And Then The World Came Crashing Down, part one
Deep within the depths of hell, anger and hatred burned hotter than the eternal flames of damnation themselves. Arcane light filled every corridor of the infernal labyrinth, which was covered with the torn flesh of mortals and angels alike. Wherever one turned, there could always be heard the frustrated, pained howls of the damned as they unwillingly danced their eternal ballet of suffering within the Well of Souls. Even here, in this perversion of hell trapped between the barriers of the nether and mortal realsm, their cries for salvation could be heard with clarity.
In a very short time, those cries were to be reinforced with the lost souls of many more valiant warriors.
The master of this twisted, distorted realm between realms, Diablo, was gaining strength and power by the day. It would not be long before his former glory, his former title as one of the Greater Evils, was restored. His new body was still in a weakened state; the soul that had resided within was strong, but had cracked long ago before Diablo's raw power. The supreme demon's mind was as sharp as ever before, though, if not sharper. He had learned well from experience, had learned never to underestimate even the most unseeming of opponents.
Those same opponents that he had vowed never to underestimate, the self-proclaimed heroes of the land, were still alive, thanks to the failed efforts of his minions. The countless failures of Abadon to rid the world of the heroes' presence was beginning to weigh heavily upon the mind of Diablo. That same lesser demon now stood before his lord and master, returned to hell in defeat once more.
Diablo's jagged claws slashed across Abadon's face, sending the demon reeling backwards. Blood gushed from the open wound but turned to a silvery, metallic substance as it splattered across the floor.
Again the claws lashed against Abadon's face. The demon was sent careening to the ground, where he lay, fist clenched but not retaliating. Diablo strode up to him, and unmercifully planted his powerful foot down upon his minion, digging his sharp, sickel-like toenails into his chest. Abadon's face tightened with pain, but not a whimper passed through his lips. Diablo looked down upon his fallen minion with some satisfaction, but felt no terror emanating from his soul. He withdrew his foot in disgust, and marched back towards his dark throne as Abadon righted himself.
"Leave my presence," the demon lord growled menacingly as he stormed away. "I will decide what to do with you and your failures ... later."
Abadon glared fiercely at Diablo before leaving the throneroom. Beads of his own blood trickled down from his face and from the gash across his chest. Staggering out of the throneroom, he let loose an anguished cry that filled all of hell, before collapsing down to his knees to regenerate.
Why was I foolish enough to release that monstrosity from his prison? The dark thought echoed through his mind. I should have left him to rot for all eternity in Shin Hikaru's cursed head. I would give my very soul to see Diablo slowly and painfully...
Then he hesitated as an unthinkable course of action passed through his mind. Unthinkable ... but cunning. As the wheels of his mind continued to turn, he began to enjoy the prospect more and more. Then, he allowed a thin smile to pass across his face. It was going to work. It had to.
Perhaps I won't have to give my soul to see it...
As he reached the surface, he found his own minion, Exile, waiting for him rather impatiently. He turned to acknowledge the presence of Abadon, but looked twice when he noticed the wicked smile that now graced his master's face.
"Are you okay, boss?"
"Better than you could ever comprehend," Abadon breathed as they began the trek back to Dorado, the gates of hell sealing themselves behind him.
"Anything that I should know about?" Exile asked hopefully.
"No. All that you need to do," he gazed off into the horizon, "is to bring Scarlet to Dorado. Go forth and do my bidding ... I will be waiting for you two there."
Without another word, Abadon strolled off silently into the darkness, leaving Exile to scratch his head and deliberate what his master had said.
"Might as well stop for a beer first," he finally decided, and walked off in the general direction of Scarlet's lair, and coincidentally, the nearest tavern.
A soft layer of mist covered the kingdom of Dorado as twilight set down upon the city. The muffled cries of tortured citizens could be heard piercing the still night air. Abadon sat on his throne, a small frown planted upon his face. What he was about to do was risky and if not executed properly, could very possibly cost him his very existence. The hinge of his fate lay with his worst enemies, the heroes, whom had fallen back to reorganize before making another attempt to recapture Diablo. But if everything went according to plan, then this mortal plane would be his, and his alone. And after that, perhaps the time would come when he would return to hell to reclaim his rightful place as the one True Evil. How glorious it would be...
Suddenly, his thoughts were jarred back to reality as the huge wooden doors of his throneroom creaked open. He lifted his eyes up menacingly to find Scarlet standing in the doorway, with Exile hanging back outside. There was a look on her face that suggested that she was more than slightly annoyed. She took a few steps forward, and then the doors slammed shut in Exile's face.
"This had better be good, Abadon," she said, her feminine voice carrying a harsh edge to it. "I don't appreciate being dragged to this hell hole for reasons unknown to me."
Abadon stood, his metallic battle armour clanking as he did. Slowly he began to speak.
"What you are about to hear no soul knows about, yet. I am going to tell you because after the past events, I believe that we should place aside our grudges and work together towards this common goal."
Scarlet rolled her reptilian eyes. "What do you seek, demon?"
He couldn't help but smile. "Your hand in marriage."
Scarlet's jaw fell open. Slowly it raised, but only to fall back. She tried to speak, but the only things that came out were rumblings that likely would have developed themselves into a death threat. Abadon was not about to let that happen.
"Hear me out," he continued. "I have no intention of conducting a long relationship with you. Besides, the mating habits of humans are almost as repulsive as those of the impish Fallen Ones. But for my plan to work, I need a bride. And I have selected you.
"Okay, two things," she stammered. "First, what is this plan? And second, why me?"
"My plan is to take Diablo's place as the Lord of Terror," Abadon replied, licking his lips at the prospect. "And you are going to help me."
"Me being your bride is going to make you the Lord of Terror? What is Diablo looking for, an heir?"
"No," said the demon. "Diablo despises all mating rituals of the flesh even more than I do, and would have no part. But he would not stop me from going through with it; he would not admit it, but he owes me a great debt for releasing him from Shin Hikaru. He will not bar my path in what he views to be inconsequential events that I care to conduct. This wedding would give me reason to bring a majority of hell's minions to this plane. And at that time..."
"Diablo would be vulnerable," Scarlet nodded, beginning to understand.
"The heroes will find out. Without any doubt, they will venture into hell to defeat Diablo once more," his eyes flickered with pleasure at the thought. "After he is gone, I shall return to the infernal realm, and take my rightful place as the Lord of Terror."
"How sweet. But what's in it for me?"
"That which you have always sought. All the gold of Dorado."
Once again, the posing human's jaw fell open. All the gold of Dorado was every dragon's dream. Some would have given their souls for it. And here she was, placed with the opportunity to grasp it all for herself, and all she had to do was fake a wedding.
"Just from now until the wedding?" she demanded, still cautious. "Just a fake wedding, Diablo dies, you call it off, I get my gold? No hanky panky and such?"
Abadon shrugged. "Nothing more and nothing less."
"Then I guess you have a bride."
A wicked grin spread across Abadon's face once more. "Excellent. You will not regret your choice, Scarlet, when you are the richest dragon in the world. In a few minutes, one of Diablo's servants will be coming to fetch me, and bring me before the demon lord again. We need to put on a small act so that Diablo will be sure to find out."
Slowly, Abadon walked over to where Scarlet was standing. He slowly fell to one knee and produced a slender gold ring. Scarlet looked unimpressed.
"I was expecting something more extravagant. I have gold hairpins more magnificent than that."
"It's the thought that counts."
"No, it's the gold that counts. But I will overlook it this once."
Suddenly, Abadon perked as he sensed a coming presence. "The servant has arrived."
Slowly, Abadon took Scarlet's hand in his own, and placed the gold ring upon his finger. Both of them fought to keep their smiles back.
"Scarlet, will you..."
Suddenly, the door creaked open. Standing there was a very large skeleton. It quickly scanned the room before its single remaining eye caught a glimpse of Scarlet and Abadon. The single eye grew wide at the sight.
"Leave us, fool!" Abadon feigned anger. "Can you not see that I ... we, are busy? I will join you in a moment!"
The skeleton grunted and quickly pulled the door shut, leaving Abadon and Scarlet staring at eachother with amusement.
"You should feel fortunate," Abadon said as he got up and donned his travelling cape. "All that you have to do is kill a few days and go to a wedding, and you become one of the richest dragons in history. I, on the other hand, have to face Diablo's wrath."
"You are free to stay here if you want, or you may return to your lair. Either way, make sure you are back in two days ... that is the time when the wedding shall be. We don't want hell's minions to become suspicious of our plan."
"Of course not."
With a parting glance, and the grin of criminal partners, they turned and went their seperate ways. There was no turning back now.
An aura of impatience hung over Abadon as he stood outside the doors to Diablo's hellish sanctuary. His chest still throbbed with pain from its encounter with Diablo's foot, and no doubt it would be made worse shortly. The skeleton that had escorted him here was currently in the throneroom, conversing with Diablo, and undoubtedly revealing to the demon lord what exactly he had seen. Abadon could only hope and wonder if things would go right. What he was about to do would be the hardest part of his plan...
"*GRUNT* *GRUNT* *GRUNT*!"
"HE DID WHAT?!?"
The all-too familiar sound of Diablo's claws ripping through the air reached Abadon's ears, making him cringe slightly. A second later this sound was followed by a solid crash, and several flesh-rotted bones skittered out of the sanctuary. Diablo roared with fury, and suddenly the door flung open all the way and a trio of skeletons scrambled out. Then, slowly, the large skeleton that had escorted him back to hell limped out. His entire right arm and most of his rib cage was missing. It beckoned that Diablo wished to speak to him.
As the skeleton limped away, Abadon took a deep breath. He knew that at this time there was a good possibility that he could kill Diablo in out-and-out combat, he would be killed long before he made it out of hell alive. No matter what, he had to control his anger. Bracing himself, he entered the room. Bones littered the ground. Flesh lined the walls, and in the middle of the room was a throne of bones. Sitting on it was Diablo, tapping his claws impatiently on the armrest. He stared at Abadon with burning eyes.
"Yes, my master?" Abadon said, careful not to provoke the great demon.
"I had originally planned for you to come here to discuss plans for my glorious future," Diablo replied, slowly and with a surprisingly calm edge to his voice. Abadon knew it was a mask. "But it seems that you are making plans for your own future already."
"I take it you are referring to Scarlet."
The demon lord growled slightly. "I am going to be direct, Abadon. You know how much I despise mating rituals. Especially ones involving physical bonding. The only bonding that should be going on in my domain is that of cold steel on hot flesh."
Abadon gulped. "My lord, I..."
"SILENCE!" he barked. "Why? Why her? And why now?"
Abadon had already carefully scripted his answers. "She has uncanny abilities for a mortal..."
"We have demons that can and would make her feeble powers seem like little more than simple tricks."
"It's not just her powers. She makes me..."
"She makes you what?" the demon lord growled, the calm edge beginning to fade away. "Does she give you a warm and fuzzy feeling in the bottom of that cold black heart I molded for you?"
Another deep breath had to be taken before he could continue. "She makes me feel almost alive. She makes me feel things I have never felt, and has opened a door to my soul that I want to explore."
"WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, ABADON?" Diablo demanded. "Only a few short weeks ago you were butchering the inhabitants of Dorado indiscriminantly and enjoying it. Now you are telling me that you are falling in love with a mortal?!?"
Abadon gulped and braced himself. "I know you don't understand, and I don't expect you to. I am asking you simply to accept it."
With a roar of pure fury, Diablo lept to his face and slammed his claw across Abadon's face. "OF COURSE I UNDERSTAND! I AM THE LORD OF TERROR ... I UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING!" he bellowed as Abadon hit the floor. He shuddered in pain, and clenched his fist tight to contain his anger. Blood began to trickle from his hands as his finger's blades dug into himself. Then the demon lord approached again, seized Abadon by the neck, and dangled him several feet above the ground. "BUT ACCEPT IT?"
Once again Diablo's claws collided with Abadon's face. Once more, Abadon was thrown into the wall, and Diablo picked him up again by the throat.
"Simply say you take it all back and it will end..." he hissed.
Abadon choked several times and coughed up some blood before replying. "No..."
This did not serve to calm Diablo any. He squeezed with all of his unearthly might, and his claws pierced Abadon's throat. Both his head and his body fell to the ground, severed. Slowly, the head began to melt and flowed back to his body, where the head began to re-grow. After a minute, Abadon stood back up, though the pain flowing through his system was immense.
"Either accept it or kill me now, because I will not change my mind," he seethed. "Scarlet will either be my bride or a widow."
Diablo slammed his claw against Abadon's face once more. A deep scowl was plastered on his face as he turned his back on Abadon and slowly walked back to his throne. He sat down and began to speak again.
"Your persistence is unwise, Abadon. I could kill you with but a thought. However, you have proven to be an ... asset to me in the past, and I see little reason to destroy you over something as trivial as your physical relationship with mortals. Take whatever minions you may need for the ceremony. But I warn you, Abadon ... if your pursuits here interfere with our unholy quest, I shall see to it that you and your bride die side by side in equally horrible fashions. Now get out of my presence."
Abadon finally allowed himself to breath out. "Thank you, master."
Quickly, Abadon left the room. He shut the door behind him, but as he did, he slumped against the wall, reeling in pain. The damage that Diablo had inflicted upon him was greater than he had thought. But as he lay, polymorphic body wracked with pain, his thoughts were not focused on his injuries; they were focused on his triumph, and what to do next.
It had been several hours since Abadon's departure, and much to the surprise of the palace's guards, Scarlet had chosen to remain in Dorado, despite her unhidden distaste for the frivolous mortal cities. But rather than prepare for the staged wedding, she sat at a quaint wooden desk in her chambers. On the desk was a bundle of scrolls. With a quill in hand, she waved ink across the current piece of paper with almost careless precision. After the note was completed, she rolled it up to form the final scroll, and sealed it with one of Dorado's royal seals. Gently, she walked over to the window, where a raven was tied. Untying the rope, she grabbed the bird by its beak and stared it in the eyes.
"You know where you have to go," she whispered, her mesmerizing eyes taking their unearthly effect. She tied the scrolls to its foot, and then released the bird. The raven promptly flapped off towards its destination.
"Never stare a raven in the eyes..."
She spun around, a little surprised at the voice. Abadon was just entering the room, walking with a slight limp, but a small smile still spread across his face.
"...Or it might steal your soul and fly away."
She looked him over. "Since you stand before me now, I assume that everything with Diablo has been taken care of."
"Yes. I lost my head over it, but we will have the majority of hell's minions at the ceremony. Hell will be guarded only by Diablo's personal minions."
Scarlet's upper lip wrinkled in disgust. "I don't really want to know. But anyway, this is one plan that even those heroes shouldn't be able to foul up."
Abadon snapped his fingers. "Speaking of heroes..."
"Already taken care of."
He looked surprised. "How did you do that?"
"I invited them to the wedding," she smiled quaintly. Abadon's eyes perked up.
"You will have to explain this to me."
Scarlet sighed. "They will receive the information. They may debate it, but eventually they will come to the conclusion that there will be no better time to strike at Diablo, with all the extra security at Dorado. They will agree, and fall into a trap."
Abadon nodded. "Brilliant. Now all that remains is the wedding itself..."
The dragon woman scoffed. "If you think that I am trying on more than one dress, then you can forget this entire thing. I dislike wearing clothes enough as it is."
A light breeze cascaded through one of the open windows of the heroes' new, recently-established base of operations in the town of Tabula Rasa. It's fortified walls provided sanctuary and rest for the weary warriors within, as well as a reliable place in which to regroup. Shin was amusing himself by cleaning his sword and seeing how long he could go without cutting himself. Ethon was cleaning out his gun. Xeiss was outside practicing with her bow and arrows. Glitterspike was reading his Bible. Triesque was outside in the stables, munching on some hay contentedly. Severen was nowhere to be found. D stood in a dark corner, seemingly having a conversation with himself.
It had been this way for the past hour, so everyone was slightly jolted by an off-pitch squawking sound. All eyes turned to the window sill, where a raven was now perched. Shin stood and slowly walked over to the raven, careful to avoid its eyes.
"What's that thing doing here?" Glitterspike asked, looking up from the Good Book.
"I don't know, but I'm going to catch it," Shin whispered, creeping up as best he could, sword in hand. "I'm hungry, and it's a good distance to the nearest tavern."
Suddenly, the raven cawed again, dropped something from its claws, and then flapped off before Shin could so much as lunge. Cursing his luck, the hero of the land walked over to the window to see what had been left behind, half suspecting that it was raven droppings. It was quite a surprise when it turned out to be the sealed scrolls. Examining them, he saw that each one was addressed to one of the heroes.
"What is it?" asked Glitterspike, getting up.
"Read for yourself," Shin replied, tossing the paladin the one that had been designated for him. He then passed out the others, after which he began to read his, teeth clenching more with every line.
Oh how I have missed you. It has been such a long time since we last came in contact. I myself am to blame, and so I write this to make amends. In two days of receiving this letter, I shall be marrying his lordship King Abadon of Dorado. We would both be most pleased and honoured if you and your group were to attend. The wedding shall be held in the courtyard at high noon. I look forward to seeing you and your friends here in our great city.
Your long time friend,
By now the other members of the group had finished reading theirs as well. Anger seething through him, Shin crumbled the scroll in his hand.
"This is totally unacceptable," he said at last. "We have to do something."
"Like what, crash the wedding?" asked D, perhaps a little too eagerly.
"Yeah ... nothing like breaking up a match made in hell," Xeiss growled.
"No," interjected Shin, deep in thought. "I have a better idea. I say we go directly for Diablo."
"What? Shin, are you feeling okay? That would be suicide, and you know it. Diablo has got hell fortified to no end with all of his minions."
"Actually, I believe that Shin may have a point," D continued. "Clearly they are mocking us with this. They are assuming that we will either swallow our pride and remain docile, or launch a suicidal attack against Dorado. I say we do the one thing they do not expect. More than likely they will take the defenses from hell and send them to Dorado in case we should attack there. That leaves Diablo unexpectedly vulnerable."
Shin nodded. "I concur. We've been on the defensive ever since we started this ordeal. I say the time is ripe to go on the offensive, and take a stab straight at their heart, where a blow will cripple them all. Are there any objections?"
Everyone began to look at everyone else in silence. Clearly this was their opportunity. It could be their first, their last, and their only.
"Then it is settled," Shin said quietly. "In two days we complete our quest to recapture Diablo."
And Then The World Came Crashing Down, part two