That Horrible Moment Chapter 9

The Gates of Hell

By Donraj

        Chell came to a halt. Although he knew that speech was unnecessary, he addressed his undead minions aloud.


        Closing his eyes, he vanished, and reappeared a short distance away from the place they had taken as their fortress.

        It was an up thrust portion of the forest, a hill coming close to fifty feet high. It was misshapen, shifting randomly from flat surfaces to steep inclines. It looked as though a giant hand had grabbed it and squeezed it like a lump of clay. Boulders jutted out at odd angles, and scattered openings led to a small cave complex within.

        Chell remembered the fight to wrest the place from the small goblin tribe that had held it, remembered how he and Lanal had acted as forerunners, slipping into the cavern and killing goblins in their sleep. He remembered how they had been forced to flee as the goblins awoke and banded together against them. He remembered running out of the place with a salivating goblin less then a foot behind him.

        Right into Drake’s waiting troops.

        It had been a massacre, the ambushing troops falling on the blood-crazed goblins before they even realized they were under attack.

        He dismissed the pleasant memories and returned his attention to the current situation. He stepped out from amid the trees, startling the sentries, who immediately brought their weapons to bear.

        The weapons went back down when they saw who he was. But their fear increased.

        “Take me to Marcello.”

        They gulped, then complied.

        Soon Chell was inside, the sole remaining bandit officer standing before him. Marcello fidgeted nervously, making a few, futile attempts to engage Chell in conversation. Finally, Chell broke the silence.

        “We suffered severe casualties on our last raid. The entire group was slaughtered.”

        Marcello started at him in shock, then began to stammer a reply. Chell let him babble on for awhile, not even bothering to listen to what the man was saying, then cut him off.

        “Fortunately, that is not as much of a problem as you would think. I’ve come to realize something Marcello. The living make poor soldiers, for they fear death. But what could the dead have to fear?”

        “What do you mean sir?”

        Chell simply smiled, waiting patiently. After a moment, a hideous scream reverberated from outside. Marcello, a veteran of many brutal battles and atrocities, shuddered, and even Chell was impressed. He had never heard such sheer terror.

        Chell’s hands snapped out from his sleeves, wrapping themselves around Marcello’s throat in a bony vise. With unnatural strength Chell lifted him from the ground, savoring the man’s expression of horror as his air was cut off. Chell laughed at him.

        “Do you see?” he hissed. “Do you see how the living fear the dead?”

        Within minutes, it was all over. Every man there was dead.

        Chell had his minions bring the mutilated corpses together into one large pile. He looked at the masks of horror their dead faces were twisted into without an ounce of guilt or compassion, not caring in the least that he had lived and fought beside these people. Focusing his will, he began an unholy chant. A blackness as dark as the fires of Hell flickered into existence around his hands. Raising his hands, he lifted his palms upward as if in benediction. Bits of dark flame broke off and floated away, each one finding a body. The vile spirits sank into the fresh corpses, and one by one they twitched and rose to horrifying life.

        Chell watched his new abominations with macabre satisfaction, then turned and walked inside. He grinned wickedly as he wondered how Drake and Lanal would react.


        As the full moon rose high above them, they were finally forced to halt and make camp for the night. After unsaddling the chocobos Alberto had gotten them (no one dared ask how) they rolled out their bedrolls and lit a small fire. After his watch ended and Rosa’s began Gilliam slipped off into the forest, alone with his thoughts.

        He heard a sound from overhead. A familiar tune was being hummed. Gilliam looked up to see Ellis siting in the branches. She looked down at him.

        “Couldn’t sleep?” she asked. Gilliam shook his head.

        “Mind if I join you?” he asked. She nodded and he scrambled up to take a seat beside her. They sat there in uncomfortable silence for several long moments, staring up at the full moon. Finally, Gilliam spoke.

        “I need to ask you something.”

        Ellis turned her head sideways towards him. “Go ahead.” Gilliam closed his eyes.

        I keep seeing it Ellis. I keep seeing Drake kill my father, over and over. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, it’s driving me insane.”

        He looked at her, tears slipping from his eyes, his body trembling.

        “I need to know how you do it. How do you stop the pain? He did the same to your family; I need you to tell me how you did it. How do you stop seeing it?”

        He looked at her desperately, tears streaming down his face.

        “You kill yourself.”

        Gilliam stared at her in shock.

        “Part of yourself anyway. You destroy the part of your heart that bleeds, that cries, that mourns. You kill the part of yourself that feels pain, and you never let yourself feel anything again. You forget about the past, and live only in the moment. That’s how you stop it Gilliam. You die.”

        Gilliam looked into her eyes, then nodded. Forcing his features straight, he wiped the tears away.

        “Thank you. I’ll go now.”

        He started to jump down, but Ellis grabbed his arm.

        “No,” she whispered. “Please, don’t go.”

        Gilliam eased back and put his arm around her. She leaned against his shoulder, and they looked up at the full moon once more.

        In silence.


        Hanlon jerked as he came awake. Shock blasted away sleepiness as he realized that he had fallen asleep on his watch. He looked up at the sky, trying to gauge how long he had been out by the moon’s position. The trees made it difficult to see, but he estimated it had been less then a hour.

        He looked to the bedrolls. Katoi was gone from the place that he has been curled up. Wondering what the creature was up to, he sprang to his feet. He caught the goblin’s voice. Silently, he crept through the forest towards it. Crouching behind a bush, he spied the reluctant guide standing with Alberto. The two seemed to be in an animated conversation.

        “But if you kill them with magic, how can you enjoy it?” Katoi said in its own language. “How can you do so without the heat of their blood on your hands and mouth, the feel of their bones snapping? What about the screams, the blood spray?!”

        Alberto replied in the same tongue.

        “It’s a loss, but it’s worth it! Those things may be good, but seeing them burn is better!”

        Katoi seemed to consider this for a moment, but still seemed doubtful.

        “But then how do you eat their hearts?”

        The two seemed to be hitting it off wonderfully. Hanlon listened in amazement as the conversation continued along that vein. Finally, he shook his head and went back to his post. He was starting to understand why these people were so nervous about the mage!

        Oblivious to Hanlon’s spying, the two fast friends began to discuss the best way to kill Drake. Katoi was unsure how to get past the armor, but Alberto assured him it would not be a problem.

        “One lightning bolt,” he promised. “It works even better on armor. He’ll fry in his armor like bacon on a grill!”

        Alberto had to stop and explain that last bit to the primitive goblin, who had always eaten his food raw. Once he understood the concept he nodded and conceded that, in this one situation, Alberto’s way was better. Feeling a rare sense of camaraderie, Alberto clapped the scrawny creature on the back. Once again, Alberto decided that being assigned to Ramza’s command was the best thing that had ever happened to him.


        Drake came to an abrupt halt.

        It was evening, and they had finally made it home.

        Something was wrong though. Drake wasn’t sure what at first, but his instincts, refined by decades of combat, shouted that something was wrong. Then it hit him. There was a familiar, coppery smell in the air.


        Lanal, oblivious to the situation, continued his endless chatter, nearly smashing into Drake as he abruptly stopped. Drake had long-ago given up any hope of ever getting him to shut up and did his best to simply ignore his too valuable to kill lieutenant’s annoying voice.

        Lanal, realizing that Drake had noticed something, mercifully fell silent as he edged away from the dragoon. Fingering his concealed dagger’s hilt, he scanned the area for threats. He caught the smell of blood as well, and realized what had caught Drake’s attention.

        After half a minute, no threat presented itself. Wordlessly, Drake motioned forward. Lanal, having fought beside the canny dragoon for many years, understood the gesture perfectly. Crouching to reduce his profile, he slipped ahead, as silent as a snake.

        Several minutes passed before Lanal returned, so stealthily that even Drake’s hyper-alert senses failed to notice him. Lanal spoke in a whisper, with an economy of words that was the complete opposite of his normally loquacious self.

        “The sentries are dead. No sign of what killed them. The base sounds deserted, but I did not go in.”

        Drake nodded. Hefting his spear, he strode ahead. Not bothering to worry about noise, he trampled over the underbrush. As he walked to the small main entrance, he saw the sentries sprawled out on the ground. Fearlessly, he strode into his domain.

        They walked the corridors in silence, finding dead bodies every now and then. A terrified “Wark!” caught their attention. Taking a turn, they entered the stables, where the handful of chocobos that had not been ridden into their last battle were stabled.

        They were wild with fear, eyes wide with panic. They warked constantly in berserk terror, smashing their heavy claws against the solid wooden fence that held them caged.

        Drake and Lanal looked at the terrified creatures, the only things Chell had not yet killed yet, with apprehension. Whatever it was that had so frightened them would likely be coming for them next. Drake turned and walked out first, grimly determined to find whatever it was that had invaded his stronghold.

        As they rounded a corner, they found Chell standing there. He waved his hand in a gesture of greeting. Lanal gawked at the unnatural sight, and even Drake found himself unnerved. Gathering his calm, Drake addressed Chell.

        “I assume that this is you handiwork.”

        It was not a question. Drake had little doubt that his old comrade was behind this.

        “Indeed. Do you remember how I said I knew a way to strengthen our forces? Well, I have.”

        Lanal looked about doubtfully.

        “You have an unorthodox way of doing so,” he commented fliply.

        Chell smiled.

        “Look behind you.”

        Lanal did just that, and gasped in horror as he saw the bodies they had passed on the way in shambling towards them. Drake lifted his spear and fell into a fighting posture as he saw still more coming from behind Chell. Grimly, Drake realized just how badly Chell had outmaneuvered him. They were surrounded, by undead creatures that would not fear his lance or Lanal’s daggers and tricks. The low ceiling denied him the advantage of maneuverability, and he doubted he would even be able to move fast enough to take revenge on Chell before the wizard teleported away.

        The necromancer smiled.

        “Come,” he invited, “let us discuss our new arrangement.”


        Dusk was falling as the party reached the bandits’ stronghold. They had left the chocobos behind in order to move quietly through the dense foliage. Katoi came to a stop. He turned to the others, eyes bright at the prospect of vengeance.

        “We’re here. Past these trees is my clan’s lair.”

        “You are sure you gave us a full description of the layout?” Hanlon asked for the fifteenth time. Katoi gave him an annoyed snarl. Hanlon nodded.

        “I’m sure you all remember the plan, but let’s go over it one last time. Rosa, Alberto, Katoi, the three of you will enter through the main entrance. Ellis, you trail behind them and pick off anyone that tries to catch them from behind.”

        He turned to Gilliam.

        “While they draw their attention to the main entrance, you and I will go around the side and scale the hill. We’ll slip in through one of the side entrances and meet the others inside. With luck, we’ll catch them from both sides before they realize they’re under attack.”

        The old man looked at each one of them, meeting their eyes.

        “You realize that we could be overwhelmed. I’m only guessing that Drake brought most of his men out with him. If we gamble wrong, if he has a sizable force with him, we will all be slaughtered.”

        He let the words hang in the air. Ellis broke the silence.

        “Life’s a bitch and then you die.”

        That drew a startled laugh from everyone. They found themselves nodding in agreement. Hanlon smiled.

        “Then let’s go.”



        Chell sat in utter darkness, legs crossed, eyes closed. The darkness was more then an external gloom. Falling into his meditation, Chell sent his mind probing into that darkness, seeking answers, trying to make sense of the power he had seen on the other side of death.

        In a deep trance, Chell sensed a being of awesome, titanic power. Once he would have trembled, but somehow he knew that the fiendish creature meant him no harm. A dark voice, resonating with power, echoed through his mind.

        -Your enemies come. Be ready.-

        Chell’s eyes flew open. He rose, telepathically commanding his undead servants to take positions for battle. Forming a mental map of the fortress, he moved his soldiers like pawns on a chessboard, carefully calculating the best places to station them.

        As he did, he turned his thoughts to the place where Drake and Lanal waited. It was time to move his rook and knight.


        Drake and Lanal watched through the open doorway as the zombies that had been acting as their jailors shambled away. They were in Drake’s private quarters. Chell had herded them there and stationed a host of zombies in front of the only exit. Drake had realized that even he would stand no chance of fighting his way through the unfeeling sentinels, and so he waited, furious, wondering what Chell would do next.

        In a crackle of magic, Chell was there, standing in the doorway.

        “The people we fought at the caravan have come. Drake, head out the upper passages and attack them from above. Lanal, go down below and slow their advance. Do not worry about our soldiers, they will not trouble you.”

        With that, he vanished.

        Drake and Lanal looked at each other. Lanal shrugged.

        “Notice how he said ‘our soldiers?”

        Drake had. Perhaps this would work out for them after all.

        Lanal sprinted off, Drake marched in the opposite direction. What choice did they have but to obey?



        Rosa’s skin crawled as they walked past the dead sentries. Something was wrong with this place, something about the very air. The stench of death hung heavily over the place, and even Alberto retched slightly as they walked in. Something was wrong.

        They came to a crossroads with three passages, two leading upwards, the other down. The intersection was littered with bodies. Rosa started to consult Katoi for directions, but before she could the corpses rose up and lunged at them!

        Horrified, Rosa, managed to draw her sword and slash it deep into the throat of nearest zombie, cleaving all the way through to its spine. A living man would have died, but the undead creature barely even noticed the awful wound. Reaching past her sword, it seized Rosa’s throat in an unnaturally strong grip. It shoved forward, forcing her down under its weight.

        Alberto fared better. Lifting his staff, he fired off a lightning bolt that sent chunks of zombie flesh splattering against the walls.

        Katoi wasted no time leaping atop one of them, knocking it to the ground with the force of his charge. Grabbing it by the chin, Katoi twisted and pulled, snapping its neck all the way around with a bone-breaking crack. Katoi let out a savage howl of victory.

        But the zombie did not even feel it. Its head flopping and turned backward it still managed to wrap its arms around Katoi in a crushing bear hug.

        Katoi squirmed free. Shoving his weight forward, the goblin did a handstand, landing feet first atop the zombie’s head. Its skull smashed under the impact, and Katoi reveled in the sensation of its brain squishing amid his bare toes.

        The creature still fought on. Katoi backed away incredulously, his innate ferocity failing him for the first time in his short and violent life. It was only the second time he had ever felt afraid of an opponent.

        Alberto charged another lightning bolt, but his arm was jerked up as a zombie grabbed him from behind. The blast discharged into the ceiling, bring stone crashing down on them all.


        Hanlon grunted as he climbed the sheer stretch of the jagged hillside. Gilliam was close behind him, youthful energy struggling to keep pace with Hanlon’s practiced skill. Not daring to remove a hand to wipe his brow, Hanlon looked up.

        Drake was standing on the ledge above.

        Hanlon looked down to Gilliam.



        “I’m sorry.”

        That said, Hanlon kicked down at Gilliam, sending the young swordsman plummeting down. Hanlon knew they were close enough to the ground that the boy would be alright. With a burst of energy he hadn’t known he had in him, Hanlon scrambled up the rest of the way.

        Drake watched him as he did, making no move to attack him. As Hanlon stood, Drake spoke.

        “I have realized that I know you. You fought as a mercenary for the nobles during the war. You fought beside me many times, didn’t you?”

        “Yes,” Hanlon replied.

        “You were every bit as vicious as I was, weren’t you?”

        When Hanlon made no move to reply, Drake continued.

        “You were a murder. You cared for nothing about nonsense such as honor or mercy. You were a beast, and no amount of blood could satisfy you.”

        “Shut up!” Hanlon shouted. Drake snorted.

        “You’re no better then I am.”

        Hanlon charged the dragoon.

        “This is for every person I murdered!”

        Drake readied his spear to meet him.


        Ellis stumbled as Alberto’s magic rocked the fortress. Scrapping her knees painfully against the stone floor, she barely managed to avoid falling flat on her face.

        Dust choked her as she regained her footing. Two of the passages had been sealed off by the rock fall. Seeing no other options, she walked up the remaining passage.

        As she did, Lanal entered from the other side. Both froze in shock.

        Faster then she would have thought possible, Ellis aimed and fired. The arrow razored across the side of his neck as he turned and fled. Cursing, Ellis gave chase.

        Lanal led her through a maze of passages, zigzagging erratically in an attempt to throw her of the trail. Ellis clung to him doggedly, never letting up. Finally, she saw moonlight drifting in from the passage Lanal had turned down. He had led her outside. Blind with hatred, Ellis charged after him.

        As she exited Lanal sprang at her from the side, dagger gleaming in the bright moonlight. She swung her bow like a club in a desperate attempt to block. Clenching her fist, she slammed a haymaker into his midsection.

        Lanal staggered towards the edge of the ledge, gasping for breath. Wasting no time, Ellis drew another arrow, pulled it and released.

        Nothing happened. Ellis slowly looked at her bow. Lanal had slashed the string. She looked at him.

        Regaining his breath, Lanal straightened. He smiled apologetically at her, then cocked his dagger hand back to throw.

        Dropping her useless bow, Ellis waited defenselessly for the killing shot.



        Hanlon came at Drake in a wild rush, amazingly fast. Drake, caught off guard by the speed of the attack, swung his spear in a horizontal block. Hanlon grabbed the shaft with both hands. Not slowing a bit, he flipped right over Drake’s head. Spinning even before he hit the ground, Hanlon smashed two iron blows into the back of Drake’s armored skull. As Drake turned, Hanlon leapt into a spinning kick that caught Drake square in the side of the face. The dragoon went crashing to the ground, pencil-rolling to absorb the impact. His spear went clattering from his hands.

        As he tried to stand, Hanlon charged his again. His spear lost, Drake caught Hanlon by the shirt and fell back, sending the old man flying. Retrieving his spear, Drake stood and reexamined his enemy.

        The old man’s fighting style was completely different from the way he had fought in their last encounter. His attacks were frenzied, savage, almost animalistic. In fact, he was fighting more like the vicious mercenary Drake remembered from the war. Drake knew he was facing a deadly enemy, but he had not survived this long without a few tricks up his sleeve.

        “Do you remember that village on the border, just three years before the end of the war?” he taunted. “Do you remember what we did there? Do you remember the children? Surely you remember the children!”

        Predictably, Hanlon charged, snarling with rage. Drake feinted with a straightforward spear thrust. As Hanlon slipped past the tip of the weapon, Drake triggered a hidden catch in his right gauntlet. A three foot long blade slid out. Stepping forward, Drake removed one hand from the spear and stabbed the blade between Hanlon’s ribs, skewering him with his own momentum. Eyes wide, Hanlon looked down at the mortal wound, then up into the eye slits of Drake’s helmet.

        “You are just like me,” Drake told him. “Only weak.”

        He pulled the bloody blade back out. It retracted back into his gauntlet. Hanlon staggered, then fell back. Drake leapt away, leaving him to die alone.

        Gilliam climbed onto the ledge just in time to see it happen. He ran to Hanlon, catching him before he hit the ground. Lowering him gently to the ground, Gilliam started to reach for a bandage. Hanlon grabbed his arm and shook his head. It would do no good, his wound was too severe.

        “Gilliam, listen to me. I did more then just fight beside Drake during the war.”

        “Don’t talk,” Gilliam hushed. Hanlon ignored him.

        “I killed many people, soldiers, civilians, I didn’t care. Murder, rape, anything you can accuse him of I did as well. I’m just as guilty as they are. Forgive me…”

        His chest rattling with his last breath, Hanlon shuddered and died. Gilliam held him close.

        Gilliam looked up, seeing Drake at the summit. Rising to his feet, he began to climb.


        Alberto and Katoi coughed as the dust from the cave in began to clear. They looked at the sealed passage, amazed at their good fortune. They had come within mere feet of being buried alive.


        They turned to see Chell standing patiently, waiting.

        “I believe we have unfinished business,” he said calmly, casting a venomous glare at Alberto. Katoi, caring nothing for the byplay, flung himself at the wizard.

        Chell raised his left hand, black energy crackling around it.

        “Strip aside vanity and show reality!”

        A line of pure destructive energy pulsed out from his hand, striking Katoi in midair. The blast tore right through him, burning through his chest and sending the diminutive creature flying. He slammed into Alberto. The mage caught him. The goblin spasmed, then went limp in the wizard’s arms.

        For the first time in his life, Alberto felt a stab of grief. Trembling with rage, he lowered his friend to the ground and stood. Sparks danced in his eyes, and in his mind he heard Lich calling out to him once more.

        This time, he accepted.



        As the oxygen to her brain was cut off, Rosa’s vision went dark. As the world began to fade, she felt a familiar presence enfold her.


        Light banished the darkness. Radiance began to flare between her fingers as she grappled with the undead creature, scorching the creature’s flesh. It fell back, screeching in agony. Scooping her sword up, she fell on it in a frenzy, hacking at it over and over, brutally chopping the hideous thing to pieces.

        When she was done, she turned to the sole remaining exit. A dozen zombies blocked her path.

        There was no way she could escape.

Chapter 10

Donraj's Fanfiction