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The Jade Talon

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by chi987, May 31, 2005.

  1. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    The Jade Talon

    Hello :)
    This is my first time making a post in this forum. I'm writing a story based on diablo 2. This is the beginning part and it's mainly just an introduction.





    Her eyes peered through the darkened sky. There lay a small city at the edge of the sea. The faint light of sailing beacons and late-night activities were visible at a distance to those watching carefully. A port-city; one of the nodes of the civilized world; Kurast. Its rotting docks and ancient buildings reminded its inhabitants of the deep and dark history of Kurast. Kurast was her destination, and she quickly sprinted across the trailing rural parts of the city. A forceful barrier approached ahead, but it had decidedly admitted her. She found herself upon a thick wooden palisade, with guards at the entrances. Not wanting the attention, she bypassed the front gates. The palisade proved to be a thorny obstacle, but, with some minor acrobatics, she scaled it free of injury. She came upon an alleyway, one of the many dark places of town. This narrow passageway was surrounded by rickety buildings; a decrepit little inn, some broken-down apartments, and what appeared to be some kind of store, though not the soliciting kind. The background sky was spiked with towers; runic towers and ancient temples, carved from the huge rock formations. They looked like mountains but she knew they were not. One of them stood out prominently. It was located at the centre of the city. She figured she’d pay a visit later on. The alley trickled down into larger roads, connecting deeper and deeper into Kurast. She noted that the gravel trail began to sparse, replaced by a crude cobbled pavement. The buildings also seemed to be improving, or at least an attempt at improvement was made. The homes were still wooden and rotten, but less and less seemed to be abandoned. A few closed stalls, accompanied by carts and tents popped up. The businesses were all in a flea market style. Being at the edge of the sea, the city experienced continual rain. Everything in Kurast looked soaked; the water settled right into the foundations. Aside from the rotten smell of the buildings, moss and mud were caked everywhere. Although the main roads were paved, they were muddy and interspaced with swamp weeds. Kurast itself looked dying, but it had once been a great city. Its decay could be attributed to what could only be described as the culling of a great evil.

    The first symptoms were displayed by a Westward city, Lut Gholein. Trade between the two cities had always been prosperous. Then trade began to slow down, and one day it stopped altogether. There was foul play expected, but Kurast had never known the extent of the corruption. After weeks without contact, ships were sent out to Lut Gholein, not as traders, but as scouts. A dozen vessels set out from Kurast and none but one returned. The surviving crew told them of their plight. The seas were cold and calm, and reeked of dead fish. It took the fleet weeks to reach Lut Gholein, and they arrived in the midst of a bloody conflict. As they docked, they could see mages desperately casting their barrier spells, and men fighting in the streets. They were holding back monstrous creatures, seemingly swarming from all directions. Some had gotten within the city, and the people fought desperately to drive them out. The scouts had tried to find the head of Lut Gholein, but he was nowhere to be found. The palace was locked and barricaded. The entire city was in chaos; enwrapped in a demonic fury. The scouts quickly returned to their ships, and began their return voyage. Eleven ships departed for Kurast, and only one survived the trip. The once calm sea became filled with a violent rage. The creatures of the sea were pitted against the vessels. All manners of shark, whale, and serpent rammed against and ships and eventually capsized them. The water turned crimson as the crews were devoured. One ship had managed to escape in the fury, and made the report. Soon after, the once mobile city of Kurast found that it lost all its forms of transportation. The people were trapped in the city, and it soon began to decay. Over the years, the Kurastians have stayed and focused on one thing, self-preservation. With the aid of magi, the city was supernaturally barriered, and the demons could not make their final invasion of the land of Kurast.

    There were now few groups left in Kurast, other than the original inhabitants. These two were the mages and mageslayers, ironically working together. Both groups sought to fight the evil; drive it out of Kurast, or so they claimed. The citizens in truth distrusted them both, but would say nothing while under the protection of the barriers. She had her own motives, and had no interest in sharing them with the closely watching villagers. She was going to the city of Kurast for two reasons, and then setting out through the Eastern gate immediately.

    The first was Natalya. She was head of the order for this district, and a very cunning and powerful leader. Natalya had dealings with everything in Kurast. One would not be able to conduct business of any kind without her knowledge and approval. She did respect Natalya as well, and was looking forward to talking with her again. She cut across the centre of the city, passing the runic monolith seen before. She came to the docks, the side of Kurast right before the sea. Now the pavement turned to wooden boarding, the house and shops diminished more in size, and the battered fleet of Kurast lined the horizon. One part of the docks district looked especially decayed and abandoned; an ancient alleyway of Kurast, long fallen into disuse. The docks were to domain of the mageslayers and the temples of the city were domain of the mages. The temples had long ago been abandoned by the followers of Zakarum, and made the focal point of the Kurast mage guild. Similarly, the docks had become the centre of the thieves guild. The mage guild lead by Ormus and the thieves guild lead by Natalya oversaw the defense of Kurast, and had taken over leadership in wartime. As she entered the alley, a dark figure stepped out from a shadow to intercept her. Apparently, news had already reached Natalya of an intruder.

    As the figure stepped in the dimly lit alley, it became more and more the features of the familiar Natalya, dressed in her full battle armour no less. It was rumored that she never took it off. Natalya was tall and lithe. She wore a dark flowing robe, covered with flexible metal plates. Her war-helm was missing, and she wore a small circlet around her head. Her fingers poked out of the robes like spikes, and they glinted in the moonlight. A blood red cape floated silently around her in the night breeze.
    “Good evening, Natalya.†She whispered. The dark figure stared back at her and said, “Welcome, kinsman.†They nodded, and Natalya led her through the alley. She came to an unmarked, unlocked door and through a rotten old building. Down a narrow hallway with a dozen locked rooms, they came to a stairway leading into the basement. The building was apparently an old hotel with a secret backdoor to the alley. The assassins kept their door unlocked because no one was foolish enough to meddle with them. Assassins were known to be constantly in and out of the hotel, but this night it was clear of them. The basement was large; much larger then the actual hotel. A network of chambers lay below the hotel, sprawling through the entire docks. Most assassins knew of this already, because Natalya would receive any traveler of her ilk, and bring her down to the rooms; at least, the first few rooms. The one that Natalya had brought her to was a circular reception room, not too far from the stairs leading out. It was a medium sized room, furnished with nothing but shelves and a round table at the centre of the room. The shelves contained dusty old books and rusty armour. At the far side from the door, a few old katars lay glinting in the candlelight. As they sat, she knew already the line of questioning Natalya would throw at her. It was custom that when you enter a kinsman’s domain that you report to her your dealings. It was a custom created directly from the corruption of the vizjeri, and therefore held in high regard.
    “Sister, I do not recall you traveling to Kurast very frequently.†Natalya was of course right. Aside from documenting every visit into Kurast, Natalya was known to have an excellent memory.
    “What brings you here?†Quick and to the point.
    “Master, I have come to fight against the corruption of Kurast. I have heard that a great evil stirs in the swamplands, and that the long-abandoned ruins of Zakarum’s first followers have been desecrated. I come from our fortress at Stromgradt. Undoubtedly you’ve seen our scouts around Kurast.†Natalya nodded and flexed her fingers. Her claws twinkled.
    “They did not return to town, but went straight to Stromgradt. I was unable to learn of their findings.â€
    “For that, I apologize. It is usually deception that causes men to hide from other, but they wanted to confirm their findings. There has been a reincarnation of dark vizjeri in Kurast. Stromgradt had sensed a great collection of magic emanating from the ruined temple of Kurast. Our scouts have found the dark vizjeri as demonoids perverting the temples. Demons are spawning out of the temples disguised as clerics. They all go under a fanatic cult, lead by a council of dark vizjeri. After the scouts returned, Stromgradt sent an assault force to aid you and destroy the council. I am the forerunner of that force.â€
    “Some valuable information,†Natalya mused. “I had not known that the dark mages had returned. I suspected such, but had not enough resources to confirm it. I had spoken to Ormus of such things. His mages had felt the council, for their power was dissipated. He told me that a great fire engulfed them, and he could see no longer. Physically they were unchanged, but they felt their magics ebb, particularly their fire magics. The mages have stayed out of contact ever since. This council, I fear, will break our defenses if we do not act soon.†Natalya sighed.
    “I guess that this task has been laid solely on us. The mages fear for their dwindling magic and the others would never come close to the council. I will hold a meeting and send those that I can.†Natalya smirked.
    “Indeed we need all the help we can get, but aren’t you a little overanxious tonight.â€
    “Damn perceptive woman,†she thought silently and gave Natalya back a toothy grin.
    “You know that I am loyal to the end.â€
    “I do not doubt you, and yet there in undeniably some extra incentive that lies within this council. I don’t suppose you are visiting him.†Damn perceptive woman.
    “There is of course a lot to be gained and a lot to be lost from this. Perhaps with the destruction of the council, Kurast will be liberated…â€
    “I do hope you are not foolish to believe that. What lies beyond those temples is an evil beyond comprehension.â€
    “You are right, as usual. You see, Stromgradt had sent scouts to all towns, and from a nearby village, they saw a group of demon mages headed to the North. The leader radiated a power so great, that one would shiver in its presence ten miles off. The one mage had noticeably blood red skin, and a deep sear all along its neck. The creature was unmistakably Bartuc.â€
    “Bartuc!†Natalya exclaimed. Her feature noticeably brightened or darkened, she rightly could not tell. Natalya’s hand twitched involuntarily, and the table groaned under a menacing blow. She noticed Natalya’s fingers sparkle, and could not help but stare.

    Natalya wore two claws, as was the traditional mageslayer approach. On her left she had a long black katar, with pointy spiked protruding in all directions, giving it a scissors appearance. It was known to be especially effective at puncturing armour and causing mortal wounds. Despite this, her left hand seemed hidden and silent. It was her right hand that moved in sounding fury. The right katar was a three-pronged claw, extremely thin and sharp. It buffeted against the table, splintering the wood in a crackling sound. This claw was bright and vibrant; it soared through the air in a dazzling bright line. Such were the properties of Bartuc’s Cutthroat. The weapon was said to thirst for power. While it augmented the wearer with great power, it was in constant craving for more. Magical weapons, although not sentient themselves, tended to push a certain sentiment onto the wearer, and the cutthroat was ironically modeled after Bartuc himself. There was only one person who could make replicas of the cutthroat, and that was the mage Horazon. Both of Natalya’s claws were among the rarest in the world, and she coveted them in silence. It did not take Natalya long to regain composure and notice her guest’s staring gaze. She cleared her throat in impertinent disgust.
    “You bring many dark tidings, but we must focus on one issue first. I permit you to travel freely through my jurisdiction, but keep me informed of new events. I expect more assassins to come from my force and yours. An interesting week this will be.â€
    “Thank you, master. And now I will take my leave.†She had baited Natalya, and Natalya had taken the hook so far. Assassins, even in assigned groups, fight alone, and she could expect herself to be two days ahead of any reinforcements. When she left the docks, she would be free of Natalya and any other assassins. The city would be at her disposal. Their meeting being adjourned, she walked out through the alley back into the cool night. Tonight she would sleep safe and alone, free to do anything the next day. Fair enough.

    She spent the rest of the night in an abandoned shack. There were no disturbances. Ironically, the docks were usually the quiet part of town. The next day would be uneventful, because she needed to find someone at night. She sighed. Natalya had hinted at her, and Natalya undoubtedly knew there was something else afoot. The person she wanted to meet was a necromancer living in Kurast. The entire city save a few mistrusted him, but he was tolerated because he provided the city with an essential resource. The villagers called him Blackbog or blight of the swamp. Even among necromancers, he was considered to be somewhat of an anomaly. He knew nothing of reanimation, of Galvanism, or summoning. He had no mastery of spirits or exoskeleton construction, but in the art of poison, he appeared to be one of Trang Oul’s blessed. Blackbog lived under the city, in a network of sewers long put out of use. He supplied the venders with antidote potions and in exchange, they left him alone. She had met him a few times before, in her mageslayer training. Most assassins coated their weapons with poison, and Blackbog was able to make hers ten times more potent. Blackbog was an expert in dealing with the enemy; he knew their strengths and weaknesses. Her real reason for coming to Kurast was to consult the necromancer. She hadn’t told Natalya the full truth, but Natalya knew anyway. The necromancer preferred to do things at night, so she’d wait for nightfall to visit him.

    The day passed slowly and uneventfully; slowly but surely. The weather was constantly hot and musty, making it difficult to rest. She occupied her time around the ruined temples and churches, exploring what she could. There was a constant noise in Kurast, the sound of battle at the front gates. It was not her concern, however. At the coming of nightfall, the night shift would prepare themselves. At night, attacks were known to intensify. Kurast would survive though. Like all remaining cities, it had learnt to be adept at defense. Mages and the like kept the walls up.

    The sewers had a number of entrances in the city. Houses were not directly connected to the sewers, but all of them contained drainage ducts branching into reservoirs. The reservoirs then lead to the sewers. The reservoirs of course, were always kept bone dry. It was extreme bad karma to use them. She came to the centre of the city, away from the docks. Along one of the walls there was a giant reservoir, a large, sealed up indentation carved into the floor. It was empty and covered over with mold. At the base of the reservoir, she got on her hands and knees. There was always a service entrance right outside the reservoir. She dusted off dirt and revealed a wooden trap door. It was held in place by locks, but her katar broke through them easily. Creaking open the trap door, she stepped in and landed on the sewer floor below.
     
  2. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    It was dark and gloomy inside, but moonlight spilled through the ceiling enough for visibility. Assassins were used to the darkness, often working in the absolute absence of light. She felt uneasy though. There was a constant sound echoing around the sewers; sounds of life. Apparently, something had made its home in the sewers besides the necromancer. She was along a broad, long sewer tunnel, cylindrical in shape. Along the arched ceiling, there were cobwebs of every size. She had to keep her head ducked to avoid them. She knew not where the necromancer would be, but she figured that he would find her as she continued along. Picking an arbitrary direction, she walked along the pipe. She walked along and even her quiet footsteps reverberated across the room. The idea of being heard unnerves assassins, and she heightened her guard. Her sleeves fell back and her claws extended out. She passed along corpses of rates strewn across the floor. Poisoned no doubt; he knew how to control a pest problem. Far ahead in the tunnel, a light source flickered in the distance. As quietly as possible she paced towards the light, feeling no reason to lag behind in the sewer pipe. As the light grew closer, she could make out the outline of a heavy wooden door. She walked for five minutes before arriving at the door. The door was barred on the inside. A single candle lay burning on top a mantle. She knocked and waited. Knowing the necromancer, he never had any company and did not fear any intruders. She heard slow footsteps and the door began to slowly creak open. A lanky figure came out. He was dress in back robes; the robes of a necromancer. A pattern of spider webs spiraled down his chest. A long, curved dagger lay at his side and he toyed with its handle.
    “Come in,†he bade. Common to all necromancers, his voice was soft and smooth. Necromancers were always surprisingly charismatic.
    “Word of your arrival has been spreading in town,†he said much to her annoyance. “I have been expecting you.†He led her into his room which was large and well-furnished. Much like Natalya, the necromancer seemed to have a small room designed specifically for visitors. This was merely his reception room, there were many antechambers leading deeper into the sewers. Two long couches filled the room, along with torches and random tapestries lining the wall. The necromancer gave her a sharp smile. There was even a smell of cinnamon about, although overpowered by a lingering stench of death, she mused. She propped herself against one of the crimson couches. The necromancer sat comfortably on the other.
    “I want you to know that I do enjoy company. I always enjoy conversation with a person of similar interests.†There was of course only one interest of Blackbog. It was his craft; the art of poisons. Finished with the formalities, the necromancer continued.
    “There has been a small rumour spreading through town. The mageslayers are apparently mobilizing against the council.†He smirked. His voice was dripping with a respectful sarcasm.
    “The mention of Bartuc always gets Natalya in a frenzy. She’s been hunting for him a long while, but she didn’t know he’s be reborn in fair Kurast. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The demon Bartuc has already left the swamps, headed north.â€
    “What do you know of the council?â€
    “I know enough to know that they are not your real goal,†he snarled.
    “They aren’t just another pack of mages to kill. They are demon mages, which means they’re under a higher power. Yes they will be difficult; their potential power is tremendous. I think that that is what Natalya was smelling more than anything. She’s not stupid.â€
    “I know that, and I wasn’t attempting to mislead her. Everything I said in my report is true.â€
    “Indeed. So, why are you here?â€
    “There is something that I think would hold great value to us.â€
    “Of course.†Blackbog cut her off.
    “Demons were always adept at poisons. Angels don’t use poison, but they are adept at other things. Long before this siege, the old temples of Kurast were already being corrupted by demons. Within the temples, they built portals and subverted the creatures. They grew in power, but were dormant at the time. It is only recently that they have sent this council to siege our city. You see, the temples are sealed by powerful ruins, but the council holds the key to enter. The council is only the pawns in the game; they must be eliminated first. Beyond them however, who knows?â€
    Blackbog’s eye twitched, betraying his hidden enthusiasm where his voice did not. The necromancer wore an iron mask to hide his face, but it always managed to seemingly bring out his emotions. The visage of the mask was molded into a face of anguish; the brows wickedly curved, the lips curling into a detestable snarl. Despite his typically offensive personality, he was very skilled in his practice, and held her respect strongly. She actually enjoyed conversing with him because he would provide insights into the nature of his art, and her own art subsequently.
    “Necromancer,†she’d ask. “Why is it that you devote your life to the dead and rotten? What compels you to sink your head into dirt and sand, when there is so much of life to live and experience?â€
    “There is nothing in life that you must experience,†he would reply with a generous smile. “The whole premise of life is to live out whatever gratifying moment you can achieve, all at the expense of others. You cannot have the former without the latter. We have always been a predator race, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can fulfill your niche in existence. Poison is the ultimate gratification. It is an indiscriminate killer. It is slow and meticulous, patient and precise. It lives for the kill, a single-minded hunter-killer. The concept shouldn’t be so hard for one such as you.â€

    The whole city had been expecting her arrival it seemed. A hunting party was so quickly formed, that it could only have been fueled by mutual benefit. The demon council would be attacked immediately. Natalya and Blackbog were quick to approve and so she would set off the next day. Blackbog went to his desk and produced a row of vials. He gave her the needed antidotes and poisons to work against the demons. The necromancer was in a good mood, and he began to show her his research into the art. Together, they made theories and tested experiments on the many specimens he had locked within his rooms. They continued to talk of things long into the night. Blackbog talked of enemy movement within Kurast and she talked of her order. Neither of them revealed any important information, but enough to satisfy the other. Both knew to expect that the real information was confidential, so neither of them minded. Afterwards, she bade farewell to the necromancer and climbed back to the surface. She spent the rest of the next day in rest. The hunt would begin at nightfall.
     
  3. RevenantsKnight

    RevenantsKnight IncGamers Member

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    Well, the first thing that came to my mind (although certainly not the most important point) was that the formatting of this piece needed work. As it is, the paragraphs are way too long, which is a problem I used to have. Now, it may not seem like much to you from your author’s perspective, but trying to plow through a screen-length block of unfamiliar text is...difficult.

    More importantly, the story as a whole seemed to wander a fair deal, and consequently I had a hard time staying interested in it; I’ll point out some examples in more detail. Also, while I didn’t notice too many spelling mistakes, some of the sentences and paragraphs were notably hard to read. On the plus side, though, there’re some original elements in here that sound pretty spiffy. Also, the dialogue between the two assassins read fairly smoothly, other than the formatting issues. Anyway, here’re some specific comments on your first post:

    It seems to me that this could be made into maybe two sentences instead of four, which hopefully would improve the story’s flow; as it is, the greater number of short sentences makes this read a little choppily. Specifically, I’d think you could mesh the first three sentences into something like “Her eyes peered through the darkened sky, and she could distinguish the small city at the edge of the sea by the faint light of sailing beacons and waterfront taverns†without losing much meaning. The fourth sentence seems OK to me; and I can see why you might want to describe Kurast in this manner, but it did sound a little rough.

    The first part is probably worth keeping, in that it describes some notable aspects of the city. However, I don’t think “...reminded its inhabitants of the deep and dark history of Kurast†really works, because most people, given enough time, tend to forget, or at least take for granted, any historical meaning of their hometowns.

    Here’s an example of what I meant by a grammatically correct but awkward sentence. On technical rules alone, it’s fine; however, it confused me for a bit because I wasn’t sure what the heck “it had decidedly admitted her†was supposed to mean. While it’s usually a good idea to vary your sentence structure and that sort of thing to prevent the story from sounding monotonous, that shouldn’t interfere (too much) with the clarity.

    That should be “their attention,†since it refers to the guards’ attention.

    I’d suggest ending the paragraph here by hitting the Return key twice after the period, and then continuing on with the story. Makes it easier on the reader’s eyes.

    The semicolon after “buildings†should be a colon, since you’re introducing a list. Semicolons are used to link two complete sentences into one. Also, the clarification “though not the soliciting kind†just confused me. Unless that detail’s important to the story later, I’d suggest dropping it.

    The semicolon after the first “towers†should be a comma, since “...runic towers and ancient temples, carved from the huge rock formations†isn’t a complete sentence on its own. Also, I’d try to replace the second use of “towers†with a synonym, such as “spires,†since the close repetition of the word sounds a bit monotonous.

    A game-world thought: the “ancient temples†and such that you mention sound more characteristic of Travincal than of Kurast. They’re pretty close, obviously, but they’re not the same thing, since Travincal, the Temple City, doesn’t have a port. This detail’s not a big deal on its own; I mention it only because if you assumed that the two cities were one, then you might end up with some larger, more problematic, plot holes in your story later.

    Nice visual touch.

    Again, these sentences seem unnecessarily short, to the point where they don’t read smoothly. I’d consider combining these.

    “To sparse†isn’t a verb; perhaps you mean “began to grow sparse,†or simply “...trail ended, replaced by a crude cobblestone pavementâ€? Also, “cobbled†might be correct, but I’ve always seen that worded as “cobblestone,†not “cobbled.â€

    The second clause, “or at least an attempt...†seemed off to me; it sounded as if the attempt was being made simultaneously as she walked down the street, which was a really weird image. I think the problem here may be due to the fact that you’re treating the buildings, which are inanimate objects, as beings capable of literally performing actions; I’d suggest moving your focus from the surroundings to the main character by making her the subject of the second clause, such as “...seemed to be improving; she noted that the wooden doors bore paint, though faded and peeling.â€

    That should be “fewer and fewer,†not “less and less.â€

    There should be a comma after “tents.â€

    I’d word this as “Kurast itself appeared to be dying, though it had once...â€

    Uh...I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here. “Culling†seems wrong, somehow...though I can’t say for sure, since the meaning of the sentence is unclear.

    I wouldn’t use “symptoms†(signs, maybe?) because that’s an overly medical term.

    “There was foul play expected†sounds really questionable to me; for one thing, it’s in the passive voice, which I’ve noticed appears every now and then in this story. Personally, I don’t mind it too much, but some people do, so it’s often a good idea to avoid the passive voice if possible, if just for those other folks’ sake. Also, this doesn’t show who expected the “foul play,†which is a significant detail; was it pretty much assumed by all that this was the case, or did only some of the ruling higher-ups know what was happening? In any case, I’d word this as “Many suspected foul play...â€

    “None but one†sounds wrong to me; I’d use simply “and only one returned.â€

    Here, it’s not completely clear to whom the pronoun “them†refers; I’d reword this to remove the pronoun (something like “...crew brought news of their plight,†perhaps).

    As written, “seemingly swarming from all directions†modifies “they,†not the “monstrous creatures†(which I assume was what you meant.) I’d reword this to “...creatures, which swarmed in from seemingly every direction.â€

    Minor nitpick: “within the city†should be “into the city,†or “within the city walls,†methinks.

    Given the rest of the paragraph, this sentence seems unnecessary. I’d just delete it.

    The semicolon after “chaos†should be a comma.

    This also seemed unnecessary; also, didn’t twelve, not eleven, ships reach Lut Gholein, since you said that there was a dozen of them?

    “Shark, whale and serpent rammed against and ships†should be “sharks, whales and serpents rammed against the ships.â€

    Again, this seems redundant, since you emphasize this point several times before this. In general, it’s a good idea to read your paragraphs over after you finish each one, so you can see if you’re repeating yourself.

    This seems wrong to me, since the city itself wasn’t “mobile,†as it didn’t change its geographic location.

    The comma after “thing†should be a colon. Also, the Diablo II manual implies that Kurast’s isolation occurred very shortly before the time of the Dark Wanderer, so “years†of siege seems a bit off to me.

    “Barriered†isn’t a word; perhaps you mean “barricaded�

    The semicolon after “evil†should be a comma, and “drive it out†should be in the infinitive form, “to drive it out,†since it should be parallel to “to fight the evil,†which is also in the infinitive form.

    This was a very sudden shift for me, seeing as you mention this unnamed character, and then go into more than a page of background before returning to follow her. At the very least, there should be a line break in between the previous sentence and this one to signal a sort of shift; more preferably, I’d suggest trying to work a lot of the background into the character’s thoughts or observations or something.

    “House and shops†should be “houses and shops,†unless there’s only one house in the area. Also, “wooden boarding†sounds like it should be just “wooden boards.â€

    That should be “The docks were the domain...â€

    That should be “thieves’ guild†in both sentences, since the thieves own the guild. On a different note, the assassins of Diablo II aren’t really thieves; while they do a lot of stealthy work, they don’t really steal and participate in the criminal sorts of activities that most classical thieves’

    That should be “Apparently, news of an intruder had already reached Natalya.â€

    The “she†here should be in lowercase, and the period after “Natalya†should be a comma, as this should all be one sentence.

    Hrm...the wording here confused me; should this be something like “...and led her through a rotten old building�

    These sentences are good examples of a general problem that’s in this work, and a lot of other pieces to some degree. They state facts, facts which are usually important for the reader to know, and in that sense they are essential. However, they are based solely on these facts, and so are very dry; it’s like reading these details out of a guidebook or something as opposed to a story. To keep your narration from falling into this trap, it might be helpful to try and reveal information to the reader as your main character encounters it, so a moment of revelation for the protagonist is also a moment of revelation for your audience. Otherwise, it feels like you’re mixing in information somewhat randomly, which disrupts the flow of the story. Let me know if you want me to work up an example of this.

    Again, semicolons are used to connect two complete clauses; here, a semicolon is inappropriate because “much larger than the actual hotel†can’t be a sentence on its own. You need a comma here instead.

    I’d word the last bit of this sentence as “...down to the rooms, or the first few rooms, at least.â€

    I’d try to avoid the direct address (you) in narration, since it implies that the narrator and the reader are on rather familiar terms, and in general it doesn’t help the tone of the story. Usually, this can be replaced with a third-person generalization. Something like “It was custom for an assassin visiting a kinsman’s domain to report her dealings†would work, for instance.

    That should be “Vizjerei,†since it’s a proper noun. There’re a number of other such instances in this conversation; all of them should be corrected.

    That should be “...to hide from one another...â€

    Dark Vizjerei, eh? Sounds a little like Star Wars, though I’m curious to see what you’ll do with this.

    There should be a comma after “temples†in the first sentence. Also, this sounds a bit like the High Council from the game; if that was your intent, then this needs some revisions, because the Diablo II council members were Zakarumites, not Vizjerei, and the distinction’s pretty important. If you knew that already, then my apologies.

    (continued)
     
  4. RevenantsKnight

    RevenantsKnight IncGamers Member

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    That should be “I suspected as much...â€

    This part confused the heck out of me; for the longest time, I wasn’t sure who had lost power and who had gained it. It’d be a good idea to clarify this, probably by cutting down on the pronoun use and just saying what happened to whom. For example, the second sentence could be reworded as “He told me that a great fire had engulfed his mages, and then he could see them no longer.â€

    There should be a comma after “Indeed.†Also, the formatting here is confusing; on a first read, it sounds like Natalya’s saying the first part. I’d move “Natalya smirked†down to the other line, and put a full line break between them, so it reads something like this:

    “...I will hold a meeting and send those I can.â€

    Natalya smirked. “Indeed, we need all the help...â€

    â€There in undeniably†should be “there is undeniably,†and “extra incentive that lies within this council†sounded weird to me; I’m still not entirely sure what you meant by that.

    That should be “...you are not foolish enough to believe that.â€

    The comma after “great†is unnecessary and should be deleted.

    That should be “On her left hand, she had a long, black katar with spikes protruding in all directions...â€

    “Sounding fury†is an interesting image, though it’s a bit odd to imagine. I’m split on whether you should keep this or revise it.

    That should be “...splintering the wood with a crackling sound.â€

    I’ll be honest about this; I winced mentally when I read the words “Bartuc’s Cutthroat.†Maybe it’s just me, but I think that combining the game’s items into a story just isn’t as cool as making your own.

    I’d word the last clause here as “...it instilled with it a constant craving for greater strength.â€

    If this is around the time of Diablo II, then Horazon is already dead.

    “Impertinent†seems wrong, since Natalya appears to outrank the other assassin.

    “Fight alone†should be in the past tense, or “fought alone,†since the rest of the narration’s in the past tense.

    “Had hinted at her†sounds off to me, though I can’t say why, exactly. You might want to find a different wording for this.

    Hrm...somehow, I don’t think poisons are really an “essential resource†for this city. They may help the assassins, yes, but it doesn’t seem like Kurast would fall without them.

    “Venders†should be “vendors,†and the comma after “exchange†should be moved to after “potions.â€

    I’m not sure if you really need to say this. You already mention in the preceding bits that Natalya suspects she’s hiding something.

    Hrm...this transition seemed a bit weird to me; I didn’t get how

    You need a comma after “reservoirs.â€

    Interesting detail...though “extreme†should be “extremely,†since it modifies an adjective (bad).

    Overall, I’d say this needs a fair amount of work, though there’s certainly an original core here that you could develop; I admit that I didn’t note everything here, simply because there’s a lot to say, but hopefully this is a start. If you work out any further drafts, I’ll take another look at them as I can. Good luck with your writing, and thanks for posting!
     
  5. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    I realize that this is very difficult and tedious to read. When I saw it on the forum it looked a little different than how I typed it out in word.

    Theres also the problem that I havent taken grammar in quite a long time and I didnt consider a lot of the things you pointed out :p I pretty much just used whatever sounded good to me and I do use commas and semicolons pretty haphazardly. I think i need a refresher on things like a passive voice. anyway, i'm working on another portion so hopefully things will come out better

    I didnt intend my story to follow straight off of the game although it may look like that right now. Some of the points you bring up like Horazon being already dead were things that I interpreted differently so I might not change it :eek:
     
  6. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    I'm not going to post the fixed version until ive got a considerable amount of my story done. before I continue, heres a couple things i'll clarify.

    In my version, there are old temples in Kurast, and then there are really old temples in Travincal. Travincal is the older city, but it is abandoned now. Travincal used to be a holy city, but centuries ago was overthrown by the demons. Travincal and all the temples were abandoned, and Travincal is now occupied by demons. Newer temples were built in Kurast, but they were also abandoned for a different reason. The mages now occupy the temples of Kurast.

    It's an insignificant detail I came up with. I meant to say that one ship stayed behind

    They go under the name of the theives guild to avoid suspicion :D I wanted the name to be more like "guild of theives" so i think the comma isn't necessary. correct me if im wrong

    Since Bartuc is shown as one of the council member dudes, I always saw them as Vizjeri :p Most of the corrupt vizjeri, including Bartuc, were killed by assassins. The corrupt (and dead) vizjeri were resurrected in a demonic form and formed the council. I refer to them as "dark vizjeri" because they are demons now.

    this isnt important, but I didnt capitalize vizjeri because I always saw it as a role or a class, rather than a title. You don't capitalize mage or warrior.

    Now that I think of it, it doesnt matter whether Horazon is dead or not, I just mentioned that Horazon is the person who made cutthroats. They are very rare. On a another note, Horazon makes an appearance in Legacy of Blood ;)

    He's good at making antidotes as well. Some of the creatures in Kurast have very potent venom, which only Blackbog knows the cure to.

    I wasnt too clear on the details and I'll have the first portion all fixed when I repost it.
     
  7. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    The next day and night passed through without incident. As soon as light faded, she set out, quietly passing through the city gates when the fighting had died down. At night she was safe, and could pass almost undetectable through the jungle brush. She sprinted through the flat lands, making good progress. On her way, she could see the enemy camped near the city in dark, ominous tents. She had noticed that the enemy had almost always been nomadic, and their recent change did not bode well for the city. The weather was invariably hot and damp, and the insects swarmed around the warmth of her body. Often times she would have to stop and rest to swat away flies and mosquitoes. The air would sometimes blacken in their numbers, but it was not an uncommon occurrence in the swamps.

    She continued along a rough path leading away from the city. The road had turned to grass four kilometers back, but there was still a rough trail known to her. Further away from the coast and the city, the swamp thickened into a sparse forest. The ground was still saturated, but the grass grew long and old, gnarled, trees with protruding roots dotted the landscape. She headed further into the forest, where there would be shade and more cover. The background noise increased, and she could hear birds calling and predators howling in the distance. The insects pestered her continually throughout the trip. She came to a tree and hacked off its branches with her cestus. Concentrating, her hands became warm and she sparked them against the wood. Surely enough she was able to start small fire on the branches. The smoke drove away the insects, although some were surprisingly stubborn. She drew a long, large open cloak from her pack and wore it over her breastplate. She veiled herself with silk scarves and thin linings, protecting her face and neck from the insects as well as the sun. Her gear was stifling hot, but a necessary inconvenience.

    A half hour later, she felt recuperated and pressed deeper into the forest. The forest seemed to be very active this day. She could now see wildcats stalking the trails towards Kurast. A group of headhunters crashed through the bush decorated with long throwing spears and war paint; another influx of enemies headed towards the city. It was not difficult for her to avoid both groups, so she kept herself hidden among the trees. She didn’t feel the need to report this back to Natalya, however. By now, the sight was not uncommon, and she dismissed it as normal enemy movement. She continued through the forest uninterrupted, quietly jogging through the underbrush. By daytime, she had cleared the forest, and flat wetlands covered the area.

    During the day, she was unavoidably recognizable, and so she slowed her pace to a cautious walk. In the flat terrain, there was no cover, and no obstacles in her way. It had been so far empty and clear, but she’d be easily spotted from a mile off. The forest trailed off considerably however, and there was no way of avoiding the trip through the flatlands.

    It was silent for two hours into her walk, but sure enough, as she was walking through the grasslands three figures saw her in the distance and hailed her. She stopped and let them approach. There were two males and one female. They were dressed in long, silky, white clothes but wore the boots of experienced travelers. There were armed, but their weapons lay unthreateningly at their sides. They came at a steady pace, with neutral faces. Assessing them to be non-hostile, she greeted them. The female was the first to speak.

    “Hello. It is strange to see someone traveling alone in times like these. It can be dangerous.â€
    She shrugged. “I am foreign to this place. I am headed eastward to the city of Thalein.â€
    This was of course a lie.
    “We are familiar with that place. Perhaps we could accompany you for a while.â€
    She shrugged again and made a look of skepticism.
    “We are a group of traveling priests. You are a stranger to these parts, and Kurast can be a dangerous place to travel. Perhaps you’d like to join us for a while and listen to what we have to say.â€
    “That’s fine by me if you’re headed in the same direction.â€

    The woman held out her hand in agreement. She gave her a look of contempt and it still took her a full minute to retract her handshake with a small smile. The men nodded, and the four of them continued east in her intended direction.

    “My name is Zhan. He is Akin and he’s Ginyon.â€
    “I am Lilith.†She gave them a false name.

    The woman priestess was very talkative and seemed to be the leader. The men listened quietly, adding in their opinions periodically. Zhan was a tall, muscular woman. She had dark skin and long back hair. Zhan was very talkative, and she asked her many questions, which she avoided most of the time. Despite the snubbing she gave Zhan, the priestess would not back down from her conversation, seemingly ignoring the reproachful aura thrown at her.

    “Typical priest,†she muttered under her breath.
    “You come from the city?â€
    “Yes.â€
    “Let me ask you a question. Are you of Zakarum?â€
    “No… I’m not religious.â€
    “Why not? You’ve probably seen angels and demons. Isn’t that enough proof that God exists?â€
    “Well, I’ve always been one to do things alone. I won’t let anyone tell me what to do while I can help it.â€
    “A strong willed person she is,†Akin grunted.

    The conversation died out. They trudged through the swampland at a slow pace. The ground was caked with mud, and they were forced to walk through with their boots sinking two inches down every step. In five minute intervals they’d stop to clean out their soles, and then proceeded to trample them through the mud once again. The two men looked forward at the horizon, but Zhan was eyeing her carefully. Her instincts told her that there was something wrong with the three priests, but she allowed them to string her along. The priestess Zhan seemed to be in contemplation, and after hours of silence, she looked up at her and spoke.

    “Sister, you seem to be a very independent person, and I respect that. But as much as you’d like to believe that you’re in total control of your life, that is ultimately not the case. Fate creates new scenarios for us. Fate inexplicably brought us together. You can’t stay in denial when the evidence is all around you.â€
    “Go on,†she said, but with inward apprehension.
    “We travel around to minister to people our faith. We serve Serena, the goddess of blood. I know you look at us skeptically, but our god watches over everything. We aren’t a cult, and we aren’t trying to sell you anything.â€
    “I think that you are sincere, but it is hard for me to accept.†She said in a small voice.
    “It is not hard. In fact, it is easy. Blood flows through us all, giving us life and the strength to maintain life. There are people with blood diseases that are crippled for life. They are, I’m afraid, cursed by the blood goddess. Our goddess does not want to be a hurtful god, but no crime must go without punishment. A world without consequences is the first proof that there is no god.â€
    The priestess saw her listener’s eyes dull, and she pressed on harder.
    “Just as there are consequences, there are rewards for those that follow the goddess. Your life will be changed. You will be blessed as surely as those who disobey are cursed. I implore you to follow us.â€

    By this time, the priestess’ voice was cracking. Her once calm demeanor became sporadic. She seemed to have a mixture of joy and anger, an overpowering fanaticism. The assassin paused to consider this.
    “You bring up some interesting points, which I would do well to consider. I will not however, join you. Gods and devils; they have always been aloof to me. Like I said, I choose to be alone in my actions. It’s the only way that I would be free. I do respect life and the sanctity of blood. Perhaps your god will bless or curse me. I guess I might never know.â€
    “What is this blasphemy? You can’t just choose to be ignorant of the world around you, girl! It will still be there to destroy you when you time comes. There’s no place for your self-serving impudence.â€
    “Calm down,†she said quietly.
    The priestess spat and growled in frustration.
    “It’s time for to learn a lesson in life, ignorant girl. There’s punishment for your actions whether you accept them or not. The punishment for mocking a god is death!â€

    Zhan pushed her backwards and snarled. She reached for her back and pulled out her sword. Her scimitar burst into flames in the air, inches away from the assassin’s face. The priestess went for a quick kill, diving forward with her sword in the same motion, hoping to impale her unsuspecting target. She saw the sword coming however, and she pulled out her claws. With a quick sideswipe of her left hand, her claw intercepted the sword, lodging the blade between her metal prongs. She twisted her arm with great force, and the sword flew out of the priestess’ hand, falling to the ground. Before the priestess could react, her right hand slashed against her throat, her cestus puncturing her windpipe. The priestess collapsed to the ground in a gurgling scream.

    “Wretched demon worshipper,†she whispered to the dying woman. “I am not as foolish as you to follow the wind as it blows down a cliff. You worship blood and now you will give your blood to the earth by my hands. Perhaps Serena is on my side after all.â€

    The two priests had walked far ahead during the conversation, but hearing the priestess’ scream, they bolted towards her. In mid run, one pulled out a flaming longsword, the other began to chant a spell. As they ran, their clothes melted off and their skin shriveled up, revealing their true forms.

    “A pair of demons. It was you who were subverting her.â€
    The swordsman stopped with a cold smile.
    “And it was you, assassin, who killed her.â€
    “I do not regret doing so.â€
    “We knew you wouldn’t, assassin.â€

    At that moment, the caster finished his spell and targeted her. A fireball blew out of his hands and slammed into her. Distracted, she had not moved to dodge the blast, and weakly held her hands up in defense. She felt her arms and body burn in the intense heat, and the force blew her back three steps, almost tripping in the mud. The demon mage began to chant again, and the swordsman advanced cautiously. He took a small jab, which she deflected with her claw sideways. Using his momentum, he twirled the sword around his head and slashed sideways, and she jumped back out of range. Reaching into her cloak, she grabbed a dagger and flung it at the mage. It hit him in the chest, and the mage stopped his spell. Snarling, he pulled out the dagger and resumed his chanting. The move had bought her time, she calculated.

    She now resumed her focus on the swordsman, prodding for a hole in his defenses. The swordsman faked to the left and stabbed at her right, but she parried with her right hand. Her left hand went on the offensive, bursting forward, targeting his now exposed body. The demon swordsman was quick to recover though, and he slapped away her swiping claws with inhuman speed. Using her left claw, she made a stab for his neck. He angled his sword across his body to intercept, and she locked his sword between her claws. As she twisted, the swordsman grunted and braced himself with both hands. She found the swordsman overpowering her and the sword inching closer to her chest. Before he could regain control over his sword, she dropped to one leg and made a sweeping kick to the back of his knee. His leg buckled and he fell to one knee. Still latched onto the sword she snapped a kick into his sternum, folding him onto the ground. She grabbed his sword and made a quick throw at the spellcaster. He had not finished his spell and frantically ducked out of the way. Knowing that his casting would not be completed, the mage turned and fled from the pursing assassin. Reaching into her pockets again, she produced a set of shuriken. She flicked them at the running mage, and four of them sunk into his back. She then backtracked to finish off the crippled swordsman. She always kept her throwing weapons laced with poison.

    Her right hand had been blasted the most, and she lacked the strength to use it. Wincing, she detached her cestus and deposited it deep within the folds of her cloak. The breastplate was also uncomfortable, but she felt naked without it. She found all three corpses and retrieved their belongings. The swords would not ignite for her; they were made by demon magic. The mage didn’t have anything useful for her either. She dragged their bodies to a shallow swamp and left them in the water. The day was ending, so she’d be able to hide in the swamp fog.

    She didn’t think much of the woman. She had killed countless times before, and she never let the words of demons, or anybody for that matter, affect her. The fog had obstructed her view before, but as she drew east, she could see the jagged spires composed of the old temples of Kurast. She had made it to her destination. The first object she came to was a huge monolith towering above her. It spread about seven metres in diameter, and a countless height above her. It was carved in the shape of a person, carrying a staff and a giant, thick book. An inscription was left at the base of the rock. “Abandon doubt, fear, and any misgivings. You enter the Kingdom of Zakarum.†She wondered how old the statue was, because it was certainly obsolete.

    The rest of the temple-city was in plain view, but she wondered how to proceed. An old dirt path appeared to be the main road and she slowly walked along it. The area was bare of any trees and the wind howled through the abandoned city. Her instincts told her to be alert and she paced around, but there was nobody in sight. Before long, the temples came into view, row after row. They were giant buildings, larger than any of the temples she saw in Kurast. At length, she decided to explore the first of them. Elevated almost a story off the ground and connected by a long narrow flight of stairs, the main floor could not be seen from the distance. She climbed up the stairs, with her eyes on the top. She didn’t want to be caught unaware again. The entrance stood open and she made sure not to be visible from the inside. Crouching at the side of the doorway, she took out a mirror and used it to scan the inside. Seeing nothing in the first room, she slipped through the entrance

    Cobwebs lined the walls, thick waves of silk covering the room. The opening room was small and narrow. There were candle stands and other paraphernalia covering the room, but everything was old and rotten, useless to her. She came to the second room; it appeared to be the altar room. Rows of stone pews surrounded her, and at the front of the room, a large stony pedestal stood out, facing the crowd. Ignoring the pews, she ran up to the front and stood behind the pedestal. There was a book on it, a thick black leather-bound book. The pages were ragged and torn, but she guessed it to be in readable condition. It was too dark in the temple to attempt reading, but the book sparked her curiosity. She flipped to the beginning, looking for a title, or a hint of the author. There were none. Satisfied with her find, she stepped off of the pedestal, and headed for the entrance with the book in her good hand.

    A sharp hissing sound came from the back of the temple as she was leaving. She turned around quickly, and scanned the temple with her eyes. She saw nothing, but there was no mistaking the sound. She crept into the temple, and crouched behind a pew. The hissing sound continued, coming from the front of the room. As she popped her head out from behind the pew, five spiders dropped from the ceiling, quickly closing in on her.

    The spiders were giants; they were half as tall as she was, their bloated bodies surpassing her in length. They closed in for the kill, fangs dripping with venom. She stood up, and went into a defensive stance. Her cestus was still useless, her right arm wouldn’t respond. She thought of pulling out her claw, but something compelled her to keep the book, and she couldn’t bring herself to drop it. As a spider approached, she circled around and gave it a roundhouse. It took the blow with good resilience and advanced forward. She had to back up and jump over the pew to dodge its fangs. The spiders aptly followed, crawling along the walls and over the pews. She took a kick at the closest one, but this time it caught her leg with its fangs. She felt the teeth penetrate her skin and a corrosive liquid pour down into her flesh. She kicked at its maw and retracted her foot.

    She ran out of the temple with trembling fingers, still clutching the book in her arms. The spider’s venom had begun to work its toll; her joints began to stiffen and strain. Her muscled worked hard to fight off the paralysis, and meanwhile the spiders inched closer and closer. Down the stairs she went, tripping over the steps and tumbling down. She fell into a crumple at the bottom, and could not stand up. Helplessly, she watched the spiders swarm over her limp form, biting her and feeding on her.

    She had dropped the book on the way down, and it lay facedown on the ground, turned to a page in the middle of the book. She had lost consciousness down the stairs, but she awoke to sense to book being opened. Strangely enough, she felt herself whispering words out of the book, in a language she did not know. As she raised her hand, she could feel it burning with an intense heat, as if being hit by the fireball. She thought of the pain caused by the mage, and her anger was unleashed upon the spiders. Flames burst forth from her palm, engulfing everything in a white-hot fire. The spiders screeched, but their death throes were drowned out in the burning inferno. She closed her palm into a fist and the fire died out, leaving the blackened remains of her assailants. With her remaining strength, she crawled over to the bottom of the stairs, hiding in its shadow, and blacked out.
     
  8. RevenantsKnight

    RevenantsKnight IncGamers Member

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    Just a heads-up: the idea that Travincal was overrun centuries ago and is now abandoned doesn't fit with the game's story. As it is, Travincal had been tainted for a while by Mephisto with his control over the Council, but the demonic presence didn't become overt until after the Dark Wanderer started to move. Now, I'm not saying you can't revise what Blizzard wrote; in fact, it's probably a good idea in a few cases. However, if you play too fast and loose with the universe without some strong explanations, you will confuse some readers.

    Eh, I guess this could go either way.

    In Act III, Cain specifies that the Council is made up of "Zakarum priests and their followers," not Vizjerei. Bartuc isn't a member of the High Council shown in the game; he just uses a similar creature type.

    Actually, I'm still not sure what the heck Bartuc is, or was, since Blizzard keeps changing it with every game. Way back in the original Diablo, he was a unique Steel Lord (a Black Knight subtype,) and that's markedly different from being a member of the Vizjerei, which is what he apparently is now. Also, the background information on Assassins in the Lord of Destruction manual says that he died long ago, but then he appears in Act V (assuming that's the same Bartuc.) I do know, though, that there's nothing in any of the games to suggest that he was a Zakarumite, let alone a member of the High Council.

    No, but you should capitalize "Vizjerei," because it's the name of a mage guild. Not all mages are Vizjerei, just as not all mages are sorceresses. However, you would capitalize "Zann Esu" because that's the formal name for the sorceresses. In the same vein, you should capitalize "Vizjerei."

    Fair enough. However, that information didn't come across when I read this; you might want to make that connection a little more explicit.
     
  9. RevenantsKnight

    RevenantsKnight IncGamers Member

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    On your second post: overall, this had more or less the same strong and weak points as the preceding one (go figure, since you posted them both at the same time.) I did think, though, that parts of this flowed much better than before and didn’t wander as much; maybe you just needed to get settled in to the story. I know that happens to me, anyway. Some specific comments:

    That should be reordered as “...enough moonlight spilled through the ceiling...â€

    You need a comma after “uneasy.â€

    I’d suggest rewording this to “There were constant sounds echoing through the sewers, sounds of life,†because it’d be best if you stuck to either “sound†or “sounds†between the two clauses.

    I’d think that should be “was inside a broad, long sewer tunnel.†In general, though, this opening part did a pretty good job of describing the scene around her. Nicely done.

    A technicality: that should be “and even the sound of her quiet footsteps...†since the footsteps themselves do not reverberate.

    While this works, I’d just stick to a personal description instead of making a generalization about assassins, because the shift between her and the overall image is a little awkward. If you want to keep this, though, I’d recommend turning this into two sentences, and maybe moving the generalization after her action.

    That should be “passed corpses†and “rats.â€

    Since she could see the door, five minutes sounds like an unreasonably long walk. Even if she’s walking pretty slowly, I doubt it would be that far away, especially since you said earlier that these tunnels aren’t well lit and so the visibility here isn’t very good. Also, I don’t think it’s really necessary to specify the exact amount of time; you could probably just say “a short while†or something.

    Wait...if the door’s closed, how’d she figure this out?.

    That should probably be “dressed in black robes;...â€

    Hrm...since he’s standing up, “lay at his side†sounds odd; did you mean that it hung from his belt or something?

    Interesting spin on one of the creepier classes. :)

    You need a comma after “said.â€

    There should be a comma after “room.â€

    The comma after “room†should be a semicolon, since “This was merely his reception room†and “There were many antechambers leading deeper into the sewers†are each complete clauses and could be sentences on their own.

    I liked this little detail, though I might consider changing “mused†to “noted†or something else more...active. Either way, it’s a nice touch.

    The period after “continued†should be a comma, and this should all be one sentence, without the line break before the speech.

    Hrm...should that be “she didn’t know he’d been reborn...�

    You need a comma after “Yes.â€

    “Was smelling†sounds wrong to me, though I’m not sure if it works grammatically or not. I’d just use “smelled.â€

    Erm...I had a bit of a hard time figuring out who said this. You might want to provide a few more attributions, e.g. “she said†and such, in this conversation to keep the reader oriented.

    On a different note, if this is the assassin, why is she speaking of her report to Natalya? There isn’t really anything here that suggests that Blackbog would know about that...

    I’m unclear on what the assassin’s suggesting here...you might want to state whatever she’s going after a little more explictly. Also, should “powerful ruins†be “powerful runes�

    Another nice descriptive touch.

    You might want to mention this mask when she first sees him...it’s a pretty notable feature of him, after all. After that, you can introduce this idea of it reflecting his emotions here, and it should be clearer for the reader. Also, you should probably go into a bit more detail about those “emotions.â€

    For what it’s worth, he didn’t seem to have a very “offensive†personality to me.

    Blackbog’s a decidedly interesting character, in my opinion. So far, he looks pretty well developed...good job with that.

    Um...not sure what happened with the shift here. After their conversation, did they go to Natalya, hammer out a plan, and then go back to Blackbog’s workshop? That’s what this suggests, anyway...

    On a side note, there should be a comma in the first sentence, after “arrival.â€

    Anyway, this looks like this is getting better; with some grammatical and formatting improvements, this would be stronger, but as it is, there’s a definite core of a story here, as well as some nice details and a good character. Keep it up, and thanks for posting!
     
  10. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    Her mind had slipped from consciousness, and began to wander. While she knew she was in a dream, there was nothing she could do to wake herself. She dreamed of running through the temple city, chased by hundreds of spiders. As she ran, she bled, wounded by the spider bite before. Out of her leg wound, poison poured out in copious amounts. The acid streamed out continuously, forming puddles behind her as she ran. As the spiders stepped in the puddles in pursuit, they shrunk to normal size. She paused, and turned around in surprise. The once giant army of spiders had been reduced to a collection of ants, and began to disperse in all directions. She stared down at the now helpless insects, and burned with rage. She raised her foot and stomped a spider, shattering its legs and rendering its guts across the floor. She raised her foot again and stomped, twisted, and ground it into nothingness. She walked on to the next one and stomped it on the side, flattening its legs on the right into a crumpled mess. She then left it to struggle on the floor, moving to the next one. She stomped and paced, fuming and seething with hatred, committed to pay back the injury she had received. The ground began to shake under her stamping, and the earth split in a giant earthquake. She ran for cover as the ground quaked behind her.

    The ground was unstable, so she ran into a building for shelter. It was a temple, the largest of them all, located at the centre of the ancient city. The room however, was devoid of decorations. The walls were bare, and there were no furniture. The floor was covered with skeletal remains, broken and shattered, with armour still attached to their bodies. Standing at the centre of the room was Bartuc the Vizjeri, locked onto her in a catatonic stare. His hands rose and the skeletons came alive. Pieces connected together to form full skeletons. She pulled out her claws; they were the claws Natalya had on earlier, the scissors claw and the cutthroat. She let out a battle cry and charged at the skeletons. She slashed and jabbed. Natalya’s claw parried their weapons perfectly, and the cutthroat slashed the skeletons to pieces. It cut through like butter, dicing their bodies into fragments of bone before her eyes. Before long, the skeleton army was destroyed. Bartuc was still there, pointing his hands at her, deep within a trance. She could see a fireball forming between his palms, pulsing in mid air, slowly getting bigger. She furiously walked up to him and unleashed her mind, sending waved of psychic force towards his head. She pictured his brain inside her head and tore it apart, extinguishing thought, sight, and senses. Bartuc’s eyes widened and the Vizjeri stumbled backwards. She brought up her claw and took a swipe. The cutthroat tore across his throat, nearly decapitating him, and made a clean exit. She stood there and lavished in the blood spraying out, bathing in the gore.

    She suddenly woke with a sick feeling to her stomach. Her dream had abruptly ended; she gasped in shock. It took her time to get adjusted to the light and to get a feel for her bearing before the realization sunk in. She was sitting in a small wooden hut covered with animal fur. She could not remember how she got in there. The hut was only three meters off the ground and two meters in diameter, resembling a small tipi. Her armour, her weapons, and her newly found book was missing; she was in her black tunic. Her pockets were also empty; her potions and money were missing. Her studded boots were gone; she wore crude leather sandals. She stretched out her muscles. She was sore all over, but her right arm felt better. It was still a bit weak, however. Her leg had stopped bleeding; the wound had begun to scar. The paralyzing spider venom she was bit with seemed to be gone, or at least in recession.

    It seemed as if somebody had found her at night and brought her here. She was a hostage, for now. The hut entrance was covered with animal skins. She drew them back carefully. There was a guard standing outside. He was a tall, dark man with long muscular arms and legs. He carried a long spear and a longsword sheathed at his side. He turned around and greeted her.

    “Hello.†His voice was friendly and inviting. She did not know what to make of him.
    “Hello, sir…Where am I?â€
    “You are a guest in our village; the village of Thull. We found you dying in that abandoned city we call Travincal.â€
    “Very well. If I’m your guest then where is my stuff?â€
    The guard chuckled softly.
    “You are straightforward, lady. I admire that. But you can’t expect us to let you keep your weapons; at least not yet.â€
    “Fair enough,†she conceded.
    “It is not often that we get visitors such as yourself. I hope that you can feel welcome here. We don’t intend you any harm. The swampland can be treacherous though, and we must make the necessary precautions.â€
    “The swampland can be treacherous,†she thought, recalling her incident with the priests.
    “I’d like to look around if you don’t mind. I’ve never heard of your village before.â€
    “Of course, but it would probably be best that I accompany you.â€

    At first glance, the village looked primitive and almost uninhabited. It consisted of huts and tents. Row after row, there were small huts similar to hers, thatched together with sticks and not much more. Small, lingering, puffs of smoke rose above the houses, penetrating through the ceilings. There were larger buildings made up of huge tabernacles. There were few people outside. In the distance, she could see them gathering water. The guard motioned her towards the people, but she took a moment to assess the situation. They seemed to be a hunter-gatherer people; she could see no sizable grain fields in the vicinity. Every villager was armed, and judging by their builds, well trained with their weapons. The guard had said that they found her in the abandoned city; his story was still feasible. She did not trust the guard in any way, but she was in no position to resist.

    The village was contained within a small wooden fence. It was so small and brittle that it had to be used for aesthetic purposes. She considered running but decided against it. The villagers, being hunters, would easily track her down. She walked past houses and small tents. The villagers took a glance at her and then resumed their work wordlessly. The guard followed her closely, but seemed disinterested. With a firm grip on his spear, he continued behind her, staring at the ground. Personally, she had seen enough of the village, and was growing restless. She did not want to show it, however. With luck, she’d be able to leave soon enough. Her one concern was for her equipment. Being stripped of everything was a huge blow for her, and she hated them for doing so. Having good reason to guess her true identity, the villagers might try to hold her.

    “Sir,†she began.
    “My name is Talenth.â€
    “Talenth, I appreciate your hospitality but I need to leave soon. My business is urgent and I have nothing to do with your humble village. If you could get me my stuff I will leave, and never again return to this place.â€
    “Lady, patience.†he soothed. “I still have yet to learn your name.â€
    “I’m sorry… My name is Lilith.â€
    “Lilith, as I said earlier, we found you in that old forsaken city. You were on the brink of death.â€
    “I appreciate what you have done,†she cut in.
    “Yes, but I don’t know if you’ve fully realized the extent of your damage. It has been to days since the night we found you.â€
    She furrowed her brows in surprise and Talenth was quick to catch on.
    “You were poisoned, but fortunately it did not prove to be fatal. You’ve been well rested, but you haven’t fully recovered I’d say. You still have a nasty limp.â€
    She could not deny that she had been limping through their walk.
    “In any event, you need to see the village elders before we can let you go. And I will try to get your things again.â€
    “Thank you,†she replied, but without much emphasis.
    “Did you see the large collection of tents back the other way?â€
    “Yesâ€
    “That is the elders’ tents. I will take your there perhaps tomorrow.â€
    “Yes, it’s getting late.â€

    Try as she might to conceal it, she knew that she was weakening from their excursion. By the time they went back to the hut, she was leaning on him heavily for support and could barely keep her eyes open. She collapsed onto the floor and fell into a deep slumber. Talenth closed the flaps and went back to his position.

    She woke up early in the morning. She had passed out cold, and had a dreamless sleep, much to her relief. Recalling her situation, she got herself up and prepared for another walk. She felt much better today after getting a full night’s rest. Her right arm felt much better; she could almost move it with full strength. Her leg was less pained, but she still had a limp. She slowly walked out of the hut; Talenth was still there, stoically standing over her hut.

    “Good morning, Lilith. Are you feeling better?â€
    “Yes, much better. I had a good night’s sleep.â€
    “Are you ready for another walk?â€
    “Yes. I would like to see the elders today.â€
    “Alright, let’s go.â€

    The walk back was uneventful. They crossed the village again, headed for the main tabernacle of tents. This time, she could make the walk without slouching on the guard. Talenth did not try to make conversation, and she was thankful of that. The tents were dark green, camouflaged from a distance. They stood four or five times her height, giant encompassing sheets held up by an array of pole supports and ropes. The door was guarded by two men. Like Talenth, they carried spears and short swords at their sides.

    “Hello,†said Talenth.
    “Good morning,†the other man replied.
    “You bring the stranger?â€
    “Yes. She wants to meet with the elders.â€
    “I will have to ask. It will take a few hours, Talenth. Better come back in the afternoon.â€
    “Sure. I’ll see you later.â€
    Talenth shrugged.
    “I’m sorry but we have to wait it out, Lilith.â€
    “I’m alright with that.â€
    “Talenth, do you mind if we take a walk outside; outside the village? I need a breather to clear my head.â€
    “Certainly. I’m sorry if we are treating you as a prisoner. A fair warning to you however: do not try to escape; our men are excellent marksmen. Now, I don’t want you getting hurt. You cannot leave just yet.â€
    “I understand.â€

    She stowed the information in the back of her mind. They walked along the road towards the perimeter. Talenth jumped the fence and helped her over, leaving his spear against the fence. It was a gracious move for her, and she appreciated it. To the south, the temples of Travincal were silhouettes along the sky. She involuntarily shivered, and walked further north.

    “A wretched place isn’t it,†Talenth said gravely.
    “What?â€
    “The Travincal. The creatures that live there are supernatural, superhuman. We don’t hunt there; the animals are unfit to eat. We patrol there as a necessity.â€
    “Can you believe that it was once a holy place? The kingdom of Zakarum,†she said sarcastically.
    “There is one thing that doesn’t lie: history. It may be interpreted differently, but it doesn’t lie. The truth is there, if you search hard enough.â€
    “I know well the story of that place,†Talenth replied.
    “So then what brought you those accursed temples?â€
    “I…I don’t know. I was drawn there. I stumbled upon it by accident.â€
    “Lady Lilith, I do not believe in accidents.â€
    He looked deeply into her eyes.
    “How did you get there?â€
    She avoided his glance wordlessly.
    “A hard thing to share? I respect that. I have a feeling you will have to share it soon anyway, though. I won’t share this secret, and I might have already, but I’ll try not to press the issue.â€
    “That’s ok. I don’t know myself for certain, now that you mention it. I will let you know when I am ready.â€
    “You no doubt have questions of your own. What is our relation to the port-city Kurast? They refer to us as the Flayers. I will tell you that the relation is weak. City folk don’t seem to understand why we haven’t joined them; why we live in the open, in constant risk. The enemy has surrounded us at all fronts. The enemy is us; even nature seems to be in upheaval. This is not the way it was intended.â€
    “What are you saying?â€
    “Simply that we are allied with the forces of Travincal. Do not look so surprised. It is politics; it is nature; it is life. We could not hope to defend against the forces hell pitted against us, and we could not go to live in the self-contained bubble of Kurast, gripped in paramount terror. To live such a way is no life at all.â€
    “Do you believe in demons?â€
    “Yes, I do. One is inclined to believe in them when one is surrounded by them.â€
    “How then, can you ally yourself with such creatures? You must know what they are capable of.â€
    “I cannot refute that, but they have kept their word so far; we are still here. Someone once told me that the motives of hell were clear cut, and the motives of heaven were mysterious. This is not true. The motives of hell, though ultimately steered for destruction, are unpredictable, and the motives of heaven are an enigma. There was a time when the enemy would give no quarter, take no prisoners, but things have changed. We are under a pact of neutrality with them.â€
    “You’ve met the mages? The council?â€
    “That is what they called themselves. They look like Vizjeri, but act very strange. As you’ve mentioned, the temple-city used to be a holy place for Zakarumites, but the structure has changed. There is a new religion, led by the Vizjeri.â€
    “A cult; a demon cult. I met one of them on the road.â€
    “Yes, a cult. It is easy to destroy a people. It is harder and more advantageous to convert them.â€
    “Your village must be careful, then, not to be assimilated. They can be very... persuasive.â€
    “Yes. Our village seems to be in a plight.â€
    “The world seems to be in a plight, Talenth. You are reasonable and honest, so I will tell you my purpose, or one of them. I am a warrior; you’ve probably deduced that already. Though I am foreign to Kurast, I have taken up their cause. The Kurastians live in a bubble, yes, but they persevere with a hope for the future. Kurast has sent a force to fight the council, and I have joined to aid their cause.â€
    “Kurast is fighting the council? We did not know.â€
    “It was somewhat of a secret. There was no mention of your people, or your village. I think that you were largely ignored.â€
    “Ironically, that is the way we have chosen.â€
    “The path of the righteous is beset on all sides,†Talenth whispered.
    “Lilith, you are in grave peril in Travincal. And to go there by yourself…â€
    “I always fight alone. In the end, you must always fight alone. I am no stranger to danger and death. In war, it is something you must accept.â€

    Talenth trailed off, deep in thought. She took the time to enjoy the outside, while she still could. They had walked onto a field, moistened by the climate, but hardly the soggy swampland of before. The grass was a long, vibrant green, with wildflowers popping up randomly in between. She felt better about this place, and believed that she would be able to leave in the afternoon. She stopped and kneeled down, to look at the flowers. They were small but prosperous, hardy plants, growing in less then optimal conditions. They seemed to be dwarfed by the fast-growing grasses, but it did not stop them from being noticeable. The blossoms were small and stable; they wouldn’t easily be flooded or shredded by wild animals. The roots dug deep into the ground. There were also weeds, numbering in the hundreds, encompassing the field. The garden was obviously left untended. Their prickly leaves grew long and untamed; the air was filled with their spores. The flowers were surrounded with weeds, hindering and stifling them, eating up their nutrients. Would they be able to coexist? She guessed that they could. She grabbed a dandelion and yanked it out by the stem. The bristly leaves grated against her hand. She spent the rest of the morning weeding out the field, one by one.
     
  11. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    picture

    Talenth tapped on her shoulder.

    “It’s time to go.â€

    They went back to the village. She was careful not to put stress on her injured leg, and was able to pass the fence. They walked back to the centre of the city, to the main tents. The guards looked at them and let them through. The inside was very well-decorated, for a tent. Rooms were divided up by cloth walls, colourfully painted with vibrant markings and feathers. The first room led to a larger chamber, filled with tables and chairs from what she could see. There was a guard standing by the entrance, watching over the inside rooms.

    “We’re here to see the elders,†Talenth told him. “We’ve got an appointment.â€
    “Walk through that door to the large room and out the rear exit. There, follow the dirt path to the next tent, and wait to be received.â€
    “Ok. It’s always been a formal procedure like this,†Talenth explained to her.
    “A bit unnerving,†she said.
    “You need not worry. Meetings are mostly a judgement of character. The best thing to do is act yourself.â€
    “I will remember that.â€

    The receptionist guard motioned them through the door, and they proceeded to the next room. As observed earlier, it was filled with round dining tables and chairs. It was the common room. She guessed by the appearance that it was designed more for the commoners, the guards and visitors, than the elders. There was a soup kitchen set up in the corner, the source of a pungent aroma.

    There was an empty space of land separating this tent and the elder’s tent. There were many guards, situated along the path, in front the elder’s tent. She walked slowly, lingering with thought. They reached the next tent and upon instruction, entered. The elders were waiting, a group old men encircled around the room. They sat in old, rotten chairs behind small, sturdy tables. They looked tired and withered, men who had lived out their usefulness in a hunter village. They were obviously however, looked upon in high regard.

    “Stand in the centre of the room,†Talenth whispered. “I must wait outside.â€

    All of the guards but two left the room. She turned her attention to the elders. They were stiff and downcast faces, ready to judge and condemn this young, lone girl. She glanced around, and all of them were looking at her with lidless gazes. Try as she might, she found herself avoiding eye contact. Their stony brown eyes looked down at her condescendingly. One of the men cleared his throat and the rest ceased conversation. The apparent leader began to speak out loud.

    “In the year… the minutes of … the pact of the dark magus … assembled council members … we present.â€

    His rapid speaking and cryptic sentences made it hard for her to follow, and before long, she was lost amid the conversation. The speaker went on and finally looked at her.

    “Warrior, we allow you to join this meeting.â€

    She made a small bow towards her speaker.

    “Your name is Lilith I believe. You should know that our men found you amid the dark city of Travincal, and now everything will be accounted for.â€
    “Yes,†she replied flatly, growing tired of his tone.

    Turning from the others, she returned his gaze defiantly. Much like the others, he was a gaunt old man, looking tired but stern in his high-backed chair. A thick, shaggy fur covered his body, his long grey hairs were braided in decoration, and bright woad shined off his wrinkled face. Taking a conservative guess, he was well into his sixties, along with his counterparts.

    “We will discuss the terms of your release. But first, there are questions surrounding your arrival.â€

    The tent grew silent, and she could ear the sounds of activity outside. The circle of gaunt men continued to stare her down with their stony gazes. The room was dark and musty, and she could see their beady eyes directed towards her. She stood there and wondered what she would tell them. No more than necessary, obviously. The town she had landed in could be pacifist, or fanatic, she rightly could not tell. Talenth was honest and sincere with her, but he was not the authority. What would the others think of her? They were allied with the enemy, so what did that say of them? She was prisoner here; that much she knew, and she had to escape.

    She then thought of her own story, and wondered of its motives. The night of the spiders, of the corrupted priests played in her head. What was her real purpose here? The Jade Talon, she decided. It was her original reason for coming here, at least. Why had she killed the priests and ended up in this situation? She knew she’d be able to evade them at night, yet she had chosen to stay. What was she motivated by? Pride, lust, vengeance? Well, it was pointless to debate over it now. Those feelings were meaningless, she was taught. Those emotions were meaningless, she had learned. When something needs to be done, it is simply done, until finished. The council must be destroyed and she must be freed.

    “Now,†the speaker stated, “your history shall be revisited. It was the darkest of hours in which the guards of Thull found you. You were in a deep sleep, hanging on the line of unconsciousness. You were bloodied and limp, your vitality slowly leaking out at the foot of the temple. It was a great likelihood that you would perish that night, and so we took you into our village. Such an act is one of complete trust. You now know our numbers, our customs, and our soldiers. In return you must reveal to us your nature, and we shall see if in you, our faith was well placed.â€
    “I owe you nothing,†she retorted unflinchingly. “But ask and I will answer.â€

    The speaker frowned at her, and some of the elders began to murmur.

    “I have a question,†one of the elders said.
    “Yes brother,†the speaker acknowledged.
    “Were you alone, Lilith?â€
    “I was.â€
    “Alone in Travincal?†he said incredulously. “And how did you expect to survive there, in that damned city? Why would you do such a thing?â€
    “I am a warrior. I do not shy from forbidden or accursed places. I did not however, know of this land, or I would have been more prepared.â€
    “Then that brings me to the larger question of why were you there in the first place,†he replied.

    She paused, and the elders grew louder. She thought of her conversation with Talenth and considered her reply.

    “You know me to be a warrior, so you should have already guessed my intentions. The old theocracy of Zakarum has been corrupted, corrupted by the Vizjeri, who now claim leadership. I, as well as all of Kurast, have a vendetta against the council!â€
    “You speak bold words, yet by your own admission, you are ill-prepared for such a fight. Do not expect us to feel sympathetic.â€
    “I expect nothing. I merely wish to be released. I will determine my own fate.â€
    “If it were only so easy,†the speaker growled. “You have arrived in our village; our fates are now intertwined. We cannot merely release you without consequence.â€
    “You are allied with them.â€
    “Yes. I supposed you’d figure that out eventually. We are not so much allied, but are at peace with them. Wouldn’t that be the way you prefer?â€
    “Never,†she mouthed.
    “Do not mistake us to be an agent of evil. We do not work for demons any more than you do. There are no innocent men slain by our spears. We sympathize with your story. If it were as simple as that, you would have been freed by now.â€
    “What is it then? Ask,†she snapped.
    “The items you brought with you are most interesting.â€

    The speaker nodded and a guard walked in with her belongings. She felt a tinge of anxiety. He carried her pack, loaded with items. Another guard came in with her armour and her claws. Silently, they fell in line against the walls, beside the elders.

    “Indeed, you are a warrior, but your implements are … less than standard.â€
    “I take what I please and use it accordingly.â€
    “You bring with you dangerous weapons. We couldn’t allow you to go roaming around with them. For instance, the hand blades you wore. Sharp they are, but hardly the orthodox weapons of a soldier. You carry many knives with you, many throwing weapons, tools of the dark, and all of them are coated with a thin film; poison, I can only guess.â€

    She narrowed her eyes. She had been caught.

    “What is your point?â€
    “We find little reason to trust you, and therefore there is little reason to release you. You claim to work for Kurast.â€
    “I do. You will find that out I believe, soon enough.â€
    “You appear to be a loyalist of Kurast, and you carry with you tools of an assassin. This is very peculiar. Furthermore, the substance you carry, anticoagulants, neurotoxins, are not allowed within our treaty.â€
    “We are in a war. Should I not use every weapon available to me?â€

    He ignored the question.

    “You should be careful what you unleash upon yourself. This leads me to the next point .You were carrying with you a black book. Do you know what this book is?â€
    “To tell you the truth, I do not. I found that book within the temple. I thought it would eave me insights to the enemy I was facing.â€
    “Neither do we, for it is written in one of the languages of hell. That temple was abandoned long ago. Our men have patrolled its base countless times. I do not think you found it within there.â€

    This time she was speechless, unsure how to respond. The elders with their long, downcast faces, glared in triumph.

    “Young woman, you are daring, honest, and courageous, but you dabble in far too many things beyond your understanding,†the speaker lectured on. “You are dangerous and chaotic. I struggle to see how you fit into society. But on to the heart of the allegation, because those aforementioned are meaningless, right? The night after your arrival we found the body of a young priestess in the swamps. The girl was long dead, her throat had been viciously slashed and her body had been abandoned without any funeral rites. The priestess had been alone and unarmed. As well, her belongings and her money was intact. The ground had been disturbed; foreign footsteps were found surrounding the priestess’ path as the men backtracked her steps. Finally, the wound could not be identified. It was made by neither sword no spear, axe nor dagger. The cut was thin and deep, one continuous stroke. I did not match the wound to your blade; I did not feel the need to.â€

    The speaker sat back in his seat smugly.

    “Did you kill the priestess, or am I mistaken?â€

    She swallowed and licked her dry lips. Again, the elders had thrown her off guard. She wondered how to answer them without incriminating herself in their eyes; the task seemed impossible. Despite being nervous however, she did not feel wrong or guilty in her actions. She saw the group growing impatient and decided to answer him plainly.

    “Yes.â€

    A gasp echoed across the room. F-cking sound effects, she thought. A bunch of conspiring bastards.

    “These are serious charges against you. Do you not have anything to say?â€
    “I have nothing to hide, and no one to blame. I will say that I was acting in self-defense, as unbelievable as it would seem. The priestess was corrupt, like far too many things these days.â€
    “Are you saying she had to coming to her?â€
    “That is not what I said, but if you mention it…â€
    “Do not make a mockery of this court.â€
    “This is a mockery. You already have preconceived notions about me; how will I defend myself?â€
    “You may be finding it difficult to defend yourself because your case is weak.â€
    “I feel you must get to know me to better understand. Ask Talenth; he is an honest man.â€
    “All of our men are honest. As for Talenth, he tended you, and guarded you with his life. He cannot testify for your behalf.â€
    “You leave me little option then.â€
    “You leave yourself little option,†one of the elders shouted irritably.
    “We have heard enough. This meeting is in recess while the judgement is being made. We shall reconvene in an hour.â€

    She was escorted out of the tent by two closely watching guards. She could hear the elders talking in their own tongue, not in heated debate, but in calm agreement. There was little to wonder about their verdict and she felt a burning anger towards them, towards the village. The guards whispered quietly amongst each other, and eyed her with nonchalant faces. She wondered where Talenth was. He was probably reassigned, but it would feel better to have his support.

    She shuddered with nervousness. She was never good at public speech or relations, and the encounter left a sinking feeling in her heart.

    “I have tried,†she figured, “to reason with them. There is nothing to say but the truth, and if that fails, then there is nothing more.â€

    She closed her eyes and a deep, bitter anger flooded her senses once again. She opened her eyes and gasped. A puddle of water lay trickling at her feet.

    With infinite patience the eye
    Stares back at me
    An ever clear ocean of brown.
    Today the eye is hungry
    Sensing my downfall
    Into madness and damnation eternal.

    Through the deserts of the moon
    I toiled without relent
    The walls came crumbling down on me
    To hell, I was sent.

    Through purgatory I see
    The chance of redemption
    By this path will I comply?
    I can only wait and try.

    There lies but one obstacle
    In front of me-
    My greatest, most dire enemy,
    Threatening to steal the mould
    Of sanity within my soul.

    In the end
    Salvation gained
    At the cost
    Of friend and lover
    Forever lost.
     
  12. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    She walked back to the tent steadily, with new resolve. The elders stood waiting. They were silent as she walked in their circle. They would be silent as the speaker passed final judgement. This time, four guards entered the tent, flanking the sides. Her belongings were laid across an empty table.

    “The conclave has decided. You were unanimously found guilty, Lilith. For your crimes, you will be held in our village under guard. The high council will conduct further sentencing.â€
    “And so, the council is the ultimate authority within the village.â€
    “Careful,†the speaker hissed. “We will not tolerate your interruption much further.â€
    “Then I’m afraid,†she snarled, “that I can no longer accept your authority.

    She kicked over the table and lunged for her gear. She picked up her claw; the cestus had straps and there as no time equip it. The guards yelled out and drew their swords. One of them lunged, and she slashed it away, her claw braced in her left fist. They disengaged quickly, and the guard stepped back.

    “Men, at arms!†the speaker screamed. The soldiers circled around the tent
    “Surround her! Be wary and keep your distance. Remember, you have the advantage of range. You must neutralize her.â€

    The threat of the elder’s words was proving true. Four more men filed into the tent with swords, leaving her in the centre. They were experienced warriors; they kept their eyes forward and their swords extended in front. She twirled around, swinging her claw in wide arcs. It was to intimidate the men; they would be wary before closing in on her.

    They stood in stalemate for a few tense seconds, shifting around, and assessing weaknesses. The guards started to take turns thrusting forwards, and she slapped them off quickly. At her position, locking swords with any of them would leave her exposed.

    A guard by the doorway took a stab, and she gained her opening. She parried downwards and locked him up. She sprang on the guard, tackling him to the ground. A nearby soldier’s sword gashed her shoulder, but she shook it off. As they were interlocked, the others would be unable to help, in fear of hurting their comrade. She grunted and rolled her opponent out the door. He began to struggle, and she kneed him in the groin. The guard bellowed as she bit down on his arm, and she could taste hot blood. His grip relaxed on the sword, and she scratched his face with her claw. More hot blood flooded her senses.

    She grabbed the fallen guard’s sword and stood up. The guards were surrounding her, waiting for their opportunity. She crouched with her sword extended outward, and the claw on her left hand hidden behind her back. A guard stepped forward and made an overhead chop. She let him come close and parried, bracing her sword horizontally over her head. She swung back across his torso and the guard angled his sword downward to parry. Quickly, her claw swiped downward on his wrist. The guard flinched and retracted back, switching sword hands. Three more stepped up, chopping towards her. A forceful swipe deflected them, and her claw came up to counter. She made a quick kick to a guard’s shin and he stumbled forward. She made a hard swipe across the guard’s chest; he fell gasping for air.

    Another three stepped forward, coordinating the attack. She matched them with ferocity, dashing forward with sword and claw. Her attacks were rapid, poking and prodding, forcing them on the defensive and driving them backwards. She slashed sideways hard with a backhand, smacking all three of their blades simultaneously. Her claw came following, striking at the sword to her left, it had been hit first. She locked with the sword and pulled, the guard came following forwards, holding onto his weapon. She pulled down with her claw; his sword followed, and she made a slash with her own sword. Unable to disengage in time, the guard let go and stepped back out of range. She stepped up and whipped a sidekick into his torso, doubling him over.

    Five men advanced upon her in a line. She quickly backed off, giving herself plenty of room. She reversed the grip on her sword, holding it upside-down. With her arm straightened out, the blade lay hidden against her skin. She brandished her claw in front, ready to clash. The guards began to strike, taking turns attacking. She blocked and slapped their swords away swiftly, twisting and turning. The guards stepped in range. A guard lunged at her and she blocked. She flicked her right wrist up and her sword whipped out, cutting through his armpit. With her claw hand, she punched through his chest, finding the thick, black, heart’s blood. She kicked at the dying guard and he stumbled backwards into his comrades.

    Again, she went on the offensive with her claw. She slashed across their swords, following through and circling around with a backhand. The backhand’s target hastily parried the attack, and the guards were driven backwards. She continued the attack without relent. She made an uppercut, searching for an exposed wrist, but the guard retracted his arm. She shifted into a slash, and the guard was pushed back farther. She flicked her right wrist across her body and the sword flew out. Then, she reversed its motion, taking another swipe. She made a kick to the side of the guard’s knee, and he was too disorganized to resist. His knee buckled, and he crashed to the ground. A swift stab with the sword finished him.

    A large guard dashed at her, savagely swinging through her defenses. She felt the jarring force of his blow, brushing aside her arms. His body slammed into her, knocking the wind out of her and blowing her back a few steps. He charged again, with berserk force, wildly swinging. She managed to block again, and her arm shuddered under the force. He tackled her and dragged her to the ground. With her claw caught onto his sword and her sword in an awkward position, she was unable to defend. A knife appeared in his hand and he stabbed. She twisted, and the knife missed her heart, plunging into her collar. The man bore his weight down and began to strangle her, pushing down onto her neck with his powerful hands. She let go of her claw and sword and grabbed him, putting him in an arm bar. The man grunted and continued to choke. She held her breath and twisted, bending back his arm as much as she could. He howled and started to relent, hearing the crack of his elbow. Kneeing upwards, she rolled him from under her. She picked up the sword in two hands, and swung hard at the kneeling guard, cleaving through his skull.

    She was up with her sword. There were two of them left, one of them started attacking her and one was lagging behind. She disengaged from her fighter, running back towards the tent. The guard yelped, and pursued her. Gasping, she wretched the blade out from her chest. She turned and whipped it at her pursuer. It struck him in the neck, and he collapsed onto the ground.

    There was one guard left. He approached cautiously, keeping his distance.

    “A valiant fight, I must concede. There is no way I could defeat you with my right hand, much less my left.â€

    She then noticed his right wrist, cut and bleeding from before.

    “I am not a great warrior as you are. I will allow you to leave, if you will.â€
    “Why should I let you escape?†she growled.

    She slashed at him, and he parried. She twisted, arcing her sword in circles around him, in giant butterflies. Try as he might, her opponent could not parry in time, and she sliced off the fingers grasping onto his sword. She threw his sword clear and pounced on him, clawing with her sword. The guard yelled in protest but she ignored him; all she saw was red.

    She grabbed her claw and sprinted back. The other soldiers of the village were apparently away, but the elders were back at the tent. She needed to stop them from sending a warning. She opened the flap door and entered slowly. The elders were still there, sitting in a circle. They seemed surprised by her arrival, but not particularly concerned. The speaker cleared his throat, and signaled them to stay where they were.

    “You have defeated our men. It seems they were not prepared enough to face a veteran warrior, an experienced killer, such as yourself. We won’t make the same mistakes.â€

    His mouth, as well as the others’ stretched open, unhinging their jaws. Fire erupted from their mouths, spraying out in waves. She tried to dodge, but the flames were everywhere, engulfing the tent. The fabric caught fire and was soon reduced to nothing. She crouched over and once again, held up her hands weakly. She closed her eyes to block out the searing heat. Tears streaked her cheeks and then evaporated. She thought of the elders with their mocking triumphant gazed looking over her charred body, and sending her ashes to hell. A deep pit of anguish and despair welled up in her, overpowering the burning sensation she felt. Then it turned to hate, utter hatred for their politics, their hypocrisy.

    “Before I am sent to the inferno, I will take you all with me,†she vowed.

    She felt the book within her mind, open; its words pouring into her brain. She opened her eyes and saw the jets of flame coming towards her, and then visualized her own flame, a white hot wall, overpowering and consuming their smaller flames. She brandished her claw in the oncoming fire. It seemed to absorb all the heat, turning a glowing red, but leaving her body further untouched. She walked over to an elder, the source of the flame. She could walk without difficulty, not shying away from the increasing heat. She buried her claws deep into his chest, and he screamed in terror, belching out fire. His whole body burst into flames, and was instantly consumed.

    She continued down the circle, slashing another. His eyes widened as she stepped forward without feeling, and slashed him across the face. She continued man after man, stabbing them to death where they stood. The flames continued erupting from their mouths, and the claw kept getting hotter. None of the elders tried running; it would be futile for them anyway. Claw in hand, she cut a jagged line around the circle, killing everyone in her path. Last in the line was the speaker, the lord of the village. Hs fire was wide and furious, blasting a jet of searing flames into her face. She shielded it with her hand though; the claw became glowing white.

    “Impossible,†he muttered. “…Unholy power…â€

    She made an uppercut across his throat, embedding her claws into his chin, and silencing him forever.

    She found her pack, her armour, and her cestus. Thankfully, her things were on the ground, saved from the inferno. She slipped off from the tents into town, hugging the walls. There was just one thing to do in this wretched place, and then she’d be off. She walked fitfully slow, but the villagers stayed in their homes, avoiding her. Her leg had been strained from all the fighting without time enough to heal. Her right arm now burned with pain, her shoulder had been stabbed twice. She’d need a splint soon. She opened up her pack. Her potions were intact, in the glass vials. She downed one quickly, and immediately felt better. Alone and safe, the assassin picked up a comfortable pace, using long strides. She produced a rack full of vials from her pack and gripped them tightly. She passed houses, shops, and the barracks, headed for a small section of town. At last she made it, to the crop fields. Just before the fields, there lay a well deeply dug into the earth, supported with stone walls. She opened her vials slowly and carefully, making sure not to spill a drop. She took one look in its dark, murky water, and threw the vials into the well. The vials were poison.
     
  13. RevenantsKnight

    RevenantsKnight IncGamers Member

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    I have to say, I was a little surprised to see a new chapter go up; it seemed a little like you’d given up on this to me. Nice to see that I’m wrong on that count. Anyway...

    On chapter 3 (yes, I know I’m behind): this looks like a significant improvement over the previous two installments, in that this reads more easily. There’s still some things that could be better; other than a few pretty strong parts, this reads monotonously, sometimes only a little bit so, but at others it’s very evident, to the point where I once had to wonder whether it was worth finishing. As it turns out, it was, since your battles are among your better scenes, but anyway...some specific comments:

    That should be “undetectably,†or the adverb form of “undetectable,†because it describes the way she passed, which is a verb.

    This was a good detail, though you might want to avoid repeating “enemy†here. Perhaps “She had noticed that the demons...�

    That should be “...blacken with their numbers, but that was not...â€

    I think it couldn’t hurt to add in a few more sentences like this one, so that the reader gets a better idea of what’s around. Also, you could provide a similar, short description of the places before this, if you want, so that her journey through them doesn’t seem so...instantaneous.

    Good details here, though “background noise†doesn’t sound like a phrase that fits the Diablo world (to me at least.) I’d suggest starting with the specific noises she hears, and then moving on to say something like “...howling in the distance, the noises combining to hide the sounds of her footsteps.â€

    Again, I’d suggest that you work a bit on transitions. In this case, it’s not at all clear why she’s cutting up a tree until a bit later, and that’s confusing; with a transition such as “†at the start of the second sentence, I’d think this would read much easier. It’s particularly noticeable here, but in general it’d be a good idea to look over your entire piece for similar instances and revise them.

    Hrm...this reads as if her hands were doing the concentrating. I’d word this as “Concentrating, she let energy fill her hands and heat them, sending up sparks where her skin touched the wood.â€

    That should be “Soon enough, she was able to start a small fire...â€

    It’s nice to be reminded that a lot of “necessary†things, back in the age of Diablo-level technology, were uncomfortable as all heck. :)

    I’d try to get this idea across to the reader without just saying it straight up; a plainly stated fact is clear, no doubt about it, but I wouldn’t expect many people to remember it as they continue reading. The more you can show this through descriptions and images, the stronger it’ll stick.

    This felt a bit dry and nonthreatening to me, as if she were viewing them while inside an impenetrable bubble or something. I’d suggest trying to instill a sense of immediacy into this, so that the reader gets a better feel for their potential danger; something like “Suddenly, the rustling of leaves ahead reached her ears, and she ducked into the nighttime shadows just before a group of headhunters...†should help show that her trek isn’t just walking. Even if she is very good at hiding, I’d think that these sights should kick her adrenaline level up a notch.

    “Flat wetlands covered the area†sounds as if there are things called “flat wetlands†sort of draped over the ground, as opposed to the area around her being flat wetlands. I’d word this as “...forest, and began across an expanse of flat wetlands.â€

    Hrm...in general, I’d think that most people would use “men†and “woman†here; “male†and “female†sound a bit too scientific for the setting, in my opinion.

    A general thought about this paragraph: a lot of these sentences start with “They (verb).†Separately, they’re OK, if a bit choppy due to their short length. Strung together as they are, though, they sound like a machine, as if you wrote one sentence here, copy-pasted it a few times, and then switched the verb and a little more in each one. I’d strongly suggest varying this by combining some of these sentences and changing up the structure of a few others. For instance, something like “Three blank-faced people, two men and a woman, approached her at a steady pace,†both condenses some of your ideas into one sentence and also varies the structure by adding “two men and a woman†as a descriptive clause between the subject (people) and the verb (approached).

    This should read “They were armed, but their weapons (hung?) unthreateningly at their sides.â€

    “Assessing them to be non-hostile†seems really technical to me; it sounds as if it’s from some Army after-action report. I’d replace “assessing†and “non-hostile†with more...medieval terms, if possible.

    This in particular sounded almost mechanical; because all of the speech is presented at once, it seems as if the priestess approaches, halts before her, and then says all of this without stopping. To make this feel more natural, I’d suggest breaking this up into several pieces, with some description or action of the priestess in between.

    Again, if you can work this in without just saying it, I think it’d be stronger. Personally, I’d do this as something like “‘I am Lilith,’ she answered, letting one of her many false names fly from her lips in an instant.â€

    I know by now that your not naming the protagonist is intentional, but it does get a little messy at times, such as here. On a first read, I had trouble figuring out what the heck was going on, which lead to some...interesting misconceptions.

    Nicely worded.

    Erm...Blizzard was pretty careful to not bring God into the games, so I’d suggest deleting this reference, if you want to stick to the written world.

    The “them†here is unnecessary; “trample†implies that their boots are going through the mud.

    The “she†here shouldn’t be capitalized, and the period after “accept†should be a comma.

    That should be “priestess’sâ€; what you have says that the voice belongs to multiple priestesses.

    Erm...a “sporadic demeanor†sounds like a symptom of a mental disorder or something to me; perhaps “impassioned†or “excited†or something like that would be a better contrast to “calm.â€

    I think that semicolon should be a comma, since “Gods and devils†probably shouldn’t stand alone.

    That should be “It’s time for you to learn...â€

    Again, I found the chain of events here to be rather unclear upon a first read, largely because there’re two women fighting, and you refer to one of them as simply “she.â€

    That should be “with,†not “in.â€

    I have to say, this confused me a lot at first. You don’t really provide any clear hints before this that the priestess is under a demonic influence, so I had to read this over a few times before I got it.

    That should be “priestess†or “priestess’s,†depending on whether you’re using “scream†as a noun or a verb (either way works.)

    The comma after “longsword†should be a semicolon.

    I’d suggest describing these “true forms†to the reader; what’s here doesn’t even touch on them at all. Is there something about them that just screams “demon†to the protagonist, or are they of a more subtle type? Do they have any particular qualities that stand out? Maybe they have no faces, or bat wings, or something else that is unusually otherworldly; this is a good chance to let your imagination run wild. The better you can paint a picture of these creatures, the more likely it is that it’ll help bring the scene alive and stick in the reader’s mind.

    I liked this exchange; it seemed particularly in character for an assassin and two battle-hungry demons. Nicely done.

    “Targeted†sounds, to me anyway, a lot like the game, as if his little gauntlet-cursor highlighted her. I’d suggest sticking with a less computer-influenced verb, such as “...finished his spell, aiming its energies at her.â€

    Grammatically, “almost tripping in the mud†modifies “the force,†since that’s the subject of the preceding clause (that is, it’s the thing performing the action of blowing her back.) I’d word this as “...steps, her feet skidding in the mud†or something like that, so long as it makes it clear that she’s doing the skidding.

    “Sideways†should go after “deflected.â€

    Hrm...try mimicking this. She’s crossing an arm over her body to block his attack, and then reaching over that to counter, which doesn’t leave her with as much reach as if she’d just blocked with her left and then riposted right. Maybe she’s just getting sloppy under pressure, but I’d imagine that with her training, she wouldn’t make this sort of mistake if she could help it. Nice description, though.

    Another strong line...there are definitely some good bits in here, I’d say.

    “Dropped to one leg†didn’t really describe this too well for me; I assume you meant something like “shifted her weight to one leg.†And on that note...if he’s bearing down on her with the sword, she’s probably bent backwards, or at least leaning in that direction. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d find it very difficult to shift all my weight like that in that situation, let alone land a powerful kick on the back of my assailant’s leg.

    There should be a comma after “sword.â€

    As with the scene where she first meets these three, this felt a little repetitive in terms of sentence structure. It’s not as bad, but still worth a look.

    “Composed of†is unnecessary here. I’d delete it.

    I’d put a colon, not a period, after “rock,†and delete “any†in “any misgivings†for parallelism; you just stated “doubt†and “fear,†so you may as well stay consistent.

    Hrm...this is Kurast, isn’t it? You might want to qualify that with “in the Kurast docks†or “in the newer part of Kurast.â€

    Minor detail: you’re missing a period at the end here.

    A good image. More of this couldn’t hurt, I say.

    Uh...why’d she go back to fight in her condition? Something here doesn’t quite add up...

    The comma after “useless†should be a semicolon.

    Hrm...perhaps “ably followed?â€

    Minor nitpick: that should be “...take its toll...â€

    “Muscled†should be “muscles,†and it feels a bit like you left out part of the sentence here...from the ending, I’d think there should be something about how she wasn’t being too successful at moving.

    I’d just leave that at “crumpled,†personally; “a crumple†sounds weird to me.

    That should be “...to sense the book...â€

    Interesting...definitely not the way I’d thought you’d end this. The originality here’s very much a big draw for me; this is the sort of thing that can stand out as unique, if you work with it long enough.

    Overall, I’d say that there’s some strong bits here and there, but there’s also some parts that need a lot of work in terms of style. If you can iron out some of the duller segments into something more gripping, this could be pretty good, I’d think. Thanks for posting!
     
  14. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    Hi Revenant. I didnt give up, I just write slowly :D I only write a small block at a time, and that's partially why I tend to repeat words quite a bit. bad habit :p

    The swordsman is trying to pivot around her to find an opening. He moves to her left side a little to make a false pretense of attack, then jumps toward her right side and makes a stab. The assassin ignores the first move to her left, and twists to the right, making a block with her right hand. At the same time, she makes her own stab with the left hand.

    The swordsman is pushing on her, and yes, she's bent over backwards a little. the swordsman's weight is mostly on his front leg and her weight is mostly on her back leg. She shifts all of her weight to the back leg, which isn't too hard to do, and makes a quick sort of sweep with her front leg. She hits the back of his front leg, not perfectly on, but at an angle, and because his weight's on the front, it buckles pretty easily.

    I did try to make the battles at least plausible, but I can definitely see how you got a different idea. I'll have it fixed up in the next revision

    Anyway, I'm finished the story as much as I intended, although there's room for more. For now I plan on editing what I've got. Thanks for reading!
     
  15. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    “Hello, assassin.â€
    “Hello, necromancer.†She replied.
    “Do you know why you are here?â€
    “Natalya sent me.â€
    “True, but do you know why you were sent to me?â€
    “She said you’d be able to improve my fighting techniques. She was not very clear.â€

    Blackbog erupted in a rich deep laughter. It was a low, cynical echo, muffled by the iron mask he wore.

    “Little assassin, I will greatly enhance your power, but not in the way you expect. Do you wish for more power?â€
    “Yes,†she said firmly. “I am not a child. If you doubt my ability, it will be proven to you soon enough.â€

    His laughter continued.

    “Power comes in very many forms. Your weapons have power, as do the weakest of mages. You will do good to remember that. Power in itself is passive, neither good nor evil; It is the wielder that determines its course. When I grant you this, remember that the choice was always yours. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a long needle, a syringe. In another pocket he found a vial.

    “A potion?†she asked skeptically.

    She saw a smile embody itself behind the mask. He opened the vial and emptied its contents into the syringe. He grabbed her arm and injected her with the syringe.

    “Do you feel that coursing through your veins?â€
    “What is it?â€
    “It is poison. Quite the sensation, isn’t it? There are many types of poison available to you; all of them are designed to kill. This particular one is slow acting. In time, it will destroy your cells, and decay your body.â€
    “Poison. I have seen the stuff before. You do not scare me with the games you play. Give me the antidote.â€
    “Watch your step,†he hissed. “Any cuts you receive could prove to be fatal. You see, the poison also causes your wounds to be amplified. Your blood, once spilled, will flow like water and will never cease.â€
    “Give it to me.â€

    With a smile, the necromancer handed her the antidote.

    “There is always a cure to any sickness, if you receive it in time. I make antidotes just like I make poisons. What many doctors fail to realize is that sometimes the best defense is a good offence. My antidotes attack the disease, not try to prevent or reverse the process. It is always so much easier to destroy things; don’t you agree, assassin?â€
    “Is this it? Is this your secret weapon that the order covets so much, a little frog’s blood to make the wound fester?†she teased. “Sounds to me like a coward’s way out.â€
    “Of course,†Blackbog returned. “You are still so simple minded and naïve. Do you think you are here for the glory of battle? Save that for the soldiers, the ones in their graves with a ruptured heart. Remember that you are an assassin, not a foolish paladin. There is no honor or glory in battle, there is only death. There are no fights created equal; you will use your techniques to the best of your ability, as will your opponent. Whoever’s technique is overpowering will be the victor. Therefore, should you not use every weapon available to you? How can an overpowering technique be considered underhanded?â€
    “I was only playing, necromancer. Is your humor dead?â€

    She sensed another smirk, yet Blackbog did not seem very amused. She could see the curved lines on his face, outlined by the mask. His eyebrows were curved hatefully downwards, his eyes were glaring in a squint. His mouth was curled into a snarl.

    She grew tensely silent. I better let him speak, she thought.

    “Do not expect your enemies to engage you fairly. You will be outnumbered, fighting mages and their allies. You must strike before they do, strike and kill.â€
    “Agreed, she said, nodding.
    “You must lace your weapons with poison. Always do this; never forget. Poison, as you touched upon, is resident in nature. The snake, the scorpion, the spider, the frog; all carry poison. There are also those resident to the geography. Although the earth embraces such substances, the flesh is weak to them. There are also poison that can be fabricated, when I teach you what you require.â€
    “Teach me then,†she beckoned. And he did.

    “Let me see your claws.â€

    She handed him her claw and her cestus. He inspected them carefully, testing out the metal.

    “Your claws are strong and sharp. You’ve taken good care of them. I see no dent or notches in the blades. Indeed, your claws are competent. Take pride in your weapon, for it is your tool for dealing death. I do however, note that these are standard grade weapons, though with superior quality. Do you not have any different designs?â€
    “No, I do not. I am not wealthy enough to afford blacksmiths or enchanters.â€
    “Perhaps you should look into such things,†Blackbog growled. “Your master is very adept at such things.â€
    “Natalya?â€
    “Yes, who else would I speak of?â€
    “Natalya owns the cutthroat, if all rumours are true.â€
    “Indeed she does. Such a fine weapon. Therein lies your leader’s strength. She has considerable skill, as well as considerable power.â€
    “I will go to the blacksmith then.â€
    “Do not waste your time. The common blacksmith will not help you. The weapons that you seek are crafted in the dark places of the Earth, forged with extraordinary strength.â€
    “You speak of Hellforge?â€
    “Or Heavenforge. So strange of you to mention that,†the necromancer sneered.
    “Weapons are formed by a powerful creator, be it man, angel, or demon. These instruments of death are so easy to come by, yet so hard and rare to perfect. It is up to you to find the suitable weapon.â€
    “I am listening to you, necromancer. You recommend a fine weapon, so I shall find one.â€
    “Good. The art of confrontation is always about preparation. It is especially important in your line of work.â€
    “And Blackbog, I truly do wish to become more powerful. It allows me to fight my enemies ever more efficiently. I do strive for improvement of my craft.â€
    “I am glad to hear that. There are so many things still untapped by you and your kind.â€

    He began to laugh again with his crooked, hissing laugh.

    “Have you head of the Jade Talon?â€
    “No.â€
    “Mageslayers are not the only ones to use claws. There are creatures – basilisks, wyrms, even demons, which use similar weapons. There are still hidden riches deep within the bowels of the earth. That is where Natalya sought her power. It is there, for those with the strength of will and determination to take.â€
    “You speak in tantalizing riddles. What is the Jade Talon?â€
    “It is a weapon forged out of the old world. A weapon harder than tempered steel, with the power and enmity to destroy all those before it.â€
    “How will I find such a weapon,†she asked. The necromancer was not one to lie, and he had peeked her interest.
    “The task is not easy, far from it. The Talon is buried in the lands of Kurast. Within the ancient dead temple city of Kurast, you will find it.â€
    “That is Natalya’s jurisdiction, but I am not familiar with the countryside.â€
    “Meet me in the city and I will help you.â€

    Blackbog had given her one final look, his face molded into a furious glare. A smile spread upon his face and he walked off, into the night.

    She recalled her meeting with the necromancer. It had happened years ago, but now it came up fresh on her mind. Blackbog had persuaded her to find Travincal, and he had supplied her with what she needed to make the journey.

    “What’s in it for you,†she had told him. “What do you stand to gain from this journey?â€
    “The power of the Talon interests me,†he replied confidently. “It is, as you may say, akin to myself.â€

    He let out another small laugh.

    “However, I myself cannot wield this weapon. No, it is a claw, designed for an assassin.â€
    “You play games with me,†she whispered, “But I shall find this weapon, and claim it for my own. The mages have a death warrant, as does anything that impedes me.â€
    “You hold great animosity towards the mages,†echoed Blackbog. “For causes I can only guess. Hold your anger and retain it. As it thrives, so shall your vengeance.â€
    “I will consider what you have told me.â€

    She continued her journey to Travincal. Free of any obligations, she felt better, and her spirits brightened. The village was now but a speck on the horizon, and the temple city, a looming mass up ahead in the distance. This is my new destiny, she thought.

    The air was dead calm. The grass sprouted out straight, like rows of soldiers across the plain. The jungle was once again silent. Undoubtedly, the rest of the Flayer village would give her chase, so she traveled among the trees. Onward she walked towards the growing silhouette of Travincal. It was evening now, perfect. She would hide in the night’s rigid darkness and journey, safe from monsters, safe from humans. She stalked across the dark trees grace, avoiding all protruding roots and limbs. Her steps were quick and light, barely making a noise. Her breastplate shone with an obsidian black in the feeble light; she would be extremely hard to detect.

    And so the lone assassin was left in the tranquility of the dormant jungle, left to ponder over her thoughts. Instinctively, she examined her claw and flicked the excess blood stained upon the prongs. She recalled with fondness her training and her gradual mastery of the claws.

    “Master,†she called. “I have journeyed far, and I have found the runes of power, the symbols of the ancient craft. These are the symbols, engraved upon metal bars of various compositions. They were not easy to attain.â€
    “Very good. I hope that you’ve collected the proper runes. Do you have the Ith?â€
    “Yes.â€
    “El?â€
    “Yes.â€
    “Eth?â€
    “Yes.â€
    “Perfect. Now, collect some wood and start a hot fire. I will imbue upon your weapon the blessing that you so desire.â€

    Her weapons master had taken her claw. There were three holes born into the base of the weapon. Carefully, the master drew out tongs and one by one, melted the metals into each hole. The molten metals hardened almost instantly, and she picked up her weapon in awe.

    “It is lighter and stronger. The materials have altered the blade.â€
    “Congratulations on the upgrade,†her weapons master replied.
    “It is always necessary to sharpen and maintain your weapons. It is partially because men are constantly upgrading their own weapons, and we must as well, to stay updated. Such is the way of the warrior.â€

    Her claw had served her well, all throughout training and all throughout her years. Her early finding of the runes had been a fluke; she could not remember how she attained them, though she doubted that it was through ethical means. She had been the only pupil with such a weapon, and at the end of training, she had risen to the top.

    “You have completed your training, and now you will decide your own fate, assassin. Know that your technique has become superior. Now, what do you plan to do with your abilities?â€
    “I will use them well, and not in excess. I shall slay the corrupt, so that my blades will be used to destroy evil, and safeguard the people.â€
    “That is your oath, young assassin.â€

    She wondered if she had gotten her oath right. It had been so long, that she had almost forgotten it. She could now see the temples ahead of her, the towering buildings in front of her. The giant statue filled her vision, with its condescending stance and its awkward inscription. There were building everywhere, blotting out the sky. The temples were made with every expense, and were much larger and more intricate than the buildings of the main city. The temples were made of cracked, mossy limestone. The roofs were four or five stories high, supported by giant pillars. The walls and pillars were adorned in carvings- of saints, legends, and angels.

    Again, she had entered the city through the front way. There was a tall stone wall erected around the city, but it was cracked and crumbling over. There was no front gate, it was simply missing. There was only a gaping hole where the gate would have been. This is where the demons invaded, she figured, all those years ago. A path led from the gate into the core of the city, and it branched of farther in all directions. At length, she decided to follow it, and travel as far into the city as possible. The first temples were smaller in size, but well decorated, and taller, designed almost as towers. The first temple she came across was the tall one she had entered before. She shivered; she would not enter it again. There were too many creatures lurking throughout Travincal, growing wild and untamed. A constant unnatural presence filled the temple city, the kind indicative of demons. During her first journey, she had been caught unprepared and unaware. After abruptly fleeing the Flayer village she was still unprepared, but she promised herself she would not be caught unaware.

    The next set of temples she saw were a row of buildings branching off to the Eastern side. They were short but wide, with low hanging roofs. Upon closer inspection, there did not appear to be an entrance into the building. The front was walled up with stone, and there were no other possible entrances. It puzzled her, but she did not worry about it. She did not plan in entering the other temples but the main ones, where the Vizjeri were.

    As she stood there, feeling against the barricaded temple for hidden entrances, she heard a whizzing sound in the air. She turned around just in time to dodge a missile, flying towards her with blazing speed. She twisted her body, and the javelin missed her by inches, clattering off the stone wall onto the floor. She squinted out into the darkness, and saw one man, a guard from back at the Flayer village. She flipped out her claws and approached him; his range with the javelin was extremely far. The man stood there and took something from his pack. She saw sparks; why would he try to light a fire, she thought. She inched closer, taking slow and cautious steps. The man lit up a torch and she could see his face. It was Talenth.

    Talenth drew out his spear. His face was downcast, full of anguish, as if the joy and energy within him had been extinguished. She saw a tear roll down his cheek, and she felt her heart strings twinge.

    “Talenth…â€
    “You’ve taken everything from me. I can never forgive you.â€
    “Talenth, I had no choice. I wasn’t going to let them take me.â€
    “You’ve murdered my family,†he said bitterly.
    “I’m sorry, Talenth,†she said softly. “Leave. Leave before I kill you.â€

    Talenth lowered his spear and charged towards her. She took out her shuriken and threw them. The first he expertly dodged, the second he let ricochet off his armour. He continued running forward, and she ran to meet his charge.

    He broke the momentum of his charge last minute and took a jab at her. She twisted, and blocked it to the side with her claw. Instantly, he retracted his spear and jabbed again and again. She blocked with her cestus, too far out of range to properly strike back. He continued to jab with his spear, driving her back slowly. His spearhead weaved up and down, left and right, prying for the mortal opening. She was able to dodge and block his attacks, but he pushed her backwards, on the defense.

    “Wasp of a thousand stings technique,†he called. “Your weapons are short and light, too short to face my attacks head on. Like the dagger, they are best suited for murder and backstabbing. I should have known your nature earlier.â€

    Talenth drew back his spear, holding it horizontally behind him. Before she had a chance to attack, he swung his spear down hard on her like a polearm, with a powerful overhead chop. She threw her right arm up quickly, and felt the spear hit with jarring force. The blow had weakened her considerably; her shoulder muscles burned with pain from the wounds she had taken.

    She let her hand fall in defeat and took a step back out of range. Talenth was quick to respond though, and he kicked the spear, pivoting it upwards. The spearhead flew up and nicked her face, tearing across her cheek and raking across her eye. She blinked hard as the speartip hit her, and felt it cut through her eyelid. She opened her eyes and felt the blood dripping out, clouding the vision in her left eye.

    His spear was raised, angled towards the sky. She quickly slashed it out of the way and closed in, jumping well within his radius. He drew his spear back, taking a shorter grip to compensate. She was now on the offensive, slashing away his spear, and opening him up for a forward lunge. He whipped his spear back around, parrying her strikes with the spearhead, trying to back up out of her reach. Her lunge was countered with a hard swing, brushing her off to the side. The spear brushed against her, leaving a long gash along her arm. She twisted, following the momentum of the blow, and made a low roundhouse to his stomach.

    Talenth stumbled backwards, but was quick to recover. He took a jab at her leg and she slammed down on the spear with her claw. Her prongs slipped in between the spearshaft, catching the spearhead within her grip. Talenth grunted and braced his spear against his waist. Twisting, he yanked with a hard tug backwards, ripping free his spear. She gasped as her move backfired, and the claw was ripped from her hand.

    She slipped her left hand behind her back and flipped her cestus out in front. She held out the flat circular blades of her cestus like a fan. Talenth began to strike again, needling her with a barrage of short jabs. He thrust out high and low, striking out randomly with lightning speed. She intercepted with her cestus, spread out in front her like a fan, and the spear clanged against the blade. Again and again she moved her blade, just in time to parry the spearthrust.

    He had moved her back in the process, bringing her back to the spear’s full range. Talenth lowered his spear and charged. Up went her hand, pushing forward and the spear clashed with the flat blade of the cestus, shielding her from the strike. He thrust with all his power, and the cestus gave way. Her strength failed, and the cestus plastered itself onto her chest, over her heart. Talenth increased his pressure, hoping to impale his spear through the cestus. The force of his attack was immense; her blade cracked with a puncture and the spear continued on, denting her breastplate. She could feel the sharp point against her body, slamming itself into her. She grasped the spearshaft with her free hand and struggled against it. But the strength of her opponent was too great, and she could not overpower him. She quickly arched herself, bending over backwards to touch the ground. The spear whizzed on forwards, slipping from her body. Talenth, caught unaware, stumbled forwards.

    She flipped back onto her feet and charged him. She turned into a sidekick and blew him backwards onto the pavement. He landed hard, clattering his spear onto the ground. She approached him slowly, her cestus facing outward.

    She kicked away the spear and knelt over him. His first instincts were to finish him there, but a feeling of guilt and sadness crept over her. He was doubled over, clutching his stomach. His face was pale and his hair seemed ragged. There were dark rings around his eyes; he must have not slept for days. She felt her eyes water. This was not the fight she had expected.

    “Finish this,†Talenth groaned.
    “I cannot,†she whispered.

    She heard a sliding sound. Talenth was trying to draw out his sword, but a wave of coughing overcame him, and he collapsed again to the ground. She left him there.
     
  16. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    She picked up her claw and walked away farther into the city. She would find the main temple soon, and within it, the council. Her wounds stung all over, but she pushed away the pain and quaffed some potions. She turned around to take a glance at Talenth.

    His form was still prone on the floor. He was either dead or unconscious, she couldn’t figure which one she’d prefer. She squinted farther and saw other dark shapes forming around his body. One of them stood up and pointed at her, and the shapes began running towards her. They were Flayer, she realized, more reinforcements from the village. She began to run; hopefully she could lose them within one of the temples or within the cloak of night. A whizzing sound buzzed in her ears and a javelin flew by, narrowly missing her. More and more spears came flying through the calm night sky, raining missiles around her. Remarkably, the soldiers were throwing in almost mid run, and while they were not accurate, their long strides were gaining on her, slowly but surely.

    She pumped hard but her lungs burned and her legs ached. The Flayers had a lot of endurance, she admitted. The men were not letting up, and even a spear or two whizzed by her head furiously. She was on the main road, passing temple after temple. Their long, steep stairways were not convenient for her escape; she wouldn’t make it up fast enough. She considered fighting back, but at this state, she did not know how she’d fair against the fully rested soldiers. How had they tracked her so easily, she wondered. But they hadn’t tracked her, they already knew her destination.

    Nothing left to do but run. With the wind in her face, the temples all around, the situation felt almost dreamlike. The wound on her leg had reopened during the fight, and it left a small trail of blood behind. She closed her eyes and continued running.

    Her thoughts strayed to the villagers chasing her, to Talenth, left for dead on the city streets. Similar to her own predicament just earlier, she thought. Her feelings for the loyal guard were mixed. Unlike the others of his village, he had been steadfast and true, always. She could see his hatred of her; it was not unjustified. Yet she had done what she had to in the circumstances. The villagers were unyielding in their judgment, and it left her with no other option, she believed. It was the village itself, their rigid society, which had pitted the loyal guard against her.

    Her sorrow and anguish was washed away, and a new hatred engulfed her mind. She opened her eyes and tried to focus, but her vision was staunched with blood. Her heart was pounding in her chest, like the beating of wardrums in battle. And all her hate came flooding in, massive unstoppable tidal waves, blackening her soul to the core.

    She stopped to catch her breath. There was no going further, she physically could not. She blinked away the blood dripping in her eyes and drew out her claws. It was time to fight.

    There was a strange feeling overcoming her. She could not hear their footsteps anymore; their screams seemed muffled in the night. She turned around and looked upon her pursuers in horror. They had shrunk. The men pursuing her had been reduced to children, carrying small sticks that were once spears. She stood in astonishment. They were no more than waist height upon her.

    “What kind of witchcraft is this?†one of them screamed, and they began to disperse in all directions.

    She ran up to a soldier and kicked him in the chest. She heard the sharp crack of ribs as she caved in his chest, and felt the soft mush of organs. She chased another down and tripped him with a deft sweep. She raised her foot and swung down in an axe kick, grinding his face into the ground, into nothingness. She continued in pursuit of the men, stomping and seething with hatred. The pavement turned red as she bore them to the ground and crushed them. She waited and slew them all, one by one. After the deed was done, she regained composure and carried on.

    The main temple came ahead of her, the largest and most impressive building of the city. To her surprise, there were no staircases leading to the entrance. The interior had to have been built either at ground level or below. The temple had low walls and no roof, giving it the look of an open pit. Interspaced within the walls were giant spike-shaped columns. Small ditches had also been built around the temple, and were filled with dark, murky water, serving as a decorative moat. Like the other temples, the main entrance was preceded by a stairway, although this one was small and wide, barely changing in elevation. There was also a doorway, but no door to fill its opening. The doorway was shaped in an arch. Drawing her claws, she climbed the stairs and walked through the temple’s front.

    She had expected something odd before, but could only confirm her suspicions by entering. The main floor was oddly bare. There was nothing in the huge open rooms; no furniture, no tables, nothing. There was however, a small altar at the far end of the room, something circular. It was too difficult to make it out at her position, so she came closer to investigate. The reverberations of her steps sounded strange, and so she figured that the real temple was hidden underground. The altar had to be an activation device.

    Upon closer inspection the altar appeared to be a giant orb. She peered deeply into its swirling mass but saw nothing, only the blood red patterns inside the glass. She knew there to be mages who used orbs as the centrifuge of their magics, and this one was probably no different. But its key or trigger had to be something.

    Gently, she ran her fingers along the smooth glass of the orb. It was cool to the touch. A deep, low, mist began to emanate from the orb and she backed away cautiously. She felt the ground slowly shake, and heard a dull buzzing, as if the air itself was electrified. As the mist faded away, so did the sound, and five dark forms emerged out of the clear.

    They were human, or so they appeared to be. They wore long red cloaks, and carried tall wooden staffs. She could see no women amongst them, and staring into their dark brown eyes gave her a strange feeling in her heart. She could tell right away that they were mages, and she drew out her claws.

    “A lone assassin wonders through the wastelands of humanity, through a demon city. What I wonder, are you searching for?â€

    Before she knew it, she had mouthed something to the awaiting Vizjeri in a low, guttural sound.

    “Bartuc is not among us,†one of the Vizjeri explained smugly.
    “That is why you were never sent any reinforcements.â€

    A small shock surged through her but she shrugged it off indifferently, and advanced on the Vizjeri. They raised their staffs simultaneously and pointed at her direction. Their chanting began to fill the air, and their staffs hummed with power. She felt the air around her tremble with heat and clouds of water vapour streamed out of nowhere into the atmosphere. One of the mages swirled his staff in a circle, and immediately formed a fireball within the trace of his movements. The others began doing similar motions, collecting heat energy within themselves to throw at her.

    In turn, she concentrated and syphoned energy into her claws. They sparked and caught fire, seemingly igniting like phosphorus in the dry air. The mages smiled, undaunted by her sudden change and stood back in defensive stance. She stepped forward and a mage released his fireball, a thick, fiery sphere zooming towards her. She swerved to the right and narrowly dodged it, hearing an explosion of flame as it crashed into the wall behind her. Another mage waved his staff, and his fireball fragmented into pieces, spraying flickering rivulets of flame towards her. She ducked and braced herself, feeling the stings of fire lick her body and extinguish with a fizz.

    The other three had finished their preparations, and a jet spray of flames washed over her. They converged and brought out a single burst of heat, engulfing the room with fire. She braced herself and was blown back against the wall.

    The familiar taste of fire surrounded her once again. This time, she thought not of her own pain, but focused on the mages attacking her. Closing her eyes, she sent her thoughts outwards, probing for the minds of the demons. Through a small void of space, she found their minds, five glowing sparkles. She entered their thoughts and attacked them, sending obstructive thought patterns.

    She felt the mages become aware of her intrusion, and their concentration wavered. Within an instant they snapped to reality, breaking their spells and killing the oncoming fire. A smile crept on her face, but faded away as she opened her eyes and moved away from their minds.

    The Vizjeri did not appear to be hurt, although they had ceased their attacks. They stood there with a triumphant look on their faces. She crept up closer with her claws out, ready to block.

    Their bodies were changing; she could see their red robes slowly melt into puddles and vaporize at their feet. Their human faces also lengthened and melted, and beneath were the reddish, scarred, tough texture of demon skin. The slender bodies of the magic users were replaced by toned muscle and burnt flesh. Their faces were distorted into the prominent features of a skull, and their noses flattened into a stump of flesh. Tails sprouted from their back, long, pointy, armoured tails.

    “So this is your true form Vizjeri,†she growled.
    “Not completely true,†on of them retorted. “What you saw of us was the shell of our former selves; the way we were before our deaths.â€
    “I care not. I will slay you either way.â€
    “You are quite an inordinate person. Do you really wish to look inside the mind of a demon? Let me help you.â€

    The demon mage in front chanted and weaved a spell around her. Before she could react, her limbs turned stiff and unresponsive, and a red mist, similar to the orb’s mist, surrounded her. She watched helplessly as the fog surrounded her, and blocked out all vision.

    It seemed as if she had lost consciousness for a brief amount of time. When she woke up fully, the mist was gone and she was in a large chamber. The air was cold and damp, and she guessed that she was within the temple, on a level hidden beneath the earth.

    It was a strange place to find one in. The walls were adorned with gold carvings and statues, with runes covering all over. There were flagpoles every few meters, holding tattered flags of ancient symbols. She noticed a red tinge to the room, something that tinted the entire place a shade of red. The walls were covered with blood, a thin but obvious coating of dried blood. Whether animal or human, she could only guess. Everything was also dark, but the room was slightly illuminated by torchlight.

    She saw a shadow approach her, and it materialized into a silhouette. It was a single man, with a rather slim physique, and an odd shape over his head. As it got closer, she could distinguish his features in the dim light of the torch near her. A black flowing robe appeared, with a shiny dagger hanging at his side. What she thought to be a strange shape on his face turned out to be the all too familiar shape of a mask; one made out of iron.

    “Blackbog,†she stuttered, “What are you doing here?â€
    “I could ask you the same question, but we both know the answer,†the man sneered.
    “Do not call me Blackbog anymore. My name is Mephisto. I don’t believe I’ve heard your real name.â€
    “Andariel. My name is Andariel.â€
    “Well Andariel, you have proven to be a most gifted pupil. I always knew that you had potential. You see, the assassins were always the deadliest of weapons, and you are among the best. Do you remember your lessons, that weapons must always be kept and maintained sharp, on the razor’s edge, so that they may be used to your discretion? The assassins have been well maintained, and kept the sharpest of all. Now it is time for you to fulfill your purpose.â€
    “I…I don’t understand.â€
    “Of course you do. I asked you long ago to find the Jade Talon in the heart of the jungle. Is that what you wish?â€
    “Yes,†she said quietly.
    “And truly you have found it,†Blackbog replied loudly.
    “Truly you have attained this rare and beautiful item. The Jade Talon is,†he said, smiling, “a weapon forged out of the old world. A weapon harder than tempered steel, with the strength and enmity to destroy all those before it. You have long sought out this power, and every action you did brought you closer and closer to its achieval. That which you have done can never be reversed, and now you have achieved your power, as promised. Rise, my Jade Talon.â€

    Blackbog motioned towards her with his hands and her cracked cestus blade came off, detaching from their straps and clattering on the floor. He motioned again, and a hard rock crystallized itself onto the straps, rapidly growing and lengthening into a long, sharp, wrist blade. It shone a brilliant green even in the torchlight; the rock was made of hardened jade.

    She felt the new weapon on her right arm. It was light, yet rigid and razor sharp. The blade was no ordinary material; she could feel it shaking with power as she slashed through the air. She felt stronger just using the blade, and she smiled in approval.

    “You must lace your weapons with poison. Always do this; never forget. With these applied techniques you can never be defeated, not by any mage.â€
    “But one thing before you go,†Blackbog hissed.

    His hands strayed to the back of his head and he pulled off the iron mask. Behind it, his face was a ghostly figure, a bony skull with the muscles and flesh barely stretched over his head. His eyes remained intact however, the deeply curved glare of complete hatred. Blackbog handed her the mask.

    “Common to your kind, you are developing a duality of character. Do you not see the shadow you have lingering within you, waiting for its moment to seize control? Nurture your character, and never forget who you are. Do not resist that which is a part of you.â€
    “Where shall I go?†she wondered aloud.
    “Over the mountains of the moon, down the valley of the shadow.â€

    Then the cold mist formed around her like a blanket, and she passed out.
     
  17. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    I'm posting a revised version of the story :thumbsup: FYI, I named my character Lilith before they patched in a new monster with the same name, but it's an interesting coincidence. As well, I'm thinking about making a follow-up to this. It would be written in a different style, but I haven't come up with any specifics yet.
     
  18. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    Chapter 1: Recognition

    Her dark brown eyes pierced through the darkened evening sky, meandering over the voluminous form ahead. There lay a small city at the edge of the sea, the faint light of sailing beacons and late-night activities, visible to those watching carefully. A port-town; one of the nodes of the civilized world; Kurast. She quickly sprinted across the trailing rural parts of the city, heading towards the centre. Near the border she sensed a defensive barrier approaching ahead, a force field of some type, but it did not prove to be an impediment. She found herself upon a thick wooden palisade, with guards at the entrances. Not wanting their attention, she bypassed the front gates. The wall proved to be a thorny obstacle but with some minor acrobatics, she scaled it free of injury.

    Deviating from the housing complex she came upon an alleyway, one of the many dark places of town. The narrow passageway was surrounded by rickety buildings: a decrepit little inn, some broken-down apartments, and what appeared to be some kind of store, though not the soliciting kind. The background sky was spiked with towers, runic towers and ancient temples, carved from huge rock formations. From the distance they looked like mountains but she knew they were not. One of the structures stood out prominently, located at the centre of the city. She figured she’d pay a visit later on.

    The alley trickled down into larger roads, connecting deeper and deeper into Kurast. She noticed that the gravel trail disappeared, replaced by crude, cobbled pavement. The buildings also seemed to be improving, or at least there seemed to be an overall attempt at improvement in this area. The homes were still wooden and rotten, but less and less of them were abandoned. A few closed stalls, accompanied by carts and tents popped up. The businesses were all in a flea market style. She smiled, thinking to herself that this must be one of the better parts of town. But being at the edge of the sea, the city experienced continual rain. Everything in Kurast looked soaked; it did not matter where you went, the water had settled right into the foundations. Aside from the rotten smell of the buildings, moss and mud were caked everywhere. Although the main roads were paved, they were treacherously muddy, and interspaced with swamp weeds.

    Its rotting docks and ancient buildings were a stiff reminder of its deep and dark history. Kurast was rapidly deteriorating, but she could recall a time when this had not been the case. The great decline of fair Kurast could only be attributed to one thing, the coming of evil. The change had hit the city like a hurricane, fast and unpredictable. The symptoms were first displayed by a westward city, Lut Gholein. Although by then, it had become too late.

    Trade between the two cities had always been prosperous, but then trade began to slow down, and one day it stopped altogether. The merchants suspected foul play, but they could never guess the extent of Lut Gholein’s corruption. Weeks went by without communication, and Kurast grew worried about her business partner. A dozen ships were sent out to Lut Gholein, not as traders, but as scouts. That day, the seas were reportedly cold and calm, and reeked of dead fish. In the failing winds, it took the fleet additional weeks to reach Lut Gholein, and when they arrived, the surveyors found themselves in the midst of a bloody conflict.

    Lut Gholein’s walls had been breached, and there was fighting in the streets. What they saw were creatures, demonic minions, swarming from all over. Many had broken into the city, spilling through broken walls and battered defenses in all directions. The people fought desperately to drive them back while mages hurriedly recast their abrogated barrier spells. The entire city was thrown into chaotic disarray; the palace was locked and barricaded and the leaders of the city were not to be found. Unable to help or find help, the scouts of Kurast quickly returned to their ships and began their return voyage. But the once calm sea became violent and treacherous. The crews came to realize that the elements of the sea were pitted against the vessels. The wind had picked up, sending torrents of water over them. Sharks and whales attacked the ships, trying to capsize them with their massive bulk. The men fought them off, but their attackers were uncharacteristically persistent, stalking the ships throughout the night. The water turned crimson as the ships were capsized one by one, and the men were helplessly devoured. One ship had managed to escape in the fury, and made the report. Soon after, there were attacks on Kurast, and the once mobile city had to close its primary forms of transportation. The people were trapped in the city, and it soon began to decay. Over the years, the Kurastians have stayed and focused on one thing, self-preservation. With the aid of magi, the city was supernaturally protected, and the demons could not make their final invasion into the land of Kurast.

    There were now few groups left in Kurast, other than the original inhabitants. Two of these were the mages and mageslayers, ironically working together. Both groups sought to fight the evil, drive it out of Kurast, or so they claimed. She figured the truth to be a different matter, but it didn’t matter, as long as the ends justified the means. She herself had other motives in Kurast, and had no interest in sharing them with the paranoid villagers. She was here in the city for two reasons, and then she’d set out through the eastern gate immediately.

    Her first reason was Natalya the assassin. Natalya was head of the order for this district, and a very cunning and powerful leader. Natalya had dealings with everything in Kurast. As well, one would not be able to conduct business without the head’s knowledge and approval, and so she would have to meet with Natalya one way or the other. Finding her would not be too difficult. In the city, the docks were the domain of the mageslayers and the temples of were domain of the mages. The temples had long ago been abandoned by the followers of Zakarum, and made the focal point of the Kurast mage guild. Similarly, the docks had become the nerve centre of the assassins after it had fallen into disuse. The mage guild, led by Ormus, and the misleadingly named thieves guild, led by Natalya, oversaw the defense of Kurast, and they had taken over leadership in wartime. She did respect Natalya as well, and was looking forward to talking with her again.

    She cut across the centre of the city, passing the runic monolith seen before. She came to the docks, the side of Kurast stretched along the seacoast. Now the pavement turned to wooden boarding, the house and shops diminished more in size, and the battered fleet of Kurast lined the horizon, anchored against the harbour. One part of the docks district looked especially decayed and abandoned, a long winding back road, wedged between rows of huts, long fallen into disuse. As she entered the alleyway, a dark figure stepped out from a shadow to intercept her.

    As the figure stepped in the dimly lit alley, it became more and more the features of the familiar Natalya, dressed in her full battle armour no less. She smirked, remembering a rumor that the assassin never took it off. Natalya was tall and lithe. She wore a dark black tunic, covered with flexible metal plates. Her war-helm was missing, and she wore a small circlet around her head. Her fingers poked out of the sleeves like spikes, and they glinted in the moonlight. A blood red cape floated silently around her in the night breeze.

    “Good evening, Natalya,†she whispered.
    The dark figure stared back at her and said, “Welcome, kinsman.â€

    She nodded, and Natalya led her down the road. They came to an unmarked, unlocked door of a rotten old building. It was an old hotel, with a backdoor to the alley. Down a narrow hallway with a dozen locked rooms, they came to a stairway leading into the basement. The basement was large; much larger then the actual hotel. A network of chambers lay below the hotel, sprawling through the entire docks. Like most assassins, she already knew this, because Natalya would receive any traveler of her ilk, and bring her down to the rooms; at least, the first few rooms. It had been a long time since she’d met with Natalya however. She didn’t remember talking with the assassin since her training, her training to become a mageslayer.

    Natalya brought her to a circular reception room, not too far from the stairs leading out. It was a medium sized room, furnished with nothing but shelves and a round table at the centre. The shelves contained dusty old books and rusty armour. At the far side from the door, a few old katars lay shining in the candlelight. As they sat, she knew already the line of questioning Natalya would throw at her. For assassins, it was custom to make regular reports to the local superiors. A custom created in response to the corrupted Vizjeri was always held in high regard.

    “Sister, I do not recall you traveling to Kurast very frequently.â€
    Natalya was of course right. Aside from documenting every visit into Kurast, Natalya was known to have an excellent memory.

    “What brings you here?†Quick and to the point.
    “Master, I have come to fight against the corruption of Kurast. I have heard that a great evil stirs in the swamplands, and that the long-abandoned ruins of Zakarum have been desecrated. I come from our fortress at Stromgradt. Undoubtedly you’ve seen our scouts around Kurast.â€
    “The ruins of Zakarum… you mean the old temple city?â€
    “Yes, of course.â€

    Natalya nodded and flexed her fingers. Her claws twinkled.

    “What do you mean by desecration? You know as much as I do that the city was abandoned before our time. You speak of a city long lost, to us, and Zakarum. As for the scouts, they did not return to town, but went straight to Stromgradt. I was unable to learn of their findings.â€
    “For that, I give you a formal apology. It is usually deception that causes men to hide from one another. However, they first wanted to confirm their findings at Stromgradt. There has been a reincarnation of Vizjeri in Kurast. Stromgradt had sensed a great collection of magic emanating from the abandoned temple city. Our scouts have found the Vizjeri as demonoids, perverting the old ancient shrines. Demons are spawning out of the temples disguised as clerics. They all go under a fanatic cult, led by a council of the dark Vizjeri. After the scouts returned, Stromgradt sent an assault force to aid you and destroy the council. I am the forerunner of that force.â€
    “Some valuable information,†Natalya mused. “I had not known that the dark mages had returned. I suspected as much, but had not the resources to confirm it. I had spoken to Ormus of such things. His mages had sensed the council early, for their own power was dissipated with their coming. Such things only happen when a great power is expended, and by a great authority. Ormus told me that he felt a great fire engulf them. Physically the mages were unchanged, but they felt their magics ebb, particularly their fire magic. The mages have stayed out of contact ever since. This council, I fear, will break our defenses if we do not act soon.†Natalya sighed and continued.
    “I guess that this task has been laid solely on us. After all, it’s our job to kill those out of line,†she said lightly. “The mages fear for their dwindling magic and the others would never come close to the council. I will hold a meeting and send those that I can.â€
    Natalya smirked.
    “Indeed, we need all the help we can get, but aren’t you a little overanxious tonight.â€
    Damn perceptive woman, she thought silently and gave Natalya back a toothy grin.
    “You know that I am loyal.â€
    “I do not doubt you, and yet there is undeniably some extra incentive that lies within this council. I don’t suppose you are visiting him.†Damn perceptive woman.
    “There is of course a lot to be gained and a lot to be lost from this. Perhaps with the destruction of the council, Kurast will be liberated…â€
    “I hope you are not foolish enough to believe that,†Natalya cut in. “What lies beyond that temple city is an evil beyond comprehension.â€
    “You are right, as usual. You see, Stromgradt had sent scouts to all towns, and from a nearby village, they saw a group of demon mages headed to the North. The leader radiated a power so great that one would shiver in its presence ten miles off. The one mage had noticeably blood red skin and a deep sear all along its neck. The creature was unmistakably Bartuc.â€
    “Bartuc!†Natalya exclaimed.

    Natalya’s features noticeably brightened or darkened, she rightly could not tell. Natalya’s hand twitched involuntarily, and the table groaned under a menacing blow. She noticed Natalya’s fingers sparkle, and could not help but stare.

    Natalya wore two claws, as was the traditional mageslayer approach. On her left, she had a long black katar, with pointy spikes protruding in all directions, giving it the strange resemblance of a scissors. It was effective at puncturing armour and causing wounds. Despite the jagged appearance, her left hand seemed hidden and silent. It was her right hand that moved in sounding fury. The right katar was a three-pronged claw, extremely thin and sharp. It buffeted against the table, splintering the wood with a crackling sound. This claw was bright and vibrant; it soared through the air in three dazzling bright streaks. Such were the properties of the famous Bartuc’s Cutthroat. The weapon was said to thirst for power. While augmenting its wearer with great power, it was in constant craving for more. Magical weapons, she recalled, although not sentient themselves, tended to push a certain sentiment onto the wearer, and the cutthroat was ironically modeled after Bartuc himself. There was only one person who could make the cutthroat: his brother, the mage Horazon. Both of Natalya’s claws were among the rarest in the world, and she coveted them in silence. It did not take Natalya long to regain composure and notice her guest’s staring gaze. She cleared her throat in impatient disgust.

    “You bring many dark tidings, but we must focus on one issue first. I permit you to travel freely through my jurisdiction, but keep me informed of new events. I expect more assassins to come from my force and yours. An interesting week this will be.â€
    “Thank you, master. And now I will take my leave.â€

    Natalya dismissed her without reluctance, and she left immediately. She had baited Natalya, and Natalya had taken the hook so far. Assassins, even in assigned groups, fought alone, and she could expect herself to be two days ahead of any reinforcements. When she left the docks, she would be free of Natalya’s wide reach. The city would be at her disposal. Their meeting being adjourned, she walked out through the alley back into the cool night. Tonight she would sleep safe and alone, free to do anything the next day. Fair enough.

    She spent the rest of the night in an abandoned shack; they were not difficult to find. There were no disturbances. Ironically, the docks were usually the quiet part of town. The next day would be uneventful, because she needed to find someone at night. She sighed.

    Natalya had hinted at her; she must have already guessed at her plan. The other person she wanted to meet was a necromancer living in Kurast. The entire city save a few mistrusted him, but he was tolerated because he provided the city with an essential resource, antidotes to the many widespread diseases in Kurast. The villagers called him Blackbog or blight of the swamp. Even among necromancers, he was considered to be somewhat of an anomaly. He reputedly knew nothing of reanimation, of Galvanism, or summoning. He had no mastery of spirits or exoskeleton construction, but in the art of poison, he seemed to be one of Trang Oul’s blessed. Blackbog lived under the city, in a network of sewers also put out of use. She had met him a few times before, in her mageslayer training. Blackbog was an expert in dealing with the enemy; he knew their strengths and their weaknesses. Her real reason for coming to Kurast was to consult the necromancer. She hadn’t told Natalya the full truth, but Natalya knew anyway.

    The day passed slowly and uneventfully; slowly but surely. The weather was constantly hot and musty, making it difficult to rest. She occupied her time around the ruined temples and churches, exploring what she could. There was a constant noise in Kurast, the sound of battle at the front gates. It was not her concern, however. At the coming of nightfall, the night shift would prepare themselves. At night, attacks were known to intensify. Kurast would survive though. Like all remaining cities, it had learnt to be adept at defense. Mages and the like kept the walls up.

    The sewers had a number of entrances in the city. Houses were not directly connected to the sewers, but all of them contained drainage ducts branching into reservoirs. The reservoirs then led to the sewers. The reservoirs of course, were always kept bone dry. After a number of incidents, it was extremely bad karma to use them. She backtracked to the centre of the city, away from the docks. Along one of the walls there was a giant reservoir, a large, sealed up indentation dug into the floor. It was empty and covered over with mold. At the base of the reservoir, she got on her hands and knees. There was always a service entrance right outside the reservoir. She dusted off dirt and revealed a wooden trap door. It was held in place by locks, but her cestus broke through them easily. Creaking open the trap door, she stepped in and landed on the sewer floor below.

    It was dark and gloomy inside, but enough moonlight spilled through the ceiling for visibility. Assassins were used to the darkness, often working in the absolute absence of light. She felt uneasy though. There was a constant sound echoing around the sewers; sounds of life. Apparently, something had made its home in the sewers aside the necromancer. She was along a broad, long sewer tunnel, cylindrical in shape. Along the arched ceiling, there were cobwebs of every size; she had to keep her head ducked to avoid them. She knew not where the necromancer would be, but figured that he would reveal himself as she continued along. Picking an arbitrary direction, she walked along the pipe. On the metallic floor, her quiet footsteps reverberated across the room, and the idea of being heard was discomforting. She heightened her guard, rolling back her sleeves and bringing her claws out. Rat corpses were strewn across the floor. Poisoned no doubt; the necromancer knew how to control a pest problem. Far ahead in the tunnel, a light source flickered in the distance. As quietly as possible she paced towards the light, feeling no reason to lag behind in the sewer pipe. As the light grew closer, she could make out the outline of a heavy wooden door. She walked for five minutes before arriving at the entrance. She tested it, but the door was barred on the inside. A single candle lay burning on top a mantle. She knocked and waited. Knowing the man, he never had any company and did not fear any intruders. She heard slow footsteps and the door began to slowly creak open. A lanky figure came out. He was dressed in back robes; the robes of a necromancer. A pattern of spider webs spiraled down his chest. A long, curved dagger lay at his side and he toyed with its handle.

    “Come in,†he bade. Common to his kind, his voice was soft and smooth. Necromancers were always surprisingly charismatic.
    “Word of your arrival has been spreading in town,†he said, much to her annoyance. “I have been expecting you.â€
     
  19. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    He led her into his room, which was large and well-furnished. Much like Natalya, the necromancer seemed to have a small room designed specifically for visitors. This was merely his reception room, there were many antechambers leading deeper into the sewers. Two long couches filled the room, along with torches and random tapestries lining the wall. The necromancer gave her a sharp smile. There was even a smell of cinnamon about, although overpowered by a lingering stench of death, she mused. She propped herself against one of the crimson couches. The necromancer sat comfortably on the other.

    “I want you to know that I do enjoy company. I always enjoy conversation with a person of similar interests.†There was of course only one interest of Blackbog. It was his craft, the art of poisons. Finished with the formalities, the necromancer continued.
    “There has been a small rumour spreading through town. The mageslayers are apparently mobilizing against the council.†He smirked. His voice was dripping with a respectful sarcasm.
    “The mention of Bartuc always gets Natalya in a frenzy. She’s been hunting for him a long while, but she didn’t know he’s be reborn in fair Kurast. Either way, it doesn’t matter. The demon Bartuc has already left the swamps, headed north.â€
    “What do you know of the council?â€
    “I know enough to know that they are not your real goal,†he snarled. “They aren’t just another pack of mages to kill. They are demon mages, which means they’re under a higher power. Yes, they will be difficult; their potential power is tremendous. That, I think, is what Natalya smelled more than anything. She’s not stupid.â€
    “I know that, and I wasn’t attempting to mislead her. I gave her a report, and everything I’ve said in it is true.â€
    “Indeed. So, why are you here?â€
    “There is something that I think would hold great value to us.â€
    “Of course.†Blackbog cut her off.
    “Demons were always adept at poisons. Angels don’t use poison, but they are adept at other things. Long before this siege, the old temples of Kurast were already being corrupted by demons. Within the temples, they built portals and subverted the creatures, even the people as well. They grew in power, but were dormant at the time. It is only recently that they have sent this council to attack our city. You see, the temples are sealed by powerful runes, but the council holds the key to enter. The council is only the pawns in the game; they must be eliminated first. Beyond them however, who knows?â€

    Blackbog’s eye twitched, betraying his hidden enthusiasm where his voice did not. Since she first saw him, the necromancer wore an iron mask to hide his face, but it always managed one way or the other to bring out his emotions. The visage of the mask was molded into a face of anguish; the brows wickedly curved, the lips curling into a detestable snarl. Despite his typically offensive personality, he was very skilled in his practice, and held her respect strongly. She actually enjoyed conversing with him because he would provide insights into the nature of his art, and her own art subsequently.

    “Necromancer,†she’d ask mockingly, “why is it that you devote your life to the dead and rotten? What compels you to sink your head into the dirt and sand, when there is so much of life to live and experience?â€
    “There is nothing in life that you must experience,†he would reply with a generous smile. “The whole premise of life is to live out whatever gratifying moment you can achieve, all at the expense of others. You cannot have the former without the latter. We have always been a predator race, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can fulfill your little niche in existence. Poison is the ultimate gratification. It is an indiscriminate killer. It is slow and meticulous, patient and precise. It lives for the kill, a single-minded hunter-killer. The concept shouldn’t be so hard for one such as you.â€

    From the beginning of her trip into Kurast, she had been welcomed, and ushered in quickly. The whole city had been expecting her arrival, it seemed. Blackbog was quick to help her with plans, and Natalya, though suspicious of her, had also accepted them with enthusiasm. Soon after, she found herself free of obligations, and ready to make her move as early as the next day. A hunting party was so quickly formed, that it could only have been fueled by mutual benefit. The demon council would be attacked immediately, and a long line of reinforcements were there to back her up. Blackbog went to his desk and produced a row of vials. He gave her the needed antidotes and poisons to work against the demons. The necromancer was in a good mood, and he began to show her his research into the art. Together, they made theories and tested experiments on the specimens he had locked within his rooms. They continued to talk of things long into the night. Blackbog talked of enemy movement within Kurast and she talked of her order. Neither of them revealed any important information, but enough to satisfy the other. Both knew not to expect any real information, so neither of them minded. Afterwards, she bade farewell to the necromancer and climbed back to the surface. She spent the rest of the next day in rest. The hunt would begin at nightfall.
     
  20. chi987

    chi987 IncGamers Member

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    Chapter 2: Condemnation

    The next day passed through without incident. As soon as light faded, she set out, quietly passing through the city gates when the fighting had died down. The land of Kurast was overgrown and uncultivated, but she would be able to travel quickly by herself. A radius of land around the city had been cleared, and was barren save short grasses. The coast on which the city lay on was also flat, but swampy and slow-going. Continuing through the clearing, there were trees, moist and some tropical in nature. This formed the jungle, a thick copse of trees, sometimes turning into watery swamp, sometimes turning into dry and ancient forest. The jungle was mostly unfamiliar to her, but she wasn’t a complete stranger. Her journey would not pose a significant problem, if all went well. During daylight she’d walk slowly, keeping to herself. At night she would be safe; she could move almost undetectably through the darkness.

    She sprinted through the flat lands, making good progress. On her way, she could see the enemy camped near the city in ominous, dark tents. From what she could remember they were men; every city had a fair share of enemies. Tribesmen, rival cities or towns, or mercenaries: all of them had their separate reasons. It was strange to see them organized and camped there, waiting in readiness for the opportune moment. They were at a disadvantage; Kurast was still well defended, and had the resources to survive a siege. Up until now, she had noticed that the enemy had almost always been nomadic. The enemy had evolved, and their recent change did not bode well for the city.

    The journey would be tiresome. The weather was invariably hot and damp; a heavy, humid mist that slowed the breathing. And the insects thrived in it; they swarmed around the warmth of her body like vampires. Often times she would have to stop and rest to swat away flies and mosquitoes. The air would sometimes blacken with their numbers, but it was not an uncommon occurrence in the swamps. Other than the discomfort, everything was going along smoothly.

    She continued along a rough path leading away from the city. The gravel road had turned to grass four kilometers back, but there was still a rough trail known to her. Further away from the coast and the city, the swamp weeds thickened into a sparse forest, with hardy, thin willows soaking up the soil. The ground was still saturated, but the grass grew long, and old protruding roots dotted the landscape. She headed further into the forest, where there would be shade and more cover. Deeper into the jungle, she could hear activity, birds calling and predators howling in the distance, as well as the continual buzzing of insects pestering her.

    She came to a tree and hacked off its branches with her cestus. With enough concentration, her hands became warm and she sparked them against the wood. Dragon breath palm, she muttered, or in combat, the fists of fire technique. It took years to master the ability, and she had been too impatient to learn it properly. Soon enough, a small flame licked the branches and she fed it with leaves. The smoke drove away the insects, although some were surprisingly stubborn. She drew a long, large, open cloak from her pack and wore it over her breastplate. She veiled herself with silk scarves and thin linings, protecting her face and neck from the insects as well as the sun. Her gear was stifling hot, but a necessary inconvenience.

    When she felt recuperated, she pressed deeper into the forest. Again, it seemed to be very active this day. There was an increase in noise, and she could even hear human voices far away. An alarming presence jolted her; she sensed an unnatural rustling of bushes around her. Quickly stopping and ducking for cover, she listened for sound, or any indication of something following her. To the northwest, the trees shivered in fear, and the faint sound of plant under heavy feet echoed across the jungle. She saw a group of wildcats, growling to each other and prowling across the trails towards Kurast. Another group crashed through the bush, headhunters closely following, decorated with long throwing spears and war paint. She felt herself curl up tightly into a ball, drawing her cloak around herself in disguise. But the intruders did not seem to take first notice. They stared ahead with single-minded anticipation, and carried forward towards their destination. She sighed and got up; another influx of enemies. It was not difficult for her to avoid both groups, so she continued forth, keeping herself hidden among the trees. Her first impulse was the concern for defense, but she didn’t feel the need to report this back to the city. By now, the sight was not uncommon, and she dismissed it as normal enemy movement. Her remaining journey through the forest remained uninterrupted, as she quietly jogged through the underbrush. By daytime, she had cleared the forest, and flat wetlands covered the area.

    The wetlands would prove to be a dangerous obstacle. In the following stretch of land, there were no trees, no cover, and no shade. There was only boggy land, and short, stunted plants. It was a necessary part of the route because the forest simply trailed off into flat land in all directions. She did not want to wait for nightfall because of all the enemy movement in her area. And during the day, she was unavoidably recognizable, so she slowed her pace to a cautious walk. In the flat terrain, there was no way of hiding and no obstacles in her way. It had been so far empty and clear, but she’d be easily spotted from a kilometer off.

    She walked slowly and casually through the wetlands, making no suspicious and ultimately futile moves on her part. The terrain here was more or less level and she could see the outline of mountains filling the north horizon. Past the mountains, she could see nothing and between her and them, nothing but barren land. She walked for hours in quiet solitude, and hoped that her luck would last. But sure enough, as she was walking through the grasslands, there appeared three small dots, bright specs against the faraway mountains. As they drew nearer, three figures saw her in the distance and hailed her. There was no helping it; she stopped and let them approach.

    There were two men and one woman. They were dressed in awkward, long, silky, white clothes but wore the boots of experienced travelers. She looked over the group, carefully assessing their intentions. All of them were armed, but their weapons lay unthreateningly at their sides. They came at a steady pace, with neutral faces. Satisfied with their tone so far, she greeted them. The woman was the first to speak.

    “Hello, traveler.â€
    “Hello,†she replied reflexively. “You are a priestess I assume, judging by your clothes.â€
    “Yes, we are traveling priests. I am glad to meet you, for it is strange to see someone walking alone in times like these. It can be dangerous.â€
    She shrugged. “You are probably right. I am foreign to this place. I am headed eastward to the city of Thalein.â€
    This was of course a lie.
    “We are familiar with that place. Perhaps we could accompany you for a while.â€
    She shrugged again and made a look of skepticism.
    “We are a group of traveling priests,†the priestess repeated in a reassuring tone. “You are a stranger to these parts, and Kurast can be a dangerous place to travel. Perhaps you’d like to join us for a while and listen to what we have to say.â€
    “That’s fine by me if you’re headed in the same direction.â€

    In actuality, it did not sit well with her, but this priestess did not look like the type to accept a different answer. She figured that she’d tolerate them for the time being. The woman held out her hand in agreement. She gave her a look of contempt and it still took the priestess a full minute to retract her handshake with a small smile. The men nodded, and the four of them continued east in her intended direction.

    “My name is Zhan. He is Akin and he’s Ginyon.â€
    She smiled and picked out the false identity floating about her brain.
    “I am Lilith.â€

    The woman priestess was very talkative and seemed to be the leader. The men listened quietly, adding in their opinions periodically. Zhan was a tall, muscular woman. She had dark skin and long back hair. Zhan was very talkative, and she asked her many questions, which she avoided most of the time. Despite the snubbing she gave Zhan, the priestess would not back down from her conversation, seemingly ignoring the reproachful aura thrown at her.

    “Typical priest,†she muttered under her breath.
    “You come from the city?â€
    “Yes.â€
    “Let me ask you a question. Are you Zakarumite?â€
    “No… I’m not religious.â€
    “Why not? We’ve all seen our share of angels and demons. Isn’t that enough proof that gods exist?â€
    “Well, I’ve always been one to do things alone. I won’t let anyone tell me what to do while I can help it.â€
    “A strong willed person she is,†Akin grunted.

    With that, the conversation died out. They trudged through the swampland at a slow pace. The ground was caked with mud, and they were forced to walk through with their boots sinking two inches down every step. In five minute intervals they’d stop to clean out their soles, and then proceeded to trample them through the mud once again. The two men looked forward at the horizon, but Zhan was eyeing her carefully. At this point, she was waiting for the opportunity to separate, but nothing presented itself. Her instincts told her that there was something wrong with the three priests, but she allowed them to string her along. As for the conversation, the talk of religion was not something that she was secure with, and Zhan appeared to be strongly directed on that subject. The priestess seemed to be in contemplation, and after hours of silence, she looked up at her and spoke.

    “Sister, you seem to be a very independent person, and I respect that. But as much as you’d like to believe that you’re in total control of your life, that is ultimately not the case. Fate creates new scenarios for us. Fate inexplicably brought us together. You can’t stay in denial when the evidence is all around you.â€
    “Go on,†she said, but with inward apprehension.
    “We travel around to minister to people our faith. We serve Serena, the goddess of blood. I know you look at us skeptically, but our god watches over everything. We aren’t a cult, and we aren’t trying to sell you anything.â€
    “I think that you are sincere, but it is hard for me to accept,†she said in a small voice.

    It was this exact line of conversation she wanted to avoid, but the priestess was quick and to the point. Zhan was looking for a convert, but she hadn’t the first intention of listening to the priestess’s ideas. As Zhan continued, the priestess grew in eagerness while she shrank back in irresolution, and it made Zhan muster her efforts more so.

    “It is not hard. In fact, it is easy. Blood flows through us all, giving us life and the strength to maintain life. There are people with blood diseases that are crippled for life. They are, I’m afraid, cursed by the blood goddess. Our goddess does not want to be a hurtful god, but no crime must go without punishment. A world without consequences is the first proof that there is no god.â€
    The priestess saw her listener’s eyes dull, and she pressed on harder.
    “Just as there are consequences, there are rewards for those that follow the goddess. Your life will be changed. You will be blessed as surely as those who disobey are cursed. I implore you to follow us.â€

    There was something tugging at her now. Something was telling her to cut her losses and leave, but she ignored its advice. The design of her clothes, the nature of her beliefs, the tone in which the priestess carried herself, all seemed foreign to the familiar religions, and all pointed to the conclusion that Zhan was a cult follower. After all, there were not too many people that considered blood a devoutly holy object. The name Serena was a melody playing through her head, and it left an echoing vision in its wake. One word: demon. Her instincts were firing off in a chain reaction, but she edged the priestess further. Try as she might to seem casual, Zhan was definitely zealous about her beliefs, a strange character to be dealing with. By this time, the priestess’ voice was cracking. Her once calm demeanor became sporadic. She seemed to have a mixture of joy and anger, an overpowering fanaticism. The assassin paused to consider this.

    “You bring up some interesting points, which I would do well to consider. I will not however, join you. Gods and devils; they have always been aloof to me. Like I said, I choose to be alone in my actions. It’s the only way that I would be free. I do respect life and the sanctity of blood. Perhaps your god will bless or curse me. I guess I might never know.â€

    The answer she had given her was indecisive at best, one designed to provoke the priestess further, if she was serious about her beliefs.

    “What is this blasphemy? You can’t just choose to be ignorant of the world around you, girl! It will still be there to destroy you when your time comes. There’s no place for your self-serving impudence.â€
    “Calm down,†she said quietly.
    The priestess spat and growled in frustration.
    “It’s time for to learn a lesson in life, ignorant girl. There’s punishment for your actions whether you accept them or not. The punishment for mocking a god is death!â€

    Zhan pushed her backwards and snarled. The priestess reached for her back and pulled out her sword. Her scimitar burst into flames in the air, inches away from the assassin’s face. The priestess went for a quick kill, diving forward with her sword in the same motion, hoping to impale her unsuspecting target. The assassin saw the sword coming however, and she pulled out her claws. With a quick sideswipe of her left hand, her claw intercepted the sword, lodging the blade between her metal prongs. She twisted her arm with great force, and the sword flew out of the priestess’s hand, falling to the ground. Before Zhan could react, her right hand slashed against her throat, her cestus puncturing her windpipe. The priestess collapsed to the ground in a gurgling scream.

    “Wretched demon worshipper,†she whispered to the dying woman. “I am not as foolish as you to follow the wind as it blows down a cliff. You worship blood and now you will give your blood to the earth by my hands. Perhaps Serena is on my side after all.â€

    The two priests had walked far ahead during the conversation, but hearing the priestess’ scream, they bolted towards her. In mid run, one pulled out a flaming longsword, the other began to chant a spell. As they ran, their clothes melted off and their skin shriveled up, revealing their true forms.

    “A pair of demons. It was you who were subverting her.â€
    The swordsman stopped with a cold smile.
    “And it was you, assassin, who killed her.â€
    “I do not regret doing so.â€
    “We knew you wouldn’t, assassin.â€

    At that moment, the caster finished his spell and leveled his hands, seeped with magic, towards her. With sudden ferocity, a raging ball of fire leaped from his hands and slammed into her. Distracted, she had not moved to dodge the blast, and weakly held her hands up in defense. She felt her arms and body burn in the intense heat, and the force blew her back three steps, almost tripping her in the mud. The demon mage began to chant again, and the swordsman advanced cautiously. He took a small jab, which she deflected with her claw sideways. Using his momentum, he twirled the sword around his head and slashed sideways, and she jumped back out of range. Reaching into her cloak, she grabbed a dagger and flung it at the mage. It hit him in the chest, and the mage stopped his spell. Snarling, he pulled out the dagger and resumed his chanting. The move had bought her time, she calculated.

    She now resumed her focus on the swordsman, prodding for a hole in his defenses. The swordsman faked to the left and stabbed at her right, pivoting around her for an opening. But she saw through his feign and parried with her right hand. Her left claw went on the offensive, bursting forward, targeting his now exposed body. The demon swordsman was quick to recover though, and he slapped away her swiping claws with inhuman speed. Using her left claw, she made a stab for his neck. He angled his sword across his body to intercept, and she locked his sword between the prongs. As she twisted, the swordsman grunted and braced himself with both hands. She found the swordsman overpowering her and the sword inching closer to her chest. Before he could gain control over his sword, she shifted to her back leg and snapped a sweeping kick at the back of his knee. His leg buckled and he fell to one knee. Still latched onto the sword, she snapped another kick into his sternum, folding him onto the ground. She grabbed his sword and made a quick throw at the spellcaster. The mage had not finished his spell and frantically ducked out of the way. Knowing that his concentration had been broken, the mage turned and fled from the pursing assassin. Reaching into her pockets again, she produced a set of shuriken. She flicked them at the running mage, and four of them sunk into his back. She then backtracked to finish off the crippled swordsman. She always kept her throwing weapons laced with poison.

    She did not come out of the fight unscathed; her right hand had been blasted the most by the fireball, and she lacked the strength to use it. Wincing, she detached her cestus and deposited it deep within the folds of her cloak. The breastplate was also grating on her, but she felt naked without it. She found all three corpses and retrieved their belongings. The swords would not ignite for her; they were made by demon magic. The mage didn’t have anything useful for her either. She dragged their bodies to a shallow swamp and left them in the water. The day was ending, so she’d be able to hide in the swamp fog.

    She didn’t think much of the woman. She had killed countless times before, and she never let the words of demons, or anybody for that matter, affect her. A thin fog had obstructed her view before, but as she drew east, she could see the jagged spires composed of the old temples of Kurast. She had made it to her destination.
     

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