Fan fiction:Fulcrum/Chapter 2
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Fulcrum is a fan fiction piece by Anyee, originally posted in 2003 on the original The Dark Library website. Reposted in the Diabloii.net Fan Fiction Forum by silentwater. This story was started on January 12th 2006.
• Chapter 1
I awoke before daybreak to the chanting of demons, their screeching voices taunting the few Rogue scouts that had allowed us a few snatched hours of respite. The sleep had been restful, but all too short and not very pleasant. My dreams had been troubling, the maw of a beast in the sand choking on its offspring, my teacher, burning alive in a wall of fire. My brother...
I crept over to Paige's barracks and peered in questioningly, watching her childlike face seem even younger, unlined as she dreamed. The sleep of the innocent. I decided against waking her, knowing that the evil that awaited us outside would neither wax nor wane in the next hour. The camp as a whole still slept, though I heard muffled, frantic screams from Kashya's tent, followed by deep, soothing tones from a voice I could not identify. The sleep of the wise is rarely unbroken.
I packed up my things but decided against dressing. Instead, I walked to the back of the camp, near the stream that ran alongside the perimeter. The running water prevented evil from lingering in the small river, but the water was ice cold and clear, devoid of life. I sat cross-legged on the bank, adjusted my posture, and closed my eyes. I let the sound of the rushing water guide my meditation. I encircled my troubles and let them go, like leaves on a flooded river. I focused on my energy, the ladder of power that rises from the serpent at the base of my spine to the phoenix that emerges above my head. I opened my mind and my heart to the energy around me, and I concentrated on drawing what little good I could from my surroundings. My body grew warm, and then hot, as I mentally tested and trained myself, pulsing the energy through my muscles and harnessing the secrets of my clan, my teachers and my masters whispering arcane secrets from thousands of miles away.
Paige's voice, hard and flat with stifled anxiety, wafted into my consciousness. 'We must go now, An'yee.' I remained quietly seated. She urged me again and with a silent sigh, I began the slow process of undoing the ritual, carefully dissipating my gathered energy back into the ground. She touched my arm, as if to shake me, and leapt back with a shout. In this state, I could have probably incinerated her had I not begun to come out; I disliked being hurried out of my meditation, for it was both uncomfortable and, as Paige had just learned, dangerous.
I got to my knees and then stretched to standing, my head still turned from her. A moment passed, then two, Paige's impatient, ragged breathing the only sound I heard. Finally. I lifted my head and opened my eyes. The golden fire in my pupils had mostly disappeared, but I must have still shimmered, for she stepped back and shook her head.
'Whaaa...' she said, softly, feeling a lance of my uncontrolled mental energy pierce her mind and reside there. She was not what she seemed, this young one.
'Never mind.' I commanded. She had already dressed in the equipment I had bought her yesterday, looking a tad ridiculous in the stiff and slightly large armor. Now it was time for me to get ready. 'Paige, come here,' I beckoned as I walked towards the camp. By now, the whole camp was bustling, tending to the wounded from the night's battles and collating supplies. Charsi had just finished the repairs on my left katar, placing it in the pile with the rest of my armor, and I paid her, nodding in approval of the fine work she could do in such a short time.
'Pick those up,' I told Paige, and she slung the bow over her shoulder, grumbling slightly, and lifted the mass of equipment, grunting at its unexpected weight. I walked forward quickly, explaining as I went: 'Paige, katars, wrist blades, and the like are usually hand-held weapons, but my clan prefers to fasten them to our limbs in order to gain better control. Normally, an assassin has a steward or trainee to assist them with the correct placement of the blades. However, I left for this journey quickly enough that there was not time to assign me a young woman...drop them here.' I heard her audibly sigh as a muffled clatter emanated from behind me. I dressed myself in my short leather armor, boots, and leather gloves, fastening a skullcap securely to my head. I detested the confinement of my garments, but I recognized that the protection from magic and physical damage would be invaluable.
'You will, as part of your assignment to me, assist me in preparing for battle.' Now, this wasn't truly necessary, since I had a specialized device for holding the blades in place so I could secure them without aid, but I had to test her ability to listen to, and more importantly, to obey me. She stood there, mouth in a thin line, obviously displeased with the request. 'Pick up the left blade,' I said firmly, and she complied, lifting it with slight difficulty.
'How heavy is this thing? 25 lead pieces?' She said as she unfastened the buckles and motioned for my hand.
'This one is 40 lead pieces, and this is a starter blade. Students of my guild are fitted with special gloves that we wear at all times, even in bed and while bathing. They are filled with tiny rocks to weight them. Eventually, we must learn to hold the whole glove above our head for hours without complaining, at which point more stones are added. Eventually, we can manuver hundred's of lead pieces' worth of weight with ease.' I left out the punishment I had seen meted out for complaining, a massive steel glove encasing the hand of my friend, its bulk so huge that it ripped her arm clear out of the socket. She didn't complain ever again.
I slid my hand into the leather bindings of the blade. 'Push,' I said, and winced as she slammed the metal guide bar into my knuckles. 'The object is to ensure a secure fit, not to shatter my fingers.' She giggled slightly and tightened the buckles. She repeated the process with my right hand, deliberately causing me what she thought was playful pain. Without comment, I allowed her to complete her task. She finished and stepped back. I waved my hands around experimentally, testing to see whether the blades would fly off if moved quickly.
I faced the grinning Rogue and spoke, as sharply my Mistress of Blades, she who had taught me to slide a katar into a woman and emerge without leaving a mark. 'In my tradition, a trainee armoring her teacher as poorly as you just did would be forced, in full armor, to run the deserts of al-Carioe with her master's blades dangling from a rusty chain around her neck. To run in the burning sands barefoot, staggering under the weight of the armor, until her feet were blistered, her legs like stone pillars, her mouth parched, and her back bloody from the incessant swinging of the weapons. But since you are not of my clan, you will be spared such punishment for now. Know, though, that if you harm me again on purpose, I will treat you as family.' To make my point, I lifted the back of my armor with the tip of my right blade. I listened to her exhale slowly as she examined the ripples of scar tissue left on my lower back from the pendulum motion of my punishment. Dragon scales, we called them at home. The mark of a wild-hearted trainee.
Paige was livid, but quietly so, knowing that I was now in control. In truth, I could not have laid a hand on her if I wanted to. Kashya stood nearby, watching the exchange, and I felt those cold black eyes boring into the side of my head as I rebuked her warrior. Still, my point had been proved and I could now resume my normal tone.
'We need to clear out the remainder of the Rogue burial grounds. There are still monsters walking there, but there may also be useful weapons amongst the tombs.' I raised a bladed hand to silence her protest. 'The dead have no use for items. When their souls are at peace, the material world is no more important that the dream of a foolish child. And when their souls are not at peace, the weapons can prove fatal. So we will go and take what we can, use what we can, and discard the rest far from their demon-moved hands. Whatever the case, one thing is certain. Your dead sisters walk again.
I picked up my back and rooted carefully around in it, finding two tiny amulets, each on an impossibly thin platinum chain. I slipped one over my head and offered the other to Paige. She declined, saying, 'We discussed this. I don't wear jewelry. I have no need of it and it will get in the way.'
'Take it,' I insisted, and this time reinforced it with an image of my putting it on her by force. She took the necklace and slowly turned it over it her hand. 'It isn't amber,' she wondered, 'but it carries the sun's heat.' She slipped it over her head and tugged on it gently, noticing that it would not come off or break even with constant pressure.
'It is Phoenix blood. Our clan worships and cares for the Phoenix before she burns herself into a new life. In return, a supplicant may obtain a small amount of her blood. Too early in the process and all you will get are beak marks for your pains; too late, and you'll be consumed in her renewing fire. I lost a good friend that way...but enough.' I caught myself beginning to wander into the catacombs of my past lives. 'This blood will ensure that if your life functions cease, you will be put into stasis and your body transported to the nearest energy vortex until a healer can assist you. I don't intend to use it often, but it is inexhaustible and will only stop working when removed.
I walked towards the glowing portal in the corner of the camp. 'Speaking of energy vortexes...' 'The waypoints?' she interrupted. 'Yes,' I continued, 'the waypoints. They are stone markers on massive geysers of Gaic energy, from the heart of the World Stone. The energy is so great that it can transport you instantly from one vortex to another. The Phoenix blood can be tuned to the nearest vortex to provide safe passage for your body, which is why we must both stand on each new marker stone we see.' This was news to her, apparently. I suppose that the people in her camp didn't think it was important to explain the finer points of instantaneous travel. Not really necessary when you aren't expected to live past 23. 'We won't be using that today. Instead, we'll use this portal. I assume you are familiar with time/space travel.'
'I've used the scroll of town portal a few times...' she trailed off.
'Well, we'll be using it constantly. The mages of Tristram really outdid themselves when they figured out this energy puzzle, but that is a long boring story in at least ten languages. This portal is open in the burial grounds. There is no turning back from here. Are you ready?'
She nodded, and we stepped through.
The sensation of traveling through the portal is almost indescribable. It is like drowning in golden light. You are rushing in every direction and yet standing still, your world is tumult and dizziness but static and calm at the same time. Your body is infused with energy and when you open your mouth to scream, only light comes out. Every pore, every hair, is overwhelmed with power. You feel like you will be ripped apart and then...
The portal deposited us with an unceremonious thud on an overturned gravestone. The whirling blue mass disappeared in a burst of instability, leaving us struggling for balance. Paige was an amusing shade of green, a typical side-effect of newer travelers. She stumbled once or twice and then cleared her head. We stood and looked around us. The dead Rogues still hung from the tree under which I had killed Blood Raven. Bones were everywhere. Rotting flesh clung to small rocks, crawling with insects. In the distance, grotesque mockeries of the human form lumbered towards us. To her credit, Paige seemed remarkably unfazed as she surveyed the destruction. I motioned to the putrid warriors oozing their way out of the tombstones, reminding her that whatever these once were, they were only evil now. She shrugged and followed me into the first of the large crypts in the burial ground.
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• Chapter 1