Blizzard Story Contest Entry: The Ballad of Ib The Ballad of Ib by Blake Linton Wilfong This tale is of Ib. A Flayer was he, Who lived in a jungle of vine and tree-- A pygmy, a runt to such folk as we, But never a braver soul shall there be! Ib was a demon, a minion of Hell, Yet in his heart hatred never did dwell. Like all of his clan he tried to be bad, But the thought of killing just made him sad. "Why must we murder the humans out there? They've done us no wrong. Their lives we should spare!" Thus spaketh Ib to his shaman one day, And this furthermore he went on to say: "With pride and honor they struggle for life, Or to save home and hearth, and child and wife. Full knowing each breath might well be their last, They fight nonetheless, the men of Kurast. Such traits do we respect in our village, So why should their town we burn and pillage? Yes, men are different, so gawky and tall, But they've minds and feelings, just like us all." The other Flayers, they laughed and they jeered: "You're broken, defective, or just plain weird! It happens sometimes, that sort of odd thing: A demon made with bum leg or bent wing." They put him in charge of the simplest task: Maintain the Gidbinn. That's not much to ask! Make sure it stays sharpened, well oiled, and clean. No need to be cruel, or nasty, or mean. It worked for a while, till one fateful day, The spies from Kurast reported to say, "Their protective spells are doomed without aid. All that can save them's the Skatsimi blade!" Really? The Gidbinn? Poor Ib was in shock. He knew he must sneak it down to the dock. Whatever the cost, he'd do what was right. So he made his move that very same night. Ib kept to shadow, as a Flayer ought, When roaming through Kurast, lest he be caught. He there left the blade by a napping sage, A graybeard whose name was Ormus the Mage. Ib barely had time to hide once again Before there approached a Barbarian. He took the Gidbinn up into his grasp, Just as old Ormus awoke with a gasp. "Ha! Well done, Ulf!" the mage shouted with glee. "You've brought the Skatsimi back here to me." He snatched the weapon and set it in place, On a stand where its glow lit up the space. "No," Ulf protested, "I did no such thing." "How modest!" quoth Ormus. "Here, take this ring. Its magic is great but does me no good." The honest Ulf paused, unsure if he should. He felt it wrong to accept a reward That he had not earned by his strength and sword. But his need was great; his work must be done. His fight with Diablo was not yet won. So Ulf placed the ring upon a finger, Then said his farewells, and did not linger But to hire a merc who called himself Flux And buy him a sword and shield most deluxe. In the meantime, Ib returned to his clan And confessed his deeds in service of Man. As one might expect, they made quite a fuss. "You're unfit," they judged, "to be one of us!" "Yes!" cried the shaman. "Away you must go!" "Traitors are banished, as surely you know." And so, with only his loincloth and knife, Little Ib set forth to start a new life. He crept through jungle primeval and dark, And realized this was no walk in the park. It sank in at last: He'd been rejected! He sat on a rock and wept, dejected. For he had no people; he had no home. He might as well be a Ghoul or a Gloam. What good could he do, by himself alone? The wrongs of his kind, he'd never atone! At that moment, Ib was frozen in ice! "Come, come now, Flux, that was not very nice," Ulf admonished his Iron Wolf hireling. "He posed us no threat, sitting there crying." "Well then, suit yourself," Flux said with a shrug. "We can wait till he thaws, the little thug. I must admit, 'tis a curious sight. All Flayers I've met want only to fight!" They bided their time until Ib was thawed. Seeing the pair, he was thoroughly awed. But introductions were made, hands shaken, Stories exchanged, oaths of friendship taken. "Hahaha!" laughed Ulf. "So you are the one By whom the quest for the Gidbinn was done! My thanks for your help, and here is your ring." Ib had never dreamt to own such a thing! "Deckard Cain told me to craft Khalim's Will. Found his heart, but eye and brain I need still." Ulf paused in hopes Ib could give him a clue. "Any idea," he asked, "what I should do?" "Of course!" quoth Ib. "I've heard the eye's hiders Placed it in a cave, guarded by spiders. When your home is a jungle, as is mine, Lots of news comes to you down the grapevine. Be cautious! For Sszark, the boss Fire Spinner, Would surely love to have us for dinner." Ulf chuckled at this. "Have no fear, Flayer. I promise to you, I'll be Sszark's slayer!" "If he drops treasure," said Flux, "I call dibs!" "Nay," replied Ulf. "The first choice shall be Ib's." So off to the eye Ib showed them the way, And it was theirs by the end of the day. "Well done, Ib!" praised Ulf. "Your value is plain. But do you know where to find Khalim's brain?" "Oh yes," answered Ib. "A horrible place, A dungeon where live the worst of my race, A pit where you'd die for sure, not perhaps, A slimy maze full of monsters and traps. I'll go in alone; it's the only way. You'd best wait out here, I'm sorry to say." "Fine with me," said Flux. "We'll remain outside. If you don't come back, we'll assume you died." Ulf shot his hireling a withering glare. "Good luck," bade the fighter, "and do take care." "One thing," asked Ib. "Could you give me some runes?" "I think I might need them to trick those goons." "Of course," replied Ulf. "May these serve you well." Even miserly Flux gave up an EL. Thus did brave Ib venture deep underground, Though his breath quicken, and his heartbeat pound. "I bear orders from the Lord of Terror," He oft called out. "Don't kill me in error!" Death he expected to find at each door, But all let him pass, through floor after floor. At last in the deepest and dankest room, Ib asked, "Doctor Endugu, I presume?" "Yes? Speak quick!" barked the master of shamans. "My time's worth far more than a mere layman's." Ib spoke in bold voice to inspire belief, "Here's a note from our commander-in-chief." "Diablo himself? Inspect it I shall!" Endugu read out, "ITH EL ETH TIR RAL." "Malice and Leaf?" he asked. "What could that mean?" "What hidden wisdom am I meant to glean?" He re-ordered the runes sideways and back, Shuffled and juggled, till he cried, "Alack! I give up, messenger. Please make it plain." But Ib had absconded with Khalim's brain. "Masterfully done!" said Ulf, back outside. "In such fine work may you ever take pride." "Indeed, nice job," Flux was heard to exclaim. Waiting or fighting, it all paid the same. "Alas," quoth Ulf, "We receive no respite. Our new quest, should we choose to accept it, Is to find and bring back Lam Esen's tome." "No problem!" said Ib. "This jungle's my home. It's in a ruined temple, under guard. To take it by force would be very hard. You could be totally swarmed at the door. So I'd better go in alone once more." "Good!" said Flux. "If you succeed, well enough. And if you should fail, can I have your stuff?" "Watch it, merc!" Ulf growled. "Do not be so cold. Courage like Ib's canâ€™t be bought for mere gold." So into the temple and down the stair Went little Ib to the Battlemaid's lair. There he met the Flesh Hunter Sarina, Whose armor showed a bloodstained patina. "Who are you?" she snapped. "And why are you here? I'm not supposed to let anyone near." "Witch Doctor Endugu thinks it tragic," Responded Ib, "to waste your book's magic. Thus and therefore he'd like it to borrow. He'll be glad to return it tomorrow." Sarina tightened her grip on her axe, But in a moment she seemed to relax. "Well," she sighed, "tell your doctor of voodoo His head's the fine if it goes overdue! I'm the strictest-ever librarian!" Ib took the tome to the barbarian. "Once again," said Ulf, "You have saved the day. I shall bring this to Alkor right away." He went to Kurast, and soon he returned To divide the stat points his team had earned. "Now," spaketh Ulf, "we obtain Khalim's Flail. Our world will be lost, if in this we fail. To get it, we must defeat, one and all, The evil High Council of Travincal." "Either you jest," exclaimed Flux, "or you're nuts!" Their guards at the gate will slice up our guts. You don't pay me enough to meet my doom At the hands of the priests of Zakarum." "Let's bypass their frontline defense," Ib said, "And launch our attack from their midst instead." "Oh, naturally!" scoffed Flux. "Why, of course! You'll sneak us through in a hollow gift horse." Ib laughed. "No, I've the Travincal waypoint. I'll cast a Town Portal. You'll crash the joint. We'll catch the Council without their minions. A good stratagem, in your opinions?" "Ha!" Flux enthused. "I'll freeze the villains blue!" "'Tis odd," said Ulf, "such fighting zeal from you." "Just give me a plan that might really work," Quoth Flux, "And my duties, I'll never shirk." True enough, when he was put to the test, Flux the Iron Wolf indeed did his best. Half the High Council he froze and shattered. The rest Ulf the Mighty bashed and battered. A guard at the gate almost spoiled the plan. Hearing a sound, he addressed the next man: "Brother, did someone behind us go 'oof?'" "Nah. You'd better lay off the hundred-proof." The last of the Council dropped Khalim's Flail, And Flux was happy to find new chain mail, But Ib had glistening tears in his eyes. "What's wrong, little friend?" Ulf asked in surprise. Said Ib, "In the heat of battle I froze. I'm just a coward at heart, I suppose." "Ummm," confessed Flux, "It's not your fault, belike. I think I hit you with a Glacial Spike." "Come on," Ulf urged. "We had best get inside, Before the guards notice their Council died." Khalim's parts he caused the Flail to absorb, Then used it to smash the Compelling Orb. "For a dentist appointment I am late," Quoth Flux, on seeing the Durance of Hate. "For once," replied Ulf, "with you I agree. This dungeon looks like a deathtrap to me." "Yes," spoke Ib, "full of Maulers and Dark Lords, With whom it would be unwise to cross swords, And many an Undead Stygian Doll, Which is what Flayers become when they fall. Again, I'm afraid, alone must go I. I'll walk with a shuffle and glassy eye. With luck, they'll be fooled and let me pass by." "Without luck," said Flux, "you will surely die.â€ "Bah!" spat Ulf. "To Mephisto you'll make it. Cast a Town Portal. From there we'll take it." Heartened by what the barbarian said, Ib shuffled off as befit the undead. Often a monster looked at him funny, Tempting poor Ib to run like a bunny. Each time he forged onward unmolested, Although his courage was sorely tested. At last tiny Ib descended the stair Leading down into the Lord of Hate's lair. The truth his minions soon would discover, For casting Town Portal blew Ib's cover. "I'll flay you!" laughed the one they called Maffer. But 'twas Ib who would be the last laugher. For through the Town Portal Ulf and Flux lept. With Mephisto's minions the floor was swept. The hireling then turned on the Lord of Hate. "No, Flux! Wait for me!" Ulf shouted too late. "While I certainly must admire your zeal, You can't solo a Prime Evil! Get real!" Fortunately, all this hardly mattered, Since, before Flux could get himself splattered, A skeletal army came roaring through, And naught was left for our trio to do. "Drat!" cursed the necromancer. "Foiled again! That's Mephisto run five hundred and ten. Still, my lovely skellies, he won't fool us! Next time he might drop the Homunculus!" Flux whispered, "Clearly, this man is insane. His necromancy has addled his brain. One too many corpses has he defiled." Indeed, his eyes were glazed; his hair ran wild. "Don't judge him too harshly," Ib whispered back. "He just saved our lives. Let's cut him some slack." "O great necromancer," he said aloud. "Of your vast power I'm sure you are proud." "Whatever," the necro said with a shrug. "A Flayer in this place must be a bug. And my pets don't kill you! I should reboot, Now that I'm done picking over the loot." With a crazed laugh, into the dark he ran. "I told you," said Flux. "An utter madman!" "Is he? Perhaps all that we see or seem," Quoth Ib, "is but a dream within a dream." "Come on, men. Let's move!" urged Ulf, realizing They would get nowhere philosophizing. He led the way through the portal to Hell, Snatching up Mephisto's Soulstone as well. "A Flayer!" Deckard Cain cried in distress, Inside the Pandemonium Fortress. Tyrael and Halbu moved to attack. "Ib!" shouted Ulf, drawing his sword. "Get back!" Flux too stood fast: "If for Ib's blood you thirst, Then you will have to kill both of us first!" "Well, since you vouch for him," said Jamella, "Fine with me. He's a cute little fella." Her words broke the ice. They all shook Ib's hand. Then he told his story, at their demand. Archangel Tyrael mused, "What a sight! A demon who chooses the side of Light! But I am gladdened to count you as friend, And we'll surely need your help ere the end. To free Izual is no easy task, Yet that is exactly what I must ask." Their swords the trio let Halbu repair. Then they set out for the Plains of Despair. In the Outer Steppes, they won many fights With Cliff Lurkers, Flesh Spawners, and Doom Knights. Through seemingly unending hordes they fought, Until Izual's attention they caught. The battle was long, and when it was through, Izual had fallen; Flux and Ulf too! Ib dragged his dead friends through a Town Portal. "O Archangel, mighty and immortal, Can you still help them?" the small Flayer wailed. "I'll trade my own life to save those I failed." "I much prefer monetary offers," Tyrael spoke, "to fill Heaven's coffers. For a sufficient quantity of cash, I could resurrect a handful of ash." "I have an idea. For half price," Ib said, "Could you rezz them partway--make them undead?" Tyreal warned, "They'll look quite bedraggled, Nothing but bones, all because you haggled." "Ib, you cheapskate!" Flux cried when he came to. "I am a skeleton, and Ulf is too!" "Forgive me," replied Ib, "my steadfast friend, But I hope you'll thank me, before the end." The barbarian was likewise confused. Quoth he, "With my new form, I'm not amused. What's so good about being a skellie? I can't even eat, without a belly." "It's all," explained Ib, "a part of my plan. Diablo's minions will kill any man. But you look like an Oblivion Knight, So they should let you march by in plain sight!" "Ha!" exclaimed Ulf. "Your idea might work well. Except there exist no Flayers in Hell. You will have to wait here; that much is plain." "Stay a while and listen!" said Deckard Cain. Thusly unchallenged, Ulf and Flux soon came To a dreadful place, the River of Flame. Past Maw Fiends, Urdars, and Stranglers they walked, And even Grotesques. At nothing they balked. "Our chance to destroy the Soulstone draws near," Spaketh Ulf. "Hephasto's Hellforge is here." "I hope this works," said Flux. He expected At any moment to be detected. "G-Good smith," the merc managed to stammer, "Mind if we borrow your forge and hammer?" Hephasto, stopping his work, turned about. "Naw, I could use a break. Knock yourselves out." Ulf and Flux waited till they were alone Before setting out Mephisto's Soulstone. Then Ulf brought down the great hammer to smash The tainted old crystal, with a loud crash. "If we're caught, our efforts will go to waste," Quoth Ulf. "I suggest we depart post-haste." "Indeed," agreed Flux. "Let's leave just as soon As I grab these perfect gems and this rune." The pair searched far and wide, and all around, Until at last an archangel they found. Hadriel, giving them a startled stare, Said, "Proceed, heroes, into Terror's Lair." Meanwhile, Ib was pleased to see hurry by An acquaintance with wild hair and glazed eye. Ib greeted him, "Welcome, necromancer!" Busy selling, the man gave no answer. Ib went on, "What a fine skellie army! I surely hope they don't plan to harm me." The man's only words were crazed muttering. No reply did he bother uttering. The stubborn Flayer refused to give in. With the necromancer's help, they could win. He'd have to think of something exotic, To gain the heed of one so quixotic. "Perhaps you'd enjoy a Diablo run?" The man perked up, but replied, "He's no fun. His pals use curses, and the place is filled With seals that spawn whole crowds. I could get killed!" Right then a Town Portal popped into view. "That leads straight to Diablo, I tell you," Promised Ib. "No seals, no crowds, no curses. Just him and his loot to fill our purses." "Shiny!" said the necro. "I'll kill the jerk If somebody else has done the grunt work." Through the Town Portal he eagerly lept, While hot on his heels the brave Flayer kept. Gigantic and red, Diablo with glee Cried, "Not even death can save you from me!" Mighty Ulf delivered blow after blow, As Flux cast cold spells to slow down their foe. With his tiny knife, bold Ib slashed and hacked, And the skeletons on Diablo whacked. At last, with a final blood-curdling yell, Evil Lord of Terror Diablo fell. "What junk!" the necromancer complained. "Shoot!" Yet he still beat Flux to grab up the loot. "More bugs! Those two skellies aren't my own! Reboot time!" Off he ran, to parts unknown. "He is right, of course. We are still undead. What if Tyreal can't fix us?" Ulf said. "At least," vowed Ib, "I'll be ever your friend, No matter how things turn out in the end." Through the Town Portal our heroes went back, And of celebration they found no lack. Nor was there basis for Ulf's misgiving; He and Flux were restored to the living. The trio went on to battle foul Baal, But that adventure is another tale. They remained great friends, suffice it to say, Through many a quest, and many a day. So when next you take up weapons to wield, Remember this tale on the battlefield. Recall the Flayer, so tiny and small, Whose love and courage were biggest of all.