Diablo II: The Epic Behind the Game
Disclaimer: I do not own Diablo II, I, or anything else that blizzard created. In fact, some of my dialog comes directly from the game, for accuracy purposes only. The Characters however are of my own design, directly from my chars on light of several reviews, and the fact that I now have more free time, I just want to announce to everybody who used to love me before I disappeared that I, Robin Shirewood, am back… and I have a fancy new title to add to my name… Lieutenant Robin Shirewood of the United States Air Force.
Hey… what can I say, I was tired of working in small town America…so I moved up. And now that I am though basic training and my commission as an officer is complete, I have time to sit back and do the things I love: Play games (both video and Table top) and write to gain the love of everybody who now hates me for disappearing.
STAND BY FOR ACTION!
Now, for your pleasure, I present the conclusion of the first Act of Diablo II: The Epic Behind the Game.
Warning: Violent/Mature content within this chapter. Reader discretion is advised. In fact...due to some of the more...gory parts of this fic (and chapters to come) I am raising the rating of Epic to the R movie standard just so that can't come in and say that I am advertising it as being too low.
Former Rogue Monastery
The small black fallen, one of the elite of his kind that called himself a Dark One, swerved it's head back and forth as it patrolled the halls of the Barracks. Many of the army had been called out when the Commander Tyrant had sounded the alarm. But he, like so many other unlucky brethren, was ordered to keep to their watch duties.
The walls and floors were still caked in long dried, pungent blood from the first battle; the bodies had long been taken away as either trophies, playthings, or snacks by the occupying demons. But, at least the remaining blood covered up the foul architecture of this crude mortal fort and gave it a comforting feel of home.
Now if only there was something within the Maiden's Fortress to watch.
The Maiden of Anguish had been uncharacteristically jumpy lately. According to rumor, the Goddess Andariel had already sent a large portion of her standing forces out into the wilderness to patrol and find the huw-women in their hiding places, then dispose of the minor threat.
Some of his brothers, though none would admit it unless under torture, were beginning to suspect that the Demon Queen was afraid of something. But, saying such things were the equivalent to impaling one's self, since that was the punishment for blasphemy.
No, the Demon Queen feared nothing except the Greater Evils. And perhaps it was the thought of failing Terror and losing her newly regained favor with the Lord of Hell, that put her on edge.
The Dark One shook his head.
All this thinking hurt his brain.
Satisfied that nothing would dare intrude this far into the Fortress without being eaten by the Abominations that the Demon Queen had put at the gate's defense, the Dark One turned around and was about to run back to his tribe's shaman to tell him that there was no change.
Then, there was a flash of movement as the Fallen one suddenly found that his eyes were falling away from each other.
Without ever knowing what had happened, the smaller demon's head was neatly cloven in two and crumpled to the floor, and splattering of brain matter and blackish red blood painted the dry blood on the walls.
"By the Ancients…" Tozam uttered as he mopped up the gray matter on his Blood Letter sword and looked down at the black Fallen's body. "I didn't think the beast's head would explode."
"Nice going 'Muscles', now there's a pool of fresh blood to for our enemies to find" Kassyera berated the Barbarian, her voice little more than a whisper. "You might as well have written ' Humans went this way' on the wall!"
"Enough!" Preen interjected firmly. Perhaps putting the Barbarian at point as they dove deeper into the Rogue's Barracks was not such a great idea. Natalie and Cathim had hoped that the warrior's larger size, Kassyera's stealthy movements, and Preen's skill in Melee would give them a chance to survive while the two magic users and druid in the middle of the party came up behind him and use their spells to clean up anything out of reach. That way, no matter how they were attacked, the magic users would have a chance to strike before they could be overwhelmed.
At the end of the small train was Elric, who was still unarmed, and Raid, who had volunteered to watch the rear and make sure that they were not attacked from behind.
"I was just trying to jar it, I thought it would be a tougher target." Tozam complained, quickly heaving the body up and throwing it to the side behind a shattered barricade left behind from the Andariel's first siege
"How could you jar it with the sharp edge of your sword?" Cathim shook his head and rubbed the bridge of his nose, trying to quell the headache that he had been suffering since first meeting the barbarian.
"It doesn't matter." Kassyera put a stop to the argument quickly. "Let's move on, the way down into the Jail should be though this passage and to the right."
Kassyera, who had spent her time finding information on the structure of the Monastery itself, was the most qualified to guild them though the twisting, blood encrusted hallways.
"We shouldn't be staying together like this." Elric again stated his own opinion on the group that had been winding though the halls of the Barracks for the last quarter of an hour. "We need to split up. That way, we aren't all in the same place and it will be more difficult to trap us. We haven't been seen by anything smart or fast enough to raise an alarm yet, but that kind of luck isn't going to keep."
"Elric… You just want to go off on your own again." Natalie stated, her eyes darting around as adrenaline pumped though her body. Unlike Tozam and Preen, who had been raised and trained to control the excitement that came with battle-high, Natalie felt that she might not be able to manage this level of stress for very long without exhausting herself.
"Don't think I haven't realized that every time there is trouble of some sort, you end up disappearing."
"Only because I have to." Elric said smoothly, trying to inject a tone of innocence in his voice and failing miserably.
"I think not, little brother." The sorceress turned to the half-demon while the group paused for the moment of respite. "If we are together, we will have a better chance of beating whatever we come to face in this dungeon. Splitting up would be suicide."
"For you maybe…" Elric mumbled under his breath. He was beginning to take a dislike to this whole 'Group' experience.
Sure, they were all skilled at what they did, but they were slowing him down.
"I don't know, Natalie…" Tozam's voice came as a surprise to everyone. " Such tight quarters…. It will be difficult to hold the passageways off against any sort of attack. Every turn could lead to an ambush and with every step, we could be moving closer to a hoard not unlike the one that we faced at Tristram."
"We were lucky to escape that time." Durom added in a solid, down to earth tone. "Split up… put together… either way we would all die."
"Well, aren't you just a little ray of sunshine." Raid shook her head, straining her ears for any sound that might resemble that of an enclosing demon warrior.
"We're lingering for too long…" Elric started softly; trying to get the others attention before their conversation could erupt into a full-scale argument.
"This sort of blind intrusion is doomed from the beginning…" The druid continued. "It is ill planned, ill conceived…"
"Keep talking like that and you're gonna make ME ill. In case you haven't noticed, this is the only chance that we have!" Raid started back, her voice rising slightly.
"Guysss…" Elric hissed lightly.
Did these morons forget where they were? What they were trying to do?
His demonic side flared up for a moment, angry that the Druid and Amazon could be spoiling their plans.
"Nobody MADE you come along, Druid!"
"Actually, 'Amazon', they did. I had and still have no reason to be here. And had Elder Cain not been so insistent…"
"BOTH OF YOU! SHUT IT! "
The moment the half-demon had spoken out, he realized that it was far too loudly.
All eyes turned to Elric, whose rash, almost animalistic voice echoed down the halls and into the distance.
"Smooth halfie." Preen said flatly, "Real smooth."
Elric was about to reply when he heard the sudden pounding of many small, clawed feet against stone.
"Oh….hell…" Elric shuttered at the realization that the footsteps came from both in front of and behind them. "We have company!"
Puke-Rag, shaman Chief of the Black Bladed Clan, the elite of the Dark Ones, could not believe his luck as he ran down the blood stained corridor, his smaller minions dashing before him.
The great Mistress had suspected that there might have been a more to the mortal women's attack than brash human foolishness. But to think that a group of them had actually managed to find their way into the barracks was beyond anything that the shaman could have imagined…
Or hoped for.
Now, it would be he… 'Puke-Rag The Witless'…He without mercy or tolerance….'HE' would bring the heads of these stupid humans to the Mistress. And she would be pleased with him.
What power might he gain from the increased favor of the Maiden of Anguish? Perhaps she would come to realize that which the other lords of Hell failed to see. That the Fallen, most specifically his own kind- 'the Dark One's' were far more than mere cannon fodder. That they were…in large numbers…the superior to all but the Lords of Hell and their generals.
And then, Puke-Rag would take his rightful place at the right hand of his great and powerful queen.
Yes, that is what would come when he presented the heads of these upstarts to his master.
Coming out of his daydream, Puke-Rag turned the corner, listening to the sounds of glorious battle. Metal upon metal, as weapons clashed.
When he turned the corner and saw the battle with his own eyes, the dreams of his victory faded to obscurity.
It had just become a nightmare.
"MOVE FASTER!" Preen shouted out, artfully bringing his blade up though the badly protected torso of one black skinned fallen and spinning it about to cleanly slice though another short monster's neck. "THEY'RE ON US!"
"I'M TRYING!" Tozam brought the weight of one blade down on one of the many beasts attempting to swarm over him, crushing the little creature's bones. His other blade worked in a frenzy, hacking away at the small black tide that threatened to consume them all.
"FIRE IN THE HOLE!" Kassyera had taken a step back, readying one of the many traps on her belt and, rearing arm back, lobbed a bronze disk down past the two fighting warriors.
Cathim dodged slightly to the side when the assassin stepped back, swinging his wand back and forth as fast as he could to keep the bone-propelling magic picking off whatever creatures made it past the death dealing barbarian and paladin to keep them from reaching the others, who already had their hands quite full.
As they had all planned out long before they had come to the actual Monastery, Durom took it on himself to safeguard Natalie while the sorceress took careful stock of the situation, blasting any creatures that seemed more dangerous or formidable than the others and was now trying as hard as she could to keep the damnable shamans of the black skinned fallen dead. A daunting task, as one with a slightly greenish tint to it's skin stayed well behind a legion of the darker mini-demons, using it's own power to bring the more dangerous Shaman's back from the dead.
This was very frustrating for the sorceress. She knew, as did the others that the much taller Shaman of the Fallen Ones were capable of bringing the midget warriors back from the dead so long as their bodies were whole, but never before had she seen the larger shaman's rising again.
The Fallen with the greenish skin must have had a far more potent power than any of them had expected from these meager creatures.
Risking a momentary glance back, Natalie was almost tempted to ask Raid for her aid against the unexpected adversary, but quickly gave that idea up.
Raid and Elric already had their hands full.
As Tozam had predicted, the creatures had quickly come around the intersecting hallways and flanked them with ease. And from what Natalie could tell, the shaman's had been smart enough to send the bulk of their forces around to attack the back while they continuously resurrected and healed the ones that Preen and Tozam killed.
Raid moved as quickly as she could pulling, notching, and then firing the arrows with a trained, fluid movement.
The good news was that she didn't have to waste precious time aiming.
The bad news was that the reason that she didn't have to waste time aiming was because the hall behind them was packed with the black Fallen Ones.
And only a few paces in front of her was Elric who, despite the obvious handicap of being unarmed, did what he could to keep the advancing hoard at bay. Natalie only had a moment to admire the half-demon's strength and speed (and watch her brother smash one of the unlucky creature's skull against the wall) when a thought crossed her mind.
Why was Elric still posing as a human?
Hearing an explosion brought the sorceress back to reality and made her turn back to her own front while waves of fire erupted from the assassin's bronze disk. Heat washed over them all as a backlash forced it's way though the air, carrying the smell of charred flesh and hair back to the human defenders.
Natalie hated to admit it, but it looked as if the assassin's crude traps might have saved them all.
"Oh…DAMNIT!" Natalie heard Elric cry out.
And then… All hell broke loose.
"FIRE IN THE HOLE!" Kassyera shouted.
But Elric paid little attention.
The Fallen that came up behind this horribly mismatched and strategically doomed group had the normally efficient killing machine at an emotional disadvantage. While his current, frail human shell was handling quite well under the pressure of battle, he still wanted nothing more than to tear out of this shell, clear a bloody path though the wanna-be monsters and move on to bigger prey. The blood and shock of battle aroused him to peak performance, and to his own subconsciously twisted logic, it seemed a waste to keep such talent bottled up.
But a much smaller, wiser voice in the back of his head nagged him to stay in check. Aside from what might happen if and when Preen saw him in his true form and the pointless shock that might come from Raid and Durom, he had greater concerns.
His arms and legs moved quickly back and forth as he tried to keep the Fallen from reaching Raid or the others. But, truthfully, every crushing of bone or breaking of neck was one by reflex, as though he had set his body on automatic. All though that time, Natalie's words from before rang in his mind.
She was right; he did prefer to fight alone. And for a very good reason.
He didn't want to risk having to bury his new friends along with the monsters that they fought.
Elric quickly banished the thought from
his mind and focused on the task at hand.
His goal was clear: Survive this encounter with the others and then move on to the next one.
A small part of him chuckled.
Strange, how that simple sentence, had become the staple of his life.
Then, Elric felt something that overwhelmed his current blood-high. Something, that interrupted every fighting instinct that he had for a split moment.
The half-demon twitched for a moment as a wave of heat billowed over and around his head, the 'fwooshing' sound of one of the assassin's traps roaring out loudly above the screams of those fallen that had been caught in it's fury. But more than that, more than hearing the roar of fire or the delightful screams of death, Elric 'Felt' something…
He felt the floor beneath him shift under his lightly sheathed human feet and the faint moan of straining stone reverberated in his ears.
In one furious motion, Elric snapped
back, paying full attention to the oncoming hoard of dark skinned
demons and taking the first deliberate action of the battle, swinging
a hand back and tossing one of the creatures into it's brethren.
While the move didn't do much to stem the tide, it did buy Elric the two seconds he needed to look down and confirm his fears.
A long, web-like crack ran down the length of the floor, growing faster than the half-demon's eyes could keep track of. Fearful, Elric looked up to the blood stained walls, finding (much to his dismay) a similar effect.
"Oh….DAMNIT!" It was the only warning that his brain could come up with on such short notice before the thousands of tiny cracks all though the walls and floors took their toll.
Time itself seemed to slow down as the structure below and above them gave way, the floor splintering and sinking faster than most of the humans or lesser demons could react. Some died almost immediately as wooden and stone beams tumbled from their resting places to crush unlucky Fallen ones. Shards of stone exploded upward skewering some of the startled creatures as a sudden, violent lunge brought everything left alive in the cramped passageway down to their knees as the floor fell beneath them. First two feet, then stopping… then, dropping out of control as the last fail-safe pieces of architecture failed, successfully collapsing the blood-smeared and deteriorated passageway down into the lower levels of the Rogue's jail, taking the human warriors and more than a hundred Dark Ones with it.
Puke-Rag looked out from behind the jutting contour at the end of the hallway. His hair and single eyebrow had been singed off by the waves of mystical fire spewed forth from the magic human disk and his every breath filled his nostrils with sweet charred meat.
This place was feeling more and more like home all the time.
Cautiously, the chieftain of the Black Bladed Clan, looked out from his 'strategic fall-back spot' to survey the damage.
From what the Fallen Chief could tell, the shoddy huw-man structure had simply collapsed under the combined weight of his clan-mates and the huw-man warriors. He had pulled himself back, only a few feet out of the collapsing hallway as the black garbed huw-woman's magic disk began to spew its fire. This move had seemingly saved the glorious chieftain.
'No…' Puke-Rag mused, a wicked, black tooth grin gracing his scarred and slightly malformed face. 'Stupid, frail huw-mans challenge me…' Puke-Rag felt his mind racing, blood pumping as he recalled a very different version of events, told in his own image. 'But then they beg for mercy… and Puke-Rag gives them none. They fall, and my stupid clan gets in way. But Puke-Rag does not pause in your service, Mistress. They all die by my hands, my Mistress. Your servant is strong… He is. Bring death will I, to all who oppose my mistress.'
The thoughts and dreams floated though the Fallen Chief's head in a constant torrent. Within a few short moments, he forgot the feeling of fear that had consumed him only seconds before. He forgot how he had been forced to constantly use his enhanced power to raise his lower shaman brothers from the eternal rest while the 'weak' humans tore though his force with determined ferociousness.
Less than thirty seconds after moving out from behind his hiding place, where he had cowered in fear while waves of fire had rolled over him, Puke-Rag had convinced himself of the hastily concocted version of events and now believed it to be the only possible truth. The dead of his clan would rise again to serve him as they always did, and he would inform them of their victory over the last of the huw-mans.
The Dark One nodded to himself, wondering what his queen might give him as reward. Perhaps he should present her with a gift when he delivered the news. Yes, that would be good. The Mistress enjoyed presents, offerings, and sacrifices from her followers. The heads of the foolish mortals would do nicely if he could find them below. Curious as to how far the floor had fallen, Puke-Rag stepped with a superior and regal stride to the edge of the pit that had been a passageway before and looked down.
Shock filled the green-tinted Dark-One when he saw the abnormally large huw-man dangling from a jutting beam of stone, one hand firmly grasping the rough, sturdy rock while another held tightly to a blood-stained sword.
"Raka-Shu?" Puke-Rag jumped, crying out the customary 'Surprised' phrase of his kind.
"Hello, Ugly…" The muscled huw-man looked up at Puke-Rag, nodding his head slightly as he spoke in the cutting, absurd language of the mortals.
It was about now that Puke-Rag noticed another figure further below the large human, concealed at first behind the mortal's massive bulk.
"Good-Bye, Gruesome!" The smaller, black-and-bone clad human with pale white hair and skin shouted out, waving a simple stick up at the Shaman.
Puke-Rag was about to scoff at the seemingly mediocre gesture when a white light flared from the end of the stick.
Suddenly, Puke-Rag felt a sharp stab of pain in his head as his body lost all balance and, leaning over the chasm as he was, tumbled forward into the darkness.
Thoughts of victory reached back to the Chieftain of the Black Bladed Clan. A glorious return to his Mistress's side played in his mind as he plunged into the darkness, past the two hanging huw-mans and the ceiling of the jail below them. Just as he relived his fantasy of sitting on the right hand of his great and powerful mistress, Puke-Rag the Witless, he without mercy or tolerance, crashed and broke into a heap of bones and ruined flesh on the hard stone of the jail.
His thoughts now silence, Puke-Rag took his first true taste of permanent Oblivion.
"Well, that was enjoyable…" Cathim grunted with exertion and smiled with satisfaction as he heard the dull thud of the Shaman below. The moment was gone an instant later as Cathim tucked the wand into his belt and grabbed hold of Tozam's ankle with his other hand.
"Now then… How are you planning to pull us up?"
"Haven't quite figured that out yet." Tozam strained, trying to tighten his grip on the sharp stone that he had managed to snag before the fall. "I can see another support stone up here, but I can't reach it without letting go of this one."
"Well, that's unpleasant…." Cathim looked down in the darkness that surrounded the jail below them. "Hey, can you tell how far down this goes? I don't suppose that we could survive the drop?"
"I hope we could…" Tozam pulled his sword holding arm back, pushing the blade down into the gap between his mail shirt and the cloth padding underneath and freeing another hand to hold himself and the necromancer up. "…At least then we would know that there is a chance the others are still alive."
"Okay…" Cathim looked back down into the blackness below one last time, wasting a few moments wishing that he could know the fates of the brave warriors that they traveled with before tuning his eyes back up to the more immediate problem.
"I can try to climb up your body, get back up into the hall and pull you up after me." The necromancer though, thinking that the folds in the barbarian's chain mail would work as decent handholds
"How? You plan to use your scrawny body to anchor yourself while you heave me up?" Tozam asked in momentary disbelief.
"No, you moron! I'll use a bloody rope!"
"Oh, Okay, I guess that's as good a plan as any." Tozam conceded, "Okay… climb up. But watch where you put your hands."
"Sound off…" Preen's voice rang out grimly in dust, blood, and debris. "Who's not dead?"
"I'm still here, Preen." Natalie pushed herself up, several pieces of wood and stone falling off of her back as she straightened up and looked the paladin in the face. In the faint light, it was easy to see that Preen, not unlike herself, was battered and bruised, with a few scrapes and blood on his face from the fall, but seemed otherwise unharmed.
"Me too." Raid popped up behind the Paladin, straining as she tossed aside a beam that had pinned her leg only a few moments before. "Hey, Preen, do me a favor and remind me to take this up with Akara when we get back. Her monastery is just one big accident waiting to happen. This place is falling apart!"
The blonde Amazon pushed herself up for a moment, a grimace on her face as she tried to take a step towards her companion. She stopped and sat back down almost immediately, making no sound, but both Preen and Natalie were well aware at what pain must have shot though Raid's body with every move.
"Durom?…. Tozam?… Kassyera? Are you okay? Where are you?" Preen turned about, looking for their other companions.
"Be with you in a moment." Kassyera called out, her voice followed by a sudden wet snapping sound. "Yeah…. I'm good."
"What was that?" Durom sat up, rubbing his throbbing head as blood trickled from the side of his mouth and stained his orange beard.
"Another very short survivor…" Kassyera said, pulling herself up and popping her knuckles. "Don't worry, I fixed it."
"Okay…" Preen looked up towards the roof and squinted his eyes into the single beam of flickering light that came from the hole above. "I think I can see Tozam up there…. And it looks like…. What the heck is going on up there?"
"Is that the necromancer?" Raid asked, having followed the paladin's gaze.
"I think so." Preen answered, looking back down as he took in their surroundings. From what little he could see, they had fallen at least three stories down into an otherwise lightless and featureless stone labyrinth. . Around them, at least a dozen pathways led off in all directions and every sound they made echoed off the bland stone walls, announcing the presence of the adventurers to any creature with ears.
"Try to keep your voices down." Preen whispered softly, cringing as he realized that even that sound echoed faintly down the corridors. "Everybody, try to collect yourselves. We made one hell of a racket when we came down and need to get away from this place before anything comes to investigate."
Kassyera looked up and down the corridors, trying to remember if the maps or information that the rogues had given her made any mention of this place. Unfortunately, nothing came and, being pressed for time as they were, she was forced to guess.
"Down that way." Kass pointed down a random corridor to the right. "We can get away and then try to re-group."
Taking initiative, Durom moved over to Raid and, despite her momentary protest, put her arm around him for support and helped her move down the hall that Kassyera had pointed out. This was difficult of course, with the broken and twisted stone from above and the equally broken bodies of at least four dozen of the small black fallen littering the floor.
"Augh…" Raid whimpered for a moment as her wounded leg snagged a loose stone. "Wait…What about them?" The Amazon nodded up towards the hole in the ceiling.
Preen sighed, looking up one last time.
"As much as I hate to say it. They're on their own."
"They're not the only ones."
All eyes turned to the sorceress, who stood up at last, her dark brown eyes wet as she scanned the room.
"Elric's not here." She said simply. "Tell me… Why am I surprised?"
"Come ON, you oaf!" Cathim held tightly to the rope, his eyes forced shut as the hemp bit into his skin despite his gloves. As the necromancer had unfortunately discovered once he had gotten up to the top of what was now a jagged ledge, he was very short on rope. The ten feet of rope that he had carried in the satchel on his back barely managed to reach down far enough for the barbarian to grasp when dangled down the side of the chasm, let alone be enough to tie around an anchor. So, as much as he hated it, all that Cathim could do was brace himself against one of the small alcoves that the Fallen Shaman's had used as shelter during the fight, and hope beyond hopes that the large warrior's weight would not pull him right off the edge; and send them both plummeting down the hole with the others.
It was bad enough that they were very likely dead. He had no intention of leaving this realm so easily.
"YOU would think that with all those muscles you could just pull yourself up… But Nooooooo!" The Necromancer grunted as he strained against the rope. "For the love of… Stop just hanging there and pull yourself UP!"
The necromancer's rant was cut short for a moment when he felt a rather thick finger prod him in the shoulder. Reluctantly, Cathim's eyes popped open to see the barbarian standing not even a foot away from him, holding the remainder of the rope taunt.
Taking a moment to be stunned, Cathim stopped pulling against the much larger warrior and let the rope fall slack.
"Uhhh…so…" An exhausted smile graced the Priest of Rathma's lips as the muscles of his arm throbbed painfully. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Since before the Oaf part." Tozam pulled up the slack from Cathim's part of the rope and skillfully coiled the hemp around his arm before handing it back to Cathim. "I just wanted to see how long you would rant before you realized I was already up."
"Okay…" The necromancer pulled the small back satchel up from the floor as he tucked the rope back inside and pulled the body hugging carrying bag back over his shoulder. "Now what? The Assassin was the only one that had any idea where we were going."
"No she wasn't." Tozam said seriously, looking around. "Kass was trying to get us to the Jails down below. I was trying to find something completely different."
"What?" Cathim was genuinely confused. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Just a little something that Charsi told me about before we left." Tozam smiled slightly as he reached up and pulled his remaining blood-letter sword from under his chain shirt and started down the hallway. "Come on. I'll fill you in while we look."
"What the hell? Okay, Little Bugga, I'll bite. What in the Nine Hell are we looking for? I thought we were trying to find Andariel and kill her with our magic beads?"
"Oh, don't worry." Tozam tried to comfort the necromancer while putting aside the thought that any or all of the others might be dead at this point. "That's still the aim. We're just looking for something to make those magic beads a little more effective."
A broken, old man with a long, blood encrusted lay on the ground, clenching his mangled torso.
Elric recognized the figure instantly, and his upper lip pulled back in a vile sneer.
Elric tried to move…. Lift his head… anything. But couldn't.
His thoughts were scattered and broken. Feeling as if he were everywhere at once. He felt pain in his forelegs and back, but it was distant, almost as if he were feeling wounds that were weeks old.
Where was he now?
He was in the Rogue's Monastery… trying to find his way to face Andariel…
He was back underneath Tristram. The formerly beautiful architecture perverted and twisted by the equally perverted and twisted creature before him.
'No…' Elric thought. This couldn't be right.
What was this…A Dream?
The half-demon could feel his lips speak, but he could also feel himself lay still and unmoving. He could not hear the words, but had no trouble in recognizing what he had said.
"Ohhhh…" The broken, balding old man laughed out-loud, clenching the wound in his chest that Elric knew he had delivered.
"…There were so many…"
Then something happened. Almost as if time skipped on itself. The next thing Elric could hear came as if he had suddenly dropped on a different conversation.
"…Could pay for them all."
Elric's head throbbed and a new pain tore into his front right claw. He tried to come out of this memory.
This was not somewhere he wanted to be.
"… LET THEM! LET THEM!" The old man was now ranting, spittle flying out of his mouth and insanity gleaming in his eyes. He knew that he was already dead and had dropped the charade… showing himself for what he truly was.
"EXECUTE ME! TORTURE ME! DON'T YOU SEE? IT DOESN'T MATTER…!"
The pain was excruciating now. A growl escaped Elric's throat as he felt the dozens of tiny, razor sharp teeth pierce his bloody, ruptured false skin, cut right though his tougher, jet black scales and clamp onto the raw, corded muscle underneath.
Anger and heat rushed though Elric's numb body as he suddenly became aware of the frightening truth.
Something was trying to eat him…
"….THE DEAD WILL STILL BE DEAD!"
Everything exploded around the half-demon as he finally regained control. In one chaotic instant, he pushed his otherwise frail human body up and dropped his own charade. Red blood splattered everywhere as Elric's underlying frame burst forward and his bones corrected themselves. Sizing the moment of adrenaline and strength, Elric pushed every muscle in his body to the limit, rose up and off the broken, debris covered ground; and threw a large wooden beam aside.
Turning about, enraged and completely lost in the moment, the half-demon turned about to see several small, almost pygmy like creatures with long, jagged teeth and thick, oily mops of hair. Surrounding him were iron bars and cages of all kinds, all smeared blood that has, long since, dried.
One of the small, rat-like creatures whimpered and another (it's teeth stained with blackish-red demon's blood) started to run away when the half-demon's flame red eyes turned to them.
Without hesitation, Elric was on them, claws and tail flailing as he unconsciously tried to ignore the stale pain in his back…. The newly gained pain in his right claw…And the echoes of a memory that had brought him back to his senses.
But this time...he wasn't alone...
"Where will you run next, Half-breed?…."
"How long until you run out of places to hide?"
"So, does anybody know what the hell happened back there?" Raid asked as Durom helped set her down in a small, secluded alcove with one easily defendable entrance and exit.
"I'm not sure…" Kass shook her head, looking over Raid's wounds. "I think that the immolation trap I threw did something to the masonry. Heavens know it was already weak from all of the dark energy that has infested this place."
"So, you're telling me that we dropped three stories because of bad karma and a little heat?" Preen asked, running a hand over his minor wounds.
"Pretty much, yeah."
"Alright then…" Durom shook his head, pulling one of the small red vials from his belt and holding it down for Raid. "What do we do now?"
"Rest for a moment…" Natalie said solemnly. "Then we have to move on and find Cat, Tozam, and Elric."
"No…" Preen shook his head, turning around to face the sorceress. "We have more important task that we have to complete BEFORE we worry about the others."
"That is my brother, Preen!"
"He abandoned us." Preen pointed out in a matter-of-factly tone. "As you said yourself, he seems to want nothing more than to go off on his own."
"Right… he decided to run away right as we plummeted into the dark…I'm sure that he's halfway to Lut Goline by now. I highly doubt that…" Raid coughed, wiping away a few drops of the bitter tasting healing potion and moving her leg up slightly, thankful that the pain was greatly alleviative. "In any case it doesn't matter. There is only one thing we know for sure. If we don't move…we won't last long."
This brought a shock of silence to the heavy breathing group. As much as Natalie would hate to admit it, the Amazon's pragmatic point was very correct. Thus far, they had managed to face off against a small army of Fallen Demons and lose half of their group in a structural failure. And there was no doubt in the minds of any of these warriors that there were more, much more dangerous hell spawn in this awaiting them deeper in the bowls of Andariel's Chambers.
A cold air surrounded Natalie at the thought. Not only were there lesser monsters to worry about, there was Andariel as well.
How could they possibly have hoped to stand against such might? They were merely mortals. Only drops in the bucket compared to the ocean of power that was the Maiden of Anguish. They might as well give up, she thought.
Give up…Lie down in this Icy… dark…
Natalie shook herself violently, breaking the depressing train of thoughts.
Cold? It was cold… Unnaturally cold!
Now the sorceress noticed that she could see her breath and that her skirt and top shook as well as her muscles shivered. Her thoughts slowed by the cold and depression, Natalie forced herself to concentrate and put the pieces together.
An aura of frost, plus a sudden, unexplainable depression….
"PREEN! DUROM!" Natalie called out, pulling her stave up to fighting position. "WRAITHS!"
"A Horadric Malus? A "REAL" Horadric Malus!" Cathim was beyond surprised by this information. In fact, he hadn't been this astonished since he had learned that Natalie had a six-foot long lizard demon in her family. "But, there were only two of those enchanted hammers in all of existence. One was in Tristram and You're telling me that the other is HERE?"
"Well…" Cathim shifted uncomfortably as the barbarian and necromancer turned another corner, grateful to find it empty of enemies. "This is either a very nice coincidence OR we are going to have to start worrying about the wrath of the Great Wheel."
"Awwww…" Tozam sighed with resignation. "Don't start talking about the damn wheel again. This is NOT a place I wanna take a nap in."
"This is all far too convenient to be simple coincidence, lil'Bugga…" Cathim continued as though he did not even hear the larger warrior. "The Wheel is spinning an intricate thread, fate and all things are beginning to come together."
"ORRRR maybe we just got lucky."
"In my experience, there is no such thing as luck." Cathim stated firmly as the two stopped before a corner and Tozam took a quick peek around.
Fairly certain that the next corridor was empty, Tozam waved the wand-wielding Necromancer forward.
"You know…I've heard that before, Catty." The Barbarian said, "and I honestly don't believe it. Luck is like skill… men make what they will of it… If it is real, then great, we have something to fall back on…If it isn't, then we'll make it by anyways. We do what we must to fulfill our duty…nothing more or less. Luck or no luck, you SURELY still believe that sometimes, Things just 'Happen'."
"Nothing ever 'Just happens' Tozam." Cathim lowered his voice, both adding drama to his voice and practicality as they were still in an enemy stronghold. "For every good done, there is an evil outcome. For every Bad Deed, some good, however slight, comes out of it. THAT is the nature of the Cycle of Being. And the Great Wheel spins the fate in such a way that there is balance in all things." Cathim paused once more while Tozam quickly peeked around the corner and then gave the all clear sign. "Do I believe there are coincidences in the world of men? Yes. I do… but I don't TRUST them. A coincidence is Man-made…. But the balance of the Wheel most certainly is not."
"You know Catty…" Tozam stopped and glanced back at the Necromancer. "It's a good thing this Monastery has a tomb…because you're boring me to death."
Cathim was about to reply with what he thought was the comeback to end all comebacks and make Tozam bow before his superior wit…but was stopped as he opened his mouth. Turning his gaze up, the necromancer took a whiff of the air and his look turned dead serious.
"You smell that lil Bugga?" The Necromancer asked, pulling his wand and dagger up to a battle position.
"Aye," the Barbarian replied, drawing his weapons as well.
"Brimstone…" The warrior stated firmly, slowing his pace dramatically with only a glance back to make sure the necromancer was following suit. "That forge is close by…"
"And where there is a forge…" Cathim continued, speaking now more to break the tension than to tell Tozam what he already knew. "…There's got to be a hammer."
"Well... The scent of brimstone also follows large fiends of flame and death." Tozam reminded the necromancer.
Cathim blanched visibly.
"Okay... Here's hoping that I'm wrong about there being no such thing as luck."
From the deep recesses of the demon's
mind, there was no response. No restraining, prudent, voices holding
A deep and honest relief filled the demon. It had been far too long since it had been set loose without the internal master jerking on the reigns.
Thrilled and aroused by the battle it was so easily winning. The black demon tightened it's haunches and pounced forward, It's tail decapitating or mortally wounding three more of the pathetic goat-men that had come across it before landing squarely on the targeted coward who fled.
In a particularly sadistic moment, the black demon turned the bleating and sniveling goat man over, drinking in the fear of the fallen creature as one of it's hind claws quickly and savagely slashed the prone creature's belly. Warm, black-tinted blood flowed freely over the demon's hind claws as the goat-man's eyes widened and it's body bucked in protest to the pain.
The blood set the demon's senses aflame.
How could it ever have allowed itself to be denied this feeling?
Not wasting a moment of this exhilaration, the creature pushed itself farther down the goat-man's body and pausing only a moment to run it's tongue over it's dripping chops before plunging it's already stained muzzle into the gaping wound.
From the innermost sanctum of the creature's mind, a tiny, nearly inaudible voice caught the half-demon's attention.
'Stop…' the weak, painfully familiar voice came. 'Just…. stop…'
The demon growled into the still convulsing body of it's victim while it pushed the overbearing and weakened voice back into the sanctum to which it had been forced to retreat.
The goat-man's death cry was music to the half-demon's keen ears while it chomped and churned the beast's insides with its thrashing head and piercing teeth. When the goat-man's blood and organs finally stopped pulsing with life, the half-demon pulled it's snout out and spat what meat and organ had found it's way into it's mouth on the cold, twisted stone floor.
This display was not about food…. The demon had long since fulfilled that need. This was something more.
Yes…that was it… Dominance.
The Demon within had already wrested internal dominance from the voice…the Elric… and now it would continue on until either everything that stood against it was dead.
Or he was.
"I don't see anything…", Raid held her bowstring taunt, arrow notched and ready as she, like the others, looked about, trying to find the wraiths that Natalie had sensed.
"They are not part of the mortal world…" Preen quickly explained, scanning the small alcove. "They lurk in the spirit realm beyond our sense of vision."
"So how do we see them to fight?"
"We can't fight them with steel and arrows. You can only destroy them with magic." Natalie said shortly, "And you can't see them directly. Look for the blue flashes of light off their forms when they phase into our realm to affect the material realm. They feed off of depression and mana, bringing an icy chill into the material plane every time they take a bite."
"Is that why it's so damn cold in here?" Durom started before...
"THERE!" Raid shouted out the moment she saw the small blue flash, drawing back her bowstring and letting loose an arrow. Before anyone could react, the Amazon had already pulled, notched, and let another projectile fly.
Much to her surprise, both clattered harmlessly against the far wall and fell to the ground.
"What the..." Raid gasped in surprise... "But, my aim was perfect. How could I...?"
"What part of 'can't fight them with Steel and arrows' DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND?" Kassyera scolded right as a blue flash caught her attention. Her own lightning fast reflexes, honed to a fine edge by a lifetime of vigorous training, struck out faster than the assassin could think. Nevertheless, Kassyera was more than a little frustrated (not to mention embarrassed) when her claws caught nothing but the chilled air.
"Well, at least I know that I didn't miss because of my aim." Raid grinned for a moment, her lips quivering and turning blue in the now rapidly dropping temperature.
"Shut up..." Kassyera snapped, now feeling more concerned than ever as her teeth started to chatter against her will.
Natalie was only vaguely aware of the exchange as she now focused the majority of her energies on keeping the elemental magic clear in her mind and searching the room for the tell-tale flashes of blue fire that would reveal the position of the wraith in the spectral realms beyond their sight. Even as she looked about her, she felt her grasp on the fire bolt spell she had prepared weakening...
Wraiths were infamous for their abilities against magic users, for just as they fed on the depression of all mortal beings, they could also feed upon the very mana that kept a wizard (or in this case: A sorceress) at top condition.
"Of all the times we could have used the necromancer..." Preen commented, also searching the blood-lined corridor for any hint of the vile ghost. Even as he spoke, Preen took note that his breath had become visible and a fine layer of frost was forming on his sword and metallic armor.
"To be affecting this place so quickly, they must have a massive source of depression and doubt to be feeding on..." Natalie observed, now more than a little embarrassed that she wore the traditional upper body wrappings of the Zann Esu. At the moment, what part of her mind wasn't occupied with searching out the wraiths bringing this deathly ice down on them was hoping furiously that neither Durom nor Preen were paying attention to her.
"HAIL AKARAT!" Preen shouted out suddenly with such voracity and conviction that he made every human around him jump almost a foot into the air. Before anything could be done or said, the paladin launched his blade and arm out in a seemingly random direction and, from the edge of his blade and the tips of his fingers flew what Natalie could only relate to crosses made of pure light.
The only thing more surprising than this was when the strange bolts of holy energy collided with an invisible enemy, drawing a shrill, angry cry as the damage brought the wraith into the sight of the splintered and cold group for the first time.
Unlike Preen, who had seen such creatures back in Tristram, the others couldn't help but be frozen for a second by the sheer vileness of the undead creature before them. Natalie had read about the beast in tombs of her order, but had never realized the horror of the creature first hand. It seemed like a human skeleton at first, a not so uncommon occurrence in these dark times, but it floated in the air before them, writing in pain as it floated on fire. Where fingers should have been were instead impossibly long, stretched bones forming what looked much like a bat's hand. The wraith's menacing effect was astounding, covered as it was in the icy blue flames that it seemed to keep the limbless body aloft.
But menacing or not, it did not keep the zealous paladin from launching another volley of the holy bolts at the stunned creature. With each successive strike, the blue flames flared around the ghostly wraith and a shrill cry was let out. It was only a few seconds later that the creature cried out once more in a sorrow filled, almost pitiful moan and the blue fire died. The spark of un-life gone, the now very physical wraith fell to the ground, splintering like ice as they added to the already gory and horrific decor of the monetary.
Preen stood silent as the others stared at the fallen wraith, a well-earned respect for the paladin's obvious skills blossoming with each of them.
"Only one?" Raid asked, relaxing now that the chill had miraculously vanished from the air. "That's not good."
"What's not?" Preen asked, breaking his silence with a mumble.
"That one of these wraiths had us all so tense and would have caught us all off guard so easily." Durom shook his head, realizing what was going though the Amazon's mind. "If this one mindless undead could set us back on our heel's so easily, there is no telling what will happen if we actually manage to get to the catacombs to confront the monastery's current owner."
'Well, it's not hard to say what could happen to us...' Natalie thought darkly, but kept the demoralizing statement to herself. If this wraith had found them because they were feeling depressed, it was likely that other wraiths would find them too.
"We have to move on." Natalie said bluntly.
This time, there was no argument.
"Which way, Kassyera?" The sorceress asked, using the assassin's name respectably for the first time since the two had met before Tristram.
There was no time for their petty differences now. They were fighting to stay alive.
"Well..." The assassin began, slightly stunned by the Sorceresses' newfound cooperation.
"GAAAHHH NOO! ME NO DIEEEEEEEEEEE!" A shrill, high-pitched voice cried out loudly, echoing from what seemed to be every direction.
Every hand shot towards a weapon and was raised to battle position before the sound died in the echoes of the maze like lower levels of the jail system.
More discerning to the group was the wet, sharp rending sound that accompanied the voice. A low... Almost inaudible struggle could then be heard... Followed by a vast, terrifying roar in the depts.
"What in the name of the light...?" Preen looked more than a little shaken up as the roar died as well in the echoing distance of the jail's hallways. "What sort of monstrosity was that?"
For the first time since the group had left the Rogue Encampment only a day or so before, Natalie laughed out loud. The group looked at the sorceress, fearing for a moment that she might have gone mad when they realized she looked as happy as a young girl opening presents at the Winter Festival.
"I know that roar anywhere..." The Zann Esu nodded knowingly, suddenly feeling very much more assured that they would get out of this place alive and in one piece.
"Little brother... One thing I can say about you is that you can be very easy to find."
"Elric?" Kassyera asked, then shared a small smirk with the group. "As best I can tell, the echoes came from that way. If we follow them, we should be able to find your brother."
Preen looked for a moment as if he was about to protest, and then thought better of it.
"Alright then," he shrugged helplessly, remembering Raid's earlier words about the half-demon being an 'asset'. "I suppose we better go see what the little monster has gotten himself into."
Only a few hallways away, the Demon
ripped the entrails from it's newest victim, watching it's eyes
as they darted back and forth in pain.
It couldn't scream anymore, a single claw though it's fragile chest and into it's lungs had robbed it of that outlet for pain. But the spasm's of the fallen one's body combined with the look of horror and suffering in the pathetic creature's face and eyes were almost music unto themselves.
And to think he had found this one napping only a few moments ago. Too bad the fallen had such low tolerance to pain...
Less than twenty full seconds of pulling the creature's limbs out and then spilling its rancid intestine's onto the floor like so much pasta...
'Time must fly when one is having fun,' the demon mused for a moment...then shoved the spontaneous idea aside.
Just then...something new caught the half-breed's attention. A much more pleasant...vibrant smell than these loathsome creatures.
Something... More durable.
The demon grinned wickedly as it placed the scent.
Humans...A favored prey.
Finally...A real chance for fun.
(And now… The conclusion)
"Break into the demon-controlled monastery…sure why not?" Cathim uttered under his breath. "Fight our way though hordes of fallen and demons…. Save the Rogue Sisterhood… Oh yeah… we can do that. Kill a demon queen? NOOOO Problem…" Sarcasm permeated his voice as the necromancer pulled himself along the cracked and ridged stone floor, keeping as low as he could.
"Get a hammer with Tozam…. Should be a bloody cakewalk… I mean, it's just a hammer…Who's going to guard a hammer?"
The ground suddenly rumbled again,
giant thundering booms echoing as the stomping footfalls rushed
closer to the necromancer's position.
With a strength and dexterity that Cathim was not even aware he possessed, he lunged forward and to his feet, dodging narrowly out from behind the barrels that had served as his hiding place.
"YOUR SOUL WILL FUEL THE HELLFORGE!' The bloated, brimstone encrusted smithy growled out loudly in a voice that sounded like he had bits of gravel encased in some very uncomfortable places.
Already flushed and soaked from sweat
due to his exertions, Cathim found it difficult to keep up his pace.
Now he wished that his and Tozam's places were reversed, surely
killing a swarm of fallen ones would have been easier than luring
THIS thing away from the forge.
Turning about on one foot and nearly tumbling head over heel, Cathim stopped and turned back, pulling out his already well-worn wand and firing yet another bone-tooth at the blubbery, enraged demon.
Not surprisingly, the shard of bone being embedded along side others just like it in the "smith's" fleshy interior did little to help with its mood.
"GGGARRR! COME HERE MEAT!" The slow moving but powerful charged towards the necromancer again, the combination of his ample frame and heavy steps cracking the stone at his feet.
One thing that Cathim truly felt grateful about was the fact that this demon was nowhere near as intelligent as it was strong. Otherwise it would have realized that Cathim was just a decoy LONG ago.
"Do you SEE any meat on me, monster?"
Cathim quickly let the comment slip before resuming a very hasty
As per the plan he and Tozam had managed to cook up before alerting this behemoth of Cathim's presence, the necromancer had let the brute in a circle around the corridors, pulling this 'Smith' as Cathim had begun to call him, away from the forge so that Tozam could deal with the minions that stayed near the forge. Then, Cathim was to lead him back to the forge area where he and the lil' bugga could focus on KILLING this creature.
Of course, Cathim's run was supposed to last for twice as long as it had, but Cathim was not the athletic sort and already felt his stamina exhausted. Quite frankly, the necromancer was amazed that he was still standing at all, much less running back to the forge where he hoped that Tozam had already disposed of the minions in the forge.
Andariel brought a clawed finger to her
lip as her legion of succubi, her own handmaidens and finest
warriors, were gathered before her.
While she certainly felt safer, more assured of victory, with her warriors closer to her, especially with that…THING...In her new home. However, she had received a message that she simply could not ignore.
"We await your command, Lady
Andariel." The legionnaire, commander of her succubi bowed, her
wings folded in respect to their mistress and master.
Unlike the rabble that had been formed in this land, the fallen and misshapen demons that now entangled the mortals in the jails and levels above, the Succubi were elites, capable of corrupting and seducing any mortal man and killing any mortal woman. Unlike the weaker demons and minions that had flocked only recently to her banner, such as Blood Raven, the Succubi did not fail.
And yet, her own master, the returned
Lord of Terror, had made his message very clear…and to refuse would
be more than dangerous.
The Maiden of Anguish would not share the fate of the traitors Azmodan and Belial.
"My command is simple. You are to go north to the frigid peaks of this mortal world and wait until you are called upon either by myself or by one of the Greater Evils."
This unexpected decree stunned the succubi, who had never before left the side of their master. For a moment, nearly every face among her darkly beautiful, winged seductresses was tinged with confusion.
"Are there those among you who dare to DEFY my will?" Andariel asked, her voice a mix of honey and venom.
None of the company spoke…their loyalty and faith in the Maiden of Anguish unquestionable and in after a moment, the handmaidens of Andariel filed out of the Mistress's throne chamber, intent on following her orders.
As Andariel watched her elite warriors
leave her side for the first time in their existence, a darkness
clouded her mind.
Surely the Lord of Terror had reason for this unprecedented request. She had regained faith that the Prime Evil indeed had a much farther-seeing view than she. And her twisted logic told her that regardless of what had happened in Tristram, these mortals could not hope to defeat her.
She was a goddess.
And even if the creature…this strange half-breed…was among the humans, he could not be as formidable as she imagined.
Blood Raven had been weak, and even if the creature survived a battle with Lord Diablo beneath the surface of Tristram, he had faced a Demon Lord who had a reason in defeat… so the defeat had itself been foreseen and planned by Terror. The Half-Breed's illusionary victory had not been it's own.
That was correct, of course….
Why then did she feel a sense foreboding as the last of her winged seductresses file and fly out of her chamber to travel northward for reasons she could not begin to fathom.
"HHHAAARRRUUU!" The barbarian sung around, his blade held firmly in two hands as he cleaved yet another of the minions of the Forge clean in half. Had it not been for the sheer heat of the forge and the constant dodging around of recently forged weapons of iron and bone, Tozam would have not broken a sweat. Sure the little demons ran from him as soon as they laid eyes upon the raving mad mortal...but that was all part of the barbarian way of combat.
From the looks of it, even unbalanced as he was by only having one blade, Tozam would be able to clear out the last few of the fallen forge workers and be ready for Cathim's return with the fat demon with several minutes to spare.
But then the skinny necromancer came running back into the forge at top speed.
"Wha…?" Tozam was perplexed for a moment, "Catty? You aren't supposed to be back here for…"
"SHUT UP AND RUN YOU BALD COW!" the necromancer raced by the barbarian at a speed that stunned Tozam to no end.
He honestly had no idea that the skinny, non-athletic death priest could move that fast.
"INSECT!" The reason for the
necromancer's uncharacteristic speed rushed into the forge room,
not paying any attention to the human-sized architecture and crashing
straight though the stone and masonry both above and to each side of
"I WILL MAKE WEAPONS FROM YOUR BONES!"
In the moment he had to stock the situation before the creature that was upon him, Tozam realized the mistake of sending Cathim as a decoy. He had thought that something so massive couldn't have bevery fast. Strong perhaps...but not fast enough to keep up with Cathim's light (if somewhat under worked) frame.
Dodging aside as the flabby Smith's large hammer came crashing down on his position, Tozam realized that this experience was best to be analyzed and learned from at a later date.
"AHA!" Tozam rolled out of the way,
coming up to his feet and pulling his blade up in a heroic pose to
attract the creature's attention.
"COME DEMON! AND FACE MY BLADE!"
In response, the large Smith turned about, grunting in exertion as he swung his great hammer in a horizontal arc just short of the unflinching Tozam's face, but striking the same blade that the barbarian used to threaten the hell-spawned creature.
Having been trained by the best his people had to offer, Tozam was easily able to keep a hold of his blade's hilt as it was jarred… Unfortunately for him, the sheer weight of the blow snapped the steel and magic blade of at the cross-guard, leaving Tozam holding a very decorative, but useless magical hilt.
A moment passed as Tozam took in this offensive maneuver.
"Y…YOU BASTARD!" Tozam screamed in anger, tossing the handle and hilt of what was his weapon over his shoulder. "THAT WAS MY LAST ONE!"
If the demon smith had any remorse for the horrible vandalism and insult to the barbarian's warrior honor, he did not show it as he roared loudly, his horrid, brimstone laced breath wafting over the barbarian and making Tozam want to vomit.
Taking advantage of it's opponents momentary hesitance as Tozam tried to fight back the repulsion, The Smith took one step forward, shaking the floor as he stomped down and reached the hammer back behind his head, preparing to deliver the final blow.
"You're spine will make a fitting blade, huw-man!" the Smith gritted, it's disfigured, yellow and green teeth bared in a horrid smile as he pushed his arm forward, ready to crush the human where he stood.
Yet another shockwave of surprise rocked the Smith as his elbow was caught by a flying shard of bone in mid-swing, throwing off his aim and stealing momentum just enough for the near-retching warrior-man to dive to the side, letting the overhead swing crash harmlessly into the floor, cracking the stone and sending a few shards into the air.
"Oh hell…" Cathim was frozen in place for a moment, his wand in hand as the Smith roared again in pain, eyes turned to where the necromancer was standing and then to the bone-tooth lodged in his arm. "Come on…I could use another of those…." The Priest of Rathma shook and tapped the wand again, trying to activate it's magic to no avail.
His wand had been exhausted and it's magic drained.
"Well…this could be unpleasant." Cathim tossed the drained wand to the side, his eyes never leaving the deadly demon Smith as it heaved the hammer up and turned on the necromancer, charging Cathim with all the mindless fury of the demon.
At this, Cathim smirked.
He might have lost his new favorite toy, but he was nowhere near as helpless and frail as the Smith might think.
With a thought, the necromancer pulled at the ample tormented spirits in this corrupted place, pulling them directly in front of him and solidifying it with a twitch of his hand.
In that instant, the solid, two foot thick wall of bone formed directly between the flimsy necromancer and the blobby bulk of the Smith.
Of course, Cathim enjoyed the sound of the fat demon crashing against the sharpened, abrasive surface of his bone wall, but had not time to celebrate as the stupid thing began bashing away at the wall, breaking though the thick, but brittle bones that cut him off from his intended target.
Cathim thanked any gods or higher beings listening that the creature was too stupid to go around the wall and attack him from the side, that gave him enough time to plan the second part of his distraction.
Once more, he dipped his will into the
spirit world and in a fraction of a second, managed to find more than
enough fighting spirits to aid him. His orders sounded in his head
and past his lips as his mana flowed into the many open bodies around
until he reached his limit. In only a few seconds, bodies of fallen
and the skeletons of others who fell weeks ago rose again, bones
twisting and contorting into a form that seemed more suitable for the
Sweat rolled off Cathim's brow as he exhausted his mana, forming more skeletons now than he had ever tried before. Seven fully realized skeleton warriors and two skeletal mages, the first he had ever brought forward. His will now stretched to it's limit to maintain control, the necromancer stepped back from the breaking and crackling bone wall, falling to his knees as he repeated his mental orders to the minions again and again.
"Kill the fat one…kill the fat one…"
Tozam, having recovered from the horrendous breath and sheer might of the demonic Smith, looked up to see the vile demon flailing against a wall of white bones, oblivious of the skeletal abominations that were suddenly upon him, leaping, clawing, slashing, and making a nuisance of themselves while the two with red and blue glowing hands pelted the obese creature with bolts of flame and ice that reminded Tozam of Natalie for a moment.
At first, the overwhelming persistence of the skeletons seemed to work, bogging down and drawing the Smith's attention from the two human warriors, making him drop his enormous hammer altogether as he screamed in rage. But any hopes that the skeletons would be able to finish the job quickly faded as the demon reached up it's meaty hands and crushed the skulls of two of the offenders with ease, making the bones fall lifelessly away from him.
Tozam cursed under his breath, his stomach churning in spite of his will. The sheer strength and stamina of this demon were amazing. Shards of bone and slashes that continued to accumulate as the multiple skeletons mauled and slashed with their bone made weapons and magics riddled the flabby body and yet there was no sign that the beast was slowing at all.
Tozam panted, pushing himself to his feet while keeping his stomach from flopping around inside of him. He was not going to be much good in this fight in his condition, and having brought up so many skeletons after bringing a bone-wall into being and running as much as he had before must have put Cathim near exhaustion. Yet still, the corpulent demon flailed, hardly showing any effort at all at defeating their defenses to dust.
Tozam's eyes went wide in realization as the wheels in his head suddenly churned.
'The corpulent "DEMON." ' Tozam's mind reiterated as a hand went to his belt.
"CATTY!" He shouted, readying his own nerves for what he was about to do. "MAKE THEM HOLD HIS ARMS!"
Holding all of the faith he had in the
necromancer, Tozam charged forward, leaping with a shout at The
Smith. His faith was rewarded so it seemed as the four remaining
warrior skeletons made a grab for the creature's arms, holding them
down for a few moments with their own un-natural strength as the
bone-wall the stood between Cathim and the creature dissolved.
Tozam realized the necromancer was putting all the power he had into holding the raving Smith still, his failing will and mana fueling the strength of his undead minions. Tozam knew that he only had ONE shot at this.
The barbarian landed with a thud
against the massive bulk of The Smith, a muscular arm wrapping around
the demon's head and grabbing the greasy, leathery folds of the
demon's head and pulling it back.
As planned, but much to his disgust, the Smith Opened it's mouth again, it's horrid breath blasting Tozam in the face as it let out a horrendous roar. Forcing every ounce of his will to fight the repulsion and holding his breath, Tozam crammed his other hand into the Smith's mouth, opening his fist and accepting the massively painful bite of the corrupt creature.
In what had been a fraction of a second, Tozam was wounded again, his blood flowing freely in the demon's mouth as the last of Cathim's strength failed against the more powerful creature. His mana spent, the fighting spirits that Cathim had summoned faded and, without their empowering spirits, the skeletal bodies crumbled to the floor, freeing the Smith's arms. Now, the necromancer prepared for death as he was truly defenseless.
With his arms free, the Smith reached up and peeled the meaty human away (taking a good bit of meat off his hand) and threw the warrior behind him were the wall of pointy bones was, plopping the barbarian down painfully on the exhausted Necromancer.
'Huw-mans…' The Smith thought to itself, reveling in the pain of the bones and cuts. 'Pathetic….'
In the minor pain and enjoyment that he was suffering, the Smith did not realize what he did as he swallowed, drinking what blood and meat was left by the meaty, strong human's hand…. And what he, in passing, thought felt like a small rock as it slid down his throat.
"Now 'Huw-mans…" The Smith sneered, seeing that his pray, while formidable against the little fallen and other lesser beasts, was helpless before him.
"Now…. You feed me…and I will make you immortal as weapons of my own."
In the one-sidedness of this confrontation, there were two surprised beings in the room when it was suddenly filled with a victorious laughter. The sneer vanished from the Smith's face, replaced by confusion while the necromancer Cathim merely looked upon the laughing Tozam as though he were insane.
"Not today, beastie…" Tozam panted, holding his mangled hand as a smile spread on his face as more than a little bile flowed over his lips.
"You've already had your last meal."
The Smith was about to sneer.
He had to respect the human's valor and bravado in the face of certain death. And was about to make a comment about how he, the Smith of Andariel, would remember this battle.
He was ABOUT to…but all things stopped for the Smith as a sudden fire burned in his chest.
Pain, greater than any that the experienced, powerful upper demon had known rippled through his body, contorting the features of his face in a grimace that made him all the more ugly while the fatty composites about his ample frame began to convulse against his will.
"Have you had your silver today?" the Barbarian said in a sing-song jingle voice as he smiled though the pain, realizing that his plan had worked.
The Smith opened his mouth to scream offer himself some form of release, but no sound came out…only a billowing white smoke as the fire in his chest burned hotter and more painfully than any in the nine hells. Reaching up to his chest, feeling that he HAD to extinguish the fire, the Smith began to claw wildly at his chest, panicking and tearing away his own flesh in hopes to stop the pain…the boiling. Blacked demonic blood poured on the floor as he rendered several layers of skin, but was stopped by the bones of his own ribcage. Blood now pouring from its eyes as well, the Smith fell to its knees, the pain to great for any demon to hold against. As suddenly as lightning though a pure blue sky, the Smith's chest exploded outward in a burst of light that shone out the creature's mouth, eyes, and ears, rocking the creature back on its heels before falling forward on it's belly, unmoving.
Silence reigned for a few moments as the two humans watched as the skin of the fatty Smith began to bubble and blacken.
"Well…" Cathim snickered lightly, amazed by the sudden turn in events. "That… That was VERY convenient."
"Yeah…" Tozam panted, the burning pain searing up his arm from the Smith's bite. "Remind me to give Akara a big kiss for letting us have those beads, when we get back."
"So… that's how you did it." Cathim was panting as well, his muscles twitching and his mind reeling from the ordeal. "Hell…for giving us the key to beating that thing...I would sire her children myself were she not celibate."
"Well, I'm sure she will thank the Sightless Eye for her celibacy when she hears that."
"One more comment like that…and you don't get any of my healing potions."
"Alright, alright, 'stud'." Tozam laughed heartedly though the pain and the horrid stench of the smith, who was now smoldering from the inside out it seemed. "How about you let me have a few of those vials and we sit here in the quiet for a few moments."
"Yeah…that sounds good…" Cathim agreed, pulling the red health potions and a few blue mana potions from his belt to share.
"And then…" Tozam looked up at the rack next to the forge, now that things had calmed down, he could see what they had come here for. "We take the Malus and find the others."
"How did I know you were going to say that?" Cathim looked at the smoldering corpse of the Smith, hoping that all of their enemies could be so stupid.
"But for now…. We take… a break."
"Agreed." Cathim nodded before he slumped over, falling into an exhausted sleep.
Tozam snickered to himself, downing half a health potion and pouring the rest on his hand, forcing the flesh to mend and repair itself.
"Wizards… show me one with
fortitude and I will show you a barbarian at heart." Tozam mused to
Well, with any luck at all, he would have time to help the necromancer improve in that area.
Natalie turned about in the faint light, looking for any sign that
her brother was now here.
The group had been looking for more than half an hour now, going down this corridor or that, finding evidence of the Half-demon's passage everywhere. Bloody goat-men and torn apart Fallen ones were only the beginning as they soon came to find spiders that had been brutally rendered open and had their insides spilled all over the floors.
And the sheer horror of what had been done with some of the creatures bodies made even the most sturdy among them blanch for a moment.
"Are we sure we want to find what is doing this?" Raid had asked a short while before when they came upon a room literally filled with the head of small, pigmy lick creatures planted on stakes. Weather this was here before or a recent addition was anybody's guess, but the fresh blood trail made it a much easier one to follow.
first Natalie's answer had been: "Of course…these were monsters
and we would have done the same if we could.". The sorceress had
kept seeing her little brother Elric, lost and alone, afraid that he
had lost her…she kept imagining that he must be tearing the place
apart looking for his friends and his sister.
But the more sundered, broken, and torn bodies they found, the more that image began to fade. There was too much horror on the face of the many dead bodies they found. Too much brutality to be a quick sweep to find others. The Goat-men, Fallen, and other misshapen creatures that the group could not identify were not just killed it seemed…they were tortured… slowly, by something that was enjoying it.
Natalie forcefully recalled the occasions she had actually SEEN Elric fight with all of his being and found, much to her disappointment, that she could not think of once since they had found each other that she had witnessed the Half-Demon truly fight and kill in his lizard-like demonic form.
Only one event came to mind… when Elric had first found her, Tozam, and Cathim… when he had obliterated a virtual army of Fallen as if they were nothing, then incapacitated both the Barbarian and the Necromancer as if they were little more than nothing. Aside from that, Elric had always disappeared just before or as combat had taken place, careful to go off alone and do whatever it was that he did. Now she regretted thoughts that she sometime had that Elric ran away as the fight got tough.
this what he did? Did he rend his enemies apart like this, away from
A jolt rocked the sorceress's mind as she recalled her brother's teeth at her throat that first meeting, he had tensed up, ready to kill her, unaware of who she was.
He didn't finish the killing bite of course, but now that she thought about it, he had said some things since then that now made her blood run cold.
'Says you…I'm dangerous, alright.' ….. 'Haven't you figured it out yet? I am a weapon.'
Memories of Elric's fiery red eyes at the Carine Stones and the moment in Tristram when he had 'torn' through his human skin in front of her ran though her mind and the sorceress was ashamed to admit that she was beginning to feel afraid of her brother.
When she had first found Elric…she couldn't help but think of him as that kitten-like white lizard that she had found as a child…
The one that she and her mother had taken in and had learned to talk, read, and write in the matter of a few weeks. She saw the playful young Elric pouncing around after rats and on balls in the yard playing with her and her other brothers. She had seen the sad green eyes that watched her from a window at she left home with the Zann'Esu.
Now she was realizing that her adopted brother was not at all as she remembered him. He had lived his own life, one wrought with pain and experiences that she was only beginning to understand.
Now, the group traveled in almost utter silence, the unease making Natalie's own introspection that much clearer. And it also made them all more skittish. At that moment, Natalie hoped that Tozam and Cathim were having better luck than they were.
"Don't worry, Natalie." The sorceress jumped nearly out of her skin when she heard the Assassin's voice beside. She was not aware that she had allowed her defenses to fall to a point that she had let the Viz-Jaq'taar get behind her.
"He'll be alright, I'm sure."
"I know that…" Natalie said softly. And though she was able to bite her lip and keep from letting the second comment from passing her lips.
'He'll be fine….it's us I'm worried about.'
A short time later, the group halted, taking a moment to rest and discuss their methods.
"Natalie and I will take point…." Kassyera volunteered, her hair matted with blood and dirt. "I think we are almost to an exit… if we keep heading this way, we should find a staircase up into the Inner Cloister. From there we can reach the Catacombs that make up Andariel's seat of power."
Preen sighed, looking about to see if there was any argument. Needless to say, he was surprised when Durom, who was normally silent in the absence of his barbarian cousin, spoke up.
"Is our chief concern now finding the others, or chasing down the demon-queen?"
"We have to find Elric." Natalie blurted out without any thought. Her voice was strained as she was pulling herself out of her memories of childhood with the half-demon. "We need him."
"From what I can see…" Durom looked over his shoulder, indicating yet another mangled body of a former monster that they had found. "We may not like what we find. I have seen the beasts of this world, warrior men, and demons sadistic demons hunt, Natthilea. Would you care to guess what your 'brother's handiwork reminds me of the most? And I suspect that a creature capable of this would have no qualms in destroying any alleged 'friends'."
"THAT'S A LIE!" Natalie's response echoed down the corridors, surprising even herself. "ELRIC WOULDN'T DO THAT!"
"Your Elric might not…" Durom recomposed himself quickly, "but a demon would."
"Great…just great." Raid pushed herself up in a standing position, "Now we not only get to continue our search, we have to do it fast to get away from here."
"Alright…" Preen sighed again, moving up and grasping Natalie's shoulder firmly (making her twitch a bit as it was the same shoulder Elric had accidentally cut into at Tristram) "Our situation hasn't changed. Our first priority is to find our lost companions…ALL of them. Tozam, Cathim, and your brother. Our second is to hunt down Andariel and put an end to her…even if that means our end as well."
Preen, sounding now the part of an exceptional leader, got no argument save the dry glance of the masterless druid.
"Alright," The paladin continued, "We move on… Kassyera and Natalie at the front as agreed. Durom and I will take back. Raid, try to stay off your leg, you're only making it worse."
"Nag, nag, nag…you sound like my father." The Amazon mocked, disgusing her grimace as she stepped. " 'Don't climb to high…you might fall. Don't run to fast…. You could trip.' I swear… like a bloody hen."
"And I take it that your childhood involved a great deal of falling and tripping then?" Kassyera asked pointedly.
"Well, yeah…but that doesn't mean he was right."
At this the group shared a much needed chuckle…all of them but one.
Durom sniffed the air and looked about. He had studied predators and prey, the very fiber of nature all of his life, and while he did not want to alert his companions and make them even more tense, in his mind there could be no doubt about it.
They were being hunted…
After a little more than a half hour of walking, and only a bit of backtracking, Kassyera assured them all that they were coming close to the stairway to the inner cloister.
And the sooner the better the Paladin thought, for Preen had noticed that the normally placid Durom was sporting a new demenor. Every turn they came to, he tensed up, as though he expected some evil to leap out at them at any moment. Granted in this place, Preen could hardly blame him, but it still sent the Protector of the Word into a similar mindset, heightening his sense and focusing them at the surroundings.
But it was not until Preen saw Natalie come to a dead stop, staring down a hallway, and then running down in the wrong direction that he realized just how bad the situation could truly be.
Like a shot, Kassyera was on the sorceress's heels, her advanced physical conditioning more than enough to catch up with the more scholar like Zann Esu.
Natalie hardly noticed the assassin at her back as she ran down the hallway and into a dead end. Now, upon closer inspection, she was certain of what she had seen.
Two more bodies lie here, grossly dismembered bits of the abominations, but that hardly mattered now to the sorceress.
What did matter was the lump of bones and black scales curled up between them like a napping cat, back to her. Natalie knew her brother, she knew how he liked to sleep, and she knew without a doubt the scar that he carried between his shoulders.
"Elric!" The sorceress went down to her knees and wrapped her arms around the curled up demon without a second thought, smiling warmly as she spoke. "We thought we had lost you."
Her face pressed against Elric's scaly back, the sorceress felt the halfling shiver at her touch… and then growl low in his chest.
Natalie's heart skipped a beat… she had heard him do this once before as well…as a child. She had accidentally kicked a ball out from under him and knocked him back when they were playing. When she had gone to see if he was alright…he had growled like this and his eyes turned….
The sorceress jumped back quickly, holding out one hand and catching the assassin, pulling her back.
"Wha…Natalie…what is.." The assassin stopped, seeing the fearful look on the sorceress' face.
had seen Elric when he was fighting and angered recently, and each
time, his eyes regained that frightening red glow. He had fought it
back each time that she had seen, but now the memory flooded back of
that day behind the farm house, when he had not held back.
He was so much smaller then, and his claws were not so sharp, but he had still cut into her leg pretty badly that day and she had the scar on her thigh to prove it. Back then, he had come to and apologized over and over again. And after a day or so, she had forgiven him and forgotten about it.
But he was no longer so small…and she knew from experience that those claws were no longer so dull. If this was the same as that day…then she would not likely be alive when he regained his sense and apologized.
"Elric….Elric…Stop." The sorceress took a shaky step back, warding the assassin to do the same. "It's me, Elric…remember…Natalie?"
All of Natalie's worse fears were proven as that lizard like head reared up and turned apart of Elric's normally handsome, sleek snout towards her.
His lips were pulled back in a wicked sneer, dripping with blood both fresh and old. The scar that now accented his face, running down between his eyes and down his snout, was also caked in dried, crusty blood and bits of flesh.
And the most frightening feature of his face now, the mirrors into his soul….his eyes burned with a red-hot, glowing hatred that encompassed all emotion.
Natalie felt frozen for that instant, and Kassyera must have felt very must the same as she did not move to run or defend. Holding the two of them in his piercing gaze, the demonic shell of what they both knew to be Elric shifted his weight, slowly pulling up to four legs and leaving his wicked, deadly tail to drag on the ground.
He glared at them…unmoving except for the twitching of his snarling lips and the heavy heaving of his flanks as he breathed.
Natalie thought that she recognized this hesitance. An internal struggle…
One that she felt she had to help her brother win.
"Elric…it's us." She said calmly, bringing her hands out in front of her. "We are your friends, remember? We don't want to hurt you…"
This statement was replied to by a deep, throaty chuckle on behalf of the demon before them.
Natalie was confused….was Elric merely playing with them? If he was, then is was a HORRIBLE joke. Or did the demon inside of him not consider them a threat at all?
"Bloody HELL!" Natalie and Kassyera heard the voice of the Amazon over their shoulders just as an arrow soared past them.
"RAID NO! DON'T…" Natalie tried to warn them, but it was too late.
The arrow was struck and sundered in mid-air as the black half-demon leaped into action, it's tail moving faster than humanly possible to block the projectile as the beast lunged forward, leaping clear over Natalie and Kassyera and diving towards the Amazon.
Surprised to no end, the Amazon was nearly defenseless as the wolf-sized beast descended on her, claws outstretched and jaws gaping open. In an act of pure instinct, Raid pulled her bow up horizontally and stepped in-between the outstretched arms, avoiding the wicked claws and jamming her composite bow into the beasts jaws.
To an extent, the maneuver worked as the Amazon was bore to the ground by the sheer weight and momentum of the creature, but she quickly realized her horrible position as the demon thrashed from side to side on top of her, jaws working furiously to remove the obstacle while it's claws supported it's weight on the ground, keeping the bow from breaking it's jaw-hinge.
Pinned as she was, Raid could do little more than hold the bow in place and look down the throat and into the eyes of this creature that had suddenly attacked. The teeth were razor-sharp and in the sheer moment that had passed, they were already stripping the strengthened bow, weakening it tremendously.
The demon could feel the flimsy gag losing it's integrity in his mouth. In less than a second, it would snap the bow in half and begin it's first feast on delicate, soft, real woman's flesh that it had ever had. The weaker part…the Elric… had never eaten a woman before… would it be softer? Would it be tasty?
The train of thought was interrupted as a powerful blow sent the demon flying on it's side, jarring the bow from it's mouth and letting the Amazon roll to the other side. Durom, his powerful great spear in his hand brought the weapon to bear, it's barbed and sharpened head turned to the flat-side that he had used to throw the half-demon to the side.
'Fool,' The demon thought, rolling as it landed so that it would come up on it's feet. 'Used it's one chance and used the flat part…. It will pay for that mistake'
At that moment, the eyes of the druid and the monster met, cold and steeled blue eyes against the hate-driven, burning fire in the eyes of the demon.
The gaze was held for several seconds before a new voice interrupted the demon's focus.
"The beast from the Blood Moor?" The man in the shining armor said. "The murderer is here?"
The demon cursed the weakling Elric…. He remembered this scent from before, when the half-demon had fought before. He had let this one live…and now he was here to vex the demon again.
Blinded by a righteous rage, Preen bared his teeth and brought his weapon to an offensive position beside the druid while Kassyera and Natalie moved to the side of the Amazon to help her.
"Watch it's movements," Preen warned the druid, knowing some of the creature's tricks from their previous encounter. "It has the agility of a cat and will side-step if you bear to hard on it, and watch the tail, it conceals deadly blades and acts as a whip"
you be cautious, Preen…" Durom replied, noting the conflict
behind the flaming red eyes. Unlike the paladin, He saw the creature
for what it truly was and now worried that they might have to kill
the half-demon in self-defense. And such would be unfortunate as he
both liked the one called Elric and had to admit a curiosity as to
the Half-Demon's design. He carried features of many beasts of the
mortal realm, bringing them together in a harmonious blend that made
his appearance both frightening and beautiful at once.
Indeed, Durom thought, there was more than just the demonic at work in Elric, simple demonic blood would not have gone out of it's way to create a form so sleek and efficient… only nature had such concerns.
"We battle a friend who is not himself."
"A…a friend…?" Preen looked down at the wolf-sized demon and his eyes widened in shock.
"Elric…So THIS is what we have searched for? This is what the others defend? A murderer and a liar to boot?"
In reply, the demon hissed hatefully and dove forward, twisting and sweeping out it's tail when it came in range.
Thanks to Preen's warning, Durom was able to catch the tail with his great spear instead of his hand, protecting himself as the razor sharp bone-blades ejected themselves from the smooth tail-sheath while the paladin dodged back for a minute before coming in with his blade overhead, prepared to sever the creatures head from it's neck.
Despite the shockingly effective manuver, the demonic reflexes managed to catch the incoming blade with the equally tough claws. Using the momentum of Preen's attack in it's favor, the demon pulled the paladin down with him, disarming him in one move while swinging about and using it's tail (which was entwined with the druid's spear) to push the mortal backwards while retracting the blades and slipping his tail out of the trap.
As the paladin went tumbling forward and the druid back, the demon seized it's opportunity, pouncing on the heavily armed paladin and pulling it's claws back what would be a fatal slash across the un-helmeted warrior's throat.
'BLOOD-REND-TEAR-FEAST!' The demon reveled in it's victory, eager for more blood.
The blow lost it's momentum as the half-demon was suddenly attacked….
Slapped across the nose.
Confused, the half-breed's eyes lifted up and found the sorceress in front of him…her breathing labored.
"Elric…." Her voice was little more than a whisper…
The demon was sent reeling…. This was not something that it had expected. And that surprise brought a sense of weakness…. And weakness was something that the now dominant demonic psyche feared more than anything.
In that instant of confusion, the mind that the demon shared was torn apart…shattered and broken as memories were released, instincts suppressed, and that damnable controlling voice.
The half-demon let out a suppressed "WAARRKKK" as it fumbled off of the paladin, claws to it's head as the pain from the sudden release of all that it had suppressed hit is like a runaway cart.
Just as surprised was the sorceress Natalie, who had moved almost on reflex, striking out at what seemed to be the demon's only vulnerable spot. Now she realized that she had stirred something in his head…something that she had to nurture if they had any chance to protect him AND the party.
Moving without thought, Natalie got on her knees and grabbed the demon's wrists, not even thinking about the fact that he could easily break both of her arms.
The demon's head twitched back and forth, as if unable to focus past whatever was happening in his head, whatever conflict now consumed him.
"Elric…Look at me…"
The demon shied away, it's eyes closed…
"LOOK AT ME DAMNIT!"
The demon looked up, unable to disobey the command, and opened his still flaming red, but now they were un-directed and confused and his breathing was erratic.
"Who am I, Elric?" She asked, trying to force him to remember.
The demon snarled and tried to turn away.
Frustrated, Natalie dropped his wrists and grabbed the sides of the demon's head, focusing it on her.
"WHO AM I?"
The demon seemed to hesitate…as if struggling with the thought before it willed it's mouth open slightly.
"N….na…Natalie…" He hissed, first questioningly…then stronger.
"And what am I to you?" She cooed, putting her face to his and keeping a lock on his eyes.
"S…Si…Sis…ter…." The demon closed it's eyes for a moment, then opened them again, the glowing red that burned replaced by human eyes…dull, green, human eyes.
Seeing this, the sorceress let go of his face and realized how badly her brother was shaking.
"Na…Natalie…. Oh gods… I…" his voice gained more and more humanity as he continued to speak.
For a moment, the sorceress's heart jumped as her brother lunged forward, but calmed almost immediately as he embraced her, draping his lizard-like snout over her shoulder.
"I'm sorry…I'm sorry… I'm so sorry Natalie…" He said over and over again, his voice cracking as if he were trying to sob…but couldn't. "I woke up after the floor gave away under us and I lost everything. I couldn't stop it, and it took everything away from me."
Natalie held him closely, attempting to comfort the demon though she felt she could not even begin to understand. And looking up past him, she eyed Preen and Durom, who stood behind them, weapons ready, and with a slight nod, asked that they go back and check on Raid.
Humbled and cautious of the sorceress and the power she held over this formidable creature.
Elric…the real Elric had been found, and everything that he was had finally been laid bear to everyone there.
The Necromancer awoke from his awkward position to the clanging and pounding of a smithy's hammer against metal.
Leaning up and stretching his neck, he felt a sharp pain shoot down his spine as well as two sluggish, limbs as he realized that his legs had fallen asleep under him.
How long had he been asleep he wondered. Looking down at the pile of ash that was where the Smith had been, he had guessed probably more than an hour.
"Aha!" Cathim heard a victorious voice from the direction of the forge.
"I knew that I had some talent as a smith."
Grunting with exertion as he rose, Cathim pulled a mana potion from his belt. Thankfully, he had pushed himself to, but not beyond the point of exhaustion, saving himself from a very dangerous 'mana-burn'. Having already risked his life once to force a bit more raw energy into his spells at Tristram, the necromancer was not looking forward to having to suffer his body being tormented if he were to focus his magic for longer than his will would allow.
"What did you do?" Cathim asked, the bitter blue mana potion working down his throat and helping ease his exhaustion. "Make a horseshoe?"
"Nope." the barbarian turned to the necromancer, his face beaming and sweat rolling down his bald head and brow. "I just made the very thing that is going to get us all out of here in one piece, thanks to this LOVELY magical hammer." Tozam turned and kissed the head of the Horadric Malice for a split second and then pulled away from the still hot surface of the magic smithing hammer.
Now Cathim had let the barbarian peek his curiosity, watching Tozam
dance around in self gratification for a moment while he downed a
health potion and a bit of water to restore his vitality, Cathim
decided to take the plunge and ask.
"Alright…WHAT did you make that is supposed to save us all?"
"Aha, A feat of such smithing skill that it is amazing that nobody thought of it before, my dear necromancer… First, I found a handy hand and a half bastard sword that was just lying around… then I found another and came up with the idea… You have heard of those weapons some pirates use…with two bits of pipe connected with a chain they call 'Nuncucks'. Well, I have two swords…so why not link them with a bit of chain? And then…we have…SWORD-CHUCKS! The greatest weapon in barbarian history!"
The necromancer looked at the smug barbarian for a moment in utter astonishment, wondering what sort of idea could POSSIBLY be worse…
"You're joking…" Cathim said, his eyebrow's twitching from the sheer stupidity of such a creation as a 'Sword-Chuck'. "In the name of Rathma and all the dead that have been turned in the Great Cycle of Being….PLEASE TELL ME YOU ARE JOKING!"
barbarian laughed heartedly at the necromancer's tone and begging
"Well…since you put it like that… Yes. I am joking. Give me a little credit Cathim…I mean seriously….Who would be STUPID enough to come up with an idea like THAT?"
"Thank all the gods in heaven…" Cathim breathed a sigh of relief, glad that his companion was NOT a complete moron.
"But what I DID do was make the weapon that will kill Andariel!" Tozam announced proudly, pulling a still warm dagger off of the forge rack. "What do you think?"
Cathim, wondering what was so special about the little dagger, took the blade offered him… and recognized the bone-inlain handle immediately.
"Wait a moment…this is MY dagger. What did you do to it?"
"Isn't it great?" Tozam beamed, "I took those little beads that Akara gave us and worked them down into a thin layer over the blade of the dagger… That way, we have an actual weapon that can hurt the Demon Bitch Queen."
Tozam stood tall, proud of his incredible resourcefulness and skill in coming up with this idea.
"Wait…let me get this straight…." Cathim felt a familiar headache pounding in his head. "You took… the four beads of Demon's Bane…."
"Actually,.. Only three, the fourth piece we used to get him…" Tozam thumbed at the pile of ashes on the ground that was once the Smith. "And that piece turned all black and crumbled when I tried to get it back."
"I see…so you melted down three little balls of Demon's Bane."
"And you… spread it very thinly over the blade edge of a dagger?"
"Without ANY knowledge of how the metal behaves, weather or not it will alloy, or IF it can even be metallurgical JOINED to another metal without losing ALL of it's properties."
"Ye…" Tozam stopped…. He hadn't thought of that, in fact, he was just thinking that the metal acted an awful lot like quicksilver in that it hardened very fast as it adhered to a new metal. "Well…I…uhhh."
"Uh-huh. And tell me, Tozam, did you EVER stop to think that maybe the reason they had been made into beads in the first place is because the amount of Alchemical Silver needed to KILL a full-blooded demon had to be….ohm I don't know…the size of an acorn?"
"Well…I uhh… It MIGHT work." Tozam tried to reason, smiling sheepishly.
"Might work? We are going up against a demon goddess of hell, breaking down her doors and practically challenging her to a fight to the death…and you want to risk ALL of our lives on MIGHT?"
"Well," Tozam blushed under the necromancer's scrutiny. "Look at the bright side, the others will still have THEIR beads if we need them."
"Assuming they are alive, Tozam…THINK. Even if they ARE alive, what if they ran into creatures like THAT one?" Cathim gestured to the pile of ashes on the ground.
"So….uhhh…was that a BAD idea?" Tozam asked, trying to keep his voice as light hearted as it was a few minutes before.
"I don't know how the metal works either, Tozam. I suppose 'IF' it works, I will owe you an apology and I will buy you a tavern of ale for coming up with it."
"Heh…" Tozam smirked.
"But if it doesn't, I'll make sure to torment you for the rest of your afterlife for your stupid 'creation'."
"Ahhhh so business as usual then?" Tozam smiled his most disarming smile and tucked the mystical hammer into his belt where it would be safe.
Cathim sighed. What a team the two of them made, he thought as he took the 'silver-lined' dagger and put it in his dagger sheath. Maybe they would get lucky and a single cut from this would kill Andariel.
Cathim doubted it of course…but he was allowed to dream as well.
"Business as usual. Now…lets get out of here and find a way to the inner cloister. If the others are still alive, they must be heading that way as well."
"Oh…" Tozam's eyes lit up again and he pulled the Malice from his belt and held it in hand. "Something else…I found out what one of the magic things it can do is."
Cathim cursed himself again as his curiosity was peeked by the barbarian.
"I never wanted to hurt anyone…" Elric tried to tell them, sitting as part of the circle of companions for the first time since that night in the Den of Evil wearing his own skin. "I…I try to do the right thing and help when I can…but sometimes… I lose control. And when I lose my grip on my humanity…I become…that "THING"."
"Internal instincts…" Durom said solemnly, seeming to understand what Elric was trying to explain better than any of the others. "You are constantly battling against what your nature tells you to be. A beast that lies within you. If I did not find what the demon was capable of so frightening, I would be intrigued."
"How long have you had to struggle with this 'inner-demon'?" Kassyera asked, her eyes showing a worry that almost matched Natalie's.
"All my life…" Elric admitted, lowering his head in shame. "I have learned how to use it almost at leisure, letting it fight while I try to keep my mind focused on what has to be done. Most of the time, it is satisfied with the blood I let it have in service of what I do. But sometimes…." His voice trailed off.
"It overwhelms you?" Raid asked, stretching out her leg again and looking pleased to find the pain was gone.
With Elric's help, they had managed to find a small, unopened stock of healing potions that had managed to mend all of the party's wounds, Raid's most of all, as from what the others could tell, she had cracked her leg. And as Preen was not yet capable of healing with his magic, the few potions were all used up to make sure that the group was in top fighting condition.
Elric answered, then launched into a deception that would make what
was to come much easier…he hoped. "I lose almost everything when
it takes over… I have no control…and I can't remember what I do
when the demon is moving."
He shuddered a bit…that last part was a deliberate lie, he could remember what he did perfectly even if he had no control…but he had to set up a defense for what he knew was coming.
"My companions on the Blood Moor?" Preen asked, keeping himself well restrained in spite of what he was hearing.
"I'm sorry, Preen. I didn't know. I admit I approached one of your people and asked for a mana potion…but I had intended to run away when the answer was no. He was…a bit faster than I expected and I was injured. And when that happened.. I lost it." Elric lied.
In truth, he had picked the fight with the first arrogant paladin, but Preen did not need to know that. Nor did he need to know that Elric had been consciously aware of his ever action in that fight… His apology however, was genuine. He regretted having assumed the worse from the paladin group and forcing the fight. Yet another sin that he felt he would have to live with in silence.
"I… I won't ask you to forgive me for what I did, Preen. I know that I am guilty, weather I remember it or not, for everything the demon does. I am just sorry that it happened that way." Elric bowed his head respectfully to the paladin, wondering just how he would react to this news.
Much to his surprise, Preen changed the subject entirely.
"Kassyera, which way to the inner cloister?" The paladin asked, standing up suddenly and moving away from the group.
assassin looked about for a moment before figuring a direction.
"Down this hallway, no more than a couple of minutes if we have figured out this maze of a jail correctly."
"Then let's move people." Preen moved straight in the direction Kassyera had pointed out, as if nothing had happened at all to affect him.
At first, Natalie was about to object, but then felt Elric's claw on her hand. She jumped slightly, a reaction the honestly saddened the half-demon deeply.
"No, Nat….he's right. We still have to find Tozam and Cathim. We are not finished here yet." He said soothingly as he moved to all fours and started to follow.
"Wait, Elric… Shouldn't you change back?" The demon's sister asked him quickly, also getting to her feet.
"What would be the point, Natalie?" The demonic figure turned slightly to show off his uninjured side and look back at her slyly with his now shining green eyes. "I would just get everybody bloody when I changed back. So best to stay this way."
At first shocked by Elric's comfort around the group in his demon form, the sorceress then stopped and conceded the point to her brother.
The only thing that upset her now was when the assassin walked up behind Elric, quickly knelt down and whispered in his ear. What business did that woman have talking to her brother?
What she didn't realize was that the message the assassin had for the demon was nothing coddling or sweet.
"For someone with perfect memory…" She had said, "..You should learn to lie better. Or you'll be caught in that deceit one day."
trying to act stoic in the matter, did not react, instead choosing to
act as Preen had and simply…soldier on.
surprisingly intact nature of the inner cloister had changed little
since the exile of the Rogues. In some ways, this was due to
Andariel's desire to keep some piece of the Monastery as it was in
order to remind those who were brought before the Maiden of Anguish
of those she had easily crushed to take the keep.
The other reason was because the common, destructive rabble of the Bitch-Queen's army was not allowed to come so close to their mistress's seat of power unless they had urgent matters to bring to her attention or were summoned by name to the throne of Andariel. Under normal circumstances, the large gate in the south-western wall was the only entrance into or out of the Inner Cloister
However, just because the demons and monsters of this place had not trashed it completely did not mean that it was unaffected. The grass in the cloister, once trim and green was now dead and a heavy, dusty rot had already begun to infest the many white marble statues and the fountain that once complemented the green grass were now blackened by the evil presence of the place.
And it was also why the Inner Cloister of the Rogue's monastery was completely empty when the chained, hidden door leading down into the jails was suddenly pushed up.
"Hey..what the hell.. The trap door is locked." A muffled male voice came from behind the door.
"Locked?" A equally started, sultry, female voice asked. "Come on… let me though, there isn't a lock in the world that can keep an assassin out."
"Oh yeah…how about the kind that's on the other side of the door?"
"Well, that MIGHT help."
"Damn…of all the times that Cousin Tozam would come in handy." A different deeper male voice echoed up from a distance.
"You guys DO realize that you have a walking battering ram down here don't you?" Another, younger sounding voice came, growing stronger as it spoke.
Some grunting and uncomfortable noises were heard then as one of the voice member's bodies pushed pass the others, drawing a few comments.
"HEY!" the sultry female voice came again, "Watch where you're putting that nose."
"Sorry, sorry…. It's dark okay."
"Can't you see in the dark?"
"Uhhhhh…" The younger voice stalled, then changed the subject. "Oh look, I found the door…you mind moving Preen?"
"Owch…what the hell are you doing demon?"
"Arc the back just right…. Coil up your muscles and…"
The Trapdoor leading up into the Inner Cloister was suddenly ripped off it's hinges as the black, lizard-like demon barreled though, his arms over his head as he pushed the doors off and then out in front of him to cushion his landing.
"Well," Preen peeked his head out the trap door and then stepped into the inner cloister. "That was certainly loud enough for everybody in the keep to hear."
"Oh yeah, Pally?" Elric turned, his earlier submission of guilt and remorse seemingly forgotten. "And I suppose you had a BETTER idea?"
"No…not really." Preen admitted before turning about to help the others out of the door. "Check the area, Elric."
" 'check the area… open the door….' You know Preen, keep barking orders and we'll have to have you put down."
"Elric…" Kassyera came out of the trapdoor next, more than ready to fight if need be. "You need to Focus…"
"Oh alright…" the half-demon moved out, his movements reminiscent of a depressed
Preen sighed, helping the others file out as they each took stock of the situation and readied their weapons.
But, despite the tenseness of the situation, the group found that the inner cloister of the Rogue's monastery was surprisingly calm, not at all the fiery, lethal welcome they had expected.
In only a few moments, a much relieved looking Elric returned, a slight bounce in his step as he bobbed along back to the group.
"Elric, Report." Preen ordered.
"You DO realize that I am not a solider, right, Preen?" Elric reminded the militant paladin.
"Elric… What did you see?" Natalie asked him, cutting off the paladin with her staff before he could get another word out.
"Coast is clear." the half-demon motioned the others out.
"CLEAR?" Preen almost couldn't believe it. "I was expecting hell and damnation to come at us in a wave like in Tristram.
"Well, that makes two of us, but there's nothing out here."
"And you are certain?" Durom asked, his hands still holding the great spear.
"My six senses don't lie. There is Nothing out here… at least not yet. But there is a door on the northern wall that must lead into the citadel."
"If that's so, then they are probably all packed in there worshiping their goddess." Natalie observed, wondering if Andariel could really be so arrogant as to not post at least a few guards outside the temple.
"Six senses, Elric?" Durom asked, curious.
"Yeah, Sight, smell, sound, touch, taste and blood lust." He looked that the druid in surprise for a moment. "Don't tell me, humans have no sense of taste right?"
"You're joking right?" Durom asked, his face a stone mask.
Only a few minutes later, the group found itself in what was once the garden of the Inner Cloister of the Monastery. Now, they were taking one final rest, hoping beyond all hopes that their companions, Tozam and Cathim would find them.
A hope realized when Elric perked his pointed ears up and turned his head to the south, facing the wall of the outer keep.
"Hey…does anybody else hear that?" the half-demon asked his human conspirators.
"Hear what?" Preen asked just before a low, rumbling thud echoed though the Inner Cloister.
"It sounded a lot like that, only it was softer last time."
Again the echoing, sound came, only this time clearer, far more like a crashing than a simple thud.
"Arms…" Preen said…softly at first, and then repeating, pulling his shield from his back and readying his sword. "Arms!"
Almost in unison, the troupe was up and ready, blades, stave, bow and spear at the ready while Elric just kept facing the direction that the noise seemed to be coming from.
Again the crashing sound came, louder now and more clear for all of the mortals (and half-mortal) beings in the inner cloister, tense and ready, prepared for the worse that hell could offer in this place….
Once more the crashing came…. Too close now to make any mistake that it was coming for them… and now, as it was, Elric could pinpoint it's orgin.
"THERE!" The half-demon pointed across the garden, to an outer wall that protected it. Whatever it was, it must have been powerful indeed to make such a noise.
And then it happened.
A large chunk of the wall exploded outwards, stones and mortar going every which way as dust puffed out, obstructing the view. Raid was ready, her bow up and leveled and Natalie prepared with pre-emptive bolt of fire.
"AHA! You see?" A familiar voice came out of the dust cloud. "I TOLD you that if we kept knocking down walls, we would eventually get outside."
"In case you've forgotten…the LAST time we got outside, we almost stepped right off a cliff, just make sure there are not a sheer drop this time."
Weapons and spells dropped from their ready position as the group already in the cloister looked in awe as the two figures, one bulking and massive and the other scrawny and slight stepped though the dust cloud.
"Well I'll be damned…" Kassyera couldn't hold back a smile as the Necromancer and Barbarian strolled into the Inner Cloister, looking dusty, grimey, and more than a bit covered in blood, but none the worse for the wear.
"Careful, Viz-Jaq'taar. Somebody here might take you up on that offer." Cathim smirked, surprised to see that the others had beaten them to the Cloister.
"You weren't thinking about going in without us? Were you?" Tozam heaved a small, ordinary looking hammer over his shoulder.
Together again, the party would have wanted nothing more than to share a moment of each other's company, to exchange stories of what had happened and to ready themselves for what was to come. But these mortal champions had no time to celebrate their reunion.
Questions…. Duty…and their dire situation kept the conversation short as all eight heads now turned to the last door.
They all knew what was beyond that, even if they did not know what was to come.
Andariel's Lair. The very home of the Bitch-Queen in Sanctuary.
"So…" Elric's voice broke the tense silence. "Who wants to knock first?"
Inside the temple, hundreds of converted sisters, goat-men, and fallen demons had gathered, either reveling in their own cruel natures by having over-matched fights with crowds choosing the weakest among them and having at them or contemplating the glory of Andariel, their Mistress, in an all out orgy of blood and mayhem. The enormous founts that once held blessed water now over-ran with blood, though weather it was the blood of the rogues first slaughtered her or that of the 'failures' among the corrupted sisterhood could not be distinguished.
Such was the 'festivity' of madness inside the cathedral sitting atop Andariel's seat of power that no-one noticed the main doors opening slightly…or the figures filtering in. After all, this was a place where none but those chosen by Andariel could come. This was the place of her Vanguard.
nobody at all noticed, intoxicated as they were by their
blood-frenzies and religious divinations of their mistress, when
several small, coin shaped disks began to slide across the floor.
Nobody noticed the shadows of the 'un-touched' as they held to the background, waiting for their cues.
Well, nobody noticed…except for a single goatman…who's hoof strayed and stepped upon one of the flat disk that was set upon the floor.
"Uuunngghh?" The goat bleated, hardly realizing that it would be his last syllable.
The trap snapped open immediately, a single three-pronged pole extending to the ceiling before erupting in a malistrom of spinning lightning.
Needless to say, the creatures within range of the device were VERY surprised. And though the chaos caused by the first of the assassin's traps was useful, the true beauty did not begin until a few seconds later…when each of the other twelve traps the assassin planted were activated, sending forth waves of fire.
Kassyera grinned at her handiwork, waiting for those anxious moments for battle. The others watched waiting for the majority of these hell-spawns to fry or burn.
And the Half-Demon watched with a restrained glee as the demon within him stirred at the screams.
As suddenly as it had begun, the fire-storm ended, leaving several shocked survivors among the piles of corpses.
Paladin and Barbarian, predicable as always, rushed forward into battle.
Elric simply couldn't take it anymore.
"YOU…BAD PEOPLE….DIE…." He started… not sure what he should say…
In the end…he stuck with what he new best, letting out a powerful roar before sprinting into the fray himself.
Andariel, the Maiden of Anguish, could not have been more surprised when she heard the sudden commotion above her.
the word passed her lips, but offered no solace as the Bitch-Queen
felt a sudden warmth above her.
So…it was true… The intruders had not only managed to get past the outer walls, barracks, and jails in one piece without alerting her…but they were also so brazen as to DARE attack her directly. And with the rancid fire no less?"
a deep rumble in her chest and a sneer on her twisted face, the
Lesser evil heaved herself out of her chair.
She had not been so directly challenged in centuries. Not even the Seraphim had been so bold as to attack her. But then again, that was always in her own palace of Ice and bones on the first level of hell.
But no matter…. These putrid mortals would learn soon enough the error they had made in coming so boldly against a goddess.
How they came here did not matter. They would die and rot in her temple. Her servants feasting on their flesh.
except the Half-Breed.
The Lord Diablo had charged her with dealing with THAT one personally. And so she intended.
"Send forward all who serve from the lower levels!" The Bitch-Queen demanded of the few guards that she had stationed inside her throne room with her. "Slay the mortals And bring the half-breed to me!"
The goatmen and twisted sisters that played the part of Andariel's guard parted and carried her commands without question, rushing blindly up the catacombs and into the fray.
Leaving the Mistress of Anguish alone in the deepest chamber, in her own remaking of her place in Hell, more anxious now for battle than she had been since she sided with Azmodan and Belial in Hell's Civil War.
"Come to me, Half-breed." She sneered, "And let us see how thick your blood flows."
GUYS!" Elric shouted over the combined violence and blood-shed of
the large temple room. Swinging back quickly, the half-demon managed
to decapitate, eviscerate, and strangulate a row of goatmen, pulling
back quickly enough that their spurting blood did not get in his
mouth as he spoke.
"I THINK WE NEED A NEW PLAN!"
"HHHAAAYYIII!" Kassyera, who was closest to the half-demon launched into a flurry of kicks and heavy, bone crushing punches to free her mind up a moment.
"IT'S CATHIM'S TURN TO COME UP WITH THE PLAN!"
Cathim, doing his best to keep to the back and act the part of a puppeteer with the skeletons that he had managed to summon up, overlooked the scene as Natalie and Raid stood at each side of him, using magic and arrows to keep anything from coming too close.
Tozam, Durom, and Preen each fought along the line, each of their styles devastating the enemies and trying to keep them from surrounding each other, with Cathim's skeletons lending a hand were they could, but not backing each other into a corner as the blades, pole-arms, and snapped around the fighters.
and Natalie knew that they could not hold this position. Certainly
not if the reinforcements to the demon army CONTINUED to pour out of
the single door that must have lead deeper into the catacombs.
Not only that, but Raid and Natalie had already managed to kill a few of the smaller black-skinned Fallen who were attempting to run for the door to bring more aid.
It went without saying that the door was their greatest threat. The more fallen, goat-men, and tainted sisters that flowed out, the more tired the combined fighters became. Even with the skeletons aiding them. Cathim saw that there was only one chance that the odds would even out.
"I HAVE A PLAN! ELRIC! CLEAR ME A PATH TO THE DOOR!" The necromancer shouted at the top of his lungs, dropping his focus on the skeletons and imparting to them an order to "Kill anything not human…except the lizard", before pulling his next to last blue mana-potion from his belt, pulling the cap out and chugging the liquid with a purpose.
IT!" Elric hissed back, snapping forward at the crowd of goat-men
and tainted sisters that were attempting to press in on him, forcing
them to jump back as he slipped backwards and out of the fighting
The monsters that he left attempted to press their advantage of course, but thankfully, three of Cathim's skeletons managed to fill the void Elric left, holding the tide of creatures back as best they could.
Cathim, seeing the half-demon move, tried to follow along with it, getting ready to run RIGHT after Elric the moment that the demon started to push into the growing tide of demonic allies.
Elric landed on his claws, his head down and eyes closed as he felt the urging in him. He already knew that he was not going to be able to do this if he kept fighting like a human. Even though his skills as a warrior might be 'on-par' with Tozam and Durom, there was only one place that Elric would be able to get the savagery and instinct he needed to do what Cathim asked.
'Demon…' He asked himself, seeking whatever hole in his mind the beast had fled into after his previous defeat.
'You want me to fight now?' the demon in his head replied, 'You want to rend…to kill…. To ravage…But why? You do not see the joy in death…nor the pleasure of my existence.'
'DAMIT YOU! Get out here and do your job!' Elric's voice screamed inside his head, sending a shock rippling though his body. You want blood… You got it… but if you EVER go after my friends again…'
'Oh… go on…' The demon in his mind, completely uncaring to the dominant Elric's threat's shook him away.
'I'll kill you…'
The demon was awestruck.
It knew that there was only one way that it was going to die…and was utterly shocked by the severity and seriousness of Elric's voice.
This time… he meant it.
Elric's eyes opened, fiery red and more than ready to take anything that these annoying creatures could hope to offer.
"REND!" The blackened half-demon snarled, barrling forward with such speed and ferocity that those in it's path were torn to ribbons BEFORE they had the chance to be surprised.
of course assumed that 'rend' meant 'follow me' and within a
few moment's had managed to duck though the death and gore to the
Although somewhat perplexed by Elric's sudden new enthusiasm, the necromancer thought it best to wait as he realized a whole new swarm was heading up the stairs. Looking in and seeing a vast horde of fallen warriors heading up, Cathim merely shrugged helplessly.
"SO SORRY! FIGHT'S OVER! WE'RE CLOSED!" He shouted down the corridor before putting his hands together and dipping once more into the spirits of the place. Once more, he thanked Rathma that there were so many spirits here, ready and willing to fight for him. Just before the first dark Fallen warrior came within weapons range of the Necromancer, a thick, narrow wall of bone filled the entire stairwell, crushing all inside and blocking the entrance. It's mass so dense from being elongated into such a tight spot that nothing could possibly break their way up the staircase as long as he held it in place, Cathim realized he was suddenly a liability.
As soon as the wall of bone was in place, Cathim ducked down, turning back and watching as Elric, Tozam, Durom, and Preen were thinning the warriors in the room. Already piles of corpses were forming near every one of the close distance fighters, who were now fighting on two fronts as a much more dangerous, demonically charged Elric crashed into the back of their lines, laying waste to all in his path.
It was at times like this…that the Necromancer was really VERY glad that Elric was on their side. Cathim smirked to himself, realizing that this move had not only evened the odds, it had doomed the creatures stuck in the main temple as surely as if they had been crushed in the hallway by the bone.
Not that he lamented it for a second of course.
"RETREAT!" The Dark-One Shaman King shouted, waving his banner back away from the now impeded staircase.
More than half of his tribe…crushed in a matter of seconds by the mighty human. And the screams coming from beyond the staircase were not like any that he had ever heard before. They were screams of demons…
This was wrong…how could mere mortals be besting them when there were so many? Already much of their force had gone up and was dying. Now, after more than a hundred died in an instant on the stairs, there were only a hundred dark fallen warriors left. Now the Shaman King felt the only thing that would truly stop them was the Almighty Andariel.
Yes…SHE would deal with these intruders.
"RETREAT TO THE GODDESS'S ANTECHAMBER! LET THEM COME TO US!"
Yes…the victory of Andariel would happen no matter what. Now the queen would show these mortal fools real power.
Preen moved back and then forward again, slashing and dicing in a pattern that the terrified goat could never even begin to unravel before his head was lobbed clean off. And with that last creature down, Preen fell to his knees, exhausted to the point that the only thing holding him up was his blade.
This leg of the battle was over and every single member of the eight man (and woman) party was wounded to a degree and fighting exhaustion. At first, nobody was even willing to approach Elric until he had calmed down (or his demon was also exhausted) and he came back to the group. Now, gasping for air and trying to clear their heads, the group divvied out what few supplies they had left.
Two mana potions for Cathim and Natalie, six stamina potions to share, and one full vial of healing left. The stamina potions were shared among the fighters that had fought hardest, aliveing their exhaustion while the health potion was divided into sips between each of them.
"You know…" Raid started, flexing her sore fingers, which had had unleashed untold damage on the horde they had just faced down. "This is really…. Quite challenging enough…WITHOUT the added handicaps."
"Agreed." Durom answered, clenching a small hole in his shoulder from a lucky spear that had penetrated his defenses. "Next time you people invite me on one of these outings… I am bringing a bigger belt."
who had cuts and abrasions all over his body and was stiff from his
wild, two handed sword swinging, let out a chuckle in reply.
"If that was a joke, Cousin Durom. Then we need to work on your sense of humor."
Elric and Kassyera however, looked to the sharpened bone wall that had saved them all and given them the time for this much needed rest.
"We have to go down there." Kassyera said suddenly.
"Agreed," Natalie sighed, taking one of the healing potions. "We'll go down after we rest."
"No," Elric spoke up, still panting and suffering from well over two does small cuts all over his scales from stray weapons and claws. "The longer we wait, the more time we give them to fortify…"
"And the more likely Andariel is to flee." Cathim reminded everybody. "Don't forget that if the battle turns too much against her, she will attempt to flee her body and make her way back to hell to recuperate. We can't let her."
"Right…" Preen reached into his belt and produced two small beads of Demon's Bane, drawing a shudder from Elric. "How are we going to do this."
"If I may make a suggestion…" Raid piped up again, calling all attention to her. "I say we Wing it."
"Wing it…" Tozam laughed at the sheer desperation of it all. "Sounds like a plan."
"Well, look at the bright side…" Raid smiled warmly, "At least if we succeed, the surviving Rogues may be kind enough to commishion a bard to write a song about us."
"I doubt it…" Elric shook his head. "Kashya's a bit too cheap for that."
"Alright…it's settled." Cathim stood up, grabbing the last man potion. "Lets bring the wall down and invite ourselves in.
Several miles away, the last of the Rogues limped back to the cave in which the Caravan hid.
Kashya reported the disastrous results of the attack to Cain and Akara, bringing forward her concern to all that the valiant adventurers who had gone in were likely dead as well.
was silent in the cavern as Akara, Deckard Cain, and Charsi the smith
girl kept their eyes to the east.
From even farther away, a very different pair of eyes watched the unfolding events from the majesty of the Crystal Arch.
Here, watching the events unfold in a pool of seeing, the Arch-Angel Tyrael watched with a heavy heart while the Crystal Council was deciding upon his request.
Although he did not wish to grow arrogant is saying he knew more than the council of the matter, he could not help but feel powerless as he watched what he felt was an important piece of the puzzle falling into place.
"Whatever you do, Elric…" The Arch-Angel whispered under his breath, holding out all hope until the very end. "Don't die."
battle, one worthy of legend and song in it's one grace, raged on
beneath the temple of Andariel.
Seven mortals and one merely half….
Exhausted as they were, battered, bruised, and fatigued.
They continued to fight against the legion of Dark-Ones in this chamber, a vision of Hell itself as the pool of blood and bodies filled the room with a sickening stench of decay.
"AAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHHHH!" The barbarian screamed in rage, adrenaline pushing his pulsing body to go though five or six Dark-Ones at a time, while the paladin, his shield disgarded long ago for being too heavy and in the way bore down on the beasts with an equally singular motive. Durom made his way across the room as well, however with a more calculated posture, his every move and action carefully planned as the enemies bore down on him, only to be cleaved in two or knocked aside by his weapon.
The assassin continued on, her graceful kicks and punches belying the fact that she was shaking to the point of falling apart.
Meanwhile, the Amazon, her bow string all but gone from overuse, continued to let fly what arrows she could find, but realizing her own supply had run out, she had instead begun to use the arrows of force that drained her very being…anything she could do to keep in the fight.
Meanwhile, Cathim and Natalie did what they could, trying to reserve their strength while picking off what enemies they could both from a distance and afar. Again, the Sorceress found her staff broken as she bashed an enemy's skull into the bloodstained ground over and over while Cathim, strangely enough, took his own combat as hand to hand, ignoring the dagger in his belt
And lastly there was Elric, who tore though the ranks as best he could, his movements becoming more and more sluggish as they fought, but his will never stopping.
And after more than twenty minutes of fighting the Dark-One's into a corner and throwing every trick and punch the group knew at them…. The last shaman fell as Durom separated it's head from it's body.
Now…the mortals stood, their breath labored and their bodies near breaking, before the door that he had no doubt lead to Andariel.
The cause of so much suffering.
The source of so much pain.
There were no jokes…there were no clever comments… there were no utterings of any kind between the eight who now stood, having conquered hundreds of demons that day.
There was only rage as the half-demon pushed forward, his own muscles close to bursting from strain, and pushed the doors open violently.
"ANDARIEL! DEATH HAS COME FOR YOU BITCH-QUEEN!" The demon shouted into the circular throne-room, his anger overcoming his body's need for rest and rallying the other to a combat position.
Silence swallowed them all as seconds went by before what they had sought….stepped into the light.
And the horror that was Andariel, the Mistress of Anguish, the Maven of Poisons, Goddess and Ruler of the first level of Hell stood before them.
The Bitch-Queen smirked, amazed that this ragged group had come so far.
But this was where they would end.
"Die… Maggots…." The once human lips hissed at them, and then charged forth, bashing the ground before them and sending every one of them, mortal and half, flying though the air.
Tasslewind crashed into the far wall and left a very defined
impression, having been directly in the path of the Maiden of
Anguish, he had taken the brunt of the shockwave she had lashed out
at them with. Even as he fell to the ground, the half-demon's mind
He had not expected the Lesser Evil to be so large, and the sheer horror of what she had done to the former battle-eagle's body was as much an insult as it was vile.
But what was more, Elric felt, that her attack had been stronger than Diablo's when he had faced the demon in Tristram, a dangerous thought as even back then, the Lord of Terror had made it a point to torment and humble the half-demon in every aspect.
Looking around, Elric tried to determine the fate of the others and realized that they were all laying very still in various places around the room.
'No' he thought. 'They couldn't be dead, not just like that from one shot'
At last his train of thought ended as Elric's body slumped to the ground behind the pool of blood tail first, his bones feeling as though they had all been shattered.
'No…' Elric willed his limbs to move, pushing himself beyond the limits of pain in an attempt to stand on his own four legs.
Something that was denied him as a powerful clawed hand grasped around his torso and heaved him into the air.
In an instant, not even Elric's tail was touching the ground as the Maiden of Anguish stepped back over the blood pool with Elric in hand.
"You have caused me SUCH grief, Cub… You know that don't you?" The lesser evil cooed, her voice a dangerous mix of honey and venom that reminded Elric a great deal of Blood Raven when she spoke sweetly.
Not one to surrender while being tormented, Elric swung his tail up, hoping to cause at least a gash in the demon-queen before she killed him, but was hampered as Andariel grabbed at the base of his tail and squeezed, crushing the bones inside.
"WWWWWWWWWWAAAAARRRRKKKKKKKK!" Elric let out a long, pained cry, his body racked with agony as the new pain mixed with older, stale injuries. Now, pressed beyond anything that he had ever done before, the half-demon's body twitched as he whimpered softly.
"Wh….what…" He managed to form, trying everything he could to keep him head straight. "What did you do to them…?"
"Oh… The humans?" Andariel mocked the pain-stricken demon with a playful tone, as if she were actually sorry for what she had done. "Just a little venom mixed with the air. I assure you that they are all QUITE gone now. Although I have to admit. Such a waste. What you did here was no small feat and I must say, Half-Breed… I am seriously impressed."
"Save it for someone who will be intimidated, Bitch-Queen" Elric puffed up, and was rewarded by being slammed into the wall again, deepening the impression that he had made before.
"I am not refering to them, Half-breed. I am talking about you." Andariel cooed again in her bitter-sweet voice, this time taking on what seemed to be a more curious tone.
"Such a wondrous specimen. What are you? Not a regular half-breed…that much is certain." Noting the half-demon's silence, Andariel released her grip of Elric's now ruined tail and brought one claw up to his exposed belly, running a claw down his scales with just enough pressure to draw blood and make the little demon arch his back in pain.
"Oh how I would relish the chance to peel back those lovely, shiny little scales and find out for myself just what lies under this demon skin. But I simply don't have the time. So I will ask you myself."
"What ARE you? A demon trying to fit in with human? Or some frightened, cursed little boy with a morbid little monster lurking inside you?"
Elric found himself gasping for breath as he struggled to keep his thoughts straight, forcing himself to buy more time.
"Neither!…" He started, but then realized that what he said was hardly true. His teeth chattering in his head, he tried to answer."…or…both… I..I DON'T KNOW!"
"Well, little one, as a 'Favor' to you… before I send you to oblivioun, I'll tell you. What you are…little half-breed…is a fool." She shook him about and then moved to the side so that Elric could better see the six prone figures that lie sprawled out on the ground among the corpses of the monsters they had killed.
"What you see is what is inevitable. To think that you HONESTLY believed that these pathetic mortal whelps had any chance against a goddess…" The Maiden of Anguished laughed cruelly, her confidence in victory absolute.
then was it that something about the scene made Elric feel as though
he still had a chance.
For whatever reason, Andariel held the demon up again, putting them face to snout and eye to eye.
"There never was much hope for you…or any of them. You've chosen the wrong side, and for that, the punishment is the eternal pains of hell." Andariel smiled wickedly, wondering what glories she would have heaped upon her for this medial task.
And Elric's mind suddenly realized what in the scene was missing…and saw the one opening that he had left. So, without drawing any attention to himself, he pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
"Any last words….Half-breed?" Andariel cooed, bringing her free claw up to bear and scratching Elric slightly under the chin.
"Yeah…." Elric closed his eyes and smiled, the bile in his mouth hissing as his tongue started to burn. "Just two…."
Andariel looked the half-demon in the eyes again, curious as to his response.
A moment passed in silence…
"SUPER LOOGIE!" Elric shouted, his tongue burning away completely and a bit of green gunk spilling over his lips and making Andariel pull back slightly before the half-demon spat a mouthful of foaming green acid straight into Andariel's eyes.
"AAAAAAAAAGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!" The Maiden of Anguish, who had never before experienced mortal pain took a step back and released the half-breed, using the extra hand to grasp her burnt face.
Now as Elric looked up, he realized just how large a mistake the arrogant Bitch-Queen had made as the bony, cynical necromancer darted out from his hiding place behind the door, dagger in hand and quickly slashed at the back of her hoof-like legs, sending up a puff of black smoke before releasing a torret of blood.
"CATHIM?" Elric could hardly believe what he was seeing. "HOW?"
"You should know better than to try and poison a necromancer!" Cathim said, turning about and slashing again at the howling Evil, cutting into the other leg with the small dagger before the blade shattered against her leg.
Now a new scent assaulted Elric's sensitive nose, the last thing that he would have expected while hearing the cries of the Maiden of Anguish.
enormity of it clicked in an instant. This was why Andariel hated
non-magical fire…her blood was flammable!
Bounding with a new-found energy, or what little of it he had left, Elric locked the pain of his crushed tail and wounds in a small corner of his mind and dived at Cathim, rolling with the necromancer out of the way before focusing on the one thing that he had been neglecting his entire time in this place.
His own fiery magic.
He had next to no mana of course…but he did not need much.
All that Elric needed…was that one…little….spark.
Like a miniature sun, the blood suddenly ignited, first spreading to the small pool spilt by the still screaming and agonizing Andariel, and then up the stream of blood and into the veins of the Lesser Evil.
In a single moment of agony, Andariel realized her impending fate and attempted to flee, tried to force herself from this wrecked, ruined body and find a new host so that she could crush these meddlers.
But she could not.
Something kept her anchored to the pain.
the fire move inside her body and begin to scorch her inner workings,
the Bitch-Queen realized what had happened. The while she had been
distracted by her victory, one of the humans had somehow overcome her
poisons and in her moment of surprise, had cut into her with a weapon
forged of Demon's Bane.
And now… the blade was stuck inside her, rooting her demonic spirit to the doomed body as surely as a spike would bind a human.
for the first time in her existence….
Andariel, a scourge upon humanity, the Maiden of Anguish… was truly afraid.
In that instant of realization, the fire reached Andariel's shriveled…blackened heart… and exploded outward in a maelstrom of flame. Incinerating her body from the inside out and obliterating her spirit inside it.
Thoughts raced as flame erupted from her body, shooting upward and scorching the roof of the catacombs. Sparks and spurts of flame of all sides began to erupt from her body, causing pain like nothing that she had ever felt before.
'How could this have happened?' She wondered though the pain. 'She could not have been defeated…. She was a goddess. And this feeling…this…fading… this was death?'
Somewhere between fear and outrange and downright disbelief, the single question arose. One that she felt was the answer to all that had happened…the answer to this absurd defeat.
Using the last bit of her strength, Andariel turned her burning skull and melting eyes towards the one who had done this to her.
"Whh…." She gasped out in pain,… "WHHoooooo AAARrreee YOOooouuuu?"
The half-demon's shining green eyes glared back, unable to answer truly.
"WHO ARE YOU?" Andariel screamed out just before the integrity of her eyes deteriorated.
She watched as the details of the half-breed's outline began to fade into a silhouette on a fiery background… and then as the green eyes were replaced by balls of flame.
Now, before her eyes, the silhouette twisted. Changed, and yet, stayed very much the same as it grew larger in her eyes...more powerful and more menacing.
And the horns…the large, sleek horns that pulled back from his crest…. They were…familiar….
And the an aspect more frightening than her own death suddenly rang out as she realized she recognized this shape.
"You…? Darbash Halith…? .No…NNOOO! YOU'RE DEAD! THERE WILL NEVER BE ANOTHER! IT GOES AGAINST EVERYTHING! THERE CAN NEVER BE ANOTHER!"
Now…her final words spoken, the Maiden of Anguish roared one last, horrified roar as her body fell to ashes. And her spirit, which had battled with directly with the commanders of heaven.. Faded to nothingness.
Andariel…The Maiden of Anguish…. Was defeated.
"What did she say?" Elric was enthralled by Andariel's last words. She knew him… she had known something of what he was. So enthralled that he did not notice that the entire chamber was shaking until Cathim screamed in his ear.
"IT'S A REPEAT OF THE HALLWAY! THE FIRE HAS WEAKENED THE MORTAR! IT'S GOING TO COLLAPSE!"
Realizing what the Necromancer said was true, Elric set aside the question that was burning in his head and turned to the pressing matter at hand, getting everybody out alive.
"CATHIM! WHERE IS THE PORTAL SCROLL?" Elric shouted over the shaking, trying to keep himself calm despite the fact that stones were already falling from the ceiling.
"YOU HAD IT!" Cathim returned, his expression suddenly very fearful.
Now, Elric realized, was a time to panic…
He DID have the only portal scroll, and he had it when they had fell…which meant that it was still back with his false skin under the rubble of the collapsed hallway.
The horrid rumbling then became strict chaos as the ceiling collapsed and hundred of thousands of pounds of stones and dirt came down on top of the eight companions…. Sure to bury them forever.
Then all went black in the eyes of the half-demon…and a familiar sweet scent assaulted his nose while a harmonic ring filled his ears.
"Tyrael…?" Elric's senses went reeling as the pain and exhaustion overtook him.
And then all of the half-breed's senses went dark.
pillar of fire and explosion following lit the sky like a wild-fire
in the east. And Akara announced immediately that she had felt the
great evil lift off of the land.
The Rogues could not believe what they were seeing.
Such as sign had eluded all of their hopes for so long.
But one, Deckard Cain, watched not the sky… but the road coming back.
Too many lives had already been lost. And he was not willing to accept that they who had done this were all gone.
Surprised indeed was he when he was suddenly blinded by a pure white light out of the corner of his eye…and when it faded, he turned to see seven valiant men and women and one heroic half-demon lying on the ground.
Calling for aid, Deckard Cain dashed to them, already his mind hard at work thinking of how to save each of them.
And in that moment Cain wept, realizing the blessing that the world had just received.
That the heavens had brought back Heroes greater even than those that the Lord of Terror had taken from them.
And for that…he was
Act 1: Epilogue-
"Your actions, Tyrael…."
"Were beyond your…."
The Crystal Council had reconvened immediately following the action that Tyrael had taken and now all three of the members were outraged by what they saw as a direct act of disobedience against the spirit of their wishes.
"The Mortals must…"
"Once more you show…"
"…Your inability to make sound…."
"…Judgment concerning the…"
"I did what I thought was right!" Tyrael declared, his own confidence in his choice shining as clearly as his wings. "I did not interfere with the battle, nor did I in any way influence it's outcome. Elric Tasslewind and his companions toppled and have forever rid the world of Andariel's insidious presence."
"As you say…"
"…indeed it is a…"
"…Victory for the heavens."
"And you justify…"
"…that your actions to move…"
"…these mortals had nothing to do…"
"…with your past relationship with…"
"They earned their lives when they faced down Andariel." Tyrael stated clearly, neither admitting or denying their charge.
"Then we do not…"
"…believe your judgment was…"
"…Wrong…. Only perhaps…"
"…A bit…too generous."
Tyrael nodded, showing his respect to the council as he pressed other matters.
"I thank you of course, Council Members. Now as to my previous request."
"We have conferred…"
"…and we have decided…"
At this moment, Tyrael was thankful for his deep, impenetrable cowl as he would not have wanted the Council to have seen his relief.
" This will be…"
"…Your LAST allowance…"
"…on the mortal world…"
"…Go there, and do what…"
"…You feel must be done."
"I go now, Council Members." Tyrael bowed and began to take his leave.
"…Keep in mind…"
"…That when you are exhausted…"
"…and pulled back from their world…"
"…any further interferance…"
"…with the mortal realm…"
"…Will force us to…"
"…Strip you of your command…."
Tyrael nodded. He had expected as much.
the more reason that he HAD to succeed in this last mission to the
mortal realm, while he still had the power to prevent what was
Leaving the council chamber, Tyrael could not help but wonder if concealing the truth of Elric Tasslewind and what he could become from the council was wise. As an Arch-Angel, he had of course never lied…but he had found that..withholding the truth was at times a necessity.
In the end, Tyrael decided that he could not go back on his word and had no choice but to accept the consequences of what he had done.
And as he prepared to leave for his last time for the world of Sanctuary…. Tyrael realized that now, Elric Tasslewind and those that traveled with him were on their own.