A Bad Day on the Battlefield Eternal
by Sam Mooney (Sethric Al'Rey)
The day started innocently enough... Me and a long-time friend named Thain were going to do what we always seem to do - running across half of Doraak in the single-minded attempt to further the goals of our illustrious guild, The Blackguard Mercenaries.
"Hey, Sethric," he called out to me, using our innate link which lets us speak over half a contents distance, "How would you like to help me grab a little item.. we can probably sell it for a fair amount of cash... Think 'Gurath' before you answer."
Always one to help a friend, and actually curious as to why one of his skill would require my assistance, I immediately told him that yes, I would be glad to.
"Great... It is in the Abyss, meet me at the Green Leaf Inn in a few hours." At this point, two blows came simultaneously. The first was simply that I was far, far away in Tahrenia, and wouldn't be able to make it to that distant inn in a few days, much less hours! Magic was required. That was ok, though.. I am Blackguard. I have magic. The second shock wasn't so easily dismissed. That fool bard was going to drag me into the Abyss! A hell of lost souls ruled by the evil god C'thuga himself! All the stories of that nether plane bore a trace of death and loss... few, if any, had braved its dread devil legions and survived the experience, much less prospered!
Walking the streets of Tahrenia, I pulled off my backpack (a sad replacement for my wonderful arctic wolf-skin sack, really, but hey...) and thumbed through the belongings until finally I found what I was looking for, a nicely rolled scroll sealed with a single glob of white wax, the seal of Torl prominently displayed in the center. Breaking the seal and unrolling the scroll, I looked upon the writhing arcane runes and slowly ennunciated each syllable, letting the words roll off of my tongue with a grace almost fit for a mage. Just as it was supposed to, the scroll did its work. Tahrenia faded about me, and with a slight disorientation, a found myself at a familiar point - the central intersection of the great trade-city Torl.
Much closer to my objective now, I smiled, and set out for the Green Leaf, stopping at a stable upon the way to buy a horse, so that I might get there all the quicker. Mounted now, I rode out the Southern gates of Torl, watching silently as I passed the long row of people waiting at the gates, waiting their turn to be let into the city. South and West I rode, for many hours until, as dusk approached from the East, I rode into the courtyard of the Green Leaf.
Giving the horse to a stableboy, and stopping to take a sip from a large stone well, I entered into the inn proper. People were sitting in small groups all about the place, giving me and my apparrel some strange looks, a few admiring, most hostile. So what, I could take 'em. Pushing my way to the back of the room, I "cleared" myself a table and took a seat, believing myself destined to having to wait for Thain. To my great surprise, the air shimmered, and there he was next to me, smiling and tucking something into his belt pouch.
"Ready for a good time?" He grinned and placed his sack on the table. Digging through it, he continued. "I had some time, since you were late... I hit the Gypsy man and a hermit up for some potions, so we should have a little extra muscle than usual for our trip into Death's realm." He spoke so fluently, and with that song-like lilt that I nearly didn't notice the severity of our true situation. He was so damn cheerful for someone about to run down into Hell! I tried to console myself with the knowledge that I would live down there forever one day, but that didn't seem to work, strangely enough...
Snarling at my guilds Loremaster, I merely said, "Let's get this over with!"
He nodded, grinned rather evilly and said, "Follow me." Without waiting, he hopped off the stool and bounced to the floor, his feet never stopping for a moment as he weaved his way to the front of the inn and out the door. I noticed we had neglected to pay the barkeep for our drinks, but screw it. I'm sure they were on the house. Heh.
We headed south for a good clip, finally passing yet another inn, and over a small mountain. As we reached the summit, I had to stop and stare in awe. At the bottom of the mountain stretched a vast wasteland of sun-bleached sand. Even from this height, I could see vague shimmers, which I took to be merely the baked air. As if reading my mind, Thain corrected me, "Sandwyrms.. not too bad, but the bigguns are nasty." I raised my eyes at this, but all he'd say was "You'll see" with a smirk.
He led us generally south, but I'm not sure how far we traveled since the punishing sun caused me to lose track of all time. Finally, a large mesa rose out of the sand, and climbing it, we found a ruined city. He led me through the dusty streets, never explaining the need of my being invisible. After so many twists and turns that my head was beginning to swim, he stopped before a large door.
"Open it," he said. I did. As soon as the doors handle was touched, it flew open and out burst a creature of flame surely spawned in hell itself. I battled it, using all of my natural magic and battleskill, and still, if Thain hadn't been there, it wouldn't have been enough. Together, we not only survived, but won! With a last thrust of Thain's mighty trident, the creature vanished, it's corporeal form vanquished from the realms for awhile, at least.
Thain led me forward, only smiling when I asked if he had known about the guardian. Through another door we went.. and we fell... For an eternity we fell. At least several hours passed before finally I could make out land below us, but it wasn't land as you know it.. it was sandy, yes..but with lakes and rivers of lava, huge plains stretching a thousand miles of obidian, and a blasted land, filled with hundreds of thousands of demons, forever battling amongst themselves for power. And it rose up towards us, faster than thought. When we hit, however, instead of splattering all over the combatants like I had imagined a hundred times during the fall, the blow felt like nothing so much as jumping from a tree, certainly capable of causing damage, but not very likely.
I rose to my feet, unable to truly comprehend our surroundings. All around us, strange ghost and demon-like creatures struggled for dominance, fighting each other recklessly.. and after a moment or two, the dead creatures would begin to regenerate, and fight again!
Thain pushed me forward, "That way." I went. It was not long before four creatures attacked us, wearing plate mail and wielding a strange polearm of some sort. We killed the creatures, though not without some harm to ourselves. As they died, their bodies disappeared in a mist, and the armor fell, clattering, to the floor.
I was going to pick it up and examine it, but Thain pushed me forward again. We avoided combat for several more moments until we came into a room with an axeman, and one who seemed to be a leader among the demons. They seemed a bit hesitant to attack, but Thain gave them no choice, casting one of his bardly spells and causing the axeman to scream out in pain as his eardrums ruptured. I jumped in front, boldly rescuing him from the encroaching demons. They seemed to come from nowhere, at least five of the brutes, each swinging with the force to cripple a normal man. But we were not normal men, and soon the demons lay dead at our feet. Thain, always the practical, penny pinching bard that he was, looted a few of the corpses, nabbing all that he even suspected of holding magical power.
"The easy part's over," he assured me, and handed me a vial filled with a strange looking pink elixer. "Quaff that, and we can get to the fun part." I did, and to my wonderment, my feet drifted up off the blasted earth. We flew south, above the fighting and along a river of blood. Occasionally, far below, we could see a strange form, seemingly a fish of fire, thrashing in the waters below. We went on. From nowhere appeared a golden tower, and of course, Thain flew right to it. We passed another paladin, who watched us with cold stares and gripped his sword of light the whole while we were there.
Beyond him was sprawled a barbarian warrior, clothed in chain mail and wielding two battle-axes forged of dwarven Mithril. We slaughtered him, and relieved him of his prize axes. Come the planned auction, we could make a killing! Unwilling to try our luck with the planemaster in the next room, Thain led us out of the tower and back down to the river of blood.
Continuing along the river, we came to a cavern leading down into the depths of hell. Thain, the crazy bastard that he was, decided we should investigate. We crept down the hole. Thain, stopped me suddenly, gripping my shoulder and staring intently into a huge diamond. "Wait! There is a huge-ass monster just around the corner.. all of yours spells holding?"
I nodded. They weren't going anywhere.
"Alright, You go in first and distract it, then I'll come in and surprise it and finish it off."
I nodded again. What can I say? I'm not a man of many words.
I ran into the room, brandishing my chainsword and crying a battle-yell. The creature looked at me quizzically. A strange sound building in the back of its throat. Laughter? Thain, apparently taking the sound for the creature drowning in its own blood, ran in, brandishing a large trident. The creature tore into him, ripping the great bard apart like the dragon Cinge would tear up his lunch. My friend was dead within a moment.
Chuckling openly now, the creature turned to me. "You would steal Jekul's shiny, too -eh?" With that comment, he laid into me as well. Only my adamantium armor saved me, giving me the precious moment I needed to flee from the battle. Blinking the sweat out of my eyes, I tried to concentrate on a spell of healing, but to no avail. The Jekul was right behind me, and I was forced to scamper away again, this time with a wound on my leg that would be a long time in healing. He was on me immediately. I fought back, but I wasn't even touching him! If I didn't know better, I would guess we were fighting C'thuga himself! His claws tore at my chest, lodging a shattered piece of my armor into my torso. Screaming in pain, I did the only thing I could think of to do.
I grabbed the black potion I had in my belt and quaffed it. I was gone. Back atop the ramparts of our stronghold. But I was dying! Using the last of my strength, I called forth one more spell of healing from Stryder and passed out atop the fortress.
That is the Abyss, my children. It was the death of this world's greatest bard, and quite nearly, the death of me as well. Head that warning, before you dare to venture there.