you said it would be painless,
the needle in the doll.
you said it would be painless—
it wasn't that at all.
— "pink rabbits," the national
Raahn liked to think that life went on, even when things got tough. She liked to believe that life could be thought of as a flowing river of fate— that if you built yourself a sturdy enough raft and let it take you where you needed to go, everything would be all right.
She liked to believe in the old stories of Crusaders roaming the earth, of the ancient war between angels and demons. She liked to believe that the old stories were just that— stories, and not prophecies, not condemnations.
Or, at least, she used to. It was easy back then. It was easy to be young and naive. It was easy to be innocent, or maybe ignorant, or maybe a little bit of both.
Raahn used to believe in destiny, in family, and in safety. It was easy back then. She didn’t know what such foolish belief would bring her.
Her family was butchered by hellspawn. To witness such a thing was enough to leave her mind in ruins.
When they went, they did not go kindly— at the time, Raahn was young. Too old to be a child, but too young to be an adult. Too young to witness such horror, surely— and to think that her sister was younger… it was terrible. She was vulnerable and the demons spared no mercy in staining her, in scarring her so deeply and so thoroughly.
Their parents were mutilated before them, ripped limb from limb and eaten flesh to bone. Their brother, strung up on the wall like decorum, pinned and savaged by bloodsoaked swords. And the hellspawn laughed, and the hellspawn pillaged, and the hellspawn burned everything she knew to dust.
To witness such a thing was enough to leave her mind in ruins. In her plight, she fled from the house, and her ears were ringing with the sound of her sister's screams as she dragged her along, but she found that she felt only hate, not fear. A hate so concentrated and ceaseless that where she should have been lost, her path was clear, her resolve certain— never again would she believe in fate, stories be damned. Never again would she believe; because look where belief had taken her.
To witness such a thing was enough to leave her mind in ruins, and it left a wretched trail in its wake.
The madness killed her sister, and left her frightened and alone.
It was as they wandered a barren cliffside, hungry, parched, and afraid. Their minds were still raw from the massacre they had witnessed— Raahn's hands still shook, her mind still trembled, the two of them lingering on the cusp of insanity, lingering even closer to death with every step. They walked for days, without food, without sleep. Her feet were beginning to bleed from the strain.
She hadn't known the grief took her sister until it was too late. She hadn't heard the cracking rock, the crunching gravel underfoot. Raahn was dizzy, her vision fading to black, unable to concentrate. The dehydration was corrosive at best.
What she had heard was a sharp intake of breath, and just a heartbeat too late— Raahn had whipped around to see her sister tippng over the edge, eyes wide, but lax, as if this truly was her fate, mouth twisted with acceptance. Maybe she’d done it on purpose.
Raahn ran as fast as she could. It would never be fast enough, and this failure would come to haunt her for as long as she lived. It was here that she swore herself to always be faster, to always be one step ahead, knowing that being any slower would bring only death and destruction.
Raahn remembered how her sister's hair had felt as it slipped between her fingers, remembered the oily texture of the strands her fingers tore, remembered the crushing loneliness and fear as she watched the body crash against the rocks below in a smatter of red.
Why? She thought, despairingly. Why, sister? How could you leave me alone? You still had me. Was that not enough for you? How could you?
But she pressed on, she kept walking though her feet were bleeding and her eyes were dim. She walked because she had to, because there was no other option— she would either walk until the hunger killed her or the madness claimed her, as it had her sister.
She found certainty in death. She believed only one thing in fate— death was an ultimatum, in all shapes and forms, and she was walking a fine line in between.
So went her belief, until she was rescued. Rescued by survivors, who had joined together to rid the world of the creatures of Hell. They called themselves demon hunters, and extended a hand as she lay crumpled, sick and afraid, far on the way to death.
They asked her if she wanted to join. She, Raahn, a lone survivor, ill and dying, filled with enough hate to make an ocean were it turned into liquid.
They asked her if she wanted to join, and she said yes.
In her, they saw the strength to resist the demons, and they forged her into a weapon. She was adept with a bow, keener with a crossbow, and the youngest hunter by far, but no one looked down on her for her age. To the demon hunters, she was just another one of them— equally skilled, equally capable, equally full of hate.
Demon hunters banded together for their lack of a purpose, for their intense need to exact revenge, but they were also a family, having lost all they had to the hellspawn. She remembered late nights telling stories around a dying fire, remembered the warm dinners and dry jokes they shared, the jabs they took at each other on the battlefield, and the longstanding competition on who could rack up more kills before their time came to an end.
She remembered their shrouded faces and gleaming golden eyes. Names had escaped her over the years, nor had they held any true purpose to the hunters, but a few lingered in her memory—
Nefaris, whose hand she took that dragged her out of the pit of acceptance, out of the hollow void of fate, the hand that placed a crossbow in one palm and an arrow in the other and told her to fight back. The one who gave her a purpose, a purpose for which she would now give her body and blood.
Seston, the doctor, skilled with a longbow, who treated her wounds and fed her and nursed her back to good health in the aftermath of her rescue, who often told her how proud he was of her, how powerful she was, how she could put an end to this hell.
Valla, whose dulcet tone and gentle demeanor she often found herself confiding in, whose gentleness was not to be mistaken for kindness, when it was instead calculating observance, like a snake waiting to strike.
They trained her well, raised her to be a perfect weapon.
Now, she was ready.
There was a meteor, one that fell from the sky and wrought havoc on Tristram, the dead rising in its wake.
She would send them back to their graves. An eye for an eye— the hatred boiled within her, but years of discipline and hunting from the shadows had trained her to temper and channel this rage.
Once, she was the hunted. Now, she was the hunter.
Tristram was a dreary place. Its citizens reeked of despair, and the heavy cowl of death lay over its soil. Raahn swore to herself that she would end it, once and for all. The dead would pay for what their infernal brethren had done.
At the gate, she drew the crossbow from her back and shot down any dead that rose from the earth. Her accuracy was pinpoint— one by one, the undead fell, and Raahn liked to think that each life taken again was a life saved for the living. She was not a protector, nor was she here with the intention to offer such services, but there was satisfaction in knowing that Tristram was safer because of her.
The Tristram guard welcomed her with open arms, and pointed her in all the directions she needed— the chapel, where the star had sundered into the earth. First, however, the aged captain recommended, she should talk to Leah, the lone survivor of the crash. Raahn took this advice with a grain of salt, but listened anyways, because she supposed that any and all information would be helpful to her cause.
The inn Rumford pointed her to was somehow drearier than the rest of the town, most of its premises claimed by bloodied cots filled with dying townsmen. The place reeked of illness. The Slaughtered Calf Inn— a rather appropriate name, it seemed.
Few villagers remained upright, watching over their plagued comrades. One in particular stood out— short, auburn hair, a deceptively young face, dark bags under sallow eyes that spoke of one too many sleepless nights.
She appeared to be lost in thought, as she did not hear Raahn approach, though the demon hunter supposed that was because she had learned to move without sound, to blend in. It came as no shock that no one had been alerted to her presence.
"Leah is it?" Raahn queried, voice low and gravelly, yet also suave. Leah jolted in surprise and snapped her gaze upwards. Raahn held her arms outwards in what she hoped would be a placating gesture. She was not here to make enemies, or to startle potential comrades into suspecting her goals.
"Rumford said that you survived the fallen star's impact," she explained quickly, hushed, before Leah had a chance to question her being there.
Leah opened her mouth and then paused, brows furrowing.
"I did. But it blasted my uncle, Deckard Cain, into the depths of the old cathedral," the young woman replied, voice surprisingly strong for such a haggard face. "I tried to search for him, but the dead were already rising."
She glanced away. "I came back to rally the militia, but th—" her eyes widened, staring at something behind Raahn. "Watch out! The wounded are turning!"
Raahn whirled around, drawing her crossbow from her back in a single, fluid motion as she did, only to see the previously motionless corpses rising from their beds. She put an arrow in the skull of the one closest to her, blood and flesh spurting from the wound, and the rest followed quickly after. Raahn moved with the grace of an angel, but with all the ferocity of the Lord of Hatred himself. In the shadows, she was strong. The dead stood no chance.
When the chaos stopped, Raahn exhaled, unaware she had been holding her breath, and Leah sighed wearily behind her.
"The dead will overwhelm us all unless something is done," muttered the young woman.
Raahn turned to face her, placing a hand over her heart in typical demon hunter custom. "Then I shall put an end to them and secure your town," she swore. Leah's face softened in relief.
"Thank you," she said. "You should speak with Captain Rumford at the gate. He can tell you what to do."
Raahn had her assignment— destroy the Wretched Mothers, and eliminate the source of the rising dead. It was easier when she knew they had no conscience, easy when she knew they had long been dead. She had no pity for the damned.
The dead did not fall easily, though. They struggled and writhed until pierced through their maggoty brains, until Raahn's hands were drenched to the bone with their blackened blood. The Wretched Mothers fell, one by one, and she returned winded but no worse for wear. Her black leather garb and thick cloak were stained with blood, but the dark color masked it well. The stench, not so much.
Captain Rumford thanked her endlessly for her help upon her return, although his surprise to find her in one piece was evident. He offered her water and bread, which she accepted with thanks.
"But," he said as she drank, with some trepidation. "Could you talk some sense into Leah? She won't give up the idea of rescuing her uncle."
Raahn's heart burned with righteous fury and she lowered the canteen. "Nor should she," she grumbled lowly, nothing short of threatening. "I will help her find him." And then, turning to face the young woman in question, whose face was twisted in a scowl, "Come, let us search for your uncle."
Leah grinned, pulled her short, stout hunting bow from her back, and nocked an arrow.
As they walked, dewy grass crunching underfoot, Leah talked about Adria, of her absent father, of her childhood with Deckard Cain. She was eager to share her story, eager to be heard, and, well, Raahn had always been an adept listener. She did not often offer input of her own, but where she found it polite or when she was asked a question, she gave a vague response, unwilling to share her history, but not impolite enough to directly refuse.
Adria's hut reeked of rot and the floorboards were broken in every place, revealing a well-buried trapdoor that Leah eagerly tore into. A rope ladder led down into a dirt cellar, enchanted fire flickering beneath a mangled pot, black smoke fuming from beneath the broken lid. In the darkness, the dead rose their heads from the earth, but Raahn and Leah together took them down with ease.
About the desks and shelves, there were many notes and torn sheets of old parchment, Adria's handwriting scrawled across their surfaces.
Raahn left Leah in the hidden cellar, hoping that the young woman would find solace in knowledge of her mother's belongings, and continued to the cathedral alone. Ultimately, the fallen star was her task, but she could spare some time for Deckard Cain.
Her journey, after the rescue of Cain, only got more complicated. Suddenly, she was hunting for crowns and rescuing strangers and apparently she was also a nephalem, a mystical race which she was sure had gone extinct.
And then the stranger was an angel, she discovered only after recovering the shards of his sword from the witch, Maghda. Because she may as well see it all.
Cain’s death was a devastating blow— not just to Leah, but to Raahn herself. The man was not someone she cared for, but she respected him somewhat, and worried for his niece, and it was some long-buried, almost primal instinct that drove her to comfort Leah in the aftermath, letting the young woman cry into the shadows of her cloak. Raahn was familiar with the pain loss brought, and swore herself to better protect Leah from here on, because Leah was alone, now, and Raahn was all she had.
The stranger— archangel— Tyrael, the Embodiment of Justice, she now knew him as, asked if she would follow him to Caldeum, to hunt down the Lord of Lies, Belial. The scene was vaguely reminiscent of when Nefaris had offered to take her in, to make her a demon hunter, to assist her on the long road to revenge.
And, like all those years ago, she agreed— where else did she have to go?
Caldeum was large and glamorous, but it was torn by injustice. No doubt, such senseless torment was spurred by the actions of the Lord of Lies, Belial. At the entrance to the city, Tyrael introduced her to Asheara, the captain of the rebellious, truth-seeking Iron Wolves. From her, they received their missions— Leah and Tyrael would take to the sewers to hunt for traces of Belial’s evil, and Raahn would hurry to face Maghda in Alcarnus before it was too late.
“Godspeed, nephalem,” Tyrael said as they parted ways, and Raahn could only offer a slight nod in turn, because this man— this archangel— knew nothing of haste.
On the road to Khasim Outpost, after leaving Caldeum with a plan in mind, Raahn had anticipated quiet, had long awaited the walk alone, hoping to have some days to ponder herself in silence. A lot had happened in a very short amount of time and she needed a bit to process what knowledge she now possessed.
She had certainly not expected company.
There, on the dusty cliffside, peering out across the rooftops of Caldeum, sandy winds tussling her her pale, blonde hair, was an enchantress. Her long staff was made of aged wood, her clothing sparse, but modest, revealing great expanses of sun-kissed skin. As she turned, somehow alerted to Raahn’s soundless approach, the demon hunter was hyperaware of the vibrant blue eyes that met her own.
The enchantress called herself Eirena. She offered Raahn her services, saying that she had long practiced in magic and could see easily through the coven’s illusions, and, well, who was Raahn to turn down such willful help? For any willing assistance in her nigh-suicidal quest, she would sacrifice just about anything.
They wandered through the dry lands together. Unlike Leah, who talked to her heart’s content when alone with the silent demon hunter, Eirena was content with the quiet their solitude offered. At times, the enchantress would make an offhand comment about something or other, but she didn’t pry, didn’t spill her history like Leah, the Templar, Lyndon, and Tyrael all had.
Raahn was… soothed by her company. Something about her easygoing, observant nature was a small bliss in the hell her world had come to. And, she admitted, the enchantress’s skill set was immensely useful in putting an end to the coven’s thick illusion, which had previously been preventing them from proceeding on to Alcarnus. With every passing second, the more time Maghda had to prepare— they needed to hurry.
On a whim, when Raahn and Eirena had purged another branch of the coven from a small, dusty cellar, she asked the enchantress if she would keep fighting by her side until all was said and done. She hadn’t meant to speak such a thought aloud, for surely it was too soon to be certain of anything. Even though she was certain of her stability when the enchantress was near, certain of the comfort her relaxed companion brought about, certain of the way they fought in near synchronization, as if they had been fighting together for years.
It would have been the perfect opportunity for the enchantress to leave, now that the illusion was broken and Alcarnus was ever nearer. Raahn immediately wished she had held her tongue at the thought, and opened her mouth to refute the query, but no words came to her aid.
Eirena, winded, with a glancing cut on her left arm she had set about healing, looked up at her, crystal blue gaze searching and surprised, but not unkind. Finally, she smiled, and went to pick up her staff from where she had left it against the wall.
“It would be my honor to keep fighting by your side, Raahn,” she said, and the sincerity with which it was spoken made Raahn’s heart stutter, but she could not quite place her finger on why.
They did not know Khasim Outpost was taken until it was too late. Raahn had always prided herself on the speed with which she could draw and fire her crossbows, the movement instinctive, now, after years of training and practice, but the snake-men were faster. She felled one. The second came like lightning.
Too slow, her mind chided as she watched the second snake-man close in with his saber, poised and aiming to kill. Too slow. Again.
She felt the icy claws of acceptance wrap around her heart with a painful thump, and her crossbow lowered slightly, eyelids drooping as if to close.
Was this how it ended?
She heart a violent thwap and a pained hiss. The fatal blow never fell, and she snapped her gaze upwards to see Eirena standing there, gaze pointed, hand outstretched, determination burning within her gaze. “Come on, demon hunter,” she said, and there was nothing but iron in her voice. “I cannot defeat them all on my own.”
In an instant, Raahn steeled her resolve, and raised her crossbows again, loosing two arrows in quick succession. “Then, I suppose, it is a good thing you won’t have to,” she said, her lips curling upwards. “Worry not. I have found my resolve.”
The smile Eirena gave her was radiant, even as she raised a spell between her fingertips, electricity sparking in the air around her eyes.
“Excellent. Shall we?”
Together, they fought, and it felt more like home than Raahn had ever felt, being at Eirena’s side. Even when they stood, breathless, bleeding, and bloody, darkness at the corners of her vision, blood dripping off of Raahn’s cloak from the slaughter, Eirena’s hands trembling from the abundant use of magic.
But they looked at each other and grinned, because the feeling burning within them? That was hope.
Or maybe adrenaline, Raahn later convinced herself. Because hope was as dangerous an emotion as acceptance, and she would dare not let herself falter now.
They traveled together for days. The two of them made good time, with Raahn’s stamina and Eirena’s knowledge of the area. Mostly, it was quiet, with the occasional pause to eat or drink or sleep in watches.
Occasionally, small bursts of conversation would sprout, but there was no pressure to open up. There were many things they were both refusing to share (rather adamantly, almost stubbornly on Raahn’s part because gods she wanted to), secrets heavy on their tongues, but Raahn felt no need to know and Eirena had no intention to press.
At one point, as they were stopped beneath a windswept rise of sandstone to drink, Eirena spoke up.
“Are you considered beautiful among your people?” the enchantress asked. Raahn paused, lowering the waterskin from her lips, nonplussed by the unexpected question.
“…Perhaps,” she replied at a length. “Why do you ask?”
Eirena cast her an odd, unreadable look. “Oh, I was merely curious,” she said, voice light, and did not divulge further.
Raahn mulled this over for hours after, and abandoned the train of thought feeling more bewildered than she had when she'd started.
Alcarnus was in ruins when they burst through the war-mangled gates of the city. Sandstone, stained black with blood and a foul air thick with the smell of slaughter. The coven’s witches and warlords were abundant in number, but Raahn was faster, Eirena stronger, and they stood little of a chance against the two of them combined.
But they were not invincible.
Raahn took a malevolent spell to her left flank, glancing off of her ribcage. The pain hit immediately, white hot and burning with arcane fire, but the demon hunter clamped down on her tongue hard enough to bleed and swallowed her pain and fought on, a whirlwind of shadow and arrows.
Eirena’s hands were singed with constant abuse of her magic, her head and heart aching with the strain, but she pressed onwards because the fight was not over, not yet, and she had sworn to watch Raahn’s back no matter the cost, trusting that hers would be protected in turn. If the price to pay was the skin of her hands or a mere headache, then it was minor payment in contrast.
When they had finally exhausted Maghda’s supply of followers and made it to the wretch herself, they were sore and weary but they would fight on, because they had no other choice, because Deckard Cain had died and Leah’s heart had torn itself in two because of this woman, because the world counted on it. Alcarnus may have fallen but Caldeum could be saved yet.
Maghda did not die easily, but when she did— Raahn’s knife buried in her heart to the hilt, the coven’s corpses in mountains all around them, Eirena slumped against a pile of shambles she had earlier been thrown into —Raahn and Eirena stared at each other, wonder and hesitant curiosity in either gaze.
“Come with me to Caldeum,” Raahn rasped, one hand clasped over the deep wound at her side, the other extended to her companion. It was a statement, an affirmation of the only truth they knew.
Eirena grinned and took the proffered hand, letting the demon hunter help her to her feet. “There and wherever else. I will see this quest through to the end, my friend. Please, let me tend to your wound before we continue. It looks rather painful.”
Raahn allowed herself a brief, lopsided smile. “Only if you let me help with your hands.”
And Eirena rolled her eyes and scoffed but there was something private there, in that expression, and Raahn was surprised to realize that she would do anything, anything, to see it again.
The walk back to Caldeum was, realistically, shorter, but it felt leagues longer than the walk to Alcarnus. Both she and Eirena were tired, still recovering from their wounds, and travel progress went slower due to their combined exhaustion. Thankfully, they encountered few enemies along their walk. Just sand and dust and a silence that had long stretched past comfortable, though neither were willing to break it. Three days of the wind whistling in their ears and scuffed footsteps along the path and no words from either of them.
Eventually, and to her mild surprise, Eirena was the one who broke it, as they huddled for warmth near their campfire one night in a small alcove just off to the side of the path.
Voice low, shaky at times, Eirena haltingly recalled her history— a story of thousand-year sleeps and betrayal and a crushing fear of being alone, of trying to find her way in a world so foreign from all she knew, of nameless priests and wandering and then stumbling into Raahn on her way to finally do something about the falling of the world.
It was silent for a long time afterwards, Raahn merely holding the enchantress’s gaze beside her, hesitant fingertips brushing over trembling knuckles, the two of them pressed close beneath the cowl of Raahn’s cloak.
Finally, Raahn spoke, turning her gaze to the red tongues of the campfire before them. She regaled long tales of death and blood, of anger and arrows, of demons and their hunters and the journeys she’d ventured to come this far.
Eirena said nothing, but laced their fingers together and nestled her head against her shoulder, and it felt like enough.
Caldeum was a welcome sight. Raahn could feel the sand and grime whenever she ran her fingers through her hair, and the dust clung to her cloak like a leech. It felt nice to clean up in the bathhouse, to wipe the dry blood from her face, change the gauze around her midsection, wring out her cloak, and let the burn of the water wash away the feeling of Eirena’s hands against hers.
They took to the sewers several hours after they’d both tidied up and caught some rest, deciding unanimously that they would continue their precarious quest. The underground pipes were dark and riddled with monsters, and the floor squelched with every step she took and the reek was almost strong enough to make her see spots but what choice did she have, really, than to keep walking?
Leah and Tyrael waited for them at an intersection, along with some crazed hermit who called himself Covetous Shen and an aged woman whom Raahn didn't recognize immediately, but found out soon after that it was Adria, Leah’s supposedly dead mother.
The woman had a wild look in her eye and a certain lilt to her smile, her voice just sharp enough to be dangerous as she prattled on about Belial and Diablo and something about black soulstones.
Raahn did not like her. The hard, cautious expression on Eirena’s face said she felt the same.
To resurrect Kulle was an experience Raahn would rather bathe in the Caldeum sewers than have to repeat. The man wasn’t even likable— unfortunately, he was also their only way to defeat Belial and ensure that the demon stayed defeated— and to think that he betrayed them in the end, anyways, thinking that Raahn and Eirena hadn’t seen it coming from miles away.
Not so. They killed Kulle, once and for all, and Raahn claimed the soulstone and they returned to the others no worse for wear but certainly more than upset, and Raahn had many things to say to Adria, fire lashing at the back of her throat whenever the woman got too near, but she swallowed her rage and let it fuel her because it would do her no good in the form of words. It never did.
Eirena’s hand at her shoulder whenever she felt the anger boil too close to the surface certainly helped, too, but that was besides the point. They could talk about Kulle later.
Regardless of the endeavors, they now had all they needed to defeat Belial, so they saddled their horses and leveled their sights on the Caldeum Palace.
The fight against Belial was only getting worse and worse. The snake men weren’t particularly powerful, but they were abundant, and after she and Eirena managed to fight through such an onslaught, things didn’t improve. Belial’s skin was as hard as steel and twice as thick, and only after Raahn had been blasted through a stone pillar and a half did she find a weakness— a small cut on the soft skin beneath his chin.
Of course, then he grew twenty times bigger and began to exhale acid with every breath, great fists battering into the marble tiling, effectively pinning Raahn and Eirena behind a fallen column in the corner of the balcony.
A heavy blast made the pillar shudder and the ground shake.
“I’m going to cause a distraction,” Eirena called. “Strike then.”
Raahn wanted so desperately to argue but there wasn’t any time, and she only barely managed to catch the enchantress’s hand before she threw herself into the crossfire.
“Come back alive,” she said, almost begged, because Raahn had lost so much already and she would not lose Eirena, too.
“I will be alright,” the blonde replied with a smile, giving her hand a light squeeze, and Raahn heard the lie clear as day but she was already slipping away, darting across the foyer, and Raahn sighed and readied herself for chaos, praying to whatever god was listening that they both make it out alive.
They lived, barely, and when the great beast was slain, Raahn and Eirena stared at each other across the courtyard, eyes wide despite the sting of the smoke in the air.
Raahn didn’t know who started running first, but then they were crashing together, arms locked tight around shoulders, bodies shaking from exhaustion and aching with pain, but all Raahn could do was bury her face in the enchantress’s blond tresses and murmur, over and over, thank the gods.
Tyrael met them back at their hidden encampment, bearing a pair of heavy wool cloaks, a caravan, and a question.
Raahn turned to Eirena, one brow arched. The enchantress grinned and accepted the offering without a moment of hesitation.
Because one Lord of Sin wasn’t enough, now, was it?
The road to Bastion’s Keep was long and carved into the side of jagged mountains, swept by wind and slick with ice. Two men fell to their deaths. Had it not been for Raahn’s swift hand, Leah would have followed them as the pumice beneath their feet cracked like a bowstring and plummeted into the frozen mist below.
The days were long. For the most part, Raahn kept her nose buried in the fur of her jerkin, her chest flush against Eirena’s back as they rode along the treacherous road. Leah was riding the enchantress’s horse, seeing as the young archer had no mount after her near-death experience along the icy shelf.
They talked in hushed voices, joking together occasionally in frostbitten tones, teeth clattering together amongst their tales. Eirena had few to tell with her spotty memory, so Raahn provided most of the conversation, murmuring of her escapades with her sister when she was younger and of the harsh training the demon hunters had put her through.
Weeks passed in this manner, just the two of them and their frozen caravan of adventurers, Raahn’s arms tight around Eirena's waist, the enchantress’s nose nestled into the warmth of the nephalem’s cloak.
They arrived in Bastion's Keep late at night after three long weeks, windswept and blanketed by frost. They were welcomed with open, weary arms, the young soldiers of the keep looking to her with hopeful eyes as she shed her heavy cloak in the stronghold’s armory.
"These soldiers have no hope," Eirena murmured as they were escorted to their room. "I fear they believe that they have already lost this battle."
"Well," Raahn replied in a low tone, shutting the heavy oaken door behind them. "I suppose we will just have to show them how wrong they are."
Eirena smiled, eyes softening into that warm, private expression Raahn had come to know was meant for her alone.
"I suppose you are right."
The room was large, with too much empty space in the middle for Raahn's taste, the walls lined with wardrobes and chests and dusty bookshelves. In one corner sat a moth-eaten chair. In the other, a desk that appeared equally worn. Along the wall lay a gaping fireplace, already lit— their arrival had been well anticipated, it seemed.
The bed was large, lined with furs and linens, surprisingly clean in relation to the rest of the room. Plenty large enough for her and Eirena to share.
They undressed privately, weary from the day's journey. The only sounds that filled the room were the crackling of the fireplace and buckles being undone, armor falling to the floor, small grunts as old wounds were strained, or when a piece of clothing got caught on the ridges of their armor. The two of them changed into wear that was lighter, but no less warm— woolen pants and fur-lined tunics for both of them— before they tugged down the sheets and together climbed into bed.
For a while, Raahn laid there in the dark, unable to sleep, as if had sleep ever come easy to her. She pondered what the next day would bring, what nightmares would infect her eyes when she did, eventually, find rest. How long she laid there, unable to doze, she did not know, but it was long enough for her companion to eventually take notice.
"You are still awake," Eirena murmured, shuffling around and turning to face her in the darkness. The fireplace provided a warm glow, but not a very bright one. Raahn supposed she was fortunate to have trained herself to see in the dark, because she could now see the worry marring the enchantress's face, the concern in her gaze, the tenseness of her shoulders.
Raahn nodded, supposing she should talk it out now, where she was safe and relatively content.
"Aye. I am uncertain as to what tomorrow will bring. The battle with be both long and violent. I fear for my life." She paused, glancing away, uncertain. "And for yours. Azmodan's legions are vast, his strategies keen— we still have a long journey ahead of us. We cannot, will not, die here, but I cannot stop myself from wondering. From worrying."
Again, Eirena's expression softened. The enchantress reached out a hand to caress Raahn's face, brushing her thumb along the demon hunter's cheek, along the jagged scars that lay across her pale skin.
"It will not be easy," she said, "but I have faith. I believe in these soldiers. I believe in you, Raahn."
Raahn smiled wearily, leaning into the soft touch. "It is a heavy burden to bear on my shoulders. I do not wish to bear it alone."
The fire crackled. Eirena leaned in, their foreheads now touching, noses brushing. "You are not alone," the enchantress breathed. "I promise you, you will never have to bear this alone."
Raahn laughed softly, no more than a gentle huff of air. "You are too good to me, Eirena."
Eirena's eyes glimmered, a smile playing her lips. Raahn had never met anyone so beautiful, inside or out.
"I believe the feeling is mutual, my friend," the enchantress jested, no less kind, but there was deeper meaning to the statement, and Raahn took that as an invitation to close the minimal space between them.
Raahn had kissed before, in desperation, in the heat of battle, her first shared with an unfamiliar face. She had kissed several times before now, and had touched skin with other demon hunters who wanted the relief before they died. This, however, was nothing desperate— tasting of salt and blood and death— nor was it some frantic contact that screamed of inexperience. It was calming. It was forgiving. It was— it was almost relieving, almost alleviating— the knowledge that here, pressed flush against Eirena— she was safe.
It was a welcome comfort to know that here, she could be honest. Here, she could lay herself bare and know that Eirena would take her for all that she was.
But now was not the time for that. Now was the time to take it slow and steady because Eirena was so much more than a last resort.
The enchantress’s lips were chapped, her touch tentative, but responsive. It was warm. Raahn only held the contact for a few moments before pulling away and wetting her suddenly dry lips.
"I apologize," she murmured, voice soft and hoarse, lower in timbre than it usually was. "That was forward of me."
Eirena's eyes fluttered open, their blue shade brighter now in the darkness. "No need to apologize," she murmured. "On the contrary, I rather enjoyed it. Though, I must admit, it was a first. I have never been so close to another before."
Raahn exhaled in relief, a soft breath ghosting Eirena's exposed neck. "Nor have I. It is dangerous to foster attachments in the midst of war. Affection is an emotion lost to many of my people. However, I do not feel myself repulsed to such close contact, if you wish to continue."
Eirena beamed, exhausted, but ever-willing. "In the small chance we live through tomorrow's bloodshed, it would be my honor and pleasure to further explore this life by your side. And perhaps," she said, eyes twinkling, "we can take it a step further. Affection is a curious thing. If you would indulge me, I would love to discover more of it for myself."
Raahn propped herself up on her arm to look down at her companion, and bent down to graze their smiles together once more, all private tenderness in her gaze, a soft chuckle gracing her lips. "Of course. Should that be the reward, you will never see me fight so vehemently."
The enchantress beside her laughed, relishing the contact before leaning forward to rest her head on Raahn's collarbone. "I have no fear. There is not a trace of doubt on my mind— tomorrow, you will defeat Azmodan."
Raahn sighed into silky blonde tresses, dark eyes falling shut. "We. We will defeat the Lord of Sin. Together."
The nephalem felt Eirena's lips curl into her neck, a ghost of a smile appearing where they touched.
"Hm. I much prefer the sound of that."
Raahn wrapped her arms around her companion, holding the enchantress close in an attempt to mask her trembling hands. "In the chance that I die tomorrow," she murmured, voice barely comprehensible over the crackling fire, "do not grieve. Kill Azmodan in my stead— do not let the Prime Evil mar these lands."
Eirena's smile fell, and Raahn felt arms snake around her own waist, albeit thinner and more sun-kissed than her own. "I will fight till my last breath," the enchantress swore. "And should such a fate befall me, promise me you would do the same."
Fate. As if Raahn would ever let such a thing snuff Eirena's light. "I would stop at nothing," she replied. "We should rest. Tomorrow will be long."
Eirena sighed and nodded, eyes falling shut immediately. She must have been tired, Raahn thought. To think that she kept herself awake for my sake— Gods protect this woman.
"Sleep well, Raahn," Eirena said, feather-soft.
Raahn felt her lips twist into a small smile. "And you, Eirena," she responded, equally quiet, and let her eyes close in the darkness.
Raahn was awoken abruptly a short time later by hesitant knocking on the heavy oaken door that separated her and Eirena from the rest of the stronghold.
The demon hunter slipped out of bed easily, accustomed to such awakenings, and opened the door with one hand on the knife she had grabbed from her belt on the way over.
Beyond the door stood Leah, looking haggard, eyes raw and wet as if she had recently been crying. Raahn's eyebrows drew together in concern, and she opened the door further.
"Leah," she murmured. "Is everything all right?"
Leah swallowed hard, glancing around, uncertain, afraid. Raahn knew fear well, knew well how it paralyzed one's thoughts, froze one's tongue, so she took the young woman by the hand and guided her inside the large room that had become her own.
She led her to the fireplace, where the fire had started to die down, basking the room in a dim, reddish glow.
"Did you dream?" Raahn asked. She knew well the torment of dreams, how they twisted and writhed with deceit, how they forced you into unrested wakefulness, made you wary of the shadows that besieged your mind.
Leah nodded, a tremor racking her smaller frame.
"I saw him— the Prime Evil. In my sleep. He called to me. I saw the black soulstone. There was… a mirror. I saw myself but it wasn’t me. I’m— I'm scared, I— I-I don't... I don't know what it means."
Raahn frowned, eyes glinting gold on the darkness.
"That is troubling. Have you told Adria?"
What was more troubling was the way Leah's face blanched at the mention of her mother's name.
"No," the young woman breathed. "I couldn't. She— she talks, at night. She whispers things in her sleep, about Diablo. She says my name. It terrifies me. I’ve been trying to trust her, but—" she choked, a dry sob heaving her chest.
Raahn placed a steadying hand on her shoulder. Comfort was not her strong suit, and it never had been, but she would try her best for Leah, who looked to be on the cusp of breaking down completely. The last time Raahn had seen anyone this distraught was her sister, as she dragged her away from their hometown.
"Leah," she said, soft, but firm. "I will go make you a drink. It will help ease your worries. Stay here until I return. Open the door for no one."
Leah blinked, eyes wet once more. "How will you get in?"
Raahn huffed lightly. "I will let myself in. Do not worry."
Leah nodded. "Thank you. T-thank you, Raahn."
Raahn smiled, dark eyes glinting. “It is my pleasure, Leah. There is no need to thank me.”
And then she was gone.
When Raahn returned some few minutes later, picking open the door and closing it just as soundlessly, she had not expected to see two people sitting by the fireplace, conversing in subtle tones. She almost dropped the two mugs she held to reach for her dagger before she recognized the second form and relaxed.
“Eirena,” she said, alerting the two women to her presence. “I apologize. Did we wake you?”
The enchantress smiled, exhaustion heavy on her features. “You did, but it is quite all right. Leah needed comfort, and I was happy to oblige.”
Raahn chuckled and handed the younger woman in question one of the steaming mugs of tea. “Had I known you would be awake, I would have made you a mug, too,” she murmured. “Here, take mine.”
Eirena shook her head, but accepted the drink anyways. “We can share,” she said, and Raahn shrugged and nodded because it was the simple choice. The demon hunter took a seat next to the enchantress, just close enough that their shoulders would brush, and turned her gaze to Leah, who was fiddling with the rim of her cup.
They sat there, in silence, for a long time, until Leah began to doze and they all moved to Raahn and Eirena’s bed. Sleep found her quickly, with Eirena pressed flush against her back and Leah curled into her chest.
The fight for the keep was long and arduous, but they pulled through eventually. However, there was no time to revel in their victory. The Heart of Sin was waiting, and so, into the Arreat Crater they descended.
The crater itself was crawling with hellspawn like an infestation, and with every demon Raahn shot down ten more took its place. The towers were dark and riddled with long, looping staircases, and as they slowly cut through the horde, they had the Lade of Lust breathing down their necks.
Cydaea whispered in their ears, sounding as if she was inches and miles away simultaneously. She taunted them, jeered at them, her dulcet voice murmuring of the agonized souls she toyed with or the things she would do to them if they failed.
Down and down and down they went, and Raahn was soaked head to toe in demon blood but still, she moved onwards.
As they reached the second tower, Cydaea let out a lecherous groan, dangerously close to Eirena’s ear.
“Oh, the things I’m going to do to you…”
Eirena scowled. “You have interesting tastes.”
Raahn paused. “Well,” she said, “At least there’s something she and I can agree on.”
Eirena shot her an exasperated look. Raahn shrugged innocently.
And they continued. Down and down and down until Cydaea was dead and the Hearts of Sin eradicated and the gate to the core of the crater was open wide before them. They had no time for pleasantries, not with thousands of lives in the balance, but they shared one long, meaningful glance, and then stepped into the dark.
Azmodan was waiting for them, in a large, circular room surrounded by hellfire, magma, and heavy, black chains.
They fought valiantly, Eirena's lightning arcing through the air, Raahn constantly burying arrows into the Lord of Sin’s loose flesh. And the heat of the ground below was beginning to make their boots boil but they kept fighting until Eirena’s lightning struck true, and the titan crumbled to the floor in a heap of flab and metal.
Raahn, armor steaming with heat, took two steps forward and lifted Eirena into the air, kissing the crown of her head.
“Tonight,” she murmured as Leah, Adria, and Tyrael came pelting into the room. “My room.”
Eirena said nothing, but the dark spark in her eyes said that she got the message loud and clear.
Lieutenant Lavail greeted them each with a smile and a goblet of wine as soon as they arrived back at the keep’s stronghold.
“An incredible victory!” he said. “I knew Azmodan could never stand up to the likes of you!”
Raahn accepted the wine and downed it in one gulp. “Where are Adria, Leah, and Tyrael?”
“They are all in the armory— no doubt celebrating. You should join them,” the young man replied, already ambling away to celebrate with the other keep soldiers.
Raahn shrugged off her heavy winter cloak before turning to Eirena and offering her arm. “Shall we, m’lady?”
The enchantress snorted and rolled her eyes, but took her arm nonetheless. “Lead the way.”
No, they were not in the armory. The armory held only broken weapons and blood.
Gods, there was a lot of blood.
Raahn’s heart was pounding and she took the stairs to the watchtower two, three at a time. Faster, faster—
Not fast enough.
She watched, horrified, as Adria revealed her true plan all along, and cast Tyrael aside. She watched the black soulstone take Leah. She watched Leah die and she couldn’t do anything.
The portal to heaven tore itself open, and Leah stepped through. Tyrael followed soon after, launching himself through the rift.
Raahn followed without thinking, because her brain was stuck on repeat.
but not fast enough.
Heaven was in ruins. To get to the Silver Spire took time that they no longer had and the aid of two archangels. The Spire itself was in worse condition than the gardens had been, overrun with hellspawn and the ground defiled with darkness and the sky stained red.
The first level was hard. The second level, through the magical transporter, was harder, full of narrow crossings and steep stairwells that could mot support all who tied to cram across.
The next transporter was in sight across the battle, once Raahn pierced the skull of another demonic oppressor. She stepped towards it, onto another thin bridge, and was thrown back abruptly by the appearance of a ghost.
Leah, skin transparent and blue but her eyes burning red and filled with hate, and there was a terrible black stain across her tunic but she was there.
Raahn couldn’t move, couldn’t lift herself off the ground, couldn’t breathe, couldn’t do anything but stare, really. Because all she could think was that Leah died because of her ignorance and it was all her fault, and if she had been even a little more watchful or a little faster she could have saved everything and she’d failed again because she wasn’t fast enough.
Leah’s ghost smirked, a foul crook in the twist of her lips.
“How does it feel?” she sneered. “Knowing you helped me become the prime evil? For all your ‘mighty’ deeds, all you really accomplished was unleashing me upon the world. Some savior you are, nephalem.”
With a roar, Leah’s specter twisted and morphed into a demon three times her height, and still, Raahn did not move.
Raahn stared and stared and could not move because she knew, she knew and the failure was written in her blood and maybe she deserved it.
“Leah, no!” a voice cried from behind her, and there was a flash of light that Raahn saw but did not hear, and blood sprayed across her face and torso but the demon was gone and there was only Eirena, those warm, warm hands on her face.
“Raahn,” the enchantress said, a tremble in her voice but her eyes as clear as ever. “This was not your fault. This was all Adria. Do you hear me? You couldn’t have known.”
“I should have,” she rasped. “She’s— gone. Because I wasn’t fast enough.”
“Then we will get her back,” Eirena responded. “We will get her back and don’t you dare think, not even for a heartbeat, that we won’t.”
Raahn exhaled shakily and rose to her feet.
“We’ll get her back,” the hunter echoed, and this time, it sounded like a promise.
When they finally made it to the doors leading to the Crystal Arch, Imperius was waiting for them. Unfortunately, at the same time, Diablo’s plan reached its climax, and the angels crumpled in heaps of metal.
It was sad to watch them fall, but they couldn’t linger any longer.
“This last battle is yours alone,” Tyrael said as he opened the great doors for her.
Raahn cast a sideways glance at Eirena, who offered a tired smile.
Alone. As if.
They moved as one through the doorway, each step swift as they moved toward the ever-nearing archway above.
“Are you ready?” Raahn asked.
“As much as one can be,” Eirena fired back, grinning.
The claws shot upwards from the ground quicker than Raahn could react. Eirena let out a cry as they ensnared her, sharp edges carving deep, savage red lines on her arms, the tip of one talon catching her brow.
“Eirena—” Raahn called, panic twisting her voice. Weariness weighed heavy on her back, but terror was a cold arrow of adrenaline through the haze of exhaustion. She had to get Eirena free, had to—
“I’m fine,” the enchantress called, voice strong and clear, eyes sharp like daggers and bearing no room for argument. “Keep going. I will get myself out.”
Raahn jerked forward, her instincts screaming at her to help, but the sharp sense of duty in her heart won over, and she nodded, forcing herself to keep going without her companion. Her crossbows felt like lead on her back— how would she manage to defeat the Prime Evil, weary as she was?
There was no alternative. This was her fate. Such a thing did not instill confidence in her heart, but there was no going back. For Eirena, she swore, and then climbed the final set of stairs leading up to the grand, crystalline spires.
The battle goes as follows:
Raahn stepped up onto the final platform, a crossbow ready in each hand, face black with soot, eyes shadowed by her hood. Diablo was waiting in the center of the room, eyes smoldering, jaw cracked into a wide, wicked grin.
“The Seven Evils are one within me!” it bellowed. “I… am… legion!”
And so it began. The fate of the world rested in her hands.
The battle passed in a blur of fire and smoke. Raahn danced among the flames, loosing arrows at any and every opportunity she had. She was tired, so tired, and it felt as if her legs would give out at any moment but she kept going, kept fighting, and for a moment, she was winning, moving through the heat and the stench of fear was bright in the wind
The claw sank into her midsection easily, ignoring whatever leather and mail she’d worn for the occasion, burying itself just to the left of her stomach. A scream tore itself out of her throat, and then she was hefted into the air and thrown across the clearing, rolling across the broken ground until she slammed into the far wall.
Raahn choked on the air that had been so cruelly stolen from her lungs, coughing until the tang of blood coated her tongue and spilled down the side of her jaw. Something hot and wet was dripping down her face from her temple and Diablo’s heavy footsteps were only growing closer. She needed to move, now.
“Pathetic,” Diablo snorted, and it was close, so close, she needed to do something—
Through the feverish haze of pain that had fallen over her, her hand brushed the handle of one of her fallen crossbows and she grasped it, tight as a vice, and through the mist, took aim.
Her arrow found purchase in the socket of Diablo’s right eye, and the demon reeled back with a terrible shriek.
“Enough!” it snarled, and she took the bought time to scramble to her feet, one hand gripping her remaining crossbow, the other tucked beneath her jerkin, pressed against the throbbing wound that rested there. “Let us see how you fare in my Realm of Terror!”
Raahn’s vision blacked out and her head spun abruptly, and when she came to the world was black and Diablo was a shadow.
“Only by defeating us can you return to your own realm! But none have ever crawled from the depths of their own terror!” Diablo taunted, and then it took a step back into the tenebrous storm swirling around them.
Raahn stumbled, vision lilting, eyes scavenging for whatever the Lord of Terror had in store for her. Something moved in the darkness, nearing, and the demon hunter whirled, an arrow flying from her weapon and hitting the silhouetted enemy with a hiss.
It was… her. Sort of. Her shadow, if the two crossbows in her opponent’s hands were anything to go by.
Of course, count on the Lord of Terror to fashion her an enemy in the form of her greatest fear. Nonetheless, Raahn grinned, blood in her teeth and a waver in her gaze.
She had been fighting herself for years now. This? This was nothing.
The two hunters dueled, a battle of rolling and firing, and when Raahn took two steps forward and ran her shadow through with a knife, the world around them shattered.
“No!” Diablo screamed, standing where it had been right before Raahn’s world went black. “This wretched light must be eradicated!” It charged forward, and she barely had time to scramble out of the way before it smashed through the wall next to her.
Raahn ducked behind a fallen weapon rack, loosing one of the belts around her waist and tying it instead around her wound in a makeshift tourniquet. She broke off the ends of the two arrows in her shoulder that her shadow had so kindly left there, and pulled her hood away from her face.
This is it, she thought as she stood, meeting Diablo’s gaze across the chamber. All or nothing.
“I’ll accept a surrender,” she croaked, smirking, and Diablo let out a low, displeased growl, circling around her.
“All that you have known— all that you have ever loved— shall be eradicated!” it roared, charging forward once more, mouth wide open and dripping with something molten.
Raahn crouched low. “Come and get it.”
Diablo fell, eventually, to an arrow in his chest and in a glorious explosion. Raahn was slumped against one of the four mantles, fresh blood oozing from the corner of her mouth, weak and on the brink of death but still fighting, the fire within her not quite dead yet.
“I’m sorry, Leah,” she wheezed over the blood in her throat, staring at the corpse laying mere feet away from her. The edges of her vision were starting to go dark, and the pain that had been racking her for so long now was starting to numb. “You’re free, now.”
At those words, the corpse shifted slightly. Raahn’s heart plummeted, watching in utter defeat as the creature’s chest began to open, ribs pulling the skin apart.
For a moment, nothing happened, and the fear tightening around her lungs eased into blatant confusion.
There was another cracking sound, and then a small, crumpled body tumbled out of Diablo’s carcass.
Raahn could recognize that red hair anywhere.
She staggered to her feet, her wound screaming in protest and her knees giving out halfway there, but she crawled over to Leah’s unconscious form and pulled the smaller girl into her arms.
A teary laugh burst from her lips.
“We did it, Eirena,” she cried, burying her blackened, bloodstained hands in that so, so familiar hair. “We brought her home.”
For a moment, there was silence, and then she was pitching forward into darkness.
Raahn woke to a blinding light that slowly faded as she regained consciousness. She moved to get up, grunting in pain at the stabbing ache in her side, before a gentle hand helped her the rest of the way up.
She looked around, blinking blearily. Eirena was sitting next to her, dry blood caked down the side of her face but her eyes glassy with joy. Tyrael, Auriel, Ethereal linger off to the side. Leah lied next to her, looking almost peaceful in her sleep, a bloody piece of cloth tied around her right eye. Diablo’s body was strangely absent.
“Ei— Eirena—“ she choked, raising a trembling hand to the enchantress’s face. Eirena laughed and curled into the touch, resting their foreheads together as tears began to roll down her cheeks.
“You’re alive,” she said. “You’re alive and I’m so, so proud of you.”
Raahn breathed deeply, closing her eyes and savoring the moment for a few seconds before peeling away, turning instead to face the archangels nearby.
“Is it over?” she rasped.
Ariel nodded. “The day is won. Diablo is vanquished, and all evil with him.”
Raahn grunted, rising to her feet with Eirena’s help, leaning heavily on the shorter woman to remain upright. “As long as the Burning Hells exist, there will still be evil, my friend.”
Tyrael stepped forward, grinning a smile so large it crinkled the corners of his eyes. “Time will tell,” he said, clapping her on the shoulder softly before leaving with Auriel and Itherael in tow.
Raahn watched them depart until the doors to the Crystal Arch closed before turning back to Eirena.
“Where is Diablo?” she asked.
“Tyrael cast its body over the edge of the Spire after he took the black soulstone from within it. He said the Horadrim are going to take the soulstone somewhere no one will ever find it,” Eirena said.
“I see. And Leah?”
“Alive, thanks to you. Her eye, though…”
“I know. And— what about you?”
Eirena smiled that same, private smile, and sighed in exasperation.
“After all you’ve been through, you’re asking me if I’m alright?”
Raahn shrugged, bringing a hand to touch the cut across the enchantress’s brow. “This is going to scar.”
“It is what it is. Makes me seem fierce, no?”
Raahn chuckled, bringing her hand to cup the blonde’s cheek. “You were fierce even without it. Certainly much fiercer than I. You’ve saved my life twice now.”
“The things we do for the ones we love,” Eirena replied, and the admission made Raahn’s heart stutter.
“You are too good to me, Eirena,” she said, voice thick. The thank you in that statement went unspoken.
Eirena’s gaze softened, one hand coming to her neck, the other resting over her wound.
“I believe the feeling is mutual,” the enchantress breathed, and Raahn kissed her deeply, then, conveying all the things she couldn’t say in the action.
Eirena gave a pleased hum, her thumb rubbing against a scabbing cut at Raahn’s jaw.
“I wonder, sometimes, if you regret traveling with me,” the demon hunter mumbled once they parted, her hand now resting at Eirena’s hip.
The blonde frowned, pulling back a bit further so that she could meet her gaze.
“Do not say that. I would face the Lord of Terror a thousand times for a friend such as you.” She kissed her again, feather soft. “I left everything behind to fight with you, and it was the best choice I have ever made.”
Leah shifted in her sleep, grumbling, face scrunching. Raahn looked at the young woman with a small smile.
“We’ll be alright,” she said, resting her head against Eirena’s shoulder.
Eirena hummed, smiling into the demon hunter’s hair.
“Yes. Yes we will.”