Only the Harvest

NOTE: In regard to timing, these events occur during or just prior to those chronicled in Dragoneyes’ recent masterpiece. In this case, Abadon does not yet know of the heroes’ capture, and will probably only just have returned to Dorado when Scarlet delivers them.

The city loomed dark, even by the light of day. Smoke rose from it, from the burning remains of homes. The walls were black with dried blood, and the streets littered with bones. Beside the great gates of the city, bodies were impaled on poles, and skulls were set in piles. This had been the city of gold once, but it had another name now, bestowed by those fearful few of its residents who had escaped it.

Dorado. City of Pain.

It was here that the demon came, here that the burning voice in its mind sent it. It did not know, but it was the only messenger remaining. Most had died on the road, their very minds burnt out by those dread commands. One other still lived, but in a most horrible fashion. Thus it would be the only one to come here, in search of the demon lord Abadon. To deliver its message, and finally be free of that burning voice.

 * * * * *

Abadon held court in what had once been the city’s cathedral, for it amused him to so mock his foes. He sat where the altar had once stood, on a throne made of human bones. There was much still for him to do, many commands to consider. Diablo was again awake, but still weak. His armies still scattered. It would take time to call back the higher creatures of Hell, the dark lords and the blood knights, and their kin. Thus, Abadon was quite angry at being disturbed by the announcement that a minor demon wished an audience.

“Tell me why this is important to me,” he growled to the skeleton which served as his chamberlain, “And why I should not simply have it and you both torn apart!”

“It claimed to have a message for you,” said the skeleton. “A message from the dragon who serves you.”

“Very well. Send it in.”

The demon was ushered into the cathedral, and forced to kneel before Abadon. Two skeletons stood beside it, their weapons at the ready.

“Well?” asked Abadon.

The demon opened its mouth to say something, but before it could do so the spell took over. The demon’s eyes turned red, then burst into flame. Its skin blackened, and smoke rose from its ears. When it spoke, it was with another voice. That of the dragon, Scarlet.

“Abadon. I hope that you receive this message. I had limited means of reaching you, so I just used what was at hand. Anyway, I have come across something which may interest you. While traveling through the forest, the party came across a skeleton. One which did not exist as far as magic was concerned. No doubt you will reach the same conclusion I did: the man whose skeleton this was had no True Name. It had been taken from him, ripped away by an outside force. You see the enormous opportunities presented here. With the power to take the Names of these humans, you could easily return your master to power. I give this knowledge to you, as my own magic works along different principles. However, it would be of great use to you, and thus I hope to be compensated in kind when next I see you. Farewell. I look forward to our next meeting.”

As the message was completed, the demon let out an agonized scream. Its head smoked for a moment, then burst into flame as the magic burnt it up from the inside. It collapsed to the floor, and in a few moments nothing remained but black ash.

Abadon did not notice, for he was lost in thought. This news did indeed represent a great opportunity, and one that he needed to make the utmost effort to exploit. Names represented great power in magical terms, but they could only be learned, or given. Not stolen. To learn how to take Names would grant unimaginable power. Power to grant his master dominance over the realm of mortals. Power even to shake the gates of Heaven, and bring them crashing down. Perhaps, even, power to supplant his master. He dismissed that thought, however. Diablo had treated him well, and he would remain loyal.

Finally he came to a decision, and rose from his throne. The potential power here was too great for him to entrust this mission to underlings. He would have to go himself. This reminded him as well, that all those present at his court had heard also the burning message. As he left the cathedral, he turned to one of the demon lieutenants which stood outside the door.

“Gather your cohort,” he said, “and take it into the cathedral. You are to destroy every being which is inside. And on pain of annihilation, do not listen to whatever they may say to dissuade you.”

* * * * *

It was a long journey to the clearing in the forest, as mortals measured such things. Abadon traveled there in moments, flying on the wings of dark magic. He found the skeleton that Scarlet’s message had described. It was unmistakable, for his demonic senses did not register it at all. Only by unaugmented sight and feel could he even tell that it existed. Scarlet had been correct. The mortal’s Name had been stripped away, such that even his remains did not exist in magical terms.

Abadon crouched over the skeleton, seeking some clue as to what had happened to it. It was frustrating, as he could not use his powers to simply determine the answer. So intent was he on his examination, he nearly did not sense the attack in time.

Something warned him at the last, some little sense common to demons and men both, or perhaps simple luck. He spun around and brought his arm up, his skin already hardening into a shield. Three spines sparked as they struck his arm and bounced aside, their sheer force still causing him to stagger. Shaping one hand into a long blade, he looked up to face his assailant.

The thing before him was like no other creature he had seen before. It looked as though a suit of armor had decided to wear a demon, rather than vice versa. Patches of skin were stretched taut over metallic plates, and around long spines. It had five arms, such that it seemed to crouch permanently to one side. Perhaps strangest of all were the eyes in its demonic face. One glowed a dull red, while the other blazed with the blue-white fire of a star.

The thing seemed to grin, and lightning crackled in its hands. It raised its arms, and Abadon leaped aside as lightning blasted the ground where he had stood. With a yell he charged, and brought his blade-arm hissing down on the creature’s head. It was caught by one of the creature’s arms, and imprisoned as a tentacle reached from its wrist and wrapped around the blade. The thing stared directly into Abadon’s eyes, and seemed to grin again. The blade was ripped out of its grasp as a blast of sheer force sent Abadon flying across the clearing.

Abadon rose with a growl of sheer rage. He leveled his hands at the creature, and sent a gout of flame across the clearing. His view of the creature shimmered for a moment with the heat, then stablized as his magical fire was diverted by an invisible shield. He broke it off and tried a different attack. With a wave of his arms, bands of dark energy surrounded the creature. It tried to claw them aside, then drew back with a hiss of pain. It then stood very still and stared at Abadon.

“Enough of this,” said Abadon. “I wish only to find certain information. I think talk would benefit us both.”

The creature remained still for a moment, as though listening to something else. Finally it spoke, in a strange voice that hissed and growled, a voice that seemed to come from afar.

“I choose to listen,” it said.

“Very well,” said Abadon. “What are you? Who do you serve? You are not one of Diablo’s, I know. Are you Mephisto’s creature then? Or Baal’s?”

“Fury I am,” it said. “Blood Fury. I serve the Harvester.”

“I know not that name. Some minor demon, then? Or an evil from the outer darkness? I will not have another meddler in this realm. Diablo shall rule in this plane, not some overgrown imp!”

“Good. Evil. Dominion. These things matter not. The harvest matters. Only the harvest.”

Abadon considered this last statement for a moment. “Is that your goal, then?” he asked. You are here to collect True Names?”

“That is my purpose,” it said. “That, and.... one other. There is here a certain group. Harvester has sensed them. They are Men and Demons and a Dragon. And others perhaps. I hunt them here. Harvester requires them.”

Abadon grinned. “I think I may know the ones you speak of. Indeed, you are welcome to them, save for the dragon. And I am willing to make a bargain with you. You are free to take their Names, and those of the mortal men of this realm. However, you are bound not to interfere with Diablo’s return to power, and you will acknowledge that he rules over this realm. What say you?”

The creature stood still for a moment before responding. “This is acceptable,” it said.

“Excellent,” said Abadon. “In that case I’ll just leave you to your own business. Don’t worry, the bands will dissipate in a few hours. In the meantime, you can think about what you have agreed to.”

With his magic, Abadon reached out and opened a portal back to Dorado. Still grinning, as at some joke, he stepped through, and the portal closed.

* * * * *

The Fury watched Abadon step through the portal, then looked down at the bands of energy. With a flash, they vanished. It then stood still for a moment as it communed with its master, its thoughts reaching out of reality to where Harvester waited.

== Why should I have let the Demon escape?== asked the Fury. == If it were harvested, it would have yielded much strength==

::: We determined it to be the best course of action. We do not know this being, but we know the master it spoke of, Diablo. It is one of the creatures here which cannot be taken. And though you might have harvested the servant, it is better for the moment to allow it to go free. Our ultimate goal in this realm is to find the ones you hunt. The petty bickering of Demons here does not concern us:::

== Very well. How then should I find the ones I seek? ==

::: Begin by following the Demon. Its pattern intertwines closely with that of your prey. Whether it realizes it or not, it will lead you to them:::

== So be it. I will do so. And I will find the ones you seek ==

::: Yes. Yes. And then..... the War may be won at last:::