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Darkness. A spark lights the gloom. The sound of stone on stone. Another. A deep voice quietly curses. Again... Again... Finally a small pile of tinder lights. A soft breath and the fire begins to take hold. Light grows faintly, timidly. Wood is gently piled upon the fire, growing… ever growing. Two men sit and watch the light with tired eyes and vacant expressions. These men, giants of Arreat, begin to unpack large packs, unroll bedding and prepare dried meats and root vegetables for the night’s meal.
The icy wind blasts its way through the rocks of the cave entrance, screaming as it is torn on the jagged, burnt stone. The sound rebounds in the small cavern, echoing. A single screaming voice becomes thousands; cries of despair, terror and mourning fill the small space.
“Ancestors, I am sorry. My wife, I am sorry. My children, I am sorry.” He stood and rocked gently as tears cleaned small rivulets of dirt and blood from his massive, scarred face.
“Your words and tears will not bring back the dead, Baenor. This cursed place does not hold their spirits and they would shame you if they heard you speak so.” The older man spat into the fire with a curse.
The voices screamed endlessly as the wind ebbed and flowed around the cave mouth. The sounds brought back memories… hope turned to despair as the barbarian lines broke against the demonic onslaught, the terror as they were cut off from the city and surrounded… Cut off… No way to get back…
“You killed more than any that day. More than any of our greatest. You honored yourself and your clan… and now this?”
Baenor nodded his head. “Calim. I killed. I killed many. But for every demon I killed, two more took its place. Every swing of my axe cleaved skulls and limbs. I cut a path of blood until none would stand in my way. I was the avalanche, I was the whirlwind.”
Calim nodded gravely, “as a true hero.”
“A true hero would have protected his people! His home! His family!” he screamed and threw his pack at the other man.
“Family. Family. Family.” The word hung in the air as it bounced from wall to wall. The screaming wind had stopped to gather strength. Silence hung like a spider’s web… almost tangible in the small space. Then a sudden crunch of gravel on stone caused the men to grab for weapons. Baenor wielded two axes, silvery with gemmed hilts. Calim hefted a giant war hammer etched with leaping boars and soaring eagles.
“I come as a friend. With open hands and an open heart. Will you allow an old man to sit and warm by your fire?” a soft voice called from the distance.
The two looked at each other, suspicion open in their faces. “What is your name?” Calim called.
“My name is my own.” the stranger called.
Calim nodded. The stranger had begun with a proper greeting and it was poor judgment to provide your name to a stranger on the chance that he or she might be a demon in disguise.
“You may not join us, stranger. We have no need of your company. Move along before you find my axe buried in your open heart.” Baenor called back.
Calim frowned. Baenor was being unnecessarily rude, even to one they did not know.
Laughter in the distance. “You barbarians always have such a way. I believe your custom is that you cannot refuse hospitality to one that presents a gift of true worth.”
“What gift do you offer then, stranger?” Baenor called back. Calim’s frown deepened. It was also considered very rude to ask for the gift. The gift was given by the giver at the time of their choosing.
“A story.” the stranger called back.
Edited by Melancholy#1609 on 6/14/2012 3:48 PM PDT
“Is that all stranger? A story?” Baenor asked scornfully.
“A story of lost hope. And of dire warning.”
Calim’s face reddened. Stories were an integral part of their culture, their heritage. A tale of great heroism and deeds could be worth more than gold, if told well. Baenor in his grief and rage had forgotten the value of stories. His grief clouded his mind. He shamed himself more every moment. “By the hand of Bul’Kathos, no harm shall befall you before the first rays of the morning sun. You are welcome to our fire.” he called.
Baenor’s jaw dropped. Calim had used the strictest form of welcome, one that bound the host by sacred oath to protect the guest until death. He quickly repeated the oath, as his shame finally began to outweigh his grief.
Again a soft laugh. “And I was beginning to feel unwelcome. I accept your pledge, sons of mighty Bul’Kathos. Although you may come to regret them later.”
Slow steps, faint. The crunch of gravel as the stranger rounded the corner became louder and louder. The wind was strangely absent.
The stranger rounded the corner and the barbarians caught their first glimpse of him. A black cloak hid his face and was torn and dirty where it touched the ground. His hands were covered in gauntlets, runes traced in finery up his forearms to his concealing cloak. Weapon hilts stood out from his shoulders, but the weapons themselves were hidden in sheaths under the cloak.
The two men lowered their weapons carefully. The stranger moved slowly to a darkened corner away from the fire. Calim strained for a glimpse of his face, but was unable to see anything clearly in the gloom. The stranger moved with silent grace, careful not to come too close, careful not to lose sight of either warrior.
The stranger came to a flat rock, nodded his head and turned to the two men. He bowed slightly, flourished his cloak and sat.
Calim saw Baenor exhale slowly and lower his weapon. He did the same. After all, he had given his most sacred oath to protect this stranger, and he was no oath breaker. The two men placed their weapons on the cave floor and resumed their preparations for the meal.
“Will you take food with us?” Calim asked the stranger.
“No. Thank you, though. My needs are slight and I would not burden my mighty hosts.”
The men continued working, stoking the fire, adding wood from their bundles and wrapping their root vegetables in leaves and placing them under the cracking wood. They tore large chunks of salty, dried meat from rolls in their packs with their teeth. Hunting this year had been the best in years. Once the vegetables had been cooked, they ate them in single bites, still steaming. They emptied skins filled with icy, glacial water to finish the meal. Calim let out a hearty belch, echoing through the small space. Baenor lay back and stared at the cave roof.
Their bellies full and warmth of the fire creeping into their bones, the men felt better than they had in days. The food seemed to taste better, the water taste cleaner and even the fire seemed cheerful.
Calim spared a glance at the stranger, still hooded, unmoving. Watching. Silent. Spirits lifted from the meal, he started singing . Soft and deep were his notes, rumbling throughout the cave.
“Ocean waves break on a sea cliff of stone,
Bul’Kathos, first lord of the mountain home,
Hold true the course my victorious dead,
The mountain home holds your final bed.
The sun breaks the mountains to dust,
The rains break our weapons to rust,
Yet, onward, onward, onward we roam,
Till at last we come to our mountain home.
Save me a chair at in the mountain home,
Where the ale runs cold and the blood runs red,
Save me a bed in the mountain home,
Welcome me brother, we victorious dead.”
He finished the last note, held it for a final breath and lowered his head. It felt good to sing again.
Edited by Melancholy#1609 on 6/12/2012 6:41 AM PDT
The stranger nodded. “You sing well. Thank you for that, it seems like ages since I’ve heard singing.”
Baenor sat up, grief still marring his scarred face. “Yes, Calim. Your songs are welcome.” He even gave a weak smile.
“Would you hear my story?” the stranger asked. “Your bellies are full and your rage has quelled. The fire is warm and the night is cold.” The two men nodded in agreement. “Then I shall begin.”
“I promised a story of hope, salvation and of dire warning. And I shall allow you to be the judges of its worth.” The fire crackled softly.
“My story begins with family. My brother and I were twins, born seconds apart. I was the elder brother and I was given the rule of our people. To me fell the learning of lore and craft, recording the words and deeds of our people and providing council to those in need. To my younger brother fell the art of war and command.”
“Then you are a king, then?” Calim asked.
“No, no… never a king. You have the Elder Council, much the same as they.” The stranger replied. Calim nodded.
“Why was the younger brother not the leader?” asked Baenor. “If he had the skills of a chieftain, why did he not claim the leadership for himself?”
The stranger shook his head. “We all have strengths and weaknesses. Can you forge an axe from an ingot of steel?” Baenor shook his head. “But you have strength and you know the arts of war.” Baenor nodded. “This was his skill, and our people followed him in war as they followed me in peace. Only a prideful fool would assume he could pick up a blacksmith’s hammer and forge with no skill and no training.”
“And that is the warning I spoke of, the sin of pride. Now allow me the respect of continuing my tale.” Baenor looked abashed and stayed silent.
“We ruled for many years, side by side. Our enemies often times seemed to be endless, and my brother led our armies in battle. Many times many did he save lives and win countless victories. And our people loved him, but conflict breeds hate and he saw never-ending war. He became paranoid, always searching for enemies, even where there were none. He stopped asking for my council and turned his back to my words and the council of others. The only sound he would hear was the call to war.
As his anger and hatred grew, his enemies were the first to feel his wrath. He executed a captured enemy chief, against the express wishes of my council.
Then he turned on me. I lost something very dear to me and to my people. The thief was one of my brother’s lieutenants and in all my wisdom, I never saw his desperation. My brother blamed me for the theft, accusing me of trying to undermine his authority with my corrupting ideas of peace.
Before his rage could consume us both, I left. I left my brother and my people. I hoped to spare him the grief of my execution. His rage knew no bounds and I knew the logical conclusion to his accusations. So I left on the pretense to find our lost treasure.
I knew where the treasure had gone. Desperation is the spark of hope. The tinder was the treasure and all he needed was the time to fan the flames. The thief could not have imagined the result. Such beauty and such desperate hope... It could have been my brother’s salvation. A symbol of peace to end endless war. But it was not to be, because his pride would not allow him to trust anyone but himself. And he sentenced his lieutenant to living death because he could not forgive the theft.
The stranger turned to Baenor. “Would you choose to protect this fragile hope or war on, barbarian?” Baenor dipped his head and stared at the floor. Tears fell into the dirt on the cave floor. “Then you know of the sin of which I speak.”
“So I left my brother and my people and I wandered. To dark places and light. To places that time had forgotten. I renounced pride and gave myself to protection of all things.
Deep in my wanderings I learned a great many things. Call it prophecy, if you will. I could see the threads of fate more clearly than my own gauntlet, as if they were things alive. Fate, stronger than the strongest steel, but mutable as clay.
And I through them saw my brother. Blood dripped from his side and his heart was filled with terror. Our city stood in ruins and our enemies slew with reckless abandon. Only by barest chance and the valor of others did our city stand. My brother: defeated, helpless and dependant on others. Something in his pride he could never imagine. Something that he still cannot and will not face.
Wounded pride now sits as a cancer in his heart. The poison of our enemy's hatred will not let him live in peace. He can no longer see valor in anything but endless war. And those that stand against him will be utterly destroyed. Those of my people who would not stand with him will be put to the sword.
“Bah.” said Baenor. “This story is a children’s tale, it has no worth.” He shook his head.
“I have something to show you, barbarian.” The stranger pointed to the cave entrance. For the first time Calim noticed flashes of light, so focused was he on the stranger’s tale. There was no thunder.
As they stood, Calim heard the wailing return, but his eyes widened in shock. The wind had not returned. He reached for his war hammer. Baenor had already retrieved his axes.
The three walked out of the cave and glanced up at the overcast sky. Flashes of light filled the expanse. Meteors fell in all directions, but the scene in the clouds was one of carnage. Angels, fitted with golden armor and long golden spears fought in furious combat. Calim winced as an angel allowed his guard to slip and was impaled by another. A meteor marked his fall. The sky was full of streaking forms.
“What is this madness?” Calim shouted.
“My brother’s doing. Angelic Civil War. Imperius’ troops have almost completed the purge.” the stranger said, softly shaking his head.
Baenor stared at the stranger with wide eyes. “Who are you?”
“I was known once as the Archangel Malthael.”
Calim felt his knees go weak. He pointed a feeble finger to the skies. “What happens when it’s all over?” Calim asked.
Malthael turned to Calim. “Then they come for you.”
Edited by Melancholy#1609 on 6/12/2012 6:48 AM PDT
Final bit of clerical effort. Since I did post the different chapters as different threads you can find the other parts of the story here.
Chapter 2 Revelation: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/forum/topic/5740846676
Chapter 3 Rebirth: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/forum/topic/5794090255
Chapter 4 Reunion: http://us.battle.net/d3/en/forum/topic/5794080429
Edited by Melancholy#1609 on 6/14/2012 7:13 AM PDT
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