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."
A/N: Welcome to Act 2! Our story expands to Tristram itself, and we get to meet some of its residents, new and old, and learn about who exactly the heroes were in previous "tales". As each Diablo game introduces new protagonists, I was very much inspired to build new characters into this series. Though, we'll definitely visit familiar faces, as you have now seen!
Don't worry, for anyone wondering: Malthael is definitely in this story.
For those who are also wondering, Osseus is the Diablo 3 necromancer; Xul from Heroes of the Storm is the necromancer from Diablo 2, so I had to make a name for the new guy. For the purposes of this series, Osseus, Valla, and Li-Ming are the Nephalem from Diablo 3. I wanted to include more but it really wasn't feasible from a narrative perspective.
Chapter Two: The Wisdom Seeker
There were no additional books on the table the next morning. Mildly disappointed, Farah fell into her new routine of shelving texts, sweeping the floor, and reading voraciously through the library's histories. Aya had spoken truly in her letters; much of the work was new material or so obscure it had not found its way to the Great Library.
The town's first librarian, a man by the name of Deckard Cain, had done a great deal of his own writing. The Book of Cain was kept on a pedestal near the entrance. It had been referenced many times, if the dog-eared pages were any indication. Farah had yet to read more than a few pages as it was always in use by some curious researcher or another. Her initial perusal revealed it to be a collection of the same myths she read in the journals, only illustrated and presented in a coherent narrative.
"We enchanted it ages ago," one of the arcane specialists said, as he perused the shelves for a specific book. "It is falling apart, and many of the entries contain Cain's sketches. It is irreplaceable."
"Surely you could duplicate the general content?" Farah asked, taking a break from her work to eat one of the apples Aya had sent along.
"Oh yes. Several such copies exist in other locations. But the original was kept by Cain himself. Tyrael also works on a similar text and keeps it in his possession."
"He seems a kind man. It is fitting he is named after the Sahptev God of Justice."
He glanced at her strangely. "Tyrael has seen and sacrificed much for us. It is to his credit that he remains compassionate."
For us in Tristram? Or, who?
"Ah, here is the book I sought." He walked to the desk, filled out the card, and handed it to her. "I appreciate this system. Your sister is a notorious vanisher of texts. I am sure she uses them to wipe her arse."
"Aya has never been much for organization. Her tutors always complained."
"She does not need it to succeed. Few can match her raw ability. Li-Ming favours her to take over the arcane division, someday."
He looked at her as if she had sprouted a second head. "Curious. Did she really tell you nothing?"
"Nothing at all."
"Then I will not intrude on family matters. She has her reasons."
"They are terrible reasons," Farah called as the man walked to the door. "You can help me undo them!" She frowned as he left without answering. "Oh, Hellspawn."
Farah learned two things the next day.
Firstly, Aya's word commanded respect in Tristram; as rumour spread that Farah was intentionally being kept in the dark, the townsfolk good naturedly began avoiding certain topics around her.
Secondly, the library had a thief.
When she returned in the morning, she found her basket of fruit completely empty, when she distinctly recalled leaving two oranges and a pear in it. Pears were her favorite; she had intentionally set one aside to enjoy the next day. Lamenting that she had rushed and not eaten breakfast at home, Farah checked around the library in case the fruit had somehow rolled away.
They had not.
Incensed, she stalked to her stack of blank parchment, took a quill, and wrote a note. Then she took a nail, and a hammer, and emphatically attached it to the front door of the library.
Dear food thief: please return my fruit.
Farah suffered through several rounds of ribbing over the note, including from Aya herself, who broke into bemused tears when she read it. Undaunted, she completed her work for the day and waited impatiently for the sun to go down, immensely curious as to the honesty of the perpetrator.
The next morning, she found a basket containing several plums, apples, and an exotic melon sitting on her desk. Alongside it was a note in now-familiar handwriting:
Enjoyed already. Assumed apology for spelling corrections. Acceptable replacement?
Then, further down the note, in a much looser scrawl with intentional double punctuation:
Who are you?
Wonderful. A simple misunderstanding had given her a method of communicating with him.
"Make him speak." She selected a plum from the basket and bit into it. He was certainly more generous with his gift than Aya had been. "What shall I ask of you, my mystery patron?" Then, remembering he had asked her a question first, she retrieved a new parchment page and wrote him an answer.
Tyrael was awakened rudely in the deepest of the night, when the full moon was shining through the window. A loud bang echoed through the home, followed by the brisk steps of booted feet. His bedroom door slammed open.
"By the Burning Hells." He groaned and sat upright. "Tristram had best be on fire. I told you to be silent if you returned after midnight."
He flinched as a parchment roll hit him square in the face and fell to his lap. A shadow walked towards him and tipped its head to the side, as if staring.
"Brother," Tyrael said. "If you expect me to read this, then you had best wait until morning."
He was always impressed by how intense Malthael's glare was in total darkness; he felt it boring into his forehead. Then, the other man finally spoke.
"Who is she?"
"Who is who?"
The shadow pointed at the parchment, which was dimly visible on the bedsheets.
Tyrael sighed, grabbed the paper, and held it to the moonlight coming through the window. "The librarian? Malthael." He pronounced the syllables of his name distinctly, growing more aggravated with each. "You awakened me to ask about the librarian? Has she sprouted four heads and is spewing acidic pools? Or what is the emergency?"
"Where is Edgar?"
"Edgar passed into the Light four months ago, shortly after you left. We gave him a burial fit for the High Heavens and then sought another librarian. She arrived two weeks ago."
"If you graced me with your presence during the daylight hours more often, I would have told you sooner." Tyrael's tone softened; he found it difficult to be properly angry at Malthael regarding such matters. "Brother, truly. You needn't creep about any longer. No one will judge you."
"Because that is your domain. The others made their wants clear. I will honour them."
Tyrael did not argue. He disagreed, but it was not his place to question the other man's interactions with the Nephalem. Regardless of the trust he placed in his brother, he could not control others' perception of him. Nor could he erase his past sins, however they may have come about.
"I angered her," Malthael said, interrupting his thoughts.
"I find that hard to believe. She struck me as rather good-natured." Wishing the conversation would end so he could return to sleep, Tyrael lay down and rolled over. Still, curiosity nagged at him. "What did you do?"
"I…mistook her meal for a peace offering."
The revelation struck him like a bucket of cold water. "You were the fruit thief she was fretting about all day?"
"By the Hells and the Heavens and everything in between. Take yourself away, go to sleep, and we can discuss your idiocy more in the morning."
His brother paused, tilted his head further than Tyrael thought possible, then disappeared, closing the door quietly behind him—leaving Tyrael to stare at the wall, wide awake and cursing, not for the first time, that his brother's exasperating oddness had not been cured by his mortality.
Over time, Farah gradually came to know the inhabitants of Tristram and what they studied in the library. Also, who they pined for, the foods they preferred, the monsters they feared, and their favorite drinking songs. She saw more magic than she had ever before, a realization that worked away at the stubbornness inside her. She also continued her own reading, looking for the nugget of fact that would turn her sister's stories from tales into truth.
And each night, after closing the library, she made sure to leave a note on her desk. Aya had been right about the stranger. He was brief when possible, and sometimes Farah only garnered a word or two in reply, particularly when she tried to engage in social pleasantries; they were not his forte.
How do you like Tristram? Did you have a good day yesterday?
Other questions, however, earned more in-depth replies, in the vein of the journals she had taken to curling up with each morning before the patrons arrived.
How are you and Tyrael brothers, when my sister claims you don't look alike?
Tyrael and I are brothers by form and calling.
By profession, then; perhaps the same as other organizations, such as the Sahptev monks or the Crusaders.
Sometimes, he left several new texts for her after she did not hear from him for weeks. Farah assumed he was travelling and researching. A great deal of his work revolved around myth and religion, and he was quickly compiling a collection of angelic and demonic stories from across the realm. It was a noble venture. Many of her former compatriots at the Great Library had become fixated on the here-and-now, of local politics and stories, and had neglected legend.
But she knew all to well how the past informed the future. Her family came from a long line of arcane masters; her father had not inherited the gift. Instead of learning about those who came before him, he had chosen to fear arcane practitioners, including his youngest daughter, and focused his attention on his work with the city's courts. That was decades in the past, but Farah would have been foolish to ignore how it had shaped her and Aya.
Aya, who was more vibrant and alive in Tristram than Farah ever remembered from their childhood. Something truly spectacular was occurring in the town, a confluence of power that spilled over into everyday life, including Farah's own work. She had handled countless arcane texts in the Great Library and was familiar with the dangers they entailed. And from what Farah knew of Edgar, she assumed the magical inventory had been beyond his capacity to control. But her experience did not make managing that aspect of the library any less challenging. The library's collection was also not static.
Her mysterious friend occasionally left more intriguing artefacts than travel-worn journals, always with detailed instructions about their dangers. One morning she found a leather-bound book encrusted with jewels, whose pages if read in the wrong order would subject the reader to most ill-fated emotional experiences. Another time, he left her a set of scrolls whose signets described them as instructions on how to scroll-craft, but which were written in an unintelligible script. Later, there was a text that forced the unfortunate reader to continue reading until the tale was concluded. She found it with a note scrawled in particularly annoyed-looking handwriting: Do not read. Narrative execution vastly overrated.
Undaunted, Farah took it upon herself to find a place for each in the library's archives, making additional notes for reader safety and ensuring the most perilous texts did not fall into unwary hands. It was immersive, satisfying work, particularly since she was the materials' sole custodian. Gradually, the library's extended collection began to attain a structure she found acceptable.
And as it did, a very unexpected thing began to occur.
Other items began appearing on her desk alongside the books. Once, she found a basket of fruit and vegetables, carefully wrapped for travel and clearly from a destination far from Tristram. Another time he left her a lovely silk zala, inlaid with gold thread.
Did you visit Caldeum? she wrote, after expressing her genuine thanks for the gift, as her current scarf had begun to show wear in Tristram's rainier climate. It was my home for a very long time. I miss it, often. The heat and the tea. No one grows the spices necessary for the drink, here. I finished my last a month ago. Have you ever tried it?
Initially, she was concerned when she received no reply. But then, several weeks later, a small leather bundle appeared on her desk, tied carefully with twine and imbued with the scent of cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon she knew so well.
Merchant in Kingsport imports periodically, he wrote.
That evening, she left a large cloth satchel of pastries on her desk, alongside a smaller, carefully partitioned bag of the tea he had brought her. Best shared with friends. All my gratitude.
He replied in the language she had spoken for many years, until the common tongue had taken over commerce and trade in Caldeum and she been forced to learn it for the sake of the library patrons.
It meant, simply, thank you.
Finally, months later, Farah brought herself to ask the question she had wanted to from the beginning.
Tell me. You write at length about angels and demons. Do they exist? Are they real?
She lowered the parchment as the word echoed in her mind. I brought far more questions than it answered. At the bottom of the page, she wrote: What is the nature of your evidence?
And then, a day later, she received the strangest answer.
"You could speak to him, you know," Aya said, over a mug of steaming tea. They sat outside the tavern at a wooden table, which the bartender Bron had dragged outside during the warm summer months.
"You said he was impossible to find."
"That was before you acquired his attention. Malthael is like a cat, baina. He avoids people whenever possible, until he finds you interesting, after which you cannot escape him."
"Malthael." She was slightly embarrassed that she hadn't asked his name in all the months they had spoken. But he had never offered it, and she had never wanted to pry. Even through letters his preference for privacy was obvious. She respected that. "It is…not entirely what I expected."
"No, his name." It was elegant, like his writing. She had half-expected something mundane. It was also familiar, but she could not immediately place from where. "He said what he knows is personal."
"Hmmm." Aya took a long swig of tea and held the cup to her chin. "That is one of the more profoundly accurate things he has said."
"He lies, then?"
"Lies? No, hardly. Malthael will provide you with whatever truth you require. Sometimes your query is wrong. You must have asked him the right question."
Mulling that over, Farah considered the town square. It was a quiet day, and aside from the distant squeal of children, the only sound was the wind. "You have also been right about many things," she said, eventually. "Perhaps I did not want to see that because it contradicts much of what I was taught."
"Change can be difficult."
"Not change. I wanted to believe that Father, wherever he rests in death, had at least a shred of credibility about him. That our biggest concerns were mortal, and that the arcane circumnavigated the proper social and political process and was to be controlled wherever possible. But here in the heart of it all I see vivid life and an abundance of mystery."
"It was not your fault," Aya said softly, setting her mug on the table and reaching to grasp Farah's hand. "You are not responsible for what he believed."
"No. But I am responsible for my own beliefs. Which were wrong."
"Yet, you came here when I offered. You wanted to change. And you are. I have seen it the past few months. It is never too late to grow."
No, Farah thought. And not in the ways she had expected. "Things seem brighter here. The arcane is everywhere. I never felt its flow strongly, before. But I do now."
"Will you join me and become a wizard?" Aya teased.
"Who would keep up the library? Besides, I'd rather not wear those garish outfits." She trailed off as a yawn overtook her.
"Don't tell me you've acquired the habits of the evening patrons."
"Hardly. I have been having disruptive dreams. Places I have never visited, but that feel very real. They are not good for sleep."
Aya's eyes widened. "Tell me."
"When I first arrived, I dreamt of a hideous shadow in a field. It called me Nephalem. Taunted me. Silly, I know, but that was the start. The next I remember was of a long-haired man carrying curved swords standing at a crossroads. In the distance was a burning city. And just last night, I dreamt of marble halls and a glimmering sky. There was a glowing archway that sang until it darkened and crumbled, its light spilling into the sky."
The wind rustled harder. Aya's face grew serene. "Our grandmother had the Sight. Not strongly, but she saw visions much as you do."
"They were dreams."
"Baina, the man you described with the long hair and the blades, that is Malthael."
Farah's pulse pounded in her fingertips. In a corner of her mind that was forgotten during the day, ghost-like voices whispered. She could not discern their words, but they chilled her even as they immediately faded away into nothingness.
"And the marble halls," Aya continued, "those are the High Heavens. The archway is the Crystal Arch, where angels are born. I have not seen either in person, but I know of them."
The Question and the Answer returned to her, unbidden:
You write about angels and demons. Do they exist? Are they real?
She swayed as the true summation of reality crashed into her. "I saw the Heavens fall."
"Yes, you did."
"Then we must do something! I know what I claimed before, but…" She struggled to find the words. "It felt so real. The air and the glow. It was as though I were looking through a window into another world. It will happen. I know it will."
Aya shook her head. "Prophecy is hard to translate. Cain compiled a prophecy of the End of Days once, from many sources, that only made sense in retrospect."
"This was not confusing at all."
"But when? That is the question. It could be today. It could have been yesterday, for all we know. It could be a thousand years hence." Her voice softened. "Grandmother saw our mother's death. But she could not say when or how. And Father never forgave her."
Another truth, unexpected. The answer to a question she'd always had but had never wanted to ask: why she had never seen their grandmother after their mother's passing, even when she had begged her father for otherwise.
"We must tell someone," Farah said, shaking herself from memory. "Even if we don't know when it will occur, or how. Someone who would help us understand."
"Then we will go to the source of wisdom. Have a nap. We'll be awake tonight."
Her world was darkness and shadow. Farah knew she was dreaming, but unlike previous ones, it swept her like a current, nearly drowning her. She struggled unsuccessfully against the flow and was soon buried in its tangibility.
She stood, formless, under a quarter moon. Worn fields stretched before her, tread many times with feet or hooves. A short distance away a fire dwindled, its coals smoking. Next to the fire lay a travel pack, a worn bedroll, and the same man from her previous dreams. To his side were the curved weapons; engraved runes glowed faintly on the blades. He slept soundly, undisturbed by the wind and the calls of the night.
"Him," the voices whispered. "This man walks the crossroads. One path leads to ruin. The other, survival."
Their words were overcome by a growing gale. As Farah watched, many figures materialized from the darkness. They gathered about him and silently raised their weapons.
Then she tasted blood on her tongue and awoke.
"Aya!" Farah stumbled into the great room; her hair was askew, and her eyes were uncharacteristically wide. "We must go. Now."
"You have plenty of time to sleep," Aya said, attempting to quell the unease rising in her gut. She had also been unable to sleep, but she attributed it to the excitement of adventure rather than concern. "It is not as if the library is far. He is not due to return until later tonight, regardless."
"Not the library. Elsewhere."
Realization dawned. "What did you see?"
"A field, under a quarter moon as it is now. They are going to find him and kill him. We must get Tyrael."
"Tyrael is not here. He is travelling with the Horadrim and will not be back until the morning." Aya almost told her to return to bed, but the vivid panic colouring her face told her otherwise; inexperienced as Farah was with the Sight, her sister was certain this was real. They could not risk ignoring it. She gestured at the door. "Let me gather my things. I will accompany you."
A/N: Dear readers, have a (hint of a series) plot! What would a Diablo story be without prophecy, after all? Malthael certainly does a lot of travelling. He's been very busy in the approx. 5 years since the ending of In All Things Light and Dark. Perhaps a bit obsessively. (Because that's never gone poorly in the past. Never.)
One can never claim that he doesn't appreciate a well-organized reference section, though. Someone has to manage all of his research. I have a small head-canon that this was Urzael's job before he became a giant flesh-behemoth-of-smashy. Them books are heavy. Farah is up to the challenge. Just don't steal her fruit.
Tune-in next week for the conclusion of Arcane and Apples. I'm actively working on edits for Act 3, as well, for a few weeks later. Thanks for reading!
Chapter Three: The Whispers of Fate
The moon was only beginning to rise as they mounted the horse and sped from Tristram, which meant they still had time to find him. Farah did her best to hold onto Aya's waist as her sister threw their mount into a full gallop. She had plenty of experience on horseback, but rarely at such speed.
"The field you described," Aya asked, "was it battle worn? Broken?"
"I believe I know the place. He is not far."
Each stride shook the saddle and drove palpable fear into Farah's gut. Her mind screamed for them to hurry. Seemingly understanding, Aya whispered to the horse and ran her fingers across its mane. Her hand glowed, and the animal whinnied before running faster. They were forced to slow once they reached denser forest, but even still, Aya directed the horse aggressively, jumping them over fallen trunks and low brambles, never once stopping.
The moon crept higher, reaching its peak as they finally broke out of the trees and onto an empty field. Wood smoke drifted on the air.
"That way," Farah said, trying to draw on her hazy memories of the dream.
The camp was still undisturbed when they approached. Aya dropped from the horse and carefully helped Farah down. Then they rushed to the fire and the bedroll-
Where they were met with two glimmering blades, the tips pointed upwards at their throats. Farah barely stopped in time; the metal tickled her skin, chilling and burning her simultaneously. She glanced sideways at her sister, wordlessly seeking guidance.
"Calm yourself, Malthael." Aya raised her fists to show the core of the arcane shield she had summoned in front of her. The blade skittered across its surface, raising purple sparks as it went. "I am not a bear."
He withdrew his weapons and rose from kneeling. "Clearly. They are quieter."
Farah was surprised by the deepness of his voice, and the precise pronunciation that trailed off into a rumbling murmur. She absently brushed her throat where the blade had rested moments earlier, telling herself the warmth in her neck was from its lingering burn.
Finally noticing her, Malthael turned her direction. Though a bulky cloak covered his form, within it she caught glimpses of a thin body very different from his brother's. He held the pose silently for a moment before slowly tilting his head to the side.
Aya glanced between the two with overt amusement. "Yes, let's get this out of the way. Farah, this is Malthael. Malthael, this is Farah, who you have been courting with your unhelpfully succinct letters for the past several months."
"Not courting. Appreciating good work."
"Bothering, then. Or whatever you would call it when you interrupt said labour."
"It's no bother at all," Farah interrupted, unable to stop staring, particularly since he was doing the same. "Also, the tea. I appreciated it. Very. Thank you."
His posture relaxed, though his head remained tipped. "You seem flustered."
"No, no. Well, perhaps from the swords. But you missed, and I am very grateful of that."
"Have I…upset you?"
Her face grew warmer. "I am simply happy to finally meet you!"
He fell silent again for a long moment. "Aya. Perhaps I misunderstand mortal courtship after all. Would you advise?"
The wizard rubbed her nose with a thumb. "No! By Anu's arsehole, I will let you two sort this out later. You are clearly all right. Farah, as I said, sometimes the Sight isn't accurate. Though it was good to check."
"Sight?" His tone sharpened.
Before Farah could reply, there was a whooshing, a flash of movement, and the echoing ring of an impact onto metal. Startled, she stumbled backwards, nearly losing her balance. When she regained her footing, she glanced up to find Malthael with his weapons raised in front of them and his cowl askew.
Dim moonlight illuminated an angular face and narrowed eyes. A shattered arrow lay on the ground at his feet. Unspeaking, he used a blade to flip his hood back over his face, then vanished into the darkness.
"Hells, I prefer fighting with your brother," Aya hissed, as she wove her hands together and pulled a golden shield about Farah; it twinkled before absorbing into her. "At least I know where he is. Baina, stay here."
"I am perfectly proficient with a dagger!"
"As I am sure they all are." Aya squeezed her shoulders, then stepped away. "Let me handle things this time."
As she spoke, a line of glimmering arcane bolts cut across the night sky, falling towards them. Aya growled and wove another spell, shattering the missiles and drawing the power into a sphere of her own. It thrummed a deep violet.
"Come out where I can see you!" Growling, she threw the crystalline orb; it shimmered as it flew across the terrain. Then it flashed as it collided with three silhouettes, which were briefly illuminated by its brilliance before collapsing to the ground.
"I'll find the rest," Aya said, before disappearing into the night. "Malthael, protect her!"
Dry grasses crunched behind Farah. She turned and shouted, pointing as a group of armed figures rushed from the other direction.
"I caught us a live one," one hissed. "Stinking Nephalem. Yer a pox on the realm."
"Uncalled for." A blade glimmered in the moonlight before slashing the figure's back.
Farah looked away, but she still caught a glimpse of crimson blood and the attacker's pained face. Screams echoed, then a thud as the body fell.
"Remain still," Malthael said quietly, nearer to her. "There are two groups."
A long distance away, arcane light began to flash, followed by Aya's distressingly maniacal laughter.
Farah shuddered. "She is terrifying."
"Efficient? I would rather we not kill anything! Can you do it kindly, at least?"
"Chances of a clean decapitation without arcane force are low."
"Oh, Light. Never mind." She huddled close to the ground, trying to see anyone else encroaching on their space. "There!"
She pointed at the shadow, but Malthael was already moving, sweeping in behind the figure and drawing his blades about its neck. The attacker gave a wet gasp, then slid to the ground. Two more approached from opposing directions. He sidestepped as a sword narrowly missed his chest, before using one of his blades and the attacker's own momentum to send the weapon spinning away into the darkness. His second blade he swung at the assailant's side, drawing a stream of blood that spilled onto the ground as the figure fell.
The other attacker withdrew and circled, reconsidering, its two-handed sword raised outward. Before it moved, Malthael turned unexpectedly and flung a blade Farah's direction. She screamed as it impacted behind her, felling an assailant she had not heard approach.
Raising his remaining weapon, Malthael took a step towards his adversary. As soon as the figure leapt at him, Malthael intentionally dropped his blade, freeing up both his hands. He moved with the attacker, snapping one palm into its shoulder and the other into its wrists. The figure tripped over Malthael's foot that was planted before it, stumbled, and dropped its weapon. Before it could regain its footing, he grabbed the sword, spun, and cleaved it into the attacker's back.
Then he retrieved his discarded blade and the one still buried in the ambusher behind Farah, calmly joining her when he was finished.
"I think I prefer books," she said, squeezing her hands together to try and stop her fingers from shaking.
"As do I."
"You seem good enough at this."
He was close enough she could finally see the weapons properly. They were not scimitars as she had first thought, but shotels. Carved runes glowed brightly in a beautiful language she could not read. Noticing her curiosity, Malthael tilted a blade so she could study it easier.
"I am not familiar with this script," she said.
All at once, she remembered a moment weeks ago when she had curled up in front of the hearth late one night, having finally procured The Book of Cain for the evening. It was inordinately large, and instead of starting at the beginning, she had flipped through the pages, pausing only when something caught her eye.
It was not an entry she had stopped on for long. On a single page was sketched a thin, cloaked figure carrying a pair of rune-carved blades. It was one of the Archangels that corresponded to the Sahptev Gods.
Her own words echoed: "Tyrael seems a kind man. It is fitting he is named after the Sahptev God of Justice."
Oh, she thought. I am a fool.
His name was Malthael. The Sahptev God of Wisdom. Mentioned seldom in their works and worshipped even less. The name was the same as Cain's Archangel, lost from the heavens. A mere footnote in a larger mythos. One she had barely considered amidst more exciting stories of warring angels and demons.
"Sweet Light," she whispered. "This is Angiris."
The air whizzed again. This time, the projectile was not deflected. It took Malthael hard in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. He rolled with the impact, hissing in pain, and when he lifted his blades again one wobbled. The attacker appeared out of the darkness, lowering its crossbow and drawing a longsword.
"Can we discuss later?" Malthael growled, driving a pommel into the assailant's face as it rushed him. Then he curved the blade around its shield and slashed at its back. The attacker screamed and fell. "It is hard to converse while dead."
Farah nodded numbly.
"Wait." He glanced away from her. "Duck, now."
She did; arcane beams lanced through the air where she had just stood, leaving a burning trail in their wake. Aya re-appeared shortly after, pausing to consider the fried corpse to Farah's left.
"That should be all of them," she said, flicking blood from a small cut on her cheek. "Are you in one piece, baina? Wait." She stared at Malthael as he gingerly snapped the excess shaft off the bolt. "What in the Hells happened to you?"
"Conversation. One I would like to continue. Later." He pressed his fingers against the wound, wincing as the motion shifted the bolt.
"That is unusually sloppy for you."
"A quick awakening does not nurture concentration." He looked to the corpses surrounding them. "Too many for cutthroats."
"Agreed. Also, too well armed."
"They called the Nephalem a pox," Farah blurted. "Before he…"
Malthael finally lowered his hood, revealing a face now worn with dirt and spattered blood. His brow furrowed. "This is…troubling."
"An understatement. And outrageous behaviour, so close to Tristram." Aya pointed to his shoulder. "Can you ride?"
"Well enough. We must tell Tyrael what occurred."
"He is away until morning."
"There's no space on the horse for three," Farah said. "I can wait."
"Absolutely not." Aya took her hand and pulled her to the mount. "I can walk back now that these thugs are disposed of. Send someone to pick me up when you arrive."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. Now here, let me help you both up."
They rode slowly because Farah didn't trust Malthael to be able to hold on with his injury. He rode behind her, his uninjured arm wrapped about her waist, the other pinned between her back and his chest. They had strapped his blades to the side saddle, where they clanged through the sheaths as the horse trotted. His cloak occasionally whipped in her direction, leaving in its wake the remnant traces of pine and smoke, scents she had come to associate with his journals.
Farah jerked from her reverie. "For what?"
"Considering my wellbeing."
"I would for anyone." And, if her dreams were any indication, his survival was far more significant than hers.
"I do not expect such considerations."
"You speak as if you do not deserve it."
"Is that why you only visit at night? Because of something you did?"
His laugh was gravelly. "I assumed too much. That your sister told you the truth. It explains your strange queries."
"She wanted me to uncover it for myself, so I would believe it. I think she wished for me to create my own future, for once."
"Your sister is wise."
He fell silent and leaned into her as his breathing hitched; his fingers tightened about her waist. Though he claimed no discomfort, she assumed he was aching. She needed to keep his mind focused with something to ensure he stayed conscious and on the horse.
Farah thought to her dreams of the crumbling arch and the burning city. They had been less tangible than the one which had brought her to him. She was hesitant, now, to share the details in case they were incorrect. It was a conversation for a later time.
Instead, she asked, "Why do you seek knowledge?"
"Because it is a holy and just pursuit."
"I agree. But why?"
"Conflict is coming. When, and how, I do not know. But it has happened before and will again. I thought that by studying the past, I could predict the future. I search this world for answers." The faintest trace of distress entered his voice. "I do not learn. I surely did not foresee tonight. I should not tread in Itherael's domain."
She tumbled the name around in her mind. More revelations. "Another sibling?"
"I have only met Tyrael."
"Tyrael came by my same fate, albeit by a different mechanism."
"There are others, somewhere?"
"Many. Far away."
"Do you miss them?"
"It is pointless to miss the past. You can only learn from it."
In that, he was wrong. She thought of her grandmother's warm voice. Of distant memories of her mother's embrace. Of her father, stern, proud, and unsure. Of Aya, vivacious and defiant. Of how they had all shaped her into the woman she had become.
"The past can still help or hurt us. Even if it's gone."
He flinched, though she wasn't sure if it was from the words or his wound. "Yes," he eventually whispered. "It can."
Malthael did not speak again the rest of the ride, and Farah could not bring herself to ask further questions. She considered what he had described. An ensuing battle, sometime, somewhere. Was it what she had seen? The world burning, the Heavens fallen? Those were questions for a future day, when they were not exhausted, wounded, and wishing for home.
She tightened her grip on the reins and looked for Tristram over the horizon.
Farah remembered little of when they arrived in town. She was nearly asleep by then, the horse running on its own direction, her hands clasping the reins from habit. She kept conscious long enough to direct them to the smithy, where she stumbled and banged on the door until Haedrig opened it, seemingly perturbed about being awoken.
Until he saw Malthael slumped against the building, his cloak stained with mud and fresh blood.
The blacksmith sent a rider for Aya and directed someone to take Farah home. There, she did her best to clean the grime from her skin before finally crawling into bed. She slept until the sun was too bright to ignore.
Farah emerged in the late afternoon to an empty home and a table full of messages. There was a scroll from Aya noting she had arrived back safe but would be detained with important meetings the rest of the day. Another was from Valla and the demon hunter troop; they had heard she had been caught in a dreadful scuffle and hoped she would recover all right from the ordeal.
And one letter was from Tyrael, who had also apparently returned. It was tied to a leather-bound journal that looked as though it had seen several rain storms.
I hope you are well. My brother asked me to bring you this. A loan, of course. He said you can return it via the usual method.
And, thank you. Aya told me of the attack and how outnumbered he would have been, particularly had he been surprised by the assailants instead of yourselves. I am sure you saved his life. Though he is often short on words, I know he is thankful more than he can express.
When you are ready, we have much to discuss-of the Sight, and the Nephalem, and the High Heavens. Seek me out.
She discarded the parchment and ran a hand over the unmarked journal. Then she found a comfortable chair by the fireplace and opened it.
The Book of Malthael, the first page said.
In the beginning there was nothing. The sky and the earth were one, and silence filled existence. Then Anu's dying body splintered and gave birth to the Heavens and the Crystal Arch.
Gave birth to me.
I was the first, and I expected nothing else. I walked the Light; through my gaze the halls and spires of the Heavens were crafted. Where I tread, structure grew, until Anu's will was done, and I was freed from this burden.
I forged a corner for myself in the emptiness. From a cliff overlooking nothingness, I asked Anu to grant me the gift of learning. The Pools of Wisdom sprang forth, bathing the heavens in unending knowledge. My thirst was unquenchable. How long I stared into the Light's depths, I do not know. My world was one of peace and silence.
Until the Arch chimed, high and sweet.
One became five.
I was young, then. As were they. We spread, claiming the corners of the High Heavens. They crafted their realms from their will, which were in truth Anu's will, given form.
Valor. Justice. Fate. Hope. All gained place. And purpose.
The Heavens filled with melody and Lightsong. Our spirits grew, and our people multiplied. We became radiant, blinding.
And in this Light, shining throughout creation, we saw the first Shadow.
Thus, the Eternal Conflict was given physical form, and the unending battle between good and evil began anew.
Can we conclude something so intrinsic to the world? Perhaps we ask the wrong question, and it is not a matter of emerging victorious from the Eternal Conflict, but of ending it altogether. Neither angels nor demons foresaw the creation of Sanctuary before it occurred. Nor could they predict the impact it would have on the delicate balance between the realms.
Would that we have the wisdom to see ourselves as the remnants of a past long lost. Would that we also have the courage to make space for the imperfect and vivacious world of mortals. Perhaps, as Itherael once said, they will embrace the Light more fully than we ever could.
The library was full when the door creaked open, its hinges needing oil from excess use.
"Sorry, we are out of tables. You should visit later if you need one." Farah returned to her reading, then glanced up, startled, as the footsteps continued her direction.
"This was not the plan." Malthael stood in front of her, a crumpled letter in hand. He wore a simple tunic and breeches without cloak or sheaths, and his shoulder was heavily bandaged down to his elbow. She hadn't realized how gaunt he was until she saw him without his cloak. He looked more a scholar than a warrior.
"Tyrael was adamant you sleep and recover," she said. "I told him you could retrieve it during the day, once you awoke."
He stared at her, unblinking, as if expecting her to offer an apology.
She had no intention of doing anything of the sort. "Our normal hours are between sunrise and sunset. You do not have to come when it is dark."
"Farah," he said, so quietly she could barely hear. He glanced about, noticing all those who stared at him, and dipped his head in palpable shame. "This has been as it has been for a reason."
In reply, she pulled his journal from under her desk and held it out, daring everyone to see what it was. "This library is for all. It is where we learn from the past and prepare for the future. Even if the Reaper of Westmarch choses to come here for his wisdom, the doors are open."
The library had not been that quiet since Farah had reopened it months ago. Whispers emanated from the corner where the little demon hunters huddled together. The arcanists seemed to have forgotten they were holding books, as several fell to the floor. They all wore various expressions of confusion, anger, and guilt.
"Is he going to kill us?" a small voice asked, followed by emphatic hushes.
Malthael hesitated, then took the journal, his fingers brushing hers. His face was expressionless save for a flurry of emotions playing out behind his eyes. The reflections were subtle, but Farah had spent long enough working with quiet sorts to know the dialogue in his mind was volumes more than he said aloud.
"It was an enlightening read," she said. "Thank you for trusting me with it. Although, I have many additional questions when you have time. It seems I still have a great deal to learn."
"Surely…we can arrange that. When I am well." His lips twitched. "Thank you." He looked briefly about again, and she knew in the silence he left words unspoken.
"Thank you for giving me a chance."
She smiled at him in return. "You are very welcome, my friend."
Farah sought out Aya after her sister finished with her engagements. The pair walked to an undisturbed river meadow a short distance from town. There they sat, the arcanist's vibrant robes drifting in the breeze, while Farah's zala flitted across her neck and chest. A mixed basket of fruit and baking lay between them.
"You have steelier nerves than I to call him that to his face," Aya said, rubbing her forehead with a thumb. "I take it you no longer think the name is idiotic?"
"No, I still think it is rather lacking. But words have as much power as the arcane. And they were not just for him. Sometimes it is important to face what you fear."
"You have done so, as well?"
"Very much." She palmed a flat, smooth stone and tossed it across the water. It skipped several times, then sank. "The world is quite different from what I perceived. I am better for it, I think."
"How about the dreams?"
"Still none. But that means nothing." Farah tossed another stone. "Nephalem seem to be unpredictable."
"You count yourself amongst us, finally?"
"Oh, verily." She chuckled. "Ah, baina. I should have known something was strange the first time he said that. Such old language."
"You did exceed my expectations in making him talk."
"He has a great deal to say, when given the proper opportunity."
Aya paused, her expression growing serious. "Am I allowed to ask what was in his book? I had mostly joked about you telling me its secrets. I am unsure of anyone else who has read from it except Tyrael."
"I think probably not. But enough, at least, to ratify your claims. And more."
Angels and demons, she thought. Light and dark. Death and wisdom. And somewhere in the middle, humanity. Mortality. Complex shades of grey.
Madness. Silence. Conflict. Peace.
"I'm still not convinced they will tolerate him during the day," Aya said. "He killed thousands, including some of our own. They would rather see him hang from a tree than walking about town."
"The town is the town. But the library is my library. They will tolerate whatever I ask. If they can stand Osseus and his terrible stench, they can handle Malthael. At least he bathes and does not shoot me with crossbows."
Farah stood and closed her eyes; she inhaled the aroma of the meadow as the sun warmed her face, before it darted behind a cloud. There was still the Eternal Conflict to understand. She looked forward to learning more about it. And she very much looked forward to speaking to Malthael again. Whenever he was ready.
Until then, she was content to bask in the happiness of simply being alive.
"Tell me, Aya," Farah said. "Tell me about all your adventures I have missed. I am ready to listen."
A/N: That concludes Act II! What a whirlwind of books, baskets, and badassery. Also, prophecy! Thanks to everyone reading along, and those who have dropped me reviews or notes to say hi.
In addition to the chapter art (courtesy of zaera-d at Tumblr), I've commissioned some concept art of mortal Malthael, which can also be found on Tumblr. And be sure to check out the not-entirely-series-canon "Ask Malthael" asks on my Tumblr (or drop him a question if you're so inclined).
Act III will likely be a few weeks as I finish doing edits. The story features Malthael, Tyrael, Lyndon, Aya, and a couple new Nephalem faces, and is set in Caldeum. I have some Tales of Tristram ficlets lined up to post in the meantime. A few are serious, a few funny. There's a Halloween-themed one I'm holding onto for October. And if those don't satisfy you, go and check out "That First Spark" by kenyizsu on fanfiction dot net; it's a great story featuring Lyndon, and is rife with detail, character development, and Lorenados.