The sun baked the soil making it dry and cracked. It was high noon, and the heat was nearly unbearable. No reasonable person would ever attempt to travel the great plain in this heat. Fortunately, being reasonable wasn’t part of the group’s game plan.
“How much longer?” asked Atlas. His feet were killing him, and he was sweating profusely.
“Just a few more miles” answered Celes. She appeared to be the only member of the party not bothered by the intense heat. Xeiss was bothered by it, but she did not complain. She had a purpose, and intended to fulfill it.
Intruder decided this was a good time to undermine Celes’s authority. “The trip would be easier if we traveled at night.”
“What’s the matter, can’t handle a little heat?” retorted Celes with a grin on her face.
Cursing under his breath, Intruder continued to walk. Shin Hikaru whispered in Celes’s ear.
Celes only smiled and continued to walk. By the time the group could see Tristram in the distance, the sun was already low on the horizon. The cool, brisk air made travel easier, though the prospect of fighting the minions of Diablo kept the tensions high.
“It’s deserted…” Shin said. He could see no signs of anyone in the town. Even the rebellious Wirt seemed to have left.
“This way to the opening into Hell” said Shin, motioning behind the hut that Pepin the healer once used to do his work. The group slowly followed. Cobalt flitted ahead, eager to see what evil lurked within.
::Perhaps I’ll find my family down there!:: he thought to himself. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he failed to notice he was approaching the ground a bit too fast. He landed hard, skidding through the dirt and hitting his head on a rock.
“Where is it?” Shin asked, becoming somewhat frantic.
“Where is what?” asked Celes as she walked around Pepin’s hut.
“The entrance to Hell is gone! How are we going to get to Diablo now?!”
Intruder stepped forward, indicating that he was going to do something. “Stand back” he commanded, bringing his staff over his head. The orb began to grow dark as an unnatural power coursed through it. The ground began to rumble, and the entrance to Hell slightly opened. It closed just as abruptly, however, and Intruder fell to his knees short of breath.
“There is an immense power holding it closed” he gasped, struggling to fill his lungs with the air that even he, an evil necromancer, needed to survive.
“So now what?” asked Xeiss, obviously anxious to save her father from the clutches of Baal.
“Now we head for the church” Shin responded, muscles tensing in preparation of another battle in the desecrated home of the Horadrim.
The group headed north, toward the isolated hill where the chapel stood. Surrounding it was a disturbingly large number of tombstones. To the east, a small group of cows could be seen.
“I’m no milkmaid” grunted Atlas.
“What?” inquired Celes, curious as to what Atlas was talking about.
“Nothing. Let’s go.”
Shin descended the stairs first, eager to battle the evil that lurked below. The rest of the group followed. When they reached the bottom of the stairs, they saw Shin standing in an empty room. There were no monsters anywhere in the chapel.
“This place is no longer tainted by the evil of Diablo, it would seem” declared Shin.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” mused Intruder.
“Nonsense. Though I sense evil, I’m sure it’s from you and your little pet” said Celes, poking the wound in Intruder’s pride a little more.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you” smiled Intruder, slowly backing away from the group.
Without warning, a couple dozen skeletons rose from the ground. The were arranged in a circle around our heroes, each armed with a sword and a shield.
“Skeleton captains! It’s a trap!” screamed Shin, readying his sword. He swung it at one of the nearby skeletons, but it did very little damage.
“They’re covered in some kind of metal!” shrieked Celes, preparing to cast any spell she could to protect her companions.
“It must be Abadon” reasoned Shin. “He must have given them the armor.”
Atlas swung his swords with all his might, cleaving a skeleton that
had made the mistake of wandering too close in two. Even with the new armor,
his immense strength more than made up the difference. Xeiss took up a
fighting stance, daring a pair of captains to attack. They did so, lunging
with reckless abandon, allowing her to leap over them and slice through
their spines cleanly with her small swords. She had little time to savor
her victory, however, as several others closed in on her.
Meanwhile, Intruder merely watched with a grin on his face. Not interfering in the fight at all, he simply stood with his arms crossed.
“Intruder, help us!” screamed Celes, who bravely fended off a skeleton from attacking Xeiss from behind. He stood unmoving, uncaring, as Celes was beaten back by the heavy blade of the skeleton captain. It managed to knock her to the ground. Just as it was poised to make the kill, a large broad sword cut through its neck. Atlas helped Celes to her feet and scowled at Intruder.
“You better help us! If we lose you’ll never find Baal” Atlas said in anger that Celes was nearly killed. Intruder lifted his hand and casually pointed to a spot behind Atlas. Atlas looked confused, now knowing exactly what Intruder was doing. He simply stood there. Suddenly, Celes grabbed his shoulders and pushed him down as a skeleton captain’s sword filled the air that Atlas’s head once occupied. A quick swing of the sword ended the skeleton’s short-lived revival from death.
Shin’s powers of light were turning the tide. His light bolts were cutting down skeletons, and soon, only a few remained. Xeiss used her speed and agility to dodge the swings clumsy skeletons, and she destroyed one after another with relative ease. Though the armor was strong, the unprotected bone was weak, allowing someone with great accuracy to kill one just as easily as a normal skeleton.
Atlas and Celes took each other’s backs. Most of the skeletons, having a small amount of intelligence, wisely chose not to take Atlas head on. They attacked Celes, but between her spells and the constant changing of position between her and Atlas, they did not have a chance of reaching her.
After much blood, sweat and tears had been shed, the skeletons were finally all defeated.
“Hey, I heard gold drop in the fight a bunch of times. Where is it?” asked Atlas.
Intruder allowed a sly grin as Cobalt slipped a small pouch into his cloak. Fighting was for the weak of mind. It was much easier to let other do it for you and take their reward. Flaunting his arrogance, he began to clap.
“Bravo. Well done. I’m impressed.”
“I would have been more impressed if you had actually done something” snapped Celes angrily. “We don’t have to let you come along, you know.”
“Hey, what’s this?” Atlas asked. He picked up a book that one of the skeletons had dropped when killed. Suddenly, Cobalt dived in from nowhere and snatched the book away, giving it to Intruder.
“Good work, Cobalt.” Intruder looked at the cover. It read Book of Firebolt.
“That belongs to Atlas, give it back” demanded Celes. She reached for the book, but Intruder pulled it back.
“That Neanderthal wouldn’t gain a thing from this book. Besides… consider this payment for my coming out during the day.” Intruder placed his hand on the cover, absorbing the magical knowledge within. A dim glow surrounded him, then quickly faded. Intruder threw the now useless book to the side.
“Shall we continue?”
The group muttered in annoyance, but continued on. Cobalt tittered with laughter. Approaching a nearby door, the group was prepared for anything.
Well, almost anything.
“AHHHHH! FRESH MEAT!” a voice shouted. A fat, red demon with a huge cleaver stormed out of the room. Xeiss smiled at Celes, who smiled back knowingly. She whispered in Atlas’s ear, producing a grin on his face as well. She then told Shin as well. The butcher came charging at the group. The entire group backed up, leaving Intruder to face the monster alone.
Intruder’s eyes went wide. This was unexpected. He barely had time to bring his staff to bear before the butcher was upon him. A swing of the cleaver produced a deep gash down Intruder’s arm, causing him to drop his staff. The butcher brought the cleaver up again, preparing for the killing blow, when a small bolt of lighting struck him in the head.
“Leave the boss alone!” squeaked Cobalt, hovering around the butcher’s head. The butcher began to swat at Cobalt, swinging his arms wildly, but Cobalt was too fast for him. By the time the butcher realized what was going on, Intruder was on his feet again, his staff in his left hand rather than his injured right one.
Intruder brought his staff over his head, chanting words long forbidden
to be spoken by a human tongue. The orb at the end of his staff began to
pulsate, but nothing appeared to be happening. The butcher grinned, swatting
casually and finally making contact with Cobalt. Cobalt skidded across
the ground, unable to get up.
As the butcher approached Intruder, a hand suddenly grabbed his ankle. Looking down, he saw that it was a skeleton. Around the room, the skeletons began to reform and stand again. Intruder pointed his hand, and the skeletons all charged the butcher, swinging their swords wildly, doing whatever possible to please their new master. The butcher screamed in anger and pain as the cruel bladed dug into his flesh. Using his cleaver, he struck down as many as he could, but there were just too many. He soon fell, dropping his cleaver.
Intruder bent over to pick it up, but Celes grabbed it out of his hand.
“Here you go, Atlas” she said, handing it to him. Atlas smiled approvingly.
“That’s mine!” growled Intruder.
“You’re a weakling and wouldn’t gain a thing from that axe” replied Celes, smiling.
Intruder growled to himself, eliciting a grin from the rest of the group as well. Suddenly, there was a rumble.
“What’s that?” Shin asked no one in particular. The ceiling began to cave in as pillars toppled over. Large pieces of rock soon began to fall as well.
“We’ve got to get out of here!” screamed Xeiss, already running for the stairs. The rest followed, Intruder making sure to get Cobalt out of there as well. Just as Intruder reached the top of the stairs, the entrance collapsed. He barely avoided being buried by piles of rubble.
Celes was disappointed. “It looks like we’ll have to find another way down.”
“I’m sure the entrances to the caves and catacombs have been closed by now as well” sighed Shin.
So the group was stranded, having no ideas how to make the descension into Hell. They decided to head for the abandoned Inn and rest, then decide what they would do the next day.