The Nomad sat alone. Against a tall basaltic rock in the southern Great Waste, surrounded by nothing but the sounds of sand being picked up on the wind, the wanderer sat. His prerogative had come to an end; the blistering days and frosty nights of hunting Sand Wraiths had once and for all eroded him like the rock face against which he rested his weary body. It would have been cathartic had it not been ironic; the very same desert that inspired him to pick up his sword years ago had been the one to weather him, day by tedious day, until his body could take no more. Now, with tattered cape and brittle bones, he rested for the first, and perhaps last, time, knowing his efforts were not in vain, but grieving for the Wraiths that would continue to saunter long after he had become one with the earth.
His sword lay by his side, its edge the end to many troublesome spirits and wretched confrontations. He counted the nicks and notches in it, each telling a piece of the story that made up his life. It was morose, the ending to such a long journey, whose destination had sometimes seemed to the Nomad to be the journey itself. After all this time, the hilt remained firmly attached to the blade, and the silver still glinted fractions of moonlight; the soul of the Nomad was reflected in his only companion, ever vigilant and steadfast in its resolve.
The wind picked up, and he knew it was time. The sandstorm that had been an ally for so long in battle would carry him away: would finally obscure him, his joy and sorrow, his pride and anguish. Eternally. It slipped under his gloves and danced on his fingertips. The stinging sensation had numbed him to the trivialities of life, blinding him from temptation and indolence, but the satisfaction that came from settling was a feeling to whom he was, for once, a stranger. He straightened his back and closed his eyes, accepting his destiny as it unfolded before him within a hundred thousand granules.
But the wind did not envelope him.
He waited patiently, knowing that death would not come quickly, yet the wind still did not envelope him. Rather, it spoke. In whispers that stretched from titanic mountains of sand to the blurry horizon, it drew words from the sky and spread them carefully before the Nomad. Etched upon the breeze, in the voice of The Blind Prophet, the language of the righteous emerged:
“Who are you to let fate decide?”
The Nomad tensed and his eyes flickered open, a reflex developed from years of caution. He looked around, expecting a human figure or, at worst, a roaming Wraith, salivating through cracked jawbones at the chance to plunge a twisted dagger into his heart. There was nothing to sate his curiosity but the moonlit night, barren and bleak as the desert that unfolded before him.
“Who speaks?” The Nomad commanded. “Show yourself!”
“You know my words, wanderer,” the voice resounded over the hills. “Now know my voice. I am the agent of His holiness, the great lord Sol. I am known by your kind as The Blind Prophet, leader of the five tribes of man, and gateway to redemption.”
Upon speaking these words, the earth rumbled and the sand beneath the Nomad jumped like millions of tiny insects. They leapt into the air time and again, as if trying to avoid a fire beneath them, some stray grains levitating by unnatural means. The Nomad grabbed his sword and pulled his legs in close to his body. Eventually, there was enough sand in the air to create a thin wall all around him, which circled slowly until a hole was torn in the side, ripping through the wall and creating a pillar in front of the Nomad that started to solidify.
The swirling pillar funneled into itself, creating a small tornado. As the particles encountered each other, rolling and crashing on the wind like powerful waves, a vision began to appear before the Nomad: a tall, imposing figure, donned in fine cloth and wielding a blade as large as his own. The shifting sand that composed his skin became more compact, offering a concrete depiction of his muscular frame as color seeped through the granules. The man stood proud as battered wings sprouted from his back, one of them reinforced by a golden plate with silver feathers. His blade displayed a heavenly glow, even in the moonlight, as though infused with the power of something much mightier than the Nomad had seen on Newerth. As the sand moved across the man’s face, it borrowed features from the Nomad’s; it was akin to looking in a mirror.
The Nomad was in awe. Was this one of his ancestors, come to welcome him into the heavens? Or perhaps he was having a vision quest, as the elders in his tribe had described on rare occasions before they were massacred by the Wraiths. The visions, it was said, only appeared to the most honorable warriors, those chosen to fulfill an obligation to Gaia, the Mother of Newerth, or to find one’s true purpose in life. But if this was his final resting place, it made little sense for a goddess to grant him a divine vision.
“Is this a mirage? Have my eyes been tricked by the desert?” The Nomad stammered out, pulling his cape up around his mouth.
“It is more than a mirage, my son,” the wind whispered. “Every grain of sand in this desert could dream for eternity, and never achieve such a perfect vision as I have set before you.”
“Then who is this man who steals from my likeness and adorns it with silver and gold?”
“The chosen one, he who is set before you, is not of flesh and blood, though he is your kin: not through birth and ritual, but through toil and perseverance. Beyond the gates of Heaven, where Sol’s power radiates the goodness of all life, the angel of Diligence reigns as His general of spiritual warfare, waging a neverending battle against daemons that would seek to corrupt and overthrow His kingdom. He is a leader and a well-respected guardian, trusted to command the armies of the righteous.”
“This…is an angel?” The Nomad asked.
“Sol has watched over you your entire life, from the moment you entered this world to your vow of destruction. From your inspiring persistence to your current resting place against this very rock. He has seen how you embody his virtuous word, traveling without cessation from one destination to the next, striving for betterment by eliminating the evil that plagues Newerth, in the name of all that is good.”
“But my intention was merely revenge,” the Nomad uttered quietly, averting his eyes from the warrior. “The Sand Wraiths murdered my family, my friends, and my peoples’ way of life. I was looking for retribution among the wicked, not salvation. Why do you come to me, Prophet?”
“The chosen one is he who wanders tirelessly through the muck and mire, much as He has seen you wander. Your motivation was questionable in the eyes of the holy, but your actions were resolute, and for this, Sol has sent me to offer you a blessing. The chosen one is who you strive to be. ”
The wings of Diligence unfolded: one stunted, tattered and broken, the other repaired along the edge with a flexible golden bar.
The Blind Prophet began: “You may bow to the earth, who has defeated you, and be accepted among your tribe in the spirit world. With this decision, you will recover your lost memories, and be championed as a noble warrior without fear of Wraiths and daemons. However, you will be cast aside by Sol, who has empowered you, only to see you deny Him in your final hours. Or, you may continue living for now, overcoming the tiredness and mortality that seeks to destroy you, as you have shown previously with tremendous endurance.
“In bouts of fervor, when faced with opposition, you have shown your refusal to concede, so I ask you once more: Who are you to let fate decide?”
More now than the first time, the question wracked his brain. If he was capable of progressing, surely he would not have stopped at this rock in the first place. Had his body not been so ravaged by battle and beaten mercilessly by weather, surely he would be stalking Wraiths as they drifted on their way to Blackwal. But instead, he was stranded.
From the desert, like the grim, fallow palm of fate, the rock rose like a broken bone, bidding the Nomad to rest serenely until fate’s spindly fingers closed around him, crushing his will to press on.
“Fate has allowed me to avenge, but it now aims to disarm me,” the Nomad declared. “I am a child in its hands. If it is Sol’s mercy that grants me the privilege of independence, I must break free from Fate’s grasp. Will He clear my path and allow me to roam?”
“Should you choose to roam free from sin, His will consents,” the words trailed on the breeze.
“I choose to see what lies ahead,” the Nomad responded proudly.
“Go, then,” the voice of the Blind Prophet instructed. “Find your way to Watchtower, on the border of the Great Waste, where the remaining Virtues have assembled. Follow the trail of stars Sol has created for you and make your way out of this decrepit and desolate wasteland, putrid with the stench of stagnation. Travel along the verge of the Rulian Marsh, where the toxic beasts devour with acidic maws, then north through Death’s Cradle and into Darkwood Vale. Be careful to not succumb to the shadows that inhabit its woods, who crave with every step you take to pull you into the pits of damnation. Survive your journey, wanderer, and there I will wait for you.”
With frailty, the Nomad gripped his sword and stood, one foot at a time, using the tip of his weapon against the ground for support. He stared at the vision of the angel Diligence, who stared back with eyes of moving sand. His insides burned with anticipation, as they had many times before a hunt, and the soreness that once paralyzed him was chased away by an overwhelming desire to outlast. Clutching his sword in one hand and his side in the other, he bowed his head to the apparition, then turned west to face the Rulian Marsh. Diligence folded his wings and bowed back, the particles of sand that composed his legs falling piece by piece back into the earth. As the Nomad strode toward the capital city, the angel faded into the distance, crumbling from fluctuating seams.
“Prophet, how are we supposed to defeat the daemons that infest Maliken’s keep when there are only five Virtues present?” The Succubus, who was to be reborn as Chastity, asked as she was fitted for her new armor. The scars that had been left on her arms and legs from Jeraziah’s Inner Light would soon be covered with specially crafted material, emboldened by the might of Sol.
The other four Virtues had gathered in the armory awaiting instruction from Jeraziah: Midas, who had forfeited his golden throne to embody Charity; Torturer, who had become the temporal Kindness to regain earthly feelings; Chronos, who had waited since the beginning of time as Patience; and Prisoner, whose devotion to Temperance in the face of hostility earned him the title of the same name.
“There is a sixth,” The Blind Prophet responded calmly. “But we ought not to look for him.”
“Why?” She inquired with outstretched arms.
The Blind Prophet turned: “Because he will find us.”