Fan fiction:Winds of the Kae Huron/Chapter 7: Concerning Hell
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 7: Concerning Hell[edit source]
M'avina remembered the strange, hellish portals that Baal had summoned up from the earth to bring in reinforcements from the Burning Hells. Many of the Barbarians had thrown themselves into those portals to deal with the beasts within, but most of the original expedition decided against it. Once in Hell was enough. Even thinking about it brought back visceral faces of balrogs and hag demons.
Jalal, Dimoak, and Aldur - the three Druids who had journeyed from Scosglen, had held a strange séance whenever they encountered those portals. They had said no words and made no gestures. They just stood at opposite points several feet from the edges that disappeared into fire and shadow.
Then, the ground had shaken, and the hellish construct had staggered down into the pit below it, breaking in pieces as it went. The ground closed up, and the quakes ceased, and the Druids moved on as if nothing had happened. They were so remarkably strange. They took no pride in the powers they possessed. It was never showy. But those powers were magnificent. They wore animal pelts over their heads that had been cleaned, but never tanned. She could tell by the way the fur felt to the touch. But they never turned and decayed.
"We ask them not to," Jalal once explained with a shrug.
M'avina regretted that she had never spoken to any of them at great length.
Snowgarde Pass was aptly named. The way the opposing cliffs were situated kept the path only lightly dusted with snow. In the crevices, there were even strange flowers and fungi growing. M'avina did her best to avoid the plants, even though she knew that the horse would trample them anyway.
The Pass was surprisingly long. They rested once in the middle, where Scyld assured them it was the warmest. And when they emerged on the other side, staring at them like a bleeding, fiery eye, was one of those blasted portals in the distance.
M'avina blinked. Then she closed her eyes tight, and opened them again, but it was still there.
Snowgarde Pass opened into a high plateau on another mountain, which extended in a ridge which dropped away to a thin valley in the north and ascended into a snow-capped mountain to the south. Ahead, the ridge rose and fell, making veritable dunes of snow in their path. Beyond those, fog-enshrouded mountains broke the horizon.
And on one of those dunes was a red portal tearing a hole in reality, between two obsidian pillars decorated with demonic runes and statues.
M'avina had found that she had already put arrow to bow. No one had spoken, but they all had their weapons at the ready. The wind blew gently, and wisps of snow sinuously slithered through the air.
There were no tracks, though. Aside from the portal which stuck out of the mountain like a splinter, the snow was completely undisturbed. M'avina kept her arm relaxed, and never pulled the string back, but her senses were straining. They had been ambushed before.
A sudden gust of wind buffeted her hair about, and the sound of it pounding her ears was all she heard for a moment. When it stopped, Kaelim lowered his weapons.
M'avina looked at him, saw his shoulders relax, before she put the bow back in her quiver, just to be sure it wasn't a trick of the wind. But even with weapons down, they just stared across the ivory abyss between them and the portal.
Ume was the first to move, and stepped forward, but Kaelim gently blocked him with his axe. "No," he muttered. "There's . . . something."
M'avina felt it too. Nothing physical, but there was . . . something. She could find no words to describe it. But there was an unease upon the wind that seemed warranted. If she was wrong, it was better to be embarrassed than dead.
"Bohdan, Oslaf," Kaelim called, "you two take point. M'avina," - she turned to look at him - "you and Arcanna circle out on the right. Ume, Scyld, and Jabari take flanking positions on either side of us. The rest of you," he readied his sword and axe, "follow me."
M'avina didn't look back as she trudged through the snow as Kaelim had directed. She had to walk at a healthy pace to keep up with Bohdan and Oslaf, who were armed with a halberd and spear, respectively. The main group, with Scyld and Jabari on one flank and Ume on the other, moved several paces behind the point.
M'avina took the same arrow from her quiver and pulled it back on her bow, but kept the point low. She heard Arcanna behind her, but didn't look back. She wanted to glance at the scenery to her right, but the burning doorway hanging between the two pillars demanded her full attention.
Unlike Jabari, Ume, and other spellcasters M'avina had met, the Zann Esu never said a word. When she was in the infirmary, she had overheard Malah speaking to the young sorceress when she had been in visiting Kira during her coma.
"It isn't exactly a matter of reciting ancient spells or incantations," Arcanna explained in a casual, patient tone. "It's a sort of mental focus that allows us to channel the natural elemental energies through our own being, spiritually and physically. While the Vizjerei or the Ammuit bend reality to their will, we simply use reality to its full potential."
"You must have a very intimate understanding of the world around you," Malah noted with a smile. She had always been interested in magic, and while the Barbarian society allowed equal opportunities for both genders, she was still a feminist at heart, and delighted that the Zann Esu had thrived despite the machinations of the male-dominated East working against them.
But Arcanna shook her head. "Not so much an understanding as a relationship," she corrected. "Our discipline makes nature our friend and it's spirits our allies."
"Almost like the Druids?" Malah suggested.
"Similarities, but key differences in philosophy and execution," Arcanna replied. "The Druids use their magic in a much more physical sense. We regard nature as an elemental entity in and of itself."
"How do the Zann Esu regard other magical practices?" asked Malah.
Arcanna shrugged. "Flawed, but necessary. Existence is made up of flaws, and life is about correcting them."
M'avina felt heat off the staff Arcanna held. She had said once that staves, when properly sanctified, could become a focal point for the energies they wielded, because, especially when using more powerful spells, those magics became dangerous to contain within the human body. By diverting it into the staff, an adept Sorceress could summon more powerful energies to aid her.
Bohdan and Oslaf stopped, two steps from the portal.
Kaelim held up his fist, and his group stopped.
The world stopped.
M'avina pulled the arrow back and took aim at the portal, and locked her arm, ready to loose her arrow at anything that emerged. The wind pounded in her ear again, but she continued to stare at that blasted portal before her. Bohdan had his halberd high over his head, ready for a downward strike to cleave his foe in two. Beside him, Oslaf had his spear forward and ready. Jabari's sword glowed with electricity, and a faint, shadowy fog was streaming from Ume's luminescent eyes, which were a brilliant shade of incandescent blue. Everyone had their weapons out and at the ready, waiting for something to happen.
But nothing persisted to happen.
In a second, M'avina imagined the countless variations on how the demons would ambush them the moment the let their caution down. The Reanimated Horde suddenly bursting from the perfect snowdrifts, or a herd of minotaurs suddenly bursting from the portal in a frenzy of blood and death. Succubi descending upon them like a hale of ravenous eagles. The fleshy tendrils of death maulers rising from the ground and entangling the hapless party.
M'avina's shoulder ached. She guessed that she had never had to hold a bowstring taut for so long. In the battles she had faced during her quest across Sanctuary, there had never been time to hold the arrow on the bow. Always, it had barely touched the string before she had loosed it. The fights were furious and chaotic.
She felt her tensed muscles shudder. A drop of sweat dripped into her eye and stung.
"Athulua," she whispered a prayer, "give me strength." Though it didn't ease the pain in her shoulder, she felt better nonetheless.
"Stand down," Kaelim commanded.
Relief flooded her system like a comforting warmth as she lowered the bow and relaxed her arm. Arcanna exhaled loudly as the magic within her dispersed, and the heat from the staff faded. She walked past M'avina towards the portal, and M'avina followed.
She could heard the hum of the astral energies as she neared. It was smaller than the ones they had encountered before, less grand.
"Why did Baal summon the portals on Arreat?" Ume asked, though it sounded like he knew the answer.
"To bring in reinforcements to block our pursuit," Arcanna answered.
"Then, why, pray," Ume came to his point, "would he summon one outside of Arreat."
After a moment of thought, Alaric answered. "Perhaps they wished to surprise attack Harrogath from another angle?" he suggested.
"The druidic ward that Aust and the others summoned completely protected Harrogath," Scyld shook her head. "They would have as much luck from behind as they would from the front. Besides," she gestured to the mountainous terrain to the south, "they would have to traverse the mountains first. We would likely notice the activity."
"Can we be certain it leads to Hell?" asked Caden.
"Yes," Arcanna, Ume, and Jabari answered in unison.
M'avina reached out and touched the pillar nearest her. She felt the heat coming through the portal. It was that same, malignant heat she had felt before. It was pervasive and starving. She drew her hand back suddenly from the pillar.
"Who says Baal summoned it at all?" she asked, not looking at anything but the swirling, chaotic energies within the doorway.
Some were perplexed by the question. "Who else could have?" asked Kinemil, a little annoyed.
"A lesser demon, perhaps," Ume nodded his approval. "It's not impossible."
Arcanna shook her head. "It took all the three Prime Evils to open the Infernal Gate properly. Baal had Tal Rasha's arcane knowledge, as well as his fully functional Soulstone. It takes a great deal of power to breach the dimensional barriers like this."
"At least . . ." Kaelim began.
M'avina nodded in horrified understanding. "It did before the Worldstone was shattered." It was a whisper but everyone heard it.
They exchanged glances. Qual-Kehk had told them what Tyrael had told him. No one, not even the Archangel himself, knew what the implications of the Worldstone's destruction would mean.
M'avina had been endlessly disappointed that she hadn't been with them when they had seen Tyrael in the Worldstone chamber. There was something about being in his presence that reassured her. It was as if confidence and hope were something tangible that she could wrap herself around in. There were times, when they traveled through Hell, that she felt almost in withdrawal from that feeling. She would zealously agree with anyone who suggested they go back to the Pandemonium Fortress. But then, that was no wonder, for Hell was like the reverse of that. There was a sorrow on the very air. It had the scent of infinite sadness. If they hadn't been distracted by fighting demons from the doorstep of the Fortress to the Chaos Sanctuary, M'avina was certain that the innate misery of the empty sky and unforgiving ground would drive them mad.
Even now, she felt that same despair creeping into her heart, as if reaching out from the portal - recognizing something familiar within her, for it had tasted her spirit once before. M'avina shuddered and took a step back.
"We need to see what's in there," said Kaelim. "Oslaf, Alaric, you two enter the portal first. M'avina, Jabari, you follow."
M'avina felt her stomach tighten. She looked for a moment at Kaelim, and he looked as if he was about to correct himself, but she quickly nodded and stepped towards the portal. "As you command."
He looked like he regretted asking her. She felt somehow better about herself because of that. He sighed, and took her position behind the Barbarians. Oslaf was from Harrogath, but Alaric had been part of Kaelim's traveling party. However, after the battle with Mephisto, he had stayed in the Pandemonium Fortress under the care of Jamella. Oslaf had taken part in the raids throughout the wild, but neither had ever been deeply within Hell. Jabari had traveled with them a fair distance, but it was different for the Vizjerei - for most spellcasters. Their disciplines seemed to protect them from the pervasive nature of the blasted realm, unless they were simply better at not showing it.
Oslaf showed no signs of fear, and went forward with his weapon before him. M'avina did not know whether or not he had yet braved the burning realm, for she knew little who would so zealously return to it.
Jabari took his place behind Alaric, while she moved in to position behind Oslaf. She heard him gulp. Perhaps the sorcerer was not as resistant to Hell as she once thought. Oslaf and Alaric rushed into the portal, and she couldn't help but hesitate before she made her move. She breathed the thin, cold air of the mountains, closed her eyes, and jumped into the portal.
Heat enveloped her like a blanket as she exhaled the cold air into the dreadfully hot Hellish environment. It was accentuated by all the furs she wore. And then, again, it came over her, the fear and sadness pulling at her soul. But she fortified her spirit, drew an arrow, stood upright, and opened her eyes.
The portal they had just entered from was beneath a massive gate which fell a dark corridor of stone walls carved in the likeness of screaming humans and laughing demons. But on the other side, it opened up into a massive arena, littered with the corpses, both fresh and centuries old, of demons. The living rock had seemed to grow up to form a coliseum around them, rows of ringed seats, and at the far end, was a raised veranda adorned with three thrones made of still-moving human bodies. Beyond the high seats and the throne balcony was nothing. Just the black sky of nothing.
The rank stench of decay, a thousand times worse than the battlefields in the Highlands, overwhelmed her. She covered her mouth with the hand that held the arrow. The other three had done the same.
Alaric looked around at the seats and the battlefield. "What happened here?" he asked them.
Jabari shook his head. "Whatever it was, it's over now. We can do nothing here."
"Then let's return," M'avina said hastily. She moved back towards the portal, and glanced back at them. She desperately needed out of this place.
The second they began to follow her lead she jumped through the portal.
Traversing such dimensional barriers seemed far too easy. There was no feeling to it. You were simply there one moment, and here the next. Aside from the bright flash of light in the transition, it was no different than walking through a door.
She had never thought the freezing cold would be so refreshing, but with her multiple layers, it had been like being trapped in a stone oven. She was almost panting when she emerged. Oslaf, Alaric, and Jabari were all quick to follow.
Kaelim looked at her. "What happened?"
M'avina really didn't feel like talking, and was relieved when Alaric spoke up. "Nothing. It was a ruined battlefield, of demon on demon."
Arcanna sighed. "No doubt remains of the civil war that has raged in Hell since the Dark Exile," she surmised.
Jabari shook his head, uncertain. "It was different. It seemed too recent almost."
"Was there any threat?" asked Kinemil.
"Not that we could see," Oslaf replied. "There was no living demon in sight."
M'avina took a few steps from the portal.
Kaelim walked towards the portal, and put his hand up to it, but not through it. He shivered and drew back. Everyone else instinctively did the same.
"Can any of you close it?" asked Kaelim, turning to the congregation but speaking to the spellcasters.
Arcanna shook her head. "I wouldn't know where to begin. Ex nihilo deals with elemental energies. I barely understand Horadric portals, let alone something of this magnitude," she pointed at the shimmering portal.
Jabari nodded, "Likewise. I can only cast which specific spells I know, and this is not among them."
"What about you, Priest of Rathma?" asked Kinemil, raising an eyebrow and stepping toward Ume. "Your magics deal with the powers of Hell."
"Kinemil!" Scyld snapped. "That's a terrible thing to say!"
Ume smiled knowingly, and put a hand gently on her shoulder. "A common misconception, my child," he turned his gaze to Kinemil. "I deal in traversing the dimensional barriers between life and death, young Paladin. That is quite different than those between this world, and theirs," he nodded at the gateway.
Caden stepped through the crowd of soldiers. "There's no threat from the other side. Could we simply leave it?"
"I would sincerely rather not," Kaelim shook his head.
"Nor I," M'avina chimed in. The thought of that portal's other end send harrowing chills up her spine.
"Without a Worldstone, I certainly don't appreciate the idea of one of these portals being left open anywhere, let alone a stone's throw from Harrogath," Oslaf said, nodding back in the direction of his home town.
"There's not a lot we can do," Scyld reasoned. "I'm not anymore comfortable with it than you are, Oslaf, but our only alternative is to leave someone here to guard this portal. And if it was a force too vast for Harrogath to handle, what forces we can spare certainly wouldn't be able to stay them."
"And we cannot diverge from our quest," Kaelim shook his head.
They all glanced around. M'avina's spirit sank. She knew that there was no way they could do anything but leave the portal here. But she was not at all pleased with possibility of having that portal behind them.
Alaric sighed. "Scyld is right. Harrogath is capable of handling an assault. Though many came with us or went with Qual-Kehk to Sescheron, they still have a great many stalwart warriors to use in case of any assault."
Kaelim nodded thoughtfully. "Then it's decided: we shall press on. Perhaps we'll deal with this portal when we return."
Without waiting for a response, Kaelim strode past the portal and continued along the ridge. The party soon took their positions behind him. M'avina felt another knot tie in her stomach as she realized she was the rearguard. She fell into step, nevertheless, beside Bohdan, and looked down to avoid the wind.
Her eyes strayed behind her once again to the portal, behind them. It looked like an angry, fiery eye, judging her, and peering into her mind. She hated Hell. She knew that feelings like hate only strengthened the powers of the place, but she couldn't help it. Hell had taken so much from her world. Everything about it was a violation.
She bumped into Bohdan.
"Careful," he warned mirthlessly, but distracted. She saw him look back at the portal, too.
They kept walking, and got away from it with surprising speed. It was only minutes later, when M'avina looked back, that the portal was only a glimmering scorch in reality far below them.
A strong wind deafened her for a moment.
Bohdan tapped her shoulder. "Come, another storm's picking up. We should cross this summit before it breaks." He pointed to the other side of the valley beside them, where there was a great, snowy haze engulfing the mountains opposite them. M'avina nodded, and quickened her pace.
It wasn't long after that she turned back, but they had crested the hill, and she could no longer see it. She didn't like leaving it behind her.
She remembered when they left behind a den of yeti they'd been hunting in the Tamoe Mountains a few years ago.
When M'avina had spoken to Vidala about his discomfort, Vidala had laughed. "M'avina, the present needs your attention. Not what lies behind you. Everything happens to a woman, or a man, now. Not in the past, or the future, but now."
"You turn everything into philosophy," M'avina had chuckled.
Vidala had grinned, but said nothing more.
M'avina would give her bow for some philosophical wisdom from Vidala, now.
But instead she simply ducked behind Bohdan and descended down the other side of the hill.
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