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A difficult question

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Anyee, Feb 25, 2004.

  1. Anyee

    Anyee IncGamers Member

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    A difficult question

    There's no chance that anyone was smarter than I was and has a copy of chapters 21 and 22 of Fulcrum, is there? Both the forum and a HD crash seem to have eliminated mine.
     
  2. Banehero

    Banehero IncGamers Member

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    I'm not sure, I think I may have chapter 21, I'll have a look when I get home tonight : )
     
  3. Anyee

    Anyee IncGamers Member

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    Well if you can find it, I'd really be happy.
     
  4. tamrend

    tamrend IncGamers Member

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    I hope you can recover it. I'm sure there's someone out there that pasted it to a document to read it. Few things can be as frustrating as rewriting a piece of lost fiction.
     
  5. Banehero

    Banehero IncGamers Member

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    I have them do you want me to e-mail them to you are post them here?

    Here they are

    Chapter 21

    Kashya's sigh of exhaustion as she shifted on the floor awoke me from the flimsy sleep I'd gathered over the past hours. My injuries pulsed and burned uncomfortably, forcing me to change position every few moments. That, plus the nagging worries about my own mental state and its effects on my performance, made the gift of slumber in short supply. I rolled over slightly to gaze down at her, wondering how long she'd lain in the dark with us.

    <What,> she asked me, sending the words into my brain so as not to wake Paige. <Long watch,> I queried. <Yes, but a quiet one,> she responded. <That's good, then.> <No, it's not. Gira's not returned.> <Gira's the one who disappeared after the attack on her partner.> I'd not known her name until this point. Gira, last of her kind, last of the veteran warriors...save Kashya. <Correct. At first we figured her grief had driven her to avenge her partner, but she should have returned by now. Or we should have found her body. But we have found only death.> I remembered what Paige told me, of the search parties lost in the pursuit of their comrade. "I'm sorry," I whispered, the slight noise causing Paige to stir in a restless haze.

    Kashya looked up at me with empty eyes and motioned that we should leave the tent. She helped me ease off the cot and wrapped me in one of her blankets. She guided me out into the flickering torchlight of the camp. The barbarian's strange form blocked the firelight as he heaved each breath like the moving of a mountain. We moved by him, to the banks of the river, to what had become my favorite place of mediation. She eased me to sitting and we both gazed tiredly at the constant rush of water. "I cannot close my eyes but see Gira's face as she walked away from the body of Elyhaim. It was Ravenna's face. It was my face. I envy these girls who call themselves soldiers; they know not love enough to lose it." She exhaled slowly. "Ravenna, the creature you knew as Blood Raven." I froze for a moment and she touched my hand. "No, it's okay; you deserve to know this. I was too conscious of old ghosts before, but I've had some time to think. Six hours alone on a barricade has many calming effects" I nodded, but she lapsed into silence, musing. She started several times, but halted herself. Finally, in the most gentle tone I'd ever heard from the captain, she began.

    "Ravenna was...everything I had. We were bound, as tightly as our hearts would allow. But there is no place for such things when you live as a nomad. I came back from a two years journey to find she had taken another, Maia, in my absence. In her defense, Ravenna had believed me killed, and I, for my part, was closer to dead than living when I returned. Her happiness was too much for me to bear; I volunteered to accompany a Vizjerei emissary back to his homeland, to conference with his kin about the strange sickness that had overtaken Khanduras."

    I stopped her story. "A Rogue and a mage? Why such a strange pairing?" As if by way of an answer, she raised her hands over her head and muttered words I knew very well, though the tongue now pronouncing them was far from practiced. A ball of flame shot from her palms and lit the grass on the far bank before sputtering out into the muck. Anger and surprise leapt into my chest. "If I had my claws, Kashya, you would be dead. You are not to practice such magics as those. Paige herself said that the Rogues are forbidden to use elemental forces because of the corruption they can spread. Tristram..."

    "...Tristram was a lesson written the blood of my Sisters. Wounds do not become infected when they are kept clean; it is only the filth of combat that brings the putrefaction of the flesh. So too, our magics were no danger to us when the land was inviolate. We knew something was changing, but to what extent we could not grasp. All the mage clans knew as well, but only the Vizjerei were willing to seek out the source of the corruption. They came to us, before the fall of Leoric and his brethren, for aid in discovering the cause of the almost negligible taint. We assented and an alliance was made. Do you still wish to kill me?"

    I shook my head, slowly. "My own clan comes from the line of Horazon and Bartuc. I have no right to judge the past, only the present."

    She stood up as if to leave, but instead stretched herself up to full height before sitting back down. Her tone hardened, "We had only studied for a few months when I received word from my homeland. My Sisters had been attacked by the riders of Arazon, that the Monastery's walls had held but that our casualties were many and our force dwindling. I rode from the land of the mages to a blackened ruin. I thought I came to battle our enemies, but instead I came to bury our dead. For the fight had ended a few days before I arrived, a victory for the Rogues that came at an overwhelming cost of life. Never in my life had I seen such destruction..."

    "I know the riders well," I murmured, "They are merciless and give no quarter to even innocents where the taint of magic is concerned. They kill the body to cleanse the sickness."

    Kashya's seemed not to hear, lost in the story she told. "We were decimated, though almost every Rogue wanderer had come to defend our homeland. My lateness made no difference, for as much as I wished to believe otherwise, I most likely would have ended up a corpse for my Sisters to bury. All but four of the women I had trained with were killed, and this out of a legion of two hundred Sisters. I found Ravenna grieving over the body of Maia, any anger she might have had over my cowardice washed away by her joy at seeing me alive. What choice did I have? I helped her entomb her lover in the graveyard beyond the moor and I found myself at Ravenna's side once more. It was the least I could do. We lived in the shadow of our love, my guilt over replacing Maia mingling uncomfortably with her guilt over her betrayal. It was an uneasy pairing, but it was the best solution to our problems. I became captain of the Rogues and I settled into a routine of fighting and preparation, coming home every day to her drawn, tired face and trembling hands. Then, Tristram. Everything..."

    She leaned her hands on her knees. "You probably are sick of this story already. Who wants to hear about..." "I am listening because you need to tell it. Let me hear the rest."

    "The fall of the Kingdom had been long in coming; it was not an if, but a when. Still, we expected it to happen later rather than sooner and were ill-equipped to send troops to combat the evils springing unchecked in the land. When the Vizjerei came to request our aid, we could spare only a handful of recruits and five veterans."

    "Gira, Ravenna, Elyhaim, yourself and someone else," I ventured.

    "Kaya the Red, we called her, because of her hair. Or, as we came to know her, Kaya the Red Vex. She was the first to fall under Diablo's spell and helped to give me that scar you liked so much." A bitter smile played at her lips.

    "So what does this have to do with Blood Raven, with why Gira's out in the wilderness, probably killing your scouts?" She flinched at the name of her former lover, but carried on.

    "Tristram was a bloodbath, even with the assistance of the mages and the warriors of the south. I lost most of my soldiers in the first few days, killed by creatures not seen on this earth for centuries. As the remnants of our band moved forward, our weapons lost their power to harm these creatures and we were forced to depend on our magic. Replenishing our energy from the earth around us was like breathing poison and it became rapidly apparent how potent this taint was. The mages succumbed quickly once we reached the depths of the caves, turning on us as the foul power of the demons overtook their minds. They resisted as long as they could, but..."

    "How is that possible," I asked sharply, "The Vijzerei do not draw on demonic magics. Horazon and Bartuc taught them as much." There had been no reports out of Tristram about the presence of mages, save only that none had returned to tell the tale.

    "They were desperate. We all were, wandering in the endless darkness, the tortured screams of villagers echoing in every corridor, the labyrinth that wound its way into nothing. We were fighting in the antechambers of Hell; I have seen things that haunt my dreams, and I did not even reach Diablo himself. The mages heard the endless whispers of the damned and the promises of Lazarus in their sleep, the mocking of the demons who resisted their holy magic. Most of the Vizjerei convinced themselves that they could handle drawing from a tainted source or that they, unlike their predecessors, could channel dark energy to a positive end; once again, they were wrong. Kaya was among the lost, for by all rights she should have been of the Zann Esau. For the whole of our trip, she rarely unshouldered her bow, preferring to cast relentless fire and lightening at our enemies, and thus leaving her open to the corruption. She slipped away one night, betrayed us to Lazarus. I recall her behavior now, before that crucial point, as strange and dark...but at the time we were all so addled by the haze of evil that nothing was unusual."

    "So Ravenna and the others were also contaminated?"

    Kashya shook her head. "No, actually. Save Kaya, we were not primarily magic users, though I suppose in the end those who faced Diablo used whatever was at their fingertips to kill him. Remember, I had fallen before the battle, to Lazarus, so I do not know and they never spoke of it."

    "Then what happened?"

    "Diablo is the Lord of Terror. He used whatever he could glean from the minds of the fighters to weaken their resolve, to cause them fear and doubt. Ravenna came out of that battle a shell of her already hollowed self, convinced somehow that Diablo had taken Maia with him to Hell. Nevermind that Maia had died years before and had committed no sin worthy of such punishment, nor that Diablo could conjure any manner of lie to achieve his victory. It became a sickness, an obsession, and I watched her tear herself to pieces for months, fading more and more into a hopelessness I could not reach. Every night, she called her name, sleepwalking around our barracks, pounding on the walls and attacking whomever came near. She spent her days pouring over esoteric texts, praying and cleansing herself to try to assure her lover's safety in the halls of the Light. I have never seen such fervent nor such terrified devotion."

    Kashya shuddered a long breath; I could see her crying in the beginnings of the dawn. "When Andariel attacked the Monastery, it got worse. The Sisterhood knew that we could not hold off against the forces of Hell, but we tried. Once again, Hell vomited its inhabitants into the mortal realm, making us fight against monstrosities that should not exist. The constant visual reminders of the battles below Tristram wore heavily on all four of us. Elyhaim stopped talking, Gira did not sleep for a week, Ravenna turned to mortifying her flesh in her rituals, and I..." She trailed off, once more, and restarted again.

    "Well, it soon became apparent how badly we were losing. Akara ordered us to retreat to this Encampment, which all of us did, reluctantly fleeing our ancestral home. But Ravenna disappeared. We thought her dead and mourned the passing in the scant seconds between battles. So imagine our surprise when she came back, quiet and calm as I'd known her before Tristram. She didn't say much to anyone, just told me she loved me and collapsed in our tent, sleeping soundly for the first time in months, finally at peace. The next morning, she was gone again, returning at evening filthy and bloody, but again, unperturbed by her state. She smiled at me, told me she'd found her answers, and again, went to sleep. She repeated this for three more days, always claiming she was out hunting demons, and bringing home enough pelts to more than confirm her tales. I wanted to believe her, to think that Diablo had released his hold on her troubled spirit, that she'd finally come back to me."

    "You couldn't, could you?"

    "No, I couldn't. Looking into the eyes of my still-tormented companions, I knew that the presence of the dark one was as strong as ever. There was but one explanation: she had switched sides. I followed her one cold morning, fearful that killing her in camp would bring a wave of attack. She traveled to the burial grounds in the plains, where she had unearthed and laid bare every coffin within. I heard her calling softly, sweetly, to her lover as she searched among the dead for the corpse of Maia, for she could not read the tombstones enough to locate her lover's grave. Revulsion gave me strength and I shot Ravenna without warning, four silver arrows into her heart. They were like nettle stings to a giant. She overpowered me, called me endless bitter names, accused me of the most horrific betrayals, saying that I caused the fall of our comrades at the Monastery, that I was to blame for the endless deaths in our lands. All of this, with the sweetest look of peace on her face that I'd ever seen. After breaking most of the bones in my body, she bound me and continued her grim hunt."

    "She found it?"

    "Yes, in a scene I cannot escape. Remember that Maia had been dead maybe six years by this point. The corpse was little but bone and scraps of flesh, but to Ravenna it might have well been the live body of a goddess. She lay the corpse upon the slabs as tenderly as one might a newborn child, arranging the skeletal limbs neatly before standing back to admire her work. Looking at me, she smiled and said, 'I have the answer now. If I can bring her back, I can send her spirit wherever I wish.' She raised her hands and in a thundering voice called on the dark powers she served to reanimate the corpse. I watched in horror as new flesh grew on the rotted carcass and the limbs twitched as if alive. It rose from the ground, complete and made anew, but not alive; no, not in the human sense. Its head lolled to the side, the eye sockets still empty of their orbs, the body strange and disjointed, hanging in midair and not touching the earth, but Ravenna embraced it as if it were Maia herself. Her joy was cut short when the body fixed its blank gaze on her face and asked, 'Why am I here? Why did you bring me here? I was so happy...they say I can't go back now. Where will I go?'"

    "That's impossible," I whispered, "not even a necromancer can reclaim the soul of someone dead so long."

    "I do not know if it was a malevolent spirit sent by Andariel to animate the body, a magic that cast the illusion of life, or Maia's soul returning from the Heavens to this imperfect vessel. It was enough, though, to convince Ravenna that she'd just denied her beloved the chance for eternal happiness. She snapped, let out a howl of madness and agony, threw back her head and screamed to whomever she'd bargained with, 'You promised me. You promised me she'd be safe, that she'd be whole.' All the while, this strange confused creature hung before us, whispering its banishment in its otherworldy voice. In her blind rage at being tricked into giving her freedom to Andariel, she lashed out at the still-babbling creature that held Maia's form, striking it to the graves and shattering its skull. Ravenna's head must have cleared at that horrible sound, realizing she'd undone the very reason for her corruption. We both watched the wisp of spirit evaporate from the mass of brain on the stones, heading to realms Ravenna could not control or know, taking with it the vestiges of Ravenna's humanity and most of her sanity. She dropped to her knees and crawled to the body, cradling it and weeping over its destroyed from, smearing herself with the blood that flowed openly from her love's wounds. She caught me in her furious gaze, finding an outlet for her hate and frustration, as if to transfer the blame for her fall onto another. But her attack was short lived, as Elyhaim and Gira snatched me out of that accursed place. They'd discovered my absence and drawn a few conclusions about my lover's disappearances, tracking me to the graveyard in time to save my life. We returned to the encampment, banishing Ravenna's name from our tongues forever, leaving only the creature Blood Raven behind."

    "She warned us as we fled, Ravenna...Blood Raven...she called out that she had seen our deaths, that they would be in fire and in fear. That we carried the essence of the Hells in our blood and that we'd never remove the stain for as long as we lived. That we would give in as surely as she, willingly and without hesitation, to avoid that slow crawling towards destruction."

    "And you believe her, the words of a demon?"

    "The words of a demon who had power, faulty as it was, over life and death and whose words I had trusted since I was sixteen. She merely confirmed what we already knew: that the mages who'd survived Tristram with us had gone irretrievably mad, the town of Tristram burned to ashes, and the lone warrior who took Diablo's soulstone transformed into the Dark Wanderer. Elyhaim is the luckiest, for she has died without taint. Gira has made her choice, that she will take a certainty of Hell over the constant nagging strain of this fight. And I...I will run, as I always have. I will wait behind these walls, a broken coward of a soldier who sends her Sisters to their deaths while she stays behind. I will outlast my foes and my friends alike and die alone, ashamed that I could save no one but myself. I will run, with the knowledge that someday, whatever is chasing me will catch me."

    "Far lesser warriors have gone to their graves with the title of hero, young Kashya. Surely you cannot believe the lies of a demon, even one you loved," a deep voice spoke from behind us.

    The barbarian had come upon us silently, and though I resented the intrusion, his words were my own. Kashya was suddenly mortified, but a large hand on her shoulder prevented any retaliation. "The truest sign of a warrior is that he lives to tell the tale, not that he was foolish enough to die an early death on the battlefield. You command respect and loyalty from your troops and that you returned from Tristram alive is proof enough of your valor."

    "But I was injured," she protested angrily, "I spent the fight against Diablo dying aboveground..."

    "From a wound that would have outright killed someone with less strength." I finished. "Not to mention you were in a battle-weakened state to begin with, in a town with one healer and no supplies. Kashya, no more. You aren't her. You aren't Blood Raven or Gira. You are far stronger than either of them."

    She hung her head. "How do you know? How do you know what evil may lurk in my veins?"

    "I'm trained to recognize such things, remember Kashya? I am an Assassin; I seek out the evil in places where it may hide. I have touched your mind with my own and I have seen no blemish. Be free of this needless fear."

    The large man stood after I stopped talking and looked down. "We will leave in a few hours. I shall prepare. We shall not speak of this again." He walked away, leaving Kashya and I alone on the riverbank. I watched him leave and scanned the area, confident that no one else was watching us.

    "Will you be alright, Kashya?"

    "I've not told anyone this before. Not even Akara knows why we call Ravenna's tortured form Blood Raven, nor why she turned so willingly to the darkness. Of those who knew firsthand, one is dead, and the other insane."

    "And none else shall know, not from my lips, nor from those of the Barbarian. We both have sworn it. Now go, try to sleep. You've been carrying that weight for so long..."

    She gave a tight-lipped smile and nodded as she helped me up. The healing spells had worked well, but I was still sore from my injuries as we stumbled back to camp. We returned to her tent to wake Paige and send her outside to eat and dress. I watched Kashya settle in to sleep, feeling protective now of the older captain. I brushed my hand over her head and whispered in her ear the same thing I'd been told every night when I was a child, "May your dreams be empty of sound and form." Then, I left to join my companions.












    Chapter 22

    The Barbarian...I hated how easily I used the offensive nickname to describe my ally...had nearly finished armoring himself when I emerged from Kashya's tent. Fully clad, he was easily twice my size, cutting an impressive figure in the middle of the diminutive Rogues. They gathered around him to ogle this rare, male, newcomer. He seemed neither flattered nor abashed by the attention as he carefully fastened each of the substantial metal plates to his battering-ram legs. His fingertips were surprisingly agile on the leather straps, tightening each one of the joints over his calves, smoothing out the innumerable dents so the surface lay flat against his skin. Truly working the damage out of the armor would have been as possible as smoothing a crumpled parchment, so many were the deep gashes and contact wounds on the breastplate. This pockmarked metal garb had probably saved his life on more than one occasion; to erase this from its surface would be as dishonorable as peeling the scars from his arms.

    I sidestepped the gawking girls and began to armor myself, despairing over the battered state of my equipment. I'd neglected to turn my garb over to Charsi after the last outing, brief as it had been, and the damp rot of the camp coupled with my sweat had made much of the leather soft to the point of uselessness. The chainmail and greaves would probably be in good-enough shape to hold a few more battles yet, but all the hide fasteners would need replacing before the day was out. Sighing, I slipped the mail over my head and affixed the strange thorny belt around my waist, making sure to fill it with any healing potions I had left over. No use proving my incompetence to my new fighting partner in the first outing. As expected, the boots were usable, but the helm's straps looked as if a rat had made a meal of the leather. I grimly accepted the possibility of a significant head wound as I affixed the battered dome to my head. I took the still-unidentified claw and gloves over to Deckard Cain, who was in deep conversation with Warriv on the far side of the fire, alternating bites of his breakfast with laden murmurs.

    "Cain, I apologize for interrupting your breakfast, but I have need of your expert eye. I gathered these items from the Countess' lair and I would like to ensure that they are uncursed."

    He swallowed once and took the proffered armament. "Give me a moment," he said, and motioned me away.

    I returned to my stash to prepare the rest of my pack, tossing in as many of the crude fire traps as I could make in that short time.. Paige joined me, still rubbing her eyes and stretching the sleep out of her back. We made a fine pair in our disheveled states. Her breastplate was a bit askew, her helmet on crooked, her bow covered in fingerprints and badly in need of oil. Keenly aware of the sacrifice made by that bow's former owner, I grimaced at the state of the weapon. Taking the bow from her bewildered but unprotesting hands, I marched her over to Charsi and grabbed one of the polishing clothes from her worktable.

    "Until I need you again, I want you to work on your weapon. The Veteran's gift should not be treated with such carelessness."

    Tiredly, she nodded and unstrung the bow, carefully taking Charsi's offer of linseed extract and pushing it into the hairline cracks along the body. Satisfied that she was well occupied, I returned to the wizened Horadrim and bent over the objects placed before him.

    "The gloves are of mithril mesh, with a fire-retardant fiber woven between the links. Given your past injuries, these shall be especially useful, my burn-attracting friend." I took the gloves gratefully, and slipped them on, feeling the strange coolness of the silvery thread-like links against my still-healing skin. Though Cain's jib annoyed me, it carried a significant element of truth; I was remarkably hard on my hands.

    "And the claw?"

    "I'm not sure yet, Assassin. The Horadrim stayed away from your kind, to our peril on more than one occasion. I recognize some of the inscriptions, for they are written in a variant of the common tongue, but a few are esoteric and misplaced. I will need to meditate on their meanings before I can give you a definite answer. I'd rather take the time than send you off with trapped weapons."

    Inclining myself slightly, I thanked the old man and returned to my equipment. Paige had turned her bow into a glistening river of wood, her previous neglect of the weapon burnished away in the cooling fluid. "That's enough, Paige. Help me with my weapons. I'll be needing the shield again." She rapidly restrung her weapon and began to splint my arms, one with the defensive curve, one with the deadly blade.

    The Barbarian turned to us. "Ready, then?" he growled, every trace of the gentle listener of this morning eradicated by ceremonial paint and steel cowl.

    "Yes. Let's go," was my unwavering reply, though I was surprised by how imposing, even frightening, this man could be. I was glad, without thinking, that he was on our side.

    He unsheathed a massive sword from his waist and removed an even larger axe from the small of his back and ushered Paige and I towards the carven stone.

    The waypoint deposited us into the crossfire of ranged weapons. I'd never seen cursed creatures battle for turf, but these had chosen to do so as we arrived, peppering Paige, the Barbarian, and myself with a combination of poisoned arrows and barbed quills. A few of the projectiles managed to lodge themselves in the mesh of my chain mail before I dove out of the way, pulling Paige with me.

    "You okay," I asked her, shaking the twitching quills out of my shirt.

    "Yeah, great," she mumbled as she broke the shafts out of her own armor, pressing down purposefully to see if the arrowheads had pierced the skin. "Where's our muscular friend?"

    We both turned back towards the waypoint to see him charging the origin point of the largest volley of arrows, six cursed Rogues that became six dead Rogues in a single swing of his mighty axe. A tremendous leap cleared a good half of the courtyard and splattered several of the raging spike fiends under his massive treads. He spun twice, whirling his blades towards the ground, catching the remaining creatures' bodies on the tips and flinging the corpses into the walls, bloodying them with his victory. Another giant leap and he was by our side, scanning the silent walls for further attackers.

    "Paige," he gruffly spoke, "you know this place. You must lead us to Charsi's old workshop. She has commissioned me to retrieve a tool she abandoned there." As he finished speaking, he stood and strode towards the wooden doors that barricaded the inner Monastery, smashing them down and ducking inside to clear our way.

    "By the Eye," swore Paige, "he's made us totally extraneous. Have you ever seen anyone fight like that?"

    "Yes," I murmured. "A very long time ago." But this was not the time for deep puzzled thoughts.

    We ran after him and into a massacre of fallens, the blades of our cohort shredding the resistance as if they were standing still and not raging against his strength. Paige and I had the chance to barely wet our blades with the blood of our foes when the fighting stopped, the room cleared of all demonkin.

    "Where are we" demanded the Barbarian, glancing around the room. It was hard to believe, from where we stood, that this room had once supported a thriving academy of Rogues. The felled monsters lay strewn around moldering barrels, whatever wine contained therein long since taken by the demons. The walls were dank, thick with mildew and animal-scent, a stench that the recently opened causeway had just begun to clear. Bits of food, slivers of wood, offal and droppings mingled freely with the blood at our boots, further proof of the savagery Paige and I had just witnessed.

    "The outer barracks," said Paige, rechecking her mental map, "though I don't remember these doors being here. Charsi's forge was against the far wall of the barracks, down the hall and to the right."

    He nodded and turned towards the barred door in our path. "Very well. You two remain here until I have retrieved the item." He brushed against my arm and again, I felt the strangeness of his aura, the green taint that had produced itself when we first met.

    "The hell we will," I interjected. "I too was sent to cleanse the evil of this place. I will not be left behind like some lame underling, Old Man."

    "And so you won't, young Lady, but you are in no condition to fight. The wood on your wrist says as much. You will only hinder my progress." He left no room for argument as he bashed down the door and started slaying the beasts in the room beyond.

    "Dammit," I cursed, and ran after him.

    "Didn't he say," said Paige, trailing after both of us.

    "I've seen too many battles to stay out and be injured. You can stay or come as you please."

    Paige shrugged and followed me into the room, corpses still sliding from their former posts as the barbarian cleared a path. My Rogue companion looked startled as she surveyed the scene. "These weren't here last time," she wondered aloud. "The beds were in another part, not in the hallways. And where did this wall come from?"

    "Demons," I remarked, pressing on the stone. The mortar was set sloppily, crude bricks lain unsteadily to form a maze of haphazard new divisions. Apparently, someone wished to hinder our progress through these floors. "They probably built it up after you left. Do you think you can find your way?"

    "Maybe," said Paige, and chose the door that the Barbarian had left standing. I pressed my ear against it, shushing Paige and trying to detect the presence of enemies behind its oaken barrier. A rustling and scratching came through, which could have been anything from a rat to a pack of undead.

    "Brace yourself," I whispered, and mentally took down the door, pushing Paige aside as well. The room beyond was silent, save the scuttling of vermin. Paige shot a few cautionary arrows through the doorway, which clattered aimlessly to the floor inside. We snuck through and were confronted with another set of doors.

    "To the right," said Paige, indicating the slightly ajar entrance. Before I could check for foes, a shout of demon curse emanated and the door blew off its hinges, shattering into fragments at our feet.

    "Shaman," I called, and she was on it, dodging fireballs as she ducked behind a table, leaning out periodically to let off a few arrows into the otherwise dark hall. I girt myself with the fire spirit I'd stolen from the corrupt Countess and lunged through the door, skidding on my shield towards the pack of demons. I knocked him off his feet and before he could call another assault, slit his throat. I drove the fire spirit into two of his underlings, watching in satisfaction as their bodies bulged, then burst, at the contact. I whipped around in time to catch a third demon under the sternum with my shield, knocking him back and stunning him enough to allow Paige's enchanted arrow to split his head.

    We continued into the hallway, cutting down the strange skeletal army that seemed to have sprung up like mushrooms on a rotting tree. It seemed that for every animated rack of bones we dispersed, three took their place, eternal grins backlit by the blazing magic in their bows and swords. After hours of battling in circles, we paused to rest by a carved door. "This was an...eating hall, I think," Paige wondered and pushed the door open. A scene of old carnage greeted us, the bodies of several Rogues at the table, vacant eyes staring at empty, dust-covered plates. Their deaths have been quick, for most were killed where they sat, without time to rise or arm themselves. A moment of nausea passed my companion's face as she backed out of the door, but I went inside, checking for further enemies behind the scattered corpses. I found no demons, though a small pile of untouched weaponry rewarded my thoroughness. I gave thanks to their spirits and gathered the items into my bag.

    Back outside, I rearranged my pack to accommodate its new bulk. "You're stealing from my Sisters," said Paige bleakly.

    "Paige, they have no use for their items, while I do; we've been over this."

    "But there's a difference between taking from an ancient corpse and taking from people I knew," she shouted, indicating the scene behind us.

    "Oh, come on now" I said, my temper flaring briefly at her sudden impudence. "Who are those women, Paige? Go in there and stand face to face with them. Tell me who is who by the curve of their skulls and the scraps of armor on their bodies. You can't even be in the same ROOM with your Sisters, which is a greater disgrace I'll wager than taking possessions they can no longer possess. I doubt you would have known their names in li..."

    I was cut off by an arrow piercing my shoulder, driving in with enough speed to hit the bone beneath. I broke out the shaft as I felt a tingling poison spread through my veins. Paige was already firing towards the unseen opponent as I washed the cut with a healing potion.

    "That will teach me to stand out in the open," I scowled into my wound, probing the blackening edges. The potion would stave what I'd come to recognize as quicksilver rot, but Akara would have to tend to me in the next few hours. "Paige, let's go. There's a well-trained corrupted sister waiting there."

    "You think," she snarled, picking up the shaft I'd ripped from my flesh from where I'd let it fall. "These are high-rank arrows. You can tell by the..." She threw herself over me back into the dining hall as another volley whizzed by.

    "Dammit," I cursed, slamming my head on the table and splitting my helm open at the seams. The useless metal pieces clattered to the floor as the nearby bodies dismembered themselves from the impact. I stood up and surveyed the room, checking for anything I could use as a head covering. Finding nothing, I reluctantly unfastened my shield from my arm and had Paige, amused at the scene in spite of the danger, clumsily affix it to my head. It was a poor substitute for a visor, oversized and ineffective at protecting the full of my skull, but any shelter that would spare my head more serious injury would be welcome. The new weight made me unsteady and the bulky wood nearly obscured my visual field, but I was used to fighting in the shadows under strange circumstances. It would suffice.

    I gathered a bundle of energy into myself and, with Paige at my back, raced out into the hallway towards my attacker. I bent my head, ignoring the amazing increase in resistance from the wind, and felt several arrows "thunk" into the thickness of the shield. There was more than one attacker and they were all firing at the massive target on my scalp. However, a few more arrows eliminated that problem, as the strength of their attack split the exposed wood. The halves of my makeshift helm teetered and fell from my head as I leapt at the lead female. Her wild red eyes met mine as I decapitated her with a clean swipe of my single claw. Our bodies hovered in midair, but hers fell in twain while I tumbled compactly to the back of the room. Four glittering Rogues turned their damned orbs towards me and lifted their burned bows.

    One immediately dropped as Paige, forgotten by our foes, sliced the demon's jugular was a well placed arrow from the hallway. That was the only opening I needed to lash out at one of the remaining demons, but I misgauged the distanced and sliced the forehead of my attacker in what I knew to be a non-lethal cut. She stumbled, confused by the torrent of blood that washed into her eyes, slipped on the carcass of her Sister and shattered her spine as she hit the floor. I smiled at my luck as I killed the final Rogue.

    "Clear," I called, and immediately the door to my left opened. "Or not. Get in here," I ordered Paige. She zipped around the door and brought her bow to eye level. The door shut again; through the barred window, I could see something scuttle away into the darkness. "Oh no you don't," I hissed, and removed a few of the explosive traps I'd prepared for this trip. I hurled them through the gaps, listening as their hardened husks bounced over the stones beyond, tapping and bouncing their down the hall. A rapid series of small explosions echoed from the walls along with a shrill cry of pain, followed by a dull roar. Something rattled the door from far away and began charging towards us. I screamed, "Paige, get back", as I pushed her behind me and raised my one claw to defend myself.

    A starburst of brick and dust accompanied the door's being ripped from its hinges, pelting us with fragments large enough to bruise through our armor. A massive demon stood before us, ten feet of sinew, horned power and bristling flesh covered with contact burns from my traps. "I shall make weapons from your bones," he roared, and brought a beefy fist down towards our positions. His hand met with the point of my claw, forcing me down to my knees the blade sliced unevenly through the muscles of his palm. He hollered in pain and whipped his hand back, with my weapon still buried up to my fist in his flesh. The motion was enough to dislodge my claw from his body and fling me into the wall, where most of my ribs shattered on impact. I eased myself to sitting, trying to ignore the unsettling poking from inside my body, and drank a healing potion to knit the bones before racing back to distract him from my terrified companion.

    Paige's newly iron will had melted in the face of such brutality and she sat, fumbling with her bow, trying to get off a shot in impossibly close quarters. I whistled to the brute and he turned to charge, exposing his whole back to her weapons. However, the space was not enough to give her arrows power as well as accuracy, for they bounced off his hide like rain on a window. His attention thus split, he whirled around once again to attack her.

    I jumped behind him, and with a push of tiger force, slammed my claw through the armored hide and into a space between two vertebrae, slicing the fine ribbon of tissue that I knew connected his will to his body. He reared back as his legs gave way, throwing both of us to the ground before I could dismount, trapping me under his stinking, bleeding bulk . He continued to scream as he writhed on the floor, grinding my now-shattered pelvis into bone dust as I struggled to extricate myself. Paige had the thought to stab out both of his eyes with her arrows, but still could not pierce his skin to finish the job. I suppressed my own cries of agony as I tried again and again to pull myself from under the beast, a task rendered impossible by the extent of my injuries and the strange position in which I found myself.

    A flash of silver appeared over my head and slammed down into the chest of the monster, causing the creature to give one final cry of despair before surrendering his soul to the bowels of hell. The Barbarian retrieved his axe from the corpse of the demon before bending close to my head. I had begun to feel faint from blood loss and I feared what my lower extremities would resemble once we moved the corpse.

    "Good to see you, Barbarian," I whispered through my pain, trying to muster a smile. The old man's eyes were unblinking, hard with bloodlust and fury.

    "I am going to lift him, now," the Barbarian whispered. "This will hurt like death itself, but I will heal the injuries as soon as the demon is cast aside." He looked up to Paige, who had pressed herself against a wall, shaking. "Come, Paige. Help your friend." She didn't move. I tried to call to her, but found that my voice had faded into a whisper.

    <Come here>, I tried into her mind. <It will be less gory from over here.> She nodded and nearly fell next to me, trembling from the fright and stress of battle.

    "On three," said the Barbarian. "One, two.." and he suddenly wrenched the monster off my body, truncated the count with a grunt of exertion. I let out an eardrum shattering scream as the feeling rushed back into my fractured body. The pain was blinding, pulsating behind my eyes, and I felt as if my body would explode from the intensity. I tried to move, but a muscled hand pushed down my head, preventing me from seeing my injuries. I felt the Barbarian pour dozens of potions over my injuries as I writhed and sobbed under his hand. After an eternity of agony, he released his grip. I was shaking, still, and in terrible pain, but I looked down to see that my body was mended to an acceptable field level. The armor above my skin was in tatters, all but gone from the fight, and I blushed strangely at my nakedness. Paige was ghost white, clutching my hand as if I possessed the secrets to all life on earth, her eyes fixed on some point above my head. I took her hand and gently pried it from my own, placing it back in her lap.

    "Thank you," I whispered to the Barbarian, who tried to help me to my feet. I was unsteady and stumbled, the searing pain of my injuries coupling with the blood loss uncomfortably. As I tried to remain upright, he unfastened his armor without a word and gave me the underplating to wear, though for modesty or protection I couldn't be sure. He turned towards the destroyed doorway as I tried to dress, allowing me to finally enlist Paige's unnerved assistance.

    "The hammer," he growled, "is this way. I had begun to engage the Smith when he was distracted. I told you to remain behind." My silence was the best answer I could offer as I shuffled after his long strides towards the forge. I watched as he heaved Charsi's tool onto his back....and then faltered, dropping to one knee and coughing hard. Paige nearly dragged me to his side and we watched him heave several times, hacking and wheezing and then finally spitting up a wad of nearly black blood. I found Paige diving into the shredded remnants of my belt to produce a healing potion.

    "Put it back, Paige," I pushed her hand back and walked shakily over to the prostrate warrior, the taint of his aura finally making sense. "The potion won't cure what you have, will it, Old Man?"

    "No," he gasped, still struggling for air.

    I rested my hand on his arm and tried to guide his breathing mentally, a force of will that nearly overcame my new-found stability. For a moment, he resisted, and then let me take hold of his lungs, slowly easing them in and out to subdue the coughing fit. I could feel the disease now, the sickly green threads that wound their way through his body, the illness almost no warrior grew old enough to develop. His natural hardiness had blunted its effects, but eventually his defenses would fall, and the disease would kill him.

    "How long have you had it," I murmured, releasing my mental hold of his lungs once I felt him relax.

    "About six months," he said, bitterly. "I didn't think you'd notice."

    "I'm a killer. I know the human body well, for it serves my purpose, and that includes diseases of this form. It is quite advanced; no healer can help you now, though probably none could have aided you in the first place."

    He rose to standing, dwarfing me with his body once again. "I will not die like a widow on a straw palette. I will fight until my limbs cannot carry my weight." There was defiance in his voice, but fear too; the fear of being left incapacitated, to die without honor in the strangeness of peacetime.

    "I shall not stop you, Old Man," I said quietly. "None shall know, as you promised." Paige nodded her quick assent.

    "Very well," he acknowledged, fishing out a town portal, the blue void providing us passage back to the Rogue encampment. We stepped through, our battles for the day completed and our rest well-earned.
     
  6. Anyee

    Anyee IncGamers Member

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    Dear Bane,

    I love you.

    An'yee
     
  7. Banehero

    Banehero IncGamers Member

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    no problem :thumbsup:
     
  8. Ian4602

    Ian4602 IncGamers Member

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    Damn, but those two chapters are good...
    I didn't read them when they were up before (I was away, I think), but I've been looking forward to their release!
    Stupid question, I guess, but any idea how long Fulcrum's going to run too, Anyee? If you continue with the game's plot, I imagine that the answer will be 'very long'!
    -Ian​
     
  9. Ron_Lugge

    Ron_Lugge IncGamers Member

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    It's already very long! I don't know the word count, but I'm guessing at least 50,000 words. My parts are usually around a third her length, and when I got a story up to about 25 chapters it was around 30K words, so...
     

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