PART ONE: SETTING
wont it be dangerous?, the rogue inquired. It was hard to
be heard over the din of noise filling the innkeepers tavern.
My dear, Hell is a DEADLY place! But
with ME at your side... , the mage struck a noble pose, head in
profile, peering afar. But we can take precautions. What spells
do you know? How great is your mana? He looked at her appraisingly,
Little-Mouse shivered. His gray eyes! They
pierced her like daggers of ice, they were so intense! His handsomely
chiseled face, the tiny scar above his right eye ... and that gaze, it
seemed more than just friendly. And he was paying attention to her! Of
all the taverns occupants, he paid her court! She wondered what
he wanted of her, and shivered again as forbidden thoughts made suggestions.
I know many spells! I can cast bolts
of fire, bolts of holy power, and can create moving pockets of energy!
I can heal myself, or -- and here Little-Mouse blushed -- you,
should you need it. To hide her embarrassment she hurried on. I
can create a fan of fire, and I can even move objects from afar!
Glancing downward, she murmured, I know this must not seem much
to as great a mage as yourself...
My child, I am impressed! You know
the ancient and wondrous art of Telekinesis! You are wise beyond your
years, spellcasting is the greatest secret on this plane! Few starting
rogues and even fewer warriors would even attempt such a feat. Which brings
me to my next question ... is there some rogue or warrior here we should
speak to before we make this journey? Or a friend or ... perhaps a ...
relative? Marasmus arched his eyebrows significantly.
The rogue reddened, then bristled. I
am my own person, master of my own Fate. I have achieved the Age of Majority,
and decide who I consort with and what ventures I undertake. No one looks
out for me, I look out for myself!
Easy, Mouse, easy. I just wanted to
know if there was someone who would be missing you. This quest may take
a bit of time. Wouldnt want someone waiting for you and worrying
Still angry, she bit out her reply. No
one waits for me. No one worries about me. No one will be missing me.
Ah, I see, and I apologize, I did
not mean to pry. Hmmm, about those spells, you cannot create portals back
to town, you cannot move your body, just like you move objects?
I can cast portals from scrolls. If
I had the money to purchase one. As for the latter, what do you mean?
Ah, it does not matter, Little-Mouse.
As you know from the books you have come upon, some magics are simply
unintelligible until you gain the knowledge needed to decipher them. This
is one such occasion. As far as money, once this expedition is over, you
wont have to be concerned with money for a long, long time!
Mouse glowed inside. To not have to worry
about money! To eat more than soup, to sleep an inns bed! But these
thoughts led her on.
And in return, you ask for . . . ?
She tried to keep the suggestiveness out of her voice, but knew she had
little to offer in return. Only what every young woman could offer in
these hard times.
The magic-user eyed her knowingly, his eyes
ranging over her body. I am sure we will think of something. Let
us say that the price I ask will be equal to the danger you face, yes?
So if trip is with little danger, then the boon is small. If the trip
is perilous ... well, we shall see, shant we? Do we have an agreement?
You clear the deepest level of Hell
of nearly all its dangers, take me there, let me experience some of the
dangers there, give me all the goods you find including the gold, and
in return I give you ...?
A price to be determined, varying
with the remaining danger encountered. Are we agreed? The wizard
extended his hand.
Little-Mouse eyed it warily. The bargain
seemed too good to be true. She knew she might be losing her innocence,
but the Sir was handsome enough, in his own way. Still, she reached forward
As long as the boon does not last
forever, her hand stopped just short of his. And it is a fair
price. Then we are good.
The mages eyebrows furrowed at her
speech. Becoming more worldly, are we? Its very wise to be
careful, little one. But just so you know,, he placed his palm over
his heart, Ive never broken an oath. Then he smiled,
then grasped her hand.
We have a deal.
TWO: THE TRAP IS SPRUNG
eyes had difficulty adjusting to the gloom. Hell was so dark! She thought
that it would glow with fire. And the smell! She fought the urge to gag,
the stench of brimstone and rotting flesh assailing her. She groped blindly,
“Marasmus, where are you?”
“Here, child, to your right. Keep your hand
on the wall, and walk toward my voice. But be silent as your namesake,
As she walked beyond the portal’s pale
light, Little-Mouse became worried. She saw a form with flowing robes,
and raised her bow.
“Hold! It’s me!”, the wizard raised his
hands. “Please, be sure you are shooting a foe, not a friend before you
let fly! Now follow me closely.”
The archer stepped with the mage, padding
further into the gloom. Her senses heightened, she could feel more walls
“Are you wearing the ring I gave you?” he
“The ring of infinite mana? Yes. Why do
I need it?”
“Hell is a very rugged place, young lady.
You may need to cast heal on yourself several times. We don’t want you
to run out of mana at an awkward moment.”
She nodded, taking this in. “I thought Hell
was supposed to be more open, more spacious. I can feel walls close by”,
“It is, and you do. Right now we are within
a room found in Hell, the Third Room to be exact, if you know your legends.
As a matter of fact, we are passing by one of the two levers that keep
the Demon Lord himself imprisoned in a fourth room. I’d advise you not
to touch that, at peril to your life.”
Mouse looked at the giant lever rising from
the floor. The device looked uncomfortably as if it were made of bone.
She turned back.
“Why are we whispering? I thought you said
you would clear Hell of most of its creatures.”
“True enough, but the fourth room is not
cleared, nor will we release Diablo and his bodyguards. Also, foul wizards
that can disappear infest this place, so one can never be entirely sure
the areas are completely safe. Also, I said I would bring you to Hell
and let you sample it’s dangers, yes? To be deserving of it’s rewards?
Well, you cannot claim that you have endured its dangers without facing
at least one of its opponents! Observe!”
Little-Mouse stopped and peered where the
wizard gestured. Eyes further adjusting to the darkness, she saw a massive
figure congeal! A huge knight in armor! She gasped fell, back and drew
out her bow, firing. The arrows chipped stone.
The mage nodded appreciatively. “Excellent
reflexes. You are so ... athletic. So virile, as only the truly youthful
can be. Ahem. If you cannot tell, this is one of Hell’s minions. It’s
called a Blood Knight; terrible creature, deadly opponent. I’ve stoned
him so that you can tackle this foe, and reap the rewards. Continue, even
if the damage seems minor.”
The rogue drew on her bow. There was no
sound except the snap of bowstring and the chink of chipping stone.
“It seems unfair. He cannot defend himself
while under the spell’s influence”, she muttered.
“Ah, my child, just wait. If he were not
so frozen, do you think he would show you ‘fairness’ in return?”
As the words passed the magic-user’s lips,
a malevolent red glow formed behind the visor of the knight’s helm. Stone
changed to steel as the once-frozen foe lurched to life!
“Egads!”, cried the wizard. “The spell has
worn off!” He gestured briefly, then grabbed for a potion at his belt.
“I’ve got to drink...”
Little-Mouse watched in horrified fascination
as the potion slipped from the mage’s hands. It fell, end over end, in
slow, terrifying motion. The sound of it shattering on the stone floor
shocked her back to reality.
The Blood Knight advanced.
“Run!” screamed the wizard.
scrambled for her life. She heard the wizard running behind her. And behind
that, the metallic footsteps of their foe tolled like a doom-filled bell.
“Where?”, she shouted.
“The portal!”, he returned.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched
the spellcaster reach again to his belt, deftly pick out another potion,
and raise it to his lips. He stopped, gestured, and then vanished! She
was alone with the Blood Knight!
As she turned the corner the Town Portal
came into view. Never had she been so glad to see the sight of that blue
swirling mass. She nearly cried in joy as she leapt for it’s warm embrace.
She did cry out in horror as it disappeared
A very sickening, horrible laugh echoed
through the halls of Hell.
FOUR: A BARGAIN’S A BARGAIN
The portal! It’s gone!”, she cried.
The Blood Knight turned the corner, stalking
her. It paused as if getting its bearings, then bore down on her.
“Oh, I disagree. It’s not gone. It’s just
over here”, came a reply.
The rogue scrambled back. She hit a wall.
The knight advanced and raised its sword.
“WHERE?”, she screamed, ducking under the
blade’s fall. It scored the wall, showering sparks upon her body as she
“Over here. Not that far. Just outside
the room you are in”, came the answer.
“HOW DO I GET THERE, DAMNIT!” The knight
turned. He found her again, and advanced.
“Well now, since there’s no way out of that
room, you can’t, can you?” came the casual reply.
Little-Mouse paused, and it almost cost
her her life then and there. The knight’s blow cut through her hair and
sliced her shoulder as she dodged at the last minute.
“I said, the portal is over here, and you
are trapped in that room. Do you understand that?”
With a clarity borne of desperation, Little-Mouse
“Marasmus, what do you want?”, she said.
“Nothing, yet. It’s much too early to bargain.
After all, you only owe me in relation to the danger you face. Do you
feel that you are in much danger, yet, Little-Mouse?”
Mouse dashed around the next corner. She
gripped her shoulder where it bled, and listened for the knight’s footfalls.
“Not yet. I think I can outrun this enemy. Maybe take him down. And when
I get out...“
“Ah. Well. You can outrun him, yes. As far
as taking him down, I believe you’ll find your bow won’t damage him quickly
enough, he’ll simply regenerate faster than you can damage him. Plus,
you’ll have to stop shooting to run away. And then there’s the question
regarding the wear on your weapon. By the way, it’s a circular room, and
not that big. Eventually you’ll need to sleep, whereas your opponent does
not. And as far as getting out, well, I’ll be interested to see how you
accomplish that; it would be quite the feat. Please let me know how you
The knight turned the corner, and swung.
Expecting the attack, the rogue easily dodged under it, and ran past the
next corner. Grasping her shoulder, she concentrated, recalling the mantra
of the heal spell.
Her brow furrowed. She tried again.
Again, nothing happened.
“Marasmus, does Hell somehow inhibit spellcasting?
My heal spell doesn’t seem to be working.”
“Hell doesn’t prevent you from freely casting
spells. But if you run out of mana, then THAT’S another story. I think
that Ring of Corruption I gave you might have something to do with that.
After all, I wouldn’t want you to find a stray book of Phasing in there
and somehow get out.”
Little-Mouse was shocked! She looked at
the ring as if it were a poisonous spider, snatched it off her finger,
and threw it away. It pinged off the plate armor of the Blood Knight as
it turned the corner.
“The room is empty?”, she called, and ran.
“Well, yes, as empty as I could make it
under the circumstances. It’s rather hard to scour the entire area clean
with a living Blood Knight looming over you. Makes one somewhat hurried
and nervous; afraid even. As you are finding out, I’m sure.”
“Seems to be a lot of trouble just to kill
me.” She paused, saw the knight, and ran again.
“True, it would be, if indeed I was trying
to kill you. You just have something I desire. We need to come to an agreement.”
Little-Mouse snorted. “Agreement? And just
what agreement should I arrange with you, an oath-breaker? Your word is
no better than demon dung!”
“No, think back carefully”, the mage instructed
her. “What lie have I told you, what oath have I broken? I said I’d bring
you to Hell, to experience it’s terrors. I’ve done that. I said I’d clear
it of almost all it’s foes. Do not you face merely a single opponent?
And you are to receive all Hell’s items and gold, yes? Well, it is spread
out here on the floor, awaiting your arrival. Ah, of course it is just
beyond the range of your Telekinesis. All we need to do is conclude our
agreement, and it’s yours.”
“And the ring that would make my mana infinite?”
Dodge; run again.
“Why, child, it does. Zero is an infinite
number! It’s infinitely low! With your mana at zero, you can cast an endless
number of spells unsuccessfully. I said your mana would become infinite,
not infinitely great.”
“Marasmus, what do you WANT?” the rogue
“Don’t; please! Youth is so impetuous. No
sense of restraint, no ability to conceive of deferred rewards. I’ll be
back in an hour -- or two -- an we’ll discuss it then” intoned the mage.
“You promised you’d take me Hell and ...“,
Little-Mouse stopped short.
“Exactly. I promised I’d take you to Hell.
I didn’t say I’d bring you back.” The mage chuckled, and then there was
“MARASMUS!” was the scream.
“Marasmus?” was almost a sob.
A shadow answered, looming from the depths
The Blood Knight advanced.