Juss Nuse was in a good mood. How many years had he wasted his life covering current events like the O.J. trial and the Clinton scandal, just like so many other thousands of reporters and journalists hoping to get ahead, hoping that their angle would be the one to shotgun them into fame and fortune. Stories like this were a long time coming for him. All he needed was the guts to walk into that boss' office and tender his resignation. And now he was doing what he always wanted to do...covering the type of stuff he always wanted to cover...on his own time, playing by his own rules. This would, for lack of a better description, "totally kick ass."
Juss got that phrase from his first contact; The first guy he'd be talking to as he begins his biographical investigations on the strange happenings in and around the California area. This Van Helsing character was the most willing to talk with him about exactly what was going on just outside of Irvine, California for the past year or so...
"Now we're talking, " Juss thought to himself as he eased the seat back and turned off the cruise control on his `93 Isuzu Trooper. "This is the kind of stuff I want to write about."
Juss had always had an interest in weird things. He did all the things a typical sci-fi dork might have done as he grew up. He loved Star Wars, never took his Kenner Millennium Falcon out of its box for collector's purposes. He played Advanced Dungeons and Dragons for hours all through his schooling and even after college. He taped every episode of Star Trek: TNG and Babylon 5 that ever aired, and most of the DS9 episodes as well. That was easy considering he worked at a TV station and could pirate the satellite feeds of syndicated shows like that. He even played computer games... since Pac-Man took America by storm, down to his recent purchase of X-Wing: Alliance, he'd been an avid gamer. The only difference: he was a little older than most of the other people who frequented the local Star Trek conventions and Comic Book Shows. Yet, despite all that, he had managed to play it cool. Juss was a true renaissance man. He liked everything. He was a Chargers fan, a trumpet and guitar player, he was semi-successful with the women, his boss liked him, he almost got into minor league baseball, and he loved to write. Not many people are that well rounded, and manage to stay that way. As far back as high school, the pressures of all the clicks were pushing him in different directions, but he always managed to have friends with pocket protectors, and friends with football jerseys. All that changed when he graduated from college and was forced to take a news job. At first the color of TV journalism excited him, but when it became a day to day routine, he quickly tired of always falling in line with all the other nosy reporters. Who wants to hear another story about Monica Lewinsky anyway?
Nuse looked down at his notepad, and then sifted through his photographs of an old Starbuck's coffeehouse. "MMMMmmmm," he thought out loud, "Frappucino... too much Simpson's, Nuse," he told himself. "People will start to stare!" As he hit his left turn signal that would bring him to a Holidome just off the freeway that brought him to Irvine, Juss glanced at a photograph that was taken by a friend of his who worked at the local paper. "Kawl HQ," he read aloud. "No... Kwall HQ. This ought be sweet, talking to this Kwall character."
Twenty minutes later, Nuse was staring across a dimly lit hotel room at a guy not 10 years younger than he was. Like Nuse, he wore a felt fedora hat. As the interviewee pulled up a chair and sat on it backwards, Juss noticed he had a flight jacket as well, and for the first time, he saw the guy's face. His subject was unshaven and cut up on both sides of his face. The cuts looked like medical personnel had treated them and there was an unmistakable Superman Band-Aid over the guy's right eyebrow. Trying not to notice how bad a shape this guy was in, Juss Nuse spoke first. "You fly any?"
"Nah," said the character. "Ah just wear the jacket cuz ah like it and cuz mah mamma gave it to me."
"Yup. Dat's perty good. Not many people get de accent right. Tink ahm a Jamaican or something. Ah usually don talk with it this thick, but it comes out when ah'm tired." He grabbed what looked like a straight tree limb off the table and began whittling the end with a sharp Swiss army knife.
"You whittle a lot, Mr. Van Helsing?"
"Gaval, man. Just call me Gav. And yeah, ah sharpen stakes when ah'm nervous or upset." He sliced across the bark of the branch. It hit the carpet with a gentle "flip" sound.
"You mind?" said Juss as he slapped a pack of Marlboro Originals against the palm of his hand.
"Nah...probably wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't asked. Ah live in a coffee house. Always smells like smoke... or beaver fur." Another large slice of wood hits the carpet. "Beauty about these hotels is you don't have to clean up after yourself." He forced a smile, but was obviously in pain. "We gonna small talk `till checkout time, or you gonna let me tell you what ah got to tell?"
"Oh, go right ahead, I didn't want to rush you," replied the journalist. Nuse leaned forward and took a long drag out of his lit cigarette. He held it in for a second then blew out the smoke, taking care not to aim in Gaval's direction...then he started, realizing that he was acting subconsciously just like the "Smoking Man" on "X-Files"... Nuse made a mental note not to smoke like that anymore...even better, he just went ahead and put out the cigarette altogether.
"The Rush..." Gaval smiled to himself. "Ah've learned a lot about the Rush." A slice of tree limb lands on the growing pile of wood shavings. "And after what ah saw dis last coupl'a days...ah need ta tell dis story. Before I rest, before I loose some of the details...ah need to tell it." He adjusted a bandage on his arm and continued sharpening the stick with a FLIP of the knife.
Nuse had no idea what this guy was talking about, and what this had to do with Kwall... not yet, anyway.
"Ah'm gonna tell you a story you not gonna bu-leave, and ah don't really give a damn about your opinion, no offense intended...but you can bet your ass dat it's true. It's a story about vampires.." FLIP.
"About godly intervention in a world dat was in need." FLIP.
"And Ah'm gonna tell you about mah past. De legacy dat brought me to a life of good and... evil." FLIP.
"Ah'm gonna tell you about heroes. Some pure souls dat, because of their absolute righteousness, had the power to stand up to Abadon, likely the devil himself." FLIP.
The shaving of oak hits the carpet, but it is so quiet that it seems to echo throughout the dark hotel room.
The interviewee paused for a long time. Nuse thought for a second that Gaval was falling asleep. The guy looked like he was about to pass out...then he spoke... sadly and slowly....
"And Ah'm gonna tell you about how dey failed. And how dat failure made me." He sat up straight and took a deep breath... but if I could go back... I'd rather not be alive than watch again what that failure cost so many poor souls."
Startled, Juss Nuse realized he hadn't hit start on his mini tape recorder. He did so and feeling it was safe for him to speak up, he addressed his interview subject. "Just start from the beginning, Gav. Take your time... Tell me everything... Let's start with Kwall."
"CWAL, man. `See-Wall." The slayer took a deep breath and started his story....
"CWAL is... well... It's sorta a state of mind more than anything..." The slayer smiled as he thought of brains in jars and TV watching Death Knights and Starcraft... and then he shuddered as he remembered a much darker place with demons and dragons and devils... Oh, my...
"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Slayer!"
Everyone: "Haaaaapy Biiiirthdaaayyyy Toooooo..."
20 or so CWALers: "ouuuu! Haaappy Biiirthday Toooooo... "
(Some of them look at each other in attempt to follow.)
5 or so CWALers: "Yooouuu! Haaappy..."
(3 more glance at each other and shrug.)
Skinny and Phasmus: "Biiirthday dear.."
Phasmus: Deaaarrr... Dear...G... (aside to Fearless) What's his na...(mumble, whisper)?
(Everyone looks at Lothos, then at each other and smiles in satisfaction.)
(Gaval tries to keep a smile on his face as he stares at a coffee-bean cake with more candles than Bob Hope at his last birthday special)
Everyone: HAAAPPY Birrthday, Tooo...
Kazz: Ah, whatever... COFFEE CAKE!
Pez: (Jumps on cake) WOOHOOOO!!!!!
Dragoneyes: YOOUUUUU!!!!!! GET OFF THAT CAKE!!!!!
(The cake is attacked with reckless abandon.)
(It was the night of my twenty-fifth birthday. I hardly expected a party or anything like that... I mean, there are about 70 or 80 of us, and if we threw a party for everyone, we'd go broke, right? But after that big New Year's Eve bash, it looked like everyone was looking for an excuse to party despite the fact that we lost a couple of our key members that night... Well... Temporarily, anyway...
Debris: Alright! Who wants to play pin the hypothalamus on the cerebellum!
Talruum: NOOOOO!!!! (Floats away as fast as he can for his shotgun)
Debris: Fine! Grorx. Be a brain.
PMD: And you! Morpher! Be a Hypothalamus! With a sharp tack on the end of it! NOW, NEWBIE!
Morpher: Can I finish my coffee fir-
Morpher: But I...
PMD: AAAHhh!! AAHHH! AAAHHH!!!! .......
(Morpher takes a breath to speak.)
PMD: AAAHH! That was a preemptive "Ah." I got a whole can of "Ah" with your name on it.
Grorx: But he can't...
PMD: Come and listen to a story `bout a man named "Ah."
(Grorx and Morpher look at each other as tears swell up in their eyes...)
(I mean, I had no idea they even knew when my birthday was! I was pretty surprised when they produced a cake and some presents.)
GAVAL: Ohhh... Moogle... Your newest hairball... You really shouldn't have...
Moogle: (smiles proudly and purs)
I chalk it up to Rask or Pez doing some overtime on the `Net to find out my birth date, so they could surprise me. So there we are, fighting over coffee cake and getting drunk on Prysym's own recipe for Irish coffee. I was pretty smashed by 9am (Lothos insisted we have the party early so that he wouldn't miss the all day "Inexperienced, and Extremely Hairy Comic Sasquatch Marathon" on KevTV) when we got a knock at the door.
(A door with various bullet holes and claw marks on it.)
(The door opens. A fluffy bunny holding a mug of steaming black brew answers it from the inside.)
Commander Snuggles: Yes? *hick*
FedEx Guy #9012: (looks down at the bunny and takes a step back) Special delivery for Mr. Pebble.
Snuggles: Huh? *wiggles nose*
FEG: (Rechecks his notes) Oh, sorry... Mr. Gravel.
Snuggles: (Takes the envelope and signs with his left paw.) *hic*
FEG: Have a nice morning....sir?
Snuggles: Yes, I'm a male bunny, dammit!
FEG: Sorry... sir...
Nuse shook his head and frowned at the slayer, "So let me get this straight. You have a talking bunny who answers the door, a disembodied brain for a pinata, and a hacker who broke into the Pentagon to research your birth date based on your social security number?"
"Don't ask me! You're the one who said it!"
"Yeah well... ah'm not to de good part yet, me."
"And how'd you get so beat up at a birthday party?"
"I didn't. Just hang tight, Chause, and let me tell you what happened....It was time to "break de seal" after drinking all of dat spiked coffee, so ah took de package to the bathroom. The envelope was pretty important looking, and when I opened it, the first thing I noticed as I was drying my hands was the ASG Seal on slayer letterhead..." "ASG Seal?"
"Yeah, it's printed on the ring of the head slayer in the Ambiguous Slayer's Guild. Means the note's official."
"Why is it you talk normal when you're narrating, and like some hick when you're not?"
"Because I'm tired, dammit! I don't think in a Cajun accent!"
"Fine. What did the letter say?"
"Apparently, the 25th birth date of a slayer marks his day of ascension into true slayerhood. I'd always thought of myself as a full-fledged evil buster, but apparently this wasn't the case. Now I was starting to understand why the older slayers never asked me or my little cousin Buffy to the slayer Bowling Tournaments and Poker Games. We weren't "official" yet. Now, as best as I understand it (Red necks and Cajuns aren't very good at communicating), the Age of Ascension is this age-old tradition where a slayer is initiated fully into slayerhood after reaching an epiphany from a revelational experience. I was to take absolutely nothing with me, go immediately to where the instructions on the letter led me, and wait for that experience to happen. Who am I to argue with a bunch of white trash wielding sharp stakes? So I headed straight from the bathroom, over Fron and Arcturus' passed out bodies, and out the door, straight to Lee's Washeteria right down the street from our Starbuck's. "I should have expected something was afoot when Krath, one of Op-CWAL's finest, ran right passed me with pieces of broken glass sticking out of his forehead and arms screaming about walking dead and hauntings, but if there were walking dead around, I'd just know it. I have a knack for these things. But I had my orders, so sipping the last of my Frappuccino, I tossed the paper up into a wastebasket by the door of Lee's and entered it as told. I looked around and nothing was unusual. There was an obnoxious red-headed woman doing her whites with a little rat terrier tied to her basket that kept barking at me, and it annoyed me, so I went into the other room where the dryers are. The entrance to the dryer room was all musty and hot from the dryers, and at the door, there was this really curious set of muddy footprints... sorta a combination of cat paws, a snake's tail, and velvet pumps like Aura used to wear. I was about to check them out further when I looked across the room and noticed my friend Fyorce (Fjorxc) sorting through what looked like tiny Ken doll clothes."
GAVAL: I didn't know you had kids, Fyorcey... (I nagged... I think he hates it when people screw up his name....)
Fjorxc: Man... Mu sure is petit!
GAVAL:You didn't fall asleep with the dryers on, did you?
Fjorxc: (trying to change the subject) Uh... so, how's your party going?
GAVAL: Not too bad. I hope I can have a life altering revelation really quick-like so I can get back there... Dorg's makin' some Coffee-Milk-Shakes with some old ice-cream he found at CARV HQ.
( It was about the same time I noticed a shimmering in a dark corner of the room that a CWALer who should have been at the party walked in holding this dark-looking guy wearing a trenchcoat in a cholk-hold.)
LAVAG: Let go of me, you hairy buffoon!
Lothos: Talk it up, spike, and you'll be eating "death and decay" till you wish you'd been more polite. (holds Lavag up) Anyone know this guy?
Fjorxc: Hey, he looks just like Gav!
GAVAL: (takes a closer look and pauses for a minute) Nah....
LAVAG: I said let me GO! (Pulls free from Lothos and backs into a corner) I only wanted him... (points at GAVAL)....but I can easily settle for ALL of you! (Pulls a pistol with a silencer attached to it from his coat)
(Everyone puts their hands up and steps back a step.)
Fjorxc: For Christ's sake! If you wanted the damn dryer all you had to do was ask!
Lothos: Oi, why don't you just gimme the gun and I promise to leave at least 2 of your limbs intact...
GAVAL: What the hell do you want from us?
(Behind LAVAG the very air begins to shimmer.)
"My first thought was that Lothos was using some of his magic to pull us out of that fix..."
"Magic?" asked Nuse as he sipped a root beer.
"Yeah, he's a Death Knight."
"Yeah...ever played Warcraft II?"
"Death Knight! So I'm thinking Lothos is gonna drop a tornado on the guy or suck out his life force or something, but instead he draws the guys attention to the light... This is where all hell broke loose..."
Lothos: You might want to check your six, evil person... There's something behind-
Voice: Hey! If you guys don't put down the guns and get out of here, I'm callin' the cops!
(I turned around and saw this girl with a baseball bat. She looked like she was about college aged, had her hair up in a baseball cap, and was wearing a white T-shirt tucked into some really flattering jeans....)
LAVAG: Who's got the gun, here, lady? Why don't you just drop the bat and....
Girl: Oh god...what the hell is that?!
(This time, LAVAG looked, but before he could react, he just sorta disappeared. This strong wind picked up out of nowhere and we all had to grab on to something to keep from falling. The girl grabbed onto Fjorxc, which he seemed to like,(hell, I would too!) as I heard ANOTHER female voice cry out from behind a broken dryer.)
Sofielisk: Dear lord?! What manner of evil bringeth itself to haunt mine lost soul on this dreadful morrow!?!?
(Now, this totally freaked the rest of us out...`cause Sofie's dead. At least she's supposed to be... But there she was, talking funny, wearing some weird burial gown and covered in Hydralisk blood, but it was she! Out fallen comrade, and what screwed up timing!)
Girl: (leaning over to Sofie as she drops her bat) Come here, Kitty...it's okay! MY, you're a BIG girl, aren't you! Yes...there ya go... Can you talk for me again? (Struggling to stay standing)
Sofielisk: I beith not deaf, nor stupid, thou scurvy wench!
GAVAL: DAMN! It's getting hard to stand... Let's get out of here and bring Pez to check this out- ahhHHH!!!!
(I felt my tennis shoes rubbing on the concrete floor as I realized I was being pulled towards that menacing light... Then I just sorta went flying into it as I felt Lothos grab my ankle. I'm thinking he wound up going in with me because of that, though it really wouldn't have made a difference if he'd just stood there.)
The next thing I know I'm lying in the grass in some dark forest with everyone else laying down around me unconscious.
It was nighttime, which is really strange, because it was 10am when I went to the Laundromat to have my "Slayer Epiphany." All I could think of was that we had been kidnaped or something - maybe by that dark guy with the bad hair - and left for dead in some god awful woods. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I got up and almost immediately fell back down. I was completely nauseous, and felt sicker than I'd felt since we had to go digging up graves in a Pet Cemetery to find a serial killing vampire goldfish. Deciding it was best to stay on my ass, and let my stomach settle, I looked around. Taking a tally of who was with me, I saw Fjorxc and the girl from the Laundromat to my left, Lothos right next to me, and the person who looked just like Sofielisk to my right with no sign of the guy with the pistol. The moon was full that night, so I could make out the surroundings. It was a really thick woods and we were actually on a trail of sorts, where the grass had been lowered by constant passage through it, kinda like the cow trails that formed in the pastures back home; then I noticed the sign. It was made from cheap wood and nails and had a message splashed on it in white paint.
"Tristram: 5 miles."
Faster than I could mutter a "What the F#@%?!" a shadow covered the entire clearing that my comrades were lying in. I sorta looked around, and then instinctively I realized that shadows would be created by something in front of the moon. As it hit me where I'd heard the name "Tristram," and if that realization was enough to make me gasp, what I saw when I looked up in front of the moon was enough to make me choke. There, shimmering in the moonlight, gliding gently across the night sky, was what I estimated from head to tale to be a one hundred and ten foot long Silver Dragon. I'd have shouted to the guys about the menace as a means of waking them up if not for the spear being poked into my ribs by one of the 20 short, pointy-eared creatures with glowing red eyes frowning angrily at me.
"Evil?" I moaned, as my poor habit of thinking out loud reared its savage little head.
The answer came in the form of a sound clubbing to the back of my already sore cranium. Yeah, I'd have to go with evil there.
"So there we are, tied up to each other back to back. I must have been the last one to regain consciousness because of that club I took to the neck," grumbled the slayer to the reporter. "We were standing on a bunch of wood and kindling. I'm guessing that we were to be dinner for a goblin feast...after all, how often are 4 juicy humans and a gigantic feline found in the forest just lying there waiting to be roasted over an open fire?!"
"Reminds me of that scene in Return of the Jedi, " said Nuse. "Remember, when they take all of the rebels on Endor to the Ewok village and prepare them to be roasted?"
Gaval moaned, "I was thinking the same thing right when one of em went for a torch to light the fire. Sofie was shouting curses of all kinds at the goblins next to her...it seems goblin tastes prefer felines in a soup as opposed to flame broiled."
"Wouldn't you?" the reporter teased as he lit up another cigarette.
Sofielisk: Untie me, thou lecherous, wretched creature! How darest thou put me in a cauldron with carrots and bellpeppers as if I werest "Ye Bugs Bunny" on yon Saturday morning cartoons!"
(Apparently Lothos was pissed as well. All I could get out of him was,"Fook this, and Fook that" in regards to our situation. Fjorxc on the other hand was enjoying having his hands tied to the girl who came with us to this dark and dismal place. Her name was Rachal Hollis. She was a student at Irvine Tech, and was simply doing her laundry when we got involuntarily taken away from our home in Irvine. I didn't know much about her yet, but she was clearly freaked out by what she had convinced herself was an involuntary chemically induced hallucination I decided to take action. First, we had to get the hell out of this dinner party. Second, we had to figure out how far from home we actually were. Third, we had to make sure this dark trenchcoat guy wasn't around to cause more trouble for us. Fourth, we had to get home. It all sounded so simple when I outlined it like that, but things don't ever go the way I plan them.)
GAVAL: Fyorce, stop ogling the sorority chick and see if you still have your pistol...
Rachal: Hey! I'm NOT-
Lothos: Fookin' little green runts took my fookin' Death Knight Staff!
GAVAL: They took my stakes and whip too...and my backpack...evidently they recognize magical items when they see 'em.
Fjorxc: Well, I guess they don't have knowledge of pistols, cuz I can still feel my Walther PPK...though it's slipped a bit...
Fjorxc: Yeah. I usually keep it in my belt, but it's dropped down into my...um...pants...
GAVAL: Rachal, your back is to Fyorce's. See if you can work the gun out.
Lothos: Fookin' poor excuse for dog excrement!
Rachal: I can't...all I can feel is his belt and it's not there.
Rachal: (struggling) I'm telling you there's no gun here!
Fjorxc: huh...huhuhuhuh....heheheheh....Um...it's slipped lower....heheheh....
Rachal: Hold still, Beavis!
GAVAL: Huh..huh, huh....."lower."
Rachal: Wait, I feel it!
Fjorxc: HUH,.UuuhhhhhhhhHUH, HUH,HUH,,HUHUHUHUHUh.....hhhhHEHEHEHEH....
Randon Goblin Chef #1: (Angrily at Fjorxc from across the kitchen hut)OOOba! Tooba calaguumpa foo!
GAVAL: Not so loud, Fyorce! We don't want their attention 'till Rachal's got the pistol...
Fjorxc: (Biting his lip) Heh...heheheh...huh....
Rachal: I can't get it out. The gun's stuck....and this is disgusting enough...
Lothos: NO! Can you reach the damn trigger?
Fjorxc: Hhhhhhuh, huh---- ULP! The what?!
Lothos: The fookin' trigger! Can you fire the gun?
Rachal: From inside his jeans?!
GAVAL: Yeah, we don't have to shoot these guys, just scaring 'em with the noise it makes should get us enough time to break free....
Sofielisk: (from cauldron) Doith what thou might quickly! Yon green chef has a look that sayith "There be more than one way to take a cat's skin!"
Rachal: I'm not blowing off this guy's Johnson! I don't care how doomed we are!
Fjorxc: huh.... heheh...really...it's okay. I'm not just any maniac. I'm the reigning Hunt Valley "Kick me in the Jimmy" champion. Just pull the trigger.
Dawn breaks over the hills of Kanduras. A lone hiker carrying a walking staff huffs over a bluff, anxiously trekking towards his home town of Westmarch. He is an older man with a salt and pepper beard wearing a cloth tunic with a long blue cloak trailing from his shoulders.
No one around Kanduras, unless by extreme luck or magical means, survived much past the age of 40 or 50. CABAL was 45. A just and pious man who had moved his sister and nephew north to Westmarch from Tristram to keep as much distance from Dorado as possible, CABAL had decided to make a new life for himself as a Blacksmith. Paladins in Westmarch needed weapons, shoes for their horses, and armor. He had not experienced trouble stirring up some business there. Now, returning to the town that he had called home from an iron gathering expedition, this man was about to find out that he was one of Westmarch's last surviving citizens.
As he reached the apex of the bluff, CABAL beheld a sight startling enough for him to evoke his god's name. "By the Light of Divinity! No....." He fell to his knees. The very sight he ran from Tristram to avoid seeing was invading his sight, despite his best efforts. After falling to his knees and beating his breast about the folly of decision he had made, CABAL remembered his sister and nephew and ran into the ruins of Westmarch to find them. The stench of death was vile and made the bile in his stomach want to push its way out of his stomach. After covering his nose with a piece of his tunic, the homeless blacksmith made his way the tumbled and scorched walls of his cottage and workshop. What hadn't been destroyed was certainly looted. Shelves were empty and the cupboard was bare. He would be dining on stale bread from his backpack tonight, if he could get his appetite back, but what made something trip inside of CABAL's head was the sight that was waiting for him in his bedroom.
There, dining on one of the chicken that his sister was raising in back of the cottage, was what can only be described as a walking corpse. Vile green liquid mingled with the blood of its victim dripped off the chin of the zombie. In its lifetime, CABAL surmised, this was probably a young girl of Westmarch, no older than 13. Having been both a religious man, and a scholar of the occult, CABAL knew what to do. Grabbing a handful of salt from a broken jar on the spice rack in his kitchen, CABAL tossed the granules of spice directly into the Zombie's open mouth as it began to advance on him. The effect was instantaneous. The Zombie seemed to lose its ability to think as it fell to its knees writhing and trying to scream with what was left of its rotting vocal chords.
"May the Divinity take pity on the bastard who brought you forth, ghoul!" Plunging his walking staff into the neck of the creature, CABAL snapped the neck of the poor creature, rendering it headless and writhing on the floor. After a brief prayer, the body ceased to move and was ready for a proper burial. Later that afternoon, finally having a chance to think about the misfortune that had taken him and all who lived in Westmarch, CABAL began to feel an uncontrollable urge to walk. The pull drove him eastward, away from Westmarch's ruins. Passing it off as a need to get away from the pain the town was creating for himself, CABAL didn't fight the need to leave Westmarch and moved eastward until sundown where in a small clearing, be found an old abandoned church looking strikingly similar to the old church he had known in Tristram not three years earlier. "This must be a sign!" CABAL thought to himself as the whirlwind of emotions and memories from the last 8 hours took its toll on the weary traveler. He fell to the cold stone floor of the old building and didn't wake for another 3 hours...well past nightfall.
"CABAL," came the voice. It was like the sound of a thousand trumpets bellowing in perfect harmony. The blacksmith looked up at the women standing before him. "You're going to be okay, CABAL. Everything is going to be okay." He took only a moment to notice that the woman's mouth wasn't moving when she spoke when he realized that the voice was coming not from his ears but from his mind.
"No. Please....just listen, CABAL. I am here today to speak to you because you have an uncanny understanding of right and wrong. Do you understand?"
"Yes...Yes. I've always been able to tell the difference when others seemed jaded. Who are you?"
"You may call me Azrealla. I am an avenging angel sent by the Divinity. It has been determined that the time of reckoning for the forces of evil is at hand."
"What do you mean? What do you want?"
"Please...just listen. A blessing is to be bestowed upon you. It is a high honor that will affect you, your children, and your children's children...."
"But I have no children."
"Oh, you will...you are to be the father of something so righteous..."
"I live only to serve the Divinity, for his will...."
"...is right...Just... and Noble."
"Yes...you ARE an Angel," acknowledged CABAL. As the woman moved closer towards the fallen traveler, she embraced him warmly. The sensation was completely overwhelming. In one instant CABAL felt peace, warmth, encouragement, and determination take hold of him. He felt a strength from deep down inside his soul, a place so deep he would have never even acknowledged it existed if not for this Azrealla. He knew that his enemy, and the enemies of all who were good was Diablo, the fabled devil himself, and that his earthly ambassador was the ultimately evil Abadon of Dorado. He knew that dragons had destroyed Westmarch, but more horridly that Abadon had come to take the corpses of the deceased and add them to his undead army. He also received a message. He was to meet in a wooded clearing just north of Tristram where Eight other Chosen Souls of the Luminant Genesis would gather, awaiting his leadership into a ritual of utmost importance to all that was legitimate and holy. When he awoke, CABAL found that he was alone, in the church, once again, in the dark of night. But the darkness no longer frightened him. Something was coming. Something good. The blacksmith packed his bags and began the journey southward.
"We teased Fyorcey de entire next day because of the limp he was walkin' with, but honestly, ah tink we were all just glad he was still alive!" laughed the slayer as he sipped another cold can of root beer and resumed sharpening a small piece of oak from his hotel room chair.
"HA! So he didn't get his Johnson shot off then, eh?"
"Nah. Ah tink his pride was hurt more than anything because the reigning `CWAL HV Kick me in the Jimmy Champion' isn't supposed' ta run around goblin villages screaming about his scorched shlong! You should have seen those little buggers scatter! Well, half of `em scattered, de other half hit de floor and started worshippin' his crotch as a god or somethin! Musta been that helmet of his combined with his ability to make loud noises from his groin!" he chuckled as the slayer FLIPed off another sliver of oak from the stake he was making.
"So you got away then?" questioned Nuse.
"Sure. By the next afternoon we must'a been miles from dat goblin village. The long walk to safety gave us all kinds of opportunities. Sofie explained to us exactly how it is she came back from de dead, which she didn't. It turned out she was an alternate universe Sofie on the run...kinda like `Sliders!'
"Yeah!....I can't believe there really are alternate realities..."
"Well, we also got a chance to meet Rachal Hollis on the walk. She turned out ta be okay. Not at all the dingy Sorority chick ah pegged her for. She was actually kinda cool. She even played Starcraft on her little brother's computer from time to time."
"And your weapons?"
(We got 'em all back. The goblins weren't about to try and stop their new god from getting his friends stuff back. Sofie was particularly happy to not be in some goblin's soup bowl as a side dish, and as for Lothos, well, he felt a lot better after bashing in the skulls of 4 or 5 of the newly converted Fjorxc deciples with his Death Knight Staff!)
(The woods outside of Tristram)
Lothos: So you think we're in some fairy tale world?
Sofielisk: 'tis the only answer. Look around, my friends, and tell me that our persons art in Kansas, Yellowstone National Park, or even Disneyland. Thou canst not say such words. We hath left mine earth and your earth long behind, I doth fear.
GAVAL: This place looks more like a nightmare world than a fantasy world. I keep getting jitters every few minutes....the kind of jitters I only get when there's evil around. And I've NEVER gotten the jitters this often! This place is teeming with supernatural evil.
Rachal: This is hard to deal with. I just wanted to clean my jeans and towels. (Shakes head)
Fjorxc: So, what do we do to get home?
GAVAL: I can't explain it, but I have this feeling in my gut, that when the time is right...we'll just go home automatically.
Sofielisk: Thou wouldst have us sit around and wait for thine entrails to augur us to a more civilized locale?!
GAVAL: All I can say is to trust me on this....
Lothos: Dad always told me not to trust anyone who says, "trust me."
GAVAL: Then have a little faith.
Fjorxc: My dad always said never to have faith in someone who says-
GAVAL: Thank you. Now.... we have other problems that we have to worry about besides getting home.
Sofielisk: Yon dark clad duplicate of thyself?
GAVAL: I don't see the resemblance, personally.
Lothos: I didn't have a chance to mention it earlier, but I know that guy. His name's Lavag. I've seen him consorting with Sephroth in Blizzard from time to time.
Fjorxc: Blizzard? Good, then we can kill him, no questions asked.
GAVAL: Well, he sucks, and his name sucks, and I'm going to see to it that he comes home with us, stake through the spleen or no stake through the spleen.
Rachal: Sephroth who?
CWALers: DON'T "you're hot" ASK!
(Everyone looks at Fjorxc.)
GAVAL: Hey, you were supposed to say "Don't ask." Have you lost the narrative link with us after being in Hunt Valley for just a couple of months?
Fjorxc: D. The answer is D. All of the above. Besides, she IS hot.
(As Rachal chewed Fjorxc out and cursed the world for lacking any true gentlemen, we continued off into the forest, wondering how to find that Lavag character, what was happening on our favorite TV shows-
Lothos: Thank you. *Smiles satisfactorily and heads back to meet the group*
.....where our next meal or more importantly our next cup of coffee might come from, and most crucially, if we might survive to see our homes again.)
The slayer gone bad known as LAVAG had been moving steadily for 2 days towards the southwest. Satisfied that he had put enough distance between himself and his hated twin and friends, the slayer-gone-bad slowed his pace and decided to get some rest. Climbing a tree and setting his trenchcoat tied between two limbs, LAVAG constructed a makeshift hammock that would not only provide comfortable slumber, but which was safe from all woodland creatures who couldn't climb trees. "Not a very comforting situation," thought the evil twin of GAVAL, "but the best I can do for now." Once he'd had time to get his thoughts straight, LAVAG decided that the best time to kill his ignorant brother would be now, while in this strange land. Murder, in a savage, backward, primitive land such as this, would go much easier unnoticed.
The night was clear with just enough visible light without the use of a torch despite the less than quarter moon that was creeping across the night sky of Kanduras. Trudging through the pathless woods north of Dorado, CABAL, now enlightened pupil of the Divinity was being led as though by an unseen string which pulled his very heart in one straight path towards destiny. After a few hours of unquestioningly forcing his way through a particularly dense section of forest, CABAL suddenly burst through a thicket into a wide clearing. There, standing in a half circle were six figures talking amongst themselves in the night. The lack of trees above them actually allowed the slight moon to create shadows along the low carpet of grass growing amidst the clearing.
The six figures stopped chatting and glanced at CABAL's way, not even drawing their weapons. If not that he were impressed upon by the assurance of angelic embrace, CABAL would normally be surprised that these individuals hadn't drawn their weapons in defensive posture considering the noise he was making as he fought his way through the thicket and into the clearing. "This.... is a holy place, " observed the blacksmith to himself, but aloud. He scanned the small group of figures, noticing first that one was a monk of the clergy, perhaps from the monastery to the east. Another individual wore the robes of a mage, and had a hood drawn over her head to protect herself from the night chill. Two other individuals carrying a pitchfork and a spear respectively looked like common peasants.
"More holy than any other in this land, CABAL, " replied a second woman from the group. As she stepped forward with a young man walking close behind her, CABAL was overwhelmed, for the second time in two days, with intense joy.
"Gabrina!" he shouted in disbelief. "How can this be, our home was in ruins! This is a miracle."
"No bigger a miracle than our being summoned here by the Lord, big brother," she smiled as she gave CABAL a hug and kiss. "I'm was so glad to see when we arrived that we were not alone in this calling."
"Indeed," replied the blacksmith. "What's going on here is bigger than anything we can comprehend. But soon, this I know, we will all understand much clearer.
"Uncle Cab," sounded the youth behind the woman.
"Kendal!" gasped CABAL as he grasped his nephew by the shoulders in disbelief.
"Yes, it's me!"
"Take it easy, son. You're shaking your bandages loose!" sounded the youth's mother.
"What's wrong son, are you okay?" asked the concerned uncle.
"The dragons..." he replied.
"Those monsters almost burned him alive." said Gabrina. "But he got away with his life and a few facial burns, though I fear he may never see again."
"It's okay, mamma." said the teen. "I'm okay..."
A voice sounded from the group "I sense a strong presence within you, sir. Surely you are to lead us in whatever righteous cause the Divinity has conceived for us." It was the monk. Leaning on his oak walking stick, the old man, surely 15 or more years CABAL's senior, introduced himself. "I am Gavin of the Divine brotherhood. Father Superior at the monastery has sent me here after I received a vision from the Lord only 4 nights ago."
"I am Karrvalle," said the she-mage as she gracefully stepped out of the shadows and removed her hood, revealing long, curly golden tresses flowing behind a face that expressed an image of beauty despite hardship. Such a woman should not have to live tainted with scars of torture, yet bear them she did. It was quite clear, even in the moonlight. "We are yours to command, for I too sense your greatness even amidst the good that has gathered here."
"I am humbled, dear lady," replied CABAL. "And what of you two gentlemen?" asked the blacksmith as he gestured towards the two peasants who until now had remained silent.
"Gamble, sir. 'Tis my name. At your service." Gamble looked to be in his mid twenties, and couldn't have ever seen much beyond a farm and livestock by the simple nature he seemed to present.
"Buffal." replied the other larger man as he grasped his spear and smiled warmly. "Is there anything we should be doing, sir?"
"Let's all light a fire and wait. There will be more, " suggested CABAL.
(I was on watch the portion night when it happened. Everything had been pretty quiet, except for a snake that almost bit Rachal as she was going to sleep up against a tree. We had all eaten okay that day, compared to the days before. Fjorxc shot some kind of large bird that resembled a wild turkey, which roasted pretty good thanks to Lothos' zippo lighter which started a keen (tm) campfire. Sofie wanted her portion uncooked, so that made preparing her meal even easier. Everyone went to sleep after they had eaten, and I took the first watch as I had said.)
Lothos: You think you can stay watch without yelling "all's well" every hour?
GAVAL: Hey, I never had to be on watch before! That's how they did it on Robin Hood!
Lothos: I might recommend you use non-animated, non Disney examples of medieval culture when you need reference material.
GAVAL: Fine, but don't come asking me if all's well when you have trouble sleeping!
Lothos: I won't. Nobody will. Just be on watch quietly, and don't bug me unless there's a fookin' demon about to bite off my face.
Sofielisk: Quiet, Knaves! We women needst Ye beauty sleep!
(About a hour after everyone went to sleep I, alone on watch, noticed the smoke of a fire coming up from the tree line just a half mile away. Normally, I would have gotten the guys up, and taken them with me to investigate, but something was off about this. Off in a good way. I can't describe it, but I needed to check it out, and just knew there was nothing to be worried about. Imagine that...me, who's always paranoid about evil. Me, with a slayer hit list 1300 pages long, just going off to investigate mysterious smoke trails coming up from tree lines of goblin and dragon infested forests. Oh well. Investigate I did. And damn, was I in for a shock....)
A rustling of leaves came from the west of the clearing. CABAL rose to greet the newcomers. Suddenly a large double-bladed ax smashed down on a large bush, cleaving it in two as a large ogre stepped forward through the new path he had just made, smiling warmly and slurring out a friendly, "greetings!"
"Why, greetings, my large friend. Your arrival is most highly anticipated....as is yours, good sir," said CABAL.
"Your welcome is most generous," responded the second man who stepped over the flattened shrubbery. In thick plate mail, the warrior in shiny plate mail moved forward and sheathed his sword. "I trust you are the.... people..." the knight paused as he glanced at the peasants who were gathering firewood behind the others with a blind boy, "I was instructed to meet with?" Knights were not particularly used to spending time in the company of peasants,pagan sorceresses, and blind boys.
"We are, sir. And let me assure you that you are in the most righteous company," said the blacksmith.
"Very well, and please forgive my surprise. I had expected to meet other knights of various guilds, perhaps survived paladins from Westmarch, but I do not doubt the will of the Divinity. I am Sir Guhval, knight of the Tristram Elite Vanguard.
"Saxal. That's me, "grunted the ogre.
"Saxal, the brawn of the group!" exclaimed the proud CABAL. "Truly we are all blessed to have such a fine culmination of talents in our midst." The ogre smiled humbly. He was not the typical ogre, having taken to a peaceful life of harvesting lumber and selling it to the humans in neighboring villages.
"We'll see who's got the brawn..." teased Guhval. "Saxal and I met in the woods a few hours ago. Almost killed each other before we explained who were were.... but I don't feel the need to do any explaining here."
"You're right, " said Gabrina. "It's like we're all so close, even though I've never heard of most of you."
Karvalle chimed in, "It's almost like we all share something. Like we're siblings..."
"When this is over, sorceress, you will all share a bond of blood."
The nine strangers turned to face Azrealla, Avenging Angel of the Divinity. She seemed to glow with the radiance of a star, yet cast no light upon the adventurers. "The time has come for the forces of light to make a difference on this dark plane." The nine strangers moved closer to Azrealla instinctively.
"God let me do the right thing, " CABAL thought to himself. The moment had arrived.
------- LAVAG woke with a start. He was confused at first as he looked around towards the tree limbs and leaves that surrounded him. They all glowed in a red eerie light that seemed to follow whatever he had his sight trained on as if he had a red flashlight attached to his head. Then he realized, now fully awake, what was happening. It was the Rush, but this Rush was unlike any he had experienced before. There was no pain involved though his eyes glowed in a repulsive crimson hue. He reached over and grabbed hold of a branch near his hammock that was about five inches in diameter. His fingers dug deeply into the branch, through the bark. He gave a tug and pulled the branch. It snapped clean off of the tree trunk to which it was attached. There was no question about it. The Rush kicked ass. Now, what the hell was causing it? No pain meant no evil. This had never happened before. At that point, LAVAG noticed the white light coming from just beyond the tree line to his east. This was a no-brainer. He had to investigate. Pulling his coat from the tree, the slayer gone bad jumped the full twenty feet down to the ground and began hopping in twelve foot strides rapidly and silently towards the strange light that was beckoning him towards it.
(As I trotted my way through the thick bushes and thickets I noticed more and more the bright light that was coming from the west. It didn't look the same as when I had left the campsite. This light wasn't a campfire. It was whiter in color, more intense; sorta like a 1000 watt light bulb. One thing for sure, though, it was coming from the exact same place. Then, without warning, one of my strides became much stronger than my weight and threw me high into the trees. I looked around and noticed beams of what looked light bright pale blue moonlight following my train of sight. The Rush. Whatever I was getting closer to, it was causing the Rush. That usually happened only when something really evil was near. Actually, it would have to have been category 4 evil, which was officially "eval." That's really not nice in layman's terms. But that also usually meant pain. This eval wasn't causing pain. It was something new. The only time I ever Rushed without pain was the first time I rushed when I was seventeen. I knew I had to proceed with caution...especially since now my eyes were glowing cobalt blue and I had the proportionate strength and speed of a vampire. The eyes were easy to conceal. I keep a pair of shades with polarized lenses that prevent light with a high color temperature from getting out.)
(My eyes glowed during the rush with a color temperature of 10,000 degrees Kelvin. That's really blue....bluer than sunlight....almost ultraviolet. The strength thing was different. One wrong move and I could topple a small tree just by pushing on it, or I could throw myself into a limb and knock myself out or something.)
(I didn't get a lot of practice running around stealthily with the Rush since it only happened when I was fighting satanic assholes or vampires or demons or undead corpses, so stealth wasn't easy, but I managed. Reaching a clearing, I scurried up onto a tree and watched the most peculiar, yet inspiring sight I think I'll ever see. There gathered around a being of pure white light were eight people and a large creature that I can only describe as an ogre of some kind. They were all just standing there looking at the middle being, and not moving a bit. I had never felt so strong as in those few moments as I stood there on that tree limb and stared at something so odd, yet so welcoming. My first thoughts were that I was falling under some trance, the same as these guys, but my gut told me otherwise. It always does. The light coming from the being in the middle, I think it was a woman, began to intensify. It got so bright I found myself wishing for sunglasses, then I realized that I was already wearing special shades!)
(The nine beings began slowly raising their arms into the air, then I realized their feet were rising too! They were being levitated, as the beam of light focused more upon them, straight from the woman in the middle and just laid there, absorbing the light.)
CABAL felt his body lift slowly as the light began to pierce his very soul. The warmth he had felt up to this point began to feel almost uncomfortable.
"And now, brethren, you shall all be baptized, not in water, not in the spirit of he who is most holy, but in the light of the Divinity himself. Prepare to taste the soul of god. The pain will seem unbearable, but you must hold on, for your very blood will be purified in the light of the most divine!" Azrealla was almost invisible inside the bright light that had grown more and more intense around her. It was clear to the Nine Souls of the Luminant Genesis that she too, was in pain as her very blood boiled in righteous light.
"Oh, god, it hurts!" screamed Gabrina. Perhaps she could still speak because of woman's special tolerance for pain. Gamble and Buffal were in so much pain all that could do was scream as they dropped their weapons. Saxal grunted in defiance and took his dose with courage, as did Guhval, who's armor began falling off plate by plate as the energy around him did strange and wonderful things to his very being. The others were either screaming or crying in agony, except for CABAL.
"In the name of justice, we must be strong!" said their leader. "T'will all be over soon enough, my friends. And then.... nothing...will ....be ...the same...." Karvalle began to pass out.
"No, my sister," said Azrealla. "I'm sorry, but it's the only way. You must endure." Beams of light shot out of Azrealla's eyes and into Karvalle's forcing her back into consciousness. "Just a bit longer," she assured. From a distance, a red-eyed being in a dark coat looked on from beneath the leaf of a large-eared plant, not understanding what he was witnessing.
(A lot of screaming was going on, but from what I gathered, they wanted what was going on. I knew not to interfere. Just then I noticed someone across the clearing watching them. His glowing red eyes gave him away as a slayer, but the black coat is what damned him the most. It was that LAVAG guy. LAVAG was a slayer?! IMPOSSIBLE! As I was frantically trying to decide what to do next, a loud boom reached my ears. As I turned to look at the group I saw the nine "cultists" get thrown from the woman in the middle by a shockwave of energy. That's about when the same shockwave hit me and knocked me from the tree, but I was easily able to land on my feet.)
(There, right before me, trying to stumble to his feet, was a middle aged man with a black and grey beard, wearing a tunic and cloak. He looked at my feet and slowly followed his way up to my face. My appearance to this man must have been at the least, odd, but instead of feeling like I was looking at some savage I felt an instant connection, as though I was staring at my father or mentor. I asked him if he was okay. He smiled as soon as he heard my voice and said he was fine, then he extended his hand to mine. As soon as I took his palm, I knew who I was looking at. This was the first slayer. Somehow, I don't know how the hell it was possible, but I was helping up the Slayer Prime, CABAL. A name second only to god as far as I'm concerned. A name only whispered in legends around the slayer's guild back home. He didn't say another word, he just stood up, stumbled a bit, and turned towards his friends. Whatever he was doing must have been extremely important. He didn't show any of the paranoia towards me that all the others I had seen in this place did. Then, after taking a few shaky steps he turned looked my way again, and smiled again as if to say, "Goodbye and good luck." And that was it. He was gone to help his friends after that. He knew. He knew who I was. I just stood there freaking out at what I had just witnessed when a hand grabbed me by the shoulder and pulled me into the woods.)
(I was still dazed when I realized Lothos was smacking me around and telling me to wake up.)
Lothos: Snap out of it, dammit! That LAVAG guy is getting away! Who the hell are those other people, anyway?!
GAVAL: (slowly) Don't... you see, Lothos? (Getting up and realizing the Rush was no longer with him.)
Lothos: See what?!
GAVAL: I.....holy shit....I just witnessed.... the origin of the slayers... (Stares blankly into the night as a wolf howls in the distance.)
(Lothos scratches his head and wonders both if his friend has lost his mind and whether he set his VCR to tape the FOX special on the "World's Most Disgusting Stomach Pumps" that evening since it looked like he'd be missing it.)