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 sheâ€™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. â€œGood evening, Natalya.â€ She whispered. The dark figure stared back at her and said, â€œWelcome, kinsman.â€ 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 kinsmanâ€™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. â€œSister, 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. â€œWhat brings you here?â€ Quick and to the point. â€œMaster, 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 Zakarumâ€™s first followers have been desecrated. I come from our fortress at Stromgradt. Undoubtedly youâ€™ve seen our scouts around Kurast.â€ Natalya nodded and flexed her fingers. Her claws twinkled. â€œThey did not return to town, but went straight to Stromgradt. I was unable to learn of their findings.â€ â€œFor 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€ â€œSome valuable information,â€ Natalya mused. â€œI 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.â€ Natalya sighed. â€œI 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.â€ Natalya smirked. â€œIndeed we need all the help we can get, but arenâ€™t you a little overanxious tonight.â€ â€œDamn perceptive woman,â€ she thought silently and gave Natalya back a toothy grin. â€œYou know that I am loyal to the end.â€ â€œI do not doubt you, and yet there in undeniably some extra incentive that lies within this council. I donâ€™t suppose you are visiting him.â€ Damn perceptive woman. â€œThere 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 liberatedâ€¦â€ â€œI do hope you are not foolish to believe that. What lies beyond those temples is an evil beyond comprehension.â€ â€œYou 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€ â€œBartuc!â€ Natalya exclaimed. Her feature noticeably brightened or darkened, she rightly could not tell. Natalyaâ€™s hand twitched involuntarily, and the table groaned under a menacing blow. She noticed Natalyaâ€™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 Bartucâ€™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 Natalyaâ€™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 guestâ€™s staring gaze. She cleared her throat in impertinent disgust. â€œYou 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€ â€œThank you, master. And now I will take my leave.â€ 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 Oulâ€™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 hadnâ€™t told Natalya the full truth, but Natalya knew anyway. The necromancer preferred to do things at night, so sheâ€™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.