The dark decrepit alley appeared to be safe but I knew better, the peculiar fetid odor tipped me off. Only rancid ghouls smelled that bad. I wasn't fooled by the ominouslsy gaping windows either. I knew that three of the stupid ugly brutes were hiding behind the far corner, waiting. I shifted the M-16 slightly to the right, crouched down and crept ↑ forward along the left hand wall. If I could reach those garbage cans, they would give me some protection.

I tried to be quiet but some rubble crunched underneath my foot. Suddenly, one of the hideously grinning ghouls sacrificially jumped out into the middle of the alley. I XXX cut the sucker's skinny thorax in half with a well-aimed burst but the second ghoul rolled to the far side of the alley and before I could react, it turned its blazing eyes on me. The beam went through my boot, burning like hellfire. I tried to ↓ ← → ↓ run but it was useless.

"⊕, You stupid idiot!" I mentally bellowed. "Pull the damned X!"

No good, He never paid any attention to me even though it was my ass on the line, not His. The third ghoul peeked around the corner and flicked its ten-foot poison tongue into my shoulder, freezing it solid. I screamed like a little girl and dropped my weapon. "You're hopeless, absolutely hopeless," I moaned to myself. What did I ever do to deserve Him? The bulging evil eyes of the two ghouls came closer, their grisly dripping fangs opened and SKRRTCH

I regained consciousness sitting across the desk from Muldoon, my erstwhile savior. He was spewing out his usual spiel about rogue warlocks and unauthorized experiments. My tee shirt hung in rags from my torso. Why couldn't that frivolous punk programmer at least have given me some decent clothing?

"Sober up, Slayton!" growled Muldoon. "We pulled you out of that sleazy Mexican bar because you're the only agent that can handle this mission." Like I hadn't already heard it a thousand times before. Kitty Meeks, Muldoon's winsome secretary, brought my file over to him. TACTICAL EIDOLONIC RAPID RESPONSE AGENCY was emblazoned in bold red letters across the front of the folder.

"This interdimensional gateway blah blah blah ...rampaging minions of Hell blah blah blah ...infernal Hellgate..."

Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, stick it pal. If you're so damned worried, why don't you go? Hey Muldoon, ever had a manticore munch on your entrails? ...And here it came, the really good part. "Duke, if you complete this mission, the President has promised you full compensation to the tune of fifty million buck$ along with the heartfelt gratitude of the entire nation." Yes sir, made my testicles positively tingle, every time. SKRRTCH

As usual, I sprained both ankles O ↓ jumping out of the copter. Now all I had to do was climb ↓ down six stories to the ground, kill about a zillion rabid goblins, ghouls, fiends and demons while running a mile and a half through a burning city to reach the subway entrance. If... big IF... I made it that far, at least I could PAUSE... for a few minutes.

Muldoon claimed that you don't age in my line of work but I felt too old and too beat up for these shenanigans. But did I get any choice? I started to O climb ↓ down the drainpipe. Two floors lower, I stopped to Δ X drop a grenade on the giggling gargoyle that was climbing up. I continued O ↓ down, Δ XXX drilling bats and the Δ X occasional ghost on the way until I reached the street. Okay, here they come, don't ZACK... SKRRTCH

"Sober up, Slayton!" ⟨ ⟨ ⟨ ⟨

I decided to try the stairs this time. The warehouse only had a few lights burning. If it weren't for the glowing red eyes, I never would have spotted the herd of trolls. They were crowded around one poor sucker, knives out, getting ready to feed. I knew I was supposed to rescue this poor idiot... maybe if I shot out all the lights, I could sneak past them in the darkness. So I switched to the FLAMETHROWER and toasted the bunch of 'em, innocent bystander be damned.

I O ↑ jumped over the railing and started ↓ down the stairs. If I turned left at the bottom, there was a crate I could use to FWICK !! Three talons the size of scimitars poked through my belly! I was stunned by the excruciating pain. ↑ → ← No good, a giant roc had grabbed SKRRTCH

"Sober up, Slayton..." ⟨ ⟨ ⟨ ⟨

Something was different this time, I felt it immediately. I hit the roof top running and my reactions were faultless. My aim was unerringly perfect and I made it to ground level in seconds. Ogres went down like tenpins, gorgons blew away like desert sand. Hey, You up there! What the hell is going on?!? I didn't understand it, all I knew was that it sure felt great not being shot, stabbed, fried, poisoned, drowned, petrified, crushed, hexed, dissolved, asphyxiated, electrocuted, eaten alive or blown to smithereens.

I quickly cleaned out the zombies and basilisks in the subway like a psychopathic transit cop. I sloppily splattered the werewolves and vampires in the amusement park like Jackson Pollock on amphetamines. I whizzed through levels I had never even seen before. Siren songs in the night club? How about some Δ 50 cal GATLING GUN accompaniment! Swamped by a tidal wave of undines in the aquarium? Get Δ fried, you little squirts! Amorous succubi in the hotel lobby? Kiss this queenie and outta my way, Hero coming through!

And then she was there, Virgina Vavoom, my much fabled Contact. I used to fantasize about meeting her but I had given up hope of ever finding her long ago. She was so gorgeous and sexy, all the pain and terror and frustration became bearable. The enormity of it all ↓ buckled my knees. Gina gently lifted me up and sweetly gave me her M-79 GRENADE LAUNCHER. She led me over to a sewer drain that I had passed by countless times. Here! Here was the way to victory. SKRRTCH

The half-eaten bodies clogging the sewer gave me Pause - Restart. There were dozens of iridescent Evil Serpents wriggling through the corpses and I retched. But the thought of Gina falling prey to these infernal nightmares strengthened my resolved. I Δ whipped out the FLAMETHROWER and XXXX hosed them down with the fire of retribution. I was concentrating so hard, I didn't notice SKRRTCH

Azazel's Cavern. I could see the sucking maw of the Hellgate behind It was fifteen feet tall with three heads, ten arms, half a dozen legs and it was covered in glittering metal spikes. Out of nowhere, a blizzard of lightning was unleashed. Pools of molten lava formed and re-formed across the floor. The walls spawned pink dagger-toothed gremlins that plopped down around me like rotten fruit. There was no question of fighting them off, there were just too many. I O O O dodged as best as I SKRRTCH

Azazel's Cavern. I could see sucking maw behind. Steel thorns glitter. Blizzard of lightning all around. Molten gremlins snapping. I Δ switched to the M-79 GRENADE SKRRTCH

Azazel's Cavern. Maw. Blizzard gremlins. I crouched ↓ down to avoid most of the lightning, then O ↑ jumped over the fiendish imps. Creeping ↑ forward, I emptied XXXXX the magazine of the GATLING GUN at Azazel. I Δ changed to the M-79 and started XXXXX pumping grenades at the Gate as fast as I could load. Dodging bolts O left and O right , I continued XXXX firing away, scoring more hits on the Hellgate. But then a bolt of lightning singed my ass and I didn't see one of Azazel's paws arch SKRRTCH

Azazel's Cavern. Maw - it's turning blue! I XXX fired three more rounds before I had to O ↑ backflip away from a pool of lava bubbling up beneath me. XXXX It's shrinking!! But I was almost out of life, my meter was dead red. I only had a few seconds left. O ↑ Jumping over a couple of feral gremlins, I sneaked ↑ forward to point blank range and XXXXXXXX plastered the Hellgate until it shrank to a pinpoint, then winked out of existence with a little soda pop pop and a little puff of purple fizz. SKRRTCH

Azazel and his evil brood disappeared along with the cavern. Suddenly I was standing on the White House lawn and President Hawkins was presenting me with a crummy medal and a five foot pyramid of banknotes! Gina ran up and hugged me, then kissed me passionately. At last: all that dying and all that failure, this was the reason for it all. But in the back of my mind, I knew there was still one problem. Why was I victorious this time? What was the difference? Did He finally get hold of some cheat codes? Could it have been Someone Else entirely? Oh please let SKRRTCH