess,” he said with a gleeful hiss. “I’m SO happy you chose to visit me next! Of course, we had no way of knowing which of the remaining three lands you’d visit next, but I had a feeling that you’d be coming after this!” He held up the glistening red blade of the Sword of Fire. “After all, the best defense is usually a good offense, so this weapon should be VERY handy, I would think!”

Golden Goddess “mmmphed” loudly through her gag at the demon’s image. Infernac raised his hand in a dismissive gesture. “Yes, yes, I’m sure I can anticipate your questions. Queen Pyria is alive, although I suspect that she’d rather not be. Tournakain has gone on to our brothers to tell them of your interference. Our plan, quite simply, is to kill you and then use our own forces to retake the realm of Air. My brother can be a bit…rash, so I can see how you’d easily defeat him. However, the rest of us are QUITE another matter. This has taught us a lesson, however. After we reclaim all four realms, we may want to rethink the idea of letting the so-called ‘queens’ live. After all, without them or you to oppose us we are destined to rule!”

The heroine struggled against her bonds and complained as vociferously as her gag would allow. Infernac smiled. “Oh, yes, your fate. Well, I’m sure that should be obvious to you; you are an intelligent woman, after all. The desert sun can be quite unforgiving to someone foolish or unfortunate enough to lay under it for too long. When focussed through this crystal, however, it can be even more deadly! If my minions have performed their task properly, and they’d know better than to fail me, the sun should be focussed through the lens at you in about 30 of your minutes! Don’t worry about how pale you are now, my dear, for THIS will put some color in your skin!” Infernac laughed evilly as his image faded. The salamanders finished their tasks and then turned to leave. The leader of the group looked over at her sadly. Salamanders, she knew, weren’t evil. They were however, helpless to disobey the order of whoever held the Ruby Scepter. Somehow, Infernac must have acquired it.

Golden Goddess strained with all of her considerable strength on the pegs that held her to the sand. They were made of some otherworldly metal that resisted her efforts. She had no idea how deep they were, but felt that they had to be at least three feet into the sand! It seemed hopeless, but she couldn’t give up. She tugged harder.

* * *

Infernac stormed down the castle steps to the dungeon. From the belt of his armor, he pulled of a large ring of keys as he approached a door that was guarded by two Salamanders. They glared hatefully at the demon, but the Ruby Scepter hung from his belt, right next to the Sword of Fire. They knew that they couldn’t escape his command. At least, not yet…

The lord of chaos unlocked the three locks that secured the heavy iron door, and nodded for the two guards to help him. This door, which was the most secure in the kingdom, was so heavy that it took all three of them to open it. Infernac stepped through by himself and walked to the center of the cell, and the “refinement” he had added himself. It was a pit, about seven feet deep, lined with a hard fused stone. From the center of the pit, a post rose to the level of the floor. Queen Pyria was in that pit, lashed firmly to the pole. The pit was filled with water that rose to the Fire Queen’s chin, but only because she had her head held high. If she let her head down, she would drown. Given her present situation, she had considered allowing that to happen.

Pyria, like all the Elemental Queens, was beautiful. She wore royal robes of red that matched her hair, which was a mass of copper and scarlet falling to the small of her back. Her lips, which were visible around the heavy black ball-gag that filled her mouth, were a brilliant red and were framed by high cheekbones. Her emerald eyes had tears of frustration in their corners as she glared at her captor. Her wrists were lashed to rings on the sides of the pole, and her ankles were bound together. Thin but strong chain encircled her body at chest, waist, thighs and ankles, securing her to the pole.

“I just wanted to let you know,” Infernac gloated, “that you can give up any hope of rescue. Soon, very soon, your precious Golden Goddess will be little more than a lump of charcoal in the desert! My brothers are right now planning a campaign to retake the Realm of Air. And I’ve decided to have you killed, my sweet, as soon as I can decide on an appropriate fate. I was hoping to break that will of yours, and make you my consort. But, it’s just not worth the risk!”

Pyria groaned. Her own fate was bad enough, but she shuddered to think of what would happen to her sisters and her subjects once she had been eliminated by this monster. During her rule, she had faced many trials, but this looked like one that she could not overcome.

* * *

Soaked with sweat, Golden Goddess allowed her head to drop back into the sand. Her impressive bosom heaved as she tried to catch her breath through her nose. The leather gag made breathing through her mouth impossible, and her exertions while trying to free herself had worn her out. The sun had dried her skin until she felt as if she would turn to dust any second. Even her eyes felt dry, and the packing that was held her mouth felt like sand. Of course, that was nothing compared to how she would feel when the focused beam passing through the magnifying glass reached her. Judging by the way that it had moved so far, she guessed that she had, at best, five minutes before she was scorched like the sands that had turned to glass where the beam struck. The sexy siren inhaled another lung-full of hot, dry desert air and renewed her efforts to free herself.

Diane’s studies in mysticism had convinced Golden Goddess that intention was the most important thing to someone working with magic. With that in mind, combined with her conviction that the spikes holding her bonds were far too secure, she had given up the generic idea of being free. Instead, she had spent most of the time she’d had focussed on a simpler goal: to free her right arm. Once she had one hand loose, her options were numerous. She could free her other limbs, remove the gag and summon one of her weapons or throw something to smash the magnifier. Her bright blue eyes narrowed as she stared at the stake. She willed the rest of her body to stay limp, to conserve energy, as she poured every ounce of her power into yanking that right-hand stake from the ground. So far, she had managed to pull about a foot and half of it free of the sand. Half of the stake was free, and most of her time was up. She didn’t dare stop, but she didn’t see how she could escape in time.

There was a sudden burning in Golden Goddess’ side as the edge of the focussed sunbeam touched her. She squealed in surprised pain as she winced her body over slightly, free of the beam. Was her time really up? It didn’t seem possible that a half-hour had passed so quickly! But the beam was now just millimeters from her flesh, and slowly moving towards her. It seemed as if Infernac had won…

Suddenly, the giant magnifying glass shattered, and the beam disappeared. Golden Goddess wondered what had happened. Had the intense heat been too much for the glass? She turned her head as much as her position allowed, looking for an answer. She found it above her, standing on a sand dune.

Laran strode forward, the sling still swinging from his hand as he pulled a long knife from a sheath on his hip. He knelt and began to saw at the heroine’s bonds with the razor-sharp blade. “I was a simple farm boy before making it into the Queen’s Guard,” he said matter-of-factly. “The sling may not be one of the more noble weapons, but I became quite skilled with one as a boy.”

“Thank God it’s effective,” Golden Goddess said as she pulled the gag from her mouth. “But what are you doing here?”

Laran looked sheepish. “I’m sorry for disobeying you,” he said. “Your exploits are legendary, as is your friendship with her majesty. But the Queen’s safety is my primary concern and responsibility. It was only through her interceding on my behalf that a simple farm boy could become one of the elite Guard. I can’t abandon her. I want to prove to her that her faith in me was not misplaced.” As he spoke, he finished cutting the heroine free, and offered her the water jug that hung from his belt.

Golden Goddess sipped the water greedily. When she had finally satiated her thirst, she smiled at him. “In other words, you were too stubborn to stay behind. I’m glad. I think I can use your help.” She chuckled at Laran’s look of surprise. “I think my exploits have been blown out of proportion,” she said, “and I’m outside my element here. Your lands are very different from my own. A guide might be a good idea after all.”

Laran thanked the heroine and refilled the water jug at the oasis before they started towards the castle. While Golden Goddess was glad to be free and safe, she couldn’t forget for a moment that Pyria was still in the clutches of the evil chaos demon.

* * *

The secret passage started in a small fissure in one of the many rock formations outside the castle and led under the magma moat into the palace grounds. Golden Goddess and Laran moved silently down the passage, bypassing the offshoots leading to the stables, the training grounds and the barracks. They wanted to get right into the castle itself before being discovered. Their plan was for Golden Goddess to fight Infernac, while Laran found and freed Pyria. The guardsman was less than thrilled about not being able to engage the demon himself, and avenge his fallen comrades, but he knew that his Queen had to be his first concern. He just hoped that Golden Goddess would save some of the demon for him. His reverie was cut short when he recognized the doorway before him.

“This is it,” he said. “This leads into a secret panel in the throne room. It’s hidden behind some drapes, but we have no way of knowing how many people are in the throne room. However, it is our best bet for now. If it’s not safe, there are other places throughout the palace where we can go, but this is the most centrally located.”

Golden Goddess nodded her understanding as she watched Laran open the door. He was strong and determined. She felt confident that he would be able to free Queen Pyria, which would make her job easier. That meant that all she had to do was concentrate on stopping Infernac. He had the Salamanders on his side, and the Sword of Fire, which he shouldn’t be able to use. She had the element of surprise, and the Chariot. It would be a difficult battle, but one she planned to win. The future of the Elemental Kingdoms and the Earth depended on her stopping these fiends.

The throne room proved to be empty, which surprised both of the rescuers. After a quick conference, they decided to stick as close to the plan as they could. Laran would go to the dungeons, which had to be were the Queen was being held. Golden Goddess had expected to find Infernac here, but now she would go to the royal chambers. Someone with his ego would not settle for anything less. The duo wished each other luck and went their separate ways.

Golden Goddess moved quickly through the hallways, avoiding Salamanders whenever she saw them. She had no doubt that she could defend herself against them, but knew that they were being forced to obey Infernac against their will. Besides, combat would be a distraction at this point. And the last thing she wasted was to be distracted from her mission. She was nearing the doorway to the royal chambers when she felt something strike her from behind. She rolled to her feet to see a sooty, black being standing there, no light of comprehension in its eyes. She cursed under her breath. She thought that it was a large statue that she was passing, but it was a golem of charcoal. She didn’t want to destroy the golem, but couldn’t allow it to stop her. Perhaps, she thought, she could knock it down and get away from it before it recovered; golems weren’t known for their speed.

“Chariot of A…” she said before she was grabbed from behind. A second golem, hidden in a small alcove, had grabbed her, pinning her arms, lifting her feet from the floor and squeezing the breath from her lungs. Golden Goddess fought back, but was unprepared for the attack of the two inhuman monstrosities. She thought, wryly, that she couldn’t wait to return to earth and battle normal supervillains again. Then, deprived of oxygen, she passed out.

* * *

Laran moved quickly through the dungeon. He was sure that the queen had to be in the secure cell at the lowest level. It was normally used for securing magical creatures that would easily break out of a normal cell, until they could be returned to their proper environments. It was the most secure room in the palace, and was also the most desolate. It was the only place someone like Infernac would keep the Queen. He was surprised and disappointed, therefore, when he found the cell empty. It held a deep pit, filled with water, and chains. He was sure that Queen HAD been here, but now she was gone.

“Where could that demon have taken her?” Laran muttered.

* * *

Golden Goddess awoke to find herself in what had to be the most bizarre predicament of her long career. She was secured to a board by straps at her ankles, calves, thighs, wrists, forearms and chest. A ball was held in her mouth by another strap that went around the board. What was strange was that she was wrapped from her feet to her waist in strips of meat! She looked around her wildly, and saw Queen Pyria to her left, in exactly the same predicament. Salamanders were carrying more strips of meat to place on the captive women. Infernac strode into the room, screaming for the Salamanders to hurry. He noticed then that his prisoners were awake.

“Hello, Golden Goddess,” he said. “It’s such a pleasure to get to finish you off in person. I’d allow the queen to explain your predicament, but I’m not sure you could understand her right now! Did you know that Queen Pyria has a rather amusing little pet? It’s a dragon from the North Country. It’s a well-trained beast that normally wouldn’t harm a person. However, I’m afraid I haven’t been feeding the creature over the last few days. He’s rather hungry, and when the meat should mask your scents quite well. I’m sure the dragon won’t even know who it’s eaten, until you’re in your lower intestines!”

Moments later, Golden Goddess and Queen Pyria were carried to a huge pen and left while a large grate rose. A twenty-foot-long lizard with horns atop its head strode forward, sniffing the air. Golden Goddess struggled and squirmed, but the bonds around her body were tight! The strap over her mouth, however, might be a different story… The juices from the meat had made her face slippery. She whipped her face around, trying desperately trying to dislodge the strap as she watched the dragon slowly advance towards the bundle that held the captive Pyria. At the same time, she strained every muscle against the board at her back. If she could snap the flimsy wood, she would be able to slip free of her bonds. She could feel the wood cracking, but it would take time…time Pyria didn’t have! She had one trump left to play, but in order to use it she had to be able to speak.

Finally, just as the dragon leaned towards the queen, the gag slipped free! Golden Goddess spit out the ball from her mouth and practically hollered, “Chariot of Air!” The roman-style Chariot swirled into existence and shot forward, knocking the dragon away from Queen Pyria. The Chariot swooped around towards Golden Goddess. As it swooped by, the heroine rolled over and allowed the Chariot to slam into the back of the board as she yanked with all her might. The board snapped in half, allowing her to slip free and leap atop her magic transport. In one motion, she looped around to grab Queen Pyria and free her. Now it was time to free the rest of the land from Infernac!

Infernac, watching from a balcony, screamed in rage as the Chariot rose towards him, with Golden Goddess tearing the bonds form Pyria’s body. When the Chariot drew even with the balcony, the heroine leapt at the demon. He drew the Sword of Fire from his belt and brandished it in front of him. “I may not be able to summon the power of the Sword,” he snarled, “but it is still a formidable weapon! I can spear you feed the dragon your carcass!”

The heroine merely glared at the creature as she ducked, allowing the Chariot to fly over her head at Infernac. The monster, seeing what she had in mind, turned and ran, dodging through the door before his head was crushed by the oncoming mass of the Chariot. “I can still outnumber you,” he cried as he raced down the corridor. “All I have to do is summon my Salamander troops!”

Golden Goddess allowed the Chariot to vanish as she followed him. Queen Pyria was close on her heels, vowing vengeance on the Chaos demon. The chase wound throughout the palace, towards the main chamber. Finally, Golden Goddess and Pyria burst into the chamber, to see Infernac standing in the center of the room. He was brandishing the Sword in his right hand and the Scepter in his left. A horde of Salamanders surrounded him, prepared to do battle with the two women. Golden Goddess dropped into a fighting crouch.

“Golden Goddess, no,” Pyria said. “The Salamanders aren’t evil; they just have no choice while Infernac holds the Scepter!”

“Then let’s remove it, shall we?” a voice cried. A stone smashed into Infernac’s hand, knocking the Scepter from his grasp. Everyone in the room turned to see Laran standing in the back of the room, holding his sling in his hand. Behind him stood the rest of the Queen’s guard, who Laran had freed from the dungeon. The moment seemed to last for an eternity, during which nobody moved.

Golden Goddess snapped into action, diving into a forward roll. Her hand closed on the Scepter as she passed it. In one movement, she tossed it behind her to the Queen’s waiting hand. As she sprang to her feet, she knocked the Sword of Fire from Infernac’s hand and snatched it from the air. The blade sprang to life in her hand, the fire dancing along its length. The Salamanders turned toward the evil creature that had held them captive for so long and hissed as they moved forward, prepared to attack.

“Damn you, Golden Goddess,” Infernac growled. “Damn you to hell! You may have beaten me for now, but my brothers and I won’t be so easily defeated! You will pay for this.”

As he said this, flames sprang from his eyes and surrounded the creature. Golden Goddess and her allies lunged at the beast, but the fire flickered out. When it was gone, Infernac had vanished.

“So you think he has gone on to another realm?” Pyria asked. The queen was back on her throne, bedecked in royal robes. Laran stood at the side and behind the throne, clad in a fancy new uniform. When she had heard of his devotion and determination to save her, Pyria had promoted him to her captain of the guard and personal protector.

“That would be my guess,” Golden Goddess said. “That’s what Tournakain did when he was defeated in the Realm of Air. I suspect that they’ll try to regroup and take the Realms of Air and Fire by force, using the forces of the other two Realms. I’ll have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Now that I have the Sword, reclaiming the other weapons should be easier. My next stop will be the Realm of Earth for the Shield. These Chaos demons can only run so far. Eventually, they’ll have to face me.”

“What can we do to help?” Laran asked.

“Contact Atma and arrange for your two kingdoms to watch each others backs. Keep your troops in readiness in case I need help.”

“Is there nothing more?” Pyria asked. “I don’t like the idea of sending you after those monsters alone!”

Golden Goddess shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m afraid an attack force may be the key for the destruction of your sisters. We’ll be better off if I go alone. But I plan to make sure that justice triumphs. And then we can lock the demons back in their prison!”

The heroine wished that she felt half as confident as she sounded. She had almost perished while battling two of the demons one-on-one, and now they would be ready for her and possibly teamed up. It was a challenge she wasn’t looking forward to