Amanita (Chapter 13)

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Template:Amanita nav Even though the sun was going down, the city gates were wide open. Greiz must feel pretty confident of his men. For a minute, I wondered if I should leave the city to them and call it quits for the night. I'd been running through Lut Gholein's sewers all day, doing more than my fair share of community service. Then I felt the heat radiating from the ground, making the setting sun dance on the horizon. The rocky soil was flat as a broiling pan, and about as comfortable. By day, it would be like hell out here.

Everything was quiet as I slipped into the night, moving slow so as not to stumble over the rocky ground. The city lights twinkled behind me as I met my first enemy: desert lizards. Okay, they were the size of large dogs, with multiple eyes and claws they liked to rake through the air under them when they leapt over your head, but I guess I'd been hoping for more. Jumping and raking was their move of choice. It made them damn hard targets, but it seemed like they couldn't keep track of me from the air. Moving to a new shadow every time they leapt completely lost them. While they were sitting there, trying to figure out where I'd vanished to, I could take my time and snipe.

Cat People were out too, throwing javelins. At least they had shields and decent weapons this time. Hiding in the dark didn't do much good against them, but the new poison bow worked a lot better on living targets than dead ones. One hit and they were scorpion food. The scorpions around here are nasty, the size of my hand and built like tiny dreadnoughts. Any meat they see, they're all over in a second. Maybe solid metal boots would be a good idea, even with the clanking.

The ground gave up the last of its heat before midnight. Then it got cold like only deserts can, as frigid as a Duncraig debutante with a socially-unconnected suitor. I was shivering in my own armor, but it would have been worse by daylight. There were a lot of Cat People out here. Whenever I missed a shot, I'd find a dead one further out in the darkness. Now and then, I'd find the body of a Lut Gholein guardsman, mutilated and put up on a stake. A fight in daylight, where everything could see me, would not be a good idea.

Lut Gholein was just a glow on the horizon when I found the wagon. It was near an oasis of blackened water, and might have belonged to gypsies. The wagon had been pulled off its wheels and broken open, its contents dragged out and scattered. The owner's skulls were heaped up to one side. I found a little jewelry, but not much else. How did Warriv get us safely across the desert? The bad guys will attack wagons, but we never saw any. Maybe they saw more than one wagon, and figured we were too many. Maybe Warriv knows where the ambush sites are, and avoided them. Of course, he knew to bring water, something I didn't think of. I guess there's a reason he's leader.

I found my first tomb around midnight, and sat down to review my options. My mission, first and foremost, was to locate Diablo and prevent him from finding his brother. Plan B was to find Baal and keep him from linking up with Diablo. Baal was imprisoned inside Tal Rasha, who was supposed to be pretty tough, but after a few centuries with a demon lord in his head, I doubt there's much left of the guy. I had no idea where Diablo was, but Baal was in a tomb, chained down. Meeting either of them would probably mean a fight, but Baal couldn't move, and probably couldn't summon anything. To get in to him, you need a Horadric staff; Diablo probably doesn't know that. Plan B would be easier, if I can find a staff. This tomb was too close to the city to be Baal's (unless the Horadrim took the "purloined letter" approach) but there might be a dead Horadrim in there.

Predictably, the place was lousy with skeletons, a mix of mages and grunts, but nothing worse. One side tomb had a few giant beetles crawling around, but living things aren't a big worry now. They made some sparks when they died. The tomb was the nicest I've ever been in, dry and tastefully decorated. The smells of spices wafted through the air, not rot and decay. Almost a shame no one there could appreciate it. Maybe the locals used to visit their dead relatives back when it was safe, so they had the place fixed up nice. They sure left a lot of offering urns, full of valuable things. Looting them should be okay. Any lawyer would say they were abandoned property, given the circumstances.

The tomb's lower level held a richer class of dead people. The nobler classes are so much more rewarding to rob. Most had chests full of grave goods, some of them trapped. None had staves. My favorite trap was a pair of magic scimitars that floated out of a chest and attacked me. They were very striking, not too dangerous but really pretty and worth some major style points from me. The tomb netted me a pretty good haul, though kicking over so many urns made my sunburn chafe. Cain identified one belt as the Arctic Wrap or something. I thought it might resist temperature changes, which would make it very useful here, but it only works against cold.

A faint glow was turning the eastern horizon pink as I wandered into some low dunes. Sand is a pain. Try to walk on it, it shifts from under your feet. If you sit down or get knocked down, it's hard as a rock. And when grenades explode in it, it gets into everything: my eyes, my boots, my bow, everywhere. How do I know this? The Cat People are back, and this time, they have grenades: little pots of explosives like the Rogues were playing with back in the monastery. The quicker cats have sabers, crystal swords, and other light weapons; a pack (pride?) of them is a serious menace. I wonder if they killed the gypsies? That wagon did have some burned patches.

Turns out Diablo's been at work on the local birds, too. He's got vulture-demons, strange things with arms, legs, and wings all together. The ones I found were undead; I don't know if they were ever alive or not. Maybe they ate too much mummy flesh. Whatever they'd been eating before, as soon as they saw me they decided on a change of diet. Killing them was hard. They flew very high, further than I could reliably target, but were too clumsy to attack in a dive. Trying to slam into me from that far up might break them.

As the sun rose, the temperature shot skyward. In the time it took the sun to clear the horizon, it went from uncomfortably cold to uncomfortably hot, and kept going. Daylight didn't seem to bother the cats -- I think they preferred it, and they seemed to be getting smarter. Twice, they saw me and ran. The first time, I went right after them, which was stupid. They led me between two dunes and stopped, hiding behind their shields while their companions pelted me from above with grenades. I had to switch to the katar and charge into the middle of the pride to get the grenadiers off my case. The second time, I didn't follow them straight in, but ran around the side and up a sand dune. Getting to high ground for some clear shots seemed like a good idea at the time. When I got there, giant beetles surrounded and trapped me up there, while the cats bombed me. Again, I fell back on the katar. The lightning sparks were a lot worse that time.

Finding another tomb was actually a relief. By then, it was mid-morning. The salt of my own sweat was stinging my chafed hide, and the ground felt like the bottom of an oven. Inside, it was dark, and cool, and... full of skeletons, more than I'd ever seen in one place. Behind them, I counted five mummies, the big kind. Each had an ivory sickle welded to its right arm, and their heads had been replaced with those of crocodiles. That was strange. Maybe the Horadrim didn't understand the importance of the brain. I'd think that if you take any part of you into the afterlife, you'd want to keep your own head.

I got off a few shots before the skeletons surrounded me. They're not that strong, but this many was scary. When I knocked down the first one, things got scarier: a mummy gestured, and the skelly got back up again. Great... just like the little demons. The skeletons had me walled in. The mummies were casting Death Bolts, a necromantic spell that drains away life force. Unlike conventional elemental attacks, it hardly hurts at all, but I was dying a little with each and every one. Teleporting would have been really handy right then, but I'd never managed to master the discipline. The bow was useless. The skeletons were packed in too tight to knock them away. The only thing that might help was the gems in my katar.

I laid into the skeletons, whacking and hacking with no grace or style. Sometimes, they fell, and got up again. Other times, they froze and shattered. Nothing could bring them back from that. When a gap opened in their ranks, I took it and charged the mummies. My first new friend greeted me warmly, with a big slap on the back and a face-full of corpse breath. I showed him the love, and ran to the next guy, with the skeletons behind me. I got the first mummy before the horde caught up, but the second I had to leave alive or I would have been surrounded again. I hate leaving a job unfinished, it just goes against my nature. At least I could come back to him later, as long as I kept moving.

When the mummies went down, the skeletons were easy. At least they couldn't bring each other back, that would be truly terrifying. Things got so busy in there, I almost didn't notice the bats. These were Lightning Bats, which used to work as low-level mage familiars back in the old days. I've read about them, but never thought I'd actually see some. They're minor familiars for minor wizards, and not too dangerous. Another feature of the entrance chamber was the trapped floor. While under attack, I didn't have time think about why the floor kept moving. Turns out several floor tiles were rigged, set to trigger spring-loaded iron spikes. Clear avenues between trapped tiles allowed grieving relatives to visit the tomb safely. I'd have to watch my step around here.

This tomb had big mummies all over the place, with hordes of skeletons. These couldn't all be Horadrim; I don't think there were ever that many. Killing them was like taking down a Necro: first, get them away from their servants. Skeletons are stupid enough to follow you a long way from their boss, and in this case the boss wasn't too bright either. Having your brain replaced with a crocodile's can't be good for you.

The deeper I went in the tomb, the more traps I ran into. There were spiked balls that fired out of the walls, spikes in the floor, poisoned darts, fire traps, poison gas... the people who put this tomb together must have had serious money. Damned shame I never saw any of it. There were a few intact sarcophagi, and lots of skeletons and normal-sized mummies, but loot was noticeably lacking. Cat People put in an appearance in a ceremonial chamber with some big mummies, but only once. The most surprising thing was a waypoint. These were Horadric mummies, then, and the living did come visit them. That explained why all these traps were still functional -- the Horadrim made good stuff.

The deepest level was full of mummies, big and small. Horadric mummies can raise normal mummies, it turns out, but that was less of a problem. Normal mummies don't chase you like skeletons, or form a defensive wall between you and the big guy. Unless you're right next to them, they tend to mill around in a brainless way. That's literally true, by the way -- their brains scooped out their noses as part of the embalming process. Slogging through was painfully slow, kind of like the mummies themselves, but I started finding the real loot down here. Whatever else you might say, high-ranking Horadrim knew what money was for. I was hauling cash, gems, and enchanted doodads out by the bucketful. Cain was in his seventh heaven: he'd never seen so many Horadric relics in his life. There were several staves, too, but not even a piece of one we needed.

I was almost done with the tomb when I decided to go back and check a little side branch near the stairs I'd bypassed before. I knew it would be something special when Cat People came out after me. The bow dropped them just fine, and some mummies too, with a little more time. The chamber was the tomb of someone important: the main sarcophagus was huge, with about a dozen lesser ones around it. The occupants were now scattered on the floor around me, but the big tomb had a true treasure.

"A Horadric Cube!" Cain exclaimed. "You have quite a treasure there!"

"I know, I know!" I grinned. "It's an alchemy lab in a box! If I were more of a trapster, I'd be wetting myself with joy right now! It's still pretty cool."

"Ahem, yes. Let me see what formulae I can remember... ah, yes! Two quivers of arrows will make one quiver of bolts!"

"That's convenient, but I'm finding plenty of bolts. Do you think you could write some of those down for me? It's past noon, I've been up all night, I'm bushed."

"Gladly!" he smiled. "For a time there, I was growing worried! The task before you seemed insurmountable. Now, my predecessors have blessed you with a tool you need, or at least should be able to use."

"Your predecessors were whacking me upside the head with sticks all the time they were blessing me with this stuff, you know. What's next, an angel of the Light descending from heaven and anointing me with a croquet mallet? I'm tired. It's hot. My brain isn't working right. I'm going to hide someplace cool and quiet and sleep."

"A wise decision. It has been some years since I was in Lut Gholein, but well remember this oppressive heat."

"Yeah. I think I'm gonna be a creature of the night for a while. Black is just the wrong color for this climate. Thanks for all you've done."

The old guy smiled, obviously flattered. "Why, thank you very much. I have tried, in my small way, to be of assistance. If my many years of --

"Cain, just take the compliment, okay?"

"Erm... as you wish."