Fan fiction:A Call to Arms
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A Call to Arms
And all was there for us to see...
There were many signs pointing to Diablo’s return to strength, so many of them staring us in the face like lidless eyes. I suppose it should have been obvious, but at the time, we were so drunk with our victory over the darkness. Diablo’s apparent death had indeed imbued all in the West with new hope, but that vision of a future was little more than a figure in the mist: one second later, it is gone, enveloped by the swirling tendrils of water and air. We were too blinded by our own joy to recognize the Wanderer for what he was, Diablo’s corruption of our nameless savior; we did not see as he wove his tendrils of corruption around us. We did not question him, as we believed he had seen the worst of Hell’s fury, a force far beyond anything a mortal had ever known. Of course, he had, and it was indeed a fell power darker than anyone could have imagined.
When our heroes of the battle beneath the tainted cathedral began to demand more control over the Sisterhood, we acquiesced, and granted their every whim out of gratitude for what they had done against the darkness. We believed they had found a new vision for us, and that if they could defeat the Lord of Terror himself, they could certainly lead us to glory. A handful of our Sisters, who saw through the haze of joy and euphoria, stood opposed the ascension of the veterans of Tristram, and left the monastery in protest for the eastern lands. I am happy for them; they are the lucky ones.
Under the new guidance of the few survivors of the hunt for Diablo, the Sisterhood took a radical turn from our distant influence of old. The ruling Sisters began to exert increasing control over the region around the monastery, especially the Rogue Pass to Lut Gholein. Some of our best warriors were sent into the heartland of the fallen kingdom of Khanduras, tasked by our leaders to extend the reach of the followers of the Sightless Eye. Many never returned from these quests, and I now believe they were engineered to remove those who most fervently opposed the forces of Chaos.
“We have arrived, my Lady.”
Elarinn turned to face Hallar, the leader of the caravan she had traveled with across the burning sands of Aranoch and through the mountains into the darkened forests of Khanduras. She nodded, and then gazed out over the twisted trees lining the road, down to the black shadow in the distance, like a smear of tar on the horizon. In the background, the caravan guards conversed among each other in low voices, and the beasts of burden fidgeted However, none of this penetrated her consciousness; all her thoughts were focused towards the defiled structure looming ahead, and the fell power that emerged from within.
“Thank you, my good sir. You have courage indeed; no one else would dare come within fifty leagues of the old monastery.”
Hallar shrugged. “I do what I must to get by,” he replied. “Trade is the lifeblood of many in Lut Gholein, and my work is the only way to eat, even in better times.” The lines on his weather-worn face deepened as he frowned. “But why exactly did you ask to come to this old cathedral? If the rumors are to be believed, the very heart of the demonic corruption in the region may be here.”
She smiled grimly at this rather direct inquiry. “You are quite a bold man to ask that of me. Some would kill you merely for asking that, you know.”
Hallar mirrored her dark smile. “In my line of work, it often pays to ask such questions, despite the risk involved. Information may be sold or traded, and, like I said, I do what I must to get by.”
Elarinn assumed a distant expression as she spoke, her eyes clouding over as she recalled memories of better times. “I once lived here,” she said, her voice taking on the toneless horror of one fascinated and stunned by events past. “I have come to see if anything is left and to avenge what is not. ” Her deep brown eyes opened onto her soul, and as Hallar looked in, he saw sorrow and horror crystallize into cold fury. Surprised, he took a quick step back, and regarded her with newfound caution.
“I suppose you are well prepared to do so,” he began slowly. “Unfortunately, I cannot take you any further. I must make haste to Entsteig to deliver my shipment.”
Elarinn nodded again, not taking her gaze from the monastery. “Safe journey, then,” she murmured.
As the sounds of the departing caravan faded into the distance, Elarinn finally managed to wrench her eyes from the black spires of the Order’s home, which darkened the northern horizon with its deep shadows. She opened her traveling pack and pulled out her instruments of war: a suit of hardened leather, worn and light like the cast-off skin of a serpent, a well-used dagger, several quivers of arrows, straight and balanced, and her bow, a supple piece of yew with a bronze grip and glowing glyphs etched into the wood. A good thing that merchant didn’t see these, she thought grimly. They would have made her true affiliation clear, and no traveler would have harbored a Rogue after the many reports of the demonic corruption seeping out from the depths below the cathedral, despite the fact that the Sisters were innocent. Most of them, anyway.
Elarinn took her time strapping on her armor and weapons, making sure all of them were positioned for easy access. Brushing a lock of auburn hair out of her face, she repacked the rest of her meager supplies and shouldered the bag. She then took an arrow out of its quiver and nocked it to the bowstring, then drew up, pivoted towards a jug of water left behind by the caravan, and released. The iron-tipped projectile ripped right through the container, spraying tiny beads of water that glittered in the twilight and pinning the flask to a tree. That should do quite a job on a demon’s head, she thought. Satisfied that her skills had not atrophied during her stay in the East, Elarinn placed another missile in her bow, took a deep breath, and began down the winding road to the darkened cathedral.
For those of us who were blind to the corruption seeping through the Order of the Sightless Eye, the return of the demonic forces to Khanduras was sudden indeed. Seemingly overnight, the ruling council of Rogues and their supporters became twisted mockeries of their former selves, running rampant through the once-holy grounds of the cathedral, slaughtering those who stood against them. The local creatures, the quill rats and the yetis, began attacking travelers with the ferocity of the possessed. Some of the survivors fleeing the inner sanctum of the council even say that Lysan, the most outspoken and commanding hero of the battle of Tristram, has taken on a hellish form and may be the embodiment of a demon lord on the mortal plane. Other great warriors, like Battlemaid Sarina and Blood Raven, have also assumed demonic figures and are leading the tides of the enemy against us, as they once led the warriors of the Sightless Eye into the depths of Tristram’s labyrinth. I fear that Hell has sent more than just its legions this time, and that we may not possess sufficient strength to drive them back into the Abyss. What remains of our Order is falling back to the gates of our ancestral home, where we may be able to delay the enemy long enough to let the villagers nearby escape.
The walk to the town on the fringes of the monastery grounds was short; no demonic figures rose from the shadows and trees lining the road to oppose her. And yet, Elarinn couldn’t help feeling very unnerved by the absence of a dark presence, as if the evil that spawned here had sucked this land dry and moved on. She could discern no life at all, no birds, insects, even rats, only a pall of decay and gloom that seemed to hang over the twisted trees. Nothing she had ever known was as oppressing, as consuming, as the brittle grasp of death here in the heartland of Khanduras. She glided over the grassless ground with a careful, fluid stride, warily checking the road and trees for signs of a demonic presence. Only the barest traces of a frown, tugging at her youthful features like the bony hands of tiny goblins, betrayed any sense of stress as she approached the outskirts of the settlement by the monastery gates.
The town itself was completely deserted, like all the inhabitants had suddenly vanished into the mist, and the same stifling air of lifelessness, omniprensent and suffocating like wet cotton robes, only underscored the lack of human activity. The domiciles on the southern fringes of the community were weathered but mostly intact, their worn hinges creaking like old joints and the tired beams drooping under the weight of ages. All were largely Spartan, with ragged holes for windows and few furnishings, skeletons lacking the heart and vitality their residents would usually provide. Several of them had open doors, and inside, the objects and tools of everyday life lay scattered on the floor. Elarinn didn’t see that many signs of a struggle; perhaps the townsfolk had fled before the invading legions of Hell. The untouched state of the houses made her suspicious, though. A mass exodus, she thought, would be very chaotic and should leave a good deal of the settlement in a state of ruin. Of course, some houses were falling into varying states of disrepair and neglect, like old soldiers do when they age and are forgotten, but such things were normal in country settlements where many of the inhabitants possessed relatively little coin. This was much more eerie, as if every living being had been yanked off the mortal plane with by an invisible hand.
As she made her way towards what was once the town square, she heard a multitude of voices, conflicting sounds that fought to overwhelm each other in volume. Creeping silently through the empty streets, she approached cautiously, then flattened herself against a building and listened. What she heard made the fine hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and her grip on her bow to tighten: the braying speech of a goat demon. She managed to make out some of the words the foul creature said, villagers, force, pillage. A second voice, higher in pitch and faster, stabbed the air with a series of short, sharp outbursts. The two sounds clashed and intertwined, a discordant cacophony of demonic tongues joined soon after by more high-pitched, almost squeaky sounds. Elarinn risked a glance around the corner of the building, and her gaze fell upon the goatman, whose blood-red fur seemed to glow in the evening darkness. From there, her attention jumped to the sickly yellow Devilkin clumped opposite the demon, perhaps six of them, one carrying a large staff and knife. She pulled her head back behind the wall and swore softly. Apparently, the legions of Hell weren’t quite done here.
Silently, Elarinn pushed herself off from the building and began to follow a street that circled around the town center. Perhaps, if she ensured that there would be no demons to attack her from behind, she might attempt to fight those in the plaza and discover some clues as to what evil might lurk inside the monastery itself. To her, the group of monsters looked like some sort of scout force, heralding the movement of demonic legions into the town. As she advanced down the worn cobblestone street, she caught the barest glimpse of a humanoid figure inside a building with the sign of an inn hanging from the roof. Ducking down under the window, she readied her bow and quietly called upon the power of the Sightless Eye. Magical energies surged through her body the moment she spoke the last syllable of the ancient chant, reaching out and opening her mind to the spiritual plane. She started as her newly augmented senses took in the aura of the figure within: it was as cold and forbidding as an open grave. Gritting her teeth, she forced her mind to focus on the creature’s physical presence, probing it tentatively, as if she was examining a piece of spoiled meat that was several days old to see if there were any parts that still might be edible. Her questing tendrils of thought felt wrapped around the being, feeling a cold, still heart, empty veins, and decaying flesh. Undead, she thought, probably a former villager. She concentrated her mental extensions on the foul abomination’s head, counted to two, then jumped up and loosed an arrow towards the glimmering focus of energy. The missile impacted on back of the monster’s head with such force that the creature’s skull ripped apart, spattering the room with fragments of rotting meat. As the rest of the body dropped to the wooden floor with a dull, wet thud, a look of grim satisfaction spread over Elarinn’s young visage. Her dexterous hands placed another arrow into her bow as she glanced around warily, scanning the buildings for more zombies. Seeing none, she continued her circuit around the town square, stopping intermittently and invoking the powers of the Sightless Eye to reveal any enemies.
The rest of the houses along the road were as empty as the others she had seen on the southern fringes of the village, with the same air of abandonment and palpable corruption. Elarinn shook imperceptibly upon seeing the deserted buildings, many of which had been home to friends and filled with the merry ringing of conversation not too long ago. It was, she reflected, almost as if Hell had driven away the mortal residents of this once-peaceful town so its own foul spawn could come and populate the skeletal buildings, making a foul pit of darkness to blight the mortal lands of Sanctuary. The constructions seemed to long for the presence of demon masters, blackened hearts to strengthen dying wood and metal. Her mind reeled at the thought of entire cities of demons spanning the great plains of the West, necropoleis blackening the fertile fields and lakes, rising from the ground like foul pustules. Shaking her head, Elarinn thrust those gruesome images out of her mind, the muscles of her jaw tightening as she forced herself to remain focused on searching the town. Enough of this, she told herself.
Soon, she returned to her original point on the south end of the plaza, and looked in once more, scanning the open ground and small piles of debris. The handful of devilkin and the goat demon had been joined by another zombie, but this one was a world apart from the mindless body Elarinn had shot down in the inn. The creature’s skin shone a bright blue-green in the dying light, the color of disease, reminding Elarinn of the gangrenous wounds she had seen among injured soldiers in the army of Khanduras, that battered force returning from its ill-fated war with Westmarch, tattered remains of the last actions of the Black King Leoric before the rise of Terror. Upon seeing the monstrosity, a wave of unease and anxiety washed over her, as if the wet blanket of gloom and death had been wrung out and the foul droplets seeped into her mind. She saw not one corpse but many, thousands of fallen soldiers, dying for Khanduras and their lord, so much of the West turning into only sweet-smelling decay and death. The torrent of emotions swept her away; she found herself on the verge of crying when she regained her mind, crying for all that was lost and consumed by the forces of Chaos. Gasping, she staunched the hot flow of salty tears with a mighty effort and shook her head viciously, angry that her concentration could be broken by a seemingly trivial occurrence. By the Sightless Eye, she thought, pull yourself together; nobody ever said vengeance came easily. Tightening her grip on her bow, she peered out again into the gloom of the town square, searching for the best demon to kill first. The fallen will run when I take one of their comrades out, she thought, remembering back to her lessons of battle underneath Tristram, where she was a mere apprentice, hiding from most agents of darkness and watching her Sisters slay entire packs of the enemy. Zombies are a bit slow, so if I kill the goat demon and then the big Devilkin, I should have all the time I need to slay the lot of them.
With her plan firmly set into her mind, Elarinn took a deep breath, blew half of it out, stepped into the plaza, and loosed an arrow at the goat, aiming right for the creature’s left eye, a blood-red orb encompassed by rings of black. The iron-tipped missile whistled through the air and jolted slightly, then fell to the ground, its white fletches and dull grey head tinted with shining black ichor. Howling in pain, the monster dropped its crude scythe and clutched at its head; howling in fury and bloodlust, the gremlin-warriors charged, waving their small swords and axes in the air, leaving the walking corpse standing dumbly in the middle of the square, as if rooted to the spot by the sudden action, such a contrast to the slow death and suffocation of the village. Elarinn yanked a second arrow from her quiver in one practiced motion, drew up, and sank a second whistling spirit of death into the blood-red goat creature’s chest. The demon collapsed, and the Devilkin shrieked in utter terror and ran, howling curses into the still air. The rest of the fight passed in a blur for Elarinn, one indistinct mass of pulling out arrows, drawing up, shooting, hearing the sounds of pain and fear, just another fight in the tainted cathedral of Tristram. As the cries of the dark creatures filled the empty night, she continued firing, mechanically, as devoid of human life as the blighted town and vacant woods. When she stopped launching arrows, her mind reentered her body, and she collapsed, falling onto the arrow-studded corpse of the goblin-creature with the staff. Elarinn rested there a short while, breathing shallowly, then rose, shaking. Her breaths were labored, as if she were standing on top of Mount Arreat, the night air raking her throat like icy blades, then boiling out, molten steel and flame.
She began searching the town square and bloodied monsters, moving slowly, as if her body had aged thirty years in the last ten minutes. She came across a small pile of bags, lying next to the side of the meeting hall. One of them, a leather satchel smelling of herbs and ink, held several slender blue bottles and a sheaf of paper. The tarnished but intricate copper clasp had a delicacy about it; Elarinn thought it looked rather out of place, both on the worn pouch and in this tainted land; neither seemed worthy of such fine craftsmanship and beauty. She opened the satchel, planning to take the potions, and then, on a whim, took the entire bag and placed it in her traveling pack. She cast a final glance around the courtyard, empty of life once more. Finally, after ensuring that there was no more to be done in the abandoned town, she steeled herself, invoked the power of the Sightless Eye, and began down the wide dirt path towards the forbidding, blackened gate of the once-holy monastery.
After an hour of dodging more squads of goat demons and fallen ones, Elarinn finally reached the gates of what had become the tomb of so many of her fellow Rogues. The bushes and grasses surrounding the monastery, once so neat and well trimmed, had grown wild and tall, their leaves and branches twisting over each other like many gnarled arms, all reaching for different things. From a hiding place in the overgrown vegetation, Elarinn peered down the path, shivering in the night’s cold embrace. Rumors and stories passed from merchants and travelers like fleas and coins suggested that many members of the Order had been slaughtered, and many of those who were not became corrupted mockeries of their former selves. However, it appeared as if the Sisters had put up valiant resistance. Piles of dead demons were everywhere, with arrows protruding from the heaps like needles in gruesome pincushions. There were no dead Rogues to be seen; likely the few survivors had taken them to prevent the forces of Chaos from defiling them and disturbing their eternal rest. A handful of skeletons armed with bows stood guard by the massive, battered wooden doors, their grinning skulls swiveling slowly on their exposed vertebrae. A light breeze swept across the bushes and the path, rustling the leaves; the undead archers seemed to stir as the gentle force of the air brushed over their yellow, chipped bones. They act as if they were still alive, Elarinn thought, perhaps they are recently dead and raised. She grimaced at this, wondering if she would soon be fighting the mortal remains of some of her former comrades in arms.
Suddenly, the great doors of the monastery flew open with a bang, and the skeletons’ heads swiveled towards the sound; then they stood stock still, as if to salute a greater demon as it passed by. Now, thought Elarinn, now while they are distracted, and she rose halfway from her prone position, pulling back the shimmering bowstring with ease. And then, she saw the creature, a figure from her oldest and darkest nightmares.
It stood several heads above her, but it massed far more; it could barely manage to move its yellow-orange girth through the opening without running over a skeleton archer. Despite this, it moved with surprising speed, undoubtably blessed with hellish energies. Muscle and thick rolls of fat swathed its body; a clawed hand waved a massive hammer as it growled and snorted at its undead minions. Two small horns, pointed like minature daggers, protruded from the top of the creature’s portly head. Elarinn saw none of this; her mind perceived an image from the darkest corners of her memories, a fleshy demon with a blood-spattered apron and a wicked cleaver, slicing through tens of panicked townsfolk armed with pitchforks and torches. No, no, not again, she thought desperately. This time, the tears flowed uncontrollably, burning her dirty young face and pooling in the hollow of her throat. Through the salty flow and the haze of the past, she saw only death; she stared, horrified, as the world around her whirled into destruction.
When she finally returned to her senses, she stifled her last sobs, wiped the tears from her face, and began looking in her pack for the potions she had found earlier; perhaps they could help her regain control of her mind and body. She yanked out the leather satchel and pulled it open, tearing off the intricate copper clasp in the process; the piece of metal fell back into her pack, clinking quietly against the few coins at the bottom. Moving with the raw speed of passion, she uncorked one of the bottles and sniffed the contents, which held a faintly medicinal odor. This might help, she thought. After drinking the brew, she felt some of her mental haze clearing, and her connection to the power of the Sightless Eye seemed heightened. I’d better drink the other one too, Elarinn decided, and then I’ll get the hell out of this blighted land. Lut Gholein should be safer; I don't know why I ever decided to come back. Her slender fingers reached out for the second bottle, feeling the worn leather of the bag, and the paper... Elarinn stopped, then grasped the pile of parchment and pulled it out, her sight running over the hasty black scrawl. By the Sightless Eye, I know this handwrting, she realized. This was written by Akara; she must have survived Hell’s onslaught. Her heart lurched at the description of the Council’s fall and the hopeless battles against the demonic tide, but no tears flowed from her reddened eyes to stain her scratched and worn leather armor. The words seemed to flow from the paper to touch her soul itself, sounding a clarion call to arms, an irresistable force pulling her back into the land of Khanduras to do battle with the onrushing waves of Chaos.
Upon reaching the end of the manuscript, her hand tightened around her bow and her jaw set, umoving, solid as the stone walls of Harrogath. To hell with Lut Gholein; I shall not dishonor my Order and my comrades by running any longer, Elarinn thought grimly. It is time I returned to them and stood side by side against the armies of Hell. She rose, brushing dead leaves and dirt off of herself, and began gliding from bush to tree, leaving the growls of the demon floating on the air behind her. And as Elarinn slipped away into the overgrown forest, following the faint traces of a desperate flight, she felt the Sightless Eye looking down upon her, lighting her path to vengeance with its all-seeing gaze.
Even if we fail to hold back the tide of Hell’s fury, we must continue our struggle against the forces of darkness; we shall fight from the woods and moors, until the last of us fall. We cannot flee this onslaught; the Three have come for our souls and bodies, not to despoil our lands and corrupt the animals. If we hide, they will never stop hunting until we are found, so we must stand against them while we can and hope to fight them off with the aid of the Light. This is a battle for our very souls, and the Order of the Sightless Eye shall stand firm until the end. May our actions of defiance herald the resistance of all humanity.
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