And Then The World Came Crashing Down, part four


Abadon plunged through time and space. He could not tell which direction he was tumbling; to him it felt like he was being pulled in every direction at once, and even then some directions he had never realized existed. Peace, hatred, fear, happiness, pain, pleasure, suffering, enlightenment, all became tangible and surrounded Abadon, swirling around him so close that he could almost reach out and touch them. Yet whenever he tried, they were whisked away in some ballet of the cosmos. To a mortal creature, such sensations would have proved to be overwhelming, and surely would have driven one mad. And even Abadon was becoming disoriented, unable to take in everything at once...

Then abruptly, he heard a whooshing sound surround him, and a second later he was unceremoniously deposited out of the interdimensional vortex, and collided with the ground, hard. He lay for a moment, numb with pain from the transition, before he realized that his head was under some filthy, thick liquid. He raised his head up, gasping for air. Seconds passed before he opened his eyes to get his bearings straight.

Abadon was lying in the middle of a long hallway, which was knee-deep in a sea of flowing blood. He knew that he had reached his destination: the true Hell.

This was the darkest of realms in all creation, a place where even Abadon had never set foot, and where no living mortal ever had. This was the Hell where Diablo and his two brothers had originally ruled over. The place where the Three Prime Evils had been banished forevor from to the mortal plane. Abadon had thought that the small section of Hell brought onto the mortal plane by Diablo for the continuance of his plans was the worst place imagniable. He was wrong; the true Hell was far, far worse. This was the well of souls, the place of damnation, that which existed only in time and space. Abadon began to see that Diablo had not done it justice with his meager rendition.

Slowly and surely, he stood, blood running off of his body, where it re-mixed and mingled with the rest of the vile substances flowing along. Looking around, it was only then that he noticed a distant hissing sound growing closer every second, and ten burning red eyes in the darkness. The hissing sound grew more and more audible as a score of the dreaded demonic Drakes slithered forward.

Abadon took a deep breath. "I am his Lordship King Abadon of Dorado," he announced. "I am here to see your masters. Let me pass, or you shall perish in this infernal place."

The Drakes didn't seem to care, and continued to advance, heedless of his demands. They drew their weapons, and looked upon Abadon hungrily. The King of Dorado shook his head.

"I can't go anywhere anymore without getting into a fight."

Abadon then held out his hand, and a long silver lance emerged from his palm. In his other hand appeared a long, slender chain with a barbed end. He shifted his shoulders into a battle-ready stance, and instantly a forboding black plate mail emerged all over his body. Without delay he began to swing the chain, as if to challenge the serpentine attackers.

"Who's first?" he asked, a sneer forming on his lips. Fearlessly, the Drakes approached, making the first move. The lead one swung it's blades at him, but Abadon was too fast. He quickly swung his left hand towards the oncoming blade, and the chain wrapped around the Drake's claws, tearing it off. Abadon then followed it up by thrusting his spear forward through the Drake's exposed midsection. But as he pulled it out again, his elbow bumped against something. Whipping around, he was completely surprised when he saw a giant Balrog standing behind him. The great fire-breathing demon let out a roar as a chain of super-heated flames engulfed both Abadon and the Drakes that had been attacking him. The Balrog released a burst of sick laughter over its easy victory, but was cut short as the smoke cleared and he found Abadon staring right back at him, all of the Drakes behind him having been reduced to ashes. Abadon stood posed and ready to strike, just waiting for the Balrog to come one step closer.

"ENOUGH!"

The voice rang through the blood-soaked corridor, turning the heads of both Abadon and the Balrog, plus those of the numerous other abominations that were rushing towards the fray. From the shadows emerged a lone Frost Witch, its blue clothing symbolizing a high rank in the underworld. It stepped past the Balrog and spoke to it in a demon tongue that Abadon couldn't understand. The feeling of curiosity and confusion at listening to it was new to him; he was well-versed in every demonic language used by those on the mortal plane. It truly was different down here.

A few seconds later, the Balrog growled its acknowledgement, cast a menacing glance back at Abadon, and then sloshed its way back down the hallway. The Frost Witch then turned toward Abadon.

"I welcome you, Abadon," it said, an eerie, echoing voice. "I am sorry that I was unable to greet you upon your arrival to our dark realm."

The demon was now brushing himself off, not taking his eyes off of the Balrog. "Yes, well, if you don't mind, I would like to meet your masters. I am the first person from the mortal coil to come here with flesh intact, and I intend to be the first one to leave in such a state as well."

"Of course. The masters are awaiting you. They are very intrigued by your visit."

The witch gestured, and Abadon began to follow her down the long, blood-soaked corridors. Around every corner, the denizens of Hell eyed him with looks of patronizing disgust, to which Abadon responded with nothing more than an evil grin. They journeyed through a network of hallways, passages, and rooms, until they finally stood before a giant set of double iron doors. Blood dripped out of the cracks, as though the metal was squeezing the life out of the wood that it clung to so diligantly. The witch gestured once more, and then scurried off. He could see the fear in her eyes as she left; the fear of confronting that which was behind these doors. Abadon could relate; that same fear was growing within his heart with every passing second. But he knew that to show weakness was a sure death. He had to be strong, and he had to call their bluff. Otherwise he was doomed.

Taking a deep breath, he reached for the handle...

...And was surprised when the huge doors swung open by themselves. He grinned at the parlor trick and entered. What he witnessed in there was breathtaking.

The room was large, and one side of it was completely open-ended. Gazing upon it, Abadon realized that he was staring at a colossal abyss, miles deep with a maw that was equally wide, and with the walls covered with mutilated flesh. Slowly, Abadon approached the railing, constructed of bone, and stared downward from the balcony on which he stood. Far below, he could see a swirling, ebony mass. Squinting, he could make out thousands, if not millions, of small fragments of light being swirled around the abyss in a never-ending whirlpool, the glow from which reached even the highest heights of the abyss. From deep down within, tortured screams of agony and frustration echoed. The sight was awe-inspiring.

"It is the Well of Souls."

Abadon whipped around, ready to face another attacker. But instead, he was greeted by the visage of a slender woman slowly approaching him. No ordinary woman was this, though. Her face was pale, and completely void of emotion save a pair of glowing eyes. Her hair, spikey and flowing, cascaded down her shoulders. And her legs ... her legs were those of a ferocious bird. Despite the terrible sight, though, all that Abadon did was smile.

"Greetings, Anadriel," he grinned wickedly. "We haven't spoken in quite some time. You have returned from the mortal plane, I take it?"

"For a time," she said, her soft yet powerful voice booming through the room and crossing the abyss. "You are fortunate that I am here to vouch for your puny little existence before the others. If not, then you would most certainly be dead at this moment."

Abadon fought back a gulp, and replaced it with a cool exterior. "Given the opposition that I have already found myself up against, I am a little bit skeptical of that ruling." He glanced down the abyss. "Nice place you have here. Did you decorate it yourself?"

"I had some help from the legions of angels that have marched into Hell over so many millennia," Anadriel replied coldly. "Their flesh makes for a very attractive wallpaper. The Well of Souls is the eternal resting place for all of the damned. Below you is the final place of internment for all wicked souls ... until we see fit to use their souls to posess the bodies of our undead warriors."

"My compliments to your landscaper..." Abadon replied, staring out and listening to the screams below for a few seconds. "Now, I must get down to business. Where are the others?"

"We are all here."

Slowly, one of the dark sections of the balcony became lit up with an arcane glow, revealing four thrones, crafted from steel and bones. Anadriel took her place upon one of the thrones, side-by-side with three other characters that came straight from the hellish nightmares of young children. Twisted, demonic forms that Abadon had only caught a glimpse of in one place: when he gazed upon Diablo. Only these horrific forms were even more terrifying; millennia of the deep Burning Hells had further distorted their bodies. Blood dripped from their lips, and their claws tapped impatiently on their thrones.

No ordinary demons were these; they were gods. They were the Four Evils: Anadriel, the Maiden of Anguish, Azmodan, the Lord of Sin, Belial, the Lord of Lies, and Duriel, the Lord of Pain. They all stared directly at him silently, no emotions clouding their faces.

Abadon then noticed a chair set up facing the four. It looked something Abadon had used to torture the humans back in Dorado. It had two armrests, at the end of which were jagged claws, more than likely to secure the wrists of the individual seated in it. There were also two claws extending from the back rest, intended to hold the neck in place. Anadriel beckoned for Abadon to sit.

"I prefer to stand," Abadon replied slowly, gazing at the chair with disgust. He walked up and leaned against it instead, and poked his finger against one of the claws on the back rest. It was very sharp, possibly enchantingly so, and immediately drew blood. He eyed each of the Four in turn, and then licked the blood from his finger. None of them seemed overly impressed; they drank blood at all their meals.

Duriel was the first to speak, his voice filled with contempt. "It is not every day that we, the four most powerful gods in all creation, agree to a council at the request of some mortal," he spat the word as though it was an obscenity. "We are here only because we wish to be. So speak and interest us, or we shall find other ways to amuse ourselves with your frail existence."

Abadon took the threat in stride, and turned to face Duriel directly. "I am here to address you about recent events surrounding my former master Diablo. I am sure you all know what has gone on."

All four of the Evils cringed slightly at the mention of the omni-demon's foul name. It had been many centuries since they had overwhelmed and banished the Three Brothers from Hell, and none of them wanted a reminder of those times.

"We are aware," Azmodan replied after a moment. "We felt his presence once again contained by the mortal's Soul Stone. Something I suspect that you failed to stop, and are now here to requisition the help of the only beings in the universe mighty enough to help you reclaim your master. Know this, oh King of Dorado. We fought and banished him and his Brothers long before you existed. When we felt his rise to power once again, we put aside our petty feuds to unite, in case he attempted to retake the Hells which are rightfully ours. He has now been imprisoned once more, and if you believe that we will aid you in freeing him, then you are gravelly mistakened."

Abadon's eyes fell upon Azmodan, a curt, evil smile on his face. "For an evil god, you don't get out much, do you?"

Azmodan's eyes blazed with fury, and he started to rise in order to crush the infidel, but stopped when the others motioned form him to calm down.

"All right, Abadon," Belial growled. "We will play your game, as long as it continues to amuse us. What really happened to Diablo this time?"

"Azmodan was right in one regard," he replied calmly. "Diablo has once more been sealed by the mortals. But not because I failed ... but because I succeeded."

All of their eyes showed a spark of interest, and it was all Abadon could do to not heave a sigh of relief. Instead, he allowed an evil grin of pleasure to spread across his face.

"You have our attention," Duriel said. "You plotted against your own master, the Lord of Terror. A bold move, but why?"

"You all know Diablo as well as I do, if not better," Abadon snorted. "You know he is far from the ideal employer. Long hours. Terrible pay. Brutal discipline. It all tends to get to a demon after a while, if you know what I mean. I engineered a plan to be rid of him once more."

"So Diablo is out of the way. What does this mean to us? We put him out of our way a long time ago."

With one fluid motion, Abadon waved his hand. Several blades came out of his arm, cleaving off the claws of the chair. He then casually draped himself down over the chair in an almost mocking pose.

"What it means to you," he said calmly, with a hint of danger in his voicee, "is that you are looking at the new Lord of Terror."

Anger appeared on all of the gods' faces at the wretched demon's insolence. All except for Anadriel, who began to chuckle softly.

"You?" she said at last. "A god? What a joke. I have seen pieces of lint more omnipotent than you."

"On the contrary," Abadon returned. "I am already a god. All that I lack is the title."

This caused Duriel to leap to his feet, eyes blazing red with hatred. None of the others attempted to restrain him as he slowly walked towards the wretched one.

"This is an outrage," he seethed. "How dare you walk in here and declare yourself to be a god. I could kill you where you sit, slouched like an animal, with but a thought."

"You are nothing but a broken record, just like Diablo," Abadon replied, eyes gleaming as he rose back up to his feet. "The same hollow threat, and the same inaction. If you have this power to destroy me, Duriel, than exercise it now. If not, then remove your filthy presence from my sight."

Azmodan and Anadriel snickered at the remark, but it only caused Duriel to get angrier. He took a deep breath, and one could almost see the fury coursing through his demonic body. "I will kill you now," his voice was filled with rage, and it echoed down into the abyss.

"You are welcome to try."

As the Lord of Pain approached him, Abadon knew that this was where he could not falter. Immense strength must be shown. Holding out his index finger, he formed a small blade with it. He then began to clean his fingernails, completely ignoring Duriel's seething anger. But then Duriel made his move. With a mere beckon, a dark ball of evil energy, formed straight from the maw of Hell, flew towards Abadon. The King of Dorado knew that even his formidable magical arsenal could not defend against it. So instead he waved a hand, and a small portal opened directly in the path of the dark blast. A second later, it disappeared into the portal...

...and reappeared through a second one which Abadon had opened right beside Duriel's head. The Lord of Pain screamed as his own dark incantation struck him, untold pain surging through his body. But one who controlled an element was not so easily wavered by it, and a second later he was back up on his feet. Abadon slowly looked up from grooming his hand and smiled pleasantly at Duriel before turning back towards Anadriel.

"So," he said, addressing the dark goddess, "what do you feel should be done about these self-proclaimed 'heroes' who have captured Diablo?"

The answer came not in the form of a voice, but as a mighty crash as Duriel smashed his fist against his coveted throne, shattering it into pieces. He held up his clawed hand and pointed directly at Diablo.

"You listen to me, mortal animal," he spat in disgust. "I am not through with you; not by far. But the day will come will I will see you grovelling before me, begging for me to make the pain I am inflicting upon you cease. This day will come. That, I promise."

With that, Duriel stormed out of the double iron doors, knocking them clean off of their hinges, intent on returning to his own realm in Hell. Abadon shrugged his shoulders as though he could care less, and then turned his attentions back to the three other Evils.

"Now where were we?"

All eyes returned back to Abadon, mixed looks of amusement filling them. This was indeed proving to be most entertaining.

"I believe that you had mentioned the group of mortals that managed to seal Diablo," Anadriel replied.

"Ah yes, the self-righteous heroes," Abadon continued on. "They may have taken the Soul Stone back to their fortress, where even my mighty legions would have difficulty retrieving it. I have no intention of getting Diablo back, though. He is as secure there as he is anywhere else, and the time has come to forget about him. So thus, I will return to Dorado, and..."

His voice trailed off as he noticed the three Evils exchanging glances for a brief moment, before turning back to him.

"Unacceptable," boomed Belial at last.

Abadon hadn't been expecting that reply. "What?"

"It is a risk that we are not prepared to take," Azmodan continued. "Do you truly trust these mortals with such a daunting charge? Diablo and his Brothers represent the greatest threat to all creation ... ever. They are an unstable element, and they must not be left to the flawed hands of mortals. They must not escape."

"You say that you are already a god," Anadriel mused. "If so, then prove your boasts. Lay siege to the mortal town where Diablo lies, recover his vaunted Soul Stone, and return it to us. We will place it in the deepest depths of the Hellforge itself, where no angel has ever tread, and where demons fear to. Then, and only then, shall we endorse your power as the new Lord of Terror."

An uneasy silence fell over the room as the four beings stared intently at eachother. Abadon was most displeased with this turn of events; it had been his hope to wipe his hands of both Diablo and the meddling heroes once and for all. But it would seem that he was going to have to face both of them yet again in order to consolidate his power.

"You have a deal," Abadon replied at last, slowly and with slight hesitation. "Consider Diablo's Soul Stone as good as in your hands already."

"It would be most unwise of you to be so presumptuous," Anadriel said, grinning smugly, and then clasping her hands together. "This council is over. You would be well-advised not to fail us, Abadon. We do not tolerate failures. Now go!"

There was a sudden crackling behind Abadon, and with a beckon from Anadriel, another rift opened directly behind him. Before he could even utter a word, she hit him with a mighty telekinetic shove. Caught off-balance, Abadon stumbled backwards, and a second later was falling back through oblivion towards the beckoning mortal plane.

**********

Even through the dense walls of Hell's labyrinthine corridors, another being watched the exchange with great interest, albeit a dark one. Utilizing his formidable Infravision skills, Duriel looked on as Abadon clumsily fell back through Anadriel's portal. A menacing scowl was implanted upon his face, and his eyes still flickered with great fury.

"You have made a great error in mocking my power, you lowly hellspawn," he growled to himself, clenching his fists together so tightly that his own blood began to run down them and splatter on the floor. "Nobody plays games with the Lord of Pain and continues to draw breath. I'll have your head for attempting to degrade me so."

As he trode through the blood-soaked halls, watching the lesser demons cower before his omnipotence, Duriel's mind was filled with thoughts of Abadon. On every one of his minions that passed he could see the demon's mocking face, resulting in a number of swift and sudden executions. But as he continued, his thoughts became more rational, although no less malevolent.

"Maybe I don't need to kill you," he murmured thoughtfully. "Perhaps death is too good for one such as you. But I will personally see to it that you never, ever become a god while I still exist on this coil. I swear it."

An idea was beginning to form in his head, an idea that when thought about, filled him with a dark pleasure. What a glorious day it would be when he witnessed that wretch grovelling before him. Slowly, he grasped the handle of the sword in its hilt at his side, and felt it's dark energy rushing through him. Removing the weapon from it's sheath, he held it before him to admire. This was no ordinary blade ... it was a weapon designed to be the epitome of darkness and hatred. A weapon that he had stolen from Mephisto just before the Lord of Hatred had been banished from Hell. It was Shadowfang, the coveted Demonblade, the killer of thousands of angels and the pride of the Hellforge. Not even the angelic Runeblades could stand before it in the heat of combat. Shadowfang was the most destructive weapon ever forged, and now he was the bearer. It's arcane glow filled his eyes with lust as he stared upon it.

"I swear it."

**********

It was not pain in a physical sense. Physical pain was impossible now, since Lesya had no body with which to experience it. The searing agony that was branded upon her soul was that of an arcane force combined with emotional suffering. But all of the suffering, she sensed, she had brought upon herself.

Years' worth of hatred, wretchedness, and despising flashed by in her memories. Her supreme distraction with killing Arrisa had not only destroyed whatever sembelance of a life she had once had, but had also corrupted her soul to the core. And now that she was dead, the decay that had formed in her lifetime was coming back to rear it's ugly head against her, down deep in the abyssmal Well of Souls. She knew that she had done this to herself, and also knew that she would spend the rest of eternity paying for it.

Had she posessed any lungs or vocal cords, she would have let out an anguish-filled scream to whatever forces there were out there to take pity upon her. But it was futile; she had sold her soul in return for hatred. Lesya knew she would spend from then until the end of the Universe contemplating the waste of her lifetime. It wasn't fair...

"It never is, you know."

The foreign voice cut through her misery like a beam of light, even though she posessed no sensory organs. Never again had she expected to touch anything.

"Who are you?" she thought back at whatever was out there. "Who are you, and what do you want?"

The new voice ignored her, though. "I have heard millions of pleas from mortals not unlike yourself, Lesya. Each of them believes that they are being cheated or robbed from the life that they had and the paradise that they worked towards, when in fact they were engineering their own downfall the entire time. You are no exception."

"WHO ARE YOU?" she mentally screamed. Now she could feel the being's presence on the fringes of her own, growing nearer and more powerful by the moment.

"But in another sense," the voice continued, "you are very much the exception. Because from all of the souls damned to this Well for the rest of eternity, I have selected you for my purpose."

Lesya remained silent, although suddenly a glimmer of hope was beginning to dawn within her. What was this being talking about?

"Back on your mortal plane, decay has not yet set in upon your fallen young body. This alone makes it an ideal vehicle. But I have a task to complete, and I have no desire to learn or interact with the mortal realm any more than absolutely necessary. Thus, I will be using you and your cold shell to further my aims."

"I'm listening," Lesya said, stating the obvious. It wasn't like she was going anywhere for the next few thousand years.

"You will accompany me back to the mortal realm," the voice continued. "I will take possession of the shell that you once called your own, bringing you with me. You will offer no resistance to my occupation, and shall aid whenever I ask. You may consider it to be a brief reprieve from the damnation which has now branded itself upon your soul."

She was forced to hesitate. Lesya could sense that this being was one of immense power, and if it was communicating to her in the depths of Hell, its aims and goals were likely to be malevolent. If she willingly provided a vehicle for its might, what destruction might be caused because of her? Still, it was a chance to return from this damnable place, if only for a brief time…

"If you attempt to struggle against my will," came the final, threatening warning, "then I shall dispose of you immediately in favor of a more cooperative host. And I assure you that there are a great many souls sharing occupancy with you in this Well that would do anything for a few minutes on the mortal coil."

"I'll do it," she spat out quickly. "You may have my body. But who are you?"

There came an evil laughter from the being as it wrapped itself around her speck of consciousness. "I am known by many names, Lesya. But you shall soon know me more intimately than you could possibly believe."

Then, there was a flash of intense pain and light from all around her, followed by the bombardment of a hundred thousand images and memories upon her mind, and then...

...silence.

**********

The throne of Dorado should have been empty due to its master's departure from the mortal world. The chair itself had some mystical, arcane powers in itself, and Abadon had specifically threatened all of his minions not to enter the throneroom when he was not present. The consequences otherwise would be ... dire. But it was now commonly believed that Abadon had gone completely insane, and destroyed himself in the burst of dark energy that they had all felt. This was supported by the fact that he had disappeared without a trace, and nobody had seen him leave.

Draped across the throne of Dorado in a rather disrespectful fashion was Exile, who was calmly filing down his nails. The demon servant couldn't be happier with this sudden turn of events ... his former sadistic employer had vanished, leaving a horde of demonic creatures behind.

"And who could possibly be more qualified to be their next ruler," Exile said, "then me? After all, I was always much more 'in-touch' with my demonic side than Abadon was. To be able to relate to a demon, you have to be able to be the demon, and Abadon was always too high and mighty to get to know his troops very well. Did you know that, when asked, almost every one of our abominations felt some sense of insecurity and inadequacy because of him?"

The Black Knight that stood beside his throne as bodyguard simply grunted in reply.

"Yep, he was a complete psychopath, and personally, I'm glad that he's..."

Suddenly, there was a flickering of light as sparks formulated out of thin air in the center of the room, followed by an ethereal ripping sound. Exile looked on in surprise and horror as a portal materialized out of thin air, and a second later deposited a dark figure onto the throneroom floor at high velocities. Then, as mysteriously as it had opened, the portal closed again. It didn't take Exile long to figure out who this figure lying on the throneroom floor was.

"My lord Abadon!" he yelped, leaping out of the throne as if it had been set on fire. "M-M'lord, I thought that you were gone for good."

Abadon breathed heavily for a few seconds as he recuperated from his clandestine journey. His eyes were glowing a deep crimson, and strangely enough, there was a definite grin covering his face. Not wasting a moment, Exile hurried over to help his master back up to his feet.

"Would you like me to get a new robe for you, sir?" he babbled. "This one's covered in blood. Or how about a nice helping of entrails or a cup of a steaming cup of bodily fluids? It would certainly be refreshing after your tiring trip from ... ah, from wherever you went..."

"Not now," Abadon breathed. "No time. I want you to organize the demon armies, prepare them for an assaul..."

"Sir, most of the demons under your command returned to the Burning Hells in light of your apparent disappearance."

Abadon cursed loudly and lashed out with one of his arms, sending Exile flying and hitting the ground hard. "Damnation eternal! I need my minions here to...," suddenly, a look of enlightenment spread across his face. "Or perhaps I don't. Perhaps this is my opportunity to prove to them and to everyone else that I am a god, and that my true power knows no bounds. I will recover the Soul Stone from the heroes by myself, without the help of my petty armies. I will prove to them all, beyond the shadow of a doubt!"

As Exile came to, rubbing his head gingerly, he was only in time to see Abado striding out of the throneroom, laughing maniacally.

"Let the good times roll," he grumbled to himself as he got back up to his feet.


And Then The World Came Crashing Down, part five


The world continued to spin and swirl around her in a cascade of colors. But gradually, very gradually, Lesya became aware of herself again. She could feel the rhythmic throb of her heartbeat, and the cold, wet mud oozing against her skin. It was true; she had returned to life once more. The rain was pouring down upon her, and never before had she felt so secure and grateful to feel it's splattering upon her exposed skin. Had it all been a dream?

Focusing her mind, though, the first real thing that she became aware of was the fact that she was not, in fact, alone. Deep within her soul she could feel the presence of another nestled; a creature of darkness and malevolence that she had never before sensed. When she reached out with a mental hand and touched it, the backlash seared through her mind.

"Do not attempt to touch me, or to harm me, or to expel me in any fashion," the darkness growled, the foreign voice resounding through her thoughts though her ears heard nothing, and terrifying her. "If you do so, Lesya, then I shall make you suffer a long, horrible death yet again."

"Who are you?" she demanded once more, her eyes now drifting open. The rain limited the range of her vision, but she clearly remembered where she was. Her body was in the exact same place the Arrisa had dropped it only a few hours ago. "What do you want?"

"You know who I am," the voice replied. "As for what I want, I am on a personal mission, one of deep vendetta. Which way, Lesya, is it to the town known as Dorado?"

"I don't know," she groaned, forcing herself up out of the mud, and onto her knees. Suddenly, another unspeakable burst of pain flashed through her body like lightning. She screamed in pain. "Stop it! STOP IT! SEARCH MY MIND IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE ME!"

The pain persisted as the black energy rushing through her body, causing each nerve to burn with unholy agony, even as she felt the being probing through her mind, searching for Dorado's location. A few seconds later, the pain subsided, and Lesya allowed herself to crumple back down to the ground, moaning.

"You speak the truth," the voice grumbled unhappily. "A pity...I should not have selected you as a host. Now we shall have to find someone who does know the way to Dorado. Your ignorance has made you burdensome to me. Get up!"

Every muscle in Lesya's body was stiff from rigor mortis, which had set in a while ago, and with which now she was having to contend. Also, the pain from the dark energy the being had just unleashed still burned at her innards. Try as she might, she could not make her body rise back up from the muddy ground again.

"You are as useless as you are ignorant," the voice barked. "If you cannot control your own body, then I will."

With that, Lesya suddenly felt all the control that she had over her body drain away from her. Although she could still feel all of the sensery input, she had control over absolutely none of it, except for her own free thought. Almost effortlessly, the other being in her mind forced the body up to its feet.

"It's really not so hard," it said, using her vocal cords and speaking out loud. The sensation of hearing herself speak was definitively shocking to Lesya. Then, she was forced to look towards the only source of light in the night rain ... a lantern hung on a small wooden hutch not too far away. Lesya's heart once again filled with rage when her mind flashed back to she who inhabited that small shack ... the dark witch Arrisa. Trudging through the mud, she felt her body beginning to walk in its direction.

It was only then that Lesya remembered the vicious stab wound that had been inflicted upon her by the Necromancress. But though the spot where she had lain was covered with her own blood, the wound in her chest was completely healed. The clothing was ripped where the knife had penetrated, but the cut in her chest was no more. Truly this being that possessed her was one of awesome power.

Less than a minute later, they had reached the door. It didn't even bother to knock. Instead, her fist began to glow with an arcane energy, and when it swung, the door was smashed clear off of its hinges. There was a warm fire going inside, but the only thing that Lesya saw when they entered the hutch was the startled face of her killer, Arrisa. Hatred flowed through her soul once more. But the memories of her own damnation returned to her, and she fought to repress it.

"You!" Arrisa cried out, nearly falling out of her chair in shock and surprise. "You can't be here! You're dead, I killed you!" Focusing her own formidable powers, Arrisa began to probe the new arrival's mind. What she found terrified her, and she slowly began to fall back. "You're not Lesya ... you're ... you're..."

"You may address me as Duriel, the Lord of Pain," Lesya heard her own voice say, and suddenly she began to remember all of the ancient legends and fairytales that her father had told to her as a young girl. Duriel ... it all made sense. Now she knew that she was not just possessed by a demon, but by a dark god. What was to become of her? "I know of you, Arrisa. You gave your soul to the darkness in exchange for power."

"NO!" Arrisa howled in disbelief. "It can't be you! I won't let you take me!" With that, she reached into her long cloak and brought forth a fearsome Bastard Sword. She weilded it like an expert, attempting to keep Duriel and Lesya at bay.

"You are not the main reason for my visit here," Duriel said with amusement. "However, I always take great pleasure in torturing the souls of those foolish enough to give themselves to the darkness...and to me."

Lesya's hand was suddenly held out, and a second later the air around it began to glow as something materialized in it. Moments later she was staring at the most grusomely terrifying sword that she had ever seen. Duriel smiled wickedly even as she carefully read his thoughts. It was Shadowfang, the demon blade. Lesya had heard legends of this too, and was genuinely frightened now that she saw it rested in the palm of her hand.

Not wishing to miss her opportunity, Arrisa charged, cutting at Lesya like a master of the blade. Lesya was shocked when Duriel did nothing to block the incoming blade but smile. She felt the sword penetrate her midsection, but felt no pain emanating from the wound. A second later, when Arrisa withdrew it, the wound closed as easily as it had opened.

"You are nothing compared to me," Duriel hissed. "Prepare yourself for eternal damnation, Arrisa!"

The witch shrieked as the demon lord swung Shadowfang, aiming not for Arrisa's body, but for her coveted weapon. The dark runeblade sliced through the mortal weapon as though it was not even there, and the top half of it fell to the floor below. Then Duriel stepped back and watched in satisfaction. The hilt of the Bastard Sword was beginning to decay at a visible and very fast pace, crumbling to dust in her hands. Arrisa quickly let go, but already the decay had spread to her hands, and began to eat away at her flesh. The Necromancress shrieked in pain as her body began to wilt away into diseased dust.

"Tell me the way to Dorado, puny mortal," Duriel said calmly. "Tell me the way, and I will make it all end."

"To the west!" Arrisa shrieked in agony as the disease began to eat away at her arms. "To the west twenty miles! Past the town of Spaniel! That's where Dorado is! NOW MAKE IT STOP!"

Duriel obediently held out a hand, and a spray of fire emerged from the tip of each of his fingers. Lesya winced as Arrisa's tormented scream was suddenly cut off by the incinerating flames. Within seconds the entire cabin was coated with hellfire. Calmly, Duriel sheathed Shadowfang in Lesya's belt, turned, and forced her stiff body out of the small house, just before the roof caved in. Slowly, they looked back at the blazing pyre.

"Sleep well, my brother," she thought to herself. "You have been avenged."

"I believe that you are strong enough to take control of this shell now," Duriel said impatiently. "Find us a beast of burden to carry us to Dorado. I shall take my recess of control over you, for now."

With that, Lesya suddenly regained control of her body as Duriel receded back into the depths of her consciousness to rest. Her legs were still quite wobbly and unstable, but she managed to walk over to a nearby tree to brace herself. As she watched the fires consume the body and the house of the woman who had killed her and her entire family, she noticed something on the ground below her. Bending down, she found her brother's dagger, the family one that had been used to kill her. It was still stained with her blood.

Wiping off the blade, Lesya held it close to her heart as she watched the hellfire burn. Then, she stood, and with all of her might embedded it into the nearby tree. Wordlessly, she turned and walked off in the opposite direction, hoping to find the horse that she had left there several hours before.

"You have been avenged," she whispered.

**********

Silence had begotten the town of Tabula Rasa, the deep and tranquil silence of a people finally at rest. Celebrations of the Lord of Terror's capture had been going on for days, and at long last the townsfolk and most of the heroes alike had drifted off into a peaceful slumber. One of the only exceptions was Glitterspike, who maintained his vigil over the comatose Shin Hikaru. The beads of sweat which trickled down their leader's head indicated a fierce struggle going on inside his consciousness. But though the Soul Stone gleamed brightly in Shin's forehead, Glitterspike knew that his friend would not and could not give up the mental struggle with Diablo's spirit. He had fought and won this same fight once, and would do so again.

Suddenly, Glitterspike's head jerked upwards as the door creaked open, and his hand instictively grasped the hilt of his sword. But then he relaxed when he saw that it was only Xeiss, entering the room carrying a steaming cup of tea. She held it out to him, and he took it, silently nodding his thanks.

"Who don't you go rest?" she asked quietly, so as not to disturb Shin. "You've been at his side for days. I'll watch him for a while, at least."

Glitterspike slowly took a sip of his tea. He then looked up at Xeiss with a tired yet resolved look on his face.

"Thank you, but no," he replied. "I-I'll be fine for a while longer..."

Xeiss sighed. "I was afraid you would say that. I'm sorry."

Glitterspike's eyebrows raised. "Sorry? Sorry for...for..."

Suddenly, his eyes began to drift shut, and the cup of tea slipped from his hands and shattered on the stone floor below. His body slumped forward into Xeiss' waiting arms.

"You have been deprived of rest for far too long," she whispered as she dragged his limp body back towards his room, where she laid him down on his bed. "There was only a very small amount of the sleeping agent in the tea ... you were exhausted. This is for your own good, Glitterspike."

After he was laid out in a comfortable position and snoring soundly, Xeiss quietly closed the door and returned to Shin's bedside. After applying a fresh wet washcloth to his forehead, she sighed and drew her sword. Sitting down in the bedside chair, Xeiss began to rub a piece of flint up and down the blade, while humming the tune to an old childhood lullabye. As she struck the flint to the sword, a bolt of lightning crashed through the air, and the rain began to pour down unmercifully. Xeiss shook her head and went back to her new watch.

**********

It felt odd to Mercy, staring up from her bed and seeing a solid ceiling above her rather than a clear sky. Over the past few months the group had been forced to many different locales by Abadon's dark henchmen, and more often than not had they slept outdoor under the stars. But now, thanks to gold that Xeiss had somehow coveted from a dragon's lair, they owned their own fortress, a place of safety. After all those nights spent in the bush, however, wondering if they would live to see the morning's light, Mercy didn't know if she could ever get used to sleeping with a sense of security around her once again.

Suddenly, as she lay listening to the beating of the rain against the castle walls, a cold shiver ran up her spine. There was something nearby ... something evil. A dark, familiar presence was near her. Fear shot through her as she lept out of bed and pulled on her light armour with all due haste. Grabbing her sword, she cautiously poked her head out into the hallway. It was illuminated by the light of torches lining the walls, but otherwise was deserted.

The sense of fear redoubled inside of her as she left her room and began to creep through the hallways as quietly as possible. Mercy didn't know what she was looking for. All that she knew was that they were all in grave danger.

As she reached a junction in the halls, her heart skipped a beat. Footsteps, coming down from the perpendicular hallway, right towards her. She grasped her sword with both hands, preparing to run through whoever it was coming towards her if it proved to be an enemy. A look of relief crossed her face when it was in fact D who appeared, stumbling backwards in surprise at seeing her. The look on his face confirmed her fears.

"You as well, then?" he asked, his blade likewise out and at the ready.

"Yes," Mercy whispered, eyes darting around nervously. "What do you think it is?"

"I'm not sure," D replied. "But with the Soul Stone back in our possession, we can no longer afford the luxury of being lax with our security. You check to make sure that Shin is still allright, and I shall check the entrance to insert for any sign of intruders."

"Okay," Mercy agreed. "Be careful, D."

The half-vampire simply nodded and took off. Mercy gripped her sword rightly and ran towards Shin's room. She was going to be ready for anything.

**********

"Faster! FASTER!"

Spurred on by Lesya's sharp heels, the horse on which she rode flew across the open plains near the town of Montross. The great beast was beginning to tire, soaked by the pouring rain, but the burning that Lesya felt within her, the dark presence of Duriel slowly eating away at her soul, was starting to overwhelm her. So she rode it as hard and as fast as she could, not stopping for rest. At this rate, they would soon arrive at Dorado, the source of this Abadon's power and darkness. After that...

"STOP!"

Duriel's voice echoed through her mind, terrifying her and causing her to pull back on the reins. The horse whinnied and slowed to a halt, thankful for a brief reprieve.

"He is no longer in Dorado."

"What do you mean he's no longer in Dorado?" Lesya asked, as cautiously as possible. "He's moved somewhere else?"

"You will not speak unless directed to!"

Bullets of pain shot through her body, causing her to lose her balance and hit the ground with a thud. Groaning with pain, she got back up to her feet, bracing herself against her steed.

"He has gone somewhere other than his fortress," Duriel continued. "I can sense it. This provides us with the perfect opportunity to find him, when he does not have his hundreds of minions at an arm's reach to protect him. No, now I can take on the coward directly, and waste no more time in this infernal realm than necessary. I will soon return to Hell, Lesya, and you shall join me."

A chill ran up her spine at the thought of returning to the Well of Souls. She would never forget that horrendous experience...

Lesya felt Duriel's tug on her mind, pointing her in a different direction as she re-mounted her horse. "This way. Make haste, mortal!"

"Yah!" she shouted, poking the horse in the ribs and pulling it around to the new bearing. The horse began to gallop, though now she knew not where it took her.

**********

D whipped around the corner heading towards the main gate, the sound of his feet pounding against the rocky floor resounding through the hallways. He flung open the door which led out to the main courtyard of Tabula Rasa. Stepping outside, the rain began to beat down upon his long-brimmed hat profuesly. D squinted into the darkness, eyes probing the courtyard. The huge main gate was still closed and barred, just as he had seen it last. Nobody had come in that way...

Suddenly, a sickeningly familiar scent on the wind caught his attention. Sniffing the air, D could smell an odour that held both repulsion and a primal attraction for him: human blood. Tracing it back to its source, he gazed towards a dark corner of the courtyard. An object was laying there, deathly still in the downpour, and as he approached it, its features became more distinct and apparent.

The severed head of one of Tabula Rasa's courtyard guards. D stared for a moment, and then shook his head in sorrow. Suspicion began to creep through him.

"Are you thinking what I am thinking?" he asked Valas, his free-thinking hand.

"Definitley," the hand replied.

"We have to warn the others."

"There isn't any time," Valas protested. "Shin is in danger."

D nodded his agreement, turned, and darted back inside, heading up towards the chamber where Shin ... and the Soul Stone ... lay in peace. Hopefully Glitterspike was still on watch, and could sense that something was deathly wrong...

**********

Inside Shin's chamber, Xeiss was still ignorant of what was happening. Silently, she sat in her chair, sharpening her sword in rhythm to the pitter-patter of raindrops on the window sill. It was a fairly monotonous task, but she knew that it was something that had to be...

Suddenly, there was an out-of-place tap on the window which broke her conversation. Hail? She thought. Isn't it a little early in the year? But as she watched, there was another tap. She looked down at Shin, but he remained motionless. Slowly, she slid out of her chair and onto her feet, and walked over to the window. She put her hand on the lever, and began to crank it open...

Suddenly, the window pane shattered into a hundred shards as a metal blade smashed through it, causing Xeiss to shriek in surprise. The blade did not stop at cleaving through the window, though; protracting forward, it went directly through Xeiss' shoulder. She screamed in pain as a dark figure pushed through the window into the room, and with a heave, lifted her off the ground. There was a piercing sound as the blade that was cutting through her shoulder went into the wall. It was only then that her pain-blurred mind realized that her attacker was not holding a weapon, that the blade was actually a part of him. She was staring directly into the eyes of Abadon.

"Why, Xeiss," his taunting voice filled the room with darkness. "And here I was under the impression that we weren't going to be seeing eachother again. Apparently I was mistakened."

"Hello Abadon," she managed to seethe out from between her teeth, which were gritted in intense pain. "Give my regards to Exile or Scarlet the next time you see them, will you?" she promptly spat in his face. "Did you get that, or shall I repeat it?"

Abadon slowly wiped the spit off of his cheek with his free hand. Then, with a single fluid motion, he slammed his clenched fist into Xeiss' chest, causing her to scream in pain yet again at the impact.

"It would be unwise to test my patience. I am in a bit of a hurry."

"Heaven forbid I should disrupt your scheduled appointment with your favorite Succubus..."

"Do not insult me, Xeiss," Abadon growled. "I don't often mingle with the lesser demons."

"I was talking about Scarlet."

Abadon hissed with fury, transformed his free hand into another blade, and stabbed it through Xeiss' other shoulder. She hollered out in agony, her voice now hoarse, as she felt the metal pierce her flesh and her bones as it went into the back wall.

"I did not come here to take insults from a mortal," he said, voice now calm.

"I am no less of a m-mortal than you are," she gasped, beginning to cough up blood. "Y-You are nothing but Diablo's personal servant. You're no more important to him than any of the countless skeletons you supposedly hold dominance over..."

Xeiss clenched her teeth and waited for another squalor of pain to shoot through her, but it never came. Instead, he retraced both of his blades, and Xeiss collapsed to the floor in a pool of her own blood. The demon lord grinned cruelly.

"Ahhh, Xeiss," he laughed. "The price of innocence is often ignorance, a poet once said."

"A poet you no doubt butchered..."

"Without hesitation. Knowledge is a dangerous thing..."

Abadon leaned over the bed where Shin lay, and traced his finger over the rim of the Soul Stone embedded in his forehead. His grin grew even more over his mouth as he felt a dark surge of power from it.

"Enough knowledge here to destroy everything in this world ten times over..." he breathed.

"And you would willingly free that without hesitation?" Xeiss shouted over at him. She could hear the pounding of footsteps drawing closer to the room ... help was coming. If she could just stall him for a few more moments...

Abadon stopped tracing the Soul Stone with his finger and walked over to where Xeiss was hanging on the wall. A small point formed on his finger, and he slowly traced it down her cheek, leaving a slender red line of blood.

"Innocence, so ignorant, yet so hopeful..."

She gritted her teeth. "You'll have to kill me before I let you take that stone."

Abadon laughed in her face. "You can do nothing to stop me now, little one. I won't kill you, for you are no fun to me dead. I can't derive pleasures of opposition from the dead, since I command them. No, you are much better to me left alive."

"L-Like a cat playing with a mouse, with you as the cat."

"Exactly. Bright little mouse, aren't you?"

"I look forward to making you choke on those words someday..."

The two glared at eachother viciously for a moment, but were interrupted by a sudden knock on the door, followed by Mercy's concerned voice. Before Abadon could stop her, Xeiss screamed out.

"MERCY! IT'S ABADON! HE'S HERE FOR DIABLO!"

A second later there was a crash as the door was kicked open, and Mercy ran in, brandishing her sword and pointing it straight at Abadon's sternum. Abadon didn't hesitate, but instead dragged Xeiss back onto her feet, and held a bladed finger to her throat.

"Let's not be hasty now, Mercy," he hissed. "We wouldn't want anything to happen to our fiesty little Xeiss here, now would we?"

"Let her go, demon," Mercy growled.

"Kill him, Mercy," Xeiss said, eyes glued on the blade probing her throat. "Kill him now! Don't let him take the Soul Stone!"

Mercy gripped the sword tighter, unsure of what to do.

"Well, we are getting nowhere here, and I have a busy schedule to keep," Abadon said at last. "So what say we make this interesting and stack the odds a bit?"

With one fluid motion Abadon brought his knee into Xeiss' gut. She screamed in pain as the sound of metal piercing flesh was heard. As Abadon lowered his leg and allowed Xeiss to crumple to the ground again, blood began to pour from her midsection. With a grin, Abadon sidestepped and wrapped his fingers around the Soul Stone in Shin's head, not taking his eyes off of Mercy.

"Make the choice, Mercy," he grinned widely. "Xeiss or the Soul Stone. She will die in moments unless she receives medical help."

Mercy howled in frustration, but she dropped her sword without hesitation and ran to Xeiss' side, already speaking the holy words of healing for her friend. With a laugh of triumph, Abadon's fingers turned into blades, and sliced the Soul Stone out of Shin's head. He placed it inside his carrying pouch, and leaped out the window to the ground far bellow, the words "Foolish Mortal" trailing off into the wind.

And Then The World Came Crashing Down, part six


Abadon's feet struck the ground repeatedly, mashing the wet grass into unrecognizable splotches of fungus beneath his boots. His breathing was sparse and heavily laboured as he tore through the forests on foot, unable to find a steed that would not flee from his demonic presence. Above him, the rain pattered down relentlessly, and the crackling of lightning high in the sky grabbed his attention now and again. His body, though strong, was beginning to tire after several hours of fleeing the town of Tabula Rasa with his prize.

His prize ... his glorious prize.

At long last he slowed down, his entire body collectively aching. But as he did, he stared down at the object clutched protectively in his arms. The large red crystal burned with some inhuman, ethereal force, shedding a distinct cyan glow through the forest. Abadon smiled wickedly as he examined the Soul Stone, that which imprisoned the essence of his hated former master. This was a time to cherish. He could indeed feel Diablo's soul blindly reaching out from the Stone, his powers weak, but still present.

"Abadon?" Diablo cried out from his prison. "Thank the Darkness that you have freed me from the imprisonment that was Shin Hikaru yet again! Now release me, so that my plans for this weak mortal realm may begin anew!"

"I would rather burn in Hell."

"What? How DARE you defy me?"

"Come to think of it," Abadon mused to the Soul Stone, "I already have burned in Hell because of your 'thankfulness' at my releasing you. I have grown painfully tired of your plans, your brutality, and you, Diablo, former Lord of Terror. I believe that it is time for a change."

"What kind of a change?" Abadon could sense the fear in Diablo's soul. This was priceless. "Is it more power that you wish? More dominion? More authority? Whatever it is, Abadon, it shall be made so ... just release me from this damnable rock!"

Abadon reared back his head in laughter as the irony of the situation began to set in. For so many months, nay, years, Diablo had held total control over Abadon in every possible way. And now look where the great demon lord was ... resting in Abadon's hands, helpless to do anything in his own defense, save plead.

"Actually, Diablo, I believe that I shall have all of those things that you say," he chuckled wickedly. "Power, dominion, and authority, to an infinite degree, shall all be mine. And I shall have them, dear master, without the necessity of freeing you from eternal banishment."

"Abadon, you traitorous adder ... release me immediately! It is my forsworn destiny to take over this mortal realm, and then use it to return to Hell in glory! You cannot deny me this!"

"And I do not seek to," Abadon replied. "In fact, I will aid you in your quest to return to the Hell that you so darkly cherish. There are a number of individuals there who are willing to pay a high price for your captured soul. A number of individuals who, last time I checked, were not too fond of you."

"You can't mean ... you wouldn't turn me over to THEM, would you?"

Abadon sneered. "You put me through unimaginable suffering during these past few months, Diablo. Me, your most faithful servant. The only one who did not flee from your fallen side when Shin Hikaru struck down your cursed body. I can only imagine the tortures that the Four Lesser Evils will put you through for the rest of eternity. It will give me great pleasure to watch your soul writhe like the little maggot that it truly is. And all the time, I shall sit on the throne as the new Lord of Terror, smiling at your misfortune."

"ABADON!"

Having caught his breath and rested up for a moment, Abadon laughed maniacally one more time, and then darted back off into the woods in the direction of Dorado. The mental vibrations from Diablo's howling thoughts seemed to echo through the forest, lost to the rain and the blustering wind.

**********

It had not taken Mercy long to stabilize the wounds of both Xeiss and Shin. Using magical concoctions and holy spells, she had managed to stop the flow of blood from Xeiss' chest and Shin's head, and from there heal them to the point where they would survive without her direct supervision. For she would not be here for much longer.

"You shouldn't come, Mercy," D protested as Mercy put on her cloak as quickly as possible to protect herself from the cold rain. "You should stay here and tend to our wounded. There are others..."

She cast the vampire hunter a withering glare. "I just saw one of my friends cut down by an evil spirit in front of my eyes, D, and I was helpless to do anything. I have to go ... I have to make him pay for making me choose between my duty and my friends."

He could see it in her eyes that she was not about to relent on this. "All right, but we must disembark at once. We shall take horses to catch up with Abadon."

The other heroes who had been aroused by the ruckus, Fearless, Ethon, and Severen, all nodded. Mercy interjected once again, though.

"No. The others can take their steeds, D, but you and I are riding Triesque. He's much faster than a regular horse, no matter how much he hates it."

"Why me?"

"In case I bite off more than I can chew. Come on!"

Without any more hesitation, the heroes made haste out into the storm, and towards Tabula Rasa's stables, where the noblest of warhorses were kept. Within minutes, they galloped out of the lowered drawbridge, and charged off into the storm to find their quarry before it was too late.

**********

Dawn was approaching as Abadon continued through the forested lands of Khanduras. The lashing rains and wind were beginning to subside at long last, having poured through the entire night. It left the still-darkened woods with the smell of dampness and humidity, and the ground extremely slippery. More than once Abadon stumbled. But this did not deter the demon; he would not fail, not this time.

Evil filled Abadon's black heart, an almost palpable dark aura that was beginning to surround him. His eyes blazed red with excitement and anticipation. Though the mucky terrain hampered his progress once in a while, it was nothing that he could not overcome. He felt invincible, as if there was nobody that could stop him from fulfilling his dark task now, and becoming the next Lord of Terror. What a glorious day it was to be...

Suddenly, he stopped, and looked around like a frightened rodent. There was something else out there, something drawing nearer and nearer to him. It couldn't be the heroes ... he had left them far behind, and by his own calculations, he would be near enough to Dorado by the time that they caught up with him so that he could summon some of his minions to help him finish them off. But then what was it?

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of galloping hooves splashing through the mud towards him, and a second later, a blast of pure dark energy slamming against his torso. Abadon went down in pain, and careened across the wet ground. His grip on the Soul Stone faltered, and it went skittering away from him. Panic clutched at his black heart as he painfully lifted his head to see whom his attacker was. Within moments of doing that, a studded boot collided with his face, sending him back down to the ground, staring up at the dense canopy in shock. But this was no time for surprise; it was a time to protect his prize.

Rolling over onto his front, Abadon caught a glimpse of the being that dared to assault him. Mounted on horseback, wearing essentially no armour at all, was a young woman. In a physical sense there was nothing unusual about her ... but there was a darkness that encircled her essence.

The girl, no more than twenty, slid off of her horse. No sooner had she done this when the great beast collapsed to the ground, dead from over-exhaustion. Abadon's brow furred as she drew a sword from her belt and faced him, a sword that glowed and shone with ethereal power.

"So we meet again, Abadon," her voice boomed through the forest. "But this time, there is nobody to protect you from my wrath."

"Who are you?" growled Abadon as he staggered back up to his feet. "I have never met you before, yet you seem familiar. Tell me your name, so that I may know whom to notify of your unfortunate death."

"Upon this mortal plane I am known as Lesya," she said, beginning to circle him, waiting for her chance. "But you, Abadon, know me by a much different name."

As his arms turned to sharp blades and he prepared to defend himself, Abadon stared directly at the creature whom he faced. The sword, the sudden attack, the blazing crimson eyes ... he did know who this was. A lingering sense of fear in his heart finally began to blossom as he muttered the words.

"Duriel ... it's you, isn't it?"

The girl grinned playfully, but her eyes revealed the true bloodlust that was within her heart. "You are more perceptive than I had thought, arrogant one. I told you that I would be back for my revenge. Defend yourself!"

And then she lunged.

**********

"...Defend yourself!"

Lesya could barely believe that her voice was sprouting these words as Duriel forced her body to charge at this Abadon person, Shadowfang in hand and ready to cleave his head from his shoulders. She knew, probably better than any other on the mortal coil, Duriel's terrible potential for death and destruction ... and above all else, pain. Surely there was nothing that this unarmed Abadon could do to defend himself. He might as well resign himself to the...

But as Lesya swung, aiming straight at his head, Abadon ducked, and the arcane demon blade slashed through the air directly overtop of him. It was only then that she noticed that his arms were not arms at all, but instead were savage, jagged cutting weapons. Duriel seemed to notice this too, as he tossed her body backwards to avoid the counterattack. She landed in the mud, but immediately did a backroll and was back on her feet, evil grin still firmly planted upon her face.

"Not even your dark powers can save you now, Abadon," she hissed, waving the sword in an aggressive fashion. "Surrender now and I may just make your end less painful."

"Never," Abadon growled in reply, now fully primed for battle. "Your taunts don't scare me, Duriel. Your intelligence is the exact inversed size of your ego."

Duriel roared in fury, and lunged once again. Shadowfang was swung, but this time Abadon was ready for it, and easily blocked the blow. There was a clash of dark energy, but just as Lesya recoiled, Abadon formed a blade out of his chest, and speared in straight through Lesya. Though her mind screamed in agony, Duriel did nothing but laugh.

"Are you insane?" she asked the demon god.

"You underestimate my powers," came the silent reply. "The dark energies I wield can heal all wounds of the flesh within moments. Observe..."

Abadon twisted the blade in Lesya's stomach for a few seconds before retracting it. Then he gaped in awe as the wound completely healed itself less than a second after it had been removed. So caught off guard and impressed by the demon's abilities was Abadon that he failed to see the blow coming until it was too late. Duriel used Lesya's body to swing Shadowfang once more, this time catching Abadon straight across the head. Abadon went down with a screech, the huge hole in his head dripping metallic silver globs of blood. The wound sparkled with residual black energy.

"Your fight is futile," Duriel laughed as they approached Abadon. "Your darkness cannot even begin to match that which Shadowfang contains within it's blade. I hold in my hand the very incarnation of evil ... that which shall be your death."

**********

Laying on the ground, writhing in pain, Abadon knew that if he stayed in one place, it would be his finish. "Get up!" he screamed at himself. "Get up, damn you! You've come to far for this!" He had to hold Duriel at bay, at least until he could fully re-empower himself.

As the demon in the girl's young body stepped forward towards him, preparing to tear at him again, Abadon held out his hand and released a wave of fire at his nemisis. But rather than just pass right through, the spell clung to the body like a leech, encompassing it completely and enduring. Abadon heaved a breath of slight relief as he watched the girl run around, blinded by the flames, screaming in terror and pain. The dark spell would delay them but a moment, though. Putting a hand to his head and focusing his energies, he slowly began to grow back his wound. Then he stood to face his flaming opponent, healed, but still weakened.

**********

"MAKE IT STOP!" Lesya cried in pain as the flesh seared away at her body. "I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE!"

"Weak infidel," Duriel growled in annoyance. "It is a good thing that you were not born a demon; the fires of Hell burn many times hotter than this. Hold your breath ... it will subside shortly."

Lesya continued to mentally scream, however. A few seconds later, though, the fires did burn themselves up, leaving Lesya's body viciously burned. Duriel wasted no time, and a second later they were surrounded by a great aura of healing. Slowly, the scorched flesh began to revert to it's normal state, and in less than a minute she was fully healed. But now when Lesya felt Duriel's presence within her, it was not the same.

"You're weakening, aren't you?" Lesya asked. "I can feel your powers diminishing every time you heal us."

"Dark healing is not as efficient as the holy spells," Duriel breathed heavily. "It saps more power from me than most magics. But I shall crush this little maggot as though he were not even there, regardless!"

They turned to face Abadon once more, who was back on his feet, fully healed as well, arms turned back into blades. They circled eachother for a few moments, and then both lunged at the same time, clashing in midair. Seizing eachother as well as locking blades, they began to wrestle eachother's weapons down. Blood gushed from Lesya's hand as she held onto one of Abadon's transformed arms, struggling to maintain the upper hand. But clearly this was not a match that was to be won by physical strength.

A blaze of dark energy, released from both of them simultaneously, rose up and encircled the two combatants, forming a pillar of bright light high into the sky. Hatred formed in both of their eyes as they continued to summon dark energies against eachother, both of their powers' being stretched to the max and beyond. Both of them reached out, probing each others' minds, trying to find some hint of a secret weakness, learning all of their innermost thoughts.

"Please help me!" Lesya heard Abadon's thoughts reaching out to her. But from within her body, Lesya could do little more than watch, and pray that something would come to intervene. She knew that Duriel was stronger than this Abadon, and that if Duriel won, the result for her would be eternal damnation once again.

"Make your peace with the dark underworld that you serve, Arrisa. The darkness and malevolence that has consumed your past is where you will be spending your future as well."

The words, those words that she had spoken, came back to her in a flood of memory. Lesya had not realized at the time that they would soon apply to her as well...

She had to do something.

**********

"There!"

Mercy looked where D was pointing, and saw a great pillar of flame rising up into the sky. Even from this distance, more than a mile away, she could feel what it was composed of: pure malevolence. Had Abadon found some way to release Diablo's spirit from the Soul Stone for good? If he had, then they were already too late...

"Faster, Triesque!"

**********

With a scream and a heave, Abadon was sent flying backwards from the embrace of battle with Duriel, and slammed against a nearby tree, crumpling to the ground. He had expended most of his energies in one last-ditch effort to overwhelm the Lord of Pain with energy feedback. Judging from the fact that Duriel was still on his feet, and coming closer, it hadn't worked.

"I shall make you pay for humiliating me," the young girl heaved, exhausted as well. "This time you don't have Anadriel here to protect you from me. Prepare yourself for eternal pain!"

With that she extended Shadowfang towards him, and a beam of raw power shot out and struck Abadon, searing through him. The beam persisted, and Abadon let out a tortured howl as his body began to burst into flames. Writhing in agony on the forest floor, the only thing that he could hear was Duriel's triumphant laugh booming over him.

**********

He was weak, weak to the point of breaking. Lesya could feel Duriel's control over her body beginning to falter, unused to the toils of physical expenditure. Duriel no longer even had enough power to finish off Abadon; if not for Shadowfang's own black energy, he might have had to withdraw from the fight. But as she watched Abadon squirming on the ground, body aflame, screaming at the torturous death, Lesya realized that it was time for her to act, before it was too late.

Wordlessly, she reached out, and fought Duriel's spirit for control over her body.

The demon lord was caught off guard, not expecting an attack on a much different front, and Lesya took the opportunity to cut the channeling of energy through Shadowfang. The blast subsided, and Abadon looked up in surprise. But then Lesya struggled with Duriel, and grasped the demon blade by the hilt with both hands, and slowly began to reverse the weapon so that it's sharp side was pointed directly at her sternum.

"What are you doing?" Duriel screamed in fury as he attempted to fight back for control. "This is our chance to finish him! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?"

Lesya grunted at the extreme effort, but was slowly beginning to win the fight. Duriel was far too weak to battle even a mortal for control of something he was unfamiliar with. A few seconds later, she managed to turn the blade upon herself, despite the demon's efforts.

"Your darkness here is finished, Duriel!" she yelled at him through her mind. "You seek to kill this man, and you seek nothing but destruction and death for me and this world! BUT I WON'T LET YOU TAKE ME BACK!"

With that, and with a last, desperate heave of strength, she plunged Shadowfang, the demonic blade, deep into her chest. Immediately she could feel it's dark energies flow through her body,

"NOOOO!" wailed Duriel as the demon blade's feedback blasted through his soul and essence. "NO I WAS SO CLOSE WHY IS THIS HAPPENING IT'S NOT FAIR!!"

Lesya could feel his dark presence withering away from her body, being cast back to whichever black pit in Hell that it had been spawned from. Another dark aura of energy surrounded Lesya, and flames began to shoot from her eyes and mouth as the demon blade worked it's sadistic magics and pulled Duriel away. Then, with a last scream of agony, he was gone.

It was then that Lesya thought she was finished. The blade's arcane energies were beginning to burn away at her soul as well. She was dying, once again. She could feel it, now even more clearly than when she had been stabbed by the witch Arrisa. But this time, she was not afraid. For this time the darkness may have claimed her body, but it would not have her soul.

Then, suddenly, the blade was pulled from her chest. The dark energies subsided, the blood poured out, and she crumpled back to the ground, unconscious.

**********

Mercy and D shielded their eyes even as they stared in disbelief at the sight. Down on her knees was a young girl, a sword sticking through her, waves of darkness emitting from her in every direction, screaming as though emblazed by some horrible force. Flames shot from her eyes and mouth, shedding an eerie light throughout the forest. It was in that light that they also saw Abadon, lying in a heap nearby, smoke rising from his still body.

"What in the name of the Lord is going on?" D breathed as he watched the sight in awe.

"I don't know, but whatever else is happening, that girl is dying!" Mercy said, leaping down off of Triesque's back and running over. "We've got to get this sword out of her!"

She grasped the handle firmly, ignoring the sense of evil that ran through her, and yanked hard. The blade slid out of her body easily, and Mercy fell back down on her bottom, caught off balance. A second later the girl stopped screaming, the flames disappeared, and she toppled over in a small pool of her own blood. Scrambling back up, Mercy rolled the young girl over and laid a hand over her vicious, festering wound, slowly speaking the holy words of healing. D stood just behind her, watching in interest as a heavenly glow surrounded her hand, closing the wound and healing whatever damage had been done within. A few seconds later, the girl was breathing steadily again, though still in a deep sleep of healing.

"She'll be okay," Mercy sighed at last, wiping her brow of the sweat that had formed there, and then placing the sword in the girl's belt so as not to leave anything valuable behind. "She just needs to rest. We'll have to take her back to Tabula Rasa."

"Good," D replied. "At least now we've caught up with Abadon, and he doesn't seem to be in any state to..."

"D..."

"What?"

"He's gone."

The vampire hunter's eyes turned back to the spot where Abadon had lain a few seconds ago, and was genuinely shocked to see that he was gone.

"I don't sense him anywhere nearby," D growled fiercely. "We've lost him."

"And he's got the Soul Stone, too," Mercy moaned in anxiety. "I have a feeling that all of that celebrating was for nothing."

"You may be right," D said slowly, glaring in the direction of Dorado. "Or maybe he has other plans for Diablo. But we had best depart; we shalt not find him tonight, and if he feels an urge to send some of his minions to attack us, I don't want to be alone in a dark forest when they get here. Let's take the girl and leave."

With a heave, the pair of them moved Lesya's limp body onto Triesque's mighty back. Then, they themselves mounted, and rode the unicorn back in the direction of Tabula Rasa.

**********

Several hours later, Lesya's eyes drifted open, and she found herself staring at the faces of those that had rescued her, amongst a crowd of others.

"...awake. I think we can talk to her now," one of them, a woman, was saying, looking straight into Lesya's eyes. "Hello there ... it's allright, you're amongst friends My name is Mercy."

Lesya groaned as she began to get up, but the woman held her still.

"Try not to move," Mercy said quietly. "You were badly hurt, and your body still needs a chance to fully recover. Moving about can only hurt the process right now."

Lesya relaxed, her head flopping back down upon her pillow. All of the eyes gazing down upon her held no malice, but instead were filled with sympathy.

"What's going on?" Lesya asked faintly.

"We already know about Duriel and your possession," one of the men who was towering above her rumbled.

"How...?"

"You were rambling as though delusional when we were bringing you back," Mercy replied again. "I thought you may have had pnemounia or a fever, but then we examined this."

She brought up to Lesya's eye level a black-hilted sword, and her eyes went wide immediately. It was Shadowfang, that which she had ended up stabbing herself with. Slowly, she raised her hand and grasped the demon blade. She could feel its power flowing through her once more.

"You should be feeling better by later today," Mercy continued. "After that, I suppose you're free to go."

"Go?" Lesya whispered, staring at Shadowfang intensely. "I...I don't have anywhere to go."

Mercy looked around at the rest of the heroes, all of whom nodded. "Well, if you'd like, you're welcome to stay here and join our group. It's no picnic, but at least you'll have some people that care about you."

She looked up from her bed at all of them. Through Shadowfang, she could feel the honor and dignity in them all. "I would be honored to."

"So what's your name?"

"Lesya," she replied, trying not to breath too hard, as her chest still throbbed with pain. "My name is Lesya."

"Well then, Lesya," Mercy said, grasping her hand. "Welcome to the group."

**********

"...And I think that I should have to get double pay for pulling you out with that portal when I did," Exile was saying to Abadon as the pair of them strolled back towards Abadon's throneroom in Dorado. "It's not easy opening those things up, and I just as easily could have smashed half the city to pieces."

Abadon sighed. "While your rescue was quite timely, Exile, might I remind you that whatever money I once possessed to pay you for your services is now residing in Scarlet's lair."

A downtrodden look crossed Exile's face. "Oh yeah..."

"However, if the urge strikes you to go and retrieve some of it, then I shall grant you triple pay for your efforts."

"I don't think that I will," Exile replied darkly. "I have a little more sense than that, master."

"You have about as much sense as a rotting corpse, Exile," Abadon said calmly as they approached the doors to his throneroom. "And you have considerably less sex appeal. Now leave my presence ... I have work to do."

The doors swung open automatically for him, and then closed behind him as he entered, leaving a disgruntled Exile behind him. As he strode through his throneroom, Abadon reached into his robe, and brought out the Soul Stone, which he had narrowly recovered before Exile had extracted him. The fight with Duriel had indeed been most painful, but this was where it all paid off.

"I felt Duriel's presence nearby, Abadon," came the sneering voice of Diablo from the Soul Stone. "Did he rough you up a little bit?"

"Just a touch," Abadon replied, brushing some of the ashes off of his clothing. "But in the end, I triumphed over him, something that even you were unable to do."

"The only reason that I did not crush that damnable little usurper the first time was that he had his three little friends, as well as thousands of demonic minions at his side."

"I'm sure. And now, Diablo, comes the moment of truth. I had originally planned to turn you over to the Four Lesser Evils so that they might endorse me as the new Lord of Terror."

"You couldn't even begin to live up to that name..."

"Hold your tongue," Abadon snapped. "That was what I was orginally planning to do. But during my battle with Duriel, I briefly tapped into his mind, looking for a weakness. While I found that weakness in the person that he had possessed, I also found a rather interesting tidbit of information within his simplistic, unguarded mind. Information regarding the extraction of living energy from Soul Stones."

Fear filled Diablo's voice. "Y-You can't do that! It hasn't been done in centuries, and will lead to madness!"

"In lesser minds, maybe. But my mind is far superior to that of any mortal. I had wanted to split your powers five ways with the Evils, but why bother when I can have them all for myself?"

Diablo continued to protest even as Abadon reared back his head in laughter, and clutched the Soul Stone with both hands. And then, recalling the spell that he had learned from Duriel, he began to drain Diablo's energies from the Soul Stone. The former Lord of Terror let out one last agonized howl as his powers and knowledge flowed into Abadon's being, and was then silenced, too weak to even extend his thoughts.

At first, there was nothing. But then, the Lord of Terror's hideous energy began to swell within Abadon. His entire body began to glow with dark energy, and then his features began to change. Razor-sharp horns sprouted from his head, fangs grew in his mouth, and his hands and feet were transformed into claws. And above all else, Diablo's coveted dark energies and powers now filled both his mind and his body.

Breathing heavily, Abadon changed his polymorphic body back into its regular form, and walked out towards the balcony, from where one could see literally for miles on end. As he gazed out upon the lands of Khanduras, the newly-empowered Abadon began to smile.

"Enjoy your reprieve while you still can, people of this realm, and of all others," he whispered, savoring the feeling of Diablo's energies flowing through him while his essence remained trapped inside a rock. "For the new Lord of Terror has arisen from the ashes. My reign has begun, and all too soon, you shall all feel my wrath!"

With that, his eyes turned to the horizon, where the sun was just beginning to creep up, shedding light and morning upon the land. It was to be another glorious day. Another glorious day indeed.


CREDITS


Original Concept:
Abadon

Editor-in-Chief:
Ravil

Storyboard Writers:
Abadon, Ravil

Additional Editors:
DarkLight, Lesya

Musical Score:
Abadon, Ravil

HTML Conversion:
Ravil

===Special Note===
The SoS cast list and other information references shall be updated shortly. Check it out for a listing of all of the major changes.

SPECIAL THANKS TO:
- The ever-expanding SoS community. Definitley the most talented and exceptional of all the splinter groups.
- Operation CWAL, for being there, and attempting to distract that authors whenever it could.
- Trista G., for making Rav angry enough to write some of the more violent scenes.
- Anyone whose storylines we screwed up with the continuity changes. Sorry.
- All of Abadon's loyal fans and worshippers. You may bow down in praise right about ... now.

THANKS TO:
The new Starbucks' near Rav's house, J.R.R. Tolkien, Exile, Cydric, Turtle, GAVAL, Tokyo Ai Ko, General Ikana, Xeiss, Scarlet/Dragoneyes, Lesya, Diablo, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, Lesya's Strip Show, Artificial Intelligence, Ravil's late underscore, Savage Garden, Su-chen L.., Fransisco the third Canuckalisk from the left, and Maelstrom.

AND NOW FOR THE STATS:
This story has:
55 typed pages (Word 95)
779 paragraphs
2809 lines
25263 words
136122 characters

This story required:
1525 minutes of work
2 Authors
4 Canuckalisk bodyguards
1 Ex-Girlfriend

Just for the records, this story is almost exactly half as long as the Great War Finale in just about ALL regards. Weird, huh?

===
The principal mark of genius is not perfection but originality, the
opening of new frontiers.
-- Arthur Koestler