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The city of Northridge was an isolated community, set on the eastern edge of Sharval Wilds. Far from its neighbors, it nonetheless served as a way station between Ivorgrod, the realm of the Patriarchs, and the kingdom of Khanduras. And, like many cities of the world, it had faced its share of perils throughout the years. Demons, armies, and foul magic had all imperiled its citizens, but always, its stout walls and hardy guardsmen had held against all comers.
Until now. What began as a few raids on villages, with only a handful of survivors, had escalated into a full scale attack by a horde of demons. Before the mayor of the city had time to react, the city was under siege, and its distance from aid proved to be the city’s undoing. For three days the walls held, but on the forth, the demons swarmed over the defenses.
Candras, a guardsman of the city, had been fighting for his life among the houses and shops for hours now. His armor was in shambles, his sword notched and his shield a dead weight upon his arm. He’d cut down at least a dozen Fallen, and at least a handful of ghouls. Still, he wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on. They just kept coming.
The sturdily built young man looked about at his fellow guards that were spread out throughout the town’s cathedral square. Of the original ten in his squad, only six remained. Most of them had suffered wounds of some kind, and Lurien, their sergeant, would die shortly from a stab-wound to the gut. Even now, the surly, bearded man swore from where he lay propped against the well near the center of the courtyard, his sword in hand.
There was a rattle down the street, a clash of arms. Candras tightened his grip on his sword, and readied himself. A line of demons came through the smoke, having pushed past a shoddy barricade.
The guards formed a ragged line when Lurien ordered them to. Even though he could not join them, their commander still had the will to direct them for one last bout. Candras had no doubt this was their last, at least.
The demons howled when they spotted the guards, and charged forward. As they drew close, Candras ducked behind his shield. Suddenly, he heard a buzz by his ear and a brief gust of wind. He looked out, and was shocked to see several demons already dead, the bolts of a crossbow imbedded in their chests. Then the guard saw a swift, dark clad figure leap down from a nearby rooftop, a dark blue scarf trailing behind its neck. Upon landing, a pair of hand-crossbows fired again, downing another pair of Fallen, and Candras recognized it, or rather, her.
It was Etain, a Demon Hunter that had arrived in the city not a day before the assault. At first, during the initial stages of the siege, the people had blamed the attack on her. But her fierce efforts on the behalf of the citizens had removed all doubt from their minds, if not their wariness of her calling.
Candras and the guards watched in morbid fascination as Etain destroyed the hellspawn around her. Never once did the creatures touch her, even when they finally got close enough to strike. The tall, slim woman was simply too fast for them. Finally, the last of them formed a ring around her, and the leader of the group stalked forward.
It was the demon Candras had spotted a few times during the battle, the leader of horde that had been assaulting the city. A hideous amalgamation of muscle and bone that bore a formidable looking mace and was clad, unlike many of its kind, in a rough approximation of human armor it had stolen from the corpses of its victims.
“It seems you like sending your minions to their deaths, hellspawn,” Etain said. Candras gasped. He had seen the creature dismember and crush his fellow guards, or any demon that displeased him. Surely the Hunter did not wish to taunt him in such a situation.
“You are the one going to her death, foolish girl,” it answered. “Know that my master still haunts this world as you die in agony.” At their leaders command, the demons in the circle charged forward as one. Candras counted more than ten, but he knew where this was going. He’d seen the brown haired woman fight her way out of far worse over the past few days.
Edited by Mithrilfist#1243 on 5/25/2012 10:55 PM PDT
Instead, Etain fired her crossbows, first her right at one, then the left at another. Both bolts hit their targets, opening a gap in the circle at either side. She charged to right, reloading in time to fire off a round at the demon general. The creature swatted it aside with his mace, roaring for his minions to press the attack. They chased her about the street, but despite its narrow confines, they had yet to catch her.
Still, Candras saw that they were steadily forcing her back, towards the guards’ ragged line. The soldier glanced towards the sergeant, who nodded. “Charge!” the soldier shouted. The guards, by this point used to following his orders, leapt to join the fray and none too soon. The leading demon was now after the Demon Hunter, swinging his mace and dodging her crossbow bolts with ease. With her attention on their leader, Etain could not hope to evade the others without some sort of aid. The woman’s dark green eyes met Candras’s for a moment, and she saw there an unspoken thanks for his intervention.
As the guards dealt with the lesser demons, the dance between Etain and the greater beast continued. Whenever the creature struck, the Hunter slipped aside, firing her weapons. These either were deflected by the demon’s armor or failed to strike a vital area, and some the demon deftly sent whirling aside.
Finally, the Hunter lowered her crossbows. Candras saw, as he cut down one of the monsters, that both quivers on her hips were empty. Etain appeared defenseless, save for her agility, which, against such a formidable foe would not be enough. The demon commander was too formidable foe to simply evade, and the guardsman knew the creature was out his league, or any of his fellows, either. The demon smiled, revealing a hideous set of spiked and broken teeth. Its maw was wide enough to swallow a man’s head whole. Candras knew it could. He’d seen it.
The demon closed within easy striking distance of Etain, brandishing its weapon. With an angry, hate filled roar, it swung down to crush the woman into the ground. This attack was so fast and formidable that the guard knew even the agile woman could not evade it entirely. Even a brush from such a strike could kill.Etain didn’t step to either side. In fact, she did not seem to move at all. A three foot, black-edged blade of steel suddenly appeared in her right hand, her crossbows gone. Candras swore, thrusting back an opponent, and cut it down. He watched, dumbfounded, and it cut through the haft of the demon’s mace, and into the creature’s chest. With a surprised bellow, the demon slumped forward, and the Hunter stepped aside. With a sweeping motion, Etain severed the creature’s head from its body.
“It seems you were wrong, demon. You sent your minions to their deaths, and I am still here.” The woman produced a rag from her belt, oblivious of the bodies around her. She whipped the demonic blood from her sword and shook herself. “Grimstrike has never failed me. And it never will.”Candras stared at her, as did his comrades. Finally, she noticed them, and shrugged under her mantle. “You have my thanks,” she said, for the first time addressing the guards. “I wish your city had not been in peril, but it was inevitable.”
“Inevitable?” Candras shouted. “So you did lure them here!” The Demon Hunter’s gaze picked him out of the crowd guards, and he found that he could barely hold her gaze.
Edited by Mithrilfist#1243 on 5/25/2012 10:56 PM PDT
“Candras, yes? The corporal under Sergeant Lurien?” He nodded. If she was responsible for the attack after all, the rest of the guards, himself included, would make her pay. Not that many of them would live through it, to be sure. “I’m not responsible for the attack here, but I did know it was coming. There is a greater demon that I’ve been after for some time, and his forces are in desperate need of supplies. Northridge was an easy target compared to any of the other cities.” She sheathed the blade, and for that Candras was grateful. Her sword had a frightening look to it, with its black edges and almost blue core. He was sure it was either enchanted or cursed, even though he had only seen it for a few seconds.
Suddenly the city’s bells began to ring, and horns sounded. The smoke and fog began to lift as a strong wind picked up. The sounds of fighting, Candras realized, were dying away. A smile crept onto his features. He saw also, that Etain was smiling from where she stood.
“The battle is over,” she said. “It seems we’ve won.”
“It seems we have,” a gruff voice said from behind Candras. To his surprise, the guardsman recognized the voice of his sergeant. He’d thought Lurien was dead by now from his injuries. The old man was far tougher than expected.
“You have my thanks, Demon Hunter,” he said, “and our mayor will no doubt wish to speak with you personally. Anything you ask, will be yours.”
Etain shook her head. “None are necessary. Fighting hellspawn is all that I am.” She paused, looking thoughtful. “A day’s rest and getting my gear repaired would be a fine favor, though.”
“It shall be done,” Lurien said.
It was the next day before Northridge was considered secure. The mayor, along with the city’s council of elders and prominent citizens, had insisted on a feast to reward the guards and their savior. Etain, despite her protestations, chose to attend. The food was the best the siege allowed, and despite the uncomfortable circumstance, the young woman allowed for the people to thank her. It was what seemed an endless few hours before she could pay any attention to the meal set before her.
Still, she could not deny these folk their time of celebration. The mayor chose to house those guards that had fought bravely and the citizens that had been displaced from their homes. Etain, however, was given the seat of honor.
The Demon Hunter spotted many commoners with a dazed, fearful look on their faces. It was something she had seen numerous times, and had even experienced herself. It was a deeply buried memory, one she used to fuel her hatred for the demons and their masters.
Despite her youthful looks, Etain had been hunting demons for almost fifteen years. Before joining the Hunters, she had served as a soldier of Westmarch against the Prime Evils and their forces. Though her homeland hadn’t suffered as greatly as its neighbor Khanduras, it had suffered many fearsome battles, especially the depredations of the Lord of Destruction, Baal. Diablo and Mephisto, his brothers, had also wrought much havoc, but far from her homeland.
While the Prime Evil himself hadn’t been directly involved, Baal’s had left the conquest of Westmarch to one of his most loyal servants. And this demon was perhaps the greatest threat to Sanctuary that she knew of. He was also the demon responsible for the loss of her family.
The Primes had been defeated, along with all but two of the Lesser Evils. Belial, the Lord of Lies, and Azmodan, the Lord of Sin, were now in command of the Hells. But, Sanctuary itself was under threat from Vxavion. He was as cunning as the any of the Evils and nearly rivaled them in personal power. Unlike his master, Vxavion had escaped the destruction of Arreat. He had rallied the decimated forces of the demons and escaped the armies and heroes that pursued him.
For a time, Vxavion had hidden in the Shorval Wilds. The woman had spent nearly a year among the Wilds themselves before learning that he had in fact moved on, much more to the north. But that was only within the past month. Etain had learned of the impending attack on Northridge just before discovering where her prey had gone.
The feast wound down, and the Demon Hunter excused herself from the festivities as soon as was politely possible. She had a long trip ahead of her, to the northern coast of the Wilds, and from there, to the Dreadlands.
It was ironic, in a way, where Vxavion had gone to hide, with part of his army. The Dreadlands, a once powerful and beautiful land, where now desolate. But that did not mean they were unprotected. It was the realm of her order. It was the lands where the Demon Hunters trained and refined their recruits into living weapons against the Hells.
It was there that Etain would have to pursue her enemy. He would not escape her. Not this time.
Edited by Mithrilfist#1243 on 5/25/2012 10:57 PM PDT
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