A long time ago...
"Finally...the blessed night has come."
The sun was just setting, treating the nomads below with a magnificent display. Orange and red streaks ran through the sky. The temperature was just right, not the blazing hot of day, nor the freezing cold of night. The sand below was still warm, but this didn’t bother any of them. Just as the view above no longer affected them. They had seen it too many times now.
"You know, in the western lands they fear the night. They try to banish the dark with fire. They are fools."
The tents of the desert nomads were being set up as the sun slowly descended over the horizon. The majority of the clan was involved, from the children to the elders. Only two did not participate. They stood on the crest of a nearby dune, watching both the setting up of the camp and the dwindling sun.
"But we are stronger than they. We do not fear the night. We control it, and bend it to our will."
The speaker was one of those two. He was tall, and had dark skin, almost pure black. He had pure white hair, which contrasted strongly with his skin. Wrinkles were deeply embedded in his skin, and his brown-black eyes blazed with power. His bright-red and purple turinash, or spirit-robe, was a mark of authority. A mark of power. A mark of a sorcerer.
"Soon, very soon, my apprentice, shall the world know of the demons. They will fear the demons and their power…"
The person next to him was young, barely past twenty years old. He was as dark as his mentor, and as tall, though his dark brown hair showed that he had not yet passed some of the more strenuous tests that his teacher had.
"...and we who can control demons, what place will we have in their lives?"
This speech was ritual. His teacher said it every night, and the apprentice replied the same every night.
"We shall be their masters, those who have denied us our rightful place as rulers. They fear us now, and they will fear us even more then. We shall rule the west, and death to all who appose us."
"What oath do I have that you will obey me, and join me as a ruler of the west?"
"By the blood oath, Master Horazon."
Horazon looked over the desert that was his home, satisfied with the answer. His apprentice stood still, awaiting his next command. He had done well with this child. He would go far in aiding Horazon's cause, though he would know it not.
"It is time."
Kelan's heart missed a beat. He couldn't have possibly heard right. It was time? Horazon started walking towards his tent, and Kelan followed quickly, though he was still in shock. Inside the tent it was dark, though with the amount of time that Kelan had spent in the dark he was still able to see. Horazon was holding the staff of summoning, and was offering it to him. He isn't kidding, Kelan thought. It really was time.
He took the proffered staff and balanced it in his hands. Closing his eyes, he sought the inner centre of his power. He had to do this right. He had only one chance, and he knew Horazon wouldn't aid him if he failed.
The staff began to pulse a deep red as the magic took hold. Eyes still closed, Kelan made a drew a circle on the ground with the staff, then began to draw in the eight binding points. Where the staff touched the ground it too began to pulse the deep, dark red. Blood red.
The circle finished and bindings locked in place Kelan began the summoning. "Telarn selar tuliraj velari..."
Horazon watched the boy work his magic. It truly was a pity really that it would end this way, he thought. Kelan did have skill, and if given the proper training could have been a half-decent sorcerer.
"...dyarnli quelnaira tolona Kelan!"
Kelan all but shouted the last few words. He stood there for a few moments after, eyes closed, hands upraised and staff held to the sky. Then he realised something was wrong. He opened his eyes and looked at his teacher, who was just looking at him with an unusual look in his eye.
"Master? What happeeeaaaRRRRGHHHHHH!!!!"
A sickening crack was emitted from Kelan's body, and he cried out in agony as he closed his eyes in an attempt to stave off the pain. His body twitched and seemed to expand and contract at the same time. For a moment, two beings were visible standing there. One was Kelan, the other was a demon. Then the image faded, and only Kelan remained. He opened his eyes, and they blazed with power. After a few moments, they returned slowly to their normal brown.
Horazon just stood there watching the transformation take place with a smile on his lips. When Kelan looked up at him, he could see that Kelan no longer lived. The demon had inhabited his body. The plan had worked.
"You are Zarlarnx?"
"Yes," the demon hissed in Kelan's voice.
"I am Horazon the Summoner, Master of Demons. You will obey me."
"I know who you are, mortal. You have many enemies within Hell."
"Enemies are nothing if they can do no harm."
Both stood there, watching each other for a few moments longer. Then Zalarnx broke the short silence.
"I hate to disappoint, but I really must be going."
"What? You are to obey me, demon, and you will stay!"
Zalarnx smiled, a cruel smile, a knowing smile.
"If I were still a demon, that would be the case, Summoner. But the boy's essence has merged with mine, and I am no longer a full demon. I cannot kill you, sorcerer, but I do not have to obey your commands."
"You will! By my power, you will stay!"
Darkness began to shroud Horazons hands, and the shroud was growing in size. Zalarnx stood there unconcerned, watching Horazon wield the dark arts. His spellcasting reached a cresendo, and with a shout pointed his hands at the demon. The darkness flew from his hands. Zalarnx dodged out of the way and watched the shroud decay a portion of the tent.
"Thank you for the exit, oh great and wise sorcerer," he said mockingly, bowing as he left.
Horazon watched the demon go, furious that he was unable to stop it. He raised his hands and screamed in anger. Zalarnx was smiling as he left the encampment.
The demon who was Zalarnx and the boy who was Kelan watched with the same eyes. It had been such a long time since their merging, and the being that was left was neither Zalarnx nor Kelan, but a combination of the two. Outwardly, Zalarnx/Kelan hadn't changed much in the centuries that he had lived. If he donned a turinash and dyed his hair white then he could easily be mistaken for a Vizjeri. If it were not for the aura that surrounded him.
Even those who could not feel the aura shied away from him. He was dressed in black, and a hood covered his face, obscuring it from view. Only his hands could be seen, hands that were almost as black as the clothes we wore. His right hand strayed near a small wand-like staff that hung from his belt.
He was crouched down in the undergrowth beside a well-worn road. It wasn't used that often by traders, and for the most part travelled through forests, away from the more civilised areas. It was in the hinterlands, and ambushes by bandits were not that unusual, but it all depended on the number of guards. Most bandits weren't stupid, and most were cowards, unlikely to attack unless they were assured of victory.
But these people would not be expecting an attack, and certainly not from one lone man. All the easier for him. This particular trader had three wagons, slowly creaking along the road. He saw eleven guards, two armed with crossbows and a third armed with a longbow. The only other people visible were the wagon drivers. From the small conversation that was taking place, he couldn't tell who was in charge of the guards. He did recognise the man in charge of the wagons though, from the description he had been given.
"No matter," he muttered to himself, as he detached himself from the
ground and moved away, unnoticed by all.
The road had been clear all day, and as a result they had made better time than Warriv could have hoped for. When they came across a dark figure blocking the road, he sighed. He knew that his good luck wouldn't hold. Directing the wagons to stop, he called over the leader of the guards, Delar.
"We're stopping for one man?"
"We need to at least ask him what his intentions are. We can't just kill him because he's blocking the road."
"Sure," Delar muttered. He was one of those kill-first ask-questions-later mercenaries. It paid to be cautious, but Delar sometimes took it to extremes. It didn't make him any less a warrior, though.
"Shar?" Delar called to the youngest and newest recruit.
He pointed at the stranger. "Go and find out what he wants."
Shar approached the man, if man it was. It was impossible to tell under all the clothes he was wearing. He made no gesture to indicate he was aware of Shar's presence.
Shar cleared his throat, and spoke in his most authoritarian voice. Considering he was only fourteen years old, it didn't sound too forceful. "What is your name, and what do you want?"
The person seemed confused. "Name?" Shar thought he had a weird accent as well.
"Yeah. What's your name?"
Shar saw a red flicker of light come from within the dark recesses of the person's hood. He started backing away from the stranger, feeling terror spreading through him. The figure took hold of the small wand at his side. It was then that Shar noticed that the strangers hands were black. Everybody knew that black-skinned loners were probably sorcerers. This one didn't seem to friendly, either.
Shars mouth dropped open in surprise. The small wand was growing. As he watched, it turned into a staff that was almost as tall as the stranger. With a cling, metal blades grew out of either end of the staff. Shar tried moving, tried running, but all he could do was stand still, the terror locking his limbs. The stranger started twirling the staff around, slowly at first, then faster and faster, turning into a blur of motion. The stranger leaped forward, impossibly quick, and Shar felt the weapon cut into him.
"Arghhh!!" Shar cried out as he fell down. The other guards headed towards him while the archers readied their bows.
"I," the stranger replied quietly, "am Death."
His reverie was interrupted when he heard the twang of bowstrings. He twirled the staff around, once, twice, thrice, and one arrow and two bolts were lying on the ground. The guards though obviously weren't relying solely on the archers, two charged him, which he dispatched easily, twirling the staff faster than the eye could follow.
"Three down, eight to go."
The guards saw what happen to their brethren, and were more cautious in their approach. They still got too close, and four more fell to his skill. He had spent too much time defeating them, though, and was too slow to stop the arrow that bit deep into his left arm. There was no pain, just an odd sensation. It was one of the few times that he had actually been hit.
The demon dodged the remaining swordsmans attack and started running for the archer, furious. The archer didn't have time to make a sound before he was also down and out. The two wielding crossbows were his next target, and the second managed to hit him square in the chest while he was taking out the first. The second followed soon after.
Delar watched in horror as the stranger single-handedly trashed his men. When the stranger at last turn to face him, he received an even bigger shock. Two arrows were embedded in him, one in his arm and the other straight through his chest, though he wasn't slowed in the slightest.
"Who are you?"
The demon paused at the question. In the ancient language, Kerran meant death. Oh well, he thought. Kerran is as good a name as any. But he still thought it strange that he had never really thought about taking a new name.
"I am Kerran, swordsman. Bringer of death, and servant of Terror."
Delar had only a moment to assimilate this as Kerran struck him down. Too easy, he thought. But then, these were mortals. Humans. So it was understandable.
The wagon leader moved forward slowly, clearly afraid of Kerran.
"Do not fear me. Give me what I want and you shall be left unharmed."
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"Is there an echo around here?" Kerran muttered, tired of the same questions.
"What did you say?"
"Nevermind that. I have been informed that you are in possession of a very valuable and old artefact."
"What? I have nothing that is of great value."
"The sword, Warriv," Kerran said menacingly, twirling his staff for effect. "The Stormbringer."
"Oh! That artefact! The sword! Oh, well, you should have just said so in the first place," Warriv said, trying unsuccessfully to appear helpful.
Kerran stepped forward, the blade on his staff just touching Warriv's neck. "Give it to me!"
Kerran watched as Gheed, the trader of this group, emerged from within the wagons.
"Give him the sword, please."
The red flickering of Kerrans eyes was quite visible from over where Gheed stood. Gulping, he went back into the wagon, and came out a few moments later with the sword.
"Toss it down on the ground," Kerran ordered, Gheed obeying.
Kerran removed the blade from Warriv's neck, and walked over to where the sword was. Picking it up, he held it to the dim sunlight that reached through the trees. "'Tis a lovely blade. It has been a pleasure trading with you Warriv, Gheed, and I look forward to the day when we shall be able to do business again."
As the demon walked away into the forest, Warriv muttered, "At least that makes one of us."
Groans began coming from the 'dead' bodies of the guards, and slowly
each regained their feet.
Kerran walked through the wilderness at a leisurely pace, examining his recent acquisition. The Stormbringer had been forged by the accursed angels long ago, and had been given to one of their mortal allies. She had long since died, and the legend about Stormbringer had been obscured by the passage of time. These mortals truly had no idea of the power that Stormbringer possessed.
The pain was intense and sudden. He dropped Stormbringer as he fell to his knees, clutching at his head. The pain entered every fibre of his body, and he was helpless against it. It seemed to last for an eternity, but eventually it receded, and Kerran was able to stand again. He had only felt that sort of pain four times before, and each time it was because of the bond that he still shared with his former master. This could mean only one thing.
Diablo, the first Prime Evil and Lord of Terror, his former master, was about to be released onto the world once more.
"The day started out so good as well," Kerran muttered. "And wouldn'tcha know it, but something has to come along and spoil the whole goddamn day."
Picking up the sword, Kerran started running towards where the event that caused the pain, whatever it was, had occurred. He had been running from his destiny for too long, now it was time to face it.
Some time later...
Kerran walked into the abandoned great Eastern Temple. It was here that the act had occurred. His demon-enhanced magical senses picked up two traces of the Soulstone. One seemed to disappear into nothing, and had the stronger aura. There also seemed to be a demonic aura surrounding it as well. The other, weaker aura, had aspects of the Soulstone. With nothing else to do, he followed the weaker trail.
Kerran walked into the town of Arkanok. The trail had died out a while ago, but this was the nearest town. From the information he had gathered, one of the inhabitants of Tristram, Deckard Cain, was living here now. It seemed likely that anybody with demonic concerns would come to him, the last member of the Horadrim. They probably went further on to Tristram, but this knowledge was useless without knowledge of where Tristram was. After the desecration and wars and demons, all signs leading to Tristram had been burnt. Nobody wanted to remember. The evil had been captured...but now it had been released.
Now, he needed to find Cain. Easier said than done, considering that the people that were out were avoiding him like the plague. Fortuantaly he had remembered to removed the arrows, else people would be doing more than avoiding him. Still, he needed to know where Cain was.
"Excuse me, could you please direct me to Deckard Cain, please?" he asked a passing stranger.
The stranger measured Kerran, from the black clothes to the hood covering his face. Not attire usually worn by friendly people. The sword that Kerran was swinging around probably was the reason he answered, though. "He's probably down by the fountain right now."
"Thank you," Kerran replied.
As Kerran neared the fountain, he saw a person standing near it. He was wearing a grey cloak, though the hood was pulled back on his. Cain watched Kerran warily. He already had had a necromancer come through here, and whoever this person was, he radiated a sense of terror and fear that the necromancer could never hope to duplicate.
"Huh? What? Where?" Cain spun around, apparently looking for somebody.
"What?" Cain said, facing Kerran again, though his eyes were still darting around.
"You're Deckard Cain right? DC for short?"
"Oh... You're referring to me... Somebody else I know goes by that name, I thought you were talking about him. He's a great storyteller, like myself, though I most say in all honesty that he still has a way to go before he reaches my standard."
"Yeah... ok... anyway, some people came through here a while ago, and I was wondering where they had gone."
"People come here all the time, sorry that I can't be of any help..."
Kerran's tone took a turn for the menacing. "I believe they were headed from Tristram."
"Oh... you mean those people… yes, they were headed for Tristram."
"Would you be able to guide me there, as there is very little way I shall join up with them otherwise."
"I cannot guide you.."
Kerran's voice got quieter and a lot more menacing. "I will not ask you again."
"However, I can point you in the right direction."
Cain was scared. Kerran knew it. Cain knew Kerran knew it. Cain feared what Kerran would do if his offer was not acceptable. Kerran knew that too.
"Where is Tristram from here then, Cain?"
"Just follow the track at the end of town. At the first fork go right, then at the second go left. It's just a matter of following the track after that."
Kerran stood quietly, watching Cain for a few more moments.
"It was a pleasure conversing with you, Deckard Cain," he said finally.
"The pleasure was all yours," Cain muttered.
"Damn," he muttered again, then louder, "Nothing. Just talking to myself."
Kerran wore a cruel smile as he left Arkanok.
A short time later...
The unlikely group sat down by the fire, savouring its warmth. A chill wind had been blowing almost ever since they left Tristram, and in nighttime it was much worse. Even Intruder joined them, though he sat as far away from the paladin Glitterspike as he could and still get warm. Fortunately, it hadn't started raining, though the clouds had been building up all day. All of them were on edge after Celes' and Xeiss' mysterious disappearance the night before, and the foul weather didn't help any.
Cobalt was the only one there that didn't mind the chill. He was darting around, zapping Atlas every now and then. Atlas didn't pay much attention. He was worried sick about Celes and Xeiss, and for letting them down. Glitterspike watched Cobalt with disapproval.
"Can't you keep your pet under control, necromancer?"
Intruder glanced at Glitterspike across the fire, who was giving off his own light. "Unlike some, we do not sleep during the night. He needs something to keep him amused, if you insist on us staying here. We are wasting valuable time. You say you want to find Xeiss and Celes?"
"Blundering around in the dark isn't going to help us much either," Shin pointed out.
"Find then, Intruder," Atlas said. "Get the bat to look around for a while."
Cobalt looked at Intruder, who nodded slightly. Cobalt flittered away, and the group watched it go. Though they didn't mean to, one by one, they fell asleep waiting for Cobalt to return. Intruder was the only one who stayed awake. Intruder started feeling a sense of dread and terror, and stood up, trying to get a bearing from where its origin.
Cobalt flew down to Intruder, as fast as he could fly. "Hey boss, there's a demon coming towards us. It's coming up the road we came down."
As much as he'd like to take this demon on by himself, Intruder was not suicidal. "Hey everybody, wake up!"
Glitterspike didn't look too happy at being woken up. But then it might have been since he didn't mean to go to sleep in the first place. "Necromancer..."
"We don't have time for arguments, a demon's approaching us."
"What? That's the best news I've heard all day!" Glitterspike replied.
A lone figure walked out from the mist-shrouded trees. He was clad all in black, and on sighting the group started twirling a staff topped with two blades around. Red flickers were emitted from within the hood. That was all that Glitterspike needed. Yelling, he drew his halberd and charged into battle.
Glitterspike, hacking and slashing, didn't get in a hit. The figure parried everything Glitterspike sent at him. The others moved closer but couldn't get in a shot with Glitterspike there. The ring of blades resounded through the area, and Glitterspike was obviously beginning to tire. The demon moved impossibly fast.
Then Glitterspike overextended himself and the halberd was knocked from his grip by the figures staff. The figure wasted no time going for the killing blow, as Glitterspike started walking backwards.
But the blades never reached Glitterspike. They seemed to rebound off an invisible barrier. When he realised he wasn't dead, Glitterspike smiled at the demon.
"Your weapon of darkness cannot hurt me, devil-spawn," he said, drawing his warhammer.
"I am known as Kerran, not devil-spawn, Paladin," Kerran replied, "and we'll see how well you fare against the might of Stormbringer!"
Shin, unable to stay out of the fight any longer, leaped forward at Kerran pushing Glitterspike out of the way, swinging his katana which was glowing with light. The demon was barely able to block it with the staff in time, and energy crackled at their contact. Kerran, weakened by the Paladin's presence and by the newest warriors sword, retreated.
"We will meet again," Kerran said, as he vanished into the trees.
Glitterspike tried running after him, but he lost him even before he started moving. "Count on it, spawn of darkness. Count on it."