*Slosh slosh slosh* The sounds of laboured steps echo across the misty swamp. The sky is gray, so too is the waters. There is very little in sight but the dark silhouettes of reeds and grasses that dare to rise in this forsaken land.
Two figures emerge from the dense fog, both towing a small boat full of supplies by rope. These are two weary travelers. Their clothes blood stained, soaked and in tatters. Their scuffed and worn armor clattering with each step. The water rises up to their waist. No words are spoken between them the only thing that breaches their silence are their exhausted breathing.
After a time each subsequent step raises them above the water by an inch they are finally making it to land. Their breathing calms as the weight of the water trickles and drips off their bodies. Slowly a massive structure begins to appear before them. It looks to be a wall, it stretches as far as the eye can see and towers before them getting ever more vast as the two approach.
Finally the sound of their boat scraping against the dry ground signals their stop, they’ve finally made it. Years of questing has finally brought them here to the fortress of Alliaen the place where Doom was born.
One of the men, clad in dense metal armor, throws the boat over, emptying its contents. Without a moments hesitation he throws the boat aside and brandishes his weapon. Oddly it appears to be a large pile of muscle and sinew, moist and amorphous. He pulls at one portion of it dragging out a brilliantly even bar from the mass. Both hands grip the newly created handle and it becomes apparent that he is now wielding a great maul. He then smashes the boat to pieces in one swing. His ally who has been standing beside him silently maintains his composure in light of this very jarring action. The armed man slings the mound of flesh over his shoulder and it clings to him, he then proceeds to gather the wood of the boat and toss it to the feet of his friend.
Still with no words passing between parties his ally, a much more lightly equipped fellow, starts to build a fire with the wood he’s been given. No other resources lay among them, only soil, stone and water.
The fire is warm. The two men sit drying and eating dark dried meat. The meat has no spices or seasonings to make it more palatable but any food is far more enjoyed than none as they have had to endure many times during their journey.
“We’ve made it.” Grumbles the heartier of the two men. Behind the dirt and grime lies an orange skinned cat with fire in his eyes. Though this trip has cost him greatly he still holds onto something that keeps him going.
“Yes, but there’s no cause for celebration yet. Our quest will only get harder from here.” Responds the other, a white haired hound. His eyes dashing back and forth as he calculates in his head. He is not wrong, Alliaen is the one who single handedly brought the doom that has crushed most of the world. It would be unwise to underestimate what power is needed to bring such a blight to the earth.
The last of their boat burns into a smoulder, their bellies filled with the last of their food. There will be no need to ration any longer, they will not have time to stop after this. The two wait till the last spark dies out, wishing for a moments more of warmth and rest but it is not granted.
“Are you ready Wolfgang?” asks the light armed man. “… Yes.” he responds. They tighten the clasps on their armour, adjust their clothes and grab the hardware that remains unburned from beside them. Harnesses and hooks. Wolfgang and his companion harness up, lash the harnesses to each other and begin to tack thick nails into the mortar of the wall. It’s much to smooth for them to climb it otherwise. As they slowly make their way up the wall they hear the unpleasant sound of the mortar cracking and shifting, the boulders creak as the wall is disturbed after such a long time. Wolfgang is hammering in the next nail when a clinking from the other side responds to his hammering. He pauses, looks down at his friend then back to the wall. He taps a rhythm into the stone and once again a tapped tune is returned. They sigh and return to the climb, there’s nothing they can do for whom lies behind the wall.
Their climb takes quite a long time but finally they breach the top. They cannot see the ground from which they came through the dense fog. On the other side however lies a thick entangled forest dark and dead. Not a single tree remains alive yet there seems to be motion deep amidst the brush, like a colony of ants skittering along the forest floor. Deep in the center of the forest, atop a hill, sits an immaculate mansion. It is as lavish as it is huge. It towers over the surrounding forest far surpassing even the tallest trees. It’s bright red shingles pierce the otherwise gray landscape all around it. It has strong sharp architecture, wearing dozens of spires and Gothic buttresses.
After taking in the view the two continue onward, approaching a nearby doorway. The light warrior pries the door open exposing a vast dark channel down into the wall. The rolling moans, screams and howls from deep within the stone chambers escape into the outside air ringing in the heroes ears. They are sounds these soldiers are far too familiar with. The white one begins to march into the stairway, immediately after Wolfgang’s hand grabs him by the shoulder halting his advance.
“Hayes. Is this the only way?” he says, hoping the answer is not already what he knows it will be.
“We have no more climbing equipment… We could look for another door but it’s doubtful it will be any more promising than this one.” Hayes responds.
Wolfgang sighs: “Let’s go.”
They brandish their weapons and begin down the stairs, the grim light of the outside fading away to the darkness. A particularly shrill howl of agony echoes throughout.
As their eyes finally adjust to the faint torch light scattered throughout the cavernous halls Wolfgang and Hayes are not surprised by the environment they have just entered. Moldy pestilent rocks encase everything within, endless repetitive cells line every stretch of hallway and the howling from deep within never wanes. There’s a chill that sucks the will from your bones, it makes every motion slow and strenuous. The stagnant odor of decay clings to their noses.
They continue into the depths of the wall. Strangely all the cells are empty, not a single entity has been met. The wailing and screaming however, does not fade no matter where they go. Four floors down and the two have still not met a single prisoner or foe. Finally as the heroes turn a corner they hear a faint weeping from further down the path. Wolfgang perks up and begins to run down the hallway into the darkness.
Hayes shouts in a panic as he runs after him: “Don’t! There may be trap-“. He is interrupted by the sight of Wolfgang standing still in front of a cell, he is calm. Inside the cell is a bony, gray individual with no hair and a couple of shreds of fabric hanging from their body. Neither Wolfgang nor Hayes can even determine their sex. They sit there weeping into their hands completely unresponsive to their presence.
Wolfgang swings his fleshy weapon into a striking stance for the cells lock but before swinging realizes that the door is unlocked. He puts the maul down and gentle swings the door open. He drops to his knee halfway into the cell and outstretches his arms. “It’s okay, we can take you out of here.” he says with a tender caring voice. The prisoner stops weeping. Hayes relaxes his shoulders, relieved that this poor soul has stopped crying.
The prisoner begins to lift its head, slowly sliding their hands down and off their face. Wolfgang’s expression drops. The persons eyes are gone, bloody streaks are trailing down their face. Before he can get back to his feet they leap onto him, knocking him to his back. This creature begins howling this loud drawn out siren-like yell that radiates through the dungeon, blood drains from its mouth onto Wolfgang. Moments later one razor thin streak of blood shoots through its head killing it instantly. Hayes has his weapons out, one in each hand. They are two metal hook swords but with cupped hooks which seem to pool endlessly with blood.
“Thanks.” Wolfgang grumbles in frustration. Hayes nods. Wolf shoves the limp body of the prisoner aside. He gets up and proceeds to dust himself off but stops abruptly. He gets a disgruntled face and his eyes glaze over, he hears something faint. He looks over to Hayes who looks just as disturbed. There’s a rumbling, they are beginning to feel it in the floor. Finally it becomes more clear, it sounds like there’s a stampede coming towards them. Both heroes burst into a full on sprint away from the oncoming sound as always they react in an unspoken synchroneity. They are ripping through the hallways taking random turns to evade the coming horde but it gets closer and closer. The two begin to see the creatures in the darkness, they are all howling and groaning in a frenzy. Every one of them is a prisoner, all missing their eyes and trailing blood from their gored faces. Some are encroaching on the heroes, Hayes quickly dispatches them with surgically precise bursts of blood from his weapons.
After they sprint down a uniquely long hall a wooden door is rapidly approaching. Wolfgang readies his weapon letting it trail behind him for one big swing. Hayes continues to dispatch any ghouls that advance from the hoard behind. Wolfgang meets the door and heaves a mighty swing. *BAM* The door cracks but does not give way to his monolithic strike. The two are stopped in their tracks.
“GET THAT DOOR DOWN!” Hayes barks in a panic, seeing the wall of enemies charging into them like a tidal wave.
Wolfgang smashes the door once more, it still doesn’t give way. Hayes digs his feet in and leans into a stance, he waits a few moments as the wall of enemies gets closer.
*CRASH* Once again Wolfgang strikes the door, it is becoming damaged but still remains steadfast. Hayes exhales.
Another giant hit from Wolfgang against the door, nothing. The enemies finally meet Hayes, in a flurry of swings both blood and blade carve through handfuls of enemies at a time. Bullet like bursts of blood slide between ghouls striking those in the back while in the same swings the blades hack the closest enemies to pieces. It is a deadly juggling act of allowing some to advance past the trajectories of blood to meet the strikes from the swords themselves.
*SLAM CRUNCH* Finally Wolfgang’s maul of flesh breaches the door, smashing it into splinters. Frustratingly pieces of it still hang from the hinges and inversely the latch. Wolfgang hops into the newly opened room, peers around and shouts: “Clear!” to which Hayes begins to retreat. The room they’ve entered is slightly larger, it seems to be a torture chamber. “I’m ready to play.” Grumbles Wolfgang in excitement. He pulls the flesh into two gauntlets around his hands, they tighten and solidify into rock hard mitts. Hayes presses his shoulder to Wolfs and they hold a collective stance allowing the horde to pool in through the shattered door.
Dozens of ghouls clamour over each other to enter the chamber, the final pieces of the door finally give way and even more enemies enter completely unhindered. The heroes begin to strike down the masses of enemies with an even greater efficiency than Hayes alone. Timing their strikes and moving with each others rhythms allows them to flow among the battle. They carve their way through the horde, Wolfgang striking and blocking multiple ghouls with each fist while Hayes dances around Wolf letting out a blurred frenzy of strikes.
Hayes cleaves the last foe and pauses, weapons ready in case an unexpected attack comes. Wolfgang too holds his stance, ready for what may come. The two are met with silence.
The white soldier holsters his weapons and his friend follows suit. They are breathing heavily from such a demanding assault, if they had run much longer they might have not been able to handle the horde.
Wolfgang looks around, sorrow covers his face. “These were all people once…” he states. Hayes also mentions “I cannot even believe what must be done to turn someone into these things…” They take a moment, briefly appreciating the loss of each life in this chamber as well as those still suffering in this prison. Their moment passes and they continue off into the depths of the wall.
It would be marvelous if the death and carnage these two have left were a shock to them but in this era the most naive and innocent around would be considered a cynic in the times before.
The lands were lush and vast for all the people of the world. There was farming, trade, arts and even, in the bigger cities, alchemists and doctors. People were thriving across the globe. Though there was war and strife, most never saw it or had to take part. However, the far off wars became more prevalent. It seemed that for some reason the people there were becoming more barbaric and ruthless. Nobody paid much mind to the tales and the rumours that emanated from the land, it was far too absurd. Ghouls? Ghosts? They were just old wives tales. What mattered more was the blight people spoke of, but that was simply avoided by not getting too close to the foreigners.
Eventually things began to change. This war was creeping in, however the band of barbarians was not what they seemed. Legions of vacant soldiers armed in scraps and shreds, grey and and covered in grime and disease. Some of these soldiers even stood stalwart with missing limbs and mortal wounds. There were creatures, animals you could say, which towered over the soldiers. They were nothing one could see in these parts, some argue they are something one can’t see anywhere as they are abominations to god.
There stood Wolfgang and Hayes shoulder to shoulder, peering from the defensive line atop a great hill. They are strangers to each other, drafted to the defense of their city. They were youthful, strong and proud but any veteran soldier could tell they were scared. Hell, the veterans too were scared, this was no army ever faced by their people.
The approaching forces stretched far off to either side, their city however, was no weak competitor either. Abruptly the enemy began a full throttle charge towards the defenses, the thumping of the tens of thousands of feet was a humbling experience.
“ARCHERS READY!” he shouts, all the archers in unison raise their bows and draw. The stretching and creaking of the bows ripple out from either side of them as the radiates across the line.
“SOLDIERS HOLD!” shouted one of the generals. The soldiers are limbering up, the sporadic clatter of their armor is the only thing apart from the charging forces that can be heard.
“VOLLEY THE ARROWS!” he shouts, the twang of thousands of bows letting fly their first arrows was deafening. The arrows sound like a flock of birds passing by just overhead. The arrows dust the enemy forces, knocking some to the ground to be immediately pulverized by the numbers behind.
“SOLDIERS HOLD!” shouts the general again, the opposing army continues getting closer. Wolfgang, Hayes and the rest of the draftees are getting anxious. Just then a lone greenhorn starts charging out, he screams a heavy battle call. More begin to follow.
“DAMNIT I SAID HOLD!” shouts the general but his commands fall on deaf ears.
“HOLD!” he shouts once more. The majority of the solders, those who kept their wits continue to hold. A couple hundred charged out from the group. Nearly instantaneously they are swallowed up by the horde, their charge continuing completely unaffected by the lost soldiers.
“SOLDIERS READY!” the general shouts. Row after row of soldiers kneel down holding out a shield and brandishing their sword, those one beside them brace a spear onto their right shoulders and brace the shield bearer with their weight. Five rows lay between the two and the legion charging in.
Wolfgang looks over his shoulder to his white haired partner. He puts on the most calm face he can and says “Get ready.”
Hayes nods and adjusts his stance, firming his pressure against Wolfgang’s back and spreading his hands on the shaft of the spear.
The legion bears down on the defensive army, burying the first few rows in the corpses of those that struck the spears. If they didn’t die from the aggressors attacks they were surely trampled by the ongoing charge into the forces. Wolfgang and Hayes fought valiantly, sticking together as one. They knew that without what the other could provide they were even more assured of their death. The battle raged for hours, however for the allied soldiers it was simply a means of survival. At this point the enemy forces were thinned enough for the remaining soldiers to overcome them but the truth was that every enemy unattended, every enemy that could slip through the defensive line did. Wherever the defensive line was overcome and ravaged the enemy horde simply continued their charge into the city.
Wolfgang and Hayes survived, along with a few hundred other soldiers. However, they knew that there was no city to return to. Some of the other soldiers were in denial, claiming that they killed all the enemy forces or that the city would be able to defend against the stragglers. The rest knew plainly that they had lost, their only consolation was that they continue to live.
A handful of upper ranking soldiers rallied the remaining fighters to make a recovery and rescue attack on the city. With some luck they could regain control of the town, otherwise they’d die an honorable death. Many disbanded into the surrounding land but the orange and white comrades were some who stayed. Wolfgang had a large family in the city. Hayes wanted to rescue as many citizens as he could.
When they arrived at the city all was still, there was no battle to be had. The battalion wandered the smoldering wreckage in search of survivors. There were some, buried in the wreckage or hidden, but was mostly found was carnage.
The heroes are far deeper into the prison, they’ve lost count of how many floors it’s been. The path has been mind numbingly winding and repetitive. They may be aware of the immediate halls but to recall their path through five, ten, twenty floors of dank, cold, stone halls and chambers just cannot be done. They finally enter a curious chamber. On the other side lies an immaculate arch. Within the arch is a wall, which stands apart from the others as it is smoothed nearly to a polish and has no cracks or seams. Before it sits a raised pedestal etched with a foreign symbolic language and on top rests a stone statue.
The statue depicts a man kneeled down with his arms held out to either side of him. Protruding out from his mouth is the hilt of a large claymore, which has pierced through him and passed through the base of his spine. The point of the claymore rests delicately on the surface of the pedestal, perfectly centered. The statue is incredibly detailed, it maintains even the texture of the fibres of the fabric that the figure is wearing.
Centered in front of the statue against the smooth wall within the arch is a plaque. On it is etched: “Step upon the pedestal. You will bear the burden your weapon holds. Only then will the path be clear to you.”
“Hrm…” hums Hayes inquisitively as he reads the plaque. “It seems like we just need to step onto the podium.” He tries to push the statue but it is firmly planted on the pedestal. He steps back, “How do you suppose-”
*SMASH* Wolfgang’s maul smashes into the statue shattering it to pieces that tumble and scatter all over the chamber floor. “… Fair enough.” he says.
Wolfgang states: “I think I’ll step on the platform. I’d like it if you have the freedom to figure out how to keep the door open while I just weigh it down or whatever happens.”
“Good, I’ll do just that.” Hayes responds.
Wolfgang steps onto the platform, he stands there casually for a bit and looks around waiting for something to happen. All of a sudden he kneels down. “Uh?” he mutters in surprise. “What?” asks Hayes. “I didn’t kneel on my-” Wolfgang continues but is interrupted by his flesh weapon swinging out from him on it’s own. The two are shocked. The flesh stretches in a band from the bottom rim of the pedestal up above Wolfgang’s head. “Hayes! What’s going o-” Wolfgang is once again interrupted when the flesh swings around stretching into a sphere around him. His voice is muffled from inside. He is struggling inside the flesh, its walls are swelling out in the shape of his fingers and fist. Before Hayes can think of anything to do the muscle contracts, it stretches along the general shape of Wolfgang, meeting resistance, but then with a visceral crunch it constricts into a sphere roughly half the size it was in the beginning. It turns to stone.
Hayes is stunned, his mouth hangs open. In a panic he first things to take a swing at the stone musculature but stops his strike midway. He looks at the remnants of the statue strewn over the floor. The wall within the arch begins to fade away catching Hayes’ eye. It completely vanishes exposing another stretch of chamber. It’s pitch black within. He leans down nearly pressing his face against Wolfgang’s statue and yells: “Wolf! I’m going to go further into the chamber, hopefully I’ll find something to unlock… you.” he stammers at the end of his statement.
The lone white warrior pries a torch from the wall in the chamber and treks into the chamber. He worries that perhaps to open the door cost a life. Thinking like that however, would not solve the issue at hand. Hayes livens himself, shaking off the stress of what just transpired and peers thoroughly across the surfaces of the hallway. Ahead lies a pile of bones. Hayes approaches it but right as it comes into visible range a loud puff of air blasts from out in front of him. A plume of dust trails in from the darkness. Hayes looks down to the skeletal remains and sees a spear tangled up within the fabric, armor and bones. That was meant for him. Now that he was aware Hayes walked very gingerly forward. The hallway turns soon after the skeleton.
From where he stood Hayes could see an opening to natural light far off in the distance. He made his way warily, making sure there were no more traps to be triggered. He continues onward and he’s finally beginning to make out what lies past the opening. Tree trunks, ragged bushes and a pedestal that looks the same as the one Wolfgang is on. It was the forest inside of the walls. But then a tall lumbering figure steps into view. Much of the light that was bathing the stone walls is blocked behind it’s huge silhouette. Hayes hears it let out a low grumbling moan. He has to get to that pedestal, he tenses his grip on his swords and charges in. The Goliath makes his way tightly into the passage.
When in range Hayes lets out a barrage of bloody projectiles. They only lightly pierce the creature with rapid thwacks. Hayes steps right up to the thing and strikes it with both hands across the belly, gore spills out as a huge meaty fist comes crushing down on him. It narrowly misses him but catches the hook of his blade knocking it out of his hands and to the giants side. It advances on him letting out a more alert roar, its steps speeding up. Hayes grabs his remaining blade with both hands and charges in again. He cleaves a huge hit into its belly again, still it doesn’t seem to mind. It swings at him once more, this time Hayes side steps it. Jabbing the blade into its elbow. He hears a snap as the tendons tear and it’s bones separate. Its one hand is now just being held on by flesh and skin. It grabs at him with its other hand, it almost catches him at the end of its reach but Hayes was too nimble. It advances some bit more, it is still getting more frenzied by the battle. It’s guts trail behind it dragging against the floor, with a few more steps they pull what remains from its bowels out from it’s cavity. These creatures truly are abominations.
Hayes makes another attempt at felling the creature. He gets close to bait an attack, the ogre is simple enough to fall for it. Hayes easily steps away from the strike, charges it and kicks off of its exposed pelvic bone driving him up to the ceiling. With one hearty chop Hayes cleaves the beasts head from its shoulders causing its body to slump down instantly.
Hayes steps back a moment, waiting for the remnants of energy to leave the creature, then sighs. The hero climbs over the corpse of his enemy and over to his weapon. He holsters the two swords and continues out from the dungeon he had been trapped in for hours. The stagnant blighted air never felt so fresh.
To the side of the passage is a second pedestal with another plaque, it reads: “Stand upon this pedestal to relieve the burden of your ally.”
Hayes proceeds to step onto the platform. He waits. Soon he hears rock shift and crack, from the pedestal centered to the door, the muscular orb statue rises. It’s as if the stone from the pedestal itself is creating it. The stone turns back into flesh and the orb swells back to its larger size. The meat peels away and Wolfgang slumps over from his kneeled position. He looks ghostly, his eyes are wide open. He’s trembling and wheezing as he pants. He’s on his knees holding himself up with his hands and staring at the floor.
“Wolfgang.” Hayes says.
Wolfgang does not respond to him. He puts his hand over his face and begins to cry though his hand does nothing to mask his feelings. He reels over as he begins to bawl. He chokes back his tears for a moment to say: “I felt it the whole time. It shattered my body, every bone. I wouldn’t die, I couldn’t escape it!” He continues to cry.
Some time passes and the two heroes are sitting up against the inner wall looking into the forest. The woods are deep, vast and gnarled. No path in seems any less dense than any other. Wolfgang heaves himself up by his maul and announces: “There’s no time like the present.”
“Agreed.” responds Hayes. He gets up and hocks a loogie out beside him.
The two march into the forest, ever onward on their quest to destroy Alliaen, the lord of darkness. If they were to fail, nothing would be able to stop the world from being overcome by his blight.