Fan fiction:Return of the Three
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Return of the Three
Part I: Destruction’s Return
“You don’t have to do this. There has to be another way…There HAS TO!”
Tal Rasha glanced over at his friend’s worried visage. Jered Cain had been opposed to the idea from the beginning. Even now, wading through dank, dismal tombs from ages past, he desperately tried to persuade Tal Rasha to change his mind, to find another way. There wasn’t.
“This is the only way to ensure his imprisonment. I don’t particularly like the concept of having him within me, but this is more than me.”
Only hours earlier, the two had expected to perish along with many of their brethren in a monumental battle with their captive. Baal, the Lord of Destruction, fled across the deserts of Aranoch towards the north with the Horadrim in close pursuit. As they caught up with him, he fiercely resisted their attempts to capture him, unleashing the violent and deadly fury of Hell upon them. Many had fallen to the uncontrollable magical chaos he threw at them; it took all of their skill and spells to bring him to his knees. Yet the demon had fallen beneath his blade and was sealed within the mystic soulstone. Unfortunately, the demon lord had lashed out at Tal Rasha in desperation and managed to shattered the stone meant to contain him; it could only hold him for so long. It was then that that the archangel Tyrael had come to them to resolve the problem with the only solution: sacrifice.
According to him, the stone created a spiritual vacuum through its connection to mortal energy. In its damaged state, it would not work properly. But should someone offer his body as an extension of the stone, the combined mortal energy of the stone and the flesh would suffice to imprison the demon. However, to do so would be to allow the essence of the Lord of Destruction to flow freely into the man’s body and mind. Tal Rasha refused to allow anyone else to suffer eternally in such a way –he offered himself. Jered deeply disliked the concept.
“You’ve seen what he can do. How do we ever know this will work?”
The same question had swirled through Tal Rasha’s mind for hours. Could it work? The vast empty tombs left him feeling disillusioned and doubtful. He couldn’t think of anything to say. There were only the steady clack-clack-clacks of their boots on the endlessly descending staircase and the faintly glowing flame of their torches fighting back the darkness. The rest had gone ahead of them, leaving Tal Rasha to prepare himself for what was to come. Soon it would be time.
“I don’t. I can only hope. I believe in Tyrael’s words. My sacrifice allows the world peace from destruction. How can I turn my back?”
Jered remained silent. Immense solemnity weighed on his brow. Though he did not like it, he understood what had to be done.
“I know. I just wished it wasn’t so. Your loss will be a loss for all of us. I’ll miss you, friend.”
If for nothing else, for Jered. He had given him strength over the years.
“Me too, brother.”
The stairs ended and they came at last to a great hall. Beyond were the doors. The chamber within would be his resting place…for eternity. He took a breath, willing his mind to show courage to his brothers when he entered; they needed to feel assured that their suffering had not been in vain –that hope remained against the dark.
“Are you ready?”
He mustered a smirk.
“Ready as I can ever be.”
They entered the chamber and beheld the sight before them. Their Horadric brothers had gathered in a circle around the edges of the room. They wore tired, desperate looks and tattered robes from their battles. Each regarded Tal Rasha with respect and reverence. A vast pit of molten fire lied in the center with a pillar of earth rising from the heart of it. Only a small wooden bridge lead to the island, upon which there was a mystic stone. Like many across the world, this stone was a natural focal point of magical energies; no doubt that was why the ancient builders of the tombs had chosen this place. Sacred glyphs had been carved upon its surface to channel the binding spells placed on it. The stone would serve to bind him and the demon with the magically forged chains his brothers had prepared. In front of the stone…was Tyrael waiting.
Tyrael was a beacon of light in the lurid darkness. His armor shined with such holy energies that his face was obscured in shade. His wings were luminous tendrils that stretched to the limits of the chamber, beating and undulating as if by their own will. In his hand was the soulstone: a shard of crystal with a sickening yellow light. Even as Tal Rasha beheld it, he could feel the wicked spirit within, struggling to destroy the prison and once more bring its chaos to the world. He came to the threshold of the bridge. Now was the time to do what was necessary. He turned to Jered and set his forehead with his. This was it, the last.
“Be strong, Jered. One remains. The others will look to you to be brave against Terror.”
Jered made no attempt to hold back the tears threatening to push forward. He was losing someone as close to him as anyone could be. His voice came out as a broken whisper.
“I will finish this…for you. Your sacrifice gives us all strength.”
Tal Rasha closed his eyes and breathed a prayer to whatever power there was. He straightened himself and solemnly strode to where Tyrael waited. The angel’s light itself gave him courage and tranquility. When he spoke, Tyrael’s voice resonated with an encouraging tone, abating his doubts.
“Remember the virtue of your choice, mortal. By your actions, the forces of Destruction lie dormant. Though your tribulation will be great, never forget the merit of this sacrifice. Are you ready?”
He nodded slowly. His back to the stone, he kept his face resolute as the chains were bound across his flesh to ever immobilize him. Tyrael brought forth the stone and rested his hand on the mage’s shoulder. In his last moments, Tal Rasha turned to seek out the face of his greatest friend –he was there, watching in worry.
The stone entered him. He contorted against the stone, struggling to escape the unnatural perversion crawling into his body; his mouth could not resist letting out the painful shouts of his soul. He felt the twisted chaos stretch through him, seeking to tear him apart. As the magic of the binding stone surged to life, he saw the angel lead the Horadrim from the chamber; there was nothing more they could do for him. As he felt his mind slipping, he heard that one word from Jered as he sealed the door to the chamber.
Then he saw nothing. Instead he sensed the malignant miasma of the demon lord fill his being. It pushed its essence on him, trying to dominate his being and establish authority over his mind. At first the voice was brutish, savage –speaking in horrible demonic tongues. But as the evil melded with his own mind, the voice became colder, sharper, growing closer to being his own.
“Tal Rasha of the Horadrim…I shall have you.”
He grimaced as the cruel voice sliced into his soul. Even now he had the greatest desire to bring destruction to all he saw. Pushing this aside, he fortified his thoughts.
“No demon, I will fight you. I will remain here in an eternal wrestling with you. Vanquish me if you will, but you have eternity in this place.”
Cold laughter met him.
“Yes, fight. You will struggle, but for naught. At this moment you feel me at the edge of your thoughts. I will grow. I will overtake. That is the nature of destruction, all things fall: mountains, kingdoms, man. All I need is time…and as you said, we have an eternity here...”
As the Horadrim somberly ascended towards the light of day to carry on their quest, the last sounds they heard were the unearthly screams of Tal Rasha echoing through the unending tombs.
- - -
The years had passed. Within this decrepit tomb, in its deepest chambers, the shape of a man stands bound to an ancient stone. He has the wrappings of a mummy, yet as the figure strains against the chains bound across him one realizes he was surely entombed alive. The eyes glow with a nefarious, sulfur-yellow light, revealing no human soul within the shell. Beyond him the room’s structure warps and shifts under the chaotic influence of this creature as though it was its own personal hell. After a while it settles again against the stone, a small sadistic smile filling its decaying face. All the time in the world…an eternity.
“I am destruction. I wait for the world to find me again.”
Part II: Hatred’s Return
He would see reason. He would…or perish. Khalim was a fool. They all had seen the wondrous power of their lord, his ingenious ways, his irresistible will. Sankekur knew. His lord Mephisto had come to them in their thoughts and dreams; he promised unending rule and dominion over the wilderness. The pagans of this world, they would know of the salvation of the Zakarum! They would open their hearts to the teachings of the light and the care of their lord or die for their infidelity. Yet how could they begin their holy crusade, their worldwide mission, if their own leader did not see the arrival of Mephisto as the ascension of their faith? The head of the church, the Que-Hegan, must show unshakable loyalty to the light; if he had his doubts, he was unworthy to remain as Que-Hegan.
He now stood amidst the members of the High Council, lost in debate with Khalim. They crafted insidious arguments to persuade him to the side of Mephisto and spare him the certain consequences of refusing. Lord Mephisto had already told them what must be done if he dissents. Maffer addressed Khalim once more, placating his temper with empty flattery and fraudulent assurances.
“Hail, Que-Hegan Khalim, holy light of the Zakarum. Most high, most mighty, and most puissant Khalim, Maffer throws before your seat a humble heart…”
Khalim held up his hand and beckoned Maffer to rise.
“I must prevent you, Maffer, these crouchings and these lowly courtesies. What heart within you beats, I feel a shadow upon it. What is it you truly seek?”
Maffer’s face tightened in indignation; he withdrew in failure, only to give room to Ismail, who came forward with more enticements and adulation. His voice was deep and soothing, though it now crackled with slight malice.
“Is there no voice more worthy than my own to sound more sweetly in great Khalim’s ear? Surely, you have felt the presence of the prophet and heard his voice reach to you in the silence. Hear his words; they are the promise of greatness and salvation.”
Sankekur kneeled to his side.
“I kiss your hand but not in flattery, oh Que-Hegan, that you may listen to our words and see the truth of it.”
Khalim withdrew his hand in surprise. The harsh shock across his face told all too well the disdain he felt towards the men he had served with for so long. The fool.
“What, you as well, Sankekur?!”
Wyand, the first to had embraced the majesty of Mephisto, approached and gave reverence to his Que-Hegan. It was he who had shared with all of them the power of their lord, the promise of his words and the mission to share his teachings with the world. The dark lord had told them that his teachings were the completion of those of their founder Akarat. His compelling speech had swayed them, opened them to the truth.
“Pardon, Khalim; Khalim, pardon: As low as your foot does Wyand fall to entreat you to know our lord Mephisto’s truth. He is the completion of our faith –if you would only acquiesce to lay aside the law and give ear to him.”
Khalim drew up to his full height, stretched his hands upwards, and resolutely gave forth his declaration.
“Perhaps I could be moved to do so, if I were as you are. But I am constant as the northern star. This truth you bring before me is the evil stink of demons. If your hearts were still filled with the holy teachings and not the perverse corruption of this ‘prophet’ as you call him, you would know the resolve in my words and too fight the influence of this monster. Be it seven days or seven years, I will never yield to this malevolence. Brothers, councilmen, hear me and turn away from Hatred’s words!”
He had chosen, Sankekur knew. If he could not see the incomprehensible promise of Mephisto’s power, there was nothing left to do. The others drew closer. Geleb called out in mocking, sinister voice:
Khalim stepped away toward his chair in unease.
“What, therefore? Will you throw away the light and law of order? Will you lift up Arreat itself?!”
Toorc followed with cruelty in his eyes.
Khalim could not hide the trepidation in his eyes as they darted about in panic and he cried aloud:
“Does only Sankekur still kneel before his leader? What of you, Bremm?”
Bremm removed from his robes a dagger –as did the others. Their intent was now so simply known.
“My hand speaks for me!!”
He was the first to rise up against his Que-Hegan, the dagger tearing into his side. The others followed. Each brought his blade against him, nothing left in their eyes but pure hatred for the fool that refused their offer. He was unworthy, and now dying. Again and again the stabs came on him, ripping away his lifeforce. Blood flowed from beneath his robes, his mouth dripped. He looked at the man who had remained behind, who had almost been his closest council member and who now slowly rose and approached him. His ragged breath pleaded in immense sorrow. He could only beg.
Sankekur briefly beheld his leader, whom he had served and trusted for countless years. He felt regret, for how could he have allowed such horror to befall his benevolent Que-Hegan. Khalim…they had betrayed Khalim! Then, the familiar voice came over him in his thoughts.
“Who is the betrayer? It is not you, Sankekur. He turned away from you, he gave up the chance to rule at your side forever…HE is the traitor.”
His lord was right –he always was. He looked at Khalim again and felt that twinge of regret and sadness. Then, it was gone…snuffed out. There was only hatred now. Wordlessly he raised his blade, and brought it into Khalim’s neck. The blood poured endlessly from the wound as he crumpled onto the floor, the council standing over him with malice in their hearts. He gasped in finality:
“Then fall, Khalim.”
His eyes lulled and rolled upward. He stopped moving, his life leaving him with his blood. They regarded him a moment more and turned to Sankekur –there was more to be done. Bremm spoke:
“Go to the pulpit, Sankekur. The people must know it is done.”
Of all the council members, the people had always held great respect for Sankekur –fitting that he would replace the traitor. They brought the body before the masses, and declared an end to the tyranny of Khalim. The zealots cheered, for they had already accepted Mephisto as their lord. Sankekur announced the beginning of the great conversion, to spread their teachings to the entire world –offer salvation to the repentant and death to the unbelieving. He was made the new Que-Hegan, the spiritual head of this new faith. The council kneeled to him, and ask what was to be done with the body of Khalim.
“His body is filled with holy light. Divide him, tear him apart and scatter his remains across the land. No burial, no funeral pyre for such an infidel to out lord. Dispose of the traitor.”
So it was that Khalim’s body was dismembered and hidden in the darkest recesses of Kurast under the care of vile demons –punishment for his unwillingness to see reason. A powerful sphere called the compelling orb was crafted to firmly control the vast multitudes of followers and guard Mephisto’s lair. Now the greatest reward was coming. In the depths of the temple, the stone that contained our lord was shattered, each a piece for the six archbishops who had put to death the traitorous Khalim. In the left hand of each member a shard was placed and Sankekur watched as the bodies of the council twisted, changed by the immense power coursing through there bodies that came from the essence of their lord Mephisto. The seventh and largest shard was for him –he was to be the very embodiment of the Lord of Hatred. No higher honor could there be. He stabbed the stone into his hand and felt his beloved lord released into his body; he welcomed Mephisto as he became the very form of Hatred itself.
“My lord, let my body be your vessel. I exist to serve your will. Together, we will bring your desires to this world.”
There was a snarl and disturbing chuckle in his mind.
“Foolish mortal, you stink of the living. I despise you for it, the very notion of life. You WILL be my vessel, but I alone shall have it! Farewell, Sankekur, you have served me well.”
He opened his mouth in protest but no words came as the unstoppable strength of the demon lord invaded his being and erased who he was. He convulsed in the darkness and was consumed without a struggle –for he had opened himself completely to Mephisto. The council entered and gazed worriedly upon his body. Then, he rose up, a malicious blue glow in his eyes. They bowed before his magnificent visage and Wyand implored of him:
“My Que-Hegan, are you well?”
The voice that emerged from his throat was cold and hateful…and the voice of but one individual. Even as he spoke his form grew less like that of a man –Sankekur was no more.
“I am now. There is much work to be done. Hatred must be known…to all.”
Part III: Terror’s Return
I’m scared, I don’t like it here. It’s cold and I can’t see anything. My head hurts, but I can’t bring myself to reach up and find out why. This place…It looks like the catacombs under that old cathedral. It has the same smell of a tomb, I don’t like that smell. I got lost here once. I wasn’t supposed to be here; dad says the church is left over from some old religion and we follow the Zakarum now. Dad and his guards spent hours wandering down here looking for me; he was very mad at me and made me promise never to come down here again. I didn’t have to promise, this place scares me like nothing else I’ve ever known. Why am I here?
That voice again. I’ve been hearing it for a while now; I don’t know where it’s coming from but it’s getting louder. I’m trying to remember how I got here, but it’s still fuzzy. The last thing I remember was archbishop Lazarus coming into my room and saying he needed my help. He said dad was in trouble and needed me to do something for him. I believed him, dad had been acting weird the last few weeks: he was angry a lot, he mumbled to himself, he had even sent our soldiers to fight one of the kingdoms we were allies with. So I followed him into the cathedral and down the stairs towards the catacombs. But I didn’t want to go in –I don’t like that place. He…wait…he…grabbed me? Yes, I remember; he hit me and dragged me with him into this place. I begged him to let me go but he just looked at me with a cruel, heartless expression of contempt.
“Scared brat. He will have no trouble overtaking you…so weak.”
Who was he talking about? I don’t understand any of this. There were eyes looking at me from the shadows –they seemed to gleam with their own light like the monsters I’d read about. Lazarus saw them too, but he didn’t look scared…or ever surprised by them.
“Leave us be. This one is for out lord.”
The eyes vanished. Why was he acting like this? He was always so nice to me and everybody else. Was he crazy? He set me down to unlock one of the old iron doors and I could barely do anything except slump against to icy stone wall beside me. With a harsh metallic click the door swung open, flooding the room with flickering torchlight and a rotting stench. As he drug he forward, I looked around and I saw people, dead and bloody. No…NO! Sajai. She was my nanny. She always kept a special eye on me, held me when I was scared, played with me when I was alone. Why her? She was there, broken, twisted in horrible ways. Her hands were gone and strange symbols were etched in her skin; it looked like someone had cut her heart out! Everything started swirling; I was losing focus. It was too much…I fainted. When I woke up, I was here…and Lazarus is gone. Where is dad?
The voice. I’m trying not to tremble but I can’t. The cold is bad, but it’s really because I’m afraid. But I have to know…
“Who are you”
Nothing for the longest time. Maybe I’m hearing things; maybe I hit my head. But the voice that answers in such quaking, growling tones is far from imaginary:
“I am you. You are me.”
“That doesn’t make sense…..I must really be losing my wits.”
“Yes…mad. Like your father. Do you want to know who I am, Albrecht? Who I really am?”
Now I’m terrified. I’m alone with him, I know. And I can’t do anything to stop him. I can’t even move from where I am; it’s as though some great weight is on my body holding me down, like I have no energy or will. The fear is thick in the air –my heart feels like lead in my chest. But I want to know.
“I am the fear in you. Every monster you’ve imagined, seen in your nightmares, I am.”
No. That’s not right. Dreams aren’t real, he’s lying. It’s a trick.
“No trick, child. Shall I show you?"
How does it know what I’m thinking? Is he really in me? No…it’s all magic. He’s a sorcerer or something trying to get in my head. He’s probably the reason dad’s been acting so strange. He must have cast a spell on him or something. Well I won’t help him!
“Leave me alone. I don’t want you here. Let me GO!”
“I’ve only begun, Albrecht. You’re not nearly as strong as your father. Leoric resisted, refused to give in to me; but you will do, your will is weak. Do you believe in demons, Albrecht?”
Dad? What does he mean? Did he do to dad what he was doing to me? Was he the reason dad went mad? No, I don’t believe it…in demons. It’s a lie.
“Demon...yes. Feel my terror, Albrecht. It is the last thing you will ever feel. Already we are uniting, and I reach into your heart.”
A red glow is filling the room, it seems to be coming from….me. I finally reach up and feel it –some kind of stone is in my head. It’s burning but I can’t get it out. All I can see is red now, I feel like I’m falling. The burning in my head isn’t stopping either. It’s like I’m in a nightmare. I see a big scaly red-eyed bird with razor claws and giant lizards vomiting acid at me. This isn’t real, it can’t be…I’ve only seen these monsters in my dreams. But it IS real. The stone has fire coming out of it, filling up the whole room –and the monsters are coming out of the fire. The rocks in the wall are shaping into beasts, skeletons of people long since dead are pulling free from the walls and chains to wander to me. Why are they bowing?
“Go away…go away…go away.”
It’s all I can say. They’re all there: circling, chanting, grinning at me. I’m curled up with my hands over my ears, trying to block them all out; but it’s more than just outside…it’s in me. Whether I close my eyes or stare out…they’re there. What is this place? What if dreams and the real world are all the same here –a living nightmare?
“Do you see know, young prince? They are all from you.”
The room is gone; I walk through the halls, seeing the monsters dance around me in madness. I’m surrounded by fire and boiling blood. They chant and march in this madness, changing shape from my nightmares to the people I know and back again, tearing themselves apart and being reborn in the flames. My father, mother, Sajai, then rotting zombies, hooved beasts and winged horrors, all twisting one into another in a mocking diorama before my eyes. This is hell, I made it.
I can’t take it. If it’s all from me, maybe it’s my fault, maybe I am the demon. The world is twisted, burning. Their cackling fills my ears. They’re waiting for me to crack…to lose my mind…..or have I already lost it? I can’t feel anything anymore…all that’s left is my fear…and the nightmares all around me. I know I’m bleeding…even digging at my eyes does nothing to stop the visions; but there is no pain anymore, only fear.
He speaks again. Not comforting or caring, only commanding. I cling to his words because they are the only strong thing in this madness I have to hold to.
“No, I am Terror.”
So lost, alone, I can only wonder at his order:
“Terror? I am Terror?”
“Yes, not scared…Terror.”
He is right. He is stronger than these nightmares. He can protect me…if I let him.
“I am Terror.”
“Yes, I am…sleep, prince, and let the nightmare awake. I am Terror.”
- - -
The boy shattered. His soul tortured beyond what he could bear. His will was weak, no promise of power in his soul…but he will do. These eyes return to the red blaze they once were; the flesh burns, horns and spikes emerge, as I regain my true shape. My minions are the terrible creations of the boy’s mind, the nightmarish figments of his imagination that haunted his childish mind at night. From his broken soul I laid bare his deepest fears and gave them form; I ripped the terror from his heart and rebuilt myself with it. His weakness gives me strength…I feed on his fear. I flick my hand and the demons, ghouls and ghosts vanish into the passageways of the catacombs, ready to bring true fear to any that encroach on my lair.
Now I will gather my strength, the time is coming when I will leave this wretched place and free my brothers…the plan is moving forward as we intended. A pity I could not have Leoric, for he was much stronger than his son. Yet that same strength kept me from the deepest corners of his mind –he resisted me. No matter, Albrecht is mine until I find someone stronger, then I will truly begin my work. I am the Lord of Terror; I will soon bathe this world and all its mortals in fire, blood, and fear. In my deep, rumbling laughter I pronounce onto the world the words that will shake it from its foundations to the wretched High Heavens:
“Terror is come.”
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