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A Journey Remembered
1999 by Michael Dover
http://members.home.com/mdover/minstrel/ 

Interlude: Naked Came the Rogue

Val Halla was freezing. That was a natural consequence of kneeling stark naked on top of a butte overnight. Behind her the barrier mountains and their foothills loomed over her, regarding her from the darkness. The tower of Wraithespyre perched on top of one of those mountains, and the Convent of the Sisters of the Sightless Eye lay nestled at the mouth of the pass that joined the plains and forests of Westmarch and Khanduras with the Great Desert before her. The moon had set some time ago, but the Love Goddess, leading the sun on her early morning journey, had risen well above the horizon by now. She shined her pale light over the seemingly endless dunes, turning sand into silver.

So far, Val Halla's vision quest had yielded only a single vision: a nice warm fire. With Sister Sylverwraithe on a spit turning slowly over it. There had been several variations on this theme over the long night. Sister Sylverwraithe covered with red ants. Sister Sylverwraithe with yak hair sprouting from various bodily orifices. These all gave Val Halla a warm feeling inside, if nowhere else.

All right, I've been on this double-damned mountain all night, and I'd like to have something to show for it before the sun comes up.

Val Halla sat a little straighter, inhaled and exhaled slowly and deeply, and shut her eyes. She found what Sister Sylverwraithe had referred to, in dead seriousness, as her "tickle spot" and wrapped her mind around it. From there, she cast her consciousness out around her like a gossamer net.

Once again, it only got as far as the cramp in her thigh. Val Halla muttered a colorful oath describing a joining between Sister Sylverwraithe and a donkey.

She had left the previous afternoon confident that she'd be able to report success to her fellow Wild Angels. She'd even made a couple of side bets. After all, all she had to do was sense the location and nature of a small object that Sister Sylverwraithe had hidden somewhere on the butte six months earlier.

For the Sisters of the Sightless Eye, archery wasn't just shooting or hunting, it was a mind-altering experience. It was the purest form of meditation ever devised.

It should have been easy. The Sisters of the Sightless Eye had trained her to focus her senses sharper than the finest arrow. In six months, she'd gone from struggling to tell which of two doors was booby-trapped (and having icy water dumped on her when she guessed wrong) to being able to walk into a room and effortlessly tell whether or not someone had been there before her, and when. A strand of hair here or a bit of disturbed dust there shouted volumes to her.

With a bow in her hand, her senses were keener still. She had been good before, but now her accuracy bordered on supernatural. She could pick a nightscuttler off a lump of coal on a moonless night at a hundred paces. For the Sisters of the Sightless Eye, archery wasn't just shooting or hunting, it was a mind-altering experience. It was the purest form of meditation ever devised.

The possibility of failure never even occurred to her. Val Halla sighed. Sister Sylverwraithe had always told them that they should be able to find their tickle spots even if they were up to their necks in boiling blood maggots and riding the business end of a Horned Demon. For someone so utterly humorless, Sister Sylverwraithe sometimes had a way with a colorful phrase. Val Halla wasn't sure which was the business end of a Horned Demon, and she didn't care to ever find out. Either way, she was just too cold and sore to focus properly.

All right, so this one time, I won't be the best. At least I can be the warmest.

With that, she mouthed the words to a warmth cantrip she knew. It was really more of an old hunter's trick than an actual spell, but she'd used it on many hunts and campouts and it had always worked wonders.

She felt the spark of that bubbly sensation jump from behind her eyes. It traveled across the inside of her brain and coiled around the base of her skull. From there, it reached down into her chest with silvery feathers and then across her bare arms and legs like delicate strips of electric silk. Around her, the dirt, air and vegetation seemed to rustle as the blue rush of Mana gathered around her in response to her magical request for warmth.

Oh, great. Now it works. Now that I've disqualified myself.

The rule had been "No Magic, No Exceptions." There wouldn't be any point in trying to explain to Sister Sylverwraithe that it wasn't like she'd cast a Search spell or anything, or that she hadn't tried to cheat, and that she'd only wanted to get warm because she was tired, cold and demoralized. Sister Sylverwraithe would just give her that look, and maybe favor her with some cutting assessment of her many shortcomings.

Oh well, as long as I've got my tickle spot, I may as well use it.

Val Halla cast her senses out around her once more. She found the object at the base of a small cactus about a hundred yards away. She stood and was not surprised to discover that her legs felt like they were full of pins and needles. Except for the cramp in her left thigh. That felt like an acid hound gnawing on her femur. She lost her tickle spot in the effort it took to keep from falling over. No matter. She staggered over to the object and picked it up. It was a small gray pebble with a dimple on the top.

Val Halla limped back to the spot where her robe and bow were neatly laid out on the ground and knelt down again.

A rock. She had me up here looking for a rock. I'll kill her.

It wasn't the first time she had vowed to kill Sister Sylverwraithe. The first time had been outside of Tristram, on the River Talsande.

Originally published to alt.games.diablo July 7, 1999.

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