Fan fiction:Fulcrum/Chapter 1
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[edit source]
I didn't expect her to be so young.
The Rogue waited, her bow held down at her waist, gazing at me ineffably with the void black eyes that those of Sisterhood gained at initiation. Her brown hair was pulled tightly at the nape of her neck, bound with three straps, to prevent entanglement in her weapon. Her uniform simple, traditional, the short leathers, boots, and cloak that all rogues have worn since the dawn of their kind. But most of all, her face, offset by those black eyes, the face of a child.
I had returned from the slaughter of Blood Raven and her undead minions. Her idle threats, issued in a voice like scraping coal over shattered glass, no longer echoed in my ears, but I still felt that strange icy touch on my arm. I had run Blood Raven through on the blade of my katar and she had reached out to grab me as she slipped off and to the ground. Her body had instead risen in the air and shook as the demonic hold on her shattered as she died. I looked into those infernal eyes and saw them soften from livid crimson, not to the raven darkness of the Rogues, but to a pale green. A wave of relief, perhaps, swept over her face; maybe those eyes had gratitude in them as she finally ceased her hell-inspired carnage. Or maybe it was the trick of her power rushing from her body and breaking her hold on the putrefying minions surrounding her. Either way, she was dead, and the remains of her body hit the ground with an unpleasant thud, weapons clattering on the tombstones.
Kashya stood, almost imperceptibly keening, as she held the bow of her corrupted sister. It was a remarkable weapon. Charsi had outdone herself when she crafted this bow. It was weighted perfectly for Blood Raven. The bow itself was a single piece of birch, polished with demon's blood to give it heated shot. The string was not of gut, but of fine platinum wire, flexible and razor sharp. Only an archer with years of experience would have the calluses on her fingers needed to fire a single arrow without ripping her hands to shreds. I brought this weapon back, its body burned from the acidic demon-sweat of its former owner, to prove I had completed the quest.
Kashya placed the bow in her left hand. She grabbed the string with her right palm and slid her hand down the bow's length. I saw blood begin to ooze from between her fingers as she sliced her palm open. It was told to me, before I came here, that rogues do not cry, that their eyes are so changed by years of mental tuning that their tear ducts are burned out. That is a lie; they cry, but they do not weep tears. They weep blood; for I watched twin lines, red like the depths of the Burning Hells, go down the warrior's face as she opened her ruined hand.
She extended her blood-soaked limb towards me.
"Accept the loyalty of the Sisterhood."
I removed the katar from my wrist and drew its blade across my right hand. The line stung with a sharp, annoying pain, and I observed domes of red form along its path. They spread and joined, and formed a thin rivulet down my arm. I took Kashya's hand in mine, mingling her blood with my own.
A tiny smile crossed her face.
"You know how to shake hands properly."
She withdrew her hand and emitted a shrill whistle. I saw the heads of several of the Rogues guarding the camp turn towards her, and then turn away, excepting a single young woman. The lone Rogue moved towards us and halted a few feet away, behind Kashya, as she gently placed Blood Raven's bow across her own back.
"Unlike Akara, I cannot grant you magical items or new training, nor can I forge weapons like my sister Charsi. I can only offer you what I alone may give. Take this Rogue with you as you travel the lands in search of the Dark Wanderer. She will aid and obey you in your quest."
The young woman slung her bow over her shoulder and walked forward, standing next to Kashya. The Rogue did not break her stare as she acknowledged her new orders with a slight bow. I returned the gesture and opened my slowly healing palm to her. The woman seemed taken aback and Kashya shook her head.
"It is not necessary for her to take the blood bond now; let her prove herself. And vice versa."
Kashya turned to the girl and placed her hands on her shoulders. She said something in a tongue that I had rarely heard spoken, let alone used in casual conversation. What I could translate of their conversation was almost meaningless without the telepathic component, and even though I could access their minds, it would be at best rude-at worst, fatal-to do so. The girl looked once at me, once at Kashya, and started as if to say something. But she silenced herself and removed herself from Kashya's grasp.
The girl spoke.
"My name is Paige. I have been given orders and I shall follow them, and you, until I am released."
Her voice was warm and resonant, though it carried a harshness that showed that she neither liked nor even trusted me. It didn't take a Vizjeri clan mentalist to sense the anger and frustration coming off this woman, but I put it aside. For now.
Kashya returned to her former stance and fixed me with those penetrating eyes.
"As for you, do not be fooled by her youthful appearance. Paige is a warrior, as is every single Rogue within these crude walls. She has been tested in battle and trained extensively. Fight wisely and may your quest succeed."
Implicit in her words was a directive, half-command, half-plea: Bring her back alive. Kashya walked away, taking the Blood Raven's bow from her back and turning it slowly in her hands. I pitied the woman, who had lost so many Sisters and-others-to this evil. It must have been very difficult to command so many who had since turned to the darkness, and even more heart-wrenching to send one of the few remaining sisters into battle with an outlander.
"Do not pity her. She has chosen this path, the path of a warrior. She knew that the lives of those she loved, as well as her own life, were expendable in the pursuit of righteousness."
I looked at Paige, as she finished speaking, and I narrowed my eyes.
"In my clan," I spoke quietly, "we never read another's thoughts or emotions without asking permission first. We are only permitted to read the mind's surface thoughts from non-consenters. It will serve you well to remember that in the future and I will do the same for you."
The last sentence was spoken in the same, esoteric language she and Kashya had used minutes earlier, accompanied by a mental picture of my thwacking her in the head with a katar.
"Is that clear?"
Paige blanched a little and replied, "perfectly," but she never took her eyes off me. Her ire at being paired with her Sister's murderer was ill-concealed by her pale features, even less so now that I'd reprimanded her. Gaining her confidence and her rapport would make fighting easier and traveling far less tedious, as opposed to journeying with a sullen, bitter companion. That would take time, though; my kind is rarely welcomed in any group. Too much bad blood on the tips of our blades.
"Well then. Let's say we settle in for the night. The monsters will wait until dawn for us to send them back to their unholy maker. We'll stay here in the encampment and head out at daybreak. First, though, let's go visit that greedy bugger Gheed and see what sort of equipment we can get for you."
I began walking towards his caravan when I heard Paige question "Equipment? I already have a bow and some leather armor. What more do I need?"
I sighed and returned to the rogue, her eyes glittering in the half-light of the campfire. I began to say something about her vow to obey me, but I sensed her anger was concealing embarrassment. Was she really ashamed of the scanty clothing and weaponry that she had been provided by the rogues? Not that anyone could blame them. Money was tight thanks to the closing of the Western Passage and supplies were running low. Even Charsi had to get her metals and magic from somewhere, and that "somewhere" was usually far off and very expensive.
Once overflowing coffers had been reduced to mere pennies, forcing Akara to sell her formerly free healing potions and enchanted weapons. This meant that all non-combat defenders were barely equipped to save money and resources for the fighters. So I stopped my diatribe before it began and instead said, "Follow me."
I wandered over to the fire and my stash. I motioned for her to come closer as I clicked open the chest. The lid flew open and she gaped at the potions, armor, and gold scattered inside.
"This is what I get from fighting and scavenging. The killing fields are littered with the cast-offs of fallen and cowardly warriors. They have no use for this. We do."
I closed the lid and sat down on the chest, turning my face up to hers.
"When you guard this encampment, you are behind stout wooden pillars, surrounded by other fighters, and near one of the best healers I have ever encountered. You don't need great armor or weapons because of that. But when you're wandering around in the marsh or in some God-forsaken cave, all you have is what you are wearing, what you are wielding, and a few potions. You will need better equipment if you are to serve me, and your people, best."
Paige hung her head and was silent for a bit. The Rogues are a proud people, almost as bad as barbarians, and they don't enjoy aid from outlanders.
"I obviously have the wealth and supplies to properly outfit both of us," I continued, "so there is no need for you to feel that you are inconveniencing me. If nothing else, giving you some armor will allow me to ensure that some expensive magic items are not wasted while I await more rational pricing-and it will give you a better chance in a mob of demons while I try and save you."
Her head shot up and she saw my smirking face. "I'll take your offer," she stated coldly, "but I would suggest that you get the superior armor, especially for your back, since you will be doing the majority of the running away."
"It's settled then," I returned the displeased stare, leaping off the chest, and opening it again. "I know that Rogues traditionally do not wear gloves and you seem to have excellent boots, which is good since I don't have any spares. Also, since I'll be carrying potions, there is no need for you to wear a belt-do you use magic?"
"No." Paige shook her head. "At the siege of Tristram, the use of magic proved dangerous and detrimental to our fighting style, so it was outlawed. All Sisters since then have been taught only communicative telepathy, extra sensory perception, fortune telling-all skills bestowed upon our founders by the great Sightless Eye." I suppressed a look of disdain. "They are not magic, but they are-not physical skills either. In the past, we kept our mental shields up, letting them down only to use our talents. Now there is such pervading evil in our homeland that if we drop our mental shields at all, even to detect a trapped tomb, we risk having our minds ripped open by a burst of negative energy. Most of the corrupted Rogues out there had their minds twisted by dark forces as they tried to call for back-up or check for hazards. So although I am trained, I cannot use my powers outside of this protected area. A long answer to a short question. I'm sorry. The most I am allowed now is the simple act of finding concealed enemies"
"Good. Magic corrupts. Only the mind is true. So you won't need any rings or amulets since you can't really control them. Therefore, we need to get you a suit of armor, a helmet, and maybe a nice enchanted bow."
"But I've had this bow since I was inducted as a full sister."
"That's the problem. You need something better balanced with a lot more power. Remember, it'll be just us two out there."
She once again tried to argue and I stopped her with a single mentally flashed image of her trying to mow down a pack of skeletons with a short bow. She shut her mouth and we went to Gheed's cart.
"Gheed, you pigdog. Get over here and help us."
"Ah, my lady, a pleasure as always to see you," Gheed oozed, opening his cart to us. "What may I do for you today? Come to try your luck on these lovely, unidentified magic boots? Or perhaps something in nice, soft, black leather-" Gheed trailed off and ogled my cleavage, a move not unnoticed by Paige, who laughed softly.
"Gheed," I said, pulling him close to me by his collar. I touched my mouth to his ear and hissed, "The closest you will get to my breasts is gazing at them from the ground as I drive my wrist blade into your heart." I released him, and he tottered a bit before falling over as Paige tried hard to control full-blown laughter.
"Come Paige, let's go over to Charsi. At least her prices are fair and her wares aren't excrement." Paige walked over and we turned away. "Not that she won't look at my cleavage," I muttered too quietly for anyone to hear.
"Wait, wait!" I glanced back. Gheed had pulled himself up and was quickly searching through his caravan. "I have something she doesn't."
"Are you sure?" Paige asked, mockingly. "Charsi's pretty well equipped." Now it was my turn to hold back my laughter.
Gheed spat back, "How would you know," as he continued his frantic hunt. "Ah, here we are," he smiled, and held up a suit of leather armor.
"Leather armor, made from the most well-fed cows south of the forest. The best in camp, yours for the bargain price of 600 gold."
"300. I've seen this sort of armor before, with better craftsmanship"
"500, not around here, you haven't."
"425, and that's all I'll pay."
"Fine," Gheed said with his usual smile, and he handed me the leather as I tossed the gold at his feet. "Have a lovely evening ladies. A pleasure, as always."
I gave the leather to Paige and she slipped it over her head. "A little stiff, but I'll break it in." She rotated her arms and head a little slowly, trying to round some of the rough edges to minimize chafing.
"Demon blood is great for new leathers. Really softens it up. Now, we need to get you a new bow and a helmet of some sort."
We walked over to Charsi, me still swearing at Gheed with a litany of curses in at least seventeen languages, a feat that impressed my still-amused companion to no end. "How did you learn to speak like that?"
"I traveled. A lot. With people who had reasons to curse." I omitted that I was usually the cause.
Charsi was busy sharpening a new wrist blade for me when we stopped by.
"Good to see you. Need repairs from the last jaunt?"
"Yeah. Those zombies are murder on armor, no pun intended." I started stripping off my armor, leaving me in little more than a short leather under dress. I handed the equipment, along with my weapons, to Charsi, who sighed deeply as she surveyed the damage I'd done to them. "And Blood Raven-"Charsi looked up, intently, at the name. "-was not easily defeated either." Charsi's head dropped back to her anvil as she tried to hide her sorrow and anger. I swore silently at Kashya. Apparently the captain had not told the news to all of her Sisters; Charsi should not have learned of her comrade's death by my murderer's mouth. "I'm sorry, I know she was a friend of yours. I wish there had been some other way, but there wasn't. I am an Assassin, I kill what needs to be killed," I said, trying to minimize the mixed emotions I knew she was experiencing; I too know how hard it is to serve a butcher.
Charsi placed all of my things in a pile and began to work on my belt. "Well, I fix what needs to be fixed. Come back in the morning and everything should be as good as new. Go now, please." She waved me off as I tried to console her further. "I'll find comfort in my forge and purpose in my work. Let me do what I do best and I'll let you do the same."
"I hate to talk business at a time like this, but do you have anything we can look at? Paige needs some new equipment."
Charsi motioned to the table next to her. "Take what you need and leave the money in that bag." She addressed her Sister, still working at her bench. "Good luck, Paige. You've been coupled with someone who promises to be an excellent warrior. Bring us honor and peace." Paige nodded, tight-lipped in the face of her Sister's sorrow.
We selected a long bow fitted with a lighter frame so she could do more damage with less effort, as well as a sturdy helm. Paige took the armament under her arm and went to find a bedroll. I left the money and I began to move towards my campsite when Charsi grabbed my arm in one of the tightest grips I've ever felt from man or woman. I looked down into that soot and blood-tear stained face, her black eyes beseeching me. "Is she at peace?"
I remembered once again Blood Ravens final seconds, watching her poor corrupted soul rip itself from her body and dissipate. "She no longer fights alongside demons. She no longer performs heinous acts in the name of a creature she once battled. She is no longer what she loathed. I think, in that, she has found peace."
Charsi squeezed my arm again, an affectionate gesture that nearly shattered my wrist. "Thank you, Assassin, for giving her peace," and then she returned to hammering a patch on my belt.
I walked to the fire and unfurled my bedroll, preparing for my evening meditation. I gazed into the leaping flames, letting their patterns still my mind. A shuffling disturbed my concentration slightly. "Yes," I queried without turning around.
Paige's quiet voice barely reached my ears over the rushing of the burning wood.
"The name 'Assassin' is...too bitter of a title for me to use easily. May I call you something else?" I continued to focus forward, but I was strangely unsettled. It is rare that anyone address an Assassin with anything other than a term of polite revulsion, rarer still that we permit our names to be used casually. If Paige were a sorcerer, she could take my true name and use it to rip apart my will...but friend or foe, Paige would be fighting by my side as of tomorrow morning. She would need no high magic if she chose to sink an arrow into my spine.
I mulled the various names and titles that had invoked me in the past. "You may call me An'yee," I decided. As close to a name as I'd had in years.
"Andyi" she tried, slipping on the unfamiliar consonants. "No," I corrected, "you've just called me a grapefruit. Separate the two syllables more clearly." I could hear the smile in her voice as she tried again. A few more mispronunciations and she finally approximated my name closely enough for me to wave her away for the evening.
"Good night, An'yee," she said, disappearing into the darkness behind me.
"Good night, little Paige," I said, but I am positive she did not hear me.
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