Lomanís Story

Laufingboy

Laufingboy@hotmail.com

Loman's Story

I arrive at the Rogues' wilderness just before dusk, and I slip through the gates seconds before the guards begin to close them. I identify myself as Loman Krask, and I allow them to search my bags.

Satisfied, they let me through.

I manage to settle myself beside the fire, trying to warm myself up. The search for Diablo and his brethren is a hard journey, and although personal feelings seem cosmetic, I find what little comfort I can find in the fellowship of these fellow warriors.

Looking around, I notice many of the Amazons are fatigued. Here and there, a warrior stands out in the crowd for his attention-grabbing garb, but other than that I am the only Necromancer available. The Amazons, although maintaining their cold and stony front, cannot hide the bruises and cuts that are rife on their limbs. They don't seem to notice the discomfort that their injuries would normally bring.

An old man, heavily scarred, approaches me and looks me over. "A Necromancer, eh," making it sound more of a question than a statement.

I nod.

"Let me guess. You be on the search for Diablo, where ye shall hunt and kill the damned creature."

I could only speculate how he knew my intentions. Was I that transparent, or was I not the first warrior to seek glory in the Beast's death?

"Well, boy, you better check with Akara. She's the one who organizes all you new warriors...and I'm Warriv." He shuffles away, probably in search of better conversation.

By asking a few Rogues, I learned Akara is the local enchantress, and I seek her out. She smiles wanly at my skeletal garb, and begins to nod as I explain my situation.

"Ye best be careful, lad. Many Rogues in this camp don't appreciate mystics like yourself. Why, the last Necromancer we had in here was a gold-digger," she recounts. "He abandoned a few Rogues in the Monastary for a few paltry pieces of gold. Demons had him for dinner."

I can only blink.

Akara hovers a few feet above the ground, and she disappears into her tent. She appears moments later, and hands me a sword.

"What's this?" I ask, inspecting the dirty thing.

"A sword, lad." She gives me a look, as if to ask, 'Are you a warrior, or simply playing a game?'

I politely hand the sword back. "I'm not one particularly developed in the physical arts..." I try to explain. She shakes her head.

"You'll be needing that sword. You can't always depend on your magic in the wilderness. And with Diablo on the loose, this will only lengthen your life span." With that, she bades me farewell and disappears into her tent again, this time for good.

I can't help thinking how many times she's repeated that little speech.

 

In the wee hours of the morning, I accompany a few Rogues on a scouting run through the grasslands. They dislike my company, but I convince them I'm no gold-digger. I still don't think I have persuaded them.

"Do many demons appear in the morning?" I inquire as we jog through the dewy grasses.

One Amazon simply grunts.

"A few. Not many," the other one clarifies. "I suppose they don't like the light as much as vampires, and good it is for us." She finishes her explanation curtly.

"Oh," I say, feeling a bit out of place in this harsh setting. I'm beginning to wonder if this is really the right place for me.

The grunting Amazon taps me on the shoulder and points in the northeast direction.

"That's the way of the Monastary," the other Amazon clarifies again. "That's the location of the demon source. Andariel resides there, and her power has already consumed dozens of the Rogues."

I feel much better.

"We'll begin the invasion of the Monastary again, in a few days. Perhaps you'll join us," she says in a mocking tone. She's probably thinking I'll be too frightened and run off tomorrow.

"Perhaps I will," I say fiercely, returning her glare.

We finish the scouting run without much event, and return to the backwards camp. The two sociable Rogues I accompanied run off to report to Akara, and I am left alone.

I attempt to practice with my sword, inexpertly swinging the rusted blade and almost decapitating Warriv, who is sitting rather forlornly on a rock by the fire.

He leaps up in a panic, then calms quickly as he realizes I am the one who almost hit him. "Youngster," he says in a rather rumbling voice that drips with sarcasm, "for a Necromancer, you're not very skilled as a warrior."

I try to explain that Necromancy allows no such physical training, but he waves me off quickly.

"If you want to survive in the outback, you'll have to train yourself," he says condescendingly. "Why, when I was a boy-"

I quickly leave before he begins to tell me anecdotes.

Watching around my general area for Warriv, I accidentally bump into a Paladin, who frowns disagreeably at me. "Watch where you're going, Necromancer." He hurries onward before I have a chance to apologize.

Simply tired, I sit down at the Rogue forge, trying to recollect my thoughts, when another voice interrupts me.

"You know, sitting so close to a fire isn't healthy."

I look up to see the Rogue blacksmith smiling bemusedly at me with her hammer in hand. She is fairly attractive, so I smile back. "Yes, I know...just trying to get some peace."

The sword in my hand must have caught her eye, because she gestures with her hammer at my left hand. "Got any idea how to use that? I saw you spar with Warriv a few minutes ago...And the name's Charsi."

I stutter and shake my head, turning scarlet with embarassment. "I am Loman Krask. I am a Necromancer. I do not have such proficiency in these physical arts, they-"

It takes me a few minutes to figure out that she's laughing. She apologizes profusely between her giggles, and holds up a hand. "I meant nothing. It is just...I find it amusing a man cannot fight, but the Rogues in this camp are elite warriors."

I turn red again.

I am scheduled to patrol again, at dusk, so I excuse myself early from the conversation with Charsi in order to prevent any more embarassment to myself, and I begin to tie my boots.

The war whoops make me look up, and a Rogue runs by to shake my shoulder violently. I instantly recognize the vicious wound in her shoulder, and I stand up quickly. "What's-"

The Rogue interrupts me. "Blood Raven!" she gasps. She clutches her chest in agony, and whispers, "She's raiding the camp...help us!" With that, she grows limp. I set her onto the ground, bewildered but definitely furious.

I run to the front of the camp, where the Rogues are already sparring against Blood Raven's troops. The unholy warriors against the Rogues are deathly pale, with lips as red as fresh blood. I instantly charge to the frontline, but am knocked back by a skillful sweep of the spear.

I grit my teeth. So be it.

"Gi gi floo..." I begin reciting the rites of a Necromancer. "Fwa do...Bose Spahe!" Undead energy gathers at the palm of my hand, and a deadly sharp energy spear courses through the crowd of pale troops, scattering them with howls of anger.

"Rogues! Get back!" I call to our troops. Whether they heard me or decided on their own to retreat, they fall back, and the Raven troops are slow to react.

"Sha gla koo..." I begin to cluck my tongue in the back of my throat. "Bose Wadsl!" Immediately, a wall of pure bone emerges from the ground and confronts the angry Raven troops. They try attacking the wall, but it's useless, as I am endlessly renewing it.

They finally decide to retreat.

I sit down, exhausted, and can only nod when people stop by to congratulate me. Warriv stops by, and claps me on the shoulder. "Damn, boy. Maybe I was wrong about you after all!"

Akara levitates by and smiles at me. "Young Loman...on behalf of all of the Rogues, I thank you. Will you be requiring anything from us, while you're here?"

I grinned weakly. "Yes...I, uh...wuh..."

Akara looked puzzled. "Are you okay?"

I fainted.


I wake up in a musty tent, with dust floating in from the outside. I moan weakly, then sit up. It was daytime, for I can see sunlight streaming in from the open tent flap.

Charsi steps in, and grins slyly at me. "So the savior is alive!" she says with a laugh, and points with her hammer at the pile of clothes on the floor. "Those are yours, by the way."

I am mortified, and gather them up quickly.

"Breakfast is outside, friend. Feel free to join us whenever you want," Charsi calls as she steps back outside, back to her forge.

I dress quickly, and when I step outside, the sunlight is becoming stronger. It is only a few hours after daybreak, and the patrol troop has already gone, so I have no need to trouble myself with the morning patrol.

A few Rogues are sitting at the breakfast table. One of them smiles and nods at me. The others simply finish eating and excuse themselves. I feel quite out of place at the table, where I gather only a minuscule breakfast and sit down beside the fireplace.

The Rogue that acknowledged me taps me on the shoulder as she leaves. "Akara wanted to talk to you after you ate."

So that was it.

While I'm eating, Warriv arrives from his tent and begins to grin, like all the others, at me. "Ah, the great deceiver!" He sits on the rock beside me and winks. "So, you were simply tricking us with your mishandling of that sword."

I sigh. "Yes, I was." I'm hoping this lie will cause Warriv to leave quickly.

It doesn't work. Warriv begins an animated conversation about his younger glory days, about his glorious battles against the demonkind, and his eventual settlement as a trader.

I sop up the rest of the eggs on my plate with a piece of bread, and interrupt the babbler as he continues. "Sorry. I have to go talk to Akara," I say curtly, and I turn away quickly to avoid seeing the crushed look on his face, as if I won't stay and listen to his war stories.

Akara is at her brewing pot when I arrive at the corner of camp, and she bides me to sit down. "As we said before, we are deeply indebted to you," she begins. "Why, that surprise attack might've eradicated us all if you weren't here. I'd hate to imagine..." She trails off, and I get the impression she's imagining it at the moment.

"Why did you call me?" I inquired before she began to cry.

She wiped her eyes and coughed. "Well, seeing as you held your own so well against the Blood Raven troops, I'm asking you a favor."

I am nervous. If she's asking me a favor, it'll probably be a big one.

"I want you to go and destroy Blood Raven." She stirs absently at her bubbling liquid, and turns her back on me. "Mind you, this is not an easy favor I ask of you. Not only is it troublesome for you, it is also for us..." Her eyes have become watery again.

I stand up, and I smile. "Oh, it's fine. I'll just get a briefing from the Rogues when they return from their scouting run." I pat her gently on the shoulder, and turn to leave.

"Oh, Loman, before I forget." Akara is once against strong, and her voice is even stronger. "Charsi has volunteered her services to you. Please, visit her after you've been briefed. She has well-supplied stocks of armor."

I nod, and quietly trot out of the corner of camp.


The Rogues aren't back by dusk, so I step into Charsi's area of the camp.

Her face lights up in surprise. "Oh, Loman!" She gestures to a tree trunk shaped into a comfortable chair. "I'll be with you in a minute. Just finishing this weapon."

I sit and admire her handiwork that was slung down from the roof. In addition to being well-built, Charsi has added her own special touches to the plated armors, like flower designs on the outlines of the scales. I gently touch it.

Charsi hits the sword she's holding with her tongs with a resounding thud, and quickly douses it in cool water. After the loud hiss, Charsi turns to me. "There we go. Now, what's up?"

I explain that Akara sent me, and the mission concerning Blood Raven. Her face suddenly becomes very cold and wise. "Ah," is all she said after I finished talking.

"I don't know exactly what she wants," I continue, watching her face for a reaction. "But I'm guessing my task is to terminate the undead Blood Raven. That must be the source of all the demons in this part of the grasslands."

Without a word, Charsi turns back to the forge, clanking her hammer loudly on the metal.

"Charsi?"

When Charsi turns around, I am startled by the change in her face. Her face has turned scarlet, her eyes are completely watery, and her voice is completely changed from the sturdy one I met only a few days ago. "Blood Raven..."

I am silent, thinking she will explain. And she does.

"Blood Raven was my Rogue sister. In the Rogue camp, each woman is paired with their closest friend. They swear themselves for life and death, promise to keep each other's side in battle." Charsi reaches down and lifts up her leather apron to reveal a long scar running from her ankle to beyond the apron.

I wince and ask, "Was it Blood Raven, or her lack of attention?"

Charsi sniffs. "Both. In battle, her sword swung down towards a demon, in an attempt to decapitate it. Instead, she miscalculated and sliced into my thigh, ending at my ankle." She lets the apron fall back. "Because of this, I cannot fight. And I am destined to forge here, forever." She slams her hammer into the forge angrily. "And she went on to fight a demon in the graveyard. She meddled in necromanic arts, tried to raise her own spirits. Because of that, she is destined to be the undead queen under Andariel."

I am almost afraid to ask the obvious question. "Will you mind if...if I am forced to kill her?"

A vicious light gleamed in her eye. "Not at all. She was my friend, she betrayed the Rogues for the Devil's apprentice. Oh, no. I will never mind. I would kill her myself."

Charsi, after our meeting, handed me a few sets of full-metal armor, insisting it was the least she could do. "I cannot fight, so I will AID in the fight. Makes sense, does it not?"

However, the Rogue patrol that had headed out at dawn had disappeared, seemingly for good. Although Akara would never admit it, she wants me to check it out. Perfect.

I'm not foolhardy, however, so I ask Akara for a few helpers. Many of the Rogues are injured, or keeping watch, so she manages to rustle up an Amazon to watch over me. A Paladin named Krovicain offers to guide me around the grasslands, and in thirty minutes we are well on the search.

I allow Krovicain to lead, since he is obviously more experienced with the outlands. His upper body strength and quick dexterity of the sword allows him to ward off any physical attacks, while I can only count on my Bone Wall to protect me.

About two miles from the camp, I sight a flash of red. "Rogue!" I yell loudly, pointing to the color I had seen. "Rogue down, over there!" I sprint over there before anyone has a chance to object, and I turn the body over. I hear a deep creak, and a fireball materializes and aims towards me!

Krovicain knocks me out of the way, and we tumble away from the body. Our Amazon companion is not so lucky, and she is dead from the fireball's inflicted blast.

"Dogs!" Krovicain declares as we brush ourselves off. "They're using traps. Physical and magical snares designed to be set off once the body is touched!" He looks very angry. Paladins are the upholders of fair fights, and it doesn't surprise me.

"We should ignore the bodies, then," I decide. "We'll report them to Akara, but there's no reason to risk our hides." I look sadly, down at our former companion. "This one, however, we will bury. My clumsiness caused her downfall."

In two hours' time, we find the rest of the bodies in the search party, and the list is rounded off. Krovicain clucks his tongue sympathetically at the loss of life. "Blood Raven has been rather busy. And, if we do not reach the camp soon, we will be the next casualties."

I agree, and we set off for the Rogue camp, but two pale figures in the moonlight confront us. "Halt! Allies of the Rogues are enemies of Blood Raven, and her highness Andariel!"

"Her Highness!" Krovicain spits rather angrily. "She is nothing more than a demon's apprentice!" He draws his sword quickly, and motions for me to do the same. I have a different plan, however.

"Sha gla koo..." I begin to cluck my tongue in the back of my throat. "Bose Wadsl!" I stretch out my hand and a pure wall of bone emerges from the ground, between the two demon warriors and us.

I motion for Krovicain to listen to me as the two demonesses hack away at the wall, and whisper, "Your Holy Bolt spells will be effective. The moment these two break through my wall, fire your spells with all the righteousness in the world!"

Before I have a chance to ask him if he understands, the two demonesses smash through the middle of my wall with an angry sneer. "Your spell may have delayed your death, Necromancer, but it will not sustain your life!"

Krovicain raises his hands to the heavens, and I instinctively close my eyes. The pure holy-energy rains down from the sky and batter the two demonesses, whose loud wails begin to transform into high-pitched screams.

By the time I dare open my eyes, the two warriors are dead. Their faces, although ghastly, reflect a feeling of peace.

We manage to make it into Rogue camp, and quickly explain the status of the search party to Akara. Her mouth slowly tightens at each of the bad news we can relay to her. Any more, we fear, and she shall either explode or send the entire Rogue camp to destroy Blood Raven.

"And...well...we made it back. Barely. Blood Raven's troops are getting stronger, I'm assuming." Krovicain is tired, but the look on Akara's face is probably the one thing that sustains him.

Akara glances at me, for my opinion.

I nod. "As a Necromancer, I am well aware of the powers that an undead warlord can possess. If indeed, Blood Raven was absorbing the souls of our fallen Rogues, it appears that once too many die...Blood Raven will be too powerful."

Her mouth tightens again.

"But, have no fear," Krovicain intervenes. "As a Paladin, I am well-equipped to fight the demon warlord. Loman, as a Necromancer, will also be useful in the upcoming battle, as he is resistant against the dark magicks. Allow us to go, with as many Rogues as you can spare, and we will emerge victorious."

Akara sighs. "Thank you," is all she says, disappearing into her tent.

Krovicain and I look at each other. Was that agreement on her part, or a straightforward denial?

The next morning, Akara waves me over to her area. Krovicain is already there, looking forlorn.

"I've already spoken to Krovicain about Blood Raven." The way she says it makes me sure she's thought about it. "And we will stay here for the time being. If we attack Blood Raven, and fail, we will be doomed. On the other hand, we only have to deal with the erratic attacks of her troops if we stay in the camp and don't bother th-"

I object immediately. "I KNOW we can beat them!" I look back and forth to Akara and Krovicain, who is timidly agreeing with me. "Listen, with Krovicain alone, there's a good chance of winning. With us combined, we would be enough to wipe out their camp!"

Akara shakes her head violently. "You will stay in the camp, or be exiled. That is my decision."

I sigh angrily, and walk away quickly before I accidentally say what's on my mind.

Kashya, the Rogue general, intersects me and pulls me away quickly from Akara's field of view. "Listen, Necromancer," she hisses. "I heard what you said to Akara. Do you truly believe it?"

I nod.

"Then, do it! By all means, wipe out that devil Blood Raven!"{She is livid now, but at a forgotten memory. "I will give you a Rogue to assist you in your dealings with Blood Raven. You will leave at midnight tonight, with that Paladin. If you fail, it is your burden! Understand?"

"Midnight," I repeat. "It is my fault if I fail in my duty."

During the dinner, which consists of a roasted boar and a few chickens' eggs, I whisper to Krovicain the plan that Kashya formulated for us. At first, he is resistant to the idea of sneaking out, but finally agrees to leave at midnight.

We say little during the meal, not wishing to draw attention to ourselves, and I excuse myself early to decide the equipment by which I'm going to attack Blood Raven.

I choose out a wand which strengthens my magical strength, and the sword that Akara gave me. I have a feeling it has some magical properties, but I can never tell for sure until I get it properly identified. I gently lift armor that is fully plated from Charsi's stock, and stagger when I try it on. I chastise myself, but it is too late to return it for something lighter, as Charsi is now resuming her post at the forge.

I sank into my bed, trying to get some rest before the confrontation of the traitor, Blood Raven.

In the middle of the night, Krovicain shakes me awake. He is in full Paladin garb, complete with the tower shield. "Loman. It is midnight, and Kashya is waiting for us at the crossroads of the plains. Hurry."

I dress quickly, staggering a little as I slip on the full metal plate armor. I tie my boots on, then I grasp my wand with confidence. "Let's go."

We quietly slip out of the camp, then swim across the river to avoid the alertful guards in the front of the gates, carrying our armor above our heads to avoid rust on the plates.

I finally sight Kashya in the crossroads, waiting patiently with her young Rogue as our ally. "Loman," she says quietly. "Here are your instructions." She points to the path that leads to the graveyard. "Blood Raven has been reviving our dead Rogues as her troops. Destroy her, and our troubles will be over...for the moment."

Krovicain nods in understanding. I've heard this before, so I turn to the Rogue that Kashya has brought. "You know the dangers, do you not?"

She says, "Yes. Kashya informed me while we waited."

I turn to Kashya again. "All right. Let's go." The confident words I so suavely utter betray my quick heartbeat. I lean my sword on my shoulder, and wave the Rogue and Krovicain forward. "The next time you see us, Kashya, we will either be victorious, or dead."

As we forge forward in the dim night, I glance at the Rogue. Her face is stone-set, and she moves quickly. "What's your name?" I inquire, for lack of a better thing to do.

"Kerra. We met on the first scouting run."

I suddenly feel idiotic for not remembering. I press my lips together, deciding never to say anything again.

Krovicain breaks the silence with a few questions. "Do you two know anything about Blood Raven? Because if we're going to face off against her, we're going to need a strategy."

Kerra nods slightly. "She...was a fantastic warrior. She was skilled both in archery and close-combat, and could switch quickly from one to another. Magic wasn't her strong suit, however, and she was very angry at that."

"So, if we attack her magically, she'll have a weak point?" I ask quietly.

"No. While she couldn't harness energy to serve her purpose, she was well-built and could defend against any blast. For that reason alone, we should fear her power. In addition to being enhanced by Andariel, she has been training day and night." She blushed in the darkness. "We managed to spy upon her without her noticing."

Krovicain has been formulating a plan this entire time, factoring in what Kerra just explained. "She will be surrounded by demons," he says, referring to Blood Raven. "I will attack directly. Kerra, you will fire off your arrows at the demons or Blood Raven, whichever poses the greatest threat. And Loman, you shall be our magical defense and offense."

Kerra swiftly holds up a hand, halting us in our tracks. "Do you sense that?"

A magical fog engulfs the air, percolating my skin and causing it to erupt suddenly in goosebumps.

"Yes," I whisper. Krovicain voices his agreement.

"That is Blood Raven's aura. She is close by." Kerra frowns as she talks. "She has grown more powerful in these recent few days. I fear we may not be enough to destroy her."

I pull out my sword, well oiled and sharpened. "It's too late now. The Rogue camp depends on us. Forge onward!"

Krovicain looks past me with a look of pure horror.

I whirl around to see dozens of demons creeping towards us, evil glinting in their eyes.

"Spread!" I screech as I throw up a quick Bone Wall. We dive away from the wall as the demons begin to hack at the spiky barrier.

"Kerra, hold off as many demons as you can!" orders Krovicain, who is pulling out his shield and sword. "When the barrier breaks, we'll have to fight them."

The yelp of a demon, and another, and another, convinced me of Kerra's skill. "Krovicain! Let's go!" I yell at the Paladin, who has both his shield and sword ready in his hands. I throw up another Bone Wall to protect Kerra, and we surge into the crowd of demons.

I swing my sword and slice off the head of a demon, who crashes into the ground. Then I sight Blood Raven, who is chuckling at the sight her minions have caused. My blood begins to boil.

Krovicain follows my line of vision and also sees the demoness. Breaking free of the demon crowd, he charges for Blood Raven with his sharpened sword aimed directly for her heart.

She sidesteps him and easily slams her bow down on his back, creating a resounding crack that echoes throughout the plains.

I scream loudly and charge sword-first for the demonic warrior. She grins bloodlessly and pulls out a bow and arrow. She calmly lines up an arrow on her bow, drawing the shaft to her shoulder.

I am a few paces away from her before she fires her arrow. It whistles by and pierces my ear with an incredible sting of pain. I grunt, but I reach Blood Raven. Her look of confidence dissolves into a genuine realization that I might actually stand a chance.

"Blood Raven, you have defiled the resting place of many. You have endangered the Rogues, and you are in cohorts with Andariel! Take one last view of your deathplace, for you shall spend eternity here!" I swing my sword with all my might and hit her neck. Blood sprays onto my plate armor, but I push the sword until Blood Raven's head falls onto the ground.

I fall on my knees, adrenaline leaving my system as quickly as it came.

Kerra escaped the battle unscathed, so I assign her to help Krovicain stand as I open the portal to the Rogue Camp. She and Krovicain hobble through the portal, then I, making sure nothing is watching, enter the portal.

Rogues immediately swarm us, prodding and asking questions.

"How tough was Blood Raven?"

"What happened to the Paladin?"

"Did you defeat her?"

Out of the corner of my eye, I spy Akara glaring icily at me. I freeze as I watch her, and I excuse myself from the whirl of Rogues as I meekly follow her to her corner of the camp.

Once we reach the safety of her tent, she suddenly whirls and begins to chew me out. "You fool! You ignore my warning and endanger the Paladin, Kerra, and yourself? Risking our camp for counter-attack?" Her face is wet with rage, and her wrinkles have disappeared. "I have warned you about the consequences of your actions."

I nod.

Akara suddenly calms down, and dabs at her face with the corner of her violet robe, and for the first time, I see her sit down with exhaustion. After a moment, she looks up at me with a grin. "So? How well did you do?"

Life in the Rogue camp, inexplicably, becomes much easier. For one, the expectance of surprise attacks from Blood Raven disappears altogether. Secondly, the tension between suspicious Rogues and I dims significantly.

In a few days, everybody knew of our (that is, Krovicain, Kerra, and I) accomplishments, and everyone from Warriv to Charsi continually asked us how we managed to kill Blood Raven. Every time I was asked, I would simply shrug and say, "Luck, I guess."

Akara summons us for a meeting a few days after Blood Raven's demise.

"You three have accomplished much," she began, and I knew that she would ask us for another favor, for the Rogues. "And while we all appreciate your efforts, the danger still looms from Andariel."

I glance around as she talked. Krovicain, who was fitted with a crude wooden back-piece, shifts uncomfortably on the wooden trunk of his seat. He knows he won't be much use for the next mission that Akara has planned out for us, and he feels shame at that.

Kerra, on the other hand, is eager and attentive. I guess it should be no surprise, as Akara is her spiritual leader, and the death of Blood Raven only whets her appetite for adventure.

"The ancient Monastary of the Amazons is a holy place. And in Andariel possession..." The old woman's lips tighten noticably before she continues. "I can only imagine what that cursed demon is doing in our temple. Therefore, I know this is a huge favor, especially for all you've done for us."

"Get on with it," snaps Krovicain. I notice that is the first time that Krovicain has lost his temper, and I approve silently.

"I apologize. I wish for you to exorcise the Monastary of the demon brood and win back our temple for us." Akara clasps her hands behind her to hide the nervousness she feels in asking us this favor.

I am the first to speak. "As Krovicain is handicapped, do you have a replacement in mind for him?"

Akara shakes her head apologetically. "No adventurers have passed through the Highlands for quite some time. I'm afraid the best replacement I can come up with is another Rogue."

Krovicain and I exchange looks. We know all too well the handicaps of an Amazon.

I shake my head as I rise from my seat. "No, that will not be necessary. Krovicain will have to remain here and heal as quickly as we can, while we try to defeat Andariel, as you wish." I shrug to Krovicain's piercing look. I simply have a feeling about our success.

Kerra and I jog through the grasslands with the confidence of those who have killed a superior demon. Suddenly, a psychic hand grasps my mind and twists it violently, forcing me onto my knees with pain.

Kerra turns around when she notices I'm not running, and kneels down next to me. "What's wrong?"

Instead of answering, I straighten up, and run quickly in quite a different direction, towards the swamp, instead of the Monastary which was our intended destination. I wave her along my way, intending to explain once I fufill these strange directions in my head.

We reach a large tree, and suddenly the pain in my head eases quickly. I am first to approach the tree, and I examine the trunk with interest and curiosity.

"What is this?" wondered Kerra as her eyes wander over the magnificent tree, which has large branches that seem to spread into the sky. "Why did we come here, Loman?"

"This is the Tree of Infuiss," I say curtly, surprising even myself. "I don't know why I came here, but it is rather important. Aha!" I find a loose edge on a piece of bark, and I wrestle with the stiff wood, trying to peel it off. I slide my sword under the edge and flip out a wooden plaque that has numerous items enscribed on it. I stare at it, surprised at myself and the piece of bark.

"The bark of Infuiss!" Akara's eyes shot open with surprise, as mine did. "But how did you come across this relic?" she asks with interest, and listens intently as I explain our trek across the swamp and the encounter with the tree.

"Must've been psychic emanations," decides the old woman as she examines the bark again.

"Can you translate the runes inscribed on it?" I ask, becoming impatient with her repetitive babble.

"Yes...'In the Ruins of the Advent of Diablo, the Last Horadrim is Hidden.'" Akara gasped. "In the ruins of the advent of Diablo...the first coming of Diablo! That's Tristram! And the 'Last Horadrim' must be the last of the Horadrim mages!"

"Deckard Cain?" I ask, curious. "The last Horadrim mage?"

"Yes, that's him!" she exclaims. "This bark is a prophecy! In Tristram, Deckard Cain is hiding, where Diablo first came!" She whirls, and pulls out a piece of charcoal. "Go to the five standing stones in the grasslands, and mark them in this order." She marks the five pillars on the bark with the charcoal in quick succession, and hands it back to me.

The bark gives me an odd feeling. As if, I should do what the prophecy instructed this moment. "Thank you, Akara!" I say quickly, heading for the standing stones.

"Wait!" Krovicain suddenly yells. "Let me go with you. I promise I won't be a hinderance." He lurches to his feet, clutching at his crude crutches with a wild abandon. "I'll go with you. Maybe I can guard the entrance, or something."

Kerra looks at me with a questioning glance.

I understand what Krovicain is feeling. His noble Paladin spirit is restless at being cooped up at the Rogue camp, and his failure to slay Blood Raven is beginning to eat away at him. "Fine. You will have to run much faster than normal, however! We have no idea how much danger Deckard Cain is in!"

We reach the five stones with ease, and I pull out the piece of bark that Akara had studiously marked for me. "Stay back," I warn them as I begin to activate each stone. At the touch of my hand, the first stone begins to glow, and the rest of the stones begin to mimic each other in hum and glow.

I finish activating the stones, and wave Kerra and Krovicain back. Bolts of energy fly around the grasslands as the portal to the devastated Tristram is activated, and with a hiss, the molten-lava colored portal opens.

"Kerra, you stay out here and keep a watch out for anyone," I instruct her. She's happy to stay out of it, as magic unnerves her. I wave Krovicain to follow me as I approach the portal. I hold my breath, step through the portal, andÖ

The stink of burnt flesh permeates the air as I step through the portal. I gag instinctively, then clamp my hand across my mouth as I listen to the sounds of the demons roaming Tristram, which are faint.

Krovicain appears in Tristram with a flash of brimstone, and I signal for him to be silent. He quietly begins to follow me, but his crutches make a racket and he decides to hang back until I come back with some news.

I sneak around a burned building to spy on the demons. They have strung up a cage and are prodding the only survivor of Diablo's re-awakening: Deckard Cain! He is bruised and cut, looking understandably frightened of the Hell's spawn. I silently walk back to Krovicain and relay the results of my reconaissance.

"Too dangerous," advises Krovicain. "We could attack them head-on, but I doubt we may be able to best them in a fight. The best plan is to block the demons somehow while Deckard Cain escapes from the cage, and then we should leave as soon as Deckard Cain is safe."

I agree with his plan, which is wise and hardly contains any loopholes. "I'm going to erect a bone cage around the demons," I whisper. "Then, you untie Deckard Cain's cage."

"You said the demons were surrounding the cage, right?"

I nod.

"If you erect a cage around them, how will I get to Deckard Cain?" Krovicain has suddenly found the chink in our masterful plan.

"Don't forget about me," Kerra whispers as she crawls behind us. "You two were taking far too long, so I decided to go through as well. Your plan indeed is flawed." She takes out her bow and begins to prepare an arrow. "So here is what we shall do. I will fire an arrow at the rope which suspends Deckard Cain's cage, which shall drop him onto the ground. Krovicain will help him into a portal of some sort, and you, Loman, will do as you originally intended."

I could almost slap her for disobeying me, but I realize her plan is much more refined than ours. "All right. Let's try this plan of yours."

THWAP! Kerra's arrow hits on the mark and severes the rope that suspends Deckard Cain's cage, and the wooden contraption slams into the floor. All the demons look up with surprise, only to discover that I meshed them in a cage of bones.

"Now, Krovicain! Slice the cage door open and set the Horadrim mage free!" I cry, my magical strength ebbing from the battering that the bone cage was taking from all the demons. I point to the crude lock that fastens the swinging door to the bars. Krovicain nods and slashes the bars, freeing Deckard Cain from his bondage.

The bars snap easily and the mage begins to crawl out slowly.

I grasp Deckard Cain by the arm and pull him to his feet. "Deckard Cain, hurry if you value your life!" He nods in understand and opens a portal to the Rogue Camp.

"Retreat!" I yell to Krovicain, who is heaving from the hard work, and Kerra, who's jesting with herself by seeing how many demons she can kill with one arrow.

Kerra nods and turns her back to a wounded demon, who has fought to its feet. It charges Kerra and impales her with his bardiche, which sticks out of her chest. She gasps and falls, the bardiche quite prominent in her back as she slams into the floor.

Krovicain screams with rage, and with one feral slice beheads the demon. He tenderly picks her up, and looks at me pointedly. I nod and point to Deckard Cain's portal. "Go! I will guard it!"

With his bad back, he slowly hobbles through the portal and disappears. I throw up a Bone Wall, hold my breath, and step through the portal, out of the nightmares and into safety.

Already, Akara and Kashya are examining Kerra's wound with concern. I exit the portal to find that Akara and Kashya are shaking their heads. "No, this is far too severe for a spell to fix," Kashya says sadly.

"Let me try," Akara persists, and out of the folds of her purple cloak, she takes out two crimson potions. She carefully pours the concoctions on Kerra's open wound, and the two wait for a reaction.

Meanwhile, I am shaken by my rescue mission, and Deckard Cain approaches. "May I know the name of my savior?" he asks gently.

"Loman," I say wearily.

"Loman," he repeats. "Well, Loman, is there anything I can aid you with? You look rather ill at the moment."

I gesture over to where Kerra is lying. "I feel responsible for her injury. I had ordered her to retreat, and when she turned, she..." A lump in my throat hinders further talking. I clear my throat, and continue, "If she dies, I'll be responsible for that as well..."

The Horadrim descendent smiles and places his hand on my shoulder. "Feel no regrets. I, too, feel responsibility for Diablo's second advent back on the earth..." His eyes flash angrily at the memory of Diablo. "When that first adventurer first killed Diablo, I thought the nightmare was over."

I sit up, a burden lifted off my shoulders. "How...how did he come back?"

"That I do not know, my friend, but there is one thing that is certain: He must be stopped!" Deckard Cain becomes much more animated now, and his hands begin to illustrate the point that he is attempting to convey. "Diablo is a mighty force, mark my words. He's slew dozens of adventurers who seeked fame, and he will kill more." He gestures to Kerra. "Like her. You see the pain that Diablo forces on the people of this earth, which is exactly why he is the Lord of Terror."

The force of his words bite into my pride and I feel energized. I watch the medication of Kerra, who is sleeping peacefully now.

Akara and Kashya approach Deckard Cain and I, and relay the good news. "Kerra is recovering. Her wound was very deep, but it missed her heart and lungs by a few inches, thankfully," Akara whispers. "She will be out of action for a few weeks, however."

Deckard Cain exhales with relief and sits down. "Ah, thank God."

I can't help but notice the wry humor in his statement.

"Hell's forces are moving far more quickly than anybody would have guessed," Deckard Cain informs us. "The fact that he's been arisen, and in a lithe young body (the very one that killed him, I might add) only complicates the matter."

"Is he still here?" asks Kashya, who has her arms crossed at this dubious information.

Deckard Cain scratches his scalp. "I do not know for sure. I can only say that as long as there is a dominant force of Hell in this part of the world, Diablo will always send reinforcements from the very depths of Hell."

"But Blood Raven's dead," I remind everyone.

"He's not talking about Blood Raven," Krovicain pipes up. "Blood Raven was just a lowly recruit in the ranks of Hell. He's talking about that demon Andariel, who's residing in the Monastary."

The mage nods. "Yes, the demon Andariel. She has great importance on the mortal world. By closing off the Western Pass, she can discourage anyone from going to the Middle Eastern cities, where Baal resides, which effectively stops any chance of an adventurer chancing upon Baal and destroying him."

Akara is sitting on a wooden stump, lines of worry creasing her ancient face. "You say, then, that if we destroy Andariel, there is a chance?"

Deckard Cain simply nods.

"And...if we fail in our attempts to kill her, if our assassination is unsuccessful, then we are doomed."

"I would not put it quite so bluntly," Deckard Cain reprimands, "but yes, that is the truth. Therefore, we must be careful where we are. Outside of the Rogue camp, the demon forces grow stronger by the day. If we want to at least try and hurt Diablo as much as we can, we have to do it as soon as possible."

We grow silent. The wisdom of his words hits hard.

I raise my hand. "Then, we should do it today or tomorrow. I don't want to wait."

Krovicain agrees. "Judging by what Deckard Cain says, it's logical to start early. But think about it, Loman. I am out of commission, at least for a few days. Kerra is definitely injured. You'll have to do it yourself, unless Kashya can spare another Rogue."

Kashya nods. "I have a few other Rogues left, but they may not want to face Andariel."

"I guess it's up to me, then." I exhale loudly.

Deckard Cain shakes his head. "There's always the option of waiting for Krovicain, because he will be far more useful when he heals. With the Rogue that Kashya can provide, your forces will number three again."

I decide to take Deckard Cain's advice. Danger always exists, but it's more ominous when you're alone.

"So, Andariel exists on the lowest level of the Monastary," I ponder as we discuss the layout of the Rogues' former base.

"Yes, and between the floors always exists the champion demons as well as their minions, plus the regular demons that exist simply to destroy," Deckard Cain reminds us.

"Is there any way we can attack Andariel first?" Kashya asks. She's probably as nervous as I am. But she won't be going into battle against the demon, whilst I am.

Akara shakes her head. "Remember, Kashya? The layout of the Monastary was purposely designed in case we had an attack, where the Rogues would gather at the bottom of the Monastary and set traps on the various floors."

I sit back and whistle through my teeth. "So we're fighting everyone," I said, mainly to myself.

Krovicain is impressed too. "No holy grounds in the Monastary at all? I mean, a place where demons fear to tread in case we have to retreat for our lives?"

"Any place that has come in contact with a demon's foot is safe for the demon," says Deckard Cain. "I doubt there is a place in the Monastary where a demon hasn't touched or defiled."

I grin wryly. "It should be easy. After all, we killed Blood Raven, right?"

Laughter breaks up our somber meeting.

In two days, after Krovicain has fully healed, we set off for the Monastary. In our bulging packs are ten ration packs, and two sets of spare weapons. The Rogue designated to be our guide to the Monastary will catch up with us when we reach the Black Marsh.

We bide our farewells to the Rogues, and especially to Akara and Kashya. "I will remain here," Deckard Cain tells us as he is reclining on a log by the fire. "I do not doubt your success. Return to the Rogue camp with your stories of Andariel's demise."

Krovicain nods in understanding. "You are old, and cannot stand up to the rigors of battle."

Deckard pretends to be offended. "I'll show you how old I am," he says with a snarl. Then he laughs, and winks at us.

"Let's go," I say, exasperated by the wait that this is taking. I heave my heavy pack onto my shoulders, and trudge off towards the Monastary, with Krovicain trailing behind me.

We journey for hours, it seems, until we reach the Black Marsh. Here Krovicain points to a undisturbed patch of dry ground, and drops his bag onto it. I immediately protest. "What are you doing? We're almost at the Monastary!"

Krovicain simply begins to unfold his sleeping bag. "The Monastary is only a few miles away. Let us rest and regain our strength before we attempt to siege that detested demon ground."

I cannot argue against his logic, so I also begin to unpack my bags. After a second's hesitation, I lay out my shovel and begin to dig a hole in the center of our sleeping area. "The fireplace," I explain to the bewildered Krovicain. "If we're going to stay here, why not something for warmth?"

Horseshoes clattering on the rocks makes up look up in fear. "A demon?" whispers Krovicain.

I snatch up a stick of wood, wind some dry cloth around it, and finally light it on fire. The horse steps into the light emitted by the torch, and the horse's rider revealed as Kerra.

"Kerra!" Krovicain says merrily.

I am simply agape. "Kerra?"

Kerra grins at us as she clambers down from her roan-colored horse. "Aye. You two can't abandon me so easily, especially on a quest to defeat Andariel!" she exclaims as she begins to unpack her own belongings.

"How...what?" I am confused. Krovicain, however, seems to be enjoying himself.

Krovicain finally begins to explain. "That attack by the demon was simply superficial. It went through her, but you made me put her through the portal so quickly that the spear didn't have a chance to poison her."

Kerra picked up where he left off. "Since Akara and Kashya know everything in the highlands, it was simply a matter of collecting the material for the potions." She grins again.

"So you're our guide?" I ask to clarify the question in my mind.

She nods.

"...Don't ever do that again."

Kerra shrugs. "I wanted to try out my acting. How was it?"

"Perfect," Krovicain pipes up.

I have been embarrassed enough tonight, so I resume digging the pit for the fireplace.

After an ill-prepared meal of steak and a foreign pouch of eggs, we settle in for the night, and begin to formulate a plan for the attack on Andariel.

"Like Akara has said...she will be surrounded by demons," Krovicain reminded us.

"So we kill them first," decided Kerra.

I shook my head. "There are hundreds, maybe thousands. We may have to run through the various levels of the Monastary, then bolt the doors to trap the demons, and stop them from following us lower down."

Krovicain frowned. "So we're stuck down there until we finish off Andariel?"

I nod.

"That's awfully dangerous, isn't it? What if someone's injured?" Krovicain says, worry creasing his forehead.

"We'll have to leave them behind," I say solemnly. My words strike hard. Both Krovicain and Kerra have barely escaped death. What if they have to be struck down...and abandoned? "Look," I say quickly. "If you two wish to leave, that's perfectly reasonable. I understand. But the longer that we wait, the more souls that join Andariel's forces."

Krovicain and Kerra both nod in unison. They understand the risks, and they wish to persevere to Andariel's lair.

I couldn't be any more proud.

Holding clubs wrapped in rags and dried grass, we venture into the dark Monastary. We swing the torches back and forth, warily watching for any sign of demons.

My last swing alights upon a demon face, and I yelp in surprise. "There! A Carver demon!"

It screeches angrily, but Krovicain's sword cuts off its expression of anger.

"There must be more," whispers Kerra. "Carvers always travel in groups, along with a shaman to revive them after they've been killed." She tosses her torch ahead of us and instead draws her bow.

"What are you doing?" demands Krovicain.

"We have two torches," Kerra says. "It'd be faster to just have you two hold the torches and I shooting the demons as they show up."

I cut Krovicain off before he can object. "That is fine. Let us just continue."

We venture through the dark hallways of the Monastary, cautiously opening doors and sweeping the torches through them. I look helplessly around us. The Monastary is a jumble of doors and hallways, a virtual maze.

"Do you know your way through here?" whispers Krovicain to Kerra.

"Not much," she admits. "If it were daytime, it would be much easier for me to identify where we are. Otherwise, it's simply a guess-and-check routine and-"

A sharp rustling through the darkness makes all of us pause.

"You heard that?" I ask quietly. In the dim light, I can see their heads bob in agreement.

"Another demon...?" wonders Kerra. "The Monastary should be rife with the foul offspring, but so far we have encountered one, which Krovicain so ably desisted."

I have no choice but to agree. "It's far too suspicious. But like we said...once we're in, we're stuck." I swing my torch bravely, trying to impose upon my friends the impression that I'm not scared. They know better. "Let's continue." I step quietly through the darkness, swinging the torch back and forth.

The torch alights a child! A smudged, dirty, ragged child, but a child nonetheless. His delicate features are poorly displayed by the torchlight, and he extends a hand to us. "H-help?" he asks in a quavering, shrill voice. "H-help?"

I try to take his hand but Kerra cuts me off sharply. "No," she says curtly, and shoots the boy in the head.

Krovicain and I are shocked beyond words. "Kerra...!" Krovicain says in a thick voice. "You killed an innocent boy!"

Kerra shakes her head and simply points a finger at the child's foot.

Poking out of the poorly made cloth shoe is a vicious talon.

"A demon?!" we say all at once.

I kneel down next the body and proceed to rip the pant leg. As the cloth rips, black flesh is exposed to the faint torchlight.

"A demon," I confirm angrily. "A demon!"

"Something wasn't natural about him," Kerra explains. "Firstly, the taloned foot was the clue that set it off. Then I noticed its voice. Much like the Carver demon family. Have you heard them before? Loud and not at all pleasant."

I pick up on her line of thought. "Then you noticed the smudges on its face, but that was far too many to be just a dirty face."

"Yes," she agrees. "The most glaring error was the fact that a boy was still in the Monastary."

Krovicain nods in understanding. "How could a boy be left behind in the Monastary, when demons are lurking about the entire structure, and still survive?"

"No, that wasn't it." In the darkness, Kerra blushes. "There are no boys allowed with the Rogues. The few males that we have are foreign traders or porters for travelers in the Highlands."

We reach the end of the Monastary, and Krovicain and I sweat as we struggle to open the heavy doors that lead to the lower levels.

"You know..." Kerra's voice interrupts our little exercise. "The Monastary's been quiet."

"It should," Krovicain says between clenched teeth as he pulls on the rope connected to his side of the door. "It's nighttime and all the demons are sleeping."

Kerra watches us intently, then tersely shakes her head. "No...not even at night is it this quiet. I am very suspicious we are walking into a trap."

I give my rope one last tug before plopping down on the floor. "Maybe so. But we can't turn back now. Remember, we had said 'now or nothing', and everyone said 'now.' Do you just feel like changing your vote?"

"Maybe."

Krovicain grunts as he heaves the dusty door open. "Well, decide right now, because we are going in."

"Just in time," I say cheerily as the sun's rays begin to thread through the few windows in the Monastary. "A little bit of sunshine to help guide our way." I drop the torch onto the floor and squash the ember on the end of the stick. "No more torches for us, at least not for today."

Kerra suddenly shrieks loudly. "Demons!"

All around us, crimson red eyes open sleepily and focus sharply on the three intruders.

"Get in!" Krovicain shouts, and he gives us a nudge towards the doorway.

Kerra strings an arrow to her bow and nods at me. "You first, Loman. I will keep your guard." Despite her terror, she is calm and speaks clearly. "I will follow you, then Krovicain."

I dive into the doorway and immediately the door slams after me. I can hear the faint sounds of battling. I pound furiously on the door in frustration. "Open the door, Krovicain! Open it!"

Beyond the threshold is silence.

"Krovicain! Kerra!"

Silence greets me, envelops my words with a thick blanket of mute.

I sit down on the stairs and weep outright. Two more allies, lost in a trap devised by Hell's demons.

I wipe my eyes with the rough material of my sleeve, and stand up. "Andariel! I'm coming after you! Vengeance is mine, and I shall have your head as a token to my friends!"


Still unsure of my own battling ability, I sneak through the darkness, fearfully opening doors and sneaking through the shadows.

"Rikki shadashu!"

I almost leap in fear, and then crouch below a pile of barrels. The demon that exclaimed that statement is apparently arguing with another demon.

"Burndas kollas!"

I mutter a quick translation spell, and cast it over myself.

"No, no. He is not here!" the demon says, becoming exasperated with the other one. "You can go and tell Andariel that the human who escaped our ambush is not here. We have thoroughly searched the area."

"You tell her that, fool!" the other demon responds harshly. "I do not wish to be separated from my head for your laziness!"

I quietly exhale. The demons are still after me! So, as Kerra said, it was a trap! It should have been so obvious...the hallucination of a boy, the demon we encountered in the front of the Monastary, the quietness!

One of the demons jerks his head in my direction after my sigh.

"What?"

"Did you hear that?"

"Very faint. It sounded like someone breathing."

"Yes. Come, we will see if the human is there!"

I curse under my breath, then look around wildly for a place to hide. The demons are blocking my way to the door, and there are no windows...My eyes alight upon the only hiding place in the room, and I quickly slide in. I hide my neck under my hands, hoping the demons don't notice me.

Two pairs of clawed feet appear in front of me, then disappear as the demons apparently search for me. "He's not here. We must have been hallucinating."

"At the same time?"

"You tell Andariel that we're crazy, and she'll eat us in one gollop. Let's just go and report to her, tell her that the human apparently got back outside after he saw his friends get killed."

The other demon agrees loudly, and they slam the door as they leave.

I sigh with relief, and slide out of the barrel in which I was hiding. "I must say this. I am grateful to the Rogues, and even to Andariel, for never clearing out these disgusting piles of barrels." I brush off my armor, and I quickly leave the way I went.

I discreetly follow the two demons who are supposed to be searching for me, and very soon my quick translation spell wears off. Because I do not need to understand their words, I simply shrug it off and continue to sneak through the shadows.

They stop at a huge, double-doored threshold and tentatively knock. A voice mutters from within, and the demons respond with quick, demon banter. I quickly re-apply my translation spell and hear the demon inside reply back.

"No sign of the human?"
"None, Andariel," one of the demons reply. "We searched high and low. However, it seems that he escaped outside, back to the accursed Rogue camp once his compatriots were murdered."

The huge doors open, and the demons quickly scurry inside, leaving the doors open.

I sneak in closer, through the shadows, and I watch the argument between the two demons and the demon Andariel.

Andariel is more grotesque than I imagined. She stomps about on four insectile legs, with four muscular arms that fully complement the rest of her body. Her head is perfectly formed, but the shock of blood-red hair and the orange tint of her skin make her an ugly creature indeed. I cannot imagine her being a human before.

"You have not searched enough, that is all," Andariel decides. "These humans are crafty. Who do you think killed our lord, Diablo?"

"We are being honest, my lady," one of the demons pipes up. "The human is nowhere to be found. We thought we heard him a few minutes ago, but it all seemed to be nothing, tricks or spells-"

"Fools!" Andariel roars. "You have no idea! The human is here, somewhere..." She swings her shaggy head around, suspiciously testing the air. "I can sense him! He's in this very room."

The two demons whirl around. "You don't...You don't suppose he followed us?"

It is at this precise moment that I choose to stand up. "It's exactly what you suppose. Demons! You shall pay for your slaughter of my allies...with your vile blood!"

Andariel laughs outright. "Ah, a feisty Necromancer. I shall enjoy feasting on his flesh." She turns serious very quickly. "But, what is flesh when it is not cooked, am I right?" She summons a tumultuous fireball, and grins maliciously. "Now, human, see if you can handle Hell's fire!" She points her outstretched palm at me and releases the gaseous ball of flame.

I dive behind a pillar and wince at the volume of the explosion. Andariel's next fireball crashes right next to me, filling my senses with fiery steam and red-hot coals.

I roll out from behind the pillar and fire off a quick Bone Spear before throwing up my strongest Bone Wall. I continually add onto the Bone Wall as I run along the wall, shielding myself from Andariel's fireballs.

"Come, now. You think you have a chance against Diablo's own minions?" Andariel's voice taunts me outright, and I'm tempted to answer her. Instead, I step from beyond my Bone Wall and drop a Bone Cage around her.

Andariel simply smirks. "Fool. Your flimsy cage can hardly contain my power!"

I aim my palm at the huge chandelier above her head, and I simply reply, "Maybe not, but I can certain try, can't I?" I let loose a Bone Spear that cuts through the thin chain that suspends the chandelier, and it drops onto Andariel's head.

It smashes into pieces as it strikes Andariel, but the demon smiles with deep satisfaction. "Not working as well as you had hoped, eh?"

I dive behind another pillar.

I shut my eyes as another fireball smashes into the wall. There's no hope! I've attacked Andariel with the best I could do, and she still stands! By the looks of her attacks, she hasn't slowed down one bit.

Suddenly, my eyes adjust strangely to the normal world, the colors contorting. I begin to see the outlines of a spirit, hovering close to me.

"...Loman?"
I shake my head and look around.

"Loman!"

I look into the spirit, and am astonished to see the face of the fallen Krovicain drifting in the spiritual ichor. "Krovicain..."

"Loman, listen quickly. Andariel cannot be finished by ordinary means, like you are attempting! Physically, she far outmatches you and your physical condition. The way things are going at the moment, you will soon die."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," I mumble.

"No, that is not what I meant. I meant...all right, here's what you should do. Propel my spirit into her body, and I should be able to destroy her from within. Once her mind is exposed, then the matter is simply to launch a Bone Spear straight at her midsection and kill her, once and for all!"

I chew over the plan mentally.

Krovicain looks anxious. "We shall have to hurry. You will launch us-"

"Us?"

Kerra's face appears in the mist of the ectoplasm. "Hello, Loman."
"You will launch us," Krovicain continues, "into her body. Please, do not miss! Otherwise we will be propelled out of the real world and back into the spiritual world! Distract her again, with another chandelier on the head or something like that, and then launch us!"
I move with my back against the wall, then push mightily against the pillar which I'm hiding. The pillar groans with stress, then finally falls over with a crash, straight into Andariel.

Charging energy between my two palms, I gather Krovicain and Kerra into the energy ball, and when Andariel's raging body explodes from the rubble, I point my palm at Andariel.

"Flimsy fool! You cannot-"

"No, you are the fool, Andariel! Diablo has never cared for you, because you are a lowly lieutenant in the ranks of Hell! Now, this 'fool' has banished you to the underworld! May God not have mercy on your soul, you wretched demon!" I launch the ever-changing energy ball at Andariel, and it strikes her so mightily that she screams in spiritual pain.

Aiming for Andariel between the space of my index finger and my middle finger, a Bone Spear seemingly materializes out of air and slices towards Andariel.

The sharp necromanic spear quickly spins a hole into Andariel's belly, and I leap for joy.

Then I realize she isn't dead yet.

"Ahhhhhh!" Andariel screams as Krovicain wreaks havok within Andariel's soul. Fire streams out from her body, and I realize she's trying one last time to eradicate the puny human that finally killed her.

Krovicain's spirit arises from Andariel's twitching body and surrounds me as the flames blast toward me. I shut my eyes in anticipation of the pain that is to come, and as I slowly open my eyes, I realize Krovicain the Paladin has protected me one last time.

Andariel's flames finally die out, and I shakily stand up. "I'm alive..."

Krovicain withdraws from outside of me, and he hovers outside of my face. "Loman! You did it! You killed Andariel!"
"I did, didn't I?"

"You did!" Krovicain exults. "You killed her singlehandedly!"

I smile weakly. "Not singlehandedly. You helped me much, my friend."
"Now, to let you rest." Krovicain motions towards the portal that has been created from Andariel's excess energy. "Take that back to the Rogue camp...and please, when the Rogues move back into the Monastary, can you ask them to bury Kerra and I together when they find our body?"

"For sure, Krovicain. Anything you ask."

I watch as Krovicain flies into the air. "Goodbye, Loman. May God be with you."

I step uneasily towards the portal, hold my breath as I enter the portal-

-and I am suddenly surrounded by the Rogues in the camp.

"Loman!"
"Loman, how are you..."
"Where is Krovicain and Kerra?"

"What happened...?"

Deckard Cain makes his way through the crowd, grinning broadly. "You did it, Loman! You destroyed Andariel!" He swings his wooden staff around, encompassing the lands around the Rogue camp. His expression turns serious. "But where is Krovicain...and Kerra?"
"They fought bravely..." I struggle to explain.

The old mage suddenly stumbles, sitting on a stump quickly. "I had not foreseen this...what a predicament!" He looks up. "Then, that means you destroyed Andariel all by yourself?"

"No...Krovicain and Kerra helped me. They came back as a spirit, and forced me to eject them into Andariel's soul. While they attacked her from within, I killed her with a Bone Spear. That is their story..."
Akara breaks through the exulting crowd and bows her head to me. "We are deeply indebted to you, Loman Krask. Thanks to you, we have had the presence of a Horadrim mage and the devastation to the forces of Hell. For that, we thank you."

Warrl claps me on the shoulder. "Ah, I knew it from the beginning. You were always destined for greatness, lad. Now, when shall we begin our journey through the Western Pass? Obviously you're excited-"

"I'm not leaving." I say it firmly and with conviction. All three of them instantly double take on me. "Although it sounds trivial to you, I believe that I was led here for a reason - and I should stay here for the same reason."

"But, Diablo," stutters Deckard Cain.

"There will always be another to destroy him," I answer.

"Aren't you letting down Krovicain's sacrifice?" Akara asks, once the surprise wears down.

"Am I?" I reply, gesturing to the people of the Rogue camp. "Had Andariel been allowed to live, eventually all of these brave warriors would be dead. Despite what you may think, I believe Krovicain wanted to save me so I could save others. And, I have done so."

Deckard Cain begins to grind his staff into the ground. "Will not you save more by killing Diablo?"

"That's true. But my mind is made up. I will always stay here..." I catch sight of Charsi, and I smile. "Always."

Epilogue

A few weeks later, Deckard Cain left with another adventurer who had professed to on the trail of Diablo, ande bade us farewell. "My destiny is to track the Lord of Terror, and I will never rest from my occupation, as my ancestor Tal Rasha once did."

When we moved into the Monastary, I found the bodies of Krovicain and Kerra, perfectly preserved. I buried the two, and erected a statue. On second thought, I surrounded it with a holy barrier and wrote a spell that forced any demon that touched it to die instantly.

Decades passed, as did Akara and Kashya. Charsi had grown old, and accompanied Warrl on his various trips through the Western Pass. On one such trip, she had fell off the caravan and had been lost. She was never found again.

With no more leaders in the Monastary, I found myself in charge.

Interestingly enough, I had barely aged since my contact with Andariel. In those thirty years, I only aged five years.

When warriors pass through the Western Pass in search of adventure, they ask me for my own stories and adventures. I smile and begin, "I arrived at the Rogues' wilderness just before dusk..."