Fan fiction:Fulcrum/Chapter 7
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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 7
I followed the blushing rogue into the middle of the rogue camp. By now, the bustle had subsided into a small gathering of the female warriors sitting around the dwindling fire, talking in low tones about the day's fight. Flavie noticed me and moved over to make room on one of the log benches, but I demurred, preferring to sit on the ground and stretch a bit as the rogues went over the status of their battle. My clearing the fallow fields that lay outside the camp had allowed a small group of the young women to collect the bodies of their fallen warriors for burial in the once-defiled graveyard. Akara spoke of her trip to the rogue burial grounds, where she reconsecrated the soil and set the souls of the fallen rogues at rest. These dead would remain dead, free from the threat of being raised as demonic warriors. They all marked with sorrow the death of two more of their number at the hands of Andariel's minions, both for the loss of companionship and the loss of yet another member of their shrunken fighting force.
Paige spoke next, and I ceased my stretches in order to hear her account of the day. 'We journeyed to the resting place of our Sisters, crawling with scum and rot that walks. We journeyed to the fields near the wood, teeming with the undead and the corrupt. I fought alongside this stranger, cutting down all who opposed us, gaining wisdom and pain as we walked in the tortured fields of our homeland.' Paige swallowed hard and I sensed her discomfort. Her tension was contagious and soon I was drawing shapes in the dirt with a nearby stick, trying to put the day out of my mind. 'My Sisters, today I walked the thin line between this world and the next. I saw the black expanse that surrounds the great Eye, and I tasted true fear for the first time.' She stopped and lowered her head, resting it in her hands; the rogue on her left rubbed Paige's back and whispered a few words of encouragement.
'Assassin, what about you?' Kashya's eyes glittered in the firelight as I looked up in surprise from the loose patterns I'd drawn. An Assassin speaks neither of her triumph nor of her defeat. Forgetting is the best weapon we have against fear, for we see enough death to last a thousand campfires. I bowed my head again and spoke in an even tone. 'There was evil. We killed it,' and resumed my silence. This clearly was not the response they had been hoping for, since a few snickered at me and Flavie poked me in the shoulder, attempting to coax conversation from my taciturn form, though Kashya made no effort to force me. She, too, found healing in the black emptiness of memory.
Finally, Paige said quietly, filling the space, 'They had bows.' All the rogues turned from glaring at me to staring at her in disbelief. Kashya inhaled sharply and said, 'Are you sure?' Paige stood up and lifted her shirt and removed a layer of bandages, exposing just enough skin to reveal her injury from the fire-enchanted rogue we had encountered. Unlike the rest of our wounds, which were nearly healed, this one had barely started to knit, and a strange black ring surrounded the pink edges of the hole. Kashya swore, snapped the arrow she had been fashioning in two, and threw it aside. The rest of the circle faded into stunned silence, though some moved to look more closely at the injury.
I got up, nudged one or two of the curious rogues out of my way, and knelt in front of her, my face nearly level with the slowly shrinking insult to her body. It was weeping a greenish liquid that smelled of corruption, but obviously not the result of any infection that I had ever encountered. The coloration was wrong, and too soon; the scent of an infection is that of rotting flesh, but this was sharp, though not immediately unpleasant, almost metallic. 'May I?' I inquired of Paige, who shrugged as I touched the wound with my fingertips. It was unnaturally warm and my fingertips stung when I brought them away. I tasted a drop left on my skin, eliciting noises of disgust from the young women around me. Bitter and most definitely not from a plant or animal.
I stood up and asked Kashya, 'What matter of poison is this?' She spat and cursed once again. 'Quicksilver rot.' she hissed. 'A secret technique that the rogues perfected but rarely use because of the dangerousness of the components and the cruelty of the wound. Once on an arrowhead, the rot will slowly eat its way inside the person, turning even unscathed flesh to black death. We are not savages; we kill only under duress and do not leave our enemies to suffer.' Paige had by now closed up her bandages, but Kashya was still pointing to the mortified flesh underneath. 'An insane rogue would not be able to remember, much less assemble the ingredients for this poison. Those rogues that attacked you today must have had their full facilities about them in order to use the rot. They gave their minds and bodies willingly to Andariel. Those damned, treacherous, accursed-' Kashya's voice rose until she threw up her hands and stormed towards her tent.
I heard Akara sigh as she watched her captain storm away. 'Child, child-' she murmured to the retreating form, but held up an arm to block my pursuit of the livid Kashya. 'Assassin, Paige said that you wished to speak with me?' 'Yes, Akara. Tell me more about the stones in the middle of the field. They are magical objects are they not?' Akara's eyes sparkled for the first time since I had came. 'They are indeed. A work of Horadric genius. A portal to the town of Tristram, the original Home of the Lord of Destruction. I have been meaning to speak to you regarding the Horadrim, sage Deckard Cain. The evil in this land has grown so great that my expertise cannot begin to comprehend it. He alone will help us in our quest to retake the monastery and kill Andariel.'
'How do I activate the portal?' since clearly there had been no active magic when Paige and I stormed the field. 'The secret is hidden within the Tree of Infusis, an ancient earth totem wild with power. You must travel to the woods to obtain its bark, from which I will decipher the key. There used to a short path to the woods, but the demonic force pervading the land has added cruelty and alacrity to the undergrowth, making that way impassable. You must instead use an old mining tunnel to access the tree of power. Now, rest and heal for your journey tomorrow.' With that, the elder bid me good evening and returned to her tent.
I went back to the campfire, where Paige was sitting, poking at the flames with the remnants of a broken sword. I sat down next to her and we both stared into the sparking heat. 'What were you drawing on the floor?' she asked me, gesturing with the now blazing hot metal tip towards the scratch marks in the dirt. I looked at her curiously. 'You don't know how to read, do you?' Paige hung her head and shook it. 'Rogues are usually schooled from an early age, but once the troubles began, our education took a decidedly military bent; writing wasn't important if your arms were cut off in battle. I was taught the basic letters of the common tongue, and I could write and read a little, but once the monastery was besieged most of the books were taken and used for kindling, the desks for our bows, and our teachers for demon-fodder.' She shrugged. 'What use is it to me, anyway?'
That was clearly a debate for another time, so I chose to ignore the bait and instead translated what I had written. 'It's an old proverb, from the teachings of Horazon himself. It says 'If you see the light, you must cast a shadow.' We take it as a mantra, a way of clearing our minds.' I glanced over, watching her peer over the symbols. She looked frustrated, almost annoyed.. 'Does the wound hurt?' I asked, trying to change the topic. She said, without looking up, 'It is excruciating, but I've been charmed to not feel the pain. It will heal overnight.'
'Right,' I said, and I walked over to my stash. I had in it a collection of items I had brought with me from my base camp, items rare enough that they would not be obtained anywhere in the eastern lands. I pulled out a collection of tiny, hollowed out clay balls, a black powder, a thin film of snakeskin, and a vial of clear liquid whose fumes burned the eyes. I returned to the fire and began filling the balls with the powder, placing the layer of skin over it, and gently pouring the liquid inside. Paige finished grumbling over my writing and instead watched me with fascination as I slowly assembled twenty or so of the delicate balls. She reached over to her and I grabbed her arm without moving the rest of my body. 'These are not playthings and dropping could take off your hand.'
She drew back slightly. 'What do they do? Can you show me?' 'Not in town,' replied, but I beckoned her over to the gateway of the rogue camp. I took a single ball and lobbed it into the night. It exploded into a flower of flame, briefly igniting the grass, and then faded from view. Two of the watch guards fired at it, startled by the blast. 'That,' I explained, 'is another skill I possess. It is a trap, a fire fruit, for times when stealth instead of force is key.' We went back inside the camp to the remainder of the balls, which I scooped up gently and returned to my stash. The fire had burned to mere embers but the stars were bright overhead, so I rolled out my mat and chose to sleep outside again instead of in the tents. Paige started, hesitantly, 'I know that I should stay out-' I sat down on the woven fibers and said, 'Sleep on a cot. You need a restful sleep for that wound and this earth will provide you no healing.' She nodded slightly and went into her tent leaving me staring at the fire. I felt my mind beginning to drift and I let go.
That's what we had been making, a fire. We had gone out to the farthest fallow field to test my idea, out of sight from the derelict anger that was our house. I remember his dark eyes looked up at me in wonder as I waved my hands around a tiny pile of sawgrass and dried leaves. I spoke the words, barely pronouncing the whispers I'd heard my mother's sister make when my father wasn't looking. To our delight, a tiny spark appeared on the tinder and burned itself into a glowing warm circle. 'Anli,' he said quietly, for that was my name in those days, 'you did it. You made fire.'
I looked at my baby brother, his chubby cheeks pressed smilingly against those too old eyes, my baby brother who could speak from the time he was a year old and even now rivaled my five years with his maturity. I had crossed my arms and tried to act like this was no big deal, but I couldn't control my excitement. Fire. I'd taken my brain and I'd set the fire. I was now-what was I? In big trouble. I looked around nervously. My parents were nowhere in sight and Zechariah-I haven't called him that in 15 years-A'Dhar had toddled his three year old self after a toad leaving me with the smoldering ashes. I stamped them out as quickly as I could and chased after my brother, calling him to me as we ran home for dinner. My child-eyes had missed the glinting stirrups receding behind the trees.
The black riders were already in the front yard as we approached. My father was outside, shouting loudly at my mother, shaking her tiny form by both shoulders as he spat curses that I have not heard battle-hardened warriors utter when pierced by steel. My aunt stood nearby, silent and impassive, her dark skin not masking the mottled bruises across her chest and arms. We slowed before they saw us and I whispered to my brother, 'Stay here. I'll go first.' It was a ritual we performed every time we entered the house, the decision of who would take the first strikes and the brunt of our father's anger. It had been his turn last night, and his back was still a quilt of red marks. He skittered off and hid behind a ring of stones near the muddy brook that oozed alongside our home.
I walked forward, feeling my father's rage and something else too, a nameless fear that I had never experienced before. I walked as tall as a child could, past the massive horses that stood in the gate, their masters' eyes piercing from beneath their woven hoods. My father finally noticed me and let go of my mother, who slumped to the ground as he lifted me up by my shirt. 'This,' he roared, 'this will be my offering. This whelp, contaminated with sorcery, my own blood wasted on this worthless girl child.' My mother got up and threw herself at him. 'She's only a child,' I remember her begging and crying. I never once saw her laugh, and only once smile, at the birth of my brother. 'She's not to blame. Blame me.'
He slapped her back to the ground with his free hand and kept shaking me, his filthy hand clenched near the back of my neck, his eyes bulging and red. 'I blame you and myself for allowing that- that ***** of Satan to live in my house, eat at my table, and ruin my family. We should have left her to die after that attack. But no, you weak sniveling excuse for a woman, you pleaded with me for compassion for your dear sister, your precious sister, your sister lost in the jungles and returned home again.' My aunt didn't move, nor become angry, nor even redden. She merely stood and watched him shake my crying, screaming form over my broken mother as she had many times before.
Turning back to the riders, he shouted, 'The king wants a tax on all magicians? He wants to root out their infestation of our land? Start with this one. Cut it down when it is still a sapling before it grows into an uncontrollable weed.' He tossed me to the floor near my mother, who reached out to touch my hand, her fingers cold and pale. I know now she was dying, that she probably died moments afterwards, and that consoles me. 'My child. My strong girl. Forgive-' she whispered to me, and closed her eyes again.
One of the riders jumped down and picked me up around the waist. He took off his hood and I screamed in terror, for his face was badly disfigured and his eyes void of any emotion. He sniffed me once or twice, grimaced, then tossed me to his companion, who held me down against the saddle. 'You are correct. She is cursed. We watched her manipulate flame with the dark one's energy. We shall take her and purge her to serve our lord.' He remounted and threw a purse at my father's feet, spurred his horse and we rode off, with me calling my brother's name, telling him to run, telling him I loved him, as the men took me from my home. I was able to turn back and watch as my house suddenly erupted into flames, my father writhing in agony, as the heat blistered his skin, my mother no more than a wisp of smoke, and my aunt standing, silently, as the wind increased the inferno around her. The heat blew towards us and I was smothered in the rider's cape. Then, it went black.
I awoke in the rogue camp, gasping for breath and momentarily confused, clawing the empty air around me. I glanced around at the still dark camp, realizing that only a candlemark had passed since I receded into my memories. I had slumped back onto my mat, but now I sat up and located the blanket, for the fire was almost completely out. Tossing it around my shoulders, I brushed my cheek and realized that I had awoken crying for the first time in twenty years.
A noise behind me, nearly imperceptible, as if the walker were stalking prey. I turned my head slightly to find Kashya, her arms crossed as usual, but with a drawn and resigned look wearing into her face. She too had woken herself from the demon pits that are a warrior's dream, but had managed not to alert the camp as she had on countless other nights. She was shaking just enough for me to notice, and it looked like she had been crying. I rocked forward and threw a few more logs into the fire, watching in satisfaction as it blazed anew. Then, I sat back and extended a blanket-wrapped arm, motioning slightly for her to come forward. She sat next to me and I put both arm and blanket around her shoulders, while she clasped her fingers in front of her and rested her head on them. We stayed there, silently gazing into the fire until dawn broke, taking whatever comfort we could from knowing that someone else walked this long, lonely road.
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