To Hell and Back Again

Disclaimer: I own nothing but my own characters' personalities and any original characters herein.

Cold Plains.

Out on an open field, a leather-clad amazon was crouching over the body of a dead Rogue. Dried blood and mud caked pale flesh, blackened where it was torn open and face locked in a mask of horror. The speartip angling in her right hand shined dully with blood.

"No use lingering over the dead, Eva."

The blonde woman craned her neck to look up, at the source of the voice. He seemed more like a shadow, with his black clothing and armour offset against the brooding sky, melting into each other.

"How ironic that you should say that, of all people."

The pale man smiled indifferently, wind tugging at his ashen hair. His eyes, grey and impassive, flicked over the dead woman.

"The state of their undress even prevents us from harvesting any useful armour from their slain corpses. Pity."

Eva rose from examining the dead corrupted Rogue, giving a terse breath. She squinted up at the evening firmament. Mildly overcast skies, always threatening with drizzle. The soil was damp but not soaked, battered stalks of grass whipped by moderate wind that always held promise of rain. A typical springtime day, one would say, if one had the time to absorb the subtler aspect of his surroundings. Bloodied corpses and hordes of ravaging demons tend to discourage such frivolities.

Eva shouldered her spear, glancing at the Necromancer. His gaze was as impenetrable as ever. She made a step forward.

"Onwards, then."

They took off towards the nearby patch of trees at a brisk pace.

Quill rats churred in the bushes around the beaten path, occasional unidentifiable sound, startling and unnatural, cutting through. Some distant noises of battle drifted to them on the wind, rising and falling with the icy breeze. Things were deceptively still as they paused at a coppice, wary and anxious. Around them, old branches were spread outward low to the ground and sagged heavy with rainwater. Not far away the remains of a pyre cooled slowly, charred devilkin bodies heaped haphazardly over each other.

Eva scowled into distance. Up ahead, a shape was looming desolately, isolated just on the edge of a forest line.

"A farmhouse," she stated redundantly.

Necromancer was silent. They picked up their pace and made toward the solitary household until they were only meters away, then they slowed their gait to a cautious crawl. Eva gripped her spear in a loose grip readily, leather tightening over wood. She slowly made her way around the corner, stepping on a raised veranda with a loud creak. Wind drove one rotted wooden shutter against the frame erratically, loosed on the rusted hinges. Her companion stopped in the small courtyard, making her pause as well.

She nodded inquisitively in his direction.

"I sense undead presence," he said with unquestionable confidence.

Her attention focused back on the house, on the peeling walls and soaked wood covered with moss, this time all senses strained for any sign of life.

Or anything reminiscent of life.

Stopping at the door, she pulled her spear back and rested the butt end on the ground like a staff, glancing at the Necromancer. He traversed the distance in two long steps, kicking in the door with a driven kick. Damp wood flew off its hinges loudly, stirring small cloud of dust as it landed inward.

They entered.

Scarce light filtered in through long broken windows, bathing everything in eerie atmosphere. Debris was collecting in corners, with roaches and rats skittering underfoot madly. Their boots left wet, muddy prints on the dusty parqueting, steps echoing hollowly. The interior was appropiately bleak and deserted of all activity, with what appeared to be a corpse of the farm's previous occupant, on its knees and leaning lifelessly against the wall like a broken mannequin.

The carcass reeked horribly, filling the already stale air with its additional flavour of rot. Eva grimaced in distaste, scanning the room sharply.

An old, visibly disused zweihänder sword was leaned against the corner behind a beaten armoire, covered in dust and cobwebs. Several rags which might have once been clothes littered the floor by the sideshelves, slowly rotting in perpetual dampness. A dusty table lay brokenly in one corner amidst splinters of chairs, leaning on one end as one of its legs was broken off. She looked at the Necromancer expectantly. He barely turned back to Eva resolutely as a low, crackling moan filled the interior. The dormant zombie stirred, sensing the presence of warm flesh. Its flayed hands scraped up the wall as it pushed itself up and away, unsteadily turning to face the intruders. His face was a visage of blind terror, forever frozen on his unfeeling skin, his eyes – empty, quite literally. Driven by insatiable hunger, he lurched forward and slowly reached a yearning hand toward them, dried flesh hanging from bone in strips.

With an abrupt cry, Eva surged forward to thrust her spear into the zombie, skull cracking like an especially wet eggshell under steel tip. She drove the impaled undead back, pinning him to the wall until the tip came out from the back of his head and buried itself in the thick wood. Putrid yellow ichor oozed from the wound, black when the speartip burrowed deeper. Even with its face caved in and head pierced by tempered steel, it still made some feeble grasps at her. With a snarl, she wrenched the spear upwards with a sharp jerk and crunchy snap, finally destroying the zombie. She withdrew her spear and allowed the body to crumple down the wall, leaving behind a black stain.

Necromancer had already moved into the only other room in the house through the door on her left; the bedroom. Eva paused long enough to give a vicious kick to the lifeless undead, then hurried after him.

Stopping in the doorway, she quickly appraised the room with an exhalation of finality.

"We can rest here for a while," she walked in resolutely.

Necromancer made a non-committal noise as he examined the nightstand drawer disinterestedly. She rested her spear against a blackened fireplace and sat down on the mouldy bed. It creaked in complaint, loose wooden frame straining under the weight. Her keen eyes followed the Necromancer as he paced around the room idly, stopping occasionally to examine a dusty item.

"It's cold," she muttered, rubbing her shoulders distantly.

"I believe we'll get warmer soon," he turned from the window pointedly, manifold torchlights ominously flickering in the distance behind him.

Eva scowled, stepping over to him to glare through the flapping rag covering the broken window. The bobbing, weak lights were spread out in almost a line, with small groupings visible at this distance in the foggy twilight.

"Still in the outskirts, but they are approaching. They can't be farmers."

"I suspect not," Necromancer was now rifling through half-rotted bookshelves off-handedly. "Perhaps they'll pass us undisturbed. But I doubt it."

Eva was already moving into the foyer, dropping her quiver by the window before she disappeared outside. Necromancer tossed a mouldy book he was holding over his shoulder, casually strolling over to lean on the wet windowsill. He peered into the darkness outside for a while, cold wind pulling at his white hair. The sky appeared to be one huge raincloud, tattered and torn towards the horizon, that dissolved all light into grey oppression, like liquid despair. Distant rumbling of thunder could be heard throughout the moors, accentuating the occasional chilling bray, a sound decidedly unnatural and unsettling. Night was approaching fast, and with it things unspeakable, concealed and thriving under the diffused blanket of darkness. Bodies littered the moor, both of peasant and demon alike, rotting freely in whatever gruesome pose they met their demise. Not un-akin to war ravaged countryside, only much more sinister in origin. Over it all hung the stench of death and fear, the constricting walls of anxiety tightening ever closer to any who would venture through these despoiled lands. It was as if on some subconscious level the mind knew these were but the first vestiges of Hell on earth.

"Carvers," Eva declared as she rushed back into the bedroom, fresh raindrops glistening on her armour. "About three dozen of them, with two shamans. Too large for a patrol."

"Quite," Necromancer was leaning against the window frame languidly. "How long until they reach us?"

"Not long. A scouting party of four was sent ahead."

He flung the corner of his cape over his shoulder, sparing her a glance.

"I take it they won't be reporting back?"

The tip of her spear thumped against the battered floor, dripping dark blood on faded wood.

"It doesn't matter, they will know we are here when they find the bodies."

"Let them come, then."


And come they did.

The first thing heard was the chatter and garbled shouting of deformed demonic bodies, barely contained chaos of approaching horde. Occasionally a flicker of torchlight would illuminate a grotesque limb, a greasy face contorted with inhuman desires.

Eva observed the sinister procession hatefully, gauging the distance with expert eye. She let loose four or five arrows through the window, enraged shrieks signalling they struck true, then dropped the bow and quiver and grabbed her spear. She dashed out of the house just as first diminutive demons reached the porch, swinging their scimitars and shortswords threateningly. Immediately she threw herself into the familiar patterns, both physically and mentally, allowing the hostility of her enemies to fuel her own focus. The carvers surrounded her like deep blue waves, breaking upon her in bloody tide. Guttural croaks mixed with scratching of metal on wood and leather, torches flickering wildly in dying hands. With wide, sweeping motions she slapped aside threatening blades from all directions, skillfully alternating between fast jabs and long thrusts. Soon a circle around her was cleared of immediate assailants, muddy ground littered with fresh bodies.

She couldn't find the warlock in the crowd of angry carvers surrounding her, but his magickal presence was felt even in the heated frenzy of battle. Under the effect of his intangible curse, the damage dealt to her enemies was amplified to untold heights. A simple shove delivered the force of a hammerblow, a punch shattering bone and tearing flesh. Eva could cut through demons as if they were nothing but wax dolls, their bodies tearing with frightening ease.

The carvers circled her warily as the inner group was slaughtered, bodies tumbling away with powerful blows. Eva didn't give them the chance to regroup and overwhelm her, quickly launching herself forward to shatter their ranks. They closed in quickly, oversized scimitars glancing studded leather clumsily while her speartip deflected and stabbed with expertly precision. From the corner of her eye she spotted one of the two shamans, shouting out orders in his guttural tongue and, what was much more disconcerting, resurrecting the killed carvers with his unearthly magic. Previously slain demons rose from the pools of blood as if they had merely taken a clumsy fall, completely restored and healed from all wounds fatal and crippling.

Sliding past a group of charging carvers, she rushed another screeching pair barring her path; first one crashing backwards with perforated chest while the second one's head bloomed like a bloody flower from a penetrating thrust of the spear.

The shaman noticed her sudden focus on him and gave an alarmed cry, retreating behind a disjointed wall of his warriors.

Another carver rose from the mud to her left, revived and unscathed, save for his own spilled blood marring his features. Eva struck out with the butt of her spear to divert the scimitar's wide blade, aimed for her thigh. Dull edge slid down the length of wood with a scraping sound, then was slapped aside with a quick flick of her wrists. The diminutive fiend extended himself to maintain his balance, opening his right flank to her momentarily. He was promptly rewarded by two fast jabs of the dull end into his temple, followed by a sideways slam that cracked his head and sent him face-first into bloodstained mud.

Distracted thusly, she couldn't prevent the shaman to retreat further away into the mass of frenzied carvers. He ran into the house frantically, in hopes of gaining a tactical advantage. His path was cut short by the greatsword of a skeleton warrior. The shaman gave a gargled cry of surprise and pain, dropping his staff to clutch at the meter-and-a-half long blade impaling him. He squirmed weakly as he was picked off the ground, the tip of the sword coming out of his back black with blood, and slammed into the side of the house with such force he was almost cloven in two.

The skeleton let the body fall from the sword, effortlessly swinging it about into offensive stance with a thin spray of blood. It stepped off the porch and opened its mouth in mute warcry, depths of its eyesockets glimmering with eldritch fire. Two nearby carvers were taken by surprise by the undead warrior's speed and were cut down immediately, others falling over themselves to escape the long blade's reach.

Eva allowed this small triumph to inspire her towards final victory, and aided by the Necromancer's sinister magic she redoubled her efforts toward the remaining shaman. For she knew well that until he, too, was dead, all efforts against the demons were little more than futile.

An incoming carver was stopped in mid-run with practiced thrust, warcry frozen on his lips as steel crunched viscerally through his ribcage. Two more met their end in pools of blood, impaled mercilessly. In the momentary lull in assault, Eva took a precarious moment to scan the battlefield ahead of her, searching for the last shaman over the din of battle.

To her left a patch of fresh bodies was scattered for a few meters and then more carvers were coming around from the treeline, advancing with eyes full of malice. To her distant right, the skeleton was ploughing through carvers inexorably, blood and limbs flying through air. Behind her, another carver was already rising from his own blood, shaking off the cobwebs of resurrection nausea.

Onwards, relentlessly.

More aid came from the warlock to her side unpredictably, as subtly and devastatingly as only he was capable of, carving another sharp turn in the flow of battle. One of the corpses on her left, scattered between her and fresh strike group of incoming carvers, twitched violently and then spontaneously erupted outwards. It was a sort of abrupt, wet clap as the body exploded violently, showering its surroundings with gore and tissue as the body's skeletal structure turned into mortal, high-speed shrapnel and its gasses ignited in fiery eruption. All around it, bodies burst into lethal deathtraps with staccato explosions, killing many of the proximate carvers and granting others final death.

The bulk of the remaining carvers was now clustered around their last shaman, more and more of their deceased brethren rising back to life. The blue devils took to a more cunning tactics, grouping themselves into units of three that quickly dashed in for a strike as a solitary carver distracted the enemy. Eva weaved her way through the battlefield, coming ever closer to the shaman.

The first trio attacked, two of them immediately meeting death with quick thrusts of the spear. The third one was faster, evading her strikes by a margin as he veered off at the last moment. His shield was cracked in two by the thrust of the spear as it slid across it, but he stumbled back into the rusty sword of the skeleton.

Eva pressed forward.

Behind her, the skeletal warrior offered a brief clearing as it halted the progress of carvers behind her back, momentarily relieving one flank for her. Eva took the chance and launched herself forward, dashing past a trio that attempted to skewer her, impaling two more as she closely avoided several scimitar slashes. She grit her teeth as a carver shoved a torch into her side, boiled leather dissipating the brunt of the blow. With lethal precision she deflected his next slash and disarmed him of his crude weapon in one flowing flourish of her spear, following on with a fast two-strike thrust combo to the face and neck. Leaving spasming bodies behind in blood, she moved ever closer to her target. The second shaman was churning his magic and cheering his kin into battle from around the corner, half-concealed behind a rotten porch support beam.

Noticing her relentless approach he fired off a hasty spell towards her, the fiery projectile scorching her side as it blasted past and into some corpses, igniting them in explosive blaze. Eva screamed with gritted teeth as she spinned off course, catching herself in a half-crouch. The carvers surrounding the only remaining shaman quickly rearranged into offensive formations to counterstrike against the resilient threat.

However, their intentions were cut short by a haze of debilitating magicka which rendered them blind. They dropped their weapons and stumbled about in senseless terror or just stood rooted with weapons flailing about in sightless mortification. Eva wondered little, but instead seized the opportunity granted to her and launched herself into the disarrayed carvers, skewering several on her way. The shaman noticed his predicament far too late for an expedient retreat, managing merely a frightened croak. Eva rushed through his disabled guard with singular resolve, roughly shoving away those that she didn't kill on her approach. The spear circled tightly as it thrust forward, her whole body extending to focus the impact. The carver shaman was impaled through neck, thrown backwards to splatter the wall with his dark blood. Wasting no time and spurred on by the rush of exhilaration at the shaman's death, she whirled about and made quick work of the nearby blinded carvers.

With shamans killed and most of their force shattered, the turning of the tide dawned painfully on the surviving carvers. Panic and dread overtook their vile hearts, propelling them into desperate retreat. They were quickly cut down on the run, either by Eva herself or the untiring skeleton warrior, or simply vanished into encroaching fog, to fall prey to a fate far more terrible and insidious.

Hoarse screams faded slowly into the damp muffled mist, all movement ceasing in the cold rain. Resting for a moment, Eva gathered her wits about her again, glancing around as she planted her spear in the mud with an air of grim finality.

The enemy was vanquished.

She started back toward the house, carefully making her way amidst corpses. She stopped to stab down into a carver who was writhing on the floor without a leg, flapping about in his own blood. The warlock was nowhere to be seen, but his skeletal servitor stood stoically at the ready, sword dripping with gore and bones painted with fresh blood. Eva suppressed the unease growing in her at the presence of such undead beings like she always did, forcing the spark of momentary panic from her mind. The skeleton ignored her, remaining deceptively motionless in its vigil.

She paused to wipe the sweat from her brow, leaving a long red smear across her forehead from the bloody glove. Leaning heavily on her spear, she let her gaze travel over the battleground as she took a moment to steady her breathing.

Fog was hanging low over the moor, partially covering the littered bodies and making everything seem more eerie, otherworldly like a surreal painting. Stench of blood and demons permeated the air, some of the torchlights still cracking weakly in the wet mud.

Rain drizzled on the quiet battlefield and Eva's face, slowly wiping away sweat and blood.

She glanced to her left, snapping from transfixion.

"We should head back soon, warlock."

The Necromancer walked closer, a soft shape melting out of misty gloom.

"We should," his eyes slowly moved over the darkened moors behind her.

Eva studied him wearily. He seemed to be unbothered by the icy rain. Of course he would be, he who always strived on everything that was bleak and dreary, all the antithesis of joy and light. She scoffed at her travelling companion; black cloak billowing in sharp wind, head bowed and features hidden in the deep hood.

The skeleton rattled into motion abruptly, startling her. Necromancer paused to stare at her over his shoulder for a long moment, then made into the wilderness determinedly.

She followed, and they faded into mist.