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We’d always assumed the magic would be there, that the forces of nature, the elementals, the spirits of the damned and blessed alike would come when bidden to our fingertips.
The sorceresses noticed it first, as was appropriate. The little ones, the newest recruits, seemed not as promising, unable to create base magics. The Zann Esau took this to mean a corruption of the application pool from the recent evil. As time melted by, though, their ranks began to falter and fail, from the most untrained tri-elementalist to the most specialized fire worker. I’d heard the rumors of spells backfiring, storms electrocuting and blizzards solidifying their caster.
I myself watched a desperate, half-crazed pyrotechnic display fizzle into a sputter of spherical lights, the practitioner dropping to her knees in anguish as her opponent easily overcame her. I took them both, their heads easy trophies and their bodies fitting payment.
The land churned in its turmoil as one by one, the fighting classes found themselves unable to work their various abilities. Amazons unable to find the largest of targets in the dark. Barbarians calling their troops to what would have been certain victory suffering instead outrageous defeats. A druid beset upon by his own wolves, sapling vines scattered useless as his feet.
With no small satisfaction we watched the paladins lose their holy light. Their proud churches, rebuilt from the ruins of Kurast, swelled with the knights beseeching their distant God to replenish their dwindling auras. Soon those fervent prayers transformed into threatening calls, angry shouts that lasted all night in every language conceivable. One night, a young maiden disappeared from her bath near the Travincal. Her worried parents followed the frenzied shrieks and cries to once consecrated ground. She lay dead, her pulsating heart in the hands of the newest high-council member, his agonized voice chanting prayers long thought buried. Blood sacrifice to rouse a sleeping god.
The necromancers were strangely unperturbed. Their curses were idle threats, their dark minions so many lumps of clay and unanimated flesh. Still, their fortress stood quietly murmuring their studies, learning and working as if their practices mattered. It was whispered that they had somehow trapped the magic left in the world, but that was obviously false. Had they tapped these supposed hidden reserves, they surely would have survived the brutal onslaught by the frantic mage clans. Those women could no longer chill the blood of a monster, but they were strong and quick, made more so in their quest to reclaim their power.
And the assassins. We who had sworn off the magic of the world so long ago. True, we no longer found the spirit of the tiger and the soul of the cobra winding their way through our minds and weapons. So, we were less effective. However, so long as fire burns and man puts his trust in flesh and mortar, blades will still pierce flesh and splinter bone. We suddenly became very important indeed as the terrified commoners were set up by wave after wave of former heroes, amazons and druids alike raiding the countryside in search of whatever mana there was to be found, scavengers. Hyenas upon the corpse of the Worldstone.
How many were the assassins in the dark days of Baal? How many of us stood in the arid deserts and weeping jungles to take the rites of the tiger and don the claws of Bartuc’s folly? How many had the Mistress of Blades and the Master of Shadows taken to their beds to whisper the arcane secrets of power before setting us to our task? Two thousand, three thousand at our peak? Yes, all of these and more, those we stumbled upon in the dark recesses of the sewers and far in the highlands, anyone who could clear their mind of fear and desire we made one of our own.
We found strange allies in these times, calling them with promises of glory, fortune, and constant employment. The rogues, no longer blessed by the sightless eye, still became our constant companions. Some Amazons who had snapped the bondage of the elemental bow took up arms with us. Young barbarians who had chosen to master the ways of weapons, whose natural hardiness replaced any magical shields came in droves to withstand the attacks of the grizzled veterans of their homeland. Disgraced paladins, no more than brutes with clubs, crawled from the vats of the Travincal, their eyes haunted with the godlessness of their priests.
Our services were employed in triple the numbers they once had been, king and farmer alike sending wave after wave of messengers bringing gifts and bribes, all with the same request: Rid our land of this menace. We rode from city to city, fortifying the town guards and training whomever we could to withstand the waves of frantic, insane, warriors. We left each place with a heavy heart, each Assassin and her minion, knowing that we could not aid the teeming cities ourselves.
Some may stand yet, but I shall not turn back to see them.
Madness is catching, like a running sore that oozes infection to the healthy limbs. Craven sorceresses, whispering behind the thrones of exhausted rulers, managed to turn their thoughts away from repelling the invaders and instead to regaining magic in exchange for terrible power. Husks of women, bent and worn from arcane rites to harness whatever still trickled through their bodies. Half-human, half demon, they murmured impossible promises to the kings and princes.
Anyone who had a sorceress to work for him, no matter how little ability she possessed, immediately gained control of vast armies of almost ineffectual sword wielders and bow slingers. These women were like bartering chips. They became more precious as the days ticked by and the magic disappated from the earth. Somehow the sorceresses had learned to extract and ration the magical force from weapons, charms, and even their very bodies, dispensing it like a drug to whomever brought them a mana source.
What lies they told, what needless hatred. Convinced by their sorcerian cronies that we were the cause of this disaster, those who had once hired us soon put bounties on our heads. We were to be brought back alive and squeezed until our blood poured from our mouths and our bones formed sandy deposits upon the torture chamber floor. They said we had soaked up the magics to end all corruption. That we hated magic so much that we would take it from even the good people. That we had made a deal with the demons of Horazon to wrench all magic from the earth to summon the Three once again.
I myself found my way to the portals of Hell. I stood upon her threshold and I called taunts into the vaulted domain of the damned. I walked through the fiery chasm unharmed, stood upon the throne of Diablo himself and screamed the name I had called only once before. There was nothing there. The flames were dying, the walls cracking and crumbling, neither wraith nor shaman nor winged demon to challenge my path.
Hell had moved on.
And so, we too, had to move.
Like a flickering flame, we spread the word, calling our order together for the last time. Men, women, children, rogues, magi, barbarians, amazons, assassins, even a few peace-minded sorceresses. We came as one mass. We took only our trusted companions, those who had walked with us in times both foul and fair, and we brought them to the port city of Kheelim. There, on the sandy shore, we tested each one and purged the last vestiges of madness and magic from our bodies, killing those who hesitated in the least. We were tempered, the finest metal in all the land.
We built huge ships to leave the land of Sanctuary, to sail out of our only home and past the black seas to the South and the orange water to the West. We killed the encroachers, the mad ones learning of our secret plans, determined to come with or destroy us. We became a race unto ourselves, an army and a civilization.
They made me leader because no one else would take the job.
I sat on the beach the night before we left and I spoke with one of the last necromancers my world will ever know. I asked him why he had so few brothers, why the necromancers had neither feared their loss nor fought the invasion. “Everything in this life, and the next, is in balance. In losing the Worldstone, we gained freedom from the Three. But in losing the Three, we lost the reason for the magics used to destroy them.” He smiled, those bone thin lips curved in sad mirth. “We knew this day would come; there was no reason to fight the passage of time. We adapt as you adapt. A necromancer wakes the dead. If not with magic, then by some other way.” He motioned me over to a corner of camp, where his remaining clan worked quietly. I watched him turn a crank and a small spark shot out from a metal filament, twitching the paw of a dead mouse. “We learn,” was all he said as he shooed me away to my thoughts.
Finally, the time had come to set sail. Nearly five thousand of us left the banks of Sanctuary to find our new home, launching balls of fire and shooting huge boughs of wood at the livid insanity we left on shore. No one wept for their families. No one mourned their possessions. It was a dream. Leaving was the waking from that dream.
We have been journeying now for three weeks with no land in sight, but the birds one of the druids has tended since birth bring news today. Twigs and branches of strange shapes, one carrying a sweet fruit I have never before tasted. In a few days, we will reach whatever will be our new home and we will start a life without the taint of magic.
I stand at the prow of my ship, Kashya nestled at my side, her sharp blue eyes scanning the horizon. I hold on to her and I am not afraid. Thus the world is in balance.
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