Here's the full run of this comedy series.
- Thanksgiving in Sanctuary-- Originally posted Nov 2002. Repost: Nov 2009.
- Christmas in Sanctuary -- Originally posted Dec 2002. Repost: Dec 2009.
- Valentine's Day in Sanctuary -- Originally posted Feb 2003. Repost: Feb 2010.
- Easter in Sanctuary -- Originally posted April 2003. Repost: April 2010.
- Halloween in Sanctuary -- Originally posted Oct 2003. Repost: Oct 2010.
- Epilogue: A Thanksgiving "Feast" -- Originally posted Nov 2003. Repost: Nov 2010.
These stories feature the game characters interacting with the monsters on a social level and in a somewhat contemporary setting, exchanging gifts, arguing, flirting, etc. These tales break the fourth wall, and enjoying the humor requires the reader to step outside the game's typical framework and view it as an ongoing fiction, rather than a matter of life and death.
Here's the story, as originally posted on Halloween, 2003. Original feedback and commentary from 2003 is included in a post after the story:
Halloween in Sanctuary
Countless torches and flickering candles illuminated and outlined the manor house and grounds, the flames flickering gently. Brown leaves drifted down from the trees, and the jack-o-lanterns and skulls skewered atop the points of the low, wrought-iron fence around the small graveyard were almost hidden by the thick ground-fog that came flowing down the hillside and billowing over the ancient, eroded tombstones. Both sides of the long gravel walkway leading towards the house were outlined by small red candles, and a huge, dead tree in front of the mansion bore half a dozen slowly-swinging bodies, the ropes around their necks creaking in the late autumn breeze.
The seven characters stood together, looking over the scene, weapons at the ready. "Well," the Assassin said, "you can't fault their decorations."
The Amazon and Druid both nodded, and everyone pretended not to hear the Necromancer mumbling. He'd been grumbling about what a better job he could have done decorating a haunted house since they'd first spied the monsters' mansion atop the hill, a quarter hour past.
"Can someone tell me why we're even here, again?" the Paladin asked, the tension and annoyance easy to hear in his voice. "It's not as if they didn't break the holiday truce and nearly kill us all last Easter."
"I'm not worried." said the Necromancer, causing everyone in the party to roll their eyes.
"We're here because we were invited, and it sounded like fun." the Sorceress said, breaking in before the Necromancer could get going again. "The demons swore they'd behave, and invited us to bring all of our best weapons and wear our best armor, and they'll never take us by surprise again. We were fools to split up and trust them at that Easter egg hunt."
"And don't forget that we've got most of Baal's minions locked up back at the castle." The Amazon added. "He sent them to us freely, as hostages to demonstrate his good will."
"Yes, and we all know how loyal and protective Baal is of his minions." the Paladin sneered.
"Plus, Baal's Minions are being guarded by the town guards, so what could possibly go wrong?" the Necromancer asked with his most sarcastic voice.
"Our mercenaries are there as well. They'll keep things under control." the Amazon said, reassuringly.
"I still say we should have brought the mercs with us." The Paladin muttered.
"Yes, you've been saying that all night!" the Sorceress answered, angrily. "We voted, and no mercs. Maybe you don't mind, but no one else could stand to hear their damn, 'I'll put that to good use.' remark every single time we gave them some candy."
"Ugg trick! Ugg treat! Ugg candy!"
The other six characters turned to look back at the Barbarian, and the Sorceress couldn't help but smile as she spoke slowly. "Yes Ugg, trick or treat candy. Just be patient a while longer."
The Barbarian was walking to the rear of the group, slowed by his burden, and his costume. What he carried was ridiculous, and his outfit even worse.
The Barbarian was carrying pair of pumpkins, the largest pumpkins any of the humans had ever seen. Ugg had lopped off the tops off of both of them, scooped out the seeds and gross stringy stuff (much of which was still stuck to his arms and body) and strung a heavy chain across the open tops of each, thus creating two giant gourd buckets. He was carrying them both on a long metal pole across his shoulders, each one hung by the chain from one end of the pole, and even the powerful Barbarian was staggering under their combined weight.
"You know, Ugg..." the Assassin began, in her sweetest voice, "I think either one of those would be more than enough to carry your trick or treat loot in. Or perhaps just a woven basket?"
Ugg looked at her, sweat streaming down his brow, and shook his head. "Ugg candy..." he gasped, taking another staggering step along the gravel pathway.
His costume was equally ridiculous, though it did at least provide him freedom of movement. Baal's message had said that all humans and demons would be welcome this night, and somehow when Ugg heard the note read out, he had taken it to mean "humans dressed as demons." He was therefore wearing a pair of giant wooden wings that he had painted himself, along with pointed slippers, a small mask with horns on top, and nothing else. Nothing but a black g-string, one that left unfortunately little to the imagination.
The Amazon, Sorceress, and Assassin had been unable to take their eyes off of him for a good thirty seconds after he'd first trotted up to the meeting point, and even now, more than an hour later, the Assassin kept stealing glances over her shoulder, then looking fixedly at the Amazon walking in front of her, and muttering things about "Trying it just once..."
The male characters, and the females once they got over their shock, all urged Ugg to don his heaviest armor and take his best weapons, but he would have none of it. He was going dressed as a Succubus and he wanted candy, and nothing anyone said about their near deaths due to monster treachery at their last get together, back in the spring, would change his mind.
The Paladin had suggested that he could go as a different demon, one that wore armor and carried a weapon. Izual perhaps?
Ugg listened, but would have none of it, so while he was nearly naked, the other humans were wearing full plate mail, with eye-masks their only concessions to costume. Even with their armor and steel, they remained quite wary, and had only grown more so when they reached the address and found the great gates of a country manor thrown wide open. There were dozens of orange and black balloons tied to the gate and fence, party signs with glow in the dark letters, and a large basket of candied apples.
The Necromancer and Paladin had each taken an apple and begun to carefully turn them over in their hands, and the Sorceress had thrown one down and incinerated it with a Fireball, then picked through the ashes to see if there were any scorched razor blades or needles left behind. Before anyone else could do anything, Ugg had reached the basket and crammed an entire apple into his mouth, dumped the basket into one of his hollowed-out pumpkins, and grabbed another one in his left fist, all without lowering his massive pumpkin baskets for a moment.
All eyes turned to him as he messily chewed up the first one, and then ripped the second off of the wooden spike and chomped it up as well, seeds and all. Balancing the long staff on his shoulders, he used the wooden spike from the apple to pick his teeth for a moment, before he flicked the stick into the long grass and noticed everyone staring at him in horror.
"Want apple?" Ugg asked, gesturing with his head towards the pumpkin barrel to his left.
"Well, I guess we can rule out needles and razor blades." the Sorceress said.
"And if he doesn't turn green inside of a minute, we can rule out poison as well." the Druid added.
The Assassin opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it, shaking her head. She turned back towards the large manor they could see way down the pathway and started walking, and all of the others fell in behind her, Ugg bringing up the rear, gnawing on the apple the Paladin had been handling and wondering if the Necromancer was going to eat his or what.
It took them fifteen minutes to walk down the long entrance drive, and the closer they got to the great house, the creepier it looked. The grounds were well-lit, and torches on the roof outlined the roof, but much of the three story house remained dark and foreboding, and faint screams and snarls could be heard echoing out of the house and up from deep below the graveyard. Tiny figures raced around the front steps, darting from shadow to shadow, and there were loud thumps and smashes, as if a blind titan were thrashing for freedom in some interior room.
None of the humans showed any fear, but they all gripped their weapons and made sure their armor was tightly-fastened as they approached the entrance. Ugg was still setting the pace, but instead of the others slowing to allow him to keep up, they were now walking just fast enough to stay ahead of him, and the two massive pumpkins he carried bumped into the back of more than one other hero as the manor drew nearer.
Suddenly they were spotted, for a great chorus of howls and cries rose up from the small figures racing around in the front yard. The Amazon nocked an arrow as the creatures streamed into the manor, and a large demon came striding down the front steps. It stopped on the front walk, clearly awaiting the humans, and as they drew closer, their confusion grew.
"Is that Andariel?" The Druid mused, and the others could only shake their heads, unable to recognize the tall demon in the flickering light.
It wasn't until they were practically within Frost Nova range that they recognized Diablo, and they walked in closer before stopping, all looking to their sides and rear constantly. Diablo greeted them with a smile, though with his fangs this was hardly reassuring. His red scales were entirely covered in light blue paint, and his spikes were colored white. He wore a fur kilt around his waist, and a long braid of hair hung from the soul stone in his forehead. Meeting their confused looks, Diablo smiled. "What, is my Barbarian costume that bad?"
Ugg grinned and laughed, while the other humans just looked at Diablo in amazement.
"What, did you think only humans got to dress up on Halloween?" he asked with a laugh. "Oh, and pardon my manners. Welcome to our haunted mansion!"
He turned and gestured towards the door with a flourish as he spoke, and laughed out loud. When none of the characters moved a step, and the only sound was the creak of leather as gloves were tightened on weapon handles, Diablo gestured again, this time with a bit less style.
"What?" the demon asked. "It's a haunted house. You go in, walk from room to room, pretend to be scared when a demon jumps up, and so on. Where you people raised by wolves?"
The Druid coughed at that, but no one else said anything until Ugg muttered, "Tricks and treats."
Diablo raised a white-painted eyebrow, then turned to look at the Assassin as she spoke. "Why should we trust you, after you tried to kill us when last we met. Foul demon!"
Diablo looked wounded.
"My dear human friends... can't we put that behind us? Mistakes were made, casualties were suffered, and we deeply regret our treachery. Duriel and Mephisto were in a foul mood, and Baal and I foolishly allowed ourselves to be drawn into their scheme. I assure you, there will be nothing but sweetness and sugar for you tonight."
"Sweets?" Ugg said, perking up.
"Yes Ugg, more candy than you can ever hope to eat. I promise."
That promise would have been good enough to get Ugg to stride forth into any peril, but the other heroes remained far from convinced. The Paladin frowned, and spoke loudly. "What fools do you take us for, monster? You spoke of friendship and having us for dinner some months ago, only to reveal that we were to be the dinner! Do you hope to take us unawares again?"
"Quite right!" added the Necromancer. Do you hope to spit and roast us tonight?"
Diablo raised both eyebrows at this, and managed to look offended; not an easy task while covered in light blue war paint and burdened with scales, horns, and teeth longer than butcher knives. "I assure you, we have no plans to roast anyone tonight. We have already supped, though we would love to share a gourmet dessert with you. There is candy galore, and more to be made, but I was sure you would prefer to tour our haunted house first. Baal and Andariel spent so much time on some of the exhibits, and little demon children are so difficult to scare..."
Seeing nothing but suspicion and doubt on the faces of the humans, Diablo spoke again. "I promise you, we intend nothing but some minor scares in the haunted house, and then a great candy reward for you humans. I swear it on my soulstone."
"Oh alright, we'll step into your haunted house, Monster." snarled the Assassin. "But we're taking our weapons and wearing our armor, and the first demon that dares touch us is going back to the Hells in pieces." She dragged her claws against each other for emphasis as she finished, sparks shooting from them and pattering onto the ground.
"By all means," said Diablo. "I promise you that no demon will touch you with murder in his heart. Just be careful of the children; they can be enthusiastic."
"What children?" asked the Paladin.
"Why our children. These children." Diablo answered. "Halloween is a holiday much loved by the young demons, just as human children love it in your villages. We could scarcely keep them out of the red portals when they heard what we were planning this year on your mortal plane. You know how children love candy."
"Ugg love candy too!" shouted the Barbarian, who felt strongly that there was too much talk and not enough candy.
While Diablo talked, small shapes were crowding into the manor doorway, and when Ugg shouted they came streaming down the tall steps, halting behind Diablo in a wide semi-circle. Each of the heroes readied for combat, but once the young demons could be seen in the torchlight, the humans lowered their weapons. How could they have fought creatures so adorable?
Every sort of demonic beast faced them, but they were all tiny, few of them any larger than a Fetish, and the anatomical grotesqueries that made adult demons fearsome were simply adorable when reproduced at one tenth the scale. Claw Vipers no longer than a table leg hissed and slithered, baby minotaurs with tiny little hatchets stomped their feet, miniature Rot Walkers dragged their butter knives, and fluttering Succubi small enough to live in a bird cage flitted about overhead.
"Oh... my... god!" the Amazon shrieked, giggling and clutching her hands together. The Paladin and Druid rolled their eyes as she stepped forward and dropped to her knees, then held out an arm and wiggled her fingers. She was gooing and cooing at a pack of tiny Yeti, none of them taller than her knee, and all of them snarling ferociously. After a moment the boldest of the little furry creatures snarled and dashed forwards, and proceeded to savage the Amazon's hand, his tiny teeth and claws not strong enough to do more than put light scratches on her leather gloves.
The Paladin and Assassin were momentarily alarmed, but relaxed when the Amazon squealed with delight and tussled with the furry creature, pushing him onto his back and rubbing his belly while he pawed and kicked at her. "Ohh! He's so fierce!" the Amazon cooed, before snatching the monster up and cuddling him to her breastplate.
The humiliated little Yeti struggled for a moment, then seemed to realize what he was being cuddled against, and relaxed, sliding his little paws over the burnished metal that separated him from the Amazon's most recognizable feature.
Diablo broke things up by shooing the little demons away, and as they scattered, most of them pouring back into the house, the Amazon kissed her Yeti on the forehead, then placed him back on his feet.
"As you can see, our children are here tonight," Diablo said, "and you must know we would not risk their lives with some ill-advised ambush."
The Paladin, Druid, and Sorceress traded a look, nodded, then started walking towards the front door.
"Excellent!" said the demon. "Let me show you around. And may I compliment you on your excellent costumes?"
The Paladin and Druid went first, walking past Diablo and up the front steps, with the Assassin and Sorceress close behind them.
"So, did you all shop at the same costume shop?" Diablo asked.
The Sorceress gave him a look, then winced as Diablo continued. "I must admit I'm surprised by your costume, Sorceress. No broomstick?"
The Necromancer laughed at this, earning himself a dirty look from the Sorceress and the Paladin. "Never fear," said the Necromancer. "I'll protect you all from the savage baby monsters. Protecting you is what I do best, after all."
It was Diablo's turn to chuckle at this, and he observed the dirty looks the Necromancer was getting with interest. "What, do you humans regret the Necromancer's clever rescue? I would expect a bit more gratitude, given that he saved you all when you were helpless before me and my brothers."
The dirty looks turned towards Diablo at this, and he chuckled again.
"We have never denied the debt we owe the Necromancer, not that it's any of your business." the Paladin said, his teeth grinding. "It's the fact that our comrade feels the need to bring up his one moment of glory at every available opportunity that has worn a bit thin."
The bitter conversation was interrupted by a grunt and a crash, and everyone turned to see Ugg gasping for breath on his knees, his pumpkins on the ground beside him, the pole he'd been using to carry them resting atop them, and several inches above Ugg's shoulders. "Heavy..." he panted. "Candy..."
Diablo spoke, his voice fairly purring. "Leave them there, Ugg. I dare say none of the children could hope to move them, and we'll be sure you do not leave here without filling them both with sweets of some kind."
The Sorceress turned her head, sure that she heard some mockery or sarcasm in Diablo's voice, but when no one else picked up on it, she pushed her worries aside. Ugg didn't look convinced, but he left the pumpkins on the front walk, and trudged up the steps after the others, flexing his massive shoulders and arms and feeling his wooden wings to be sure they were still unfurled to the sides.
"Where are your brothers, Diablo? And Andariel and all of the rest of the demons?" the Sorceress asked.
"Ohh, Mephisto and Baal are here in different rooms. You'll see them soon enough, and I'm sure you will enjoy their exhibits."
"You know, this isn't a toy axe, Diablo." said the Druid, hefting his massive two-handed axe from one shoulder to the other and transforming into a wolf for just long enough to send hair rippling along his arms and legs. "If any of you demons think to attack us by surprise from the cover of a haunted house display, you will regret it." The other humans murmured their assent, and looked angrily at Diablo.
"I certainly understand your worries, my human friends. But I assure you, we have only the sweetest of intentions towards you. See how the young demons follow the path that we walk? They are everywhere in this house, enjoying the exhibits as much as you will."
There was a red line painted on the floor, and Diablo followed it as it turned into a room to the left, arrows beside the line pointing the correct direction. The humans crowded into the room behind Diablo, and all stared across the room towards a large curtain, eerie music filtering out from behind it.
Diablo grasped a long rope mounted up near the ceiling, and bellowed, "Behold!" as he yanked the curtains back.
The humans all tensed for attack, and flinched at the sight the curtains revealed. Across the room, lit brilliantly by an overhead chandelier, stood a grisly tableaux. A waxen Barbarian stood in the corner, his huge axe dripping with purple demon blood, a fierce snarl on his face. One of his hands held a scalpel, and there was a table covered with taxidermy tools by his side, bloody hunks of demon hide and scales stuck in most of the blades and scrapers. The wall behind him was covered with mounted demon heads, most of them bearing deep axe cuts and other gory injuries, and a fresh demon corpse laid on his work bench, while a small cage held two baby Balrogs, their pitiful cries for help ringing through the room.
The little demons gasped at the scene and fell back, and their trembling only increased when Diablo shouted, "His axe is hungry, and you may be next!" After a moment longer, he yanked the rope again, the curtain pulled shut, and the excited gaggle of baby demons moved on, following the line on the floor into the next room. The humans lagged behind.
"Is this supposed to scare us, Diablo?" asked the Sorceress.
Diablo looked puzzled. "You? Well I guess not. This haunted house is meant to scare the young demons... I suppose we didn't exactly consider how you humans would react to it. And anyway, what model could we build that would frighten you brave adventurers?"
The humans traded looks while the Paladin preened a bit at this admission of his fearlessness.
"And I suppose it's good that you all have on masks." Diablo added, giving Ugg a long, speculative look. "Especially the Barbarian. As you can see, the little demons are quite terrified of his type, but they don't recognize you all with your masks on. Perhaps they think you are all ugly demons in human costumes?"
He walked on with a laugh, and the humans followed him, trading glances and shrugs amongst themselves.
The next three rooms were much the same; exhibits of various heroes killing or torturing demons, with very realistic demon corpses and blood. The humans were less realistic, all clearly sculpted from wax, but they seemed real enough to the little demons, who squealed in terror at every new room and leaped back in fear whenever a demon wearing a human mask lurched out of the shadows and yelled at them.
After the fourth room they entered a long hallway, and turned up some stairs, still following the painted arrow on the floor. While Diablo herded the young demons along, the humans paused on the landing.
"What is the point in all of this?" asked the Paladin. "It's no wonder the demons hate us so, with scenes like this in their young minds. Where are the scenes of demons sweeping down on defenseless human villages? Or creeping into human homes at night and stealing the babies, or cutting the father's throat in the darkness?"
"It's a demon haunted house." answered the Assassin. "Of course they're going to show humans as the monsters. You can hardly expect an exhibit recreating the cook fires and spits they almost roasted us over?"
"And they would have roasted you all. If I hadn't saved you." the Necromancer was quick to interject, earning him five bored groans. Only Ugg didn't scowl, since he was distracted by an antique suit of armor standing on a pedestal on the stairway landing.
The Necromancer's strong, silent, and heroic attitude had lasted about a week after he'd rescued them all on Easter, which was exactly how long it had taken him to realize it wasn't going to win him a date with the Amazon. Since then he'd become insufferable, bringing up the Easter rescue at every opportunity.
He paused for a moment while they scowled, smirking at their discomfort.
"What the hell are you so smug about? The rest of us have saved each other, and you, in battle many times, and you don't see us going on and on about it." the Assassin asked, angrily.
The Necromancer frowned for a moment, then said, "Yes, but on Easter..." at that point he was cut off by the Barbarian, who noisily cast several Warcries and then pushed the surprised Necromancer aside as he moved past him and up the stairs, speaking loudly as he climbed. "Bone man shut up. Ugg want candy now."
The other humans laughed and followed quickly after the Barbarian, leaving the Necromancer to follow, scowling.
The second story of the haunted house was much the same as the first, with more exhibits of savage and ferocious humans. They saw Andariel at one point, leading another group of little demons along. She nodded to Diablo and waved to the humans, then returned to herding her little ones into the next room.
"So what, are Mephisto and Baal here, playing tour guide as well?" asked the Amazon, as Diablo ushered them into yet another room.
"Yes. Well, sort of. We all take turns." Diablo said, mumbling a bit.
The Paladin laughed. "Ha, who would have thought, such ferocious demons playing at baby sitter!"
Diablo gave him a dirty look, and started to walk on before the Necromancer's words stopped him.
"So where's the worm? Missing your fat friend Duriel? We didn't, last Easter. In fact we wished there were more of him. Ugg wanted thirds."
"Ugg like roasted worm!" agreed the Barbarian, and the humans all chuckled at the memory.
Diablo smiled. "Oh, Duriel's here, and you may run into him yet."
The Necromancer went pale. Well, paler. "He can't be? He's dead!" gasped the Necromancer.
"Oh, you didn't think the death of his mortal form would inconvenience him for long, did you?" chuckled Diablo. "His spirit returned to the Hells, and infested a new form. It just takes time for him to mutate the body to his liking."
Diablo laughed at the shock on the Necromancer's face, then leaned down and spoke conspiratorially. "No need to wet yourself, Cursy. He's rather an amusing sight, still. No threat to anyone."
The Necromancer sputtered in fury, but Diablo straightened up and strode off, leading the humans into the next exhibit, forcing the angry Necromancer to once again trial along in the rear.
The last room on the second floor was the best yet, with a huge model of an entire human village, and hundreds of models of monsters. The whole thing was built on a large platform, and there were little grooves under the painted earth. Some ingenuous mechanism allowed the demon models to move along the grooves, and as the humans and baby demons watched, entranced, the hordes of tiny monsters swept into the village while the humans inside slept in their beds. Flames sprung up from nozzles placed all around the village, and the cottage roofs popped off to reveal scenes of demons ravaging humans in their beds, blood and gore covering the walls.
When the curtain swept back across the room the baby demons broke into applause and cheers. Diablo told them to head down the stairs and into the rear kitchen where they'd find snacks and treats, and with shrieks of glee the little demons all ran off, Ugg hot on their heels.
Diablo stopped him, and as Ugg looked up in confusion, the curtain opened again and Mephisto was revealed, standing over the display table. His long arms moved with great speed and dexterity as he moved figures back into place, put the roofs back on the cottage, slid the monsters back to their starting spots, and basically reset the entire display.
"How on earth do you manage to move all of those at once?" the Assassin asked, her curiosity getting the better of her revulsion at what the exhibit showed.
"My brother has very nimble fingers, and is quite the inventor. He built this entire display by himself, you know." Diablo said, sounding proud.
"It's true," said Mephisto. "I operate it with levers hidden behind the stage, and it can be quite tricky to move all of the demons in at a steady speed, while preparing to light the flames that shoot forth, and hitting the switches to pop off the cottage roofs."
"You must have spent hours modeling all of the tiny figures, and painting the houses and trees?" the Druid said, clearly impressed.
Mephisto said yes, and began to lecture them on how he'd put it all together, as the fascinated humans crowded around. Only Ugg was disinterested, and he stood in the back and pouted, throwing wistful looks at the door the little demons had gone down to the kitchen through.
At last Diablo interrupted the discussion. "We have another group of children coming along shortly, and Mephisto must get everything ready for them. If you humans will follow me upstairs, we have a special exhibit just for you."
Ugg wasn't happy about that, but he went along with the others. Despite their interest, all of the humans were wary, still expecting an attack at any moment.
Diablo led them up a long flight of stairs, and down a hallway to a wide spiral staircase down. As Diablo ducked into the stairs and the other humans began to follow him, the Paladin objected. "You said the exhibit was upstairs, Demon." The Paladin's voice was as firm as his grip on his sword and shield.
"Oh, my apologies." Diablo rasped. "I only meant that the stairway was upstairs. The entrance to it on the second floor is blocked off by one of the exhibits. We're actually heading to the cellar. You aren't scared, are you?"
The Paladin swallowed hard. "I fear no demon. I do fear your capacity for treachery, Lord of Terror."
Diablo smiled at his title, and returned the favor. "Holy Knight of Zakarum, I again swear to you that I mean you no harm. There is nothing ahead of you but sweetness and delight. You will not be attacked this night."
The Paladin didn't look convinced, but when no one else objected he followed Diablo down the stairs. The other humans traded looks, but followed the Paladin down, their weapons once again ready for use in an instant.
The stairs curved round and round, taking them down past the second floor doorway, then the first floor as well. Diablo lead them down one more spiral, to the end of the stairs, and paused at a huge black door.
"I must ask you not to touch anything here. Especially you, Ugg. We are cutting through this room to the special exhibit."
"What room?" The Paladin asked, expecting a dungeon, or ambush, or some treachery.
"You'll see." Said Diablo, and swung open the doorway before anyone else could object.
Light and noise washed over them, along with a wave of heat and amazingly-succulent smells. They were entering the kitchen. The largest and busiest kitchen any of the humans had ever seen.
Dozens of demons bustled about, all of them clad in long white aprons and ridiculously jaunty chef's hats. Ugg stood, transfixed, and only moved when Diablo gently took him by the shoulder, and led him along the side of the room. "We have a dozen ovens just for pies, Ugg. Five of these chefs cook nothing but desserts; pies, candies, custards, chocolates, and so on. Others prepare the meats and vegetables, and we've even got three chefs who make nothing but bread."
Ugg nodded along and looked everywhere at once, his eyes the size of the pies he so obviously yearned to devour.
"Just come along to one last exhibit, Ugg, and then you'll be able to eat to your heart's content. So much food you'll think you are candy yourself!" Ugg let himself be led along, hypnotized by all of the food, and only came back to his senses once Diablo pulled him through another doorway, and shut it behind them, once the other six humans were through.
The room they stood in was huge, and very odd. A human stood inside a merchant's stall, his wagon behind him, a queasy grin upon his face. Past his wagon was a huge steel machine that no one could make any sense of. Funnel-like openings on top led down into what looked like grinding blades, and after several more turns and twists the machine had ducts that exited above three long conveyer belts. The walls of the room behind and beside the machine were covered in shelves, and these shelves were buried in containers of flour, spices, nuts, chocolate chips, bags of sugar, and much more.
"It's a cookie machine?" asked the Sorceress, in a low voice.
"Exactly!" said Diablo. "Very good. As you've seen, we have a lot of children here, and you know how children love treats. We need a machine this large to produce the volume of treats our young demons demand."
"Why isn't it working?" asked the Assassin, eyeing he human merchant in his stall and wondering what he was doing there.
"Oh, the machine works fine. We made a ton of cookies last night, and more this morning. The cooks are just waiting for some more ingredients before beginning their their next batch."
"And what's that other machine, behind it?" asked the Sorceress. The other humans walked over to stand beside her, where they could see past the huge cookie machine and into the corner. There a strange metal and wood contraption rested in the corner, long wires and metal poles with metal balls on them poking in every direction.
"Oh, that?" Diablo replied, sounding a bit nervous. "It's some sort of old machine we found with the manor. We're not sure how it works."
The Druid had little patience with machinery, and changed the subject by walking over to the merchant. He looked over his wares, sniffed at the man to make sure he was really human, and then turned back to Diablo. "What's this guy doing here?"
Diablo stomped over, smiling widely, glad to have the subject changed. "This is a new merchant. We call him Patch. He's part of the exhibit, and he can show you something you've never seen before. Just sell him some rings."
The other humans walked over, all save Ugg who was still staring up at the candy machine in amazement.
"We didn't bring any rings to sell." said the Amazon, eyeing the merchant's stores. "And he doesn't have anything for sale that I want to buy."
"You don't have to buy anything," Diablo said. "Just sell him some of those rings, from that box there."
The Sorceress walked over to the carved wooden stash chest and opened the lid, then exclaimed in delight. "Oh my! They're so shiny!"
She held out a handful of rings, and they were indeed shiny. Gold bands topped with a single green emerald, and very nicely-made.
The Necromancer joined her at the box, and pawed through it for a moment. "Hey, these are all the same ring! Exactly the same."
Diablo laughed. "Yes, they're all identical. You could even call them duplicates. Try selling a few to the merchant though, I think you'll enjoy it."
The humans looked confused, and it was the Druid who spoke first. "Why the hell should we sell him rings, when they're just here in a box? Why would he pay for that when he could take all he wanted the minute we left?"
The Assassin jumped in an instant later, "And who is this merchant? Why doesn't he speak? What is he doing here, below this manor?"
The merchant answered her, much to everyone' surprise. "I am here by the invitation of the demons, Mage Killer. I go where my business takes me. These rings bring a high price in some distant lands, and are well worth the gold I exchange for them."
The Assassin replied, confused. "But you could just take the whole box... why pay for them?"
"I am an honest merchant, Milady. I make a fair profit by trade, not theft."
Everyone stood still, pondering this when Ugg moved. He grabbed a handful of the rings and dropped them on the merchant's counter top. "Ugg sell!"
"Ahh," said the merchant, eyeing the rings carefully with a magnifying monocle he kept on a thin gold chain in his breast pocket. "Finest quality gold in these Stones. I will pay 3404 gold each."
He quickly counted out 20424 gold pieces and handed them in a sack to the Barbarian. In the corner of the room, Diablo looked thrilled.
"What the hell?" asked the Sorceress, but before she could move the Druid and Assassin snatched up their own handful of rings and sold them as well, happily pocketing the gold coins as Ugg had before them.
"I have a bad feeling about this..." the Paladin began, but just as he spoke the Necromancer was selling his tenth ring, and when he took the gold for it, thunder filled the room, the floor shook, and the light faded. Each of the characters found themselves alone in a pool of light with blackness all around, and heard a tremendous voice proclaim, "Diablo Walks The Earth!" as they fought to maintain their balance in what felt like a mighty earthquake.
The darkness and trembling continued for a moment longer, before the light returned and the room grew steady. As the characters picked themselves up off of the floor, their attention was drawn by a scream of fear from the Amazon. All eyes looked towards her, and beheld a second Diablo, as alike as if he were a clone, standing beside the first Lord of Terror.
"Now, puny mortals," the two Diablos spoke together, "you shall know the true sweetness of terror."
In an instant the Amazon left fly a dozen arrows. She was matched in speed by the Sorceress, who filled the floor beneath Diablo with flames, the Paladin who called down a bolt of lightning from the sky, and the Necromancer who issued a volley of Bone Spirits. All of their attacks struck the second Diablo, but seemingly without effect as he absorbed them with a laugh. The Assassin, Barbarian, and Druid charged in fearlessly, but their attacks were as nothing to the evil Diablo Clone as he threw them all back with a cruel laugh.
"What is this madness?" cried the Sorceress, hurling Cold and Lightning when her Fire failed.
She was answered by the original Diablo, who was standing well back from the battle. "You know, I really don't know. It's been happening a lot the last few days though, and I'm starting to get a little sick of it, to tell you the truth. You foolish humans should have kept up with the patch news, and you'd have seen Olbaid coming!"
"Olbaid?" asked the Sorceress, confused by the odd name even as the massive creature laughed at her efforts to harm him.
"He's my clone," Diablo replied, "and so I have dubbed him."
"What kind of idiot names a monster after himself by spelling his own name backwards?" the Necromancer shouted in disgust.
Diablo growled and shook his fist, and appeared almost ready to attack over this insult, before he was interrupted by the door opening behind him. Baal entered, along with the lovely smells of baking cookies, and immediately drew the attention of all the characters.
"Baal!" cried the Paladin. "What of your promises of peace and friendship? What of the hostages of yours we hold back in our citadel?"
Baal laughed. "You think I care about those minions? I'll just summon up some more. As for the promises... we have not broken our pledge. You broke it, when you attacked Diablo's Clone without provocation."
Diablo grunted, and Baal added, "I mean when you attacked Olbaid!"
Realizing that Baal was correct, the Paladin fell back, calling off the other humans. They retreated together, all but the Barbarian who had been fighting furiously, armed with nothing more than one of his wooden wings. He made a run for it, trying to leap over the top of the huge demon and to the doorway.
His effort was valiant, but came to naught for the mighty clone swatted him out of the air, sending the Barbarian flying all the way to the rear of the room, where he smashed into the wall and crumpled to the floor.
The Diablo Clone herded the other six characters back toward Ugg, firing blinding bursts of pink lightning over their heads and into the floor to keep them moving. They went grudgingly, but the clone was too strong to fight and they were steadily pushed backwards, past the enormous candy machine and into the back corner, where the second mysterious machine stood. Behind his twin Diablo advanced, making sure none of the humans could escape, while Baal reached back into the kitchen and let seven of the small demon children into the room. They walked up behind Diablo's Clone and stood watching, their faces solemn as the humans stood in a tight knot, their weapons and shields pointing out defensively, Ugg moaning on the floor, hidden behind them.
"Send forth the children. Activate the machine." Baal said, his evil voice ringing in the air.
"What are you doing to us?" shouted the Sorceress, her staff held high but shaking in her trembling hands. "Lying, treacherous demons!"
Baal laughed again, and spoke, his voice silky. "We have not lied once this evening. You have not been attacked. And while I know exactly what that machine in the corner does, Diablo told the truth when he said he didn't know how it worked."
As the demon children walked forwards, moving past the giant Diablo Clone, Baal hissed. "That machine switches human and demon minds, swapping one for the other with whoever is closest. I'm sure you'll enjoy being demon children just as much as we'll enjoy consuming the candy we're going to turn your human bodies into. The mind switch lasts just a few minutes, and reverts if either party dies, so you'll switch back just in time to feel the machine grind you into shortbread."
As he spoke he pulled down a lever that kicked the candy machine into rumbling life, while the Diablo Clone reached for a switch on the wall. A metal pipe ran from that switch to the strange machine in the corner, and in a last desperate move, the Sorceress and Amazon fired spells and arrows at the metal pipe along the wall, hoping to sever the wires within it. The metal was enchanted though, and their attacks bounced off harmlessly.
Just as the mighty Clone held the switch in his clawed hand, Ugg stood up behind the other characters, his wings and mask knocked off by the blow he'd taken from the Diablo Clone. His grim face, glowering over the masks the other humans wore terrified the demon children, and when he screamed at them, casting a terrifying Warcry, the young demons shrieked in terror and ran backwards, darting through the legs of Diablo, his clone, Baal, and under the floating Mephisto.
"No!" shouted Baal, but it was too late; the Clone had already flicked the switch. Green lightning filled the room as the ancient machine in the corner came to life, and emerald bolts flared out in every direction, striking the seven humans and seven closest demons. Baal, Diablo, his clone, Mephisto, and three of the fleeing baby demons were hit, each locked to one of the humans by the green lightning, and all fourteen of them hung motionless, suspended above the ground as they were contorted in agony by the power of the mental attack.
The few seconds of lightning felt like an eternity of agony to the fourteen creatures, and when the machine clicked and shut down, emitting a last few greenish sparks and a cloud of acrid smoke, the seven characters and seven monsters laid on the floor, stunned. By the door the four baby demons who had been out of the machine's range were huddled in the corner, crying in terror, and aside from them, there was no movement in the room.
After another moment, the fallen humans and demons began to stir, with Diablo and Baal the first to regain their feet. None of the humans were up yet, though the Druid was on all fours, shaking his head and moaning.
"So, what's it like having scales, Paladin?" The words came from Baal's mouth, but the voice seemed to somehow resemble the Druid's. Diablo looked at him and laughed, his spikes shaking with mirth.
"Oh, pretty good. Better than it must feel to have no legs, eh Sorceress?" He spoke to Mephisto, who was up, but having trouble hovering in a stationary position.
In the corner of the room the humans were still down, their smaller bodies taking longer to get over the effects of the lightning machine. Baal was moving a little unsteadily on his six legs, but he was still far quicker than any of the reeling humans, and they could do nothing to resist him when he scuttled over and kicked their weapons away from them.
Diablo, or rather Diablo's body, was all but recovered from the lightning, and the Paladin inside was feeling pretty strong. He spoke, enjoying his powerful voice. "So as I understand it, all we have to do is climb into this candy machine and kill these bodies, and our minds will switch back to our human bodies, leaving you demons to die in agony in your own candy machine. Is that right?"
The Druid stood up and looked at Baal in horror, then down at himself. "I... no... this can't be..."
Baal laughed at him, and gave a little wolf howl. "Oh, I think it can."
The Druid's body spoke again, leaning on the wall for support. He evidently found it difficult to walk with just two legs. "If you die you die, there's no way to switch the bodies back. I was lying about that part!"
The demons laughed at him, laughed as they looked down at the small knot of frightened humans.
"Oh, I think you were telling the exact truth, little man. And we're going to find out for sure very, very soon."
The Druid looked ill, but at least he was able to stand up. The rest of the humans were having much more trouble. Three of them, the Barbarian, Amazon, and Assassin, were lying in the corner, wailing and crying; putting their all into the sort of tantrum you would expect from very frightened and confused children. The Paladin and Sorceress looked angry but too stunned to stand, and the Necromancer just sat on the floor, his eyes vacant.
"Can you climb up that platform to get into the candy machine?" Baal asked Mephisto, who was still floating a little unsteadily.
"I think so." came the reply, as the Lord of Hatred drifted across the room and up a long stone ramp that led to the top of the giant candy machine. Diablo moved over to the storage shelves and picked up several huge drums of chocolate chips, and began dumping them into the machine
"Stop them! Stop him!" the Druid shouted, transforming partially into a bear, then a wolf, before slumping back into the wall in exhaustion.
"Hah, good luck!" said one of the baby demons, a cute little miniature Frozen Horror whose voice sounded oddly like the Assassin's. "It took us years of study to learn to cast even the most basic spell. You're going to manage it in five minutes?"
Mephisto was halfway up the ramp by then, and looking down into the grinding gears and teeth of the machine, he said, "Wish me luck." and jumped in.
Diablo's body, inhabited by the Paladin, quickly grabbed the Sorceress's body and held her safely away from the other humans. As Mephisto fell into the maw of the machine, he howled in anguish and grief, and the Sorceress's body convulsed twice before growing still. Mephisto was still screaming as he was ground into bits, his undead arms flailing against the inside of the machine and denting the metal, when the Sorceress sat up in Diablo's grip, her eyes clear.
"I am myself again, Paladin. Please put me down."
Diablo's body did what she asked, and placed her on the ground. She regarded the other humans, and suddenly cast a dozen Glacial Spikes, freezing them to the wall and floor. "Can't have them trying to damage our bodies before we have fed all of their bodies into the machine, now can we?"
She laughed, and was joined by the demonic laughter of the others, demon bodies inhabited by human consciousnesses. Baal was just scrabbling up the ramp to the top of the machine when the door to the kitchen opened, and everyone whirled to behold a hideous creature. A grotesque, slug-like thing with two small pinchers poked its head inside and asked, "Is everything going okay? I want my chocolate-coated Curse *****!"
"Duriel! No!" shouted the Druid, but before the slug in the doorway could react, the Diablo Clone leaped across the room and snatched him up, his talons sinking into the worm-like creature and gripping it cruelly.
"Hi there, fatso!" snarled the clone, the Necromancer's sneer evident even in his deep growling voice. "So you like chocolate?"
Three hours later the seven humans were walking back down the long gravel road, away from the haunted mansion. Five were walking together, laughing and talking, while throwing occasional disgusted looks at the Necromancer, and the Barbarian.
Ugg walked behind them, his two huge pumpkins resting on a wagon that he pulled by a rope around his waist. Both pumpkins were filled to overflowing with hunks of a strange, reddish candy, and every time Ugg leaped up to take a bit of caramel-Diablo, candied-Baal, or peanut-crunch-Mephisto, the rest of the party shuddered.
The Necromancer walked a few paces to the side, a large sack slung from his shoulder. He paid no attention at all to his comrades; not even to the Barbarian. He was far too involved with the content of his sack. Every now and then he'd pull out a square of what looked like a brownie, and take a big bite, sinking in his teeth with obvious relish and chewing with a dreamy, rapturous expression. As he walked and ate he muttered to himself, "Oh yes, my old friend. Chocolate was definitely the best choice."