I Came, I Saw, I Slaughtered
Just Like Old Times
Asmodeus paced up and down in his office. The Keeper's idea was a sound one, granted, but he was much more the voyeur when it came to torture. He was not entirely sure if he could actually get his hands dirty. Still, there may be no alternative, he thought. Without the Mistresses in this realm…
A smile crept across his face. He grabbed his staff and swiftly made his way to the nearest barracks room, tapping on the gong just inside the doorway. The sound reverberated throughout the dungeon, and all it's denizens dropped whatever they were doing and headed for where Asmodeus was waiting. They found him standing behind the table, keeping it between himself and the entrance; he still was not used to heroes being in his midst and it always felt strange watching them all piling in through a doorway without shouting and screaming and yelling battle-cries.
The assorted troops filed in and waited patiently for the Mentor to speak. Asmodeus leant on his staff and gazed at the army before him.
"Gentlemen," he began, "We are going to be going on a scouting mission to the place where our enemy resides in order to capture some of their troops for interrogation purposes."
The Elves looked at each other nervously. Knights patted each other on the back, jeering at each other about the coming bloodbath – they seemed to have forgotten the bit about prisoners. The Barbarians looked at each other and shrugged.
"All I need is a volunteer to carry out these interrogations," continued Asmodeus. "We will be leaving in the next hour. Dwarves, prepare the prison and make sure that the torture chamber is ready for use."
There was a loud gasp from the assembled at the mention of the torture chamber. Being Humans and Elves, and ultimately heroic types, the very idea of inflicting pain on anyone to gather information was totally abhorrent to them. Shouts of protest began to fill the room, along with much shaking of fists and pointing of fingers.
Asmodeus nodded. "Yes, I had a feeling that it would prompt this reaction, however, needs must when the Keeper drives, and we must learn as much about our enemy as possible. The only way to achieve that is through using methods which most of you will find unsavoury but are completely necessary, and it has to be said, it is the only thing that these creatures will respond to." Asmodeus tried to prevent himself from smiling at the image in his mind of a Dark Mistress on all fours begging to be whipped into submission.
"All right," said the Elven troop leader, "Say we're able to capture a couple of those monstrosities and we get them to talk. So what? They'll probably lie to save their hides or get themselves a quick death!"
"Or they will talk quite freely and be granted the same," said Asmodeus, "but I assure you, we will try. And I know we'll succeed. We need to know as much about the enemy as possible, and if that means capturing them and …persuading them to reveal their secrets, then so be it."
The Elven troop leader scoffed at this, but he said no more. He sat at his appointed place at the massive stone table in the centre of the room. He shook his head.
The Barbarians did not question Asmodeus' logic. They were incapable of such feats of intelligence. They just needed an excuse to go out and fight some more.
The Wizards were huddled together in deep discussion until one of them broke off and said, "What of the medium of scrying? Does that not tell us anything about the enemy? It seems utterly pointless to have such magic at our disposal and not use it!"
Asmodeus raised an eyebrow and said, "The last Wizard I heard saying that managed to teleport himself to the bottom of a very deep abyssal trench in the deepest ocean, all in the name of 'progress'. My way is so much more effective, even if it does risk lives." As long as it isn't my own of course, he thought.
The troops assembled at the end of a specially constructed tunnel with several doors and traps put in place to receive any unwanted guests. The Dwarfs forged on ahead, carving their way in a gradual slope upwards, sensing that it would not be very long before they reached the surface.
Asmodeus' mind was racing. His own kind living above ground? Unthinkable! And yet, here they all were, heroes almost every single one, going out and looking for trouble as heroes so often do. He just hoped that they wouldn't blunder their way into whatever situation awaited them at the other end.
The figure was a mere silhouette as they watched the progress of Asmodeus and his troops through the growing tunnel. A smile played along the hidden features. Fingers steepled as the figure considered its best options. A hand dismissed the image, and the figure stood, stretching its magnificent wings.
The ceiling of the tunnel crumbled aside as the Dwarfs broke the surface. The flood of light was not unexpected, but still overpowering, and it took quite a while for everyone to adjust to the midday that blazed from above. Asmodeus was born and raised underground, and so was never told of this bright shining orb that was plaguing his vision. The only bright orb he had ever seen was a conjured fireball, but this paled in comparison.
The troops emerged, led by Asmodeus, blinking into the light and began to get an appreciation of their surroundings; at least Asmodeus did.
To the mentor, it was like a home from home. Indeed, the piles of dried out skeletons, the burning buildings, the plumes of smoke, and the general look of mayhem and chaos reminded him of how Skybird Trill looked after the first time himself and the Keeper conquered it when the Keeper was only one being and not an amalgamation of two. Asmodeus smiled to himself, noting that the Sun was beginning to be blocked out by the smoke and some thunderclouds that were gathering overhead. He surmised that perhaps they had found the right place.
A large fortification stood dominating the remains of the landscape a few miles away, with large walls festooned with spikes along the bottom and different types of siege engine along the top. Figures could just about be made out among the battlements moving back and forth in patrol mode. Very few windows were on the surface of the walls; most of the openings were arrow slits.
Asmodeus had an itchy feeling on the back of his neck, the same feeling he always got whenever he was being spied on. He half shrugged, thinking that it stood to reason that whoever was leading the settlement would have a scrying mirror much like the Keeper's own one. He drew his sword on impulse. On seeing this, most of the troops drew their weapons also.
"Remember," said Asmodeus, "We are here to capture only." There was an unspoken 'or else' at the end of that statement. Various heads nodded. Asmodeus led the way.
It wasn't long before they saw their first guard posts. Most of them were unmanned; however it was clear from the wreckage around that they were not expecting any trouble from outsiders. A great victory had obviously been won here, and the victors were somewhere celebrating. They had to take advantage of the distraction.
Suddenly, a loud cry sprang up all around them, and several Orcs and Trolls emerged from doorways and seemingly empty buildings. Some Elves were smashed to the ground by their hammers, but the Barbarians rallied quickly, blocking with their own hammers and striking back hard. Asmodeus did not mind too much; all he was interested in were the Mistresses. However, there appeared to be no sign of these elite troops. The Mentor had reasoned that the ability to build a torture chamber should have certain bonuses that came with it, particularly the leather clad femme fatales themselves. It seemed it was not to be.
The Barbarians made short work of the Orcs and Trolls, purple and green blood soaking into the ground from a sizable collection of smashed skulls. Everyone was ready to storm the keep, the adrenaline high, their blood lust not sated. Asmodeus hesitated, however. He did not like the feeling he was getting from the edifice before them. It had a strange sense of foreboding, a feeling he was used to engendering in his foes, not within himself. He looked at his forces; he had lost a few archers, but apart from that, the troop was more or less intact. He shrugged. Why not, he thought, they needed the exercise.
Then he heard the flapping of wings, a terrible and all too familiar sound. A deep laugh echoed across the landscape and off the castle walls, a laugh that he had heard from one who was both an ally and a foe depending on where the mood took him.
The muscular frame came into view, the blue skin taught across his chest and abdomen, the arms and legs rippling in anticipation of what was to come as one hand held a two handed sword as though it were a letter opener. The glowing spheres that passed for eyes bored into Asmodeus' own, the gaze laden with a challenge.
"Welcome to my home, Asmodeus," said Zalador, leader of the Dark Angels.
Asmodeus stared back at Zalador, trying not to show his surprise and fear. It was proving difficult. He drew his sword in defiance; his troops hefted their own weapons. Everyone looked at each other briefly as footsteps entered the remains of the city square.
Black Knights marched in formation, flanked by dozens of skeletons. Bile Demons brought up the rear. They were flanked also, but by more Trolls and a few divisions of Goblins. What Asmodeus had mistaken for birds on their arrival turned out to be nothing less than a flight of Dragons, their huge scaly forms gaining more detail as they brought themselves in to land. Their roars and short bursts of flame were enough to send most of the Dwarfs scarpering. The Barbarians, too stupid to recognise danger when they saw it, stood placidly near to Asmodeus, glaring at the magnificent beasts as they gripped their war-hammers tightly in ham sized fists.
Each army stared at each other across the square, faces grimacing with challenges, fear, and anger in equal measure. Shouts echoed across the space with invitations to death in various forms, disparaging remarks regarding various creatures' mothers, and insults about battle prowess.
Zalador and Asmodues stepped forward and faced each other about ten feet apart. Both smiled without humour, gripping their weapons tightly, Asmodeus' palm slick with sweat.
"Does it come to this now, Zalador?" cried Asmodues, "We who have faced death together on more than one occasion, facing annihilation from some foolhardy confrontation! It makes no sense!"
"You garnered our favour when last we met, Asmodeus, but no more. We cannot tolerate your presence here. You have tipped a delicate balance, bringing heroes into our realm. It's dangerous!"
"Any more dangerous than what you have brought before us here today?"
Zalador smiled. "This is but a fraction of what awaits you inside those walls. If I were you, Asmodeus, I would just put this one down to experience and go back to your pathetic little underground domain. Plump up the pillows and heat the milk for your precious Keeper who has long since passed its prime!"
Anger flashed in Asmodeus' eyes. He's trying to goad me into attacking, he thought. Why does he not finish us now?
Zalador continued, "What are you waiting for, Asmodeus? Permission from that worthless puddle of essence that you call your Master? Or is it Mistress? I can never be sure." The smile on the Dark Angel's face remained a frozen rictus as Asmodeus continued to refuse to budge.
The Mentor returned the smile. "You can't attack me, can you?"
Zalador's eyes flickered slightly, enough for Asmodeus to notice. His expression became pinched, and the grip on his sword tightened.
Asmodeus said, "I think there are rules in place, strictures about which you have no control over. Who is really at the top of this, Zalador?"
Zalador tried to look confident, despite the sweat breaking out on his forehead, but he was not doing very well. "That is not your concern!" he said, trying to sound dangerous.
"Oh, I think it is," said Asmodeus, not letting go of the subject, "Because whoever it is seems to need us here very badly. Very badly indeed."
Zalador sneered at Asmodeus and lowered his sword. "Very well," said the Dark Angel, "You may leave this place freely with your troops, but do not return above ground. It will be the last thing you ever do!" With that, he swiftly turned away and marched back to the ruined castle, gesturing for his troops to follow.
Asmodeus' grip on his sword hilt slowly relaxed as he watched the enemy leave. He turned to his ragged assortment of men, Elves and Dwarves and nodded.
The retinue turned and marched back to the underground with its tail between its legs.