Fan fiction:Winds of the Kae Huron/Chapter 4: The Zakarum
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Winds of the Kae Huron is a fan fiction piece by Nephilim, originally posted in the Diii.net Fan Fiction Forum. The fiction series was reposted on January 29th 2004. You can find more information on Winds of the Kae Huron article.
Chapter 4: The Zakarum
Kinemil was eternally shaken by the inspired clarity with which Ume saw the rest of the world. Enough to guess how people would act, and what they would do next.
For Qual-Kehk did concede, and Anya was enthusiastic to recover whatever lives she could.
Kinemil was a Paladin of the Zakarum. He had been trained not just to be a soldier, but a leader - to inspire the unenlightened rabble to do great deeds of valour in the name of the Que'Hegan and the Light. The fact that his institution had been turned into a lie by Mephisto rendered these truths no differently. Kinemil was a good, natural leader.
He would have done the same thing as Qual-Kehk. The initial euphoria of Baal's defeat had worn thin with surprising speed. Things were still better than they were, but the Barbarians were beginning to fully realize what all this meant - what Kinemil had seen in Kurast: their land had been slapped across the face, and the scar would not fade with time. But these people weren't as stoic as his, and it would distress them more than it would his. This new expedition to Nulholla Peak would give them that hope again. For a time. But living from moment to moment was all they could do. It was a wise decision on Qual-Kehk's part.
Kinemil sometimes felt that Anya was too young for her position, and that Qual-Kehk would make a far more suitable leader. But in this foreign land, it was not his place to say such things aloud.
Kinemil drew in a sharp, cold breath of the mountain air. He was astonished at how warm the Barbarians managed to keep their houses. He had expected to spend his time in Harrogath shivering in the cold, but these houses were as warm as his cabin in Kurast.
He slowly strode around the veranda and gazed at the city gates. A smile brightened his features.
The Barbarian villagers had gathered around the gate, and there was a low murmur of general babble about them. They were watching the Barbarians pack up their things. They could only spare one horse, and Kaelim was loading it with everything it could carry.
Kaelim - an excellent choice. Possibly one of the largest men (without the aid of enchantments) Kinemil had ever seen. And his fighting abilities backed up his appearance. Kaelim had been with the expedition since the Rogue Monastery, and despite the heroic stories Vidala and Isenhart told him, he saw firsthand the savage grace with which Kaelim wielded his mighty axe. The Zakarumites had learned to give him a wide berth. Only his near-fatal wounds from the battle with Diablo had kept him from journeying up that mountain with Isenhart and the others. But now he was fully recovered, and his confidence was bolstered by the new scars he could display. Perhaps it was his mere physical presence, but Kaelim also commanded respect from his fellows, and he knew the ways of battle as well as any good general. Qual-Kehk was wise to put Kaelim at the head of this group.
Caden and Scyld came out of Malah's infirmary carrying bundles of healing provisions, and they had to push their way through the crowd to get to the horse.
Beside Kaelim, Caden seemed like a child. He was short, for a Barbarian, but also had little meat on his bone. Kinemil had never seen him fight, but he thought that perhaps Caden's zeal would not be enough to protect him on the perilous journey ahead. The same went for Scyld, who had joined to offer her services as an alchemist. Kinemil didn't like talking to women who were taller than him, but he had come to respect the Barbarian woman. Nevertheless, an alchemist's place was in a laboratory, not the battlefield, the Paladin sternly believed.
Kinemil walked off of the veranda and stepped briskly towards the gathered peoples. Out of Anya's house plodded M'avina and Arcanna, weighed down by heavy backpacks and thick furs. Arcanna's eldritch staff was clasped firmly in both hands, and M'avina had her bow draped across her shoulder. They were both seasoned fighters, and Kinemil was glad they were there to help. But since her injury, M'avina had seemed strangely distant, and her quick offer to help had seemed almost reflexive. Something deeply troubled her, he could tell.
And then there was Ume. The Necromancer had saved Milabrega once, and for that, Kinemil was grateful, but still, the strange sorcerer sent a chill up his spine whenever he passed. Kinemil was uneasy whenever the dead walked amongst the living - no matter whose side they were on. He had never trusted him. None of the Paladins had, save for Isenhart. Milabrega was convinced, even after Ume saved her from the rabid clutches of a swarm of vile, hellish, flesh worms, that he and his kindred were connected to this evil. Even after Ume's companion, Sazabi, fell in the battle with Lord DeSeis, they were adamant of their claims. But Isenhart's word weighed more than their own.
"You suspect he is a wolf in sheep's clothing," Isenhart had said, backed by a black, lightless void which served as some mock sky in Hell, "but he has done nothing to vex the Light, and until he does, I will treat him as an ally, and a friend."
But those words seemed so far away, now. Isenhart was a true servant of the Zakarum, and Kinemil would have died to save him, but still, Isenhart was no longer there, and Kinemil, skilled though he was, was still not a commander of armies. Isenhart was. Had been. Should he be considered dead?
"Is that all you bring with you, holy knight?" Jabari was likely the only man for miles who spoke with such a thick, Kehjistani accent. "You might grow cold in that armour."
Kinemil turned and smiled. Jabari was likely wearing his breastplate, but it could not be seen under the layers of thick furs. Even the scabbard of his sword was covered in furs tied with rawhide. The buckler was tied to his back. Despite the fact that Jabari was not of the Faith, Kinemil still found that he liked the sorcerer. His actions flouted many decrees of the Zakarum, but his heart was in the right place. Perhaps Yaerius would look kindly upon him and grant him some leniency when the time of judgment came.
"No," Kinemil chuckled. "I have more in the house. But I see you're prepared."
"We should not expect to find any hospitable area for many weeks. Nowhere near as welcome as Harrogath," Jabari answered. "I didn't battle two Prime Evils to freeze to death in this mountains." With that, Jabari trudged past him, and from behind he could almost be mistaken for another Barbarian, he was so padded and laden with furs.
And this expedition would not be short of Barbarians. Out of all the foreigners, only one, Haseen, had declined an invitation. Kira was still unwell and Arcanna was wisely forbidding her to come along, but Haseen had done so of his own accord. He had said that he needed to report back to Greiz, and that the people of Lut Gholein would need to hear what he had seen. But there were at least a dozen Barbarians coming with them. Of them, only three, Hoku, Bohdan and Alaric, had traveled with Kaelim across Sanctuary. The rest were warriors who had endured through the siege. Kinemil didn't know the name of half of them. They had begun to coordinate around the packhorse, and the din from the crowd was getting more intense with every minute.
"Looks familiar, Paladin, does it not?"
Kinemil shivered, perhaps from the cold.
Or perhaps it was the aged, low voice of the Necromancer, Ume.
"I can't speak for you, of course," said Ume in his matter-of-fact manner, "but I find that it reminds me of the way the villagers of Kurast saw the Hand of Zakarum off on their way for another glorious conquest in the name of the light." He chuckled. Kinemil grimaced. "You're probably too young to remember - before the church became so corrupted, they were all throughout the jungles, and this was the kind of reception they received wherever they stepped." He sighed. "A shame how quickly petty men can undo a century's reputation. Now the Paladins are feared."
I am well aware of the state of my people, Kinemil's inner monologue spat at the Necromancer. Who was he to rub the young soldier's face in the fact? It was hardly as if the Necromancers had a vaunted reputation. Especially in these dark times, when family members forsook their funereal traditions and burned or mutilated their loved ones' bodies to keep them from rising again. Kinemil didn't know much about the ways of Rathma, and had no compunction to learn, but in his opinion, mimicking the power of evil, for whatever purpose, was still evil.
"Yes," Kinemil answered shortly, and remained still.
"Men like Isenhart . . . men like you shall undo the damage that Hatred inflicted upon you," said Ume, assuredly.
Kinemil persisted to be silent.
Ume sighed, and walked past him. "I know that, young Paladin. Do not lose hope for your people just yet."
The moment Ume had turned away, Kinemil turned and went back into Nihlithak's home. He had already gathered his things together, and had merely to take them with him. He wrapped himself in a fur cloak, and then hoisted his backpack onto his shoulders.
His sword, too, he picked up and strapped to his belt. It was a standard issue claymore. There were no enchantments upon it, and no glorious tales of conquest behind it. It was a mere sword, the same which had been given to every Paladin to leave training. Isenhart has his own suit of armour, specially crafted and enchanted for him. Milabrega, too. They both had high enough stations to merit such an undertaking. Isenhart had told Kinemil after Milabrega had died that if he were to ever fall in battle, he would bequeath his broadsword, the Lightbrand, to him. Kinemil had never felt so honoured in all his life. Even when Khalim himself ordained him, it had not seemed so profound. Isenhart, a respected general and leader in the Hand of Zakarum, respected Kinemil enough to give him his sword to continue his legacy.
But had Isenhart fallen? Either way, Kinemil would never have the Isenhart's Lightbrand. He felt some slight disappointment at that, and only hoped that Isenhart was still alive, enjoying the paradise Tyrael had apparently promised him.
Ah yes, the story of Tyrael and the magical portal.
Kinemil had doubted it the moment he heard it. He thought perhaps it was a morale tactic, to give people hope that their companions were still alive, somewhere. Perhaps Qual-Kehk was the only survivor. But one man could certainly not tame the Lord of Destruction alone. The fight with Diablo had been horrific enough.
With Milabrega distracting him from the front, Isenhart had climbed up the demon's back, and plunged his Lightbrand through his dark heart. Diablo had reared back in pain and let out a great cry. Milabrega had leapt forward and bashed Diablo with her scepter between the eyes. He had roared, and in one sweep of his mighty claws, took off her head.
Isenhart had cried out in fury, removed the sword, and impaled Diablo again through the other side of his back. He had reared back so violently that Isenhart flew from his back.
Then, Vidala and Haseen, their spears forward, had rushed forward and impaled the great demon. Kinemil had seen then that he was beginning to lose strength. Quickly, he had put his broken arm behind his back and hoisted the claymore with great effort and managed a hack Diablo's leg before the demon batted him to the ground.
"Move aside!" had come the heavy voice of Kaelim, charging through with the Blacktongue in one hand and a mighty war axe in the other. Haseen and Vidala had let go of their spears and back-stepped as Kaelim swung. Meanwhile, Kinemil had heard a strange, archaic language coming from Ume, who was on the ground, clutching an open wound on his abdomen.
The blade of Blacktongue had shattered against Diablo's thick hide, but the axe had struck true at the demon's chest, as a ghostly, skeletal apparition flew from Ume's fingers and began to strangle Diablo from behind.
Kinemil had pulled himself to his feet as the crimson Soulstone in Diablo's brow began to glow. The warriors backed away a step, not knowing if this was the end, or just the beginning of a second fight. Diablo had reared back, let out a mournful death knell, and then began to shrivel and tear as his body plummeted to the ground. When it collided with the strange stone floor, there was an explosion, and a burst of energy which had blasted all the surrounding warriors into the air to land in clanking heaps away from the demon.
When they arose, they saw nothing but a skeleton covered in ash and dust. Kinemil stayed on his hands and knees, and had crept so slowly towards the burning, crimson shard. He had reached out, and touched it.
Apparently, the battle had been similarly desperate with Andariel beneath the Rogue Monastery, and Duriel, in Tal Rasha's tomb. And Kinemil had been there for the equally brutal battle with Mephisto. Qual-Kehk could not have possibly taken on Baal alone, even if the demon was injured. No.
But still, Kinemil was having doubts about this mystical portal. Isenhart never would have gone. They had a society and a religion to rebuild. Isenhart couldn't expect Kinemil to shoulder all that alone. He wasn't even part of Isenhart's contingent.
Nevertheless, he would never suspect Qual-Kehk of any sort of foul play. He had too much respect for him, as a warrior, and as a leader.
Once more, Kinemil stepped out into the cold air. It looked as though he was the last to arrive, but it didn't seem like they were waiting for him. They were still bidding goodbye to family and friends. Arcanna was arguing with Kira, who was still insisting on coming even at this eleventh hour where she was likely certain there was no chance. Kinemil strode forward to join the party. The packhorse was already overburdened, so he kept everything on his own back.
He turned to lay his eyes on Deckard Cain, the respected, venerated, final remnant of a failed order. But the plight of the Horadrim was legend, and despite their failures, Cain, and his predecessors, deserved a high degree of respect and honour. Those were the only things which truly mattered, after all.
Kinemil smiled as he strode towards him. In the smooth, shining armour and with his mighty claymore at his right hand, the weakness of his religion was forgotten.
"You walk with great purpose, Master Paladin," Cain leaned heavily on his gnarled staff.
"I am the Hand of Zakarum, Deckard Cain," Kinemil replied gently, "my purpose is absolute, and eternal."
Cain chuckled. "You should feel very lucky, young Kinemil," he said, and his face grew stern. "For while you may already possess such purpose, it is the search for it which drives many on this expedition."
"I will aid them however I can," Kinemil replied confidently.
Cain, however, did not seem quite so convinced. "The mountains of the Kae Huron . . ." he stopped. "The wind here is the stuff of legend, Kinemil. Demons and foul beasts are not all the perils you shall face."
"I have climbed the face of Mount Arreat, Cain," Kinemil reminded, "I doubt that . . ."
"Do not ask me how or why, for I have spent my life with my nose in books and scrolls, and have yet to study the skies of the north, but Arreat, and Harrogath, are both pinnacles of calm within a sea of madness."
Kinemil's grin faded. "You speak not of just the weather, old man . . . do you."
"There is talk, my boy, of whispers amongst these mountains. Voices carried on the wind from ages forgotten. Be very sure you know what you hear and who you hear it from."
Kinemil smiled again. "These are tales, Cain, nothing more."
"Aye? As I recall, such was the Zakarum's attitude towards the Infernal Gate and the Gidbinn. And yet, my good Paladin, here we stand."
The young Paladin looked for any sign of jest in the aged face of Deckard Cain, and found none.
"I shall heed your warnings, Deckard Cain," he said with a nod.
"Be sure you do."
Kinemil put a hand lightly on Cain's shoulder and was about to speak.
They both turned.
Kinemil was certain that at one time, M'avina was a beautiful woman. The same had applied to Vidala. But now, with her face marred by dirt and scars, and her blonde hair chaotically thrashing about in the wind, she offered no attraction to him. The Priestesses of the Zakarum had always taken pride in their appearance, and worked to maintain it, but such values were lost upon M'avina, and though such a statement could apply to most Amazons - at least, the ones he had met - it was especially poignant in her. He felt sorry that her society had forced the burden of warrior upon someone who was once a beautiful girl.
"We're going to leave, soon. You are coming, right?"
Kinemil glanced at Cain.
"Good luck," the sage told him with a nod, and then turned to M'avina. "You too."
"Thank you," she returned the nod, and then looked back at Kinemil. Cain turned and trudged through the snow to where Malah and Qual-Kehk were standing.
"Yes," said Kinemil, "I'm coming."
M'avina nodded and made her way back to the caravan.
Qual-Kehk was standing on the steps of his home as they all gathered at the gate. "My friends, old and new, I am going to Sescheron at dawn, and so I will not see your glorious return. But I bid you good luck and fair tidings. When I tell King Halaberd what you are to do this day, he will very probably find hope in all the blood and malice we have endured."
If the Barbarian King still lives, Kinemil echoed the thoughts of the others around him. The reign of the king of the Barbarians was not as powerful as one might think. Because most of the tribes themselves were nomadic, Halaberd did little but settle disputes and ensure that the land was well protected. He had little sway over precisely what they did. War had never been declared by the Barbarian people; they had never left the Highlands. It was only invaders who needed to worry.
Sescheron, and Harrogath, to an extent, were rare only in that they were permanent Barbarian settlements. There were others throughout the Highlands, but they were few and far between. Until the existence of the Worldstone had been revealed to him, Kinemil had once wondered why such a vast, powerful army of warriors had stayed on the defensive for lo, these many years. But now, he saw that they had had something which was worth defending.
Qual-Kehk, meanwhile, had continued speaking. ". . . and whatever fate holds for our people, this will likely go down in the annals of our history. Many songs shall be sung for you."
Between Isenhart and the other warriors who had fought Baal, the defiled church of Zakarum, and the brutally decimated Rogues, there were far too many songs to sing.
Qual-Kehk said something that Kinemil couldn't hear, and the bystanders let out a whoop of joy and began to applaud. Even Drus was beaming as he slapped his thigh with his one remaining hand.
The gate opened, and Kaelim led the way, with the packhorse right behind him. And then the rest of the procession covered their heads to the wind and followed the pair.
Kinemil was at the end of the line, directly behind M'avina, who threw a cloak over her head and didn't look back once. But the paladin looked to Cain, who was the only one in the crowd not crying out in celebration. The last of the Horadrim nodded gravely to the young warrior, and he replied with a salute. Then he turned, and followed M'avina and the Barbarians into the stinging winds of the Kae Huron.
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