Fan fiction:Winds of the Kae Huron/Chapter 5: Blood and Memories
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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 5: Blood & Memories
Barbarian dead were placed face-up.
This was one thing M'avina had learned in her long journey up Arreat, especially after Baal's defeat. They believed that only with their faces skyward could the spirits of the dead properly escape into the warrior heaven lorded over by Bul-Kathos - the Nephalem.
Demon lore must have covered this as well, because in an effort to humiliate and mock the Barbarian people further, the demons would usually turn the bodies of the Barbarians to face the ground. So, since they had no time or trouble to bring every single body back to Harrogath, the search parties who had scaled the mountain had placed the bodies of their brethren face up, with their eyes open. They had all been taken down from whatever cruel tools of torture they had been placed upon, and laid on the ground, face up.
When Scyld had told M'avina this back in Harrogath, it had seemed to her to be a righteous, hopeful thing to be doing, and she was happy.
However, the route they were taking went up Arreat for some time, and then took a pass through the cliffs to enter the rest of the range. So now, in the foothills of Arreat, M'avina found herself stepping lightly to avoid the body of hundreds of Barbarians in varying state of decay, their lifeless eyes staring up at her. And the stench made the embalming process of the people of Aranoch seem much, much less strange.
Amidst the scattered bodies of the Barbarians were half-burned piles of demon carcasses. All the different species of foul beasts had been collected and thrown onto huge piles and burned as best they could. But, perhaps from the winds or the snow, the fires never caught the bodies properly, and as a result, half-consumed death maulers and melted overseers were piled grossly on top of one another.
The battlefield was a wreck. Never before had M'avina seen such carnage. Even as she had gone through the barracks of slaughtered Rogues or the rotting city of Kurast, she had been occupied with keeping alive. Now, with no threat, M'avina could truly comprehend what this had gone. She felt so guilty for being jealous of Vidala. She knew she should be happy to be alive, to have survived this horrible plight. She simply wasn't.
The winds had died down and the snow had stopped, but Caden assured them that it was only temporary. But when the wind died, the rats came. M'avina's eyes fell on the decapitated head of a minotaur, and the rat that was picking at its tongue. She turned her gaze skyward and tried to think of other things. But even the demons seemed pitiful. The overseers' vile eyes looked sad and forlorn, peering up from a mess of a corpse that looked like it had drowned in its own girth. And the screaming faces of succubi, half seared off in the funereal fires, seemed more human than M'avina cared to admit.
"We should rest soon," Scyld quietly suggested to Kaelim. They were on the other side of the packhorse, now, and M'avina was quite certain that they thought she couldn't hear them.
"Not here," Kaelim insisted, equally quiet. "Not in all this."
Scyld nodded in agreement and said nothing more.
The caravan had seemed to grow very quiet as they entered the battlefield.
Ume was walking with his eyes closed, M'avina saw, but he never missed a step. With so much death, here, she reasoned he would feel right at home. She felt guilty for thinking that. Ume didn't revel in death, she realized now. He simply understood it better than she. She had come to know this as he saved her and Vidala, and all their friends, over and over again, sometimes at his own risk. She knew that many of the others mistrusted him, but she didn't want to give into that mentality.
He opened his eyes, and looked at her, and M'avina was quick to look away.
"The only solace I take in this," said Caden slowly, "was that we did not have to murder our own." He turned to look at M'avina. "I can't imagine what it was like for the Rogues to face their sisters in battle."
"It was terrible," M'avina replied quickly. She remembered the look on Shikha's face as she launched an arrow into the heart of a corrupted Rogue. She had seen her battle a herd of goatmen and not flinch for a moment, but there, she had been weeping openly. It had churned M'avina's stomach to watch her do it.
She sighed. "But they soon came to realize that it was not their sisters that they fought. Not anymore."
Kinemil made a bemused grunt.
M'avina didn't look, and continued. "But even knowing that, it was still terrible."
"A comforting illusion, but nothing more," Kinemil muttered.
"Excuse me?" M'avina raised her voice. "Those were proud, upright Sisters of the Sightless Eye. They were corrupted by Andariel - they had no control."
"No?" asked Kinemil acidly, "Then what of the Rogues who survived that atrocity? You think that the Maiden simply overlooked them?"
"You speak a great ill of the Dead, young Paladin," Ume warned.
"Unwarranted," Bohdan, a Barbarian at the back of the procession, assured them.
Kinemil ignored him. "Evil does not prey on the wicked, my friends. It has no need to." M'avina noticed that he glanced fleetingly at Ume, but neither she nor the Necromancer said anything of it. "It instead looks for the moments of weakness in good men and women. The Rogues committed crimes, and we cannot choose to forget them to console ourselves. Yes, the Demon Queen had a hand in it, but she was not alone. The Rogues who fell under her influence cannot be forgiven for their mayhem so easily."
"And what of the Paladins?" asked Jabari defensively. "The Zakarum who served Mephisto?"
"They are even more at fault," Kinemil insisted, "they had been trained to resist the taint of evil. Yet, they fell so far."
"Kinemil," Kaelim warned.
"But it was the compelling orb, Kinemil," said M'avina, "you smashed it yourself." As she said it, she realized she was mistaken. It had actually been Guillame. But Kinemil didn't correct her.
"Khalim managed to resist it," he pointed out, "the Zakarum we faced were weak hypocrites. They deserved what was given them."
"That's enough, Kinemil," Kaelim commanded forcefully. He didn't raise his voice, but there was still more authority in it than before. "We will not speak of this here."
M'avina turned away. Isenhart had never been so cold. But it seemed that Kinemil only learned the Paladin precepts of justice and vengeance, and not those of forgiveness and redemption. Perhaps that came with time or experience. But for all he had endured over the past months, Kinemil was still young. Maybe the corruption of his homeland had taken a more profound toll on him than she had originally surmised.
They didn't speak for some time, and M'avina found herself lost in the dead eyes of broken allies. When she looked up, it was even worse. She felt as though they still had their eyes on her.
Ume had closed his eyes again, and Kinemil had moved up to walk beside Kaelim, but the two didn't speak to each other. M'avina looked at Bohdan, who had his head down near the rear of the column. He had been one of Kaelim's partners in Khanduras, and M'avina had traveled with him across these many lands. It had never occurred to her until just now . . . Kinemil didn't know about Bohdan and Divo.
She wondered, for a moment, if she should tell him. She never did.
M'avina, unthinking, breathed through her nose for a moment. The heavy, overwhelming scent of death, rot, and failure filled her being, and she choked. She staggered, slipped on an organ of some sort, and fell backward into the mixture of bile, dirt, and blood which saturated the ground. She found herself staring into the face of a Barbarian. But he could barely be called that. He must have been fourteen years old. Maybe younger. What was left of his face had never sprouted a beard. His expression was neutral. He wasn't surprised, happy, sad . . . he just stared with broken eyes into the grey skies.
She wasn't sure how long she was lying there, taking in every detail of this carnage. He wasn't even proud. And his hands were not those of a warrior. Harrogath had used every able body it had to face the siege. And when she looked at his hands again, she couldn't tell what his true occupation had been. She only recognized a warrior's hands.
M'avina swallowed, and felt a heavy hand on her shoulder. She looked up. Everyone was staring at her. She could have been on the ground for a few seconds, or hours. She had lost all perspective. Bohdan was standing over her, extending a hand. She took it and hoisted herself to her feet. He looked down at the child on the ground.
"Did you know him?" she whispered.
"I'm not from Harrogath," he said with a shrug.
M'avina resisted the urge to look down at the boy again. Wordlessly, the group began walking again. Arcanna had stopped trying to navigate the gore, and was letting her boots become stained by bile and blood. Every time she moved, M'avina could hear and feel the dirt gritting between the plates of her greaves.
It was a few minutes before she did turn back to look at the boy, but she couldn't find him. They had been walking on a gentle slope, and so when she gazed back, she could see with all the more clarity all the dead on the battlefield. The walls of Harrogath were barely visible, obscured by a wall of snowy haze.
"Gods," she mumbled, "I didn't think there were so many people in the world."
Caden heard her, and followed her gaze. He stopped, was about to speak, but was silent, and fell into step behind the packhorse.
M'avina stepped on broken ground. It felt familiar. She looked up, and around.
This was where they had killed Shenk. Her knees ached.
Ahead of them were stairs carved into the mountain path, and thick, rope rails on either side. The search parties had removed the totems the demons had placed there, topped with severed heads.
The expedition, however, turned to the left, and was taking an obscured path flanked by sheer, smooth rocks. It looked as though a slice of the mountain had simply been cut out.
"This is Snowgarde Pass," Caden, who had stayed close to her, whispered the explanation. "It takes us off of Arreat and into the rest of the Kae Huron."
M'avina nodded. She would be glad to get off of this mountain. It had too many memories on the wind, and too many faces.
Vidala had once said, "Gods bless the grandchildren I'll never have."
M'avina didn't know what that meant.
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