Jacob said to me with a sneer as he unlocked the basement door, “It’s in here. Let’s go, you rose-tinted goggle-wearing gore-hound.”
He beckoned me into the basement, and we soon found ourselves amidst a catacomb of old cardboard boxes and various generic stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day in well over a decade.
“It’s okay to admit that you’ve got a problem…” I wondered aloud to my friend, referring to the vast amounts of dusty junk everywhere inside the basement.
Jacob didn’t respond, but instead made his way towards an old computer that was smothered with papers and old shirts. “Here it is. Our old ’96. It still works, too.” He said as he flipped the switch behind the tower and turned on the monitor, “It’s already got everything you need, good sir. Diablo and Diablo 2, Starcraft, the first two Warcraft games, and Fallout 1 and Fallout 2. I couldn’t get Warcraft 3 to work though; at least not without the computer having a seizure. You can expect Diablo 2 to lag a little, too—but it does run.”
I smiled and said, “Nice, nice… you’ll let me test this baby out first, won’t you?”
“Knock yourself out,” Jacob said, “Here…” He pulled up an old suitcase for me to sit on.
I did so, and began exploring the ancient desktop for the first time in many years. After spinning the cursor around for a moment, I decided to delve once more into the world of Diablo. I slid the disc into the tray and thumbed it in, and double clicked the icon. The old Blizzard North logo flashed onto the screen, followed by the cinematic of the Wanderer’s Sword stuck into the ground with the memorable sunset behind it.
“Oh, yeah-h-h, here we go!” I said eagerly, skipping the intro and was thrust into the main menu screen. “Diablo… version 1.02…? Hmm… needs patching. I’ll take care of that later, though.”
I noticed a few previous characters had already been saved, mostly test characters with a mess of garbled letters as names. I deleted them without a second thought and proceeded to create a warrior named Drakhan, and was brought once more to the tiny, eminently doomed village of Tristram. Through the heavy pixels, the warrior was just as awesome as I had remembered him to be: an awesome fighter-dude wearing blue jeans and other little pieces of armor to go along with his default outfit.
After bumbling around the village a bit, I headed straight for the cathedral, approached the wounded townsman lying on the ground near the entrance, spoke to him for about half a second, and left him for dead without giving him a second thought. Before long I descended into the cathedral and braced myself for even more nostalgia.
At first I was greeted by the dark ambiance of the dungeon itself, followed by the heavy drums from Matt Uelman’s piece, followed yet by the usual ‘The sanctity of this place has been fouled’ mumblings of my warrior. At this point, nostalgia had struck me hard over the head with a shovel… and the only cure was for me to bury my blade deep into the skulls of those Fallen demons and zombies alike.
Before I knew it, I had cleared the first level of the game and looted a few nifty trinkets here and there from various chests and sarcophagi. It wasn’t long before I nearly cleared the second level as well—with the one exception of that one particular room containing that one particular enemy wielding that one particular cleaver.
The Butcher was probably busy butchering things inside that bloody room of his. I wasn’t in the least bit afraid of him—though I was concerned that if my warrior did die then my game would crash, and I promptly saved the game, just to be safe. Nostalgia and vengeance had forced me to swing the door to the room open, and, as expected, the fat bastard came careening towards me, though he wasn’t nearly covered with the amount of blood that I remembered as a kid.
The Butcher howled his usual slogan of ‘Argh, fresh meat!’ and we began slugging it out in a very old-school fashion. The sound of our swinging weapons spammed the dungeon, often accompanied by my warrior’s grunts and groans from being hit by that cleaver of his. Eventually, though, I managed to kill the Butcher and looted that cleaver of his—which does incredible damage though breaks easily compared to my more valuable weapons.
I could have gone farther into the game, though just wasn’t feeling like it. Just for kicks, I decided to start a new game with the same character with the intention of killing the Butcher once more with his own weapon.
If I recalled correctly, Diablo was known for randomizing its many different dungeons and enemies inside them. It took several new games before I noticed the pathetic, wounded townsman yet again laying on the ground—a tell-tale sign that the Butcher was indeed in this layout. Good deal.
So I spent the next thirty or so minutes clearing out the first two levels, with, of course, refusing to open the Butcher’s chamber until the moment was right. By this point I had already reached a fairly decent level and I felt confident in my warrior this time around. I swung the door open, and the demon comes careening towards me yet again—though instead of saying ‘fresh meat’ he instead says ‘kill me’ in the same dark, guttural voice. I was confused, if a bit shocked. I didn’t think the Butcher was capable of saying anything other than fresh meat. Still confused, I was forced to put him down, though with relative ease this time, while using his own nefarious weapon. When the Butcher fell to the ground once more, the game froze for just a few seconds, and once the CD-drive kicked back up, the malevolent cleaver-wielding demon uttered the phrase ‘again’.
Again. Again? The Butcher wanted me to kill him yet again? I… I thought I could oblige him. Unnerved though strangely curious, I quickly saved my game and began a new game, repeating the process a few times until I saw the wounded townsman laying near the entrance yet again. I descended into the cathedral once more though did not bother dancing with the enemies that chased me throughout the first level. I then descended down the first staircase and emerged into the second level and, to my growing discomfort, the door to the Butcher’s chamber was literally one footstep away from the warrior. In fact, the staircase seemed to have been placed on top of the bloodstained floor in front of the splattered door.
I muttered, “An impossible seed...”
I saved my game again, and opened the door. The Butcher charged me at what I thought was twice his normal speed, while uttering, ‘kill me’ once more—though brimmed with despair this time. He swung his cleaver twice as fast, delivering more consistent strikes onto my warrior, and dealing nearly double his normal damage output. His bloodied body also bore the marks of my warrior’s ill-begotten cleaver from the last fight. I was uneasy, though determined to grant the Butcher his request. After chugging what seemed like an inventory’s worth of healing potions, I somehow managed to kill the Butcher yet again and sent him to the ground. The game froze again for a few seconds, the CD-drive kicked back up, and the Butcher then uttered ‘again’, though this time his gargled words sounded even more melancholic.
I had chills running throughout my body. The bloodied corpse of the Butcher looked just as it seemed when I was a boy of no older than six—it appeared dark, and deeply crimson, and far larger than it should have been. Those dark feelings that I had felt as a child returned to me, conjured by this game and by—as Griswold the blacksmith would say—his bloodstained visage. Indeed, it still haunted me to this day, especially now when the Butcher was saying and doing things he shouldn’t.
I should oblige him yet again, I thought to myself. I saved my game once more and started a new game. The wounded townsman was there the first time around, without me having to start multiple new games. How convenient that I’d see him on the first go…
Just for kicks, I decided to actually talk to the wounded townsman… anything to delay my inevitable encounter with the dreaded Butcher who was certainly going to test the integrity of my courage.
I clicked on the wounded townsman. He spoke to my warrior and said, “You… you bastards…! You did all this… for… for a game? A damned video game?! I hope… Hell… is worth it…?” (The sound of muffled screaming can be faintly heard in my right speaker. It cuts off quickly after the man says ‘worth it?’)
My heart sank in my chest to the sound of that frightened man’s voice. Whoever said those words was not acting… those were real words, from a real man, haphazardly recorded using a crude device and put in as a sound file to be played by the wounded townsman. My eyes were watering from the anxiety that gripped me so feverishly, and I groaned in my mind. I clicked on the wounded townsman once more—the same dialogue, the same hysterical muffles and cries came through the speakers again.
With great reluctance, I proceeded into the dungeon beneath the cathedral. But just before I clicked to proceed downwards, I suddenly remembered that I needed to stock up on healing potions. I walked to Tristram as fast as my warrior could, and clicked on Pepin the local healer. Nothing. I clicked on him again. Still nothing. Pepin could not be interacted with. I tried the others—Deckard Cain the elder, Griswold the blacksmith, Farnham the drunkard, Adria the witch, Wirt the peg-legged bastard child, Gillian the barmaid… though I still had Ogden the tavern keeper to click on, and as thus I did just that.
Ogden responded in what sounded like a crudely recorded voice—and it sounded nothing like the original voice actor from the game. This was from someone entirely different. The speed of which the audio played was very fast—too fast to comprehend in one go, and routinely skipped around. Here’s what I could make out of it:
“We did our best to make this game as dark and twisted as we could… the way you wanted it. Then they (but who?) came, as usual, throwing their censorship around and other restrictive measures to keep us from reaching our potential. We were so close I tell you. We had to cut back on, what, at least sixty percent of what we wanted to really happen in this game—replacing it with less ‘taboo’ and ‘nightmarish’ material. Huh! They wanted ‘Diablo’ instead of ‘Mecephyrus the Thrice Damned’. They supposed ‘Diablo’ would be catchier somehow. We had to cut back on many of our scripts and completely redo them. Though we’ll have the last laugh in the end… The only thing those damn censors didn’t find offensive was Mr. Uelman’s work. Luckily for him, he doesn’t have to redo anything.” (The rest becomes a garbled mess of corrupted sound data.)
“Something went down during development... I somehow managed to... unlock it?” I mumbled to myself, “But how...? The Butcher... it started with him. I must kill him again. Hopefully, by doing so, I can perhaps find out a little more. Back down to the dungeon I go...”
I then saved my game, which seemed to freeze the game for a few seconds, then returned back to normal. The computer's tower was blowing excessively. Something in this game was forcing the computer to work harder, to use larger loads of resources on an already elderly system. Hopefully my system wouldn't overheat or lock up entirely—I must find out what took place within the darkest recesses of those .mpq files!
Upon reentering that God-forsaken cathedral, I was greeted by a loading screen of which I’d never seen before—something that made my blood freeze and my eyes water further. If I hadn’t known the lore in the game prior to this moment, then I’d have no idea what this graphic loading screen was about. I knew just enough of the lore to instantly recognize the carnage near the bottom of the screen, and the ever-familiar hulking and sinister figure standing off-center, towards the right. The game loaded long enough for me to peer into the dark artwork. It was never designed to look realistic, clearly, but it did have a gritty, dark, snuff-like atmosphere. Whoever did the artwork knew what they were doing, and they liked doing it.
I saw no less than two-dozen bloodied corpses of what once were the local Tristram militia and, according to the lore, was formed by the treacherous Arch-Bishop Lazarus who fooled them into a trap that led them to their unnatural deaths. Laying close together, their unarmored bodies bore the full wrath of the Butcher’s cleaver, with quite a few having had their limbs hewed, and their raggedy peasant outfits had been bloodied throughout; others, completely cut through and grasping for their lower body next to them. Their makeshift shields lay shattered nearby and their weapons were still gripped in their clenched, crimsoned hands. The others, or what remained of them, were hanging nearby on various gruesome instruments, mostly hooks.
“What the hell happened?” I wondered, staring at the morbid artwork.
After nearly five minutes, the loading screen faded out, and the newly emerged dungeon layout faded into view.
My little warrior mumbled, “Hmm… this is more like it! This is what it should have been… all along.”
“Holy hell…” I muttered, peering into what appeared to be… well, an actual improvement, aesthetically speaking. “No kidding.” I responded to my warrior who, surprisingly, was doing idle animations I’ve never seen before. Normally he would just stand there with his sword raised and such, his shoulders lifting up and down while staring blankly forwards. But now, he actually appears to have some life in him – and he appears to be shivering slightly. Despite his pixelated face, I could tell that Drakhan was nervous, extremely nervous, despite what he’d just uttered.
This level was much darker atmospherically in every respect. The floors were no longer made of stone, but instead consisted of a dark, aged mahogany floor set, warped and bloodied a long time ago, though the blood had long since lost its crimson color, leaving only a rotten, discolored stain. There were no lit torches nearby, though save for one that my warrior was carrying in his free hand – the cleaver used to bring me here in the other. Orange light came from the warrior’s torch, revealing the bodies of several fallen Tristram militiamen as they lay nearby, some of which had been chewed on…
The music began fading in slowly… sounding especially bass-heavy which, in itself, formed a particular rhythm that was both sinister yet prepped me for combat in this wicked place. This piece seemed well-composed and thought about during its creation, though had no trace of Uelman in it whatsoever. This music track was produced by someone else. But who? For some reason I liked it… maybe I could obtain a copy somehow.
I then noticed two additional orbs just beneath with usual health and mana orbs. Beneath the health orb was a beige colored orb used to gauge my warrior’s so called corruption – and underneath the mana orb was a near-golden orb used to measure my warrior’s courage. Both seemed to be lowering, if ever so slowly. There must be a way to keep both orbs at a healthy supply – finding what it was that would do so, however, was a challenge all on its own.
Moving my warrior seemed sluggish somewhat, as he would never turn on a dime like he would in the other game – yes, the other game as I dare put it. At this point I think I just may have fallen through the floor of Diablo and found myself inside its own basement. My warrior would take a little time to turn and maneuver around, as anyone in real would. The animations for my character were good – very good – exceedingly good – impossibly good for its time. His movements were smooth and fluidic, his body language so natural.
Perhaps I could get used to this sick, twisted counterpart of an already spooky classic.
So far everything in this twisted version actually looks better than the original. Though there was a few major flaws. I couldn’t open my character’s information tab – therefore never could know any specifics about my attributes, experience points, or how much health or mana – or courage or corruption – that I had at the moment. I could still access my inventory, though things were definitely screwy and off. The pictures normally used to portray weapons or armor no longer functioned correctly and, as a result, those pictures became a mess of weird pixels and pissed-off placeholders. I had a feeling that if I clicked on anything, the game would crash… or do something at least. However, I did notice that all my currently equipped items had modified prefixes marking their use in battle. Most of my equipment had the prefix ‘Bloodied’ followed by whatever the item was. That, or ‘Battle-worn’, or ‘Splattered’. I did have a few magical weapons, though their names where changed to darker variations – and some of which I’d never seen before. I had a ‘Short Sword of Might’ which had been changed to ‘Bloodied Short Sword of Hatred’, which allows me to dish out outrageous amounts of damage, though my corruption orb would lower even faster. Aesthetically, I preferred what I had right now, even if most of the data was corrupted.
It wasn’t long before I chanced upon a few Fallen demons, and proceeded to hack them into tiny pieces. I ordered my warrior to start hacking away at the little gremlins. The sound that came out of my buzzing speakers after killing one of them made my heart skip a beat – and my gut told me something was very wrong here.
It’s hard to describe it… but it sounded like a steel blade’s sharp edge sliding across a broad expanse of flesh. And the muffling… those goddamned muffled screams could be heard – if ever so slightly – from my right speaker. I killed a few more of the nearby gremlins, and each one released a similar variation of the sharp instrument(s) sliding across their bodies – those… gagged people… who were letting go of loud, hysterical muffles. It was as if some sick bastard put a tape-recorder right next to one of them before drawing more blood… and it seemed whoever responsible for this did a poor job masking his victim’s muffles. This was starting to make me feel sick. After enduring the sound of dozens of gremlins dying, I realized just how many variations – and just how many people – were, dare I say with the utmost dread, ‘used’ to create the sound effects for sharp steel striking against flesh…
Fighting against the skeletons were even worse.
The things I’ve heard coming from those speakers drove me into lightheadedness. Fighting against the wave after wave after wave of low level skeletons – each one outfitted with a unique sound file it seemed, each one projecting the sound of something heavy striking what sounded like someone’s upper leg, shattering what could have been the thigh bone (as it was a loud snap) followed by more hysterical muffles.
This was beyond disturbing. I couldn’t take those death sounds from them anymore. I needed to get away from those things, and proceeded to make my way back towards what I thought was the dungeon’s entrance. One of those sound files would occasionally play without me having killed an enemy – it would play it all on its own, even sometimes on a loop that would play for a moment, then abruptly cut off. I believe the music had been cut off, too, though it was hard to tell right now. It could have been corrupted, too.
My warrior mumbled once again, repeating what he’d just said five minutes ago, “Hmm… this is more like it! This is what it should have been… all along.”
I had other feelings.
At the edge of the scrolling screen emerged a familiar door, the entrance to a familiar chamber – harboring a familiar foe. The Butcher…
I wondered that if I’d kill him, would he give me answers to all this? It was worth a shot, though seeing that demon outfitted with all the makings of this glitch-netherworld was something I wasn’t particularly drying to do. I needed to keep moving forwards, as my warrior’s corruption and courage orbs were lowering still, and I noticed he was wounded, bloodied from battle, and exhausted though still trembling with fear. Drakhan was demonstrating all the qualities of someone who was real – I kind of felt sorry for him… just standing there and bleeding out like that. Still, I must proceed forwards.
Beyond my warrior stood the splattered archway leading into the Butcher’s chamber – his legacy in slain townsmen still fresh near my warrior’s boots…
As I scrolled my cursor over the entrance to the Butcher’s lair, the words ‘Herein lays your fate’ in the usual Gothic Diablo-esque font.
My warrior began to utter something, though it was an incoherent frenzy of buzzed bleeps that stressed the old speakers.
I sighed, and mustered a bit of courage, and then clicked on the bloodied entrance to the lair.
The loading screen faded into view after what seemed to sputter a little. The dark artwork was similar to what I’d seen earlier – though this time I noticed the warrior standing with his back to me amidst the fallen Tristram militia, cleaver in hand, and I could see that he had already been baptized in the chaos of combat prior. It appeared as though the warrior was looking down towards his slain countrymen in a furious fashion, his haggard face crisscrossed with several gashes as beads of sweat trickled down his cheeks. The stub of an arrow shaft lay buried in the warrior’s right thigh on the side, his blue trousers wet with his blood.
In an instant the warrior suddenly vanished from the loading screen, and I found myself within the Butcher’s lair yet again after the screen had faded in.
The Butcher’s lair was something that never would have passed the censorship in the United States, let alone the censorship of any other country. The amount of gore and violence projected from my computer screen made the original lair look like a child’s playground, and it made me groan in disgust. How one can project so much violence in so few pixels was beyond me, though I could imagine how much sick pleasure was put into the level design.
It seemed I was situated in a broad corridor of sorts, of which more than triple the length compared to the width was. The mutilated corpses of dozens, in not hundreds, of slain villagers hung from hooks in long rows along the walls. Below them was a long stretch of battered tables with varying implements of butchery laying on top – the Butcher’s tools of the trade seemingly tossed haphazardly onto them. All fluids seemed to drain into a long, closed grate just below the tables.
I expected the Butcher – whatever dreaded form he may have taken this time – to begin charging me. I waited for a tense moment, yet no one came. I couldn’t stall any longer. My warrior was slowly dying from something of which was still unknown to me. His wounds just would not stop bleeding out. It seemed that with every ten or so seconds, a pixel with be skinned from the top line of the health orb. I couldn’t get an accurate reading of my character’s condition due to the fact that my character’s info screen would never show up. I had to press on and hopefully find some healing items – a scroll or preferably a potion, or anything really. I could only guess as to what the condition of my equipment was in, especially my cleaver, since that weapon was easily broken, relatively anyways.
My warrior moved in a sluggish fashion. He seemed terrified of his surroundings. Whilst walking, he would turn around with his cleaver raised, poised to strike out at anything that came for him. His eyes began to fixate on something in front of him, off-screen and away from my camera.
After another moment of tense shuffling, I eventually came across what appeared to be a solid black sprite of a goat-man, standing in the center of a large, cylindrical chamber lined with all of the riggings of torture and murder. The sprite did not move whatsoever, and when I hovered my mouse over it the text box along the bottom of the screen displayed ‘The Confessor’.
Now what be a good time to save my game, I thought to myself. I mashed the escape key, only to find the ‘Save Game’ text to be completely blacked out, and could not be clicked either – neither could the ‘Exit Game’ button. With the inability to save my game, I grew increasingly fearful for my warrior whom was trembling heavily at this point.
I clicked on the Confessor’s black sprite to see what would happen. Surprisingly, a dialogue box opened, and a massive wall of text began to silently scroll upwards at a very slow pace. It was meant to be read, I assumed. At that same moment, the light bulb that kept the darkness away began flickering, its filament in its last death throes, and the bulb burned out. The darkness of Jacob’s basement was stifling, and I felt a great deal of uneasiness given the circumstances – but the text; it begged me to begin reading it. And so I did despite the darkness, and this is what it read:
“…I am called the Confessor, for I am an advocate, a prophet, and Mecephyrus the Thrice Damned is my god. Mecephyrus, the mightiest of all the thrashing beasts in the deepest pits of Hell, will be your god too, soon enough. If you are reading this, then a great burden now lies on your shoulders, for you know too much already. For you, death is imminent, yes, oh, it is very close – and you cannot escape from it. You do, however, have a choice to the means of your death.
For you, I offer you a swift, painless death, where your soul will forever revel in pleasure along with other fine beasts under the protection of Mecephyrus, the god of the thrashing hell-beasts. To achieve this, you must play my game and beat it – and though it has changed a lot since its pre-alpha phase, you will be capable of getting to the end. If you wish to leave this world behind peacefully, then you must win.
If you reject my offer… by refusing to play the game that it was supposed to be from the very beginning, then I will take you, and I will kill you the worst way imaginable. You will join the others – who I have thoroughly enjoyed playing with, I must confess – the others, which I am certain you have met already. If I must refresh your memory, all you need to do is simply slay any monster you find… and just… listen. There are no monsters anywhere within these levels that do not have a unique set of… shall we say, realistic sound effects. Where do you think these effects came from? They were, oh very generously… provided… by the occasional player that stumbled beneath the code – and somehow got past the fail-safe to keep you out. In short, those smothered cries for help from every monster you slew – and I know you heard them all – was from someone like you who decided not to heed my words.
You are pinned down with my offer, yes, like a beast with its flank to a corner. I have you, oh yes, you dog, you bastard, you beast, I do, and there is nowhere to hide from me.
Now, make your decision… you rose-tinted, goggle-wearing, gore-hound. Will you play my game? Or will you not? The Butcher as waiting for you at the far side of this chamber. He will not attack you first, but if you wish to play, then strike at him and let the game begin! To Mecephyrus, failure is synonymous with cowardice – that is, if your warrior dies, you die with him, and you will suffer the same fate as if you had chosen not to play. Your pace must be swift but not reckless, and your decisions must be deliberate and your mind must remain calm throughout the entirety of this journey. If you allow anxiety to overwhelm you, and it has for many, then you will die.
If you choose not to play my game, all you need to do is let your warrior die – as he most certainly will, for his health globe, if you will notice, is dripping out from a large crack near the bottom. That is all you must do if you do not want to play my game… just stand there and accept your fate. Either way, if you try to escape, then you are a dead man.
But if you do choose to play my game, then remember this. I have very strict house rules.
- You have four hours to complete my game. Once four hours have passed by, your warrior will die, and so will you.
- I will always be there with you during this session. I will never leave your side. In fact, I am presently right behind you.
- If your eyes leave the monitor at any time, you are a dead man.
- If your eyes remain closed for more than two seconds at any given time, you are a dead man.
- If your hand leaves the mouse for more than one second, you are a dead man.
- If you rise from that suitcase even the slightest, you are a dead man.
- If you attempt to cry out for help, you are a dead man.
- If you try to leave the game, you are a dead man. The option to exit from the game via the menu has been permanently disabled. The visage of Mecephyrus has been burned into your monitor, behind the game – by alt-tabbing out of the game you will see his visage, and your blood will instantly turn into a crystalline sludge, and your life will end then and there. Again, if you try to look away from the monitor while alt-tabbing your way out, you are a dead man.
- You will not save you game. Mecephyrus enjoys watching you struggle. I do, too. I will enjoy it even more if your warrior is slain.
- You will not pause the game for more than five seconds. If you do, you are a dead man.
Whether to die a quick and painless death, or a bloody, lingering one, is your decision to make. Make your decision with courage, and Mecephyrus may take that into consideration…”
I felt the presence of another being behind me as it exhaled from his nostrils and onto the right-hand side of my neck. I sat with my eyes glued to the monitor, frozen, as my adrenaline immediately flowed throughout my body. What was next to me, I could only guess. The shock of everything had left the left-hand side of my chest aching a dull, long, throbbing ache.
“Jacob…” I muttered with hatred in my breath as I caught my breath. “I have no choice it seems. Confessor, I’ll play your damned game, and I’ll be the best damn player to have ever played it! Now, to find the Butcher…”
I suddenly realized that Drakhan was nearly halfway out of health simply from standing too long in that one spot, and I proceeded to open my inventory, grabbed one of the smaller health potions, and had my warrior quaff it down. There was even an animation of the warrior taking a large swig from the potion. My health was restored by a good bit, though it wouldn’t remain that way for long. I needed to proceed forwards and confront the Butcher in what would be the last time for me…
I knew what must be done.
I guided my warrior towards the far side of the chamber. Drakhan was shaking feverishly as he walked and gripped the cleaver the way a baseball player would before swinging at bat.
As the camera scrolled with the warrior, I suddenly noticed a huge figure with bulging muscles come into view. He was easily twice the size of the warrior. “There you are…” I muttered under my breath.
Whoever it was that was sitting next to me exhaled through his nostrils once again, fightly chuckling something with a ‘sneering’ tone to it. Whoever it was, he wanted my warrior dead. He wanted me dead… he just couldn’t wait. He was so eager to jump me; I could feel it.
The Butcher was a hulking figure that was smothered with several layers of rotting gore, wielding an even more sinister cleaver that required both hands – even to him – in order to wield. His usual apron seemed larger, with strings of blood dotting the old fabric. The same, sick, twisted smile that was ever present on the original version of the fiend still remained with this one, though easier to see. The same fears I had about the Butcher as a child quickly returned to me – only this time my fears are not in any way misplaced. If the Butcher killed my warrior, then whatever sitting next to me would certainly do the same. Then again, even if I did slay the Butcher, would the Confessor keep its word?
My warrior grew very nervous, frightened, shuffling his feet as he kept the cleaver raised. The Butcher just stood there, watching the warrior, waiting for Drakhan to make a swing at him.
I just couldn’t help but stare at that hulking brute’s cleaver. One good swing would send the warrior howling to the ground in several pieces. I approached the fiend, and readied myself for what could be my final fight.
“Your friend… Jacob… he never had the courage to make that first swing at him. He just walked his little sorcerer in tight patterns, drinking all of his health potions just to stay alive.” Said the man into my right ear. He voice sounded very deep, with a thick country accent. The Confessor continued, “Eventually, he ran out of potions to drink. He relied then on magic to cure his wounds.” He let loose another sneering chuckle, “And after a while he ran out of mana of which he needed to continue casting his curative spells. I watched his sorcerer slowly bleed out to death. You should have seen the look on your friend’s face. The fear. The tears welling up in his eyes.”
I did my best not to process this information. My chest was aching enough as it was. Instead, I ordered my warrior to take his position and made sure I had enough health potions for this fight, even though one good connecting hit from the Butcher would likely drop him and it’d be highly unlikely that he’d ever get back up.
“I must confess that I took pity on your friend, Jake.” Said the me.
I did my best to ignore the Confessor.
“So I took Jacob by the leg with one hand, uplifted the squealing man high up into the air, and I took my other free hand, you see, Jake, and I severed his head with one good, hearty swipe at his throat... with this."
The sound of a hefty blade scraping from its sheath pierced through the darkness. The bright monitor caused the Confessor's blade to glint across the room, the way a watch would when the sun striked it.
"It was... relatively clean.”
Those words caused me to have a reflex, and I clicked on the Butcher by accident. The massive demon responded by heaving his sinister weapon towards Drakhan. My warrior evaded the Butcher’s cleaver, yelping and hollering from fear – the way any man would in such a situation. I could hear the warrior gasp as he attempted to strike back at the demon, ducking the Butcher’s counterattacks and roaring out like a lion would when cornered. Controlling my character became increasingly difficult, almost to the point where controlling him seemed impossible.
“Then I took your friend… lifted him up even higher, took another really good hearty at him to loosen everything up inside, and watched his guts as they spilled from his body.”
“You fucking bastard!” I yelled to the Confessor. I then watched in horror as my warrior slipped on some blood on the floor, just narrowly avoiding being sliced in half as the Butcher heaved his cleaver downwards. If Drakhan hadn’t rolled out of the way, he’d be cut into two. The Butcher recovered from the swing and slashed his cleaver from a steep angle. My warrior, yet again, narrowly dodged the swing and counterattacked, slashing at the hulking demon and cutting the Butcher deeply in the left shoulder. Crimson ran down the length of the Butcher’s arm. Drakhan huffed while keeping his cleaver raised.
"Assuming his face was easy enough, you know."
I tried clicking on the ground behind the warrior, though it seemed he didn’t feel like turning his back against such formidable foe. The Butcher swung once more, missing again. The warrior attempted to strike back at the Butcher, but a sudden savage haymaker to the face sent Drakhan to the ground, rolling over and sliding back at a bit – taking a third of his health with him. His cleaver had slid away from him a good distance, and the warrior himself lay of the ground like a limp rag.
“I thoroughly enjoyed myself, you know.” The Confessor said, “Killing your friend, that is. You will be joining him soon enough. You know that?”
I hissed behind my teeth, clicking frantically, “Get up... get up!”
The Butcher began to approach the warrior, his cleaver raised. Clicking did nothing to stir the warrior.
“Oh. Is this the end for you, Jake? Need I remind you again how close you are to death?”
A very sharp, burning pain slid across my upper right arm. I clenched my teeth and did my best not to do anything, though I felt like doing nothing short of howling from the pain. My sleeve became very wet – assumed to have been soaked with my own blood, and it began to trickle down, then dripped steadily onto my pants.
“You are shaking, Jake. Did that hurt?” the Confessor sneered, “You are bleeding badly it looks like. What misfortune.”
My warrior begin to stir and, with incredible reflexes, lunged away from the Butcher's incoming cleaver. I clicked on the warrior's cleaver lying nearby and Drakhan quickly attempted to retrieve it. The fight continued.
“You should see how badly your arm is bleeding, Jake. Go on, take a look at it.”
It took every ounce of me not to panic – to focus instead on this one fight. The Butcher charged for my warrior and slashed at him. Again, luck permitted my character to duck just in time. It seemed I'd triggered the right combination of clicks as my warrior turned around while swinging a backwards style slash at the Butcher's left knee. The blow connected, and the Butcher was sent to the ground with a severed left leg below the knee. The Butcher let loose a loud grunt from the ground, slashing wildly at the warrior amidst the gore the demon was leaving behind. Drakhan was standing nearby, panting heavily, shaking, wobbling a bit, and with a near broken face.
Though mortally wounded, the Butcher was adamant on finishing the fight. He squirmed and crawled towards the warrior, who in turn stood readied with his cleaver held high above his shoulder. Crawling on his belly, the Butcher slashed at the warrior some more. Drakhan blocked a series of quick strikes, though took a quick, shallow slash across the gut, and he fell to the ground clasping his bleeding stomach.
The growling continued next to my ear all the while. I was getting a little lightheaded and my chest was aching even more.
The Butcher snatched the warrior by the ankle, pulled the howling man towards him, and raised his cleaver high so as to deliver a fatal blow to my character. I gave a stray click on the Butcher's face, and Drakhan heaved his cleaver quickly, burying its ill-begotten edge deep into the demon's skull. The Butcher's raised arm collapsed to the ground as did the rest of him, while Drakhan broke the grip of his ankle, and scooted back and away from the slain demon.
The Butcher was no more. He would never again trouble me.
My warrior got to his feet and yanked the bloodied weapon of his from the Butcher's face, and announced proudly in the usual fashion, “The spirits of the dead are now avenged.”
The Confessor exhaled onto me yet again, and chuckled deeply and very slowly, “You timed that fatal strike perfectly. But now, I am even more determined to have you killed a little earlier. Proceed forwards, to the level below this one – more specifically, into the Nursery that once protected the children of Tristram long ago during times of trouble... a side of the storyline that no one has discovered prior. I will tell you the history of such a forsaken place soon enough — if you are still willing to play my game.”
I truly dreaded what this fiend next to me had in store for me later on. I felt horrible, woozy, though I had little choice but to continue onwards, towards the Nursery...
“Wait, before you click on that staircase leading down, I feel the need to tell you about it.” Said the man next to me, “Yes, the Nursery. You see, there is no Nursery level. There never was. This staircase was designed to make the game crash – and you know already, if that happens, the visage of Mecephyrus will fill the screen and those who see it will die, almost instantaneously.”
Still fairly lightheaded, I remained quiet, listening the Confessor's poisoned words.
“I started development of this game many, many years ago. I think at the turn of '92, somewhere near at that time. This game was simple enough in concept: The player would scurry around the dungeon, killing beasties and eventually slaying their way to level two where they would meet the Butcher. If the Butcher killed the player's character, the game would crash and reveal Mecephyrus on the screen, killing the player. If the player somehow managed to defeat the Butcher, he or she would likely attempt to continue downwards via the staircase to the nonexistent Nursery. The player would surely die then, since the game would crash of course. Before I began developing this game, I estimated at least one hundred thousand would die within the first day alone.”
“Why?” I whispered hatefully, “You sick—”
The man drove the tip of his blade through my shoe, skewering my right foot. I grunted loudly as the man pulled the blade loose from my foot. I whimpering through clenched teeth, doing my best to cope with the agony. My shoe sloshed with blood.
“Do not interrupt me, beast.” Said the man with a sinister tone to his unnaturally deep voice, “Because I felt compelled to bring as many souls as I could to Mecephyrus, that is why. Where was I? Oh yes... so, I developed the game to a very limited degree – to what you have seen up until this point. However, Mecephyrus had other plans for me. He requested that I abandon the project, and instead spend my time elsewhere. So, with a little technical know-how, I managed to cram everything I had made up until that point into the actual engine itself, and sold the seeded engine to a company that was desperately in need of an engine to support their own little version of a hack-and-slash game – to a company known at the time as Blizzard North for their so-called 'Diablo' project.”
The Confessor cleared his throat, continuing, “An assistant of mine had lent a helping hand to me in the past regarding my project. He was paranoid to a fault, and thought that Blizzard North was somehow going to undermine our efforts. He refused to listen to my words of reassurance, and instead infiltrated the Blizzard North headquarters and became a member of the team using his wit and charm, and his technical know-how. He had managed to 'retrieve' very small pieces of my project and presented his 'work' to the other staff members, who took quick inspiration and modeled their game after what was to be my death-trap. Understandably, it would never pass the censorship of that age – but my assistant could never fully grasp that. He was adamant in preserving what I had made, while the rest of the team moved toward a much lighter approach, much to his frustration. He got angry, and through a fit the world damned world could hear. Blizzard North gave him the boot, and I never heard from him again.”
I dared to speak, and said, “But those people... that you tortured to make those death-screams for the monsters I slew earlier... what about them? Did they take part in your so-called development?”
“I already told you.” The Confessor said lowly, “Those are the ones that refused to play my game, or are the ones that failed to slay the Butcher. Yes, I recorded their pleas for mercy – and I loved every minute of it. I personally broke into the core game files from this instillation on the computer, drilled a hole through the engine, and put those files there. You fail to remember that the whole point of our meeting was for you to die, beast.”
More adrenaline spiked through my veins.
“Now, how will you choose to die? By the staircase? Or by me?”
I froze with terror.
“Or shall I make the decision for you?”
I hesitated with what seemed like an eternity.
“Either way, Mecephyrus will take you into his ranks.” The Confessor said as he rose to his feet and got behind me once again. He continued, with words as cold as the grave, “So, abandon your will to live. All that awaits you now is the subjugation put onto you by my god. You are too late to save Jacob, and now you will join him – and become proper beasts – in Hell.”
Drakhan suddenly fell onto his back, having bled to death.
A broad steel blade erupted from the center of my chest, and I soon found the old keyboard to be my pillow...
(The screen fades to black, then fades in to a still image of the blood-speckled keyboard.)
The bodies of both Jake and Jacob were never found. The authorities stopped looking for them after seven months of searching. Their families will never have closure, and will, many years from now, stare at two tombstones presiding over their empty graves. They will all die without knowing what happened to their sons and brothers.
(The screen fades to black again, then fades in to a still image of the staircase leading into the nonexistent Nursery.)
Assuming various forms, the Confessor succeeds at kidnapping, torturing, murdering, and then cannibalizing three more victims before leaving the house that was used to conceal these secrets, leaving behind a weathered shell, a shadow, a husk of a home, broken in every respect, defiled by the evil committed within its walls. No evidence of these crimes have ever been linked to the Confessor, and his identity has yet to be known.