DIABLO: AMOR AETERNUS
Arcane and Apples
"A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy
reaps friendship, and he who plants
kindness gathers love."
- Saint Basil
"More than kisses, letters mingle souls."
- John Donne
Chapter One: The Librarian
When Farah's sister wrote and asked her to come manage the library in New Tristram, she only briefly mentioned 'The Secret'. The way Aya described it, Farah imagined it was written in stylized, calligraphic text, to be unfurled in a banner across the town square. In reality, it was her sister's summation of a truth she was reluctant to part with willingly.
Aya greeted her at the town gates with a smile and warm embrace. They considered each other, the sibling they had not seen in person for twenty years. Aya's hair was grown out to her waist; her robes were silk-sewn and vibrantly coloured. Though younger than Farah, she was still approaching forty years. Her face showed no sign of wrinkles or weathering, and the natural dark hue of her skin remained unblemished. It was as if she had barely aged since they had parted.
"Baina, I am glad you arrived safely," the younger woman said. "I see you did not hire an escort as I suggested."
"I am worldly enough." Farah hefted her pack bag onto her sister's small cart. "Only a poor thief would rob a librarian. And I did not walk from Caldeum on foot."
"It's not thieves that worry me. Try as we may, there are still many demons between here and the Jewel of the East. Were you planning to throw books at them?"
"And ruin them? Hardly. Let us give thanks I saw nothing dangerous." Farah gave her a wry smile. "Now, tell me about my new home you have been so enigmatic about."
They walked the main street, Farah looking about wide-eyed at the colourful banners and brightly painted building fronts. Compared to Caldeum it was barely a town at all, let alone a city. Yet there was a palpable vibrancy in the air that Farah could not explain through mere paint. She loosened her zala that was wrapped about her shoulders, allowing the wind to rustle the colourful silk scarf.
"I was surprised you accepted my offer," Aya said, directing them to sit on the edge of a large fountain in the middle of the square. "I thought the Great Library would be too much distraction for you."
"The Library is full of youthful vigor and those more recently learned in the scholarly arts. Truthfully, you can have too many librarians. I wanted a change and a challenge, and I wanted to see you in person." She gestured at the square. "There are as many mysteries to find in small places as there are in the Great Library itself. How could I turn away the chance to manage my own collection? But tell me, sister, what drew you here, so many years ago."
Aya grinned and closed her eyes, sighing happily as a stronger breeze tossed her hair. "You remember the stories from our grandmother? Of angels and demons, and the world they created together to escape the endless fight?"
"Of course. Bedtime stories. You always liked them."
"That blood runs strongly in our family. It is the source of my childhood parlor tricks, and of the new power I have learned since." She snapped her fingers and the wind disappeared, to be replaced by a gentle flutter of flower petals cascading from nowhere. "A young woman found me. A powerful woman, also from Caldeum. She bid me join her in mentorship."
Farah caught a petal as it dropped. She ran her other hand across it; it was soft. Real.
"I had my suspicions," Farah said, softly. "Father feared you, but needlessly, I think. It was best you left to find your own path, and to allow such skills to blossom. Although I regret the time we spent apart. Letters are never enough."
"Surely not. Though, I did find my way, very much so. I found others like me. Those within whom the angelic or the demonic rises close to the surface."
"Those are just stories, Aya."
"Truly? Or from where do you think the arcane streams?" She stood. "Come, I will show you around town and your home, and perhaps then you will be ready to learn some of its secrets."
Farah's quarters in Aya's home were larger than anything she had lived in before, including her childhood place in their family mansion. The small apartment she had left was little more than a broom closet; Caldeum's population was entrenched into its space like fish in a tin. But here in the countryside, the residents were generous with their use of land.
She unpacked her clothing and the texts she had brought with, silently contemplating the afternoon. Aya had walked her about town, pointing out the smithy, the bakery, the tavern, and the sprawling market full of jewels and trinkets. The library was off the square and was composed of a main building and several add-ons. Still, it was in good repair, and Farah estimated it would hold a decent number of books.
"The previous librarian did the job as a favour to a friend who had passed," Aya had said. "Then he passed too, and now we require another learned scholar for the job."
I am certainly old enough to be that learned scholar. Farah opened a window and leaned out, watching as a group of children ran, laughing, down the street. Still, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Aya was right. It was time for a change.
"You still have not told me any of your secrets," Farah said, as her and Aya walked to the library the next morning. "After you kept me in such suspense."
"I did, in a way. It is your choice whether you believe me."
"You mean what you said about angels and demons? Caldeum is overpopulated with arcane masters and wizards and has been for centuries. Why not accept that power as a normal facet of humanity?"
"Then what of the lesser demons that roam the lands?"
"Who is to say they are not simply a natural part of the landscape? Superstition is strong, sister. We believe everything beautiful is normal and everything ugly hellish."
"True. Then how about the reapers that attacked Caldeum more than twenty years ago? I recall you predicting our immediate demise if the Iron Wolves were unable to hold them at bay."
"It was an incursion by a rogue sect of necromancers operating outside the directions of the Church of Rathma. They were quelled appropriately. We were never in danger."
Aya stopped walking and rubbed the bridge of her nose with a thumb and forefinger. "Ah. You believe everything you read or hear."
"That is how knowledge is distributed, yes."
"Knowledge, perhaps. Wisdom is another matter." She smiled wryly, as if laughing at a private joke. "But here. Let me show you your sanctum."
The library door opened silently; Aya led Farah in by her hand, then snapped her fingers in the air. Several arcane orbs gleamed into existence and drifted into a brass holder hanging from the ceiling.
Farah gasped. Worn mahogany shelves were stacked full of dusty tomes and illuminated texts; others were piled on tables and near the unlit hearth. Many she recognized, whereas others were unknown or potentially single copies she had never seen. She strode to the cabinets and ran her fingers alone the spines, absently mouthing the titles.
Aya cleared her throat. "I know we have been apart for many years. Even so, I never stopped worrying about you."
"I found freedom in the road. You found a cage made of books."
"The road interests me little. I have lived a happy, quiet life."
"I have lived a rich, enlightening one. When I saw the opportunity for you to do the same, I had to extend it. I am glad you accepted. Farah, are you even listening?"
Distracted, Farah selected a hand-leathered notebook and withdrew it. She opened it and marvelled at the crisp, precise handwriting. It was a dated language, but one she knew from years of walking the halls of the Great Library. She lifted the book and sniffed it lightly, surprised to find none of the tell-tale scents she associated with older texts. Instead of vanilla, it smelled faintly of pine and, less overtly, wood smoke.
"New," she murmured. "Yet worn. Interesting."
"I'm not sure where those have been," Aya said. "Really baina, must you smell everything?"
"How else am I to determine its history without a scholar's notes?" She gestured at the pages. "I have never seen this particular text."
"I suspect there we have a few books you have never seen before. We have many local scribes, and a few seekers of wisdom." She smirked. "One in particular. Insufferably."
"No one who seeks knowledge could be insufferable."
"Ah. Again, sister. Your bias shows." She chuckled loudly. "You will uncover many truths soon. When you learn the secret, come and talk to me." She stepped towards the door.
"Aya! Do you offer no assistance? There are no instructions here!" Farah gestured at the disorganized stacks of texts left to collect dust. "This is a library. It also has a history! How am I to care for it if I do not understand how it began?"
"That is the wonderful thing about New Tristram. You tend to find answers in the places you are not looking for them. You will do well, Farah. Worry not. I have faith in your training."
Aya left, pulling the door closed behind her with a soft click.
From what Farah had seen at a cursory glance, the library had no filing system. She didn't know how long the lights would remain lit without Aya present. She had no idea if the library already had patrons, or if books were removed from its collections.
She knew absolutely nothing.
Thus, she worried.
"By the Light, little sister, you are going to be my death. Well. Perhaps it's best to get started."
"I am beginning to believe arcanists have a cruel streak," Tyrael said, settling in beside Aya on a bench. It was a day of rest, and the leader of the Horadrim wore a robe instead of his usual armor. Even relaxing, however, he still carried El'druin in a sheath at his side. The blade's hilt glimmered faintly in the sun. "You could have shown her the mess tomorrow and given her an additional day to acclimatize to her surroundings."
"You doubt her capacity to worry about simple things regardless of adjustment time," Aya said. She bit into a pastry and savoured it, momentarily, before acquiring another from a basket and passing it to Tyrael. "And we are inspiring."
"I may have to speak to Li-Ming about her teaching methods."
"More than a few years late. Surely your concern isn't this recent?"
"You know me too well." He glanced at the library window, where a silhouetted form bustled about, its arms full of books. "I am glad you decided to write her. Cain would have liked her, I think. He shared a similar youthful enthusiasm regardless of age. And though Edgar's heart was in the right place, the library has not been the same since Cain left us. It could use some proper attention."
"A few of us hoped your brother would care for it. He seems to like it well enough."
Tyrael chuckled. "The library is a repository of knowledge already gathered, to be used for later reference. He would rather collect it from its natural environment." He paused. "Did you tell her?"
"It's not a matter of telling her, friend. It's a matter of her believing me. Our father spoke often of the dangers of the arcane. He found mundane explanations wherever possible. Farah is brilliant and sheltered. Her anxieties do not include the existence of the angelic realm."
The former-angel raised an eyebrow. "Yes, I would assume she is currently anxious about books."
"If I did not know better, I would think you were finally developing a sense of humour."
"That is a known symptom of mortality."
"You sound like your brother."
Tyrael laughed again. "There are worse things. When Malthael speaks, you would do best to listen."
"If only he would grant me that honour more often." They stood, and she raised a hand; Tyrael clasped it in farewell. "Perhaps Farah will be lucky."
"Only marginally. Let us see how the fates play out."
It took Farah four days to sort and tally the library's collection. She devoted two days to emptying and cleaning the shelves. Finally, she spent another working up a functional withdrawal system, so she could track texts if they left the location. It was not entirely fool-proof, but assuming her future clients cooperated it would simplify her work greatly.
She was not pleased it had taken a week to make the library functional. But it had clearly been neglected for many years, and she was willing to commit a fraction of that time into renewing it. She was also, she loathed to admit, slower moving than she had been in her youth. Books did not grow lighter as she aged.
News of her work spread fast. The day after she finished, she found a line of patrons waiting for her as she arrived to open the building. They were an eclectic sort. A group of children followed an older woman clad in red combat leathers, each with a miniature crossbow attached to their belt. They quickly settled into a corner and poured over a bestiary by Abd al-Hazir. Several women clad in garish outfits similar to Aya's followed and proceeded to ransack the arcane section. Finally, a man with ivory hair entered, his clothing clacking with the rattle of dry bones.
"Morning, madam," he said, in a most pleasant voice that Farah did not expect. "Tyrael mentioned we had acquired a new librarian. This pleases me greatly."
I am glad it pleases you, Farah thought, as she noted the blood-filled casks on his hip. I would hate to do otherwise.
"Farah," she said, holding out a hand.
He grasped hers, his fingers dry and thin, and she couldn't help but wonder if he was as much of a corpse as his garments.
"Osseus. My thanks for your work."
"Of course." Before she could continue, he swept past, leaving the unsubtle odour of decay and frankincense in his wake. She gagged and fell dizzily onto the nearest chair. Around her, chaos unfolded in the library—her library.
"Now, Micah, we don't shoot them indoors!"
The air rippled as something whizzed past Farah's head and embedded in the wall behind her. She turned and found a crossbow bolt, its shaft still quivering from the impact.
"My apologies," the leather-clad woman called, glaring at one of her charges. "Micah has a heavy trigger finger. We are working on that."
"Best your nuisances practice on rats, Valla," Osseus said, having settled into a chair with a book. "At least I could make use of the corpses. I would rather our new librarian remain alive."
Farah swallowed. She thought back to the predictable calmness of the Great Library and how it was not filled with cloaked hooligans and terribly scented clientele.
Oh my word. What have I done?
Farah was too relieved to be suspicious when the patrons vacated the library shortly before sundown. Exhausted, she wiped sweat from her forehead, tidied the books as best she could, and trudged home for a meal.
Aya waited for her at the door.
"How did you know when I would return?" Farah graciously accepted a steaming bowl of stew before joining her at the table.
"The library always closes to the public at sunset."
"I saw nothing stating that."
"Some rules are unofficial, yet important. It is perhaps the biggest way we differ from Caldeum. Some of your more dedicated clientele come out at night."
Farah nearly spit out her stew. "Then I should be there to help them!"
"I think they will manage fine. You may never see them at all."
"Oh, Hells. I saw enough today to compensate."
And so, Farah told her about the chatty wizards who tried to sell her on silk capes; about the young demon hunters and their mentor Valla, the battle-worn huntress who seemed more comfortable in the field than wrangling children, including Micah, her own; and about Osseus the necromancer, stoic yet charming, who smelled so terrible Farah had to run into the corner to heave several times.
"We told him to bathe," Aya said. "He added perfumes. It did not help. It's hard to cover the stench of death."
"Do they all smell that bad?"
"Necromancers? I have not checked that closely. We mostly let Osseus do as he wishes. He's earned his keep."
Farah paused as the soup bowl brushed her lips.
"Ah. You would like the stories, now." Aya grinned. "Osseus and Valla are Nephalem, as am I. He and Valla were two of several who drove a blade through the Reaper of Westmarch. And they were there at the fall of Diablo in the Heavens."
"Al'Diabolos. The greatest of the evils. Grandmother always scared me with those tales."
"You should ask Osseus for his versions, then. And perhaps you won't think it was necromancers that attempted to siege Caldeum."
"What do you think they were, then?"
"Reapers, of course. Slaying whoever they could to claim the souls for their leader-"
"-The Reaper of Westmarch?" Farah finished for her. "Really, Aya. I've heard more frightening names in children's books. See, reference: Al'Diabolos."
Her sister nearly choked on her soup. "I would not say that to the victims."
"Then I will not. Everyone knows Westmarch caught fire."
"Yes, because the Reaper forces razed it, the same ones that attacked Caldeum. Until the Nephalem stopped them."
"I suppose you will tell me next that their leader's downfall is why Caldeum persevered?"
Aya shrugged. "It is not really my story to tell."
"It is, however, a fine myth."
"Valla and Osseus would believe otherwise. You could speak with them."
Farah finished her stew, set the bowl on the table, and met her sister's unblinking stare. "Belief is not the same as truth."
"Yes. And some stories hold more truth than others."
"Will you ever give me a straight answer?"
"When you are ready to listen. But I must sleep. I told Li-Ming I would manage her classes tomorrow, and nothing is as rambunctious as a group of adolescent evokers first thing in the morning."
Farah sighed, knowing she would make no additional progress on Aya that evening. "Then good night, baina."
"Good night, Farah. Pleasant dreams."
Farah did not have pleasant dreams. The markedly restful sleeps she had experienced since arriving in Tristram were interrupted by strange, jagged nightmares of darkness and shadow. She stood under a low tree, its branches decayed and its leaves scattering in the wind. A looming, three-headed figure growled at her.
"Nephalem, how good of you to join us."
"You are not real," Farah said, "And I am no Nephalem."
"No? How naïve you are."
The shadow drew closer; Farah reached for something with which to defend herself and found a stack of books. She threw one, then another at the creature, hoping to push it back, but it continued moving until the deepest darkness she had ever experienced threatened to overtake her.
"I only wanted to see my sister," she shouted. "Not fight a monster!"
"Some fights are not yours to pick, Nephalem. But they are yours to own."
It stretched its jaws of Nothingness and snapped them shut around her.
She woke screaming.
By the time she arrived at the library, Farah felt as though she'd already been awake a full day. Her hair was mussed, her day clothes rumpled, and dusty panes on the door revealed deep wrinkles under her eyes.
I am too old for those sorts of dreams.
Thankfully, there were no early morning patrons awaiting her. She had time to settle in, write her to-do list, and brew a pot of tea on the wood stove. Drink acquired, she glanced about the study space, which was still messy from the previous day. It looked as though a whirlwind had attacked the meticulously organized collections and scattered them aimlessly about.
Then she stopped and cocked her head.
On a table near the door was a new stack of books neatly arranged in a precise tower, a small scroll balanced on the top.
Her bare feet squeaked on the hardwood floors as she walked to the mystery pile. Setting the scroll to the side, she opened the first book carefully so as not to disturb the rest. It was a journal of sorts, hand written, in the same script she had found in the books from the previous day. This one was in the common language and was a compendium of the religions of small villages on the southernmost coast.
She set it on the table and opened another. It was a collection of tales, also from the south coast. They were variations on the same stories her grandmother had read her, with numerous authorial annotations along the margins, noting corrections or, oddly, variations between the fictions and claimed historical fact.
She let the book slide closed in her hands and set it alongside the others, then retrieved the scroll, removed the twine seal, and let the parchment unravel. A short note in the same writing glimmered in ebony ink.
Edgar: For south-coast section, histories and myths. Should be last set. Stop correcting my spelling . Regional variations. Checked last compendium, saw your markings. Fixed them.
Farah stifled a snort, unsure if she was laughing from commiseration or incredulity. Aya's words echoed, then:
"So, you are the mystery scribe." She reread the scroll and decided it was chuckle worthy. Edgar must have been the previous librarian. Aya had neglected to mention his name. He had passed away several months prior, which meant the writer, whoever they were, had been away for quite some time.
Though, she would have guessed as much from the stack of journals.
Quickly forgetting her exhaustion, Farah tidied up the rest of the tables, moved the new material over to her desk, settled in, and began to read. It seemed as good a way as any to begin the day.
"Was Edgar any good at what he did?" Farah asked over supper that evening. "Also, you forgot to tell me his name."
"I had a great deal on my mind when I wrote you. And no, he was not. Poor man, he tried. He made up for it by sheer effort. It is why I asked you here. At least you know how to handle demon-cursed texts." Aya gestured at a basket of fresh fruit near the stove. "I brought you some food from the market, by the way. Someone told me you skipped lunch."
"I was absorbed in reading."
"Obviously, things have not changed much since I was young." Aya smiled. "You always remembered to take care of me while forgetting yourself."
"Someone had to. Father was always at the courts."
"I'm sure the maids would have managed. Not," she added quickly, raising her hands, "that I minded! But I am sure you spent more time being my mother than you should have."
Farah fell silent. Aya was right, but she was not about to admit it. She did not regret her actions, or the good she had done for her sister. But even into her fifth decade, she still wished her father had expected less of her and more of himself. She had spent a good part of her later life learning about herself; her likes and preferences, things she should have discovered as a youngster. Things Aya had likely learned after she had left their stifling home environment and gone on to the adventures she had written to Farah about.
"Do new books often appear unannounced?" she asked, hoping to change the topic.
"In the library, baina. Where else did you think, the smithy?"
"Not usually, except—" Aya closed her eyes and groaned. Loudly. "Oh, by the Light. Now I must put up with them both again."
"Tyrael and his brother."
Tyrael, she knew. Aya had introduced him the day she had arrived. He was a tall, broad, surprisingly calm man, externally stern, but whose eyes sparkled with warmth. Farah had liked him immediately, though she could not entirely explain why. Something about him radiated security, as if being in his presence made her feel protected.
"He did not mention a brother," Farah said, curious.
"Because he is often gone for long periods of time. Travelling, researching. He may be here for a few days, or sometimes weeks, before disappearing again. I doubt you will see him. He prefers the evening."
"Because it is dark?"
Aya shrugged, though she pointedly looked away. "It is his way."
That was a secret, clearly unspoken. She wondered if it was the one Aya had bid her to discover. Trying to puzzle out his motivation, she thought to the fantastical worlds of angels and demons he described. "He wrote of stories. Like grandmother's. Different, but still the same, at base."
"Did he write about the end of days? Or a falling star?"
"No. Are those local tales? It was old legends. The Sin War, and the Eternal Conflict between the Heavens and Hells."
"Tristram does have its own lore. It is why it is the heart of the arcane in our realm. Of the Nephalem."
"Why do you insist on speaking in riddles, still?"
"Because your ears are still closed. Or are you ready to listen?" When Farah did not answer, Aya massaged the bridge of her nose. "I cannot change what you believe. I can only show you the way."
"If you will not tell me, perhaps I should ask your insufferable seeker of wisdom."
Her sister snickered. "If you can find him and get him to speak, then I bade you, ask him anything."
"You speak as if 'anything' is literal. Ah. Now who is quiet, baina?"
They both stared at each other, then laughed simultaneously.
"Things truly have not changed," Aya said, without malice. "You are still stubborn, and I am still correct."
"I am surprised they let you teach with that ego."
"Mine is not the largest in town, by far. Still, Farah, I meant it. Ask him what you will, and if he chooses to speak, then listen. He does not speak lightly, but there is wisdom in what he does say."
"You have had the opportunity, I take it?"
"Not so often as you would think. He is elusive."
"Then I accept your challenge. I will find this man and learn his secrets. And then I will tell you them."
A broad smile lit Aya's face. "Wonderful."