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The Nephalem Soul ( formerly 'The Dark Side of Valor' )

Chapter Text

The village had been smouldering for weeks. Located on the eastern edge of the Aranoch Desert there had been no warning bells from a nearby settlement to direct aid, so when daemons had struck it had been over quickly. The fiends had taken few prisoners and even then, only for their entertainment and sustenance. The corpse in front of Tyrael had been tortured and then killed, most of its lower body consumed by daemons. He gripped his sword El'druin tighter before rising to his feet. The sight had made him furious, a fury he intended to turn on their opponents.

"This is grim indeed." Valla said. The Nephalem too had been examining a corpse of an unfortunate villager. It had sustained similar injuries.

"It is quite likely that we will find no survivors." Tyrael said, steeling himself to the thought.

“I didn't expect any.” Valla said grimly and stood up. One of the daemon huntress' crossbows came into Vallas hands in a blur and she began examining it for faults or potential problems.

“Are you all right, Nephalem?” Tyrael asked.

“Nephalem? I have a name, you know.” Valla responded. When Tyrael simply looked back at her, she sighed and continued her work.

“I will be fine, thank you Tyrael. I just suppose I hoped that once we had defeated both Diablo AND Malthael, two foes of cosmos-shaking proportions, Sanctuary would calm down a bit, be a happier place if only for a spell,”

Valla looked at the mutilated corpses and the smouldering village on the horizon again, “And in recent weeks I have been proven soundly wrong. Sanctuary is just as full of evil, sickness and death as it has always been. Now it is just through more personal and savage means than some grand ritual.

“Perhaps we missed something, some canker Malthael or Diablo left behind-”

Tyrael put a hand on Valla’s shoulder. He could not help but notice that when the Nephalem became agitated, her eyes took on a golden shade. “Malthael is dead, Heavens rest his spirit, and Diablo was banished. And if there is some grand evil at work again, that is why we are here. Be at ease, Valla.”

Valla locked eyes with Tyrael for a moment before her shoulders slumped again and she took a deep breath, the crossbow vanishing under her cloak again. “Thank you Tyrael. It's been a rough year. Now let's get going, there is still a small chance that someone survived.”

 

The scene of mutilation they had found on the outskirts of the village paled in comparison to the village centre. Piles of corpses rotted next to collapsed huts, plumes of smoke still curling from holes in their roofs. Spikes of hell-rock had impaled women and children around which impish daemons were dancing and cavorting. Gargoyles were circling in the sky, too caught up in their competition for food to notice Tyrael and Valla's approach.

Valla pulled up her cloak to cover her nose against the stench of death that was blowing out of the village. Tyrael did not seem to notice.

“None of these vile fiends appear in charge.” Tyrael whispered angrily.

“Indeed.” Valla responded. The golden glow of Nephalem power had returned to her eyes.

The Nephalem rose from their hiding spot and, dual hand-crossbows appearing in her hands in a blur of motion, unloaded on the gargoyles flying in the sky. In a moment the flyers were torn asunder in a hail of crossbow bolts, their stony hides no match for Valla's armaments. The fiends on the ground stopped in their revelry and looked dumbfounded at the winged creatures tumbling out of the sky above them, not noticing Tyrael's charge before it was far too late. El'druin split one daemon from throat to hip before it had time to cry out and then continued, confusion rising amongst the daemon herd as they torn to pieces by sword and bolt.

The fight was over quickly, the daemons weak and unprepared for an attack. The only injury sustained by the companions was a minor cut from when a panicked daemon had managed to lay a claw on Tyrael's cheek. It had taken a crossbow-bolt to the temple before it had taken another breath.

“Tyrael, sit down.” Valla indicated a large chopping block that the villagers must have used for firewood before the attack.

“I assure you Nephalem, it was a tiny cut barely worth mentioning. I am just fine.” Tyrael responded. Besides the cut, the man's cloak was the only evidence he had been in battle. Valla envied his enchanted armour and sword on which blood and guts never stuck. She herself had no injuries but her armour was spotted with daemon fluids.

The daemon huntress pointed to the improvised seat again and unhooked her water-skin. “You won't be saying that when it gets infected. Now, sit down.”

Tyrael, chastised, sat down and held still while Valla washed the cut. Even as the Aspect of Wisdom it would take Tyrael a little while longer to adjust to his new life as a mortal and the requirements that entailed.

“Thank you, Valla. I had not thought of it like that.” Tyrael said while trying to resist the urge to rub at his cheek.

“It is nothing. Daemons are vile creatures in every sense. Cleanliness of any sort is not their forte. Now, survivors and then we try and discover if there is anything more to this attack.”

 

As Tyrael had suspected they found no survivors. One young girl had hidden herself in the cellar of one of the houses before it had collapsed. The poor girl had given up the ghost, dead despite no injuries on her person and all the food-stores the family had stored in their larder. Valla carried her out into the village square and laid her to rest in one of the corpse-piles before lighting them on fire, giving the villagers as much of a burial as was reasonable. It reminded Valla too much of her own child-hood, but the two companions had come here to investigate, not to spend days digging graves.

Their rescue effort attempted, the two gathered in the centre of the village. Tyrael gently planted El'druin in the bloody soil. The holy blade lifted off the ground by a few inches and the central jewel changed in its brilliance. Globules of energy rose off the daemon corpses and floated into the jewel for a minute before a trail of sorts became evident in the air, like a scrap of blood-covered cloth hanging in mid-air. It led out of the village towards the ocean. A thick pillar of smoke rose there but the village had not extended that far out.

“Their hell-gate.” Valla said.

“Indeed.” Tyrael agreed. But as Valla strode off and Tyrael made to grasp his blade and follow, his touch caused another reaction in the holy sword. The trail vanished, and the blood-red spots vanished from the central jewel, to be replaced by a single glowing spot that sped off, leaving a trail of radiant dust that led off in a different direction from the hell-gate.

“Wait a moment, Nephalem. There is something else here.”

Valla stopped and turned, taking in the glowing trail with a glance. “A bigger daemon?”

“No, it is an angelic presence. An angel passed through here.” Tyrael responded.

“Really? Before or after the attack?”

Tyrael rose to his feet, El'druin at his side. “Far before, I would hope. I cannot condone any of my angelic brethren passing through this charnel-house without taking action.” 

Valla took out one of her crossbows and held it to her side, eyes fixed on Tyrael. “Do you want to go take a look?”

“I do, but you need not accompany me. You have helped the High Heavens enough without getting involved in our personal matters. I will send a signal if I am in need of assistance.” Tyrael said. He was not looking back at Valla but was instead staring off into the desert where the trail was leading.

“I will close that hell-gate then. If it comes to it, I too will send a signal. Good luck Tyrael.” With that, Valla strode off towards the plume of smoke in the distance and the hell-gate it promised.

“Blessings of the High Heavens to you, Nephalem.” And Tyrael grasped El'druin tighter and stalked after the trail.

Chapter Text

The trail snaked through the dunes of the Aranoch Desert until the smoking village was just a plume on the horizon, the glowing path leading to a radiant fissure suspended in the air in the shadow of a sand-dune. Tyrael recognised it well enough; it was the aftermath of a gateway to the High Heavens. Not just any angel could make those. He approached and lifted El'druin, the holy sword forcing the gateway to reactivate. It flared up with a flash of light, an image of a castle floating among the clouds of the High Heavens, a glistening retreat unknown to Tyrael. Wondering if this was a remnant of Malthael's time before his corruption, Tyrael stepped through the portal.

Compared to the harsh dryness of the Aranoch Desert, the air in the High Heavens was sweet and crisp and the clouds in the distance rolled gently along. It was the kind of landscape Tyrael had become used to through the millennia of his long life but at this moment it did not bring him ease. It disquieted him, raised questions. A fellow angel had had this castle constructed without the Angiris Council being any the wiser. Tyrael knew that sometimes the humans of Sanctuary would construct homes for themselves to reside in during rest periods. This was not such a place. This was a fortress, albeit one with no guards manning the battlements. The complete absence of any creatures, angelic or daemonic, past the rift only disquieted the Archangel more. Tyrael looked about as he walked its halls but saw no sigils or items of heraldry. This place was as functional as the High Heavens come.

Eventually he arrived at something he could only describe as a laboratory. Vials, beakers and burners dominated a long table and the air was heavy with smells and acrid odours Tyrael could not identify.

“An angel dabbling in alchemy? What is this?” Tyrael muttered below his breath as he searched for identification or any notes that might explain this place's existence or purpose.

“Become a common intruder, have we, Tyrael?” A deep voice spoke from the doorway Tyrael had come.

Sensing the essence of the speaker, as well as recognising the voice of an age-old acquaintance, Tyrael knew just who was speaking. “Imperius. Why are you here?” He turned and looked the Archangel in the eye.

The Archangel of Valour stood in the doorway, gilded armour resplendent in the light that suffused the fortress’ interior. “I could ask you that very question.” Imperius strode into the chamber, the door closing behind him without a sound.

“I was wondering why an angel had passed through a destroyed human village crawling with fiends and daemons and yet had not put them to the sword.” Tyrael responded.

Imperius stopped at the table Tyrael was examining. His arms were crossed behind his back, reminding Tyrael of some human magus. “Humans are transient beings. If we angels needed defend them at every turn the High Heavens would forever be without defenders.”

Tyrael felt some unease about his ally's manner. Even before Diablo had defiled the High Heavens Imperius' wrath at the presence of daemons had been without equal. He would be the last to leave a herd of daemons unchecked. “Did you not hear me, Imperius? Daemons. This was not some border dispute or bandit attack. Daemons followed the trace of this place, whatever it is, and they resided not but a minute by wing from its very doorstep! Me and the Nephalem found it by chance-”

Imperius held up a gauntleted hand for silence before he interrupted Tyrael. “Understand me well, Tyrael, I loathe the daemons as much as ever, as much as any angel, but I prepare for a greater foe, one that any daemon, even the Prime Evils, pale before.” Imperius said.

“A foe greater than the Prime Evils? Who is this? Why have you not informed the Council?” Tyrael demanded. What creature could be so fearsome?

Imperius turned back towards Tyrael ever so slightly, wings slowly extending. “Because this foe is beyond the reach of the Council.”

“Imperius, Malthael is gone.”

Imperius raised a hand, palm upwards. “I speak not of Malthael or some daemon.” The air above Imperius' palm shimmered and an image appeared in golden colours, a scene Tyrael had seen with his own eyes not but a few months past. A human woman with black hair and golden eyes, suspended above the fading image of a dead Archangel on wings of radiant Nephalem energy.

Tyrael gasped and reflexively stepped away from Imperius. “Have you lost your mind, Imperius!? You cannot be serious!”

Imperius closed his fist. The image vanished and Solarion, Imperius' fabled spear, replaced it in his hand. He held the upper hal still split in two from his fight against Prime Diablo at the Diamond Gates. “My mind is sound, old friend. And if you were still stalwart in your wish to defend The Silver City, you would not balk so at my words.”

Tyrael raised El'druin before him. “The Nephalem has saved not only Sanctuary but also the High Heavens. They champion our cause! How can you consider them a foe?”

“We both saw it together. The Nephalem's boundless power,” At those words Imperius grew tenser as if withholding a great rage, “Great enough to destroy both Diablo and Malthael and yet stand on their own two feet to tell the tale. They are too dangerous.”

“Too dangerous!?” Tyrael backed a step towards the door. Something must have corrupted Imperius, some fiend from the Burning Hells. He would need the Nephalem's aid in this.

Imperius continued. “The Nephalem might be an ally today, but what if they should be corrupted, or see some imagined slight made against their precious Sanctuary,” Imperius practically spat out the name of the world of mortals, “And they should turn against the High Heavens? Even the possibility cannot be allowed.”

Tyrael turned and made to leave but Imperius surged past him on his wings and landed, Solarion pointed at Tyrael's chest. “Your mortal mind must be blinding you to the truth. I cannot allow you to leave, Tyrael.”

“You would fight your own brother?” Tyrael asked, unwilling to mask the shock in his voice.

“The Silver City must be kept safe.” Was all Imperius said before he raised Solarion and struck. The very air screamed as the fiery spear crashed down towards Tyrael parried it with El'druin and leap backwards to keep his distance. Imperius wasted no time on further discussion and charged, spear forward and aimed for Tyrael. The former Archangel did not counter, but instead cut at the air with his holy sword to open a portal out of the High Heavens and back to Sanctuary, stumbling through before Solarion could land.

Tyrael fell out of the portal and into the desert sand. It was still day in Sanctuary and the plumes of smoke from the smouldering village still painted the horizon.

“We have found our great foe. I must warn the Nephalem!” Tyrael surged to his feet and raised El'druin. A surge of power ran up the blade and shot into the sky, so brilliant that was it clearly visible even in the sky of the desert. The portal behind him lit up even the bright desert sands when Imperius followed Tyrael, the Archangel of Valour landing rather more gracefully next to him, spear already sailing around in an arc to crash into Tyrael's sword and sent it flying. Tyrael could hardly take a step before Imperius wrapped a wing-tendril around his foot and toppled him, ensuring his prone position by stabbing Solarion's blade through Tyrael’s side.

“I am sorry it had to happen like this, Tyrael. I will take you back to the Silver City and you will see the truth and necessity of my cause.” Imperius’ gauntleted hand created a new portal in the air, an image of the Diamond Gates visible through it.

One definite downside of his new mortal body was the pain. It reached out from the blade in his flank threatening to disable him. Tyrael grimaced against it and reached for his sword. El'druin flew to his hand in response to his call but Imperius stamped on his sword-arm with an armoured boot before he could use it. Imperius ripped out Solarion, forcing a cry of pain from Tyrael, and lifted him bodily with one arm to carry him through the portal.

But the Archangel of Valour had barely taken a step before 3 crossbow-bolts slammed into the arm holding Tyrael and exploded, sending both of them flying from the portal.

“Imperius!” An apparition of power stood on top of the furthest dune. “What is the meaning of this!?”

The Daemon Huntress Valla stood cloaked in her own power, a mass of wings like an angel but black and crimson in colour. One crossbow was raised, the bolt surrounded by a harsh red glow. Blood coated her armour underneath the wing-cloak, but it was the dark blood of daemons. Valla had closed the daemonic hell-gate without a scratch on her own body.

“Tyrael is your ally! Did losing to Diablo make you lose your mind!?” Valla shouted.

Imperius had risen to his feet with Solarion at his side, staring up at the Nephalem. “I need not reason with you, mortal.” He retorted with condescension.

“If I had taken the same stance those months ago, Imperius, neither of us would be standing here today,” Valla raised the other crossbow, “So explain yourself, Archangel of 'Valour'!”

“Nephalem, be careful!” Tyrael shouted at the top of his voice, “Imperius means to kill you, he has gone mad!”

Imperius leapt as Tyrael shouted, surging forward with his wings, fading into a pale mist that sped towards Valla. For a moment Tyrael feared his warning had distracted the huntress at a vital moment but she leapt aside from the spear-thrust that erupted from the fog then retaliated, a cluster of bolts that clattered and stung against Imperius' armoured form. Even as the bolts were loosed Valla started moving backwards, creating distance between her and her opponent, but Imperius struck again, blasting a ray of angelic energy at the Nephalem whose crimson-black cloak withered under the assault but ultimately held. The smouldering cloak was swept aside when Valla tossed a handful of round objects at Imperius with one hand and shot an electrified bola with a crossbow in the other. The speed of the counter-attack surprised Imperius for he was briefly bound by the bola and thus unable to leap away before the grenades exploded under him, scattering black smoke and sand all over the battlefield. Valla did not wait for the smoke to dissipate, unloading her crossbows into the cloud, crimson-charged bolts slamming through the obscuring cover. In a long leap Valla hurried to Tyrael’s side as he stood, leaning on El’druin. A hot desert-wind had begun to kick up, blowing away the black smoke from the Valla’s onslaught.

Imperius still stood but barely, leaning heavily on Solarion. Motes of angelic essence drifted out of his armour like blood, gathering on the sand in front of him.

“Yield, Imperius. We do not wish to fight you.” Tyrael shouted. Valla gave him a look that indicated she felt differently but she did not voice it.

“I do not yield.” Imperius roared and rose to his feet. Valla readied her crossbows again but Imperius made no advance towards them and simply extended his left hand and unmade his fist, one gauntleted finger at a time.

Rising out of his hand was a jagged crystal, red like fresh blood. The crystal was slowly spinning under some invisible force.

“What is that?” Tyrael asked. In truth he had some inkling as to what it might be, but he wished dearly that he was wrong.

“You should know even better than I, Tyrael.” Imperius responded in a mocking tone before raising it aloft.

Valla’s gaze was drawn to it before she stumbled as if drunk, raising her hands to her head and her crossbows tumbling out of her hands. “What, what is happening?” She said in a weak voice. Her eyes were shut tight and her mouth was a grimace of agony.

Tyraels suspicions were dreadfully true. “The Worldstone. You tampered with the sundered Worldstone!” Tyrael shouted at Imperius, unable to believe that his own brother would stoop to such methods.

The Archangel of Valour did not respond but began striding towards Valla, who was by now on her knees fighting to even breathe.

Tyrael staggered forwards, one hand clutching the wound Solarion had put in his side and moved to stand between Imperius and the Nephalem. “Stop this madness, Imperius. It must be Baal's lingering presence in the Stone that corrupts you so!” He looked into Imperius' eyes, searching for any sign that his words were being heard. “Please!”

Imperius stopped before Tyrael, Solarion in one hand and the Worldstone-fragment slowly spinning in the other. “Step aside, brother.”

“I will not.” Tyrael raised his sword as high as he could.

Imperius sighed and bull-rushed Tyrael, knocking his sword aside with Solarion while the larger angel battered the weakened mortal form to the ground. Tyrael gasped in pain and his sword flew a few meters away to stick into the sand.

Valla was desperately trying to rise to her feet when Imperius slammed his knee into her face and lifted her bodily into the air. She struggled for a moment until Imperius' put his spear-point at her chest. He could kill her before she could even take a single breath, let alone defend herself. The woman could barely breathe, let alone move a single finger of Imperius' hand.

“Nephalem,” The Archangel of Valour said, “It is true that you are a champion of the Realms and that without your aid The Silver City would have fallen.”

He drew her close to his helmet, the blade of Solarion still resting against her chest. “But you are mortal, with a mortal heart. Your power is too great, too unchecked. You are susceptible to corruption, to the influences of daemons.”

With a roar he tossed her aside, Valla landing painfully in the desert sand with a gasp of pain. “Know this. I will allow you to continue your crusade, your quest, whatever it may be. But one misstep, one sign that you are becoming an enemy of the High Heavens,” Imperius surged to her side in his mist-form before materialising and putting an armoured boot on her stomach and Solarion against her neck, the crimson crystal held above her head, “And I will end you, so I swear by the High Heavens. The Silver City cannot be threatened.”

His speech ended, Imperius made his left fist again, cutting off the glow of the fragment. Valla began sucking in great lungfuls of air with a start, coughing against the sand that came with them and while trying to raise herself up on shaking arms.

Imperius stepped away from the recovering Nephalem and past Tyrael who was still struggling on the ground. He said nothing as he raised Solarion and created a portal to the High Heavens then stepped through. The portal closed behind him immediately, leaving Tyrael and Valla alone in the Aranoch Desert.

Chapter Text

Imperius still stood but barely, leaning heavily on Solarion. Motes of angelic essence drifted out of his armour like blood, gathering on the sand in front of him.

“Yield, Imperius. We do not wish to fight you.” Tyrael shouted. Valla gave him a look that indicated she felt differently but she did not voice it.

“I do not yield.” Imperius roared and rose to his feet. Valla readied her crossbows again but Imperius made no advance towards them and simply extended his left hand and unmade his fist, one gauntleted finger at a time.

Rising out of his hand was a jagged crystal, red like fresh blood. The crystal was slowly spinning under some invisible force.

“What is that?” Tyrael asked. In truth he had some inkling as to what it might be, but he wished dearly that he was wrong.

“You should know even better than I, Tyrael.” Imperius responded in a mocking tone before raising it aloft.

Valla’s gaze was drawn to it before she stumbled as if drunk, raising her hands to her head and her crossbows tumbling out of her hands. “What, what is happening?” She said in a weak voice. Her eyes were shut tight and her mouth was a grimace of agony.

Tyrael’s suspicions were dreadfully true. “The Worldstone. You tampered with the sundered Worldstone!” Tyrael shouted at Imperius, unable to believe that his own brother would stoop to such methods.

The Archangel of Valour did not respond but began striding towards Valla, who was by now on her knees fighting to even breathe.

Tyrael staggered forwards, one hand clutching the wound Solarion had put in his side and moved to stand between Imperius and the Nephalem. “Stop this madness, Imperius. It must be Baal's lingering presence in the Stone that corrupts you so!” He looked into Imperius' eyes, searching for any sign that his words were being heard. “Please!”

Imperius stopped before Tyrael, Solarion in one hand and the Worldstone-fragment slowly spinning in the other. “Step aside, brother.”

“I will not.” Tyrael raised his sword as high as he could.

Imperius sighed and bull-rushed Tyrael, knocking his sword aside with Solarion while the larger angel battered his weakened mortal form to the ground. Tyrael gasped in pain and his sword flew a few meters away to stick into the sand.

Valla was desperately trying to rise to her feet when Imperius slammed his knee into her face and lifted her bodily into the air. She struggled for a moment until Imperius' put his spear-point at her chest. He could kill her before she could even take a single breath, let alone defend herself. The woman could barely breathe, let alone shift a single finger of Imperius' hand.

“Nephalem,” The Archangel of Valour said, “It is true that you are a champion of the Realms and that without your aid The Silver City would have fallen.”

He drew her close to his helmet, the blade of Solarion still resting against her chest. “But you are mortal, with a mortal heart. Your power is too great, too unchecked. You are susceptible to corruption, to the influences of daemons.

“I will make sure that you never fall to them.” Imperius said with finality. Before Tyrael could even rise to his feet, the Archangel of Valour plunged his spear through Valla’s chest, the blade of the holy spear exploding out through her cloak in a fountain of blood.

“Nephalem!” Tyrael screamed and surged to his feet, El’druin instinctively flying to his hand. Valla coughed, a gout of crimson splashing onto Imperius’ gloved hand. “Im- Imperius, why?” She muttered weakly.

“I already told you, mortal. If your ears caught the lies of the daemons, the High Heavens would be in peril. That I cannot allow.”

Tyrael charged the larger angel’s flank, but Imperius’ wing-tendrils slashed at his face, and when Tyrael moved to counterattack, they wrapped around his legs and pulled, off-balancing the former angel. Now on his back, Tyrael got up just in time to see Imperius stab Valla through the stomach with Solarion. He grimaced and tried to rise, but Imperius roared and tossed the mortally-injured Nephalem at him, covering him in Valla’s blood and pushing him back a foot through the sand.

“Imperius!” Tyrael screamed and tried again to rise, but Valla coughed weakly and tried to speak, stopping him in his tracks. He could not hear what she was saying.

Imperius swung his spear at the sand, droplets of blood scattering from its blade. He looked as arrogant and self-righteous# as ever. The Worldstone-fragment crimson glow. “My work here is finished. The High Heavens are safe.”

“They were safe! Saved by the Nephalem! Without her, the Crystal Arch would be under Diablo’s sway! What have you done, Imperius!?” Tyrael shouted, cradling Valla in his arms.

“All is to protect the High Heavens. You would see that, Tyrael, were you not blinded by your misplaced affection for humanity.”

With a gesture from his glove, a shining portal appeared behind Imperius. A portal to the High Heavens. “I am going to return to the Diamond Gates. Come with me, Tyrael. We must begin preparing for when the daemons return again.”

Tyrael would not meet Imperius’ gaze. “Leave me. I have nothing to say to you.”

“Tyrael, you are the Aspect of Wisdom. You belong on the Angiris Council. We are brothers.” Imperius said.

“Leave me.” Was all Tyrael said.

The portal snapped shut with a crackle like thunder, leaving Tyrael and Valla alone in the Aranoch Desert.

Valla coughed again, covering the front of her tunic on blood.

“Do not speak, Nephalem. I will get you to a physician, you will survive this.” Tyrael got on his knees beside her and began to lift her before a hand on his shoulder stopped him.

Valla’s face was at peace, contrasted by her own blood covering most of her features. “It’s too late for me, Tyrael, and you know that.” She whispered, only audible because of the utter silence in the vast desert.

“Don’t give in, Nephalem, I will make sure-“

“Tyrael.” Valla said with remarkable force given her condition. “There is nothing you can do.” To drive home her point, Valla held a hand to the gaping wound in her chest. It was only because of the intense discipline of a daemon huntress that she was even able to speak. Tyrael collapsed back into the sand, finally realising the truth for himself.

“Tyrael…” The Nephalem said, her voice dissolving into another bloody cough.

“Don’t speak Valla, you’re only hurting yourself further.” Tyrael said, trying to hold her in his arms, trying not to think of the hard armour-plates covering his own form.

Valla smiled. “See, I knew you remembered my name.” Valla paused. “Tyrael, please protect my home. I can’t,” She stopped to suck down air, and when she continued, her voice was weak to the point of non-existence, “I can’t do it anymore. Please.”

Her eyes closed and the hand she had pressed to his chest slipped and fell. Valla, the Nephalem daemon huntress, passed away in his arms.

Chapter Text

Night had fallen. It was a cloudless night, bringing out the full glory of the stars in the sky above New Tristram. She had always heard that encounters with death and danger brought out your true appreciation for life and beauty. Valla supposed that, having fought the personification of Death itself a mere week ago, that must be why the night sky was so much more vibrant than she was accustomed to. The town of New Tristram stretched out before her in the valley below, the place where, as far as the bards knew, this had all started. The Second War against Hell and Diablo, as well as the Reaping of Westmarch. In the far distance the Tristram Cathedral was still visible. One day New Tristram might reclaim that land, but that would be far in the future.

Valla enjoyed the sight for a moment before starting on the last leg of her journey. She was tired of sleeping at the roadside or in small inns and intended to be within the town wall tonight. The veteran daemon huntress kept a sharp eye for any threats on the road, such as there had been the last time she took this journey more than a year ago. This time however, it was quiet. Raised lampposts stood alongside the dirt road, lighting the way, and occasionally fields would line the road. It was peaceful. By the time Valla reached the town gate, she had decided to stow away her crossbows. The guards at the gate recognised her immediately and ran ahead to announce her arrival, leaving the town gate open to the world. A year ago that would have been a death sentence, but Valla supposed that with the new-found peace New Tristram could survive with an open gate even if just for an evening.

She still waited in the opening until the guard returned, villagers in tow.

 

“Sanctuary be damned, Valla!” The big man shouted, his tree-trunk-like arms wide to embrace her.

“Hello Bron, it’s good to see you are all well.” Valla said and gave in to the hug.

“That I am well!?” He shouted, “If the stories are true, it is you I should be saying that to!”

“Are they true?” Bron said after a moment, the huge blacksmith leaning in conspiratorially.

Valla stood aside as the town gate was again closed, taking down her hood and shaking out her black hair. It was getting a bit too long for her liking. “Probably not Bron, but they are not completely fake either. It’s been a long year.”

“Raiding the Palace in Caldeum, the Siege of Bastion’s Keep, the War in Heaven and finally the Reaping of Westmarch. Many many tales reached us of the Nephalem’s exploits but those were the most consistent ones.” An older, wispier man said. He wore a brown-green robe and had an arm in a sling.

“Malachi! What happened to your arm?” Valla said, trying to divert attention away from herself. If she had a gold coin for every bard that had recounted her exploits as she travelled, she could buy her own city.

“Alas, a week ago the whole village fell under a sudden wasting sickness, so sudden that I fell from a ladder onto my arm. Everyone had a miraculous recovery soon after, but a broken arm is not so quick on the mend.” The old healer said.

A week ago, huh. When Malthael employed his modified Soulstone. “Ah I’m sorry to hear that.”

Malachi chuckled. “Do not worry yourself, Valla. I am glad to see you well, too.”

There was an awkward pause in the impromptu town meeting.

Bron cleared his voice. “Is it true?”

“Is what true?”

“What we heard about Leah.” Bron said, his voice straining not to crack.

Valla looked around the town square before responding. “Are you sure you want to talk about this in the street?”

“Leah was one of us, even if her mother was not. We found the stories we heard hard to believe.” Malachi said, his voice wavering ever so slightly.

Valla met their eyes and held them as she spoke. “Leah did not do it of her own volition. It was done to her. By her mother.” Valla balled her shaking hands into fists and took a deep breath, using the discipline she had learned to control the anger she felt. “By Adria.”

Bron sighed. “I always knew Adria was bad business. What became of that witch?”

Valla had to look away, staring at the dirt beneath her boots to keep her composure. “I killed her, with my own hand.”

A hand was placed gently on Valla’s shoulder. She had to force herself not to lash out. “Valla, no measure of vengeance will bring young Leah back.”

“Thank you, father Malachi, but I do not need lectures on vengeance.” Valla said. Adria was at the front of her mind, and she had to force it away. It was over now, for good or ill.

“Bron.”

The burly man jumped at her voice. “I have something I want to discuss with you in the morning, but for now I want a bed and some food. How’s the inn going?” Valla made an effort to calm her voice.

Bron smiled slightly and scratched at his beard. “The Slaughtered Calf’s ticking along well enough considering we barely get travellers these days. You’ll always have a room if you wish.”

“Good to hear. I’ll be along, I have something I need to do.” Valla said.

 

Valla went back out of town on her own. She was happy that the New Tristram that Leah, Tyrael and herself had left behind had survived, but she had one last duty before she could rest. After the battle in the Crystal Arch, the angels had tracked the remainder of Diablo’s essence to a small temple in the High Heavens. The Prime Evil’s form had been reduced to that of a slight human female. Diablo’s essence had vanished, leaving behind Leah’s dead body.

Valla had been allowed to bring Leah’s ashes home with her, back to Tristram where her beloved uncle Deckard had also been laid to rest.

The hill was innocuous, but Valla remembered it well. She had been too caught up in her hatred of the witch Maghda and her demon coven to pay much attention to Leah’s grief when they burned Deckard Cain on the funeral pyre. Valla had heard the stories of what the old Horadrim had achieved, but to her they were just that, stories. His niece Leah was the scholar that Valla respected. The friend she had lost.

Carefully she took out the sealed urn from her backpack and removed the seals. A small part of her warned that demons might be drawn to the lingering essence in the ashes, but if any did, they would be sent screaming back to the Nine Hells.

The wind picked up and pulled Valla’s hood down, pulling out her long braid from her cloak. The urn was heavy in her hands. “I’m sorry, Leah. Sorry I wasn’t there. I could have done something, could have stopped Adria. Something-“ Valla’s vision blurred and her voice began to fail her.

“Adria’s designs had been in motion for nearly two decades. Impulsive actions had little chance.” A deep voice said.

Valla hurriedly rubbed at her eyes and turned about. The dark-skinned man was standing behind the one gnarled tree that had survived on the top of the wind-swept hillock. “Tyrael! What brings you here to this backwater place?”

The mortal archangel’s face was lined with worry but still he smiled at her. “A mutual friend.” He strode up the hill and stood beside Valla. Wearing a long brown cloak, the only visual hint to his stature was the pommel of El’druin sticking out of its folds. “I wanted to pay my respects to Leah too. For how short a time I knew the young lady, she was every bit the hero her uncle was.”

“I wish I could have forced Adria to pay more dearly than mere death.” Valla said, spitting out the name of the vile witch.

“She would have deserved as much, but I doubt Leah would want such words at her funeral.” Tyrael said in his calm voice.

“You know, Tyrael,” Valla said, shifting her grip to hold the urn with one hand, “Sometimes it gets quite annoying how often you’re right.” Despite that, Valla found herself calmer than before. The urn’s lid came off easily.

“Any last words for her? I think she’s about to leave.” Valla said.

Tyrael reached out and touched the lip of the urn. “You made us all proud, young Leah. I am honoured to have met you and I will ensure that everyone knows the truth of what happened.”

Valla nodded along with the eulogy. “Can you say hello to my family for me? My little sister might be lonely, you two will get along great.” Valla said and upended the urn, the sharp wind carrying Leah’s ashes away.

“I thought your family had all passed away, Valla.” Tyrael said with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s a saying, Tyrael, don’t worry about it.”

“Right.” The Archangel of Judgement and Wisdom said sheepishly.

 

Valla and Tyrael returned together. They had dug a small hole and left the urn in the soil of the hill. Neither of them were used to keeping much around.

“And you’re sure you have had breakfast and lunch today?” Valla said.

Tyrael pointed upwards at the night sky. “I have been making notes of the movements of the sun so as to use that to time when to eat food.”

“Remind me to tell you about the shorter days in winter.” Valla said with a smile.

Tyrael began to speak, stopping in his tracks and alerting Valla when New Tristram came into view. All the villagers of the town were gathered in the town square, forming a big semicircle with Bron standing on a crate in the middle.

“Leah is innocent!” Bron shouted, arms raised. “Valla herself returned and told me and Brother Malachi what happened. She is innocent!” The announcement was met with scattered applause and muttering in the crowd. Valla wanted to slug the doubters, but Tyrael’s words at the funeral had not gone on deaf ears. Leah would not have wanted that, and it would not help.

“I swear it.” Tyrael said, his lined face as serious as ever. “The truth of Leah’s heroism will be known.”

“You the town crier now, Bron? As well as the innkeeper.” Valla shouted at the big man as he was getting down from the impromptu stage.

“Well,” Bron answered sheepishly, “I’m actually the mayor. After Holus abandoned us I stood up to the position. A least until we find someone more suited.”

“I’m surprised you don’t hold town meetings in the inn.” Valla said.

“No need to reproach the man, Valla. It is a brave act to step up for your community. Your town is lucky to have you, Sir Bron.” Tyrael said, reaching out to shake Bron’s hand.

The innkeeper-turned-mayor took the offered hand, eyes darting back and forth between Valla and Tyrael. The daemon huntress just smiled and shook her head. “He’s just like this.” She said.

“Well, thank you, kind sir. I’m no knight, but I appreciate the kind words.” After a moment he added. “We do usually hold town meetings in the Slaughtered Calf though.”

“One free pint for all but then they cost, I suspect.” Valla said knowingly. “Got two rooms available for the sir and I?”

Bron nodded fervently. “Of course, always space for the saviours of the town.”

 

True to Bron’s complaints about the lack of travellers, The Slaughtered Calf was empty when Tyrael and Valla arrived. More tables had been put in, probably to accommodate the town meetings Bron had admitted to, but otherwise the inn was just like when Valla had trudged into town all those months ago.

“Brings back memories, doesn’t it?” Valla said, striding into the common-room.

“Apologies Valla, but I do not think I was present at the time.” Tyrael said.

“That is true. And by the time you were yourself again.” Valla said, pausing.

“Deckard Cain had died, and we were leaving for Caldeum.”

Valla was silent for a moment, then went behind the bar and poured herself a pint. The ale was weak, but it was ale nonetheless. “It has been a long year, hasn’t it, Tyrael.”

“I have little reference, but yes, yes it had.” Tyrael said, sitting down on one of the benches.

Bron entered the inn then. He took a look at the beer in Valla’s hand but said nothing. “We don’t have any locks on the rooms, but you can take whichever two you like. I can’t imagine anyone in town would even think to be a hassle to either of you.”

“Very kind, sir Bron, very kind.”

Valla just raised the pint in response, then went back to drinking.

So the two sat for a while, the mortal angel looking about the dim room and Valla caught up in her own thoughts.

Valla put down the empty pint and stood up. “Right, time to sleep. That goes for you too, Tyrael.”

“I do not believe I am tired yet. I shall sit up a while longer I think.” He replied.

“Well, I am not your mother, but those bags under your eyes tell another tale. Take my advice.” Valla unclasped her cloak and slung it over her arm. “Take sleep when you can get it. On the road, you never know what beast will decide to stalk you.”

With that she left Tyrael to his own thoughts, falling asleep the moment she laid down on the bedding.

 

With a shake, Valla was awake. Her hand reflexively grabbed the hand crossbow she had put under her pillow and jammed it in her assailant’s face.

“One more twitch and I shoot.” She said, opening her eyes.

“What if that movement is letting go?” Tyrael asked. He was leaning over her bed, gauntleted hands on her shoulders.

“Tyrael, remind me to teach you how to wake someone up.” Valla said, sighing and sitting up. The hand crossbow was put down on the bed.

“Apologies Nephalem, but there is someone that wished to speak with you. He said it was urgent.”

She began taking her boots on, the long leather jackboots she had worn ever since leaving the Order. “Everyone always says it’s urgent. Breakfast is urgent too, but you don’t see me shaking the chef awake.” Valla grumbled.

“Who’s asking for me?” Valla said when Tyrael was not more forthcoming.

“A man calling himself Hans. Come to think of it, he is dressed similarly to you.”

 

 “Ah, Lady Valla! It is good to see you well.” The man said. He was indeed dressed in the dark leathers and the black hood of the daemon hunters. A hunting bow was strapped over his chest and a bandolier held a number of pouches.

“Don’t ‘Lady’ me, Hans. We were trained in the same group. How is Instructor Ventris?” Valla said. Her mood was still foul from being woken early, but Hans was an old friend. One of her oldest still-living.

“Sorry Valla, but the Master told me to.” Hans said. A fresh scar crossed his face, but otherwise he was as she remembered him. “Ventris is well. Still teaching gadgets.”

“Well don’t. Stick with Valla, no matter what that old coot tells you. Why are you in New Tristram looking for me?” Valla said, wondering why Order-Master Karal had told Hans to be courteous.

“On orders of Order-Master Karal.” Hans retrieved a scroll-case from his belt and handed it to her. “You are asked to return to the Dreadlands. For your efforts, you are to be awarded a position as Order-Master.”

“No.” Valla said, handing the scroll back. When Hans stood stunned, she threw it at his feet.

As the scroll rolled to his feet, Hans found his voice again. “What do you mean, ‘no’?”

“I’m not going back to the Dreadlands so I can be chained up as the Order’s trophy champion.”

“But it’s a great honour! Master Karal nominated you himself and all the other Masters agreed!” Hans said, hurriedly picking up the case.

Valla strode up and pushed Hans a step back, a single finger on his chest. “I’m a daemon hunter, Hans. I hunt. I don’t sit in a fortress waiting for the daemons to come to me.”

Hans’ face reddened and he pushed back, shaking the scroll-case in her face. “You know the Order-Masters don’t mean it like that! Besides, you have experience far beyond anyone else. You’re the legendary Nephalem now, slayer of Diablo himself! You can’t just abandon your responsibility.”

“That’s exactly why I’m not going back! I’m far more needed out there fighting the daemons than sitting in some dusty keep. You can go back to the Masters and tell them I’ll stay on my own path.” Valla said and walked past Hans out into the open air.

“I should apologise on the Nephalem’s behalf. She is not normally this unhelpful.” Tyrael said after Valla had slammed the inn-door shut behind her.

“Then you know a different Valla than I do.” Hans said and holstered the scroll-case with a sigh. “She’s always been stubborn and headstrong. She almost stormed back into the Dreadlands when they handed her her training crossbow.”

“What will you do now, if you cannot fulfil the order of your Masters?” Tyrael said.

Hans pulled his hood down to reveal a bald head covered with yet more scars than his face. “I’ll have to stay a few days, prepare myself for the journey back. Khanduras might be safer after Valla’s efforts but I fear the Dreadlands will always be perilous. It will be a blow for the future students in the order, but if Valla wants to be obstinate on her own, there is little we can do to change her mind.”

Tyrael looked past the man at the closed door. “I will convince her. It is as you said, she cannot evade her responsibilities forever.”

 

The archangel found the Nephalem alone on the hill where they had spread Leah’s ashes the day before. She was sitting with her back against the solitary tree, looking up into the skies above Tristram.

“You should treat your friends more kindly. You never know when they might vanish suddenly from your life.” Tyrael said as he approached the hillock.

“That is a low blow, Tyrael.” Valla replied.

Tyrael strode up to stand beside her but did not sit down. “Nevertheless, young Hans had a point. Your experience would be a valuable thing to pass on to future hunters like yourself.”

“If I kill enough daemons, there won’t need to be more hunters.” Valla said.

“Valla, you cannot kill every single daemon to appear on Sanctuary.”

“Watch me.” Valla said, standing up. Her voice had an edge that Tyrael did not wish to hear from anyone.

“Valla, that would be impossible even for the armies of the High Heavens.” Tyrael said.

“You know what was also impossible for the High Heavens? Defeating Diablo and Malthael.” Valla said with venom in her tone.

Tyrael did not reply. She had a point, but her tone still angered the Archangel.

“The order will do fine without my tutelage.” Valla said quietly. The anger that Tyrael had sensed was fading, and he could see her fists balled up so tightly that her knuckles were pale. Discipline and Rage. The two sides to a daemon hunter. He thought to himself.

“What would Leah do?” Tyrael said softly, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“I really would wish you wouldn’t bring her up every time, Tyrael.” Valla said, but she visibly relaxed, her hands loosening.

“She would see the wisdom in the Masters’ request and follow young Hans back to the Order.”

Tyrael closed his mouth again and looked surprised at Valla.

“That’s what you were going to say, right? You’d be right too.” Valla said.

“Well I am the Aspect of Wisdom.” Tyrael said after a pause.

Valla chuckled. “You’re rather cheeky for an Archangel, you know that?”

“I am unfamiliar with this term ‘cheeky’, but I will take it as a compliment.” Tyrael responded.

Valla just laughed.

 

“Hans?” Valla said as the two of them returned to the common room of the Slaughtered Calf.

The messenger looked up from his meal with a questioning glare. “Some barb you forgot to tell me to tell the Masters?”

“Yes, quite so.” Valla said and sat down in front of him. “I’m coming with you back to the Dreadlands. We leave immediately.”

Hans almost choked on his mouthful of food. “Wh-what? Where did this come from?”

“Don’t worry about it. I just need to talk to Bron, then we’re leaving. Get ready.”

Valla left him to it and turned around to find that Tyrael had already brought the innkeeper-turned-mayor to her.

“Eh, your friend said you wanted to speak to me, Valla?”

“Yes.” Valla said and fished a heavy pouch from her belt. “Take this and listen to me.”

The mayor nodded slowly and opened the pouch, his eyes bulging from their sockets at the contents. The pouch was bulging with gold coins and precious gems.

“There’s more. All I ask is that you use that money to rebuild the Calf.” Valla said.

“Re-rebuild it?” Bron said. “But it’s not damaged.”

“Rebuild it under a different name and make it bigger. Make it a place where travellers and wandering scholars are always welcome.”

“A different name?” Bron said. He was clearly trying to keep up with the situation and not quite managing.

“Leah’s Rest.” Valla said.

Chapter Text

Asheara, the captain of the Iron Wolves, pushed open the door into the small gatehouse. Two soldiers rose from their seats and saluted. They looked just as frustrated as she did.

“What is this mess? Why is the gate locked?” She said, keeping her tone demanding.

“A thousand apologies, Captain Asheara, but this man insisted on seeing you. He was trying to bring a bound-up corpse through the gate.” The older soldier said.

Asheara sighed. “Did he say why, or who the corpse was?”

“The man claimed the corpse to be Valla, but I told him if that was Valla the legendary daemon killer, I would eat my own shoe.” The older soldier said, his colleague laughing.

The name of the daemon huntress gave Asheara pause. “What does the man look like?”

“Bald, dark-skinned like he’s been working in the deep desert for weeks. Armoured.”

“Has a fancy-looking sword.” The younger soldier added.

Asheara had an idea who the stranger might be. “Right, you two stay here, I will speak with this man alone.” She said and strode to the door.

“Alone? What if he’s dangerous?” The older man said.

Asheara turned about, a hand on the hilt of her captain’s scimitar. “Trust your captain.” She could not imagine that the man they had detained meant any human in Caldeum any harm.

Without another word Asheara opened the door and closed it behind her, shutting out the protests of the two soldiers. The room beyond was small, meant simply for detaining suspicious characters until further actions could be decided. A window cast a dusty light on the simple furnishings inside. The dark-skinned man sat in a chair that had not been designed for a man of his size in full armour, one hand on the large wrapped-up bundle on the table. It had an ominous red-brown stain.

“Tyrael. It has been too long.” Asheara said, keeping a respectful distance. Her convictions about the man’s intent were being sorely tested by the presence he had in the small room.

He looked up at her, his eyes carrying a dangerous energy. “Captain Asheara.”

“I apologise on behalf of my men. They’re recruits from within the city walls, not veterans of the battle for Caldeum like you and I.” Asheara said.

Tyrael stood up, the light falling on his ornate armour and the hilt of his sword. “There is nothing to apologise for, they seem like able guardsmen.”

“You always were generous, Tyrael.” Asheara said with a smile.

“Though I must admit I want to know, in my position as watch captain, what’s the bundle.”

Tyrael did not answer at first, but instead reached out and drew back the cloth covering one end of the bundle, revealing a human face, pale with death.

Asheara gasped. “Valla. So, my men heard true.”

“It happened a week ago, out in the desert.” Tyrael said and replaced the shroud.

Asheara made sure the door behind her was closed and secure, she did not want this information escaping this room before the city guard had been alerted properly. “What happened, Tyrael? Are you okay?” It seemed an odd question to ask the man but still she felt compelled to ask.

“We were investigating the destroyed villages and caravans out in the desert.” Tyrael began.

“I remember seeing reports from our scouts about that. 3 towns and a caravan were destroyed before we even noticed.” Asheara put in.

“Just so. Daemon attacks.” Tyrael continued. “We expected to find a Hellgate and some daemonic overlord, but it was far worse.”

If it’s bad enough to kill someone as powerful as Valla, then I’m not sure I want to know Asheara thought to herself.

Tyrael was silent for a moment, the veins on his temple working hard at whatever the man was going to say next.

“Tyrael, what did you find? If it was so powerful that not even Valla could handle it, I, no, Caldeum needs to know about it.” Asheara prompted.

“Captain Asheara, first I must ask you a favour.” Tyrael said, a hand on Valla’s chest.

Unsure what to make of Tyrael’s tone, Asheara merely nodded at his request.

Tyrael continued in a tone Asheara normally heard from confessing criminals. “I cannot lie. It goes against both my nature and my station, so I will need you to lie for me.”

First confused and now worried, Asheara nodded again.

“I would like to hear you say it, Captain Asheara. The spoken word holds more power than most humans think.”

“I am not sure what you want me to lie about, Tyrael, but I will do as you ask.” I practically owe you and Valla my life.

Tyrael sighed and stood away from the table. “It was no daemon or common monster that killed- that did it.” Tyrael started.

“Nor was it one of the Lesser Evils or some mercenary. No, it was an angel. An Archangel of the High Heavens, Imperius, Aspect of Valour and commander of the Luminarii, guardians of the Crystal Arch.”

“He used some daemonic tool he had devised, made from a sliver of the Worldstone under Mount Arreat, possibly under daemonic influence, and weakened Valla before making use of the situation. I was unable to stop him.” Tyrael said.

Asheara stood in stunned silence. Many of the words and names she had heard before but only in whispered stories and fairy-tales.

“Are you ill, Asheara?” Tyrael asked after a moment had passed.

“Nay, but I think I’ll have a headache soon enough. Angels? Mount Arreat? I have heard of these things, damn, they were in the fairy-tales my mother told me when I was a kid, when my father wasn’t beating training exercises into me.” Asheara said and sat down.

“I assure you; it is nothing but the truth.” Tyrael’s face took on a pained expression, “But in this instance, I believe the truth would not serve us well.

Asheara’s mind whirled. “The angels in the stories are always on our side. If one of them killed Valla, then some would see it as a punishment from the Heavens.”

“One might say it is.” Tyrael said quietly.

Asheara paused for a second. “You’re going to have to explain that to me later. So, what now? Where will you go? Do you want a coach to take you out of the city unseen? If you wrap her up again, I doubt anyone would look twice, and if they did, their curiosity would not be about the identity of the corpse.”

“No, I do not want to skulk out of town like some common thief laden with plunder. Valla would not have wanted that either.” Tyrael said.

“I think she rather would. She was a smart lass.” Asheara interjected.

Tyrael’s glare silenced her. “The world needs to know that the Nephalem is dead, so it can prepare.”

“Prepare for what?” Asheara said, a slight shiver passing through her.

“I cannot believe that the Nine Hells will sit idly by until a new champion arises to protect Sanctuary like Valla did. We may well face another invasion.”

Asheara wanted to scoff at him, but the man had a way of making any suspicion sound deeply credible. “So, Tyrael, what is it you want me to do?”

“I want you to tell your men and the people of this city that a great daemon killed Valla.” Tyrael said, looking pained as he did so.

“Not an angel.” Asheara said.

“Indeed. Even if it is the truth, I do not think the truth will aid us for the time being.”

“And what do I get in return?” Asheara asked, rubbing thumb and forefinger together in a gesture customary for traders and mercenaries everywhere.

Tyrael was still for a moment, his mouth hanging slack jawed. “The safety and security of Sanctuary is in peril, and you’re asking for payment?”

“Relax Tyrael, I was only joking. Old mercenary habits. You and Valla saved this city, we owe you a great deal.” Asheara put a hand on her chest and met Tyrael’s eyes. “You will have the help of me and my Iron Wolves, I swear it.”

Tyrael’s expression softened. “Furthermore, I wish to entrust the body of Valla into the care of the Palace. I have some urgent business that cannot wait, and I cannot bring the Nephalem.”

“Very well, I will ensure the Palace’s physicians don’t get too curious. Wait here, I will bring a coach, and by the looks of you, a meal as well. When did you last eat, Tyrael?”

Asheara was surprised to find Tyrael suddenly unwilling to meet her gaze. “I have a tendency to forget to attend to such needs. It is, uh, still a new thing to me.”

“Such needs? A new thing?” Asheara was flabbergasted.

Tyrael tried to stand but shaky legs failed the man and he fell back into the wooden chair.

“Tyrael!” Asheara rushed around the table, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder.

He was shaking and gasping for breath. “I am fine, there is no need to worry.”

“Tyrael, you can barely stand.” Asheara said.

“I WILL be fine, then. Let us get Valla out of this room as soon as possible.” Tyrael said.

“You will be fine staying here. Don’t make me lock the door.” Asheara said with authority and walked out the door, trusting that the man would be sensible.

Asheara instructed the guards to not let anyone in or out, but if Tyrael wanted to force his way out, not to resist him. She trusted in her Iron Wolves, but Tyrael was clearly on a different level. At her command a coach was brought from the palace to the western gate, a hot meal and several full waterskins loaded on board. When Asheara carried in the tray, Tyrael was sat where she had left him, staring unblinking out of the small window in the room.

Tyrael started as she sat down the tray on what remained of the table. “Sorry Valla, I’ll have to scoot you over a bit.” Asheara said jokingly.

“Eat up, Tyrael.” She said when he just looked at the steaming bowl of soup for moments without moving or speaking.

He hurriedly picked up the spoon, looking for all the world like a child being told what to do. “Ah, sorry, it is still sometimes difficult to remember how.”

Asheara wondered what he meant as Tyrael began eating, but she figured it could wait.

“Send in the palace physicians.” She told the guards that still waited outside. “And once the coach leaves, you two are free to leave. I’m sure your next shift is anxious to start.”

The two white-robed men from the palace arrived in short order, a stretcher between them. But as soon as they had placed the stretcher on the floor and began to shift Valla’s body, Asheara making sure the veil was securely in place, there was a clatter of metal and Tyrael’s gloved hand rested gently but securely on the forearm of the closest man, the remains of his meal on the floor of the room.

“Do not touch her.” He said, his voice calm in the way of a fighter before a battle.

Asheara stepped in and put a hand on Tyrael’s shoulder. “Tyrael, they’re here to help. The sooner we can get her to a cool place, the longer we have to bury her properly.”

The stare that Tyrael returned unnerved Asheara but she forced herself to not reach for the hilt of her sword, to keep calm. “Very well. Let us leave right away then.” He said and threw away the empty waterskin in his other hand. The physicians gave Asheara a confused look as Tyrael lifted Valla’s body by himself, leaving their stretcher behind, but she simply motioned for them to follow him and did so herself, the palace tray under her arm.

The guards looked hopeful as the procession left the small room. Asheara stopped for a moment and looked both in the eye. “Clean up, then you can change the shift.”

 

With Tyrael deigning to let the physicians carry Valla, she was placed in the bottom of the coach, out of sight of people on the street. For all they would know, it was just another coach on palace business.

Tyrael continued his soul-searching through the window even in the coach. The physicians and Asheara sat opposite the man, looking at each other in the uncomfortable silence as the coach rolled along the streets.

“For what it’s worth, Tyrael.” Asheara started, trying to break the silence. “You and yours really helped our city.”

Tyrael looked away from the window, his dark eyes coming back from a thousand miles to look at her.

“Caldeum would not be the city it is today without your help. I hear children talking about you, more than they talk about my Wolves.”

“They were both heroes, you know.” Tyrael said quietly after a moment. “Far more than I.”

“I know.” Asheara said, though to her the whole band were heroes equally. She had always been surprised not to have heard of Tyrael before he showed up alongside Valla and Leah to save the Iron Wolves from an ambush. His armour and shining sword alone should spread stories far and wide.

She was about to say another word when the coach jolted and stopped, everyone inside bracing against the interior to avoid being knocked over.

“Illam! Explain yourself, what in the Nine Hells!?” Asheara banged on the wall behind her and shouted once the jolts had settled down.

“A thousand apologies, captain Asheara, but there is someone blocking the road!” Illam the coach driver shouted back. There was a tinge of fear in his voice. The man was a former Iron Wolf, so anything that would make him nervous required Asheara’s attention.

“Stay in here, I’ll see what this is about.” Asheara said, grabbing hold of the handle of her sword and exiting the coach.

A man stood in the road, clutching his left arm that was dripping blood onto the dirt. A trail was clearly visible leading to an upper terrace visible from the coach. His face was a grimace and the way his head moved unnerved Asheara. It was twitching like an insect.

“Move aside! This is Palace business!” She shouted. The whole square stopped in place and looked at the coach. So much for subtlety. Asheara thought to herself.

The man jittered in place and stepped forward; his eyes locked on the coach. “Please, you have to help me. Please!” He sounded in extreme pain.

Do I tell him we have physicians in the coach? Does he already know that? “Step aside and I will ensure you get help. Now move aside!” Asheara shouted again.

Again, the man stepped forward. He still had not spared Asheara even a glance. “Please!”

“Is your hearing as pained as your arm.” Asheara grumbled, drew her sword and grabbed the man by his collar, lifting him up. “Did you not hear what I said.”

The man’s eyes switched, quick as lightning, to look Asheara in the eye, and what she saw there made her flush with sweat. “Leave us mortal.” The voice was different, deeper and harsher and unlike any human Asheara had ever heard.

Before she could step away the man screamed in pain and his back arched, four segmented chitinous legs erupting from his back in an explosion of blood. More blood spilled down the sides of the man’s head as his face ripped open, revealing a set of pus-coloured eyes faceted like that of a fly. With a cry of disgust Asheara tried to step away but the segmented legs wrapped around behind her, preventing any retreat. Despite still being caught in its throes of transformation, the daemon was trying to keep her close. She did not intend to find out for what. She placed the tip of her sword against its human abdomen and pushed, the sharp blade finding little resistance. The creature gasped but did not relent its grip, so she let go of its collar and thrust her hand into its open stomach, and with an arcane shout, discharging a thunderclap in its innards. The creature flew back a metre before landing in a bloody heap in the dirt, the segmented limbs curling around it like a dead spider. Asheara’s focus withdrew from the immediate battle and she heard the screams and shouts all around her. Hers had not been the only assailant. Many creatures had transformed around the square, fighting guardsman and slaughtering traders with their spikes and blades. Even as she watched, a guardsman across the square impaled the creature facing him, only for it to grin with an impossibly wide mouth and crush his helmet and head with a massive claw.

“Daemons!” Asheara shouted, wishing she had brought her battle gear rather than her captain’s uniform. The closest guards that had survived the initial transformations forming up around her with their shields and spears at the ready.

“You two,” Asheara started and clapped their helmets, “Run to the nearest guardhouse and sound the alarm, then return here with as many guards as they can spare. Hurry!”

With those two away, Asheara hurried to the coach and flung the door open. The physicians were as pale as the white robes they wore, but Tyrael sat calmly with his shining sword in his lap. “What has happened? Are you injured, Captain Asheara?”

“It’s not my blood.” She responded and climbed the first step quickly. “Daemons are using the populace to attack the city, somehow. Cultists might be at work. We need to get you and the coach to the palace as quickly as we can.”

Tyrael simply looked at Valla during Asheara’s report. “If there are daemons, I am dutybound to fight them.”

“Tyrael, my Iron Wolves can handle it.” Asheara said. “You don’t have to fight.”

“It is not a matter of choice. Their presence here and now cannot be a coincidence.” The dark man said and rose from his seat.

“At least let the coach move on to the Palace.” Asheara said while Tyrael walked past her out of the coach.

Tyrael simply nodded at her, pulling his cloak back over his shoulders to reveal his gleaming armour. How does he keep that so clean in this place? Asheara wondered as she ordered the coach to move and her nearest guardsmen to ensure its safe travel.

In the meantime, the murderous brawl in the square had turned into a losing battle, the corpses of Asheara’s guards piling up. The daemons too had taken many losses, but they seemed undeterred, slashing and clawing at their opponents with the usual abandon of their kind. As Tyrael and Asheara moved towards the battle the remaining guards were being pushed back, the daemons slowly surrounding them. With a shout in some language Asheara could not understand, Tyrael raised his shining sword and charged, leaping past a horrified guard and decapitating the bull-like daemon opposite him in a single swing. The lifeless body had barely fallen to the ground before the blood had vanished from Tyrael’s sword with a hiss.

Do I wish I had a sword like that. Asheara thought to herself as she dodged and slashed at a tentacle from another daemon, her falchion cutting the pink skin. The guard at her side shouted praise to Caldeum as he stepped in and put his spear through the daemon’s abdomen, only for his praise to turn to curses as the daemon’s abdomen opened into a toothy maw and snapped his spear in two. Before Asheara could react, the tentacle whipped back and across the guard’s face, the man crying out and the guard fell back, his hands clutched to his face and blood pouring out between his fingers.

Cursing herself, Asheara thrust her palm forward and released a stream of fire. The daemon’s skin caught immediately, and it fell back shrieking in agony but before Asheara could move in to finish it off, a daemon with a horse’s body growing out beneath a groaning man’s torso kicked her square in the chest, sending her flying back into a pile of bodies, daemonic and human. The savage kick had knocked the air out of her, and she desperately gulped down air as the grotesque centaur moved closer. She held her falchion out in front of her as best she could despite her aching chest, but she could not hold it back for long, her falchion kicked out of her hands and away by another kick from the creature’s hooves. But before it could strike again a shining blade sheared the leg off at the knee, parting the flesh and bone like it was not there at all. Tyrael bull-rushed the daemon as it reared up, his shining sword slicing it apart with ease. Its smoking corpse hit the dirt and Tyrael extended an arm to Asheara.

“I had it, Tyrael. I was just about to finish it off.” She said and accepted the hand. Even with her weapons and uniform, Tyrael lifted her with ease.

“I have no doubt about that, Captain Asheara.” He said with as much of a smirk as Asheara had ever seen on him.

Tyrael pointed across the battlefield with his sword. The battle in the square was still on and the guards were definitely losing, but the daemons were not pushing their line as hard as Asheara would expect. She had never known the vile creatures to relent.

“What’s going on, Tyrael?”

His sword dipped a finger’s breadth, pointing at the dirt in the centre of the square. No, Asheara thought quickly, Not relenting, working. In the centre of the square the bodies of the dead guards were being piled up by a few bull-like daemons, arranged in a huge circle of blood and guts.

“A summoning circle.” Tyrael said with a hint of dread. “They mean to open a gate to the Nine Hells, bring an army.” 

“An army?” Asheara said. “We will need every guard in the city to combat that!”

“There is no time.” Tyrael said and started off for the few guards still struggling in the square.

Most of the daemons were now working at some ritual, cavorting and chanting, ribbons of blood lifting up out of the corpses arrayed in the bloody square. Tyrael charged and skewered a bloated daemon that was about to bite a guard in half. The remaining guards cheered and formed up around the man, their weapons ready and pointed out at the daemons moving towards them. Torn between helping and calling for reinforcements, Asheara watched as a spell impacted with Tyrael’s armour. Four huge, spiny legs held the spellcaster aloft, the host’s remaining legs dangling uselessly beneath it like a grotesque belt. Tyrael rising to his feet, the two clashed in the middle of the melee. The segmented legs of the daemon stabbed and poked at Tyrael while the grinning daemon suspended above slung bolts of magic at him.  

Cursing her luck for bringing such a tragedy onto her city, Asheara sheathed her blade and began chanting her own spell. As her fingers worked and the phrases of the spell left her lips her hair began standing away from her skin, the crackle of energy and ozone in the air growing. Power coursed through her body, begging to be released before it became too much.

“Tyrael, get away!” Asheara shouted as the spell completed, holding her stance to contain the energy the spell had built up.

With a grunt of effort, Tyrael shoved the segmented limbs aside and hopped back. The daemon turned around with that arrogant smile on its hideous face before Asheara thrust her arms forward, discharging a massive arc of lightning across the square. The segmented body locked in place and then spasmed as its being was suffused with deadly energy, it’s borrowed body destroyed in seconds and it dropped to the ground.

“The circle! Destroy the circle!” Tyrael shouted as he scrambled to his feet.

“No need, Tyrael” Asheara said, gasping for breath from the exertions of the spell, “No need.”

In the centre of the square, smoke was drifting out of the open mouths of the corpses of the daemons, Asheara’s spell using the first daemon as a link in a deadly chain.

Asheara could count the surviving guards on the fingers of one hand and she herself was covered in dirt, gore and other fluids from the mangled bodies of the daemons. If not for the spatters of blood on his armour, Tyrael looked like he had been in a procession, not a battle to the death. As if emerging from thought, he began walking and looked over at Asheara.

“We must hurry, the daemons could launch another attack.”

She took a deep breath and did her best to reply. “Why would they attack again? Why not just attack in one big force?”

Tyrael sheathed his sword somewhere inside his cloak and started down the road out of the square towards the city palace visible in the distance. Asheara felt like she had no option but to follow.

 

Ordering the surviving guards to clean up with the help of the reinforcements, Asheara followed Tyrael the rest of the way to the palace. Out of something between caution or paranoia they ran towards any sudden shouts they heard on the way, but no daemons presented themselves, only woman with broken pottery or men with hammer-bludgeoned fingers. The physicians awaited them in the palace’s infirmary that had been cleared out at Asheara’s request. Now with the ambush by the daemons, she would need as much space in here as she could muster.

“We decided to delay the examination until your arrival, Captain Asheara.” The senior physician said. A woman named Sherade, she had been a steady part of the palace staff even before Valla and Tyrael blazed through the city and the palace. Her greying hair was set in a tight bun which, along with the glass lenses set in a brass frame that she wore, gave her an air of authority that fit well with her great knowledge of her craft.

“Excellent call, doctor Sherade. This man was there when it happened, so we need not know how she died. We simply need her body to last while he,” Asheara searched for words. Tyrael had not been very clear about what his business was. “Attends to some business.”

That got a raised eyebrow from doctor Sherade, but Asheara could only shrug. That is all she knew. “Once you are finished here, I expect a lot of guards to come here. We had a daemon incursion not long ago.”

The faces of the assembled physicians paled. “What happened?” Said Sherade.

“They appeared out of nowhere and attacked anyone present in the Alabaster Portium. Not many survived but I instructed my guards to bring any survivors here.”

“The daemons attempted to open a gate to the Nine Hells, but we managed to defeat them before it was completed.” Tyrael said. His metallic boots were loud against the tiled floor of the infirmary.

Sherade sighed and attempted to calm her colleagues, the two younger physicians clearly shaken by what they had heard. “So, the city is safe?”

“On the way here, I sent messengers to every guardhouse in the city. Should the daemons strike again, the Iron Wolves will be ready to meet them.” Asheara said. She resisted the impulse to affect the old salute of her company.

“Good, that is good.” Sherade said and approached the operating table, a simple raised marble slab in the centre of the infirmary. Valla had been placed there and unwrapped. It struck Asheara that this was the first time she had seen the daemon huntress in nearly a year. Even in death, Valla had an impressive air about her and a calm expression that looked ready to turn serious at any moment.

“Now, you will be welcome to stay if you so wish, but we will not make any efforts to wake you up if the sights of the embalming prove too much for you.” Sherade said and picked up a metal tool from a container in the side of the table.

“Embalming?” Tyrael said with sudden confusion in his voice.

“Captain Asheara, if you would instruct your guest in what that entails, I would like to begin.” Sherade said, looking at the two of them over the room of her operating lenses.

Before Asheara could turn to Tyrael the man had stormed up to the operating table.

“I requested that the palace keep her safe, not cut her open.” He said, both hands placed against the edge of the operating table.

Sherade kept her ground even when “With all due respect sir, if the palace is to keep a corpse-“

Asheara only just managed to step in and stop the debate escalating when Tyrael stepped back and moved to draw his sword in the middle of doctor Sherade’s sentence.

“Tyrael! Calm yourself!” Asheara said and moved to stand between him and the physicians, Sherade still having not moved even an inch from her position, a fact which both impressed and frightened Asheara a little.

“Doctor Sherade is an experienced physician, she knows what she is talking about. Valla cannot simply stay here as she is.”

Tyrael stood with a hand on the hilt of his sword but had yet to draw. “I will not allow the Nephalem to come to any further harm.”

What?  “Tyrael, Valla is dead! She cannot come to any further harm.” Asheara said.

With a grimace Tyrael drew his sword an inch, but then stopped. Her back to the operating table, Asheara could only hear the gasps of the others in the room and see the golden glow that now shone on every surface in the room. The walls of the infirmary were polished sandstone and the floors were similarly a pale wood brought from the deep desert. Both now looked like matte gold.

“What in the name of…” She heard Sherade say. Tyrael said nothing, simply let go of his sword and walked past Asheara to the table.

Turning about, Asheara was equally dumbfounded. Valla’s corpse was still on the table, but the traits of expression that the captain had attributed to her were now gone. Valla’s corpse was just that now. But above her a golden sphere hovered, not solid but like a ball of pure, golden energy. Small flecks emerged from the surface only to trace an orbit around the orb to eventually merge again with the orb.

This time Tyrael drew his shining sword fully. “Daemon trickery!” He roared and struck, the sword sweeping through the air before anyone in the room had truly registered that he had drawn. A crack of energy and sound assaulted the occupants of the room and the sword flew from Tyrael’s hand to clatter against the far wall. The man stood stunned with empty hands for a moment before collapsing to his knees.

“I was mistaken. It is no daemon.” A shaky finger pointed at the golden sphere. “That is Valla’s soul. The soul of the Nephalem.”