A faceless, dark, cloaked figure stood before me, beckoning over the hillside with a pale hand and staff. The heat from the rising sun seared my face and blinded me as I followed the figure to the dune's summit. We had travelled all night to avoid heat exhaustion. My eyes adjusted. I knew this place. It was the desert path towards Lut Gholein and its dry hills had almost swallowed me once before.
The figure rasped, “In a vision described to me by the Heavens, it has been revealed. Our purpose here is to recover scrolls used to enchant Tal Rasha’s bindings and the artifacts wrought by humans against the Prime Evils in the Great War. We must collect and preserve the history of those who fought selflessly, my bride.”
The figure strained to lift his hand and removed the hood from his bowed head.
My husband, Wahir.
Suddenly, the scene was not familiar. His irritated eyes gazed into mine, thirsting for recognition, but I did not know him then. Wahir bore an ethereal yolk that strained his soul and did not yield from the Heavens.
In an instant, a brilliant light was born from the sun and a comet hurled toward the valley below. The earth surged away from the impact in a wave of dust. From miles away its sandstorm approached me and the decoy of my husband began to laugh. The laugh turned to a howl, and then to a shrieking as he vanished.
A herd of sand leapers that had terrorized us in the night burst through his vacant silhouette, propelled by the impact. Leapers crashed into the dune around me until one hit my chest. Talons broke my flesh. I could not draw a breath as the stunned leaper, half canine, half reptile, laid still by my side.
I spotted vultures circling overhead. Other leapers sneered their jagged smiles.
Rolling and drawing my dagger to fend an attack, I was able to come to a crouching position as others in the pack, eight in all, turned in salivating interest. Vultures circled lower in the cloud of dust, anticipating my defeat. I drew the rapier.
Following unspoken orders, the leapers charged at once, the largest supervising in the rear.
One by one, I dispatched them. The first lost his head from a molenét, when the tip of my blade met his neck on the turn. Another impaled by a thrust of my dagger. One was cut by my parry left and limped away whimpering, likely to bleed to death. Finally, after the fourth feral beast was put to rest, the others scattered, leaving the largest alone to face me.
He charged and I rolled backwards, kicking him with my boot in the chest and launching him behind me.
I stood up as he recovered, his sapphire eyes fixed on my throat. He charged again and I clashed my blades together. Airborne in his final bound, I strafed right and closed my blades around his neck like shears, pinning him to the ground.
Looking up at me panting, he defiantly growled as I decapitated him. The others retreated further down the dune.
As I reached to sheath the rapier at my waist, I found the narrow wrist of my husband, Wahir, as he laid stirring next to me.
Sitting up, my shaky sigh and cold sweat were greeted by his warm smile, illuminated by the sun creeping up the bedside.
The dense morning fog that had been choking me was rising slowly from the valley as I slipped out to draw water from the spring.
I repeated my daily routine. The curds and hominy grits were sour and slightly moldy, respectively. Everything was tainting faster than usual those days. A lunch break from the shop floor wouldn't be allowed until I had pleated another armored skirt, so I ate as much as I could, sloshing it down with a hot sassafras tea.
Running the farm, caring bedside for Wahir, and working for Greb, the blacksmith was back-breaking, but honest work. All my poor husband could manage was feeding the chickens from sparse crops.
The only reprieve for us was a young man from town, Howart, who apprenticed him. Lately, Wahir had been too weak to serve the boy a fresh meal and the boy stopped coming on the regular. Instead, he worked as a boy breaker in the Upper Branch mine, sorting coal rubble for a menial wage. I don't grudge him, a decent meal was rare.
I glanced back at my locked chest as I fastened my smithing apron. The traumatic stress of my dreams reminded me of the stash I kept should Diablo and his brothers, walk the lands of Sanctuary again.
I found the key, and withdrew a sheathed rapier and dagger, steel tempered by my own hands. The rapier's hilt swept into the Sisters of the Sightless Eye's standard, a lone star above rolling highlands. Its weight balanced as I held it pronated before me. Sheathing the rapier, I closed my eyes, envisioned the cloaked figure in my nightmare, and drew the dagger.
My hits needed rehearsal, but with a flash of steel I met shoulders to waist, waist to shoulders, across the belly, to the neck, to the temples, and a reinforced downward stab.
I wrapped the blades in burlap to carry in my pack. The perversion of my memory, that haunting dream of Lut Gholein, scarred my mind as I left a bowl of hominy grits on the bedstand for Wahir and crept out of the cabin.
I mounted our mare and faced the sun in the East, hovering like a trail blaze as it banished thick fog from the valley.
*****Hell is a Blacksmith Shop*****
And so it came to pass on that fateful morning, New Tristram was unusually bustling with a crowd of hundreds listening to a speaker on a crate before them. I tethered the mare outside of Greb's.
An angry voice carried across the street, "...and the horned ones from the farthest depths can kill dozens of men in a single charge! Enough is enough! We have aired our grievances upon deaf ears! If Lord Terryse wants coal, he can mine it himself! Parties will meet at the orchard this afternoon to schedule patrols and..."
The rest of the speech was drowned by a cheer.
I paled with anxiety. The coal miner's guild had been agitating against the king and the Lord Terryse to win their health from the sulfuric fumes that waded up from the deep caverns carved below Tristram. Now, it seemed, a much greater evil had entered the shafts.
When I turned from the scene, Greb stood before me with his hands tucked under opposite, monstrous armpits, leaning on the shop's door frame blocked by his girth.
"Late, are we?" he spat.
I was always late, according to Greb.
"Don’t you get to thinkin’ that you’re going to join those fools. They been complaining about their work all morning already. Blaming the mine bosses. They should be lucky they have a job."
"You're right, Greb. Them mines couldn't be run any better and they got no right to talk bad about the king's men," I jested.
Greb waddled to within inches of me, his head at the level of my waist. "You shut your mouth, wench. You don't know what yer talkin' 'bout. If it weren't for the king, you'd be out of a job. And you have a safe job, ain't no demons crawling like in the mines. As for you, I want to see them skirts done before lunch, unless you're plannin' on walkin' off the job too.”
His hand brushed my bare thigh as I turned away. I froze as he lifted my skirt, exposing all. I imagined Diablo’s terror lived on in the tips of Greb’s fat fingers, Baal’s destruction in my ravaged flesh, and Mephisto’s hatred in my heart, reserved for men who touch women like so. Hell was a blacksmith shop I could not quit.
Alone at the anvil afterward, my tears splashed on glowing steel.
***** The Fate of a Rogue *****
When I met my husband Wahir, he was a young, rebellious wizard who had run away from Caldeum after stealing many scrolls from the arcane libraries. He scrawled a note sent by courier, pledging to his Vizjerei order that he would vanquish Diablo.
Alas, the rogues found him unconscious from thirst and stricken by fear in the marshlands near our encampment, his intentions unfulfilled.
Shortly after Andariel was slain by a band of outlanders, Wahir was nursed back to health by our rogue witch, the late Akara. He revealed to her the scrolls he had obtained from his order and against the wishes of our military leader, Kashya, Akara trained my husband in the ways of battle magic.
As a result of the intake, two factions emerged in the encampment. One faction, led ideologically by Kashya, opposed the admission of males among the ranks of proud rogues. The other faction, led by Akara, believed that gender should not matter if one's soul is loyal to the rogue discipline.
I left that life of celibacy and discipline upon the rumored destruction of the Prime Evils and the Worldstone to enjoy the love of my husband. Besides, the rogue lifestyle triggered my nightmares.
Wahir and I left with Akara's faction and settled in a lush valley on the outskirts of New Tristram. Kashya led the remaining rogues back into the monastery to rebuild the historic ruins.
Each winter, Wahir and I travelled with a brigade of rogues from our farm to the East. We pursued the remaining demons, creatures, and undead that were raised and left in the Prime Evils' wake. We trained many warriors and mages to battle the remnant hordes, taught the histories we had learned, and retrieved artifacts found in homes, graves, and among corpses of slain champions. This last task we performed with great care and reverence in order to prevent legendary items from falling into crooked hands.
Unfortunately, when the kings were able to reestablish their armies, our valley was deemed property of the King of Khanduras and mortgaged to us for a fee of crops or gold. Lord Terryse was appointed proprietor of the lands surrounding Tristram and collected our crops to turn a profit. He also enforced our hard labor with his elite force of sheriffs, watching from his fort on Lord's Bluff above the valley.
It was at that time that our farm turned from a blessing into a shackle. Faced with poverty, almost every settler in our territory abandoned their livelihoods to take jobs in the coal mines that supplied steel manufacturing for the king.
I took a job for Greb, the blacksmith who set up shop in New Tristram some years ago forging weapons for travelers seeking to loot dungeons beneath the old cathedral where Diablo once grew to power. When the Tristram cathedral was thoroughly looted, travelers were rare and the business was mostly contracted to the king's army.
Greb stopped working once I was hired besides settling accounts for the business. Thus, I did all of the labor while Greb grew fatter. The job paid just enough to be worth keeping, but not enough to sustain our meager household, especially with my husband bedridden.
*****How Much for the Life of a Miner?*****
For lunch, I patroned the Slaughtered Calf Inn. A heavy aroma of stew and fresh loaves greeted me at the door. Among the crowded tables I sighted coal miners in a corner, huddled in discussion.
As I seated myself, a miner whistled and whinnied at me. It almost did not affect me until the laughter of the others in response.
A young man with fiery red hair and freckles came and sat across from me. “Hello, I’m Dale Shebeen. Scribe and courier for the guild.”
I stared down at my stew, disinterested.
Dale paused, and then said, “I’m sorry for the nature of my friends.”
I met his eyes and shook my head, “I should have stayed a rogue.”
“A rogue? You were a rogue?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’ve heard of those,” Dale said, “You’re the blacksmith’s assistant.”
“No, I am the blacksmith. I do the work.”
“Oh,” he stuttered, “Well, you know, we, we, just voted to invite other tradesmen into our guild, the miners guild, the United Workingmen of Sanctuary, the name is. We can’t fight on our own, we need One Big Guild. That’s our motto. One Big Guild.”
“Men? What about women?”
“I mean Workers, not working men. Women too. Everyone. And, and we’d like you to join. United Workers of Sanctuary.”
“Well, you ought to change the welcoming committee,” I grumbled as I watched the other miners at their table make obscene gestures toward me.
Nervously, young Dale explained to me how they were able to organize such a powerful guild under repression. I sat and listened.
He started, "We are organized into small parties of ten to fifteen men, all with a history or bond with one another. Some parties formed around job tasks in the mine, a few were childhood friends, and others formed because of proximity to each other's homes.
"In day to day function, the parties specialize in producing and smuggling certain supplies to the guild hall, which frequently moves to various barns and stables in the valley. It is illegal to conceal commodities from the audit of Lord Terryse, but it's the only means to achieve decency in the life of a miner.
"Guild meetings are only held when there is official business, so they are always short to avoid outside suspicion. At every meeting, supplies are divided based on family size among us to take home.
"The guild allows every miner a vote, and offers self-determination in our lives after long shifts under the mine bosses.
"And when it comes to military matters, each party casts a vote to elect a general, usually the man with the most combat experience. Then, each party also has to approve major military strategy of the entire guild that is proposed by the general.
"Prior to this strike, small military actions and sabotage were executed by parties on their own. Often, mine carts full of coal would go missing and turn up at the guild hall. Rare gems, property of the king, were pocketed and stashed in outgoing caravans to be refined by a jeweler that paid a fine price to the guild.
"This is the only justice that exists in the coal fields. We say, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all.’ That’s why we voted to strike. You know, the demons and all.”
Dale watched me for a moment, to test my approval.
“You never even asked my name,” I said.
“Oh, I’m sorry I…” Dale stammered.
I approached the other miners. “I was trained by the sword among rogues who fought Diablo, Lord of Terror, in Tristram. I forged blades for heroes that slayed the Lesser Evil, Andariel, Maiden of Anguish, who had overtaken our great monastery and slaughtered many Sisters. I buried lifelong companions only to see them raised from their graves to walk Sanctuary as undead slaves to the demoness. I am Charsi, Sister of the Sightless Eye and I will join your guild.”
Shocked, Dale stood up and shouted, “Welcome, Sister Charsi!”
The other miners cheered and applauded me, but their welcome was cut short as the inn’s door swung open and its stained glass shattered.
The clatter of light plated boots grew louder until a towering figure entered the inn followed by a dozen sheriffs. More cavalry remained mounted outside.
The man wore a full helm and full plate, engraved with the new standard of Khanduras, a snarling boar.
Removing the helm, as locks of black hair fell to his shoulders, he spoke “I am your Lord Terryse! Stand before me!”
Some rose from their tables to honor him. Most did not.
He continued, “Today, I have received word that many of you plot to have the Upper Branch Mine sealed shut, endangering the economy of New Tristram and the security of the kingdom of Khanduras. Anyone who agrees with that motive and is a member of the United Workingmen of Sanctuary is hearby guilty of treason against the king and excommunicated from the Church.”
Stroking his square chin, he examined the miners in the back of the room. “You there, young man, what is your purpose here today?”
Dale, realizing it was his turn to respond, said, “I, I am a miner on strike, Lord Terryse.”
Lord Terryse smiled, “On strike? Do you know why you are on strike, young man? Or do you believe everything you're told? Who, may I ask, paid you the gold to purchase your meal today?”
“You did,” Dale replied.
“Ah, and is it not unwise to bite the hand that feeds you?”
Dale looked to the other miners, then to me, filled his lungs and shouted, “Lord Terryse! I do not fear your tyranny! We will defend what left we have to lose by the sword, pick, and hammer! Every day, we swing our tools at your pleasure! We mine the coal that is forged into chains that bind us! Should we strike gold, it is minted into the meager wages we are paid to purchase the food grown from our own farms! Tomorrow, the King of Khanduras will shudder when he hears a gross of men sealed his Upper Branch mine and captured his Lord's Bluff. He will cower at our motto, ‘An injury to one is an injury to all!’"
Lord Terryse leaned back and bellowed in laughter. “Arrest him, then hang him for all to see,” he ordered his sheriffs.
Outnumbered, the miners at the table remained seated, under cover as peasants. I looked down as the sheriffs dragged Dale out of the inn.
Dale Shebeen was hanged that day at the entrance to the logging road that led to Lord’s Bluff. He was twenty three years of age.
I quit Greb's that day and walked off the job wearing the steel breast plate and a plated skirt I had forged.
Greb hobbled after me shouting "Thief! Thief!," but Dale had breathed into me a new hope. I was to be a guild woman.
*****A Miners' March*****
My mare buckled slightly under the weight of the armor and supplies I purchased. In response to Dale’s murder, the miners had decided that afternoon to engage the lord's forces at the north face entrance to the Upper Branch mine, seal the mine with rubble, and proceed to Lord's Bluff.
The evening battle would be pitched and I broke into a gallop back towards the mountain pass to the west.
When I caught up to them, I could only feel pity. The miners had left from the orchard and were on foot wielding pick axes, spades, and any salvaged blades and armor pieces they could muster. They numbered around one hundred and fifty.
"Stop! Miners, stop!" I shouted towards them.
Most of them turned. Some laughed, probably at my defiant womanhood, and continued on the march. Others paused and broke rank to hear what I had to say. One feeble young man, who I recognized as Wahir's farmhand apprentice came to me wielding a short sword I had given him to practice.
"Sister Charsi, it's Howart!" He stood waving, "Will you join us?"
"Not for the entire battle, Howart. I will assist where I can. My body is worn from many years of combat and labor," I frowned.
A towering, grizzly miner atop an elderly stallion trotted from the head of the march to observe us. The man wielded a sledge hammer used to drive spikes into support beams in the mines, imbued with topaz that shown more brilliantly than the hazy sun.
"Do you remember the lessons we had?" I asked.
Howart waved his sword from thrust, slash, and parry, "Yes, ma'am. Every technique."
The rest of the miners paused to watch Howart handle his weapon with ease.
I smiled for the first time in days, "That's very good. Now, I don't want you to fight this day. I will need your speed to alert me of the outcome. Do you understand?"
The on looking miner called from his mount, "Did you train this boy to fight?"
"Yes, for seventeen months," I answered.
"Are you a rogue?"
"Yes, I am Charsi, Sister of the Sightless Eye, member of the United Workers of Sanctuary."
"I am Resulven," he trotted closer, "Elected general of the miners guild. Who initiated you?"
“Brother Dale Shebeen,” I replied to his satisfaction, "General Resulven, this is not an acceptable force of men to challenge Lord Terryse, and the demons after him."
"You are too late, Sister. The Lord's Bluff will become our new home today or it will be our graves."
I straightened my shoulders, "You are a noble man with a righteous cause, and I want to assist you, but we must prepare and organize. Tell your men to follow young Howart to my farm for an encampment. There I can train the men in weapon masteries of their choice and supply you with better armaments."
I raised my voice, "Miners! I share your rage! I was among the Sisters of the Sightless Eye when Andariel plagued our monastery. If you proceed, you may come away with a victory in this single battle against Lord Terryse. You may even defeat him. But you will suffer many losses, the king will send legions upon you and the demons will terrorize you in the night. Do not underestimate the caverns below Tristram. They have devoured many men!"
Howart trembled as I continued.
"We must raise our numbers! We must summon the rogues of old! We must call all decent folk of Sanctuary to action! There will be a time for battle! Organize your guild to admit farmers and tradesmen! Train to be warriors, if only to save your family an early burial. Do not attack on this day!"
General Resulven spat on my mare's feet, "Which side are you on, rogue?"
The reactions were mixed. One miner's sooted face was streaked with tears as he knelt in prayer. Others bowed their heads and lifted their packs, prepared to march. A few sat down in a private circle to revise their decision.
Howart looked at me with a wary eye and ran off, disappearing among taller men. The sound of his nimble footsteps were lost as a lute carried on and the miners uplifted in song.
"Down the mines no sunlight shines
Those pits they're black as Hell
In modest style we do our time
In the deepest prison cell
Backs will break and the muscles ache
Down there there's four times to three
Of fields afar of a woman's arm
Just dig that bloody seam!
Make way for the guild of the miners
We're drinkers, we're liars, we're men
Make way for the guild of the miners
You'll never see the likes of us again
And I will die with my head held high,
For I fought for the men below.
The men who slave and sweat and die,
Down in the black Hell hole."
I followed the troops up the same logging road I traveled daily, towards the Upper Branch mine. The first engagement with Lord Terryse' forces came when a sheriff scout force was found on horseback, struggling through a muddied lowland. The miners killed two who resisted and bound three who surrendered to be kept for ransom. After their interrogation, I volunteered to transport them by cart to my farm and to be in charge of their capture.
*****A Blood Raven*****
The sounds of battle rang down from the Upper Branch mine until midnight.
The miners were losing to the Lord's sheriffs. I secured the enemy prisoners in fortified cattle stalls, and listened vacantly from the window of my house. Wahir and I reviewed our knowledge about the cavernous depths below Tristram and the bestiary we could recall.
As the waning moon slid behind the tree tops, Howart came pounding on our door. Upon inspection, he was out of breath, bruised, and scratched, but mostly from running through the dense forest by moonlight to avoid being seen.
"We retreated. It was suicide just like you said, ma'am. The wounded are being taken to the guild hall, but that's only safe until morning. We will need a place to stay."
"How many injured?" I asked.
"About the same."
I sighed. "Go to the guild hall and tell them to evacuate here to the farm. Bring their families, supplies, and arms. Take the mare."
Howart spun on his heels and sprinted towards the stable. I turned to Wahir who sat facing away toward the wood stove.
"It's time. I will summon the Sisters."
From the bird cage tucked away in a small guest room, I withdrew a raven, tied a red ribbon to his foot, and released him with a kiss. From the weapons chest, I withdrew my rapier and a rare elixir, which Wahir sipped to rejuvenate his strength.
*****Out of the Mine, Into the Sanctuary*****
The miners arrived all morning, only a few at first, and in growing brigades until noon. Tired oxen, mules, and horses drew their carts. As they raised tents for their families, Wahir and I stocked the outdoor kitchen, dug latrines, and erected a medical tent.
Children worked with elders to prepare a supper as other adults sat in intense debate over what to do next. They questioned whether to fortify the encampment or flee the valley all together.
General Resulven caught my eye, but his pride was a moat I would not cross. He nodded to me in trust of my keen judgment to organize an army.
I polished our armor and Wahir reviewed enchantments and spells from his scrolls. The meditation of preparing for battle allowed my mind to wander away, wondering when, or if the Sisters would arrive.
As the aroma of the cooking fire drew people to the outdoor kitchen for stew, there was still no sign of approaching Terrysian sheriffs, demons, or word from our scouts. I stoked a large bonfire and lit torches around the encampment.
Around sunset, families settled around the fire to sing songs, drink, and forget the recent past. I joined them for a time and had my share of wine. The music drowned the painful cries of wounded miners in the medical tent being attended to by midwives.
The quiet scene was broken when a demonic roar erupted from the Upper Branch mine a mile away. Military orders from the sheriffs were shouted immediately after. Clashes of steel against ivory tusks and human cries paralyzed the encampment. I took watch on a hill facing the east.
Thunder wound its way through the valley from the west. The skirmish at the mine could no longer be heard as the wind whipped tent flaps and oxen became anxious. Bent trees groaned and a torrent of rain fell from the sky in troughs. Flashes of lightning illustrated the encampment as torches extinguished.
My sense of smell was my only defense withstanding the storm. Manure washed out of the stables and into the muddied culvert below me. Blood and vomit from the medical tent carried to my nostrils.
I was startled by a hand on my shoulder. Wahir joined me at my side and in a whisper, ignited a flame from his staff to light the area.
"There is mana flowing through me now." He said to me.
"I've taken the last elixir and am preserving my strength. Tomorrow will be a great battle and I must enchant the blades of the miners."
"Will you go to New Tristram?"
"Yes." he replied.
Just then, a hundred hooves galloping down the road from the east interrupted us.
I drew my rapier. "Wahir, alert the camp!"
Wahir uttered a spell and a fireball erupted from his staff upwards into the air and exploded. Miners ran sleepily from their tents wielding their amalgam of weapons.
I ran to meet them, my eyes raised towards the trail to see what horrors approached. Could it be the Terrysian sheriffs there to serve retribution against the miners? Could it be the demonic horned beasts charging to their next slaughter?
A flash of lightning revealed a familiar standard, carried by the lead horseman. A lone star above rolling highlands.
Kashya and her rogues had joined us.
*****An Unlikely Alliance*****
Before dawn, the camp was alive once again. Many miners packed their families and belongings into carts to evacuate. The breakfast was meager.
Kashya sat down with the miners in search of military experience among them. In frustration, she stomped towards me as I brewed a vat of sassafras tea.
"For what crisis have you summoned us, Charsi? There's not a person worth a drop of rogue blood here.”
"Your expectations never drought, Kashya." I grinned.
"Once again, Charsi, you're an embarrassment to the Sightless Eye order! Letting parasites leech from your livelihood."
I handed her a cup of tea. "Sit down Kashya. We have a lot to discuss and not much time."
I beckoned General Resulven over for an introduction.
"I am General Resulven, United Workers of Sanctuary, and you ma’am?"
"I am Kashya," she barked in spite of his chivalry. "What puts you as a general? Where have you fought?"
"I fought as an infantryman in King Leoric's army under Lachdanan."
Kashya laughed, "A boy soldier in a cursed king's army? Pathetic."
Resulven stood, his blood-stained hammer raised, "Any man in this camp could serve in my place, rogue! Evil is no better understood than by a miner. I hunt game to feed three families and drive a steel spike in one swing. And if you insist on questioning me, rogue, you best go hide in your monastery."
I forced myself between them as Kashya slid her two-handed sword from its sheath.
Wahir approached us, "Ah, Kashya! As I remembered, making enemies out of friends."
The reunion was too much for me, "Stop! Everyone, we are victims of circumstance. We are all allies, like it or not. Now, we must plan for the day's operation and brief. Kashya, did you bring the artifacts?"
"Yes, but I don't trust these coal dust covered laymen with them."
I glared and crossed my arms.
"Fine, I will have the Sisters distribute them, but we will not return to the monastery without every item intact."
I nodded, "From the captured enemy scouts, we learned there isn't much time before demonic hordes pour out into the countryside. Maybe weeks, or days."
The sun broke over the ridge and four of us sat down to craft a plan that could deliver us from Hell itself.
*****An Uprising Sun*****
The perpetual dust clouds that rose from the trafficked New Tristram roads provided our scouts with cover. Caravans were fleeing the village that morning.
The scouts returned to our post on a ridge above town, Howart leading the way, huffing.
"The sheriffs are occupying the town on every corner. They're armored on horseback, about two hundred total. No one else is on the street. All townsfolk are leaving. It's eery."
Including the rogue reinforcements and the healthy miners, we were outnumbered by a hundred and thirty well-trained soldiers. The raid could not take longer than minutes or we would be overwhelmed.
Wahir stepped towards General Resulven, Kashya, and me. "I will wait until you are in position."
We nodded. The rogues, led by Kashya on foot and armed with long war bows took a position on a knoll to the south of town. I led on horseback the forty four miners down a logging road approaching from the west and Wahir followed in the rear.
In a flash, Wahir's fireball erupted above us and the miners and I broke into a sprint toward Greb's blacksmith shop. The slower armored contingent of miners took the lead and reflected the rising sun with their new plate mail, blinding all sheriffs who gazed upon them.
The weapons wielded by the miners were preserved by the Sisters, enchanted by ancient mages with elemental effects and Wahir's that briefly ignited their blades upon impact. Their armor was imbued with precious stones and runes. Rings, charms, and amulets would guide their blades to their targets. The guild looked infinitely more impressive on the battlefield than days before.
I saw sheriffs scramble towards the defensible center of town to receive orders, leaving buildings unguarded.
The barn behind Greb's blacksmith shop was just another hundred yards away before the sheriffs began to move against us. They rode on war-conditioned steeds, ten abreast.
I paced my mare alongside the armored contingent calmly as the sheriffs' cavalry charged to attack. I stopped and the miners stood with me, shoulders back and chests raised, waiting impatiently.
Suddenly, a wind picked up across the harvested hay field and from the ground rose up a blaze of fire. It carried with the breeze and spread the width of the field in either direction. Wahir had cast the fire wall.
Some of the sheriffs' horses could not stop in time and entered the inferno, charred by the heat's intensity.
Rogues spilled over the knoll from the south, signaled by the cries of injured sheriffs, and stopped as soon as they entered the range of their archers. Arrows, enchanted with fire, descended on the retreating sheriffs.
The fire wall spell wore off minutes later and cavalry regrouped in the town center as we advanced. We had reduced their troop count by twenty, but their morale was our target.
The rogues and armored miners charged to attack the cavalry. I dismounted and forced entry to Greb's barn. The remaining miners loaded the entire inventory of Greb's into carts, on mules, and horses.
From behind me, a voice carried, “Of course I’d catch you looting, you filthy bitch!”
Greb stood holding a pike pointed at me.
“You are nothing better than the dogs that will feast on your corpse, Greb!” I shouted with surprising volume.
I do not recall the rest of the engagement with Greb, but I do remember finding his severed fingers in my pack later that day.
The clash of steel against plate erupted as the miners reached the town center. Enemy blood spilled and the stench of roasted flesh from the fire and lightning enchanted blades filled the air.
Wahir launched another fireball into the sky, signaling our retreat behind our new cache of arms. The rogues volleyed arrows into the calvary, which moved back out of range, giving cover for the miners on foot to escape, another fire wall rising in their wake.
*****A Mine to Seal*****
Following the New Tristram raid, we had acquired all the arms we needed. The remaining families in the encampment cheered and celebrated our small victory. Life was breathed back into the hearts of all who heard of the triumph.
For weeks, Kashya, General Resulven, and I ran military drills with the miners. Many townsfolk and outlanders from surrounding areas joined the guild and our numbers swelled to more than a thousand. Wahir and the apothecary brewed minor potions and elixirs that would heal the miners in battle. Women and children blew glass bottles to store them.
Word came from our scouts that the flow of minor demons from the Upper Branch mine was becoming steady and that the Terrysian guards were growing weary of the onslaught. Undead corpses clattered out of the entrance and entire shifts of sheriffs abandoned their posts in terror. Horrifying screams, both human and nonhuman, could be heard from the encampment.
Caravans told stories of a new evil awakening across the countryside, as far as Westmarch.
There was no doubt, that if the legions of Hell were going to invade, the depths of the Upper Branch mine would serve as a portal.
*****The Missing Scouts*****
On the cusp of autumn, after days of rainfall, we chose the first dry morning for our final battle. Our scouts, led by Howart, had not returned that morning, usually signaled by the sound of freshly fallen leaves crunching underfoot.
Against the wishes of Wahir and Kashya, General Resulven and I led a party of volunteers up the mountain to search for Howart and the other young men as our forces prepared for combat.
Wahir kissed me and enchanted our blades with a whispered spell. "Be careful, Charsi. I am at full strength now and the time is just right for a victory."
Midway up the ridge, I put my hand up to silence the men. I could hear a pack of dogs growling and yelping around the next switchback. They were feeding on something.
The gruesome scene came into view. The dogs fled.
The scorched remains of two dozen sheriffs and slain Fallen Ones were strewn about. A significant fire spell was responsible.
There were no signs of greater danger, so we continued up the road to find more rot and horror. Stripped trees had been sharpened into stakes and used to impale sheriffs. The corpses all bore signs of torture and sacrificial measures. Live disembowelment, scars from ancient brands, hollow skulls with brains removed, all fresh from the night before.
Nearing the summit, just before Howart's usual vantage point, I expected the worst. We discovered his sandal, a ring that gave him stamina to sprint, and finally his corpse, mauled to death. The other young men that accompanied him were found in pieces and limbs around the area.
That moment that still haunts me. The short sword I had given Howart remained grasped in his hand at his side. His lifeless face did not display horror, but fury. My party prayed for his soul and we saw it fit to bury him at the summit of this ridge, so that he could serve on eternal watch over the once lush valley.
I swore then, that I would not let my aging body fail me in my mission.
*****Victory and Defeat*****
The miners guild marched in all their glory alongside rogues and local residents toward the Upper Branch mine that day. Through the valley, drums of war could be heard pounding, accompanying the roar of the guild's chants. I joined Wahir, General Resulven, and Kashya on the frontline on horseback. The solidarity among the army was unmatched in all my years.
We approached the mine entrance around noon, unhindered. It stood midway up a clear cut ridge with rubble, corpses, and bones scattered below. The climb was difficult and treacherous.
Wahir walked eagerly ahead of us as we approached a leveled area leading to the massive iron gates that stood open. The worksite was littered with sheriffs’ corpses.
The miners ran to shut the iron gates and with a great spell of inferno, Wahir welded them shut.
A hundred howls and roars echoed up from the mine.
Wahir approached the entrance, raising his staff and whispering incantations. Slowly the horrors of hell emerged at the gates. Horned demons, Fallen Ones, undead skeletons and corpses, ghouls, and goat men tribes all stood patiently, waiting for a command.
Many miners cowered in fear at the sight.
"Wahir! Will the gate hold?" I shouted. "Wahir!"
My husband drew the hood on his cloak, bowed, and turned to face his audience. When he turned, his yellow face was shadowed and I did not know him. "Miners! Craftsmen! Rogues! Farmers! For years we have suffered under the oppression of Lord Terryse! This summer, we united against him as a common enemy!”
The undead corpse of Lord Terryse appeared behind the gate, half of his scalp missing.
Wahir continued, “But I compel you to understand that it is not your forces alone that delivered you to safety. It is the forces of the Burning Hells that have allied with you in your triumph!"
The demonic hordes behind Wahir roared in a salute. I knelt down in prayer as he bellowed.
"Ally with the Burning Hells! Mine deeper! It is only by carving deeper into the mines that you will ensure the rise of Hell's legions once again. It was the angel Tyreal that destroyed the Worldstone, allowing chaos to ensue across Sanctuary, providing paths to power for kings who worship the Light and put you in the mines. In the name of the Prime Evils, I ensure your safety from the terror, hate, and destruction that will be wrought on the kingdoms of man, if only you serve us with your labor. Now look above the ridge! The smoke from the Lord's Bluff is blackened by flesh! The bluff is yours to secure and defend. A fantastic vantage point to watch the destruction of what destroys you. What is your response, General Resulven?"
With the mighty hammer clenched in his massive hands, General Resulven shook with rage. "You rotten traitor! What fools we were to trust your promises! The fire magic you command is fueled by evil intent. You're a cultist! You've grown stronger in the weeks I've known you, but only as the demons of Hell drew nearer the surface.” He turned to the army, "What do you say guild? Will we join with the demons that slaughtered our brothers or die with our heads held high?"
The response was mixed. A few parties broke in a full stride made their escape. Others echoed Resulven's defiance. Kashya and her rogues pressed multiple arrows onto their bow strings. A pair of tear drops gathered in my eyes and slid down my face.
In one last appeal, Wahir plead with us, “As my bride Charsi once said, 'Do not underestimate the caverns below Tristram. They have devoured many men!'"
The hundreds of remaining miners shouted in defiance. It was decided.
The man that I once loved looked down at me kneeling in prayer and began to laugh. From my vantage point, he no longer resembled my husband. He was simply a faceless, dark, cloaked figure, beckoning with a pale hand. A pale hand. My nightmares had come true.
His laugh turned to a howl, and then to a shrieking as he raised his staff and the iron gates flung open, unleashing the demonic hordes on the army of common folk that stood in their path.
A fissure spread across a crag of the mountain. Tongues of flame burnt Wahir’s cloak, revealing a monstrous hide stretched across his arms and legs.
Within moments, he was transformed. Horns, tusks, and bones tore out of his arms and legs. His knees inverted and flaming ether dripped from his mouth.
A volley of exploding arrows from both rogues met their mark, embedded in the skulls of two approaching undead. More horned beasts faced us and lowered their monstrous lobes, horns protruding. A single bellowing roar from one beast sent them charging.
Another volley of exploding arrows sent two beasts diving into the gravel road. Two miners ran over to it and with a bastard sword and mace, dispatched the demon.
One miner with a pike impaled a hurdling beast followed by a mighty blow from General Resulven's hammer that flashed bolts of lightning from its topaz. The demon crumbled.
As another demon lumbered toward me, it drew back to maul me. I met his blow and severed his arm. In its moment's pause, I split the demon's chest open from shoulder to waist and across the belly. Bowels spilled out and the demon drew an enormous breath. An inferno erupted from its gaping jaws that I deflected largely with my crimson shield, built to resist fire. The demon toppled over, pinning me down.
Glancing up, I watched mingled demon and human blood pour down the ridge. Many brave rogues, miners, and common folk gave their lives in defense of Sanctuary. Kashya and General Resulven were overwhelmed.
Following the miners’ retreat, the demon Wahir became summoned the monsters to him and descended into the mine, sealing the gates with tongues of flame. His weakness as a battle worn mage addicted to power had been his downfall, corrupted by Hell itself.
*****A Warning To All*****
The remnants of the great guild of New Tristram, the United Workers of Sanctuary, fled the valley. In their last convergence, it was agreed they would spread the word to lands across Sanctuary that the legions of Hell had risen once again.
I conclude this warning as I retire in the rogue monastery overlooking the Tamoe Highlands. The nightmares never stop as I mourn all those I have lost and the tragedies yet to befall us. I issue this call to action to all who dare to join magnificent men and women in history, at war with Hell itself. Go to New Tristram this day. If you do not, the horrors may meet you when you least expect.
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Diablo fans deserve a downloadable version of the Blizzcon D3 demo.