Diablo II and all its respective trademarks are property of Blizzard and Blizzard North. This character is based on one of mine in Nightmare level, so extra powers are the norm, not the exception. I've also taken a few liberties with the conversations; so if you're looking for verbatim renditions, look elsewhere. That being said, enjoy the show…
I watched the sun set in a boiling mass of orange fire to the west. Darkness stole over the land, but even I felt a shiver of superstitious dread at this darkness. It felt foul; tainted. Things walked the land tonight, and there were not human. A sour smile twisted my mouth as I turned my glance to my travelling companions. Obviously, I thought dryly, considering they're my minions.
Turning my back to the sun, I headed towards the camp in the distance. I could just make out the archers ready and waiting just beyond the first barrier. With a sigh, I withdrew my power from my skeletal minions, watching them crumple into unconnected bone piles. It would not do to have to kill the Rogues on guard for attacking me.
An eerie groaning filled the air at that moment, causing me to fleetingly wonder if I'd dismissed my skeletons too soon, as I turned to face the noise. One of the Hungry Dead, I surmised, readying myself and my magics. My golem clanked forwards, then proceeded to flail at the undead creature. I watched passively, noting that this monster was far different from the others I'd encountered on my journey east.
With the others I'd faced, my golem had beaten them into the ground in seconds. This Hungry Dead didn't seem to be fazed. I sighed at the waste of magical energies, then waved my wand and cast Trang Oul's Teeth at the creature. They passed harmlessly through my golem and slammed into the undead. It didn't even blink. My temper rose, and I cast again. I managed to knock a rotting arm from its body. With the other, it continued to strike at my golem.
I gave vent to a snarl and pounded it with Trang Oul's Teeth in my fury. Finally it gave a death rattle and collapsed into pieces. I strode over to it, and toed it with my boot. I looked around, but my eyes were not good enough to pierce the darkness to see if it had companions. I couldn't help myself, but vented by booting the zombie's head as far away as I could. Then I turned and strode towards the Rogue encampment.
The archers looked at me and my clanking escort with worried expressions. Their bows were drawn, arrows on the string, but pointing at the ground.
"I would speak with whomever is in charge here," I said, voice muffled by the helm that covered my head and most of my face, fashioned to look like a skull.
"Beyond this gate, on the right, is where our High Priestess resides." She eyed my golem nervously. I muttered a curse under my breath. The bows swung up, arrows pointing at me.
"What did you say?" the other demanded.
"I called your partner here a provincial idiot. Now put those bows down before I'm forced to hurt you," I snapped, unfazed, the words to activate my bone armour on the tip of my tongue.
At the seconds' gesture, they lowered their bows. "A word of advice, spell caster," the first snarled. "Either speak clearly or don't speak at all."
"I shall endeavour to remember that," I sneered, and then strode past them into the camp. A few chickens clucked and scratched amongst the pathetic collection of tents and wagons within the barricade. A few Rogues wandered about, and every time their glances turned to me there was surprise and hostility in their eyes. I ignored them, heading for a small, lonely tent, hung with charms and cut off from the rest of the camp by a low stone wall. There was a woman, dressed in a hooded purple robe, sitting on a low stool in front of it, who looked up as I approached.
Her raking, penetrating gaze took in everything about me, from my well-worn boots, to my gold washed mail, to the fancy shield on my left arm. Her eyes lingered on my winged wand, before shifting to look at my face. I knew all she could see was my chin, and perhaps a flash of colour from my eyes, but still I was uneasy. This woman saw too much.
"I am Akara, High Priestess of the Sisters of the Sightless Eye. It is not often we see your kind, Priest of Rathma."
I was relieved that she had given me my proper title. The common epithet for my calling was 'necromancer', which was unflattering at best. I inclined my head to her. "I've heard a great deal about you," I lied.
She gave a gentle, serene smile. "Somehow I doubt that. We are very cut off from the world out here." She rose to her feet and gracefully moved towards me. My nerves told me to be wary. My brain told me not to be so stupid. She stopped with barely a foot of space between us. "I know why you have come. The Sisterhood has guarded the gates to the east for centuries. When the Dark Wanderer came, and the Demoness Andariel took control of the Citadel…" she stopped, a look of incredible sorrow on her face. "I lost many Sisters. And each day brings more death." Akara looked away for a moment, perhaps regarding the remnants of her sisterhood. "Yet perhaps you can help us. In the wilderness that surrounds this camp lies a cave where many of the Sisters have died, and despite our best efforts it remains infested with foul creatures. Clear this den of evil, I implore you."
I slowly nodded with a sinking feeling. A cave that has claimed Rogue lives. Say what you will about the Sisterhood, they were efficient killers.
"You may camp anywhere within the barricade and be assured of your safety," the old woman continued. "You should make yourself known to Charsi the blacksmith, and to Kashya, who commands what few Sisters we have remaining." With that, she turned back to her tent. Just like that, I was being dismissed. My gauntleted hands clenched, and I forced myself to turn away, marshalling my anger. Obviously the old woman had many things on her mind, I thought uncharitably.
My golem kept up with me as I strode towards the fire at the centre of the camp. A skinny, bow-legged man stood on the other side of it, warming his hands. In the distance, I could see the glowing coals of a banked forge, and I was relieved that finding the blacksmith would be so easy.
"Greetings, traveller, my name is Warriv." His voice had a false tone of heartiness – I could hear the weariness underneath. "I am a merchant bound for the east, but I am imprisoned here by the danger that surrounds the Eastern Gate. But… Are you here to fight the evil?"
I gave a sardonic smile, hidden in the shadows of my helm. "Yes," I replied hollowly, "I am."
"Praise be!" he exclaimed. "Many have lost their lives, but you may yet survive. If you do, and cleanse the Rogue Citadel of evil, I will take you beyond the Eastern Gate with my caravan."
I inclined my head. "My thanks." I saw him glance at the golem, and then he spoke softly, almost to himself.
"I saw a fire creature like that once. The Priest who controlled it saved my caravan from a pack of bandits. Just stepped out of the wilderness with his creature at his side." He gave a little sigh, then met my eyes. "I tithe to Rathma, on his festival, in thanks for my life." I understood, at that moment. To most people, members of my faith were to be feared. It was refreshing that Warriv did not.
"I have been instructed to find Kashya, leader of the Rogues," I said. "Do you know where I may find her?"
Warriv gave a grin which made him look boyish. "Check near the gate at this time of day. She inspects the defences after the sun goes down."
"Again, my thanks." I started to turn, then paused, and a small smile quirked my lips. I gestured to the golem. "Stay," I commanded it. It froze mid-movement, its iron carapace gleaming in the firelight. "Keep Warriv company." This time the merchant laughed openly.
It was not difficult after all to find Kashya. She was puffed up with her own importance, and was the only Rogue to wear mail and a shoulder drape, even on this chill evening. She glared at my armour and wand, and an expression of hate twisted her pretty features into an ugly mask. "A necromancer," she spat. "As if we haven't got enough troubles." Kashya glared at me, obviously awaiting a response. I simply stood, taking her measure. Hot tempered, surely, but there must be something about this woman that had held the Rogues together through so much.
She looked me up and down, and a nasty smile curled her lips. "Akara may be our spiritual leader, but I command the Rogues. You won't last a day out here, necromancer." A commotion started at the gate, and she broke off her sneering to stare. An obviously exhausted Sister staggered over the Kashya, waving off any who sought to help her.
"In the Burial Grounds… blasphemy… Blood Raven… raising an undead army!" she managed to gasp out, before her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed. Kashya lunged, catching her before she hit the ground, then gently lowering her the rest of the way. I could have sworn that there was a sparkle of tears in her eyes. They were gone when she looked up as another Rogue pounded towards her.
She slid to a stop, her expression grim. "Blaise is being taken to Akara. She probably won't make it." Kashya rose to her feet.
"Get Taryn to her bedroll, and ask Akara to check on her when she can. Double the guard. The scouts may have been followed. Move!" she commanded, and her attendant lieutenants scattered. "You wish to help, necromancer?" she snarled, turning to me. "Destroy this abomination. Then we'll trust you." She took off across the encampment, heading for Akara's tent, leaving me behind.
"I may just do that, woman, just to spite you," I murmured aloud as, with a soft hissing sound, rain began to fall. I padded across the compound again, this time heading for the glow of the banked forge as the last of the light faded from the sky. My tired muscles protested that I should leave it for the morning, but I ignored them. This one more thing, then I could sleep.
I could only assume this woman was Charsi, I thought, as I watched a powerfully-built female beat an iron bar that lay on her anvil. Her muscles rippled, shining wetly in the glow of her fire as she plunged the bar into a bucket of water beside her. She looked up, saw me, and gave a genuine smile. "Hi," she said, "I'm Charsi, the blacksmith." She stepped forwards, offering her soot-smudged hand.
With a fast flick, I shed my gauntlet and gingerly shook her hand. She didn't let me go, but stared piercingly at the ring on my finger. "That's one of the Doom rings, isn't it? I've read about them."
I disengaged myself a little less than tactfully. "So I'm told." She must have noticed my reticence, and smiled again.
"I fled the Citadel with my Sisters when Andariel took over, but even though I left my tools behind, I still have my skills. If you need anything, even advice, just let me know."
I nodded. "Thank you. Akara said I should make myself known to you. Now I can see why." Charsi gestured to an iron bound chest sitting near an earthen wall near the forge.
"I offer this to anyone who fights on our side. You can store any valuables you wish here. I'll protect them for you."
I frowned, more than a little confused. "Forgive me, but is everyone always this… nice? Well, aside from Kashya, that is."
"You have to understand something," Charsi said. "We've been relegated to the wilderness for the past eight months. I've held my Sisters in my arms as they died. The remaining Sisters have seen things, have killed things, much worse than any corpse botherer could ever be. You won't frighten them, Priest. They're beyond being scared." She paused. "And Kashya… is Kashya. She's the best fighter and general we have left. At Akara's command, she cannot mount an offensive to take back the Citadel. Akara says the Sisterhood has lost too many to kill even more attacking the Demoness. She's hoping-" Charsi broke off, considering. "She's hoping that someone else can kill Andariel, and give us our home back.
I thought about this. "Very well," I said finally, "then I may have need of your aid. But for now I will bid you good evening." I gave a slight, creaky bow, rain water cascading off my helm. Charsi waved a hand to her left.
"Pitch your tent over there. Even with the rain, the forge keeps my little corner of this camp warm."
I padded off, many things on my mind. I left the golem standing at the fire, and wrestled with my tent. I was soaked and miserable by the time I'd finished, my jaws gaping in frequent yawns. Crawling inside, I dragged off my sodden equipment and wrapped in in an oil cloth to dry and help prevent rust. My amulet and rings I left in place as I collapsed in my blankets with barely enough energy to cover myself. Charsi was right, I thought sleepily, it is warmer. With the sound of rain drumming on canvas, I slid into an exhausted sleep.
I did not dream.