Chapter VIII: Terror and Anguish
I was standing near Andariel, shivering under the Sun's unbearable heat as I observed the young lady in front of us. With a hand on her ankle and an overall blissfully ignorant smile, she greeted us with a kind, 'Yes?'
Andariel gave her a grin, one that I would have believed if I didn't know who she was or felt dread by merely standing next to her, and told the woman, 'Greetings. My companion and I have travelled a long time. We are coming from the Rogue Monastery, you see.'
The woman gasped, 'The Monastery?! But I've heard that Andariel was now ruling over it! It's a miracle if you managed to escape alive! Enter, you're probably starving and we'll be able to discuss inside.'
Glancing at the tavern and seeing Andariel calmly walk inside the building, I considered for a moment just escaping. The portal was near, and I was sure I could reach it in time if I ran fast enough.
Brown eyes looked at me, and the Maiden of Anguish merely raised a mocking eyebrow. She probably knew what I was considering. But she merely told the tavern keeper 'This is a really nice establishment that you have here… It's amazing that it has remained so… peaceful, even with the threat of Evil at your gates.'
The tavern keeper nodded, 'It is, but fortunately we have Greiz and his mercenaries guarding the city. For now, they are able to keep the Evil outside… For how long though, one can only wonder. Come in though, I'll give you a warm meal for now. And don't let your friend out there! The poor girl don't look well. If you want, I can heal her too.'
I trembled when I felt Andariel's hand on my shoulder as she sweetly said, 'It is fortunate that there are gates to protect this city from the outside, don't you think Elisa?'
I glared at her as I entered the tavern, thinking that I was myself more afraid of what was inside the gates than outside them. Eventually, Andariel and I reached a bar from which the tavern keeper gave us both a nice plate filled with eastern food. I grimly sat, and observed my "companion", remembering how these few hours had went.
'It seems… that we have a guest,' Andariel said with a widening grin.
Blood Raven brought me to her Mistress, almost happy to have accomplished her duty. I had been wrong, so wrong… Blood Raven could not be saved. Kashya had been right, and now I was paying the consequences of my… blindness.
Which is quite ironic since I am within the Sisterhood of the Sightless Eye.
'So, "Elisa"… The last survivor of Tristram. The last of the… arrogant and almost pitiful band of heroesthat dared rise against a Prime Evil.' She gave me a mocking smile, 'It is an honour.'
I glared at her, silent for now. She ordered Blood Raven to bring me to her, and I felt disgust as I came closer this monster. I remembered Gheed speaking of how he thought Andariel to be… attractivefor a demoness, and I was truly starting to reconsider any opinion I might have had regarding Gheed's intelligence. A nearly naked body – no matter how well shaped – with red hair did not make Andariel attractive. It was only a tool for her, for it gave her an even greater confidence and power than any other object could have. It was only one more thing she could probably use to torment her victims, by adding to torture a layer of sick seduction.
When I stood near her, gold eyes observing me, I shivered whileI felt her hand softly touch my chin, glaring at her even more. Andariel smirked, amused.
'Diablo triumphed over the brave Aidan, the agile Moreina and from what I've heard even the wise Jazreth succumbed to Evil… but not you. You, who is not particularly strong considering your thin shape, or agile since my minions captured you so easilyand not even wise since you thought, for a moment, that your dearest Moreina could be… saved.' Andariel's hand started to stroke my cheeks, her claws threatening to break my tender skin. 'How does that make you feel, I wonder? To know that, if you survived until now, it isn't because you were skilled, but only because you were so… useless that we'veforgottenyou merely existed.'
My eyes narrowed, 'It makes me long even more for the day where one of my arrows will shatteryou!'
Andariel chuckled, 'I see. Let me tell you: your confidence in yourself does not serve you… Currently, you evoke to me the image of… a fly believing itself to be a powerful eagle. You are amusing, or annoying at best.'
'We'll see. My friends will save me!'
Andariel laughed, her eyes shining in pleasure. 'I know they will try! But we'll be long gone before they arrive. Blood Raven, come here.'
My mentor dutifully walked towards her Mistress. She dully stared at her, until Andariel started to strangle her. Moreina choked, but did not fight otherwise, letting herself die. I cried at the sight, knowing that even if I pleaded Andariel she would probably not listen to me. And even if she did, the Moreina I knew was long gone.
Eventually, I heard Andariel whisper something before she closed her eyes and fell on her throne, seemingly unconscious. I frowned, glancing at Moreina who gasped for air, her hand on her throat as she knelt on the ground.
I did not even try to escape, knowing that considering the large amount of demons guarding the entries I would not be able to.
Eventually, Moreina stood up, her brown eyes staring at Andariel's corpse with a smirk.
What's going on…?
My long ago mentor glanced at a Fallen Shaman and ordered him, 'Burn the corpse!'
The demon immediately obeyed, and I frowned as I observed… Andariel's body burning. What was happening?! Watching Moreina with a confused expression, I shivered when her gaze met mine, and a small smile appeared on her lips.
Oh, no. Not this! Everything but this!
'So, Elisa. Any thoughts on my new body?'
'Your friend is of the quiet kind, am I right?' the tavern keeper asked.
Andariel smiled at her, 'She has reasons to be, believe me.'
I took my fork and started eating in silence, sometimes interrupting my meal to sip my glass of water and listen to Andariel and the tavern keeper.
'Oh, I know how it is… I've lost my son and my husband recently, you see. These are troubling times… In any case, my name is Atma.'
Andariel nodded, and replied, 'I am Moreina, and this is my friend Elisa. We are two refugees from the Monastery… But tell me, what is attacking this town?'
Atma sighed, 'We don't know. But there are rumours… I never gave it much thought before, but after losing my family to one of these monsters…'
'What kind of Evil?'
'Oh, there are many dangers inside the desert, from the Valley of Snakes to the Tombs…'
Andariel smirked, 'Tombs?'
Atma blinked a few times, almost realising what she just said. She laughed, and shook her head, 'Oh, it's just a legend, no one truly believes it. According to the myth, Tal Rasha, the mage who imprisoned Baal within his body, is being kept in a tomb. There are several tombs in the desert, and some are indeed from the order of the Horadrim, however no one ever found Tal Rasha's. It probably never existed in the first place.'
I slowly nodded, my understanding of the situation increasing significantly. Diablo went eastward to find his brother's tomb in order to free him. And if Andariel came here, it probably only was to bring me to her Lord.
I shivered. After encountering Moreina, I didn't know if I could bear the sight of Aidan. Especially when I knew the risk he represented but done nothing upon it, thus letting him become what he once fought against.
In any case, I had next to no choice but to follow Andariel, at least until we left the city. Right now, if I attempted to escape, she would just destroy Lut Gholein, and I couldn't be the cause of such a massacre. On the other hand, in the desert my chances of escape were rather slim, and even if I did manage to flee… I would more likely die of dehydration than find a shelter.
'If one was to seek for the Tomb, where would one go?' Andariel asked on a conversational tone, a playful smile on her lips.
The tavern keeper responded, not even slightly imagining the consequences of her actions, 'Oh, I wouldn't know. But Drognan would. He is a mage, you see, and I bet he would be able to inform you on anything you might ask. You can find him just over there. But why would you want to search for the Tombs? Even if you find one – which will likely not happen – you will most probably die. These tombs are guarded by ancient creatures… One of them took away my husband and my son.'
Andariel dismissed her worries, assuring her that she was perfectly able of handling any kind of monsters, and we both left the tavern to see Drognan. He looked a little bit like Jazreth, with his scrolls and his lost gaze, probably wondering about the inner workings of magic. I wondered for a moment if he would recognise Andariel for what she truly was, and felt torn between wishing that he would (and thus wouldn't give her the information she sought which would unfortunately lead to Lut Gholein's doom) and that he wouldn't (and thus would give her the information she sought which while temporarily saving Lut Gholein would likely be quite detrimental to me and probably Sanctuary as well). In any case when we arrived he frowned for a second before saying, 'I wasn't expecting any Rogues… I thought they all died in Tristram or perished against Andariel.'
The Maiden of Anguish hold back a chuckle as she responded, 'We are one of the rare survivors, I'm afraid. I am Moreina, and this is my friend Elisa. We-'
Drognan's eyes widened, 'Moreina and Elisa? You both went to Tristram, right?'
While Andariel seemed only curious of what Drognan's recognition would lead, I myself took it as an opportunity to speak, 'Yes, that's correct. How did you hear about it?'
Drognan deeply sighed, softly shaking his head. He turned his head towards the desert, and took a deep breath in. 'I am- was Jazreth's friend. I thought he died in Tristram, but he came here a few weeks ago. He seemed quite insane, so I dismissed much of what he said. But… he couldn't stop rambling about his time in Tristram, he seemed… obsessed by it. Obsessed by the idea that it wasn't over and that, somehow, Diablo would make him pay for fighting him. I felt quite sorry for him, and only saw it as some kind of… trauma he would have experienced due to his time in Tristram, but now… Now I wish I would have listened.'
So Jazreth, too, has fallen to evil in some kind of way…
'Did he say anything else?' I asked.
Drognan stroked his chin, lost in his memories, 'He mostly repeated, over and over again, that "we would pay for what we did". He was lost in theories over how your group would pay and would tell me about it… He also felt it was absolutely necessary for him to find the Arcane Sanctuary, from which he believed he could find Tal Rasha's Tomb and prevent Diablo from ever freeing his brother. I thought him mad, everyone knows that Tal Rasha's tomb is a myth. He was mainly worried for Aidan's fate, repeating that his torment would know no bound…'
'Where is he, now? And do you think he's still alive?'
The mage observed me, thoughtful. 'He managed to gain access to the Palace. He believed the Arcane Sanctuary's entry would be found there. I don't know if he was right… But I do know that he never came back from his journey.'
Andariel nodded, seemingly satisfied with her informations, and was going to urge me to leave when Drognan said, his eyes slightly confused, 'Jazreth spoke to me about you, too, Elisa. About you specifically. He told me your fate would be different than the others', but he never told me why he thought this.'
I frowned. Different? While it is true that I am the only one not currently dead, mad or possessed, I didn't think myself to be particularly spared considering my current situation. Andariel, too, seemed quite interested since she asked, 'Really? Different how?'
Drognan sighed, 'I can't remember. When he told me these things, I wasn't particularly concentrating on them but rather on how I could help my friend.'
I acquiesced, feeling discouraged. In any case, if Drognan said the truth, then Jazreth too was probably dead. Which meant that I had no chance of survival from this. Andariel would bring me to Aidan, who was possessed by Diablo, an act which would end with my death.
I sighed inwardly, then followed Andariel as the Maiden of Anguish suggested to me that we should go to the palace. There, after finding out that only two guards were posted at the entrance, Andariel merely killed them with her poison and then told me with a smirk, 'After you.'
I nodded, and went inside the Palace. From there, we slowly but surely progressed until we reached a portal leading to the Arcane Sanctuary. I felt disgusted at the mere sight of Andariel's gleaming eyes. Was she greedy at the perspective of meeting Diablo with me as a gift? It was a strong possibility.
When we entered the Arcane Sanctuary, we saw a few monsters. While in the Palace we had seen next to none (since they had preferred to hide), here the ones we saw observed us with both curiosity and… reverence. Probably to Andariel.
When we finally reached the end of the Sanctuary, I heard a laugh. A loud, manic, terrifying laugh. But most importantly, a human laugh. I froze, and glanced at Andariel, seeing a soft smirk on her lips as she proudly walked towards the sound's origin.
I followed, my heart filled with sorrow whilst I observed the sight. Jazreth was in front of us, his eyes mad as he saw us. 'Elisa, and Moreina!' he greeted us, still laughing. 'It's been awhile…' His eyes shone with amusement. 'I was expecting that someone would end up investigating the sudden arrival of monsters in the Harem, but… but you two…!'
He laughed, apparently finding this meeting extremely humorous. I glanced at Andariel, seeing a smirk on her lips.
Facing the sorcerer, I sighed, 'Jazreth, what have you become?'
The man raised an eyebrow, almost… surprised at my question. He chuckled, and I wondered if it was in disbelief. 'What have I become? Is that… is that a joke, Elisa? I have become exactly what I was meant to be!' He screamed, the sound almost shattering the place. 'You know what happened, you know, right? What happened, in the Cathedral. You know… we all know, somehow…'
He turned to face the rest of the room.
'Yes, I do,' I quietly said. 'Aidan took the Stone, whi-'
'I am not talking of the Stone! It never was about the Stone! Never, ever, ever was!'
I frowned, speechless. Had Jazreth truly and fully succumbed to the surrounding darkness? Had he, too, fell to deep to be saved or reasoned? It was probably the case, considering the fact that none of the monsters of this place attacked him. They recognised him as one of their own. I glanced at Andariel, feeling her laugh that threatened to come out in a bark of mockery joy, her lips – Moreina's lips – twisting into a dark grin.
Or you are now a petof their own, my friend.
'And,' Andariel paused to stop herself from laughing, 'And tell me, Sorcerer, what was it about, then?'
Jazreth, who had started to worryingly clutch his hair, stopped in an instant, his eyes slightly widening.
'Everything else,' he whispered. 'Since the moment we decided to set a foot inside the Cathedral, or perhaps even before… I cannot know for sure… But this, everything, it was part of a plan. A plan made by Diablo… He played us… He fooled us into believing in this… this mockery of a victory…'
I sighed, partly agreeing. 'We are now only seeing the consequences of Aidan's foolishness in the Cathedral.'
Jazreth shook his head, 'No, not Aidan, not the Stone… This is just the beginning, Elisa, just the beginning… of a greater… plan. Diablo's scheme for this world… A reign of Terror will begin soon… And I know… I just know… that we had all played a part in it! All of us, except you Elisa! You are the exception!'
I frowned. What? According to him the Stone had none importance in the current situation and now I was somehow… I sighed. This was pure madness. I couldn't trust Jazreth's words. He was only the shell of the man he used to be.
But my friend wasn't finished with his ramblings. 'He is the cause of it… somehow, Diablo decided to spare you, Elisa… And Terror is not known for its mercy…'
Andariel scoffed, obviously disagreeing. Even though our reasons were not the same – mine was pure logic and hers was that my… value as a gift would be lessened if Diablo had wished to spare me – it still felt weird to share any kind of opinion with the Maiden of Anguish.
The Demoness slowly walked towards Jazreth, and said, 'You know, Sorcerer… For a mage supposedly wise enough to understand Terror's plans, you are quite lacking insight in your surroundings.'
The barest hint of four appendages in her back started to appear. A dark magic surrounded Andariel as she slowly transformed into her true form, revelling in the nightmare she inflicted upon me, and Jazreth's understanding face.
When Moreina's body finished morphing into Andariel's usual appearance, Jazreth whispered, 'You are the Maiden of-'
'Anguish, yes…' Andariel smirked, playing with her claws with a faked nonchalance. Jazreth may not have noticed it, but it seemed obvious to me that she was feeling almost euphoric right now. She grinned, and let her red tongue softly humidify her upper lip. 'So, tell me, Sorcerer… How can I access to Tal Rasha's tomb?'
I glanced at Jazreth, and saw the corruption that invaded him fight for dominance with his remaining humanity. Facing him, I pleaded, 'Don't tell her! If she joins Diablo fully, you know what will happen! You cannot let her win! I know you can fight it, Jazreth!'
Andariel's gaze raised on the platform next to us. She laughed, 'Oh, he won't need to tell me anything, in fact…'
She walked to the platform, and whilst my eyes begged Jazreth to do something, Andariel opened a portal. My eyes widened as she took my hand by forced and even though I tried to escape her grip, we eventually arrived in the desert, the air's warmth offering little comfort.
Andariel determinedly brought me to several tombs, in front of which a symbol was written.
'A circle, a circle… where is the circle…'
I closed my eyes, refusing to see this.
'Ah, there it is!'
We entered Tal Rasha's tomb. It was silent, desperately lonely. I didn't feel the presence of any monsters. Which probably meant that they were either cowering in fear in front of the Maiden of Anguish, or…
Or that Diablo was still here.
Andariel seemed to have reached the same conclusion considering her sudden speed as she sought out the Prime Evil in the entire tomb, holding me in her arms to be able to run even faster.
Finally, we saw two shadows and a grim, shallow torch held by one of them. I gulped, feeling Terror enter me whilst I recognised the light hood covering the other's head. A dark aura surrounded him, and the way he turned to face us felt… non-human.
Andariel knelt in front of these brown eyes, still holding me to prevent me from escaping. She extended her hands, her claws keeping me trapped. I felt like a sacrifice brought to a deity. A lamb ready to be slaughtered.
My eyes stretched to see the other shape, the one holding the torch. He was human, I was sure of it considering his confused and afraid face. How did he arrive here? Who was he?
'W-What is this…?' he whispered to Aidan. 'Are they… are they here for your brother…?'
The Dark Wanderer did not spare a glance at the poor innocent, and merely said in a calm, but somehow troubled voice, 'Silence, Marius.'
He walked towards us, and didn't stop until I could feel his breath on my neck. It was very troubling, and I felt lost within Aidan's eyes, my mind also registering the darker, stretched skin on his forehead underneath which pulsed the Stone in the darkest magic I had ever seen.
Aidan diverted his gaze from mine, and glanced at Andariel in a rather cold way.
'Andariel… I thought I had assigned you a task.'
The Demoness bowed her head and stretched her arms slightly more. Now, my arm was brushing against Aidan's hood. I shivered.
'Yes, you did. But I found a survivor of Tristram. Her name is Elisa, and I thought-'
'I know what her name is!' the Wanderer shouted. I shivered when I saw horns and pikes slowly appear on his face, and realised it probably meant that Aidan, too, had kept some consciousness even in this endless suffering.
Moreina and her soldiers with Andariel, Jazreth with the Sanctuary and Aidan with Diablo… They all suffered.
'What did you think, Andariel?'
The Maiden of Anguish had lost all of her pride and smugness when she whispered, 'I hoped you would like to have her. I was offering her to you. Since she took part in her fight against you but remained unharmed, I thought that-'
'You thought what? That I had forgotten her? Or did you even dare consider that I had been unable to get her?!'
Andariel didn't respond, even though I felt her claws tighten around me in anger. I winced silently, refusing to let out a sound.
But still, Diablo noticed my suffering as his dark gaze met mine. His conflicted gaze.
Aidan fights him…
But I had no hope of him winning. I had learned my lesson with Moreina and then Jazreth. And considering the Warrior's enthusiasm at plunging the Stone in his forehead, I somehow doubted his fate would be different.
I froze, and so did Andariel as well. Glancing at her, I saw her confusedly blink before saying, 'Are you… sure?'
Aidan's body became filled with energy whilst his eyes started to burn in wrath. He slowly raised his palm and repeated, his voice somewhat stronger, 'Release her!'
Andariel's claws slowly lessened their grip until I finally fell. It took me a few moments to realise I was free. It took me even more seconds to slowly stand up, looking at this weird combination of Aidan and the Lord of Terror facing me.
Because how could it be Diablo? Why would he decide to save me so suddenly? No, it had to be Aidan. But still, the power he had just shown the hint of could have never come from Aidan. I glanced at the human, Marius, who stood speechless as well a few steps away from us.
Andariel remained kneeling, her teeth clenched in anger. She probably despised her current situation.
Will that push her to fight against Diablo…?
'May I enquire… a reason for this order?'
The Wanderer stepped forward, ignoring my confused shape. He stopped in front of Andariel and sneered at her figure, 'Since when do I have to justify myself to anyone, never mind you?'
The Maiden of Anguish bowed even more, showing submission. 'Of course you don't.'
'I had given you a task, Andariel. By now, the Rogues are probably ready to conquer back their Monastery, and soon they will come here! You have failed.'
Andariel gulped, obviously terrified. I wondered how it felt to experience fear when you were the Mistress of Anguish. 'Give me another chance, Diablo. I am on your side. Give me another chance to prove my worth.'
'Are you truly reduced to begging, my dear Maiden? Where has your pride gone?'
Andariel remained silent, and the Wanderer chuckled in clear amusement. Right now, I almost felt empathy towards the Demoness. Had I been in her place, I wouldn't have been particularly prideful too.
Aidan's voice filled the tomb, 'Since you failed in an attempt to please me, I shall give you another chance. Go to Caldeum, and seek a woman called "Adria the Witch". When you find her, reveal yourself to her. She will know what to do.'
Andariel, unaware of my recognition at the name, simply snarled, 'You ask me to be a human's servant?!'
The Wanderer remained unimpressed whilst Andariel's red hair started to glow in anger. 'She, unlike you, has proven herself to be quite useful to me until now. Besides, I have no doubts of her loyalty, unlike yours which proved itself to be quite… easily influenced.'
Andariel growled slightly, her dark appendages pulsing in anger behind her. But finally, she managed to gain composure and agreed to leave, her burning eyes meeting mine once more before she disappeared into a dark portal.
The Wanderer smirked then, a cold and scheming smile accompanied by a soft 'If only she knew…'
If only she knew what?!
BWAHAHAHAHAH! I like this chapter. But then I say it all the time. Consider it like a gradual liking then. I hoped you liked it too, and I also hope that the Wanderer wasn't OOC. I despise OOC, it's in my mind the absolute contrary to what fanfiction should be (all in all if you want an OOC then why not just make it an OC?). But all "weird" behaviour of the Wanderer will be explained in later chapters.
Regarding writing, I'm currently halfway through the Xth.