Bodiccea (Act II)
The journey to Lut Gholein seemed to pass in the blink of an eye. Before they knew it, they were there, looking around a dry, dusty square just inside a city wall. The sky was a burning blue that looked like it hadn't seen a cloud in centuries. Dry winds hissed over the hot sand, sending beetles and scorpions scuttling for any kind of shelter, even as temporary as their shadows. Close by, the soothing whoosh of waves lapping gently at a nearby dock mingled softly with the soul-chilling groan thrumming under their feet.
"Oh, man," Bodiccea muttered, "I am gonna need a TON of moisturizer..."
"I'm more worried about the soul-chilling groaning," Heather said, biting her lip.
"That is a bit disturbing," Warriv nodded as he came around the wagon. "I suppose a great evil like Diablo wouldn't leave anyplace untouched by his taint. I'll be returning to the pass once I've picked up some supplies for the Rogues. If you're worried about that noise, and I think you should be, you should ask Lord Jerhyn about it."
"Greetings, honored travelers!" Lord Jerhyn said as he stepped around the wagon. "I am Jerhyn, Lord of --"
"Ooh!" Bodiccea quickly dusted herself off, shook out her hair, fluffed up her cleavage, and jumped down off the wagon. "Hi! Remember me? The girl your mother warned you about?"
"Ah, yes," Jerhyn sort of half-smiled. "No one could forget you."
"You'd better believe it, sweetie," she grinned. "Now, where were we?"
"I believe I was --"
"Oh, yeah! I was in the middle of seducing you when that little witch interrupted us."
Jerhyn frowned, looking like he was trying to remember. "You were?"
For a moment, Bodiccea's mouth hung open, then shut with a click. "Hell YES! You've GOT to have noticed! Jeebus, how blatant do I have to get?"
Behind her, Heather giggled. "Maybe he likes the little witch better."
"As if! Look, she saw him first, but I'll see him last. Now, Jehry-baby, has anyone ever told you how fantastic you'd look with a proud warrior queen by your side?"
"I have not considered marriage as yet. The future of my city is first in my mind, and while Lut Gholein is threatened, my own desires must come second."
Bodiccea cooed, "Oooh, your dewy brown eyes look so adorable when you get all earnest like that..."
"Did you hear anything he actually said?" Heather asked.
"He can say what he likes, just so he keeps looking at me with those dreamy eyes..."
Warriv loudly cleared his throat. "My Lord Jerhyn! Thank you for your kind welcome. May I ask, what is that soul-chilling groaning coming from your dockside there?"
"Yes," Jerhyn said, visibly relieved. "My city is plagued by an unnamable evil. I could not guarantee anyone's safety outside of these walls. The dead have risen from their tombs, and reports of demons skulking amidst the dunes have reached my ears. Even within the city, there is danger. At one point, an unspeakable monster was roaming these very streets at night, attacking anyone unlucky enough to meet it. My own guards were already so busy, I was forced to hire mercenaries; all they could do was drive the beast into the sewers. Its howling is what you hear now."
All this time, Bodiccea was leaning on her spear, hugging it close to her body like a pole she was about to slide down into a squat. "Jehry-babe, why are we standing out in the hot sun when we could be inside on some nice cool satin sheets?"
"I cannot invite you in. To the palace, I mean. Things are... a bit of a mess right now."
"Oh, yeah, that. Hmm. Poor Jerhy. I guess you want your city saved first, huh?"
"Fair amazon, you are impressiveness personified," Jerhyn said with a little bow, "but my city has need of strong arms and steely nerves to face the darkness."
Bodiccea tsked, and glanced at Heather with a grin. "Men. Nothing but bundles of mixed-up priorities and weird little moods. But what can you do? C'mon, Heather, let's give the place the once-over."
They made their way through the sun-baked streets up to Jerhyn's palace. Jerhyn was already inside, standing by the basement stairs with a worried look on his face. It only made him look cuter, but the two trained gorillas by the front door wouldn't let Bodiccea in. They weren't cute enough to flirt with, so they moved on. Elzix was standing outside his inn, and smiled as they approached.
"Whoa," Elzix said, looking almost comically awestruck. "I know milk does a body good, but damn, woman, how much did you drink?"
Smiling ingratiatingly, Bodiccea purred, "I guess you're not too interested in keeping the one eye you've got, are you?"
"Hey, I'm incredibly interested! Being blind right now would be the worst thing that ever happened to me."
"That's saying a lot," Bodiccea said, looking up and down at Elzix's many scars and missing body parts. "Hey, weren't you in the jury box that one time?"
"There was a box? Yeah, and man, was I impressed. I even bet on you to beat up the sorceress."
"I thought you were running the betting pool," Heather said.
"Nah, that was Greiz over there. I knew you'd win, babe. All you have to do is look at you to know that you are the hostess with the mostest!"
Bodiccea kept smiling, not believing a word of this but not quite willing to stop listening, either. "You know you don't have a chance in hell, don't you?"
Rubbing his chin with the stump where a hand used to be, Elzix smiled slyly. "Just cause I can't buy doesn't mean I won't look over the merchandise. Like I could stop, anyway."
"Aw, poor baby," Bodiccea grinned, and obligingly twirled around before rested her spear across her shoulders. The pose naturally pushed her chest out, which was undoubtedly the idea. "So, Frankenstein, what do you do around here?"
Elzix didn't answer for a minute. Finally, he looked up. "Huh? Do? Oh, yeah, I run this inn called The Desert Rain. You may not know it, but I used to be the most feared bandit in this desert. Yep, I was quite the scoundrel in my day."
"I think maybe you still are. Pirate of the sands, hmm? Did you plunder any booty?"
"All the time," Elzix grinned, gap-toothed. "Sometimes we'd go tomb raiding, so you know I know my way around in the dark."
"Ever find any golden chests of joy?"
"Nope! You're wearing red!"
Bodiccea snerked, utterly failing to suppress a giggle, then laughed out loud. "Ok, ok, you pass. I've gotta look over the rest of town, then kill the sewer guy. When I've got money to gamble, I'll be back."
"No problem, babe. You can take a chance with me anytime!"
As they walked away, Heather said, "You can't be serious."
"That guy. He looks like Lurch after a fight with a lawnmower."
"Oh gawd, no," Bodiccea laughed. "With a tender slice of veal waiting for me in the palace, why would I go for ground chuck? But he knows how to flirt! And he enjoys it -- he'll flirt even when he knows he doesn't have a chance. You've gotta respect that. I mean, you'd be surprised how many guys don't know how to flirt."
As they went down the street, the two lightly clad women attracted many long looks. One of the longest was an open leer from an armed man standing by the city gates. "Hmm... you look like a healthy lass."
"Speaking of which..." Bodiccea rolled her eyes, and went over to him. "Excuse me, are these your eyeballs? I found them in my cleavage."
"Yeah," Greiz grinned, and shifted from one foot to the other. "I remember you."
"So enlighten me. Where have I seen you before?"
"It was at that trial for some stupid merchant --"
"Oh, yeah. You were next to the hot chick with the chromed shoulder pads."
"Yeah! Yeah, um, she was pretty hot."
Bodiccea smiled, and slowly shook her head. "Wow. Not many guys know that nothing impresses a girl like telling her you think some other girl is hot. Hey, weren't you running the betting pool on me beating up Xanthippe?"
"Uh... no, that was Elzix. Bastard stiffed me out of 50 gold."
"Oh, poor baby. Anyway, I think you remember my name..."
"Oh, yeah. Bodiccea. Sounds like 'bodacious'."
Bodiccea slowly nodded. "Did your parents just call you 'hey, you' all the time?"
"Oh, uh, I'm Greiz, captain of the Desert Eagles. We're the best you'll find in this desert. Jerhyn hired us to man the walls. All his guards are in the palace for some reason."
"Do tell. Anyway, you're the one who has men for sale."
"Pretty much," Greiz grinned. "You interested?"
After a moment's thought, Bodiccea shook her head and patted Heather's shoulder. "No, thanks, I've got a merc. Too much of a pain breaking in a new one."
"Oh. Ok. Are you two, like, an item or something?"
Heather blinked, eyes widening. Bodiccea's eyes narrowed. "Why, captain Greiz, whatever do you mean by that?"
"Uh... nothing, I guess."
"Good. Nice meeting you, by the way."
"Oh. My. GAWD!" Bodiccea whispered as they walked away. "Could you buh-LEEVE that?"
"I'm still trying to figure out why you think that one guy could flirt."
"He could make me laugh! As opposed to 'um, uh, um, uh, r u 2 lezbos?' over there."
"He wasn't that bad."
"Close enough. Hey, how come you know who Lurch is?"
Heather grinned a little. "I was cruising the web a little. I can't stand just sitting around during down-time."
"I resent that," Bodiccea grinned. "That's when I do my hair."
"Yeah, ok," Heather laughed. "Anyway, I don't see that much difference between those guys. They're both leches, one just knows how to talk better."
"Heather, Heather, Heather. There's nothing wrong with a guy being a lech, as long as he respects you. Frankenstein knows if he tries anything, I'll hack off another body part, and he's running out of spares, so all he'll do is look."
"That's fear, not respect."
"Works for me."
Heather frowned a little, and was silent. After a bit, she said. "I'm kind of surprised you didn't hire a new merc."
"I didn't wanna deal with that guy." Then Bodiccea grinned. "Besides: girls rule! The mercs here probably all act like him. I mean, he is their boss."
"Uh, sure," Heather let the matter drop. "But if I am staying around, I'm gonna need to gain a few levels."
"Oh, yeah. You're only, what, 14th level now?"
"I'm 13th, and you're 19th. I read on this web site that mercenaries get more experience for monsters they kill themselves, but you go so fast I'm having a hard time."
"Oh, sorry. How about we skip Drognan and go straight to Atma?"
"She's the one who gives you the Radamant quest, right?"
Bodiccea raised an eyebrow. "Wow, you have looked a lot of stuff up."
"I guess. It was a pretty good web site. Does Drognan tell you anything important?"
"Not until the sun goes out. Until then, he's pretty boring. Just a bunch of 'I'm older than I look, but I can still make a few sparks' stuff."
Heather smirked. "Is that supposed to be flirting too?"
"Nah, he only says that to the Sorceress."
"Yeah, and... ?"
Bodiccea laughed. "Aw, c'mon! Who'd flirt with a Sorceress? Let's go to the tavern."
Atma's tavern was full of mercenaries, locals, and a few traders who looked like they'd been in there long enough to be considered local. Atma greeted them at the door.
"I don't expect this of you, but if you would help me, I would be grateful."
"Hi there. Not a problem, I'll kill that big nasty sewer monster for you."
While they were talking, Heather heard a "Psst! Heather!" from inside the tavern. She looked through the window, and Paige was there, motioning her over to a table.
Paige: "Hi, Heather! Come on over."
"Hey," Kasim said. "Have a beer."
"What are all you guys doing here?"
"Atma's tavern is the merc hangout. Where should we be?"
"It's not like we have much to do right now," Khaleel sighed.
"Say, weren't you going through www.hotchicks.com the other day?" Kasim asked.
Paige: (Sits at the other end of the table from Khaleel.) "So, how's the boss working out?"
Heather frowned. "Um... I really don't like her."
Klatu laughed. "Like we haven't heard that before."
"Yeah," Kasim smirked. "Just cry us a river."
"Hey, be cool," Khaleel said. "So... what's the problem?"
"Well... she's vain, and self-centered, and totally selfish, and she thinks everything is about her."
Klatu snorted. "And how is that different from my boss?"
"Or mine." Kasim murmured.
"No!" Heather said, becoming visibly irritated. "It's not like that! I mean, it's like she can't stand it unless all the attention is on her! Like here, there's this one really ugly scarred-up guy by the inn, you know?"
Paige: "Oh, yeah, Elzix." (in a sarcastic tone) "He's a real smoothie."
"He was just standing there telling her these totally outrageous things, and calling her 'babe' and things, and she was just standing there drinking it up! Like, once, she told me she had some boyfriends, but she left them? The first thing I thought was, 'Did you leave them, or did they leave you 'cause you were demanding too much attention?' I mean, it was so obvious! Everything she said about them was that they were paying attention to something besides her, and I know she so just could not take that! And this other time..."
While she went on, Khaleel ordered another round for the table. Kasim started to nod off until Khaleel shook him. "Hey, wake up."
Waking with a snort, Kasim looked around, then whispered, "Is she done whining yet?"
"Nah. Look, just pretend to be interested."
Kasim looked up at him. "What, you think we have a chance with her?"
Khaleel shrugged. "You never know. The odds are better if there's two girls at the merc's table instead of just one, know what I mean?"
"... and she was calling her breasts 'Man-catchers'! I mean, who names their breasts? That is so... I mean, they're just part of a woman's body! Why do guys go so ga-ga over breasts anyway? That is so weird!"
Paige: (smirks) "I think 'ga-ga' sums it up pretty well."
"That is a sound a baby makes," Klatu said.
Paige: (smirks some more) "Heather, it sounds like you've had a pretty rough time."
"Yeah, pretty bad," Khaleel smiled. "But, you know, I think you may be stronger than her."
There was a loud guffaw from Kasim, before he started coughing. Khaleel slapped him hard on the back. "Don't drink so fast, man. Anyway, Heather, you shouldn't let the fact that your boss is obnoxious get you down. Do that, and she'll win."
"Huh?" Heather said.
"I think what he means," Kasim said, "is that you need some kind of support group. You know, shoulders to cry on, like that."
Paige: "Hey, that's as nice idea."
"Yeah, a support group!" Khaleel smiled. "We'll be happy to help you out."
"Um, thank you," Heather smiled.
"I wish I had a support group," Klatu muttered into his beer. Paige: "Barbarians have support groups?"
"Of course. No man can make every kill alone."
The table went dead quiet for a moment. Finally, Kasim cleared his throat and said, "Hey, nice weather we're having, huh?"
"Yeah," Khaleel smiled. "Beautiful." Paige: "Oops! Here she comes!"
The four of them dove under the table, leaving Heather blinking on confusion, as Bodiccea walked in. "There you are! Listen, I got the quest, talked with Fara, Cain and Lysander, and the Mule left some jewelry in my stash. My resists are good; no way was I taking on Ancient Kaa with only 12% lightning resistance."
"Nothing for you yet, sorry. Hey, you were saying you need some more levels. How about we get to the sewers, and I don't kill anything. It's all skellies anyway, I hate skellies. You do all our business, except Radamant, I'll get him. Ok?"
"Great!" Bodiccea smiled. "Hey, who're all those butts sticking out from under the table?"
"Uh... they're drunk."
"Huh. Well, whatever. Let's hit the sewers."
"Are we going to be there a long time?"
"Probably, there's three levels. At least we'll be out of the sun for a while."
Heather nodded. "Yeah. You're starting to turn kind of red."
"So are you." Bodiccea grinned. "Think we should hire somebody to carry parasols?"
"Nah. That joke's been done."
"Yeah, you're probably right," Bodiccea laughed. "To the sewers!"
Lut Gholein's sewers are infamous. They go very deep and extend out a long way, far under the bay and out beyond where the city walls should be. Rain comes infrequently, so the wastes tend to stay where they are until the annual rains wash everything out. One good side effect is that there is little of the mold and mildew that makes other sewers unhealthy places, but the air is still foul and rank. Vermin of all kinds find a safe, cool home down there, even in the good times; in bad times, you can find much worse things than rats. There are two easily accessible entrances: a maintenance hatch in the upper city near the gates, and the main exit above the bay.
"Okay," Bodiccea said, wrinkling her nose. "There's three levels. Radamant the evil sewer mummy is on the deepest one, like always. We go through each level, clearing everything, and don't go down to the next until we're sure it's empty."
"Like usual," Heather nodded.
"Yeah. Now, Radamant is a big mummy, and they resurrect any undead they can see. He comes with a whole bunch of skellie mages and other guys, so when we figure out where he is, start luring followers away and killing them out of his sight."
"Just like with Shamans."
"Yep! The monsters are mostly fire skeletons, but there's always some others. Ok?"
"Sounds like usual," Heather smiled. "Um, what about... what we talked about?"
"Huh? When was this?"
"Just a few minutes ago. Since I'm kind of having a hard time getting any experience, I was wondering if, maybe, you could, um..."
"Oh, yeah, slow down a little. How about this: I stand in front of you and draw all the fire. You plink away, I don't hit anything. Leave the potions for me. Except Radamant: we have to kill him fast so he doesn't raise too many skellies. Ok?"
Not far from the entrance, they found Burning Dead archers, the first of many, no doubt. As agreed, Bodiccea moved out in front and stood there while Heather killed them. Her fire resistance was good, so the arrows didn't hurt much; a light healing cured all the burns. The next fight wasn't so good -- they didn't drop any healing potions, and Bodiccea was starting to get bored.
"Could you, like, speed it up a little? It's getting toasty up here."
"Sorry, I'm going as fast as I can!"
A Sand Raider approached. Bodiccea dodged another arrow, fidgeted in indecision, then ran up to the Raider and stabbed it with Bloodthief.
"Hey!" Heather said, running up. "You said you --"
"It's ok! I didn't kill it, I just wanted some hit points."
"Oh," Heather said, killing the Raider. "I guess it's ok if you do that."
Bodiccea grinned. "I can do that." Using Bloodthief, she went around the hall, Jabbing each skeleton and Raider once. A few died, but not many. Heather got most of them.
"Why are you using that spear?" she asked when it was done.
"Less damage, more leeching. How you doing on leveling?"
"Better, thanks. Think we can clear the level like this?"
Further on, they found some Dried Corpses, little mummies Bodiccea could leech from. She had to chide Heather for going through a corpse-gas cloud more than once.
"Heather, you gotta stop doing that. That stuff is murder on your lungs."
"Yeah, I know, I just keep walking into them."
"You walked all the way across the room to walk into that one!"
"I know... I couldn't help it. It was like some kind of compulsion."
"Look, if you like stinky smells, try sniffing one of those grates in floor. There's enough poo gas down there for anybody."
Heather laughed a little. "Sorry."
Because there were so many undead, Bodiccea put a couple of Eld runes in a long bow and gave that to Heather. The clear went a lot more quickly after that. The second level was even better for undead -- almost all Burning Dead and Burning Dead archers, with enough Sand Raiders to provide leeching. The sewer waypoint was near the stairs... convenient, if illogical. They found several charms of greed (man, are they common) and a suit of cheap chainmail.
"What are you going to do with that?" Heather asked.
"Sell it. Even crappy armor is worth money."
"I was wondering if you might have a bikini made out of it."
"Heather! I can NOT believe you'd think I'd do that. No, wait, I can see why you'd think that. Maybe..." Bodiccea paused for a moment, considering. "It is hot out..."
"I was kidding," Heather said, starting to look alarmed.
"Ok, ok," Bodiccea laughed. "It's too stereotypical anyway. Say, how do you think they justify all these Sand Raiders being down here, anyway? If Greiz's mercs are guarding the walls, how'd all these guys get in here?"
"Um... maybe they snuck in while Radamant was roaming the streets at night?"
Bodiccea laughed. "Makes as much sense as anything else."
"Like having three levels of sewers under a city in the desert?"
"Sure! Why not put a waypoint down there too? Horadrim mages love sewers."
By the time they got to the third level, Heather was 15th level, and Bodiccea 20th. Bodiccea started doing more of her own killing now. There were plenty of Burning Dead archers and Sand Raiders, but also Huntresses. Kitty girls, and bare-breasted too. "Tell me Bliz doesn't know its audience," Bodiccea thought. One Huntress was lightning enchanted, but Bodiccea Impaled her with Bloodthief and actually healed from it.
They found all kinds of strange equipment in the sewers: crystal swords, spiked shields, and some interesting light armors, but nothing either of them could really use. Heather was still getting most of the kills, and was learning to ignore her strange obsession with corpse gas. Up at Fara's, Bodiccea tried on some splint armor, and liked the look so much she immediately went out to check on the strength requirements for russet armor. Not out of reach... and the mule had a suit with three sockets. If only they had the runes for Lionheart...
Soon after finding a Shimmering Grand Charm of Inertia (wow, something vaguely useful) they found Radamant, wandering around in the least accessible corner of the level. Bodiccea switched to the fiery spear and ran right in.
"I thought we were going to lure the minions away," Heather said as she ran in after her.
"I got bored," Bodiccea replied, found Radamant, and backed him into a corner, jabbing her little heart out. Heather sighed and went to work on the dozen or so mages blasting away at them. Eventually, Radamant collapsed like a sack of wet groceries. Bodiccea checked the room for loot while Heather got the kills. "Here we go."
"The real reason for doing the Radamant quest: the Book o' Skillz. How they justify giving Radamant a book that has useful info for anyone who happens to kill him, I don't know. Oh, and a Horadric scroll. Hmm... give this to the Cain in Lut Gholein. Why does it say that?"
Heather shrugged. "Because that's where he is right now?"
"I dunno. Weird. Anyhoo, that's it for the sewers. Let's see how you're doing. 'O'!"
"Not too bad," Heather said, looking over her stats. "I'm more than halfway to level 16."
"Cool, you might make 18th by the time we're done with the Stony Tomb. For sure you'll be up and going for the Halls of the Dead, that's where things start getting dangerous."
"What's in there?"
"Dozens of mummies like Radamant, and more lesser undead than you can shake a stick at. Let's go out in the morning, I'm tired of being a pincushion right now."
"Ok. Um, you want to keep doing this until I'm 18th level?"
"Well, sure," Bodiccea nodded. "I don't want to leave you behind, girl. Once we get you a nice gemmed bow, you'll be doing ok."
"Ok. What kind of gems do you think it'll have: fire, cold, or lightning?"
"Probably all three. Anyway, let's get out of here."
Back at Atma's tavern, Atma expressed her undying gratitude for Bodiccea's daring deeds. It wound up meaning discount rates from the local merchants, not free beer. "Damn. A beer would be good right now."
"So buy one," Heather said.
Bodiccea tsked, and shook her head. "Heather! I am a hot blonde babe in a bar. I should NOT have to pay for my own drinks! Sometimes, I think you don't understand anything at all. It's like you've been living in a monastery or something."
"Um, yeah." After looking around, Heather pointed out Geglash. "Maybe that guy will buy you a beer."
With a laugh, Bodiccea sat down on a bar stool, one leg crossed over the other. "How about it, sailor? Buy a girl a drink?"
"Huh?" Geglash looked around. "Are you talking to me? Lady, I'm no sailor! I don't even like to drink water!"
"See? Nobody even notices me," Bodiccea pouted theatrically. "I guess no one here is MAN enough to be interested in one deprived... restless... LONELY Amazon. Fine! I'll pay for my own drink, and go to bed. ALONE."
"There is one thing..." Atma said from behind the bar.
"My drinks are free?" Bodiccea grinned.
"No. I must ask you to put out your spear, it's about to set the ceiling on fire."
"Well, phoo. I suppose I shouldn't expect a party: there's only 5 people here, and most of them are already out of it. I'll just go to bed. 'Night, Heather."
As she left, the group collapsed on the tavern's long table looked up. "Heather!" Khaleel said. "C'mon over."
"Hi, guys," Heather smiled. "How's it going?"
Kasim shrugged. "Same old, same old."
Paige: "Things working out any better?"
"Um, kind of. We went through the sewers. For most of it, she was actually pretty cool. I thought she wouldn't let me kill anything 'cause she wouldn't want to give up the spotlight, but she just stood there and took all those arrows for me."
"Weird," Kasim said. "My boss always made me tank."
"She surrendered glory to you," Kasim shrugged. "She must hold you in some esteem."
"Well, she did ignore our plan and take down Radamant by herself."
Kasim chuckled. "Nice little drama queen act here in the bar, too."
Paige: (rolls eyes) "You noticed that, huh?"
"Hard not to," Khaleel said. "But everything about her is hard not to notice. So, tomorrow it's out to the Rocky Wastes. Got any plans?"
"Yeah. She's going to keep letting me make kills until I'm 18th level."
Paige: "Oh, good. I think I see a 6-socket bow with perfect gems in your future."
"Yeah! Is that good?"
Khaleel smiled. "I'm not much for weapons, but with one of those, you sure won't have to worry about falling behind. Most likely, you'll have a new problem with her."
Khaleel grinned. "Jealousy."
"Oh," Heather nodded. "Really?"
Paige: "I think so too."
Slowly, Heather started to smile. "Ok, I'll want to see that."
In the morning, Elzix knocked on Bodiccea's door. "Wakey, wakey!"
"It's your wake-up call, Ms. Bodiccea."
"Oh. Oog. Don't come in, I'm naked."
"What was that? I can't hear you, let me open the door so I can hear better."
"Don't you dare!" Bodiccea slammed her foot into the door, an easy reach from her bed in the small room.
The door, which had never moved, thudded in its frame. "Damn!" Elzix stage-whispered, snapping his fingers. "I gotta learn to open the door before I say that."
"Too slow," she laughed. "Poor baby."
"Yeah. Still, I can say I got to knock you up in the morning."
"Hey! Don't even think about it!"
"Aw, man. Can't I think about it just a little?"
"Oh, all right. Just don't make me start smacking you around."
"Stop it! It's too early. Besides, I never fight people who look like you, you've got nothing left to lose."
"Don't I know it. Listen, Lord Jerhyn wants to talk to you, and that old fart too."
"Which old fart?"
"The one with no hair."
"Oh, Cain. I forgot to give him the scroll. Fine." Yawning loudly, Bodiccea snuggled up to her pillow one last time, then pushed out of bed. "Good concierge, bring me two bran muffins with butter, a glass of orange juice, and a bowl of melon slices."
"We don't have room service here. Or a kitchen."
"So? Bring me two bran muffins with butter, a glass of orange juice, and a bowl of melon slices, or I'll kick your ass."
Elzix laughed. "We reserve the right to refuse service to bitchy customers."
"That's Miss Bitch to you! Never mind, I'll get my own breakfast. Have you seen Heather?"
"That Rogue with you? Not since yesterday."
"Where's she wandered off to?" Bodiccea grumbled, and pulled her gear on before going out to look.
It took some looking, but she eventually found Heather sitting on a pyramid of tiles, looking up at a web page being displayed over her head.
"Hey, Heather. Whatcha doing?"
"I was just looking up perfect gem properties. Some of them are really nice."
Suddenly, the tiles and the web page switched positions. A pair of tiles with 9 odd little characters on it disappeared, then a pair showing southward-blowing winds. Heather had to jump when the flower tile she was sitting on vanished. "Hey!"
"Watch out!" Bodiccea grabbed Heather's arm. "It's getting kind of hazardous here. Let's get back home. We're gonna be going out again soon anyway."
They hopped over a tile with 5 little pillboxes on it, crawled through the monitor cable, and in a flash, found themselves back in Lut Gholein. Jerhyn was outside his palace, and smiled as they approached. "Greetings!"
"Hi, cutie," Bodiccea smiled. "The conquering heroine has returned. So, what's my reward going to be? Gold? Jewels? Or maybe just the hand of a fair prince?"
"Heh. I had hoped to share some of my concerns with you, and impart to you knowledge which will aid you on your quest."
"Knowledge? What would I do with that?"
"You've never needed it before," Heather said.
"Besides, I'm a natural blonde! I hardly have anyplace to put it!" Bodiccea laughed.
Jerhyn cleared his throat. "Some time ago, a mysterious cloaked wanderer came to the city, asking after the location of the tomb of Tal Rasha --"
"Which is long lost out in the deepest deserts, you suspect this dude was Diablo, time is running out, yeah sure. Jehry baby, I know you're trying your hardest, but you just look too scrumptious for me to take you seriously..."
Jerhyn sighed, rubbing his temples. "Perhaps you could speak to my advisor, Drognan."
"Nah, I already have one babbling old guy following me around trying to tell me stuff. Now, Jerhyn..." Bodiccea said, licking her lips and breathing in so deep the straps on her leathers groaned, "be reasonable about this. I know exactly what we both want. Why fight it? Your palace isn't in such hot shape, but the upper floors are just fine, and I'm sure there are some nice bedrooms up there someplace..."
"Hey," Heather pointed, "is that Cain coming over here?"
"What?" Bodiccea looked. "He never comes here, he can't move this far. Now --" While she was distracted, Jerhyn had gone back inside the palace. "Hey!" she said, "get back out here! I'm not finished with you yet!"
Kaelan stood firm at the door. "You may not pass."
"I'll make passes at whoever I want to! Heather, you distracted me!"
"I'm sorry, I really thought it was him," Heather said unconvincingly. "He must be worried that you haven't brought him the scroll from Radamant yet."
Bodiccea groaned. "Look, we both know what the scroll says. Oh, never mind, I'll talk to Cain. But I will get that boy."
As they walked towards the marketplace, Heather asked, "Why? I mean, he doesn't like you that much."
"He's just playing hard to get so I'll save his city for him. Like I wouldn't anyway, I need to get to the Arcane Sanctuary. Let's see what Cain has to say."
"Ah!" Cain said as they showed him the scroll. "The lost Horadric Scroll! Only I have the knowledge to decipher the Horadric runes it bears. Hmm..."
Heather frowned a little. "Um, shouldn't that be 'a' lost Horadric scroll?"
"I wondered about that too," Bodiccea smirked. "You'd figure the world's greatest wizards could write more than one thing..."
"This is most fortunate!" Cain beamed. "Radamant, it seems, witnessed the entombment of Tal Rasha, and while he has not recorded where to find the tomb, he does describe how to enter it! A Horadric staff is needed to break the seal. Unfortunately for us, all the Horadric staves were destroyed long ago by breaking them into shaft and headpiece."
"Yeah. Man! Horadric Staff, Horadric Malus, Horadric this, Horadric that. What DIDN'T those guys do, anyway?"
"Very little," Cain smiled with pride. "The Horadrim were a shining --"
"-- light in the darkness of ignorance and evil. We know. Here's the plan: get a Horadric staff, de-virginize Tal's tomb, go in there, and whack the first thing we see."
Heather looked openly appalled. "De-virginize?"
Bodiccea grinned. "Sure. We have to go out and get a staff, since neither one of us has one. We get the shaft, and a little head, then find the socket where it fits and shove it in to break the seal. All that and a pretty light show, too."
"A little headpiece."
"Ah, yes..." Cain muttered. "Should you find a Horadric Staff's headpiece and shaft, they may be reunited using a Horadric --"
"Horadric Duct Tape?"
"Horadric Safety Pins?"
"The Horadric Hot Glue Gun? Martha Stewart recommends it."
"No! The Horadric Cube is an alchemical tool, and the only way the shaft and headpiece may be rejoined while preserving their enchantments!"
Bodiccea slapped her forehead. "A Horadric Cube! Holy mackerel! Where EVER could we find one of those?"
"Miss Bodiccea," Heather said, "please stop being mean to Mr. Cain."
"I'm meaner to myself, Heather."
"I don't think so..."
"You try smacking yourself in the forehead wearing heavy gauntlets. Ow..."
"It wouldn't be so bad if you'd wear a helmet."
"They're all ugly, Heather. I have an image to maintain."
Cain slowly sighed. "It seems you will have as little use for my knowledge here as you did back in the Rogue pass. Locating even one piece of a Horadric Staff is unlikely. Finding the matching piece would be nearly impossible, and without a Horadric Cube, all would be for naught."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Bodiccea gave Cain a little hug. "Don't worry. We'll find a staff and a cube somewhere. We'll just have to explore a little."
"I hope so," Cain smiled. "Diablo seeks his brother, to free him from his prison! Should they be reunited, they will journey to the east to meet the eldest of The Three, Mephisto. You must stop them, at any cost, or the world will be consumed by --"
Bodiccea nodded. "Yes, all right, Cain, thank you! Now, I have to get busy. This is going to take a while, ok?"
"Of course, of course! You must be off to hunt for Diablo, who even now searches the desert sands for --"
"Yes, you said that already. Now, gotta go."
"Yes! Haste is absolutely vital! Should Diablo find --"
"That's why I have to go now! Bye!"
"Ah... ahem. Good luck!" Cain yelled as Bodiccea sprinted for the city gates, Heather close behind.
In the Rocky Wastes, Bodiccea and Heather found skeletal bodies right outside Lut Gholein's gates. They had to pre-date Diablo, they were just bones, so it was strange that they'd be left out within sight of the gates like that. As soon as the walls were out of sight, a pack of Slingers and a unique Sand Leaper jumped them. Cat People throwers seem to be boys. The Leapers were even more annoying than usual -- Bodiccea's first jab would knock them back so the next two missed. When she tried to use Impale, they responded by hitting her, then jumping away before her blow landed. The boss didn't die until she got him up against a wall and could Jab him to death.
The next fight was a cold enchanted Dung Soldier. They smelled pretty bad, but hitting them was worse. Even Impaling with Bloodthief, it hurt. When it died, the cold nova got both of them, so it was healing potions all around, then on to the next fight: some Carrion Birds. These guys weren't so dangerous, so Bodiccea let Heather do all the killing again. For whatever reason, she could not shoot them until they landed, which is still strange. They dropped exploding potions, another bizarre Blizzardism: worth a lot of money, but useless in every other respect.
In a far corner of the Wastes, near a wrecked wagon and several human bodies, Bodiccea did a strange thing. "Ew! I stepped on a bug!"
"No, look at that thing! It's HUGE! Ew, there's more of them! EW, THEY'RE EATING THE DEAD ONE!!"
"Um, bugs do that. What about those lightning beetles earlier?"
"Oh, those are just demons. But that is a BIG, UGLY BUG!"
"I don't see what you're getting so upset about. Those are good-sized bugs, but they're just bugs. They're all over town."
Bodiccea's eyes widened. "They are?"
"Sure. Haven't you looked at the ground when we're in town? They're all over the place."
"EW!!!" Bodiccea jumped away from the growing cluster of bugs, carefully watching where she stepped.
Heather stared at her, shaking her head. "What about all the bats and rats and things in those other caves we've been in?"
"Oh, bats are kind of cute. They're fuzzy. But bugs are just icky!"
"Miss Bodiccea, sometimes, you're really weird."
Inside the Stony Tomb, they advanced forward, Bodiccea gingerly stepping over the beetles and scorpions. The only monsters were Skeletons, Burning Dead mages and Horrors, black skeletons that aren't that horrible at all. Here's a tip: if you're making a game and you name some monster a Horror, make sure it's something genuinely scary. They wandered around the small upper level, opening doors and kicking lots of urns. Bodiccea spent most fights standing still while Heather plinked away. In an embalming chamber, Heather finally reached level 17, and some new gear was waiting back in town: the unique chainmail Sparkling Mail, and the unique full helm Duskdeep, along with a note.
-- The Mule"
The last room was a room o' coffins: a whole bunch of them in a big X in the middle of the room. Four had Burning dead mages hiding inside, and one decent item: a druid pelt with +3 to Shock Wave and +2 to Maul and Hunger. No sockets, but that could be arranged. A werebear would like that, and since Bodiccea knew a werebear, she kept it for muling.
After a long dash across the wastes, they were in the Dry Hills, looking for the waypoint. A multi-shot Spear Cat met them at the entrance, throwing potions. By the way, explosive potions work about as well on characters as they do on monsters, even multiple ones. Cave Leapers and Undead Scavengers came behind them. Heather was killing things quicker, but the crowd got so thick that Bodiccea had to switch to Bloodthief and start killing; soon, blood from Open Wounds covered the hills like a big red afghan. After a fierce and bloody battle, the kitty dropped... their 19th charm of greed so far. Bleah.
Scooting along the wall which separated her first bi-level area (a neat idea, actually) into halves, they found the Halls of the Dead and the waypoint right next to each other. A convenient arrangement, that. Bodiccea decided to clear the area and leave the Halls for tomorrow. They found a few more things. Two pretty flying scimitars appeared out of an urn near a ruined house. A pack of champion Spear Cats, all lime green, dropped several chipped and flawed gems along with some rejuves. And finally... FINALLY... Heather hit 18th level when she killed the last Leaper in the whole area. A long battle bow studded with six perfect gems fell out of the sky and bonked off her head.
"Woo hoo!" Bodiccea yelled, clapping her hands. "You got it!"
"Wow," Heather said, and grabbed the bow. "How much damage am I doing?"
"Let's see. 'O'!"
Silently, they gazed at the left half of the screen. "Whoa," Bodiccea finally said.
"Whoa," Heather agreed.
"I think you're doing twice as much damage as me."
"'C'! Yeah, almost exactly twice as much."
"Whoa. Yeah. But, you hit three times to my one, so you're ok."
"Uh, yeah. I hope so. Well, I'll get some good stuff when I hit 25 and can start using exceptionals. Only four more levels to go."
Heather shrugged and smiled. "That's not long."
"No... and from here, you have to find your own kills. I'm not holding back anymore."
"Kind of figured you wouldn't. Want to hit the Halls?"
Bodiccea shook her head. "Nah, it's been a long day. Let's do the Halls in the morning."
Right after breakfast, Bodiccea and Heather hit the waypoint and went straight to the Halls of the Dead. A faint moan could be heard as they stepped into the darkness, warning of the unquiet dead who skulked within. Or maybe it was just the morning sun warming the air, making it expand and blow through the entrance. Whatever, four Decayed were shambling around off to their right as they came in. As Bodiccea ran to get them, an arrow charged with hefty doses of fire, cold and lightning twanged over her shoulder and turned the first mummy into a fine green mist. She moved to the second, and again a bowstring sang; the second mummy survived, but while Bodiccea was killing it, Heather took down the third. The fourth mummy's eyes bugged out (unless they were like that to start with) and it shambled off at its best speed. Bodiccea chased it through the green clouds, but just as she reached it, a final arrow reduced it to chunky leathery bits on the floor.
As Bodiccea coughed and swore to herself, Heather said, "Remember, Ms. B, you have to stay out of the poison clouds."
Sputtering, Bodiccea said, "Oh, ha! Ok, that was well done. Very good. I see you don't need any more help from me, so from now on, don't expect me to go easy on you."
Heather shook her head. "Nope."
"Cause I'm not, you know. Going to go easy on you, I mean."
Heather nodded. "Ok."
"You'll have to find your own kills from now on, I'm not gonna wait around for you."
Bodiccea frowned. "What's with that look?"
Blinking innocently, Heather said, "Huh?"
"Don't give me that, you were looking at me like... something."
"Yeah. So... don't do it again."
"Don't do what again?"
"What you were doing!"
Heather nodded silently, and they went out into the tomb's main corridor.
The main corridor, it turned out, ran the entire length of the Halls' first floor, from a storage room on one end all the way to the down stairs. It wasn't a very big level, but Hollow Ones and their skeletal troupes were spaced very evenly along the corridor's entire length. Each was just close enough to its brother that when Bodiccea used the usual tactic of running around the skeletons to reach the greater mummy, the next one down the line would notice and send its servants to help.
Bodiccea killed the first greater, started getting bogged down at the second, but by the time she'd reached the third, she was completely surrounded by skeletons and lesser mummies. Two Hollow Ones, one from the main corridor and one in a side passage, were pelting her with unholy bolts and busily raising each others minions. She was getting knocked around a bit, but not too badly, so she gritted her teeth and started slowly punching a hole in the wall of minions, working her way towards one of the mummies.
Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, a super-charged arrow flew out of the darkness behind her, and a skeleton instantly shattered. More arrows flew as Bodiccea Jabbed; in less time than it takes to say it, she was free to charge and kill first one Hollow One, then the other. More lesser undead came in response, but now there was room to retreat, so they drew them back out of sight of their masters and got rid of them.
"Are you ok?"
"I'm FINE. I was doing just fine."
"Are you sure? They kind of had you surrounded, and I read that most characters who 'tank' try to wear something heavier than leather."
"My armor is FINE. I LIKE the leathers. I'll get something stronger when I'm a high enough level for exceptional gear. Ok?"
"Sure, ok. But I read this guide, and they recommended --"
"I'm not following a guide, Heather. We don't need a guide, we're only in Normal difficulty. Only complete weenies can't handle Normal. I can survive for a few levels, then I get some Trellised armor."
"Have you at least tried wearing a breastplate?"
"Yes. The shoulder plates are too big. When they're sitting on top of my chest, you can barely see my head."
The corners of Heather's mouth began to twitch. "Um... ok."
"Nothing. Where do we go now?"
After looking at her suspiciously, Bodiccea pointed down the side passage. "Let's look down there. I'm sick of resurrecters, and this hallway is crawling with them."
"I'll go first."
"'Cause that chainmail kind of slows you down, you know?"
"Yeah, a little. It's nice and safe, though."
An embalming chamber, with a central area set off by a barrier, lay at the end of the passage. Skeletons gathered in the door as they approached. Normally, Bodiccea would draw them away before going around, but that would give Heather time to catch up, so she ran into the snarled mass of bones and started Jabbing. Despite all her efforts, she didn't make much progress before Heather arrived and killed them. While Bodiccea was in the corner killing the greater mummy, Heather went to work on some lightning bats and lesser mummies who'd gathered on the other side of the barrier. Weird how bats can't seem to fly over a four-foot fence in the Diablo universe. While Heather efficiently cleared out the last of the bad guys, Bodiccea stood and waited, glaring at her.
When the chamber was empty, Heather smiled and dusted her hands together. "All done!"
Bodiccea didn't smile. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
Not quite suppressing a grin, Heather shrugged. "Well..."
"Come on! You can admit it. I won't kill you."
Grinning, Heather said, "It really feels good to know I'm contributing something! I mean, no one wants to just be there, not doing any good. Now, I feel like I could take on the world, and really help you on the quest."
From Bodiccea's expression, it was obvious that she didn't believe a word of it. But she smiled. "Great. My little artillery piece. I'll do better when I get Fend and an exceptional spear."
Heather nodded. "Yeah, you've kind of mentioned that. How long until you're high enough level?"
"Fend is at 24th, and the spear is at 25th. I'm almost 22nd now."
"That's not too long."
"No," Bodiccea smugly said, and started looting the chamber. "There's only one direction yet to do, so the stairs have to be that way."
"Uh-huh. Will the second level be this small too?"
"Probably. The monsters might be different. Like it matters."
"Well, the big mummies matter."
"Yeah, they're annoying and uniques can be dangerous. Anyway, let's go."
The last room had the stairs down, and three Hollow Ones. The battle was a completely one sided mopping-up, and as usual Heather did most of the mopping. Urns were scattered all over, making it hard for the monsters to maneuver. Bodiccea kicked them over, which was something Heather couldn't do -- she shot over them, using them as barricades. Bowazons are such a pain, Bodiccea thought... then she noticed Heather was stuck in the door. It made her laugh. Maybe she needed some grease for that enormous swollen head.
On the second level, they met a pack of Spear Cats near the entrance. They used javelins, not potions, and so were a little more dangerous. Beyond that, it was all Greater Mummies and skeletons. They found the waypoint quickly (makes more sense to put one in a tomb than a sewer) and then ran into a cold enchanted Spear Cat. As usual, Bodiccea left the boss for last so the death nova wouldn't be too much of an inconvenience. She hit level 22 killing the last minion, and was about to go kill a Hollow One further back in the hall when a frost nova announced the Cat's sudden and unwelcome demise.
"Damn it, Heather!" Bodiccea screamed, slowly stumbling through a crowd of maniacally slashing skeletons, "You leave a cold enchanted boss for last!"
"Sorry, I didn't see those guys! I just shot him a few times, and... he kind of died."
Bodiccea kept going down the corridor, grumbling something about the table manners, social graces, maternal ancestry, and sexual preferences of Rogues in general and snotty little bowazon Rogues in particular. After killing the Hollow One, she came back. Heather had already killed the skeletons. "I'm sorry, but I did not see them!"
"Couldn't you at least have the courtesy to need arrows or something?!"
"I'm sorry, but magic arrows are one of the gifts of the Sightless Eye."
"I guess it is a sightless eye, you can't see squat."
Heather took a deep breath, and slowly let it out. "Maybe if you read one of the guides."
"Heather, forget the guides. We do not need a guide, even if most of them didn't call for uber-leet gear we haven't got and won't get anytime soon."
"Um... well, yeah, I guess. None of the mules have a Titan's Revenge, a Windforce, or a Buriza. Those are about the only weapons any of the guides mentioned."
"Tell me about it. When people talk Amazons, does anybody mention spears? Nooooooo! Does anybody complain that all the lightning spear skills are buggy? Why bother? Amazons don't use spears! Everybody knows we're all javazons or bowazons. 'What are spears? Oh, you mean those pointy sticks Whirlwind Barbs used to use?' Bleah."
"Well... have you considered just chucking the spear and getting a decent bow? It would make this so much easier..."
Bodiccea stared, wide-eyed, then screamed "RIGHT! THAT'S IT! CONFERENCE!!"
After grabbing Heather, Bodiccea stomped back to find the others. Everyone was waiting for them in a large cage set in the middle of a room with stone walls. Strange creatures with bodies made of flat, colored surfaces were wandering around the narrow aisle surrounding the cage. Some looked like evil knights, or fiery lizards on two legs, or pointy-fingered Vampires handsomer than the ones in Diablo II -- but not by much.
"He--" Thaddeus began.
"It's like this:" Bodiccea interrupted, "I can't do a thing with my merc since she got new gear. She has gotten snotty, and uppity, and she won't do what I need her to do, and just now, just now, she told me I need to drop MY weapon of choice and follow her lead. Can you believe the NERVE of that?"
"We--" he continued.
"She thinks that just because SHE'S suddenly killing everything right and left that SHE'S entitled to take the lead in this little quest! All I am doing is trying to clear the Halls of the Dead and get the damn cube, she WILL NOT support me, and then to top it all off, she thinks I'd be better off as a bowazon! A BOWAZON!!"
"I'm just saying you could follow one of the guides..."
"I am NOT following a GUIDE! We don't have the gear, I don't have the patience, and YOU don't start telling ME what to do!"
"So your merc is outclassing you," Xanthippe smirked. "Suck it up."
"Well, you had that happen," Bodiccea sneered, "but that's because you're a Sorceress."
"Yeah, and what's your excuse?"
"Well said," Tearlach grinned. "Put to shame by a mercenary, and a slip of a girl at that! Are all of your kind so weak?"
There was a palpable silence. Amanita finally said, "Wow, your family jewels grew back bigger than ever, didn't they?"
"Hey, why are you people talking about something besides me?!" Bodiccea whined. "I'm the one with the problem!"
"You got that right!" Xanthippe said, her face darkening. "And you're going to have even more if you don't keep your grabby little paws of Jerhyn!"
"Jeebus, who lit the fuse on your tampon? It's so obvious he likes me better."
What tedium has been my lot! Bearing witness to the Amazon's unamusing antics was nearly intolerable. Her assault on little Lordling Jerhyn's chastity was an unmatched masterpiece of single entendre; even the Barbarian's efforts to attach himself to some poor, undeserving female did not sink to such depths of inanity. Her complaints are, of course, without merit. Dear little Heather has outdistanced her for the moment, but it is the place of servants to kill when it is required, and competence in this limited field should not be frowned upon. That she has seen fit to talk back to her mistress is the consequence of lax discipline and nothing more. B is so undisciplined herself, it is no shock to learn that she is incapable of disciplining her servant. My own servants have learned better than to question me.
Paige: (whispers) "Wow! You were awesome!"
Heather grinned a little, and whispered, "Thanks."
"Hell, yeah!" Kasim grinned. "Show those damn heroes who's boss."
"Eh, she didn't do so bad," Klatu shrugged.
"Not so bad?" Khaleel laughed. "She's totally pwning blondie."
Paige: (looks confused) "I'm still not sure how you pronounce that word."
Khaleel smirked. "Hey, some of us have the art."
Klatu nodded. "It has too few vowels."
"Maybe it's Welsh," Kasim muttered.
"Bodiccea," Thaddeus sighed, "you may be overreacting."
"No, no, no, no, NO!" Bodiccea squealed, stamping her feet. "Heather is trying to steal the game away from me! Whose name is on the save file? Mine! Who gets the quests, moves things in inventory, and assigns stat points? Me!"
"Yes, and? Mizor, stay away from the bars. They may think you're trying to escape." Mizor: "Hrrruff." (Hefts maul and snorts at the funny-looking people walking by outside.)
"So Heather is killing everything and hogging the spotlight!"
"So get rid of her," Amanita said, and smiled. "Just admit to the world that your merc is totally outclassing you, you can't compete, and hire somebody else."
"I am not outclassed!" Bodiccea huffed. "This is only temporary."
"Then why are you complaining?"
After taking a deep breath, Bodiccea calmly said, "'Cause I like complaining."
"She speaks truth," Varnae guffawed. "Now, if only..." His words trailed off. Outside the cage, a woman as erotic as polygons can be had wandered by. Her skin was pale and barely covered in tight black leather. Over one hand was a steel blade, bound to her wrist. She spun in place, her icy gaze raking over the heroes, before shimmying away with a cruel laugh. Varnae stood frozen, then staggered towards the cell door. "I'm home."
"You are not," Xanthippe said, tripping him. "Stay in the cage."
"But you don't understand! I've finally found my home!"
"Varnae, they'd torture and kill you," Thaddeus said.
"Would they? Would they really?"
Mizor: (The pale man is breathing funny again. I wish he'd stop doing that, it gives me the jibblies.)
"Never mind," Thaddeus said with obvious disgust. "Bodiccea, you are making too much of this. Your mercenary has some excellent gear now; that is all. In the end, it will not matter which of you killed the most. The quest is the important thing."
"I know!" Bodiccea grinned. "I'm just blowing off steam. C'mon, Heather! Let's go find the Cube. There's a lot of potions taking up my stash. I wanna make some rejuves."
"Sure," Heather smiled. "So you don't care that I do twice as much damage as you?"
"Sure I do! You just wait until I gain a few levels. Then we'll see who's dishing out the hurt!"
After they left, Thaddeus sighed. "Well, that was pointless."
"Ha!" Tearlach laughed. "Nothing ever came of listening to a woman's complaints. Let this be a lesson to you, tin man!"
Thaddeus thought for a moment. "Do you think we could invite Kashya here?"
"Mmmmmmaybe," Amanita slowly smiled. "They have a torture chamber."
"Uh huh!" Xanthippe craned her neck to look through a doorway. "It's a big one!"
Varnae tsked. "What a shame it would be to see all those instruments of pain used on someone so ill-equipped to appreciate them."
"As opposed to who, deadboy?" Tearlach snorted. "Spiked wheels and hot coals hold no terror for one such as I."
"How about Kashya in spiked kneepads?" Xanthippe asked.
"She surprised me once," Tearlach nodded. "But she was right to strike me. My lack of ambition angered her. I should never have shown my face before I had my kingdom."
Silence fell audibly. Everyone stared at Tearlach. He nodded, deep in thought, then left. Amanita finally murmured, "The male ego knows no bounds, does it?"
"I beg your pardon," Thaddeus said. "That was what we call 'denial'."
"Then he could be Cleopatra. That's it. I'm going to bed."
"Anybody gonna catch the rest of 'Blondie decks the Halls'?"
Bodiccea and Heather quickly cleared the rest of level 2 of the Halls of the Dead. There wasn't much there, apart from charm of greed #20, so they headed down to level 3 to find the cube. Unlike the previous levels, open rooms were fairly uncommon down here, but there were several ring-shaped corridors and some dead ends. Spear Cats and sparky desert bats rounded out the usual complement of Greater Mummies and skeletons. The moved quickly, Bodiccea forever darting ahead to kill a mummy or some annoying javelin cat, and Heather coming up behind and laying waste to everything else.
In one ring-shaped corridor, they found their first Mummy Sarcophagus. She always wanted to know what goes on inside those damned things, so after they cleared the hall, Bodiccea got Heather to stop shooting and looked inside. Her suspicious were confirmed: a tiny little factory was packed in there. A conveyer belt brought in busted mummies from throughout the tomb. A gaggle of midget Necromancers was frantically slapping bits together with duct tape, animating whatever pile o' parts resulted, and shoving them out the door -- a genuine monster garage. Bodiccea jumped in, kicked over the conveyer belt, and bound the Necros up tight with their own tape. "Ok, boys, that's a wrap!"
Level 3 of the Halls flew by quickly. Bodiccea had a lot to do with that. She was trying so hard to outdistance Heather, she kept forgetting to make sure the mummy was dead before she moved on to its skeletons. A fight with a unique Hollow One was actually less frantic. It had a Holy Fire aura, nothing dangerous, so Bodiccea went straight in, trying to kill it before Heather got there. She didn't succeed, but Heather was nice enough to concentrate on the minions anyway.
The last room on the level was the treasure chamber, with the Cube in the golden chest of joy. First, they had to kill Bloodwitch the Wild... an extra-fast kitty girl with a whip. Sigh... There was only one Greater Mummy in the chamber, and a few other Spear Cats, all easily dispatched. Cain was overjoyed to see the cube, and immediately opened it and started explaining its many functions.
"You have an quite a treasure here! It amazes me that you found one, though perhaps I should not be surprised. Most of the Horadrim were entombed here in Aranoch, their bodies altered mystically and surgically to allow them to guard their tombs after death."
"Yeah, we ran into some of them," Bodiccea said. "So, why weren't they all buried in the Valley of the Magi?"
"Many wizards and sages were united under the banner of the Horadrim. Were the valley large enough to hold all their tombs, it would not have been lost so easily."
And Blizz thought Greater Mummies were so kewl, they had to stick the stupid annoying resurrecting bastards in practically every tomb in the act, she thought. But Cain was still talking: "There are many alchemical formulae for the cube. For example, 6 gems and a sword will make a socketed long sword!"
"Sorry, not anymore. I wonder, why'd they even have that recipe? It's not like anybody ever WANTED a socketed long sword back in the day, and even less so now."
"Hmm..." Cain's eyebrows knitted together, then he coughed a bit and continued. "Two quivers of arrows can make a quiver of bolts! And likewise, two quivers of bolts will make a quiver or arrows!"
"Now that's not so bad," Bodiccea grinned. "If either of us used arrows or bolts, that is."
Heather said, "I've heard that if you use a crossbow, you tend to find a lot more arrows than bolts. I wonder if they set it up like that?"
"Sure," Bodiccea laughed. "Just like Anya always gives Spearazons a bow, Bowazons a set of javelins, and Javazons a spear."
Cain frowned. "I am very sorry, but sometimes I really cannot understand you. It is as though we are simply not communicating. Regardless, the cube is yours. I leave it up to you to discover other formulae."
"I know one," Bodiccea said. "Three rejuves make a full rejuve. I'm going to start using that one right now: I want room in my stash, and some big purples on my belt."
"A wise precaution," Cain said. "Alchemy is certainly the most widely used of the magical arts. Other techniques are limited to those with special gifts, but anyone --"
"Ok, thanks. Bye!"
"Ah, er... yes. You are always welcome to stay a while and listen. Hrm."
After consolidating a lot of purple fun juice (isn't it amazing how the cube even makes a new bottle for you?) Bodiccea and Heather took the waypoint back to the Dry Hills. They'd cleared it the night before, and Bodiccea wasn't interested in clearing it again, so she started the long run towards the Far Oasis entrance. It wasn't that late yet, so they could at least find the waypoint. Most of the monsters couldn't catch her... but one did, an extra-fast Saber Cat. It and its minions quickly blocked her path, and as more Saber Cats came up from behind, Bodiccea was quickly surrounded. Most of them were still alive when Heather caught up; her help cleared the crowd away in no time.
"I coulda taken 'em," Bodiccea said.
Heather shook her head. "Are we going to start that again? You don't have to do it all yourself! I'm here to help you!"
"I... yeah. And I'll get better armor. 25th level, 25th level..."
Bodiccea picked up charm of greed #21, and they moved on. The Far Oasis was nasty. Along with the wrecked wagons, human corpses, and pools of evil black water, there were bugs by the million. Some of them flew in single-minded swarms to suck your blood away. And the noise... there's a little corner of Hell somewhere that sounds exactly like that. Bodiccea let Heather kill them while she took on a pack of lightning beetles, and thought she was getting the better end of the bargain. There were also Black Raptors and Undead Scavengers, but those didn't bother her in the least.
The Itchies dropped a couple of nice Voulges, some splint armor, gold coins, and all kinds of other heavy things. The joys of random drops. After searching about half of the upper part of the area, they finally found the waypoint and the entrance to the Maggot Lair, right next to each other. Very convenient; random maps can work out for you sometimes.
"So, are we going in? It's not too late."
Bodiccea's lip curled. "Nah, it's late enough. Let's go home. We can come back later with some bug bombs."
"You mean throwing potions? I thought you hated those."
"Yeah. I really wish Blizz hadn't screwed up so bad with those, a potion pitcher might have been a fun build. Or if they're gonna be weak, give somebody a skill that boosts 'em a little."
"I dunno. The Assassin, maybe. Some traps work like you throw 'em."
"Maybe. Um... you're not just procrastinating about going into the Maggot Lair 'cause you don't like bugs, are you?"
After a longish pause, Bodiccea said, "Heather, am I gonna have to smack you?"
Heather shrugged. "Ok. We can come back tomorrow."
Bodiccea almost seemed to be in a hurry to get back to the Maggot Lair. She was -- she wanted to get it over with. Who wouldn't be eager to put the most mucus-enhanced map in the whole damned game behind her? Not long after dawn, they squeezed through the slimy entrance tube and had a look around. The first chamber had a few funeral urns, two Desert Eagle mercs slimed to the floor, and a goo ball that spit out an ethereal Brandistock when they popped it. There was only one exit, so they took it.
The next chamber was very small, and full of two things: urns, and a Stone Skin Rock Worm. There had to be over 20 of them in there; kicking pots out of the way took more time than killing the unique, especially after Heather caught up. She hung back and kept out of trouble like a good Rogue should, but by the time the room was clear, Bodiccea was literally dripping with venomous green slime. Once it was safe, she spit to clear slime away from her mouth, screamed "EWWW!!" and ran back outside to the waypoint.
"Ms. B?" Heather yelled, chasing her back towards the inn, "we need to finish the lair!"
"Not until I get a bath!"
"They don't have bathtubs at the inn!"
Bodiccea stopped. "What? There has to be a bath!"
"Um, this is a desert. They don't take baths here. There's not enough water."
"AIEEE!" Bodiccea gibbered, bits of slime dripping off her to sizzle on the pavement. "THIS IS DISGUSTING!!!"
"It'll probably dry up and flake off. See? It's drying up already."
"Heather! Being covered in DRIED bug snot isn't any better!"
"Look, I'm sorry, but you know, those bugs don't have much range. Maybe..."
"No, Heather. I am not switching to a bow. I know it would make you happy, but uh-uh."
"Well... ok, if you think that's a good idea..."
"Don't even try that ploy on me, Heather. I got enough of that from my mom."
"Did she use a bow?"
"Javelins. Aw jeebus, I'm crackling."
"Yuck," Heather agreed, watching bits of green mucus flake off Bodiccea every time she moved. "Um... what do you have against bows anyway?"
"I've got nothing against bows. It's the people who use them. Snotty little witches who got the good skills and all the best gear. Ok, there's Lightning Fury, but that's javelins. I wish to heck Lightning Strike actually worked, that would be so cool."
"Maybe you could put a bow in your weapon switch, for when you need one."
"Nuh-uh. Anything they can do, I can do better and faster." Bodiccea smirked. "Back in the day, Duriel killed Bowazons right and left. They had to keep a spear handy to deal with him, or at least the smart ones did. But Spearazons never need bows."
"What about Iron Maiden?"
"I like old-school metal fine," Bodiccea grinned. "Oh, the curse. Run around until it fades. Or wait 'til you get hit with something else."
Heather nodded, flicking a bit of green off Bodiccea's shoulder. "Ok. I'm kind of wondering if we're going to be running back into the sunlight every time a bug spits on you."
"Hell, no. It's just that... for a minute there, I had so much slimy stuff on me, I wondered if I'd gotten sucked into the wrong kind of anime or something."
"You don't want to know," Bodiccea laughed. "Just watch out for tentacles."
Back in the lair, Bodiccea led the way around the twists and turns of the tunnels. The walls seeped, the ceiling dripped, and the floor was slippery with slime. As they pushed deeper in, Bodiccea joked that she hadn't felt this wet in years; Heather did her best to ignore the implications of that. Like usual, Heather followed at a short distance. More than once, she hung so far back they got separated, and Bodiccea, not having the Teleport skill (also known as Summon Mercenary), had to go back for her.
As they went, Bodiccea kept acquiring new coats of bug drool, which never really dried while they were down there. She even developed the habit of shaking like a dog before going back to town to get the worst of it off. Heather was especially careful to keep her distance when she saw Bodiccea's pack was getting full. They found several corpses wearing Desert Eagle clothes, unless that's what the desert nomads they go on about in the Diablo II manual are supposed to dress like.
In a treasure room with two chests, they found a unique Black Locust pack, which Bodiccea let Heather to kill while she grabbed the loot. The next side chamber had gray Rock Worms, several urns, and two chests. One chest coughed up charm of greed #22. When you think about it, the amount of wealth in the Maggot Lair is strange -- it's a bug nest, not a tomb. Whatever the reason, Bodiccea now had plenty to gamble with. If only gambling was worth anything this early in the game... Bodiccea took a risk on a ring. It was -- shock and amazement -- a Ring of Greed. "Maybe I need a new map seed," Bodiccea thought, before selling the stupid thing back.
Down on the second level, Bodiccea and Heather ran into their first mucus door. "Um... Heather? Could you open that for me?"
Heather looked back and forth between Bodiccea and the translucent panel of slime hanging from the ceiling. "You always told me not to open doors so the monsters don't come in and get us."
"It's ok, you can open this one."
"Um... you YELLED at me not to open doors so the monsters don't come in and get us."
"I won't yell at you! It's just that if I have to touch that 'door', I'm going to run screaming like a little girl all the way back up to the surface again."
Nose wrinkling, Heather said, "I don't want to touch it either."
"What's the matter? Are you scared?"
"You're the one asking me to do it. Poke it with your spear. It's long."
On the other side of the door, a buzzing voice yelled, "Look, will one of you open the door already? We're hungry, and we want to eat your faces."
"No!" Bodiccea yelled back. "It'll pop and get slime all over us!"
"What's wrong with that?" the voice asked. "Faces taste better that way."
"Well, I'm not gonna open it," Bodiccea said. "You open it."
The voice answered, "I can't open it, you open it!"
"Oh, no! I'M not gonna open it, YOU open it!"
"I CAN'T open it! YOU open it!!"
"You do know, the monsters down here don't know how to open doors?"
Bodiccea smacked herself in the forehead, then winced. "I've gotta stop doing that."
"Or get a helmet."
The unseen speaker made a noise, which might have been chuckling but sounded more like a skipping miter saw than laughter. "You're not very bright, are you?"
"Hey!" Bodiccea yelled, "I may not be an honor student anywhere, but I've got a nice ass!"
"Besides," Heather said, "you're the one who can't figure out how to open a door."
"Shaddup," the voice mumbled.
"You shaddup!" Bodiccea yelled back.
"You both shaddup!" Heather stamped her foot. "Ms. B, you have to open the door."
"But it's icky! Why me?"
"Cause you're the hero! You know, prima donna?"
Bodiccea opened her mouth to reply... then closed it again. Fuming, she punched through the slimy portal. "Heather, never quote me again."
"Like I'd want to," Heather muttered under her breath as she moved to a sniping position.
The Death Scarabs on the other side of the door were dispatched without much trouble, as were the Black Locusts beyond them. Locusts and beetles kept coming down the left tunnel, and stopping before Heather had a clear shot at them. They set up an ambush: Bodiccea moved into the right branch of the tunnel, just past their entrance. As monsters dribbled down the tunnel one by one to attack her, they stopped right in front of Heather, who shot them while Bodiccea jabbed. The beetles dropped some nice items, including a charm that was NOT a charm of greed. Not that it was any good, of course.
Level 2 of the Maggot Lair was mostly winding passageways and a few rooms. Each was a treasure room, and one poured out 8 rare items -- again, none of them any good, but a rich trove nonetheless. Bodiccea was busily turning every gemstone and blue potion they found into full rejuvenation potions, buying reds from Lysander when she had to.
"Hi there. I need... 5 reds."
"Oh, hello. Fancy seeing you again. Since you found that cube thing of yours, you've been coming over very regularly."
Bodiccea shrugged. "You don't like my business?"
"Quite the contrary! I haven't had such frequent feminine company in years. With the troubles in the desert, the situation has grown even more deplorable. All the girls went and hid in the palace, you see, so there hasn't been much scenery to feast the eyes upon."
"Aw, poor baby," Bodiccea pouted. "I'm doing my best, but there's only one of me!"
"Yes, I can see that. Both of your points, that is."
Bodiccea acted shocked. "You can see both of my WHAT?"
"Oh, no, no, not like that at all!" Lysander waved his hands before him. "Or rather, I can only wish that were true. But you are doing your best, and while there is only one of you, just one goes a long way, and I assure you everyone appreciates your efforts."
"That's better," Bodiccea laughed.
"Except perhaps Fara, and Atma, but they are in the minority."
"Eh, they're too serious. You know, Fara tries to sell me armor with more coverage every time I stop to get my stuff fixed? You'd think she and Heather were in cahoots."
Lysander glanced over Bodiccea's shoulder. "Well, they do seem to be conspiring..."
Sure enough, Fara and Heather were quietly conversing, almost out of view. "I should have known," Bodiccea said. "They must think I'm pretty dumb."
Lysander stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Now, how could they think a thing like that?"
"Hey!" Bodiccea laughed, "not all dumbs are blonde! Now, I gotta catch 'em in the act or they'll never learn. Toodles!" As Bodiccea approached, Heather glanced up. Then she and Fara stopped talking and turned away from each other. "Hi!" Bodiccea said, grinning broadly. "What were you guys talking about?"
"I was asking Miss Fara if she had a suit of that splint armor you liked, but with no magic and two sockets."
Bodiccea turned to face Fara. "Do you?"
"Not today, I am afraid. There is a suit of scale mail --"
"Too heavy, too ugly. You two don't need to find nicer armor for me, I'll be getting some shipped in soon. Resistances matter more around here anyway."
"I agree," Fara said. "I have faced the elements unprotected, so it pains me to see you when you return. Much of your suffering is unnecessary. This mail is enchanted to resist Hell's fire, and --"
"I'm fine against fire, thanks. In fact, I'm pretty good against everything elemental right now, and poison isn't bad either. So, thanks, but I don't need anything!"
Fara sighed. "Faith is stronger than any armor, but courage alone will not turn a blade."
"Sure, that's what leather is for. C'mon, Heather, let's squish some more bugs."
Back in the tangle that was level 2, they found a section glowing with multicolored light -- a sure sign of Champion somethings. Sure enough, it was lightning beetles: four Champs, a cursed unique, and several swarms of biting flies. Bodiccea switched to Impale and spent a lot of time grunting and thrusting. She even had to drink a precious blue to keep going. For her part, Heather was very good, and restricted herself to the locust swarms while Bodiccea killed the beetles. They dropped two spears that would have been nice about 15 levels ago, and a pair of chain boots with 23% magic find.
After remarking on the absence of a Maggot Lair waypoint (hey, they put one in the sewer, why not the bug pit?) Heather and Bodiccea slid down to level 3. Here, Bodiccea started running, to find the Maggot queen before she had time to fill her chamber. When she got lost, Heather had to move around to catch up because Bodiccea wouldn't stop. Bodiccea reached level 23 killing a random maggot before they found her.
It took quite a bit of wandering to find Coldworm's chamber; she already had 7 or 8 worms and half a dozen eggs ready to hatch. Bodiccea dove in and started jabbing, concentrating on the adult maggots. In no time, the floor was thick with slime. Worms were spitting, eggs were bursting open, and Coldworm kept churning them out. Bodiccea killed one adult, then another; Heather was doing a good job clearing away immature maggots. Finally, there were only three adults, no unhatched eggs, and Coldworm. Bodiccea was jabbing an adult when an icy explosion filled the chamber. The maggot queen squealed and showered the room with poisonous ichor -- Heather had killed her.
After losing her lunch (if only she could throw a jav that hard) Bodiccea handed antidote potions around and they killed the last few maggots. The floor was thigh-deep in poisonous muck, so they had to look hard for the Horadric staff.
"Is this it?" Heather asked, holding up a crud-encrusted stick.
Bodiccea had a scroll of identify with her. "Long Staff of the Apprentice, +1 to Charged Bolt. Nope."
"How about this?"
"Nah, that's a Gnarled Staff, +2 to Lightning, one socket. It'll be in a chest of joy."
"Ok..." Heather said, slogging towards one end of the chamber. Then she squeaked and pitched forward face first into the muck. "I think I found the chest."
"Open it! The staff is called the Staff of Kings!"
After rooting around under the surface, Heather came up with a stick. "Say, if the Horadrim were mages, why is it the Staff of Kings? Shouldn't it be the Staff of the Magi?"
"If Blizz named it that, they'd get their asses sued off by TSR. The name makes as much sense as anything else around here. It's not worth worrying about."
"I guess. It just seems strange."
Bodiccea shrugged. "Whatever. We're done. Let's get out of here.
Cain was astounded to see the staff, and congratulated Bodiccea on her inexplicable knack for finding just the right precious relics. She put it in her stash and took the waypoint back to the Far Oasis. They cleared the Oasis easily. Beetleburst and company were on the lower level, and dropped a mask. Masks are a bizarre idea for a helmet. They're probably supposed to be funeral masks, ugly to scare hostile spirits away. The unique mask, the Face of Horror, should be even uglier than that -- a clown, maybe, or a giant smiley face -- but it looks like any other mask.
Bodiccea was amused to find a double axe, or labyris, just before they left the Oasis. The labyris is Athulua's chosen weapon, so it was kind of funny to find one here. The waypoint for the Lost City was just inside the entrance. Grinning, Bodiccea took the waypoint, ran over to Drognan's, and waited for the lights to go out.
"3... 2... 1..." Bodiccea muttered, and the sky suddenly darkened. "Happy New Year!"
"That was three months ago," Drognan informed her. "Greetings. I've heard you are the one responsible for banishing Andarial back to the burning Hells. I'm impressed, stranger. That couldn't have been easy."
"Sure it could have," she smirked. "Anyhoo, weird weather, huh?"
"I've been researching this lengthy eclipse, and believe it to be the work of --"
"Claw Vipers," she said along with Drognan. "In their little temple behind the Lost City."
"That is my belief as well," he said, quirking an eyebrow. "You know of the Lost City?"
"It ain't lost no more. Wanna hit the town tonight, Heather?"
"Um... don't we usually get some sleep after finding a waypoint?"
Bodiccea shrugged. "Mmm. Yeah, we couldn't paint the whole town red and do the temple before we got tired. See you in the morning."
It was still dark in the morning; Bodiccea overslept, so Heather took advantage of the first chance she'd had to visit Atma's tavern in some time. "Hi, everybody." Paige: "Hi! C'mon in."
"Hey," Khaleel smiled, "how's the new gear working out?"
"Fantastic. I've never felt this powerful. It's weird."
Kasim grinned. "You got twinked up bright and shiny. How's Barbie taking it?"
Um... not so well. She keeps trying to outrun me and kill everything before I can get there. And she won't stop talking about what she's going to get when she's 25th level."
Smiling, Khaleel leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers. "Jealousy... is an ugly thing. I think it's about time we had some."
"We've had some," Kasim said. "All the magic in the world couldn't help my boss."
"Your boss..." Klatu began, then frowned. "I still don't get her."
"What's to get? She had to do it her way, no matter how stupid it was."
Paige: "Look, they're all a little weird. That's not important right now. Heather, you look like something's bothering you. Are you going to be all right?"
"Yeah, I guess. I don't know." Heather looked down, fidgeting slightly. "I'm kind of wishing she didn't get jealous."
Khaleel's mouth fell open. "Why not?"
"I don't know. I keep thinking she's going to get hurt. More than usual, I mean. I don't really hate her or anything. Sometimes, she's nice."
Paige: "Heather, she's just competitive. She's an Amazon. That's why she has to do it her way too -- it's like she's in competition with all the other Amazons right now. And you."
"Yeah," Khaleel said, leaning forward. "It's like, when you were lower level and didn't have the gear, she didn't mind treating you like her b!tch."
Heather blinked, leaning back.
Paige: "Uh... so to speak."
"Um, yeah, ok," Khaleel shrugged. "She didn't mind holding it up over you. Now you've got it on her. I don't think you should mind letting her know how it feels."
"I don't know," Heather chewed her lower lip. "That sounds kind of mean."
"Well, yeah! Sling some of what she gave you right back at her, see how she likes it."
"Uh, dude?" Kasim interjected.
"She might fire her if she does that."
Paige: "Yeah. I would."
Klatu shook his head. "No. That would be cowardly."
Khaleel laughed. "Exactly. She's not gonna fire her until she knows she can beat her."
"Then I really shouldn't be mean to her," Heather said. "She'd fire me sooner or later, and I don't want to go back and sit in the Rogue camp until someone hires me again. At least this way, I get to do something."
"No, no!" Khaleel hit the table with his hand. "I just mean rub her nose in it a little. Let her know you know you're good. That's how you compete."
"But I don't want us to compete."
"Well... she's gonna compete with you. She just is, get used to it. Everything you get, you should give right back, and get a little respect for yourself."
Frowning, Kasim tapped Khaleel on the shoulder. "Uh, dude?"
"Yeah?" Khaleel asked, with some exasperation.
"Just 'cause you Act III guys are the wimp mercs doesn't mean you should try to get her to honk off her boss."
"What?! What are you talking about?"
Paige: (laughs) "I'm picking up a little projection here, too."
"I'm still trying to parse, 'Let her know you know you're good.'" Klatu said.
Kasim nodded. "Yeah. That kind of was a lot of pronouns."
Paige: (looks quizzically at Klatu) "You know what 'parse' means?"
"Aye. And what a pronoun is."
Smirking, Kasim said, "Ok, big guy. What's a pronoun?"
"A noun that has lost its amateur status."
"I knew you were gonna say that."
"Guys!" Khaleel jumped in, "I am not trying to get Heather in trouble! I'm trying to tell her that, maybe, she'd feel a lot better if she cut loose a little and treated Blondie the way she's been treating her."
Paige: "And she's been saying she doesn't want to."
"Yeah," Kasim agreed.
"Look! She... I mean..." Khaleel sputtered, then sighed and gritted his teeth. "All I am saying... if you will LISTEN... is that maybe Heather should try a little harder to, you know, teach Miss Bodice-ripper that what goes around, comes around. She should treat people the way she wants to be treated."
Kasim laughed. "I think she already does."
Paige: (Notices Heather looks uncomfortable.) "Heather, are you ok?"
"Yeah," she mumbled unconvincingly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to start a fight."
"We're not fighting," Kasim said. "We're just telling wiz-boy here he's acting like an ass."
Paige: "Heather, you should treat Missy B the way you like. I think you're doing great. She'll catch up, and maybe stop being so competitive."
Khaleel sighed. "Fine. Whatever. I know when nobody wants to listen to me. Happens all the time."
"There may be good cause for that," Klatu smiled.
Paige: "Oh come on, Khaleel, don't sulk. You'll start sounding like deadboy."
"Hell, no. Pasty doesn't sulk, he whines."
"Ugh," Klatu said, covering his eyes with one hand. "Do not remind me. I heard he spent the entire last conference whimpering after some woman in spiky black leather."
"He does that at every meeting," Kasim said.
Heather sighed. "Um, guys? I think it's time for me to go wake Ms. B up and get going."
Paige: "You sure?"
"I think so. You can't really tell, but it's getting late."
Khaleel nodded, looking Heather right in the eye. "Yeah, ok. Could you just try, please, to get her to stop treating you so bad? You're a great girl, it really burns me to see the way she treats you."
"I'll be ok."
"Look... just -- ow!"
Paige: (stomped Khaleel's foot under the table) "Bye, Heather!"
As Heather scampered out of the tavern, Khaleel gave Paige a dirty look. "I was --"
Paige: (fumes) "Just because you went out of your way to piss off your boss doesn't mean Heather should. Has it occurred to you that she might be a better person than you?"
"That is exactly the problem! If you try being nice to somebody like Barbie, she'll walk all over you! I know, I've been there!"
Kasim laughed. "I guess she is a little like Asheara..."
Paige: "A little. Ok, more than a little: she would run around in a bikini if she could."
"Who is Asheara?" Klatu asked.
"The b!tch I used to work for, before I got hired by the b!tch I work for now," Khaleel grumbled.
Klatu chuckled. "Lucky you."
"Yeah, it's been a great life." Grimacing, Khaleel rubbed his foot. "Man, I wish we could wear boots..."
Bodiccea was up and looking for her when Heather got back. After a perfunctory lecture about keeping up and not getting lost again, they went back to the Lost City. The first thing they found was a well, with a desiccated skeleton right next to it. "What is this, a Gary Larson cartoon?" Bodiccea thought, just as the poison potions started raining down. Night Slingers, with Night Tigers and Marauders for backup. Nothing they couldn't handle, though the lack of zombies was strange. She thought the Lost City always had zombies.
The Lost City was full of ruined buildings (duh) and wells, which was good seeing how much poison was being tossed around. Night Slingers carried their own light sources, which helped for spotting them in the dark, but begged the question of why cat people would need lights. Maybe it was too dark even for their eyes without them. The unique zombie Dark Elder was near the Ancient Tunnels entrance. He dropped Bodiccea's first greater healing potion and a Bronze Large Charm of Greed. This had to be some kind of record.
On a return trip, Cain greeted Bodiccea with "Good morning."
"How can you tell?"
"It's only an expression," he said with slight annoyance, and identified her finds.
When she stopped at Fara's, the greeting was "Good day."
Bodiccea giggled and started singing, "Oh, won't you see things my way?"
"Nothing. Stupid joke. Have a rare dagger."
The zombies were all hiding in the Ancient Tunnels, along with some lightning Horror Mages and lesser mummies. They really would have been a pain if there'd been Greater Mummies in there with them. Bodiccea and Heather wandered around a while, killing dead guys, kicking urns, and turning green a lot. Heather reached level 21, and the only time they were even alarmed was when a Conviction aura appeared under their feet. Fortunately, it was only a zombie. He coughed up (literally) a jewel. Bodiccea had an identify scroll on hand, so she ID'd it: a Jewel of Avarice, with +11% gold find.
Bodiccea glared at the jewel, then looked at Heather. "No blonde gold-digger jokes."
"I wasn't going to make one."
The golden chest of joy was guarded by an extra strong skeleton mage. No challenge, but there was nothing exciting in the chest anyway. Back upstairs, they continued to clear the Lost City area, Bodiccea inching ever closer to level 24. While Heather was blasting a fire tower to bits (which took surprisingly little time) something occurred to Bodiccea.
"Hey, Heather, have you noticed something?"
"Like what?" Heather asked, drawing her bow again. Killing the fire tower wasn't taking very long.
"Every monster in the city, except that tower, is dark blue."
As the tower crumbled, Heather thought about that. "Yeah... I think you're right."
"The cats, Marauders, even Plague Bearers are dark blue. I wonder if that's to make it look dark, like when they put a blue filter over a scene in a movie to show it's night."
"Maybe they put a filter over everything while the sun's out."
Bodiccea smirked. "Or maybe it's just everything turning blue the minute you catch sight of it."
"What I wonder about," Heather said without comment, "is why you wear that little patch of armor on your right thigh. You keep your left leg forward, so if you're only going to armor one leg, it should be that one."
"'Cause I've got a big zit on that leg," Bodiccea said. "No, the armor only comes with one thigh plate, for the right leg. Dunno why."
Heather shrugged. "Okay. Weird."
When they finished the Lost City off, Bodiccea was just shy of level 24. There wasn't a fire tower in the Valley of Snakes, so they went down into the Claw Viper Temple, and ran into some Embalmed right in the entrance chamber. Bodiccea squealed and jumped for the kill... just as Heather's bowstring sang, and a mummy flopped over dead. It was enough to give her the level, though. After clearing the room, Bodiccea stuck a point into Fend, switched it to her main attack, and put a point in Decoy.
"What does Decoy do, Ms B?"
"It's a distraction. Bowazons love decoys," Bodiccea said, casting it for the first time. A glowing version of her appeared on the other side of the room, swaying slightly in some air currents. "I probably won't use it much, but I want Valkyrie."
Heather looked at the decoy, blinked, and grinned a little. "That's it, huh?"
"Yep! A perfect duplicate of me... whoa, is my ass that big?"
Heather managed to stay quiet until the decoy disappeared with a soft pop and flurry of glowing motes. Then, she started giggling. "It... inflated. And popped."
"Uh, yeah... Decoy is a minor gift from the goddess of the air. Valkyries are better."
Small, strangled guffaws slowly squeezed their way out of Heather. "It... it was... it was an inflatable you... until it popped..."
Bodiccea blinked in confusion until dawn broke and her jaw fell open. "HEATHER! It is NOT a blow-up doll!!"
Unable to hold back any more, Heather burst into laughter! "YES IT WAS!! It was it was oh GAWD it was! You could sell those!!"
"Heather, you are not selling inflatable me's to every frustrated guy in Lut Gholein!"
"No, we couldn't," she kept giggling. "They'd all want refunds."
"After they pop!"
"Oh. Well, yeah. I'm not gonna pump the skill enough to make it last."
Another wave of giggles shook Heather. "Pumping skill..."
"NO, Heather. Don't even think about it."
"Good. Now, you can say you're sorry by telling me my ass isn't really that big."
"Um, yeah." She tried to regain her composure, but quaked with the giggles every time she tried to complete the sentence.. "Sorry, Ms. B, your decoy doesn't look like a... and your butt isn't... your... your butt is... hee heee hee..."
"Never mind," Bodiccea rolled her eyes. "Let's go kill something."
Their first meeting with Claw Vipers convinced Bodiccea of two things. First, she liked Fend. It was quick, dished out lots of hurt, and wasn't too demanding mana-wise. Secondly, she really needed something that gave her Cannot Be Frozen. The Vipers' chilling charge really cramped her Fending style. There were other problems with the skill, sadly. If the first stab missed, the entire round would miss, a bug that's plagued it since the beginning. And unlike Jab, Fend really needed mana leech to keep going. Surely, there would be some waiting for her when she was a high enough level... she just needed to get there.
The first level of the Viper temple was pretty big, but nothing noteworthy took place. On the second level, there were no Greater Mummies, only Fangskin, his cohort, and a few random Salamanders. Impaling Fangskin was easy as pie, and once the room was cleared, Bodiccea kicked over the altar and picked up the amulet. Back in town, they wandered over to visit Warriv.
"Why are we going this way?" Heather asked.
Bodiccea grinned. "For the best Warriv quote in the game. Hi, Warriv!"
"Ah, welcome!" he replied. "I understand you've become as great a hero here as you were back in the Rogue pass."
"Yep! And I just brought back Mr. Sun."
"Excellent! With renewed daylight, we may gather the wits that were scattered about like restrictive undergarments in the darkness."
Bodiccea laughed noisily, and Heather grinned a little. "Sez you! I need my restrictive undergarments. These things don't stay up by themselves, you know."
"In all honesty, I've never given your foundation garments a thought," Warriv cleared his throat, but his eyes twinkled. "Oh, Jerhyn would like to see you. It seems to be urgent."
"Oh, Jerhy-baby! I almost forgot him. Heather, don't you dare interrupt this time."
Bodiccea spritzed some Binaca in her mouth. "Maybe I should get a bath first. I'll bet I've still got bug snot in some very private places."
"That's right, no bathtubs. I'll have to shower! Are my tan lines too obvious?"
"But... what about inside the palace?"
"Don't worry, it's cool. The uppermost floor is always empty, and there's a couple of beds there."
"He can't get away this time, you know. He's got nowhere to run."
Heather finally just sighed. "Can I at least go somewhere else so I don't have to see this?"
Bodiccea raised an eyebrow. "I think you'd better."
"Good. I'll be at Atma's if you need me."
Jerhyn was waiting outside the palace as Bodiccea approached. He looked nervous, but he always looks nervous at this stage of the game. Or maybe it's just me, Bodiccea thought, smiling to herself. "Hi, sweetie."
"Hello! I have most urgent news for you! When the troubles began, the --"
"Baby, as of this second, your troubles are over. But before we do anything, we need to talk matrimony. 'Bodiccea, Warrior Queen' is just too good a title to pass up. Hell of a lot better than 'matriarch'. Who came up with that, anyway? That's something you'd call some old woman with 20 kids and her tits hanging down to her waist."
"You don't understand! The harem guilds took shelter in the palace --"
"Ooh, the harems. Tell you what: seeing how you're king and all, we'll split them 50-50. Order me 2 dozen boys -- nah, make it 5 dozen -- none of them older than 19 or so. They're so cute at that age. I'll take care of the qualifying endurance tests... hmm..."
"Miss Amazon, the harems are no more! They came to hide in the palace, and all was well, until one night when a horde of hell-spawned invaders came up from the deeper cellars! The poor girls were slaughtered --"
"Poor baby. Don't worry, you can get more girls, if you think you'll want them. You won't, but you're so adorable I'll indulge you."
After taking a deep breath and slowly letting it out, Jerhyn said, "If you want, you may have the harems. They are a remnant of my father's reign, I never liked them. The entire city is in peril! My men have all been slain trying to push the demons back, and the enemy stands poised to overrun us all! My palace is --"
"Wait... you don't like the harems?"
"No! As I said, my father built them. I don't even like being in them."
"But what about the girls?"
"Oh, yes... them. My father kept many there, but I never saw the point. After I became lord of the city, I sent them away. I thought of redecorating... something more tasteful and understated, perhaps in a floral motif."
"Flowers?" Bodiccea asked quizzically.
"Yes! Tulips and lilacs, I thought, but then the harem guilds begged me to let them stay inside once again. I suppose it wasn't so bad having the girls around, really. They loved listening to my Barbara Streisand CD's."
"Barbara Streisand?" Bodiccea said in confusion.
Faintly smiling, Jerhyn went on. "There was a group of traveling decorators here once, five absolutely fabulous fellows with all sorts of fantastic ideas! I would have hired them to redo the entire palace in a heartbeat, but Drognan advised against it. He said they... had a poor reputation of some kind."
Eyes widening, Bodiccea nodded quietly.
"It is of no importance. My palace is open to you! I can do little to compensate you for your heroic efforts on behalf of my city, but any valuables you find within are yours, except for my teacup collection. Especially the Royal Doulton ones. In fact, if you can find them, and make sure they haven't been broken --"
"Um, yeah, ok, sure. Teacups. Fine. Uh, excuse me. I have to go get Heather."
Over at Atma's, Heather was sitting at an empty table. "Heather?" Bodiccea said, "Come on. We're going into the palace."
"Is something wrong?" Heather asked, quickly getting up to join her.
"He's gay," Bodiccea pouted, stamping her foot. "Why are all the cute ones gay?"
"Heather, a guy could not lie to me about something like that. Let's clear the palace and find the damned Sanctuary. I wanna get to Act III."
"Heather, I'm not in the mood, ok?"
Inside the palace, the upper levels were empty and silent. Bodiccea spent a few cathartic moments kicking over pedestals, breaking statuettes, and punching holes in all the screens and draperies. In one side hall, they found the city guard's former headquarters, with a stack of undistributed wanted posters:
Height: Leggy as a colt.
Weight: Lean as the best pastrami at Doris' Deli.
Eyes: Won't call 'em limpid pools; more like, brown.
Hair: I knew a drill sergeant who kept it longer.
Sex: Yeah. So what's your problem?
Distinguishing features: One look tells you this dame is trouble.
On charges of:
Defamation of character
Smoking in a prohibited area
Conduct unbecoming to a straight female
Reward! Call LGPD for more information. Keep our city clean.
Height: Can look down on you
Eyes: Perfect green
Hair: Perfect blonde
Sex: Sure! But not with you
Distinguishing features: Stampedes of awestruck men wherever she goes
On charges of:
Conduct unbecoming to anyone less outrageously fantastic than she is!
Reward! Call LGPD for more information. Keep our city clean.
"Sure..." Heather paused to read the poster. Quietly, she crossed out the first two charges and wrote in 'Being a drama queen' and 'Posession of an ego the size of Cleveland.' Then she followed Bodiccea downstairs.
The harems... ah, everybody knows what Jerhyn's harems are like. Guards and harem girls lay scattered in bloody bits, and most of the monsters were skeletons: Horror Mages and Horror Archers. There were also Dune Beasts, but no one takes them seriously, with good reason. The mages used ice bolts, and Bodiccea spent most of the level wishing she had something with Cannot Be Frozen on it. The lack of leeching was another annoyance.
The cellars were just as boring -- skeletons, Dune Beasts, more skeletons, Blunderbores, and more skeletons. Bodiccea experimented with switching between Fend and Jab, depending on how many targets she had. Supposedly, having a Decoy nearby gives Fend another stab, but Heather would start giggling if she ever cast it again. Heather, for her part, hit level 22 in the harem, and level 23 in the second level of the cellars. The loot was of poor quality, the only noteworthy finds being charm of greed #24 and a charm of frost; surprisingly, one which Bodiccea could actually use.
As they finished off the last monster in the cellars, Bodiccea looked at her experience bar: level 24, only a hair away from level 25. So close... she went through the portal, hit the Arcane Sanctuary waypoint, and ran off to get away from Heather. The first thing she found was a goat. Shrieking, Bodiccea jumped straight for the thing -- it looked up, bleated in dismay, and died in a flurry of blood-spraying stabs.
"YES!" Bodiccea happily shrieked, allocating stat points. "Ok, let's go home."
"Aren't we going to finish? You usually finish an area once you've started."
"This was special, Heather. I can already feel that Trellised armor and a brand spankin' new War Fork in my hands. I wonder if I'll get any of those charms of inertia?" She stepped on the waypoint, and the dusty walls of Lut Gholein appeared around them, red in the light of the setting sun. Then, without warning, the whole city shook. "Wha... ?"
"I don't know!" Heather said. "Hey, the sun went out!"
For an instant, it was completely black. The world came back for a second, shuddered, and suddenly they were suspended in an endless void.
"That's not the sun, Heather. We already did that quest."
"What is it? I can't feel my feet!"
A sound echoed through the blackness... it was a voice. A voice like that of an angry deity, swearing and casting down curses on something called the Microsoft corporation. "Oh, fuck," Bodiccea murmured. "I think we just crashed."
"Oh, no! Did we lose anything?"
"I don't know, but if I lost my level, I am gonna give somebody such a pinch..."
All was in darkness, and silence. Then, a familiar sound echoed faintly off the distant steel walls: a whirring, the same whirring that always heralded the beginning of a new game. This time, the game did not start, and after a while, the whirring stopped.
"Oh, jeebus," Bodiccea said, somewhere in the darkness. "This sounds bad." Mizor: "Aaawatlobaa."
Paige: "Nah, it's not so bad. Sounds like all the trouble's over on the other disk, where the operating system's kept. It's happened before."
"Oh, yeah," Bodiccea smiled. "Some of you've been around here for years."
A new whirring came, one they'd hardly ever heard before, and then a sound like metal softly scraping over metal. "What's that?"
Paige: "That's new. Sounds like something metal being ground down."
"I suspect the 'operating system' has become corrupted," Thaddeus said.
"Oh, there you go again," Varnae sniffed. "'Corruption' does not exist. There is that which serves humanity's interests, and that which does not. All else is propaganda."
"It may be misapplied to computer memory, Necromancer, but corruption is the accepted term. I make nothing of it, but if the system is corrupted, the tainted elements must be found and expunged."
The rest of them could almost hear Varnae's eyes rolling. "How depressingly familiar that sounds. Which chapter and verse of your precious books was that?"
"Put a sock in it, deadboy," Tearlach snarled. "How much longer must we wait in this cursed darkness? Idleness is enough of a trial without blindness as well."
"It's not just dark," Bodiccea said. "It's worse. I can't even feel anything."
Tearlach laughed. "Then I shall feel you out, since you are bothered by this."
Varnae sighed. "Ah, well. When it appeared that the Barbarian understood what socks were, I felt there might be a faint hope that he was improving."
The distant scraping stopped, and some whirring and grinding began. Cold, colorless light flickered into existence, revealing an empty landscape. Thousands of gently curving grooves lined the flat, steel-gray floor. At a great distance, featureless walls and a ceiling were faintly visible. "Ah," Tearlach smiled at Varnae. "Do you dare to repeat that, now that I can see where to put my axe?"
"I never repeat myself," Varnae smiled sanguinely, "and you know your efforts would yield nothing but frustration for you. Perhaps you ought to pay more attention. Now, much as I dislike stating the obvious, it seems to me the damage was rather more extensive than our Paladin surmised. None of our usual haunts are to be seen anymore."
Bodiccea stamped her foot on the metallic floor, but the impact made no sound. "There's nothing here! It's like everything's gone! Damn it, I WANT MY LEVEL!! The palace is so boring, I don't wanna have to go through it again!"
"Calm yourself," Thaddeus said. "Dwelling on a trouble only worsens it, and yours is a minor trouble to merit such loud complaining. Should you need to go through Lord Jerhyn's palace once more, it would be best if --"
"Tin man," Tearlach snarled, "listening to her is bad enough. Don't you start!"
"Hear, hear," Varnae clapped a bit. "I do believe he is improving. But whatever can that be, off in the distance?"
Far away, a figure in black was walking towards them. It soon resolved into Amanita, tromping across the grooved metal floor in dead silence. "Hey, guys. You should check it out. The whole other drive's been cleaned off, and everything's getting put back on from the ground up."
"Never mind that, love. What concerns us at the moment is our own area. As you can see, nothing remains of all that had grown so familiar to us."
"Ah, don't worry about it. All the old crap's still there, we just can't see it. The pointers and shortcuts were over on the other disk."
The distant whirring and grinding suddenly stopped, and the light faded out. Something clanked, a few colored lights began flashing, and a soft hum echoed through the void around them. "What's that?" Bodiccea asked.
"Not sure," Amanita said. "It sounds like a telephone."
Paige: "Oh, that's the modem being tested."
Bodiccea snorted. "Like we need that. Come on, reinstall the games! I wanna know if I kept my level!"
"WILL YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP ABOUT YOUR STUPID LEVEL!?!" Xanthippe screamed. "IT'S JUST ONE FUCKING LEVEL!! IT AIN'T GONNA KILL YOU IF YOU HAVE TO DO IT OVER!!"
Up to this moment, Xanthippe had been silently keeping off to one side of the group. Her sudden outburst caught everyone off guard, and they all stood there for a moment, staring. Finally, Bodiccea said, "Jeebus, what's got your panties in a bunch?"
Her face flushed with anger, Xanthippe stood trembling for a moment, then abruptly turned away with her head bowed. "Nothing! I'm just sick of listening to you, that's all."
Bodiccea blinked, then smiled. "Aw, are you upset about Jerhy?"
"NO!" Xanthippe snapped back, a little too quickly.
"Hmm..." Amanita smirked, stroking her chin.
"Methinks she doth protest too much," Varnae murmured a bit louder than was necessary.
"Ha!" Tearlach laughed. "As though any woman, even such as she, could find anything to admire in that weakling." He flexed his enormous bicep, admiring it. "Especially when there are a few REAL men in the world."
"Really?" Amanita asked. "Where can I find one?"
"Children..." Thaddeus sighed.
Completely ignoring Thaddeus, Bodiccea went over and patted Xanthippe's shoulder. "It's ok, little Xany. I guess he wanted Tearlach more than either of us."
All the color drained out of Tearlach's face. Even his woad looked blanched. "I..."
"Hey, that's right," Amanita grinned. "He would be the Sir every boy wants."
Visibly trying not to tremble, Tearlach gritted his teeth. "I'd kill him if he tried..."
"But why?" Amanita asked. "He's so cute and pretty... maybe you'd need to get a little drunk first, but..."
As the volume increased exponentially, Thaddeus walked over to where the mercenaries had gathered. "Hello."
"Hi there," Kasim said.
"What brings you to the kids table?" Khaleel asked.
"I hoped for better company. Sometimes, I don't know why I try to talk with them."
Paige: (smiles) "Why do you think we're over here?"
"Oh, come on," Heather said. "They're not that bad."
Klatu shook his head. "Yes they are."
"No! Everybody's a little stressed right now, that's all."
"It runs deeper than that," Thaddeus hmphed. As he shifted from foot to foot, his battle boots began clanking on the floor. "Ah. The sound card is working again."
Paige: (clongs butt of bow on floor) "Sounds like it. Hey, how come you don't have a merc?"
"I felt it would be wrong to ask another to expose him or herself to danger on my account."
All the mercs stared at Thaddeus like he'd suddenly started speaking in Martian. "Huh?"
"According to my beliefs, it would be unconscionable for me to expect another to step into danger in my place."
That answer got the same uncomprehending stare as the first. Thaddeus looked back and forth, from face to slack-jawed face, and reconsidered his answer. "Ah... I'm cheap, and didn't want to waste money on resurrections."
"OH!" They all nodded, exchanging sarcastic glances.
"At least you're honest about it," Kasim said. "I don't know how many walls I got wiped over keeping my boss alive. 'Kasim, kill this!' 'Kasim, kill that!' 'Kasim, leave the Succubi alone and get that lightning-enchanted Minotaur boss!' Man..."
Thaddeus nodded, smiling a bit sadly. "You know, lightning enchanted bosses are no more dangerous than usual if you stand in the right spot."
"Yeah, that's what they keep telling me. I could never find it."
"I've never had a problem with lightning enchanted things," Heather said.
"Your problems will begin in the Canyon of the Magi," Thaddeus said.
Kasim shuddered. "Ancient Kaa. Don't remind me."
Thaddeus nodded, and said to Heather, "I don't wish to denigrate your accomplishments so far, but you've really only barely begun."
Shrugging slightly, Heather nodded. "I guess. I know there's a lot more that comes after this."
"I'm afraid so," Thaddeus said, when the world flickered around them. Everything went black, and suddenly, they were standing in the Rogue camp. "Hallelujah. I'd best check with my compatriots, and see if anyone's dead yet. Excuse me."
Over with the adventurers, Bodiccea let out a loud whoop! "YEAH! LEVEL 25!"
"Congratulations," Xanthippe mumbled. "We're so ecstatic for you. Hey, where's Fuzzy?"
Mizor: (from nowhere) "RRAAA!!"
"Where's Klatu?" Khaleel asked.
"Natalya, my precious!!" Varnae almost shrieked. "Whyever are you here?!"
"I'm not Natalya," Natalya said as she stood next to the stash. "I'm Amy. There's no graphics for the Druid, and I had to borrow Natty's "
As they looked around, Warriv came over. "Greetings! I'm not surprised to see... more than one of your kind here. I am --"
"Not now! What's going on?" Xanthippe asked.
"The expansion hasn't been loaded yet," the figure of Natalya said. "Give it a minute."
"Oh, let it wait!" Varnae sighed. "I'll forgive tardiness this once."
"Keep your hands to yourself, deadboy."
"Can you not allow a man his smallest dreams?"
"No. Quit it! Damn, I wish Natty had movement animation..."
The world flickered again. Mizor, Amanita, and Klatu reappeared. "Dude!" Kasim said.
Klatu shook his head. "What happened?"
"You kind of ceased to exist for a minute there," Khaleel said.
"Damn," Klatu looked around. "I sense this version sucks for Barbs."
"It sucks less for mercs. We can use weapons now."
With one last shudder, the world came back into focus. "All right!" Bodiccea squealed. "I kept my level, and the Sanctuary waypoint. Time to clear it. C'mon, Heather!"
"Coming!" Heather said as they ran for the waypoint.
"Very good," Thaddeus said. "It is time to make this a Single Player game once more. We must go. Amanita, stop jumping up and down on Varnae's genitals now."
"Aw, do I hafta?"
"Well... all right. Maybe a little longer."
Mizor: (Pasty is breathing funny again. Maybe he's got a lung problem or something.)
A pile of stuff was waiting for Bodiccea back in Lut Gholein: a War Fork set with "Strength", some Trellised Armor set with "Stealth", a Shimmering small charm that maxed her lightning resistance, and a Snake's charm of Inertia bigger than her old one. An amulet, gloves, and a circlet were in the stash -- she was a level or two shy -- along with the usual note.
-- The Mule"
Fend, when it worked, was far better than Zeal. If Crushing Blow kicked in, the amount of life Bodiccea leeched was fantastic. When Fend didn't work, she wound up standing there whiffing through the air like a dork, which was annoying. Bodiccea liked the Sanctuary. The monsters were easy (no physical immune specters yet), the shrines were pretty (the little inverted pyramids were cute) and her kill rate was comparable with Heather's. Either of them could kill a Lightning Spire in one or two hits, and the monsters went down even faster.
For once, the Summoner wasn't at the end of the last section, but the first. As soon as she saw the stairs to his platform, Bodiccea turned around and went back. No point taking him on before the rest of the Sanctuary was empty. The next section was all normal staircases. The goats could only reach them in single file, so Jab worked well, but getting to the Ghoul Lords was a pain. Bodiccea had to kick Heather out of firewalls a couple of times.
The first treasure area was nothing special, besides finding a Bronze Small Charm of Greed. Bodiccea decided to stop counting -- it was too depressing. There was some ethereal Scale Mail too, but it wasn't see-through when she put it on. She also found out that when she held a Giant Sword, she looked like an anime goddess with a daiklaive, or whatever they call those huge swords that are a foot wide and should weigh more than the teeny little girls who swing them.
The next section was the teleporters. Heather liked shooting across the gaps, but not the teleporting, especially when they wound up in the middle of a herd of goats with nowhere to run to. The treasure room had some rares (none good) but Bodiccea hit level 26 and went back to town for the new circlet. It was a nice one -- +20% to run/walk, +33% lightning resistance, and +2 to Passive and Magic skills, with some other stuff to round it out. She would have tried the gloves, but without the strength bonus from Sigon's, she couldn't use her spear. It's always just one more level...
The last section of the Sanctuary was the one with impossible staircases. Heather hit level 25, when she wasn't getting snarled and lost. The treasure room was nothing spectacular, so they ran back to the Summoner, hitting a defense shrine along the way. Bodiccea and Heather approached cautiously, pruning away some Specters, and then some goats, before a freezing bolt came shooting across the gap at them.
"Hey!" Bodiccea said, avoiding the bolt, "before I kill you... where'd you learn Glacial Spike? You're supposed to be a Diablo I sorcerer! They didn't have any cold spells!"
A firewall sprung up under Bodiccea's feet. "Is that better?"
"Yow!" Bodiccea cried, jumping towards his platform. Another Spike hit her, chilling her. Looking back, she saw Heather had gotten tangled on the stairway; she wouldn't be in this fight without a Town Portal to move her. Swearing, she raised her spear and cast a spell.
The Summoner looked over at the decoy suddenly standing next to him. "Now THOSE... are some BIG mushrooms!"
"Mushrooms?" Heather said, and started giggling again.
"Don't knock it, it worked," Bodiccea snarled as she ran up and Jabbed the Summoner in the back. He dropped almost instantly. "Good riddance, freak."
"Okay," Heather laughed, "I'll never doubt your knockers again."
Grinning impishly, Heather said, "Your knocking, I meant."
"You did not. Ok, the symbol's the one like two chevrons. Let's hit the gate, hit the waypoint, and hit the sack. I'm bushed. Man, it's good to be back."
Heather smiled. "Yeah. I think everything's working better now, too."
"Yeah. I just hope we don't get bugs in the Canyon. I hate those bugs. I really do."
After sunrise, Elzix went to Bodiccea's door, cleared his throat, and shouted, "Goooooood morning, Lut Gholein! It's 6:45 in the am, the weather is clear and dusty, with temperatures in the upper 90's. Traffic is light, but keep an eye out for accidents involving Saber Cats and yo' dead mama crawling out of her tomb to get ya. In other news, Lord Jerhyn's palace was declared free of demonic taint yesterday, thanks to the efforts of our favorite battlin' babe! No statement has been made about how they got in there in the first place. And now, over to sports! The International Volleyball League has denied all rumors that its balls are being stolen and used in black-market breast implants --"
Bodiccea finally yelled, "Ok, I'm up! You can shut up already."
"So you don't want to hear the scores from the tri-kingdom Rumpleball finals?"
"Frankenstein, I like you, but I wouldn't want to see you working with high explosives."
"Been there, done that," Elzix laughed, looking at what was left of his right arm. "Right now, the 64,000-gold piece question is: what's up for today?"
"Ugh," Bodiccea said, hauling herself out of bed. "Getting breakfast. Clearing the seven tombs. Spanking Duriel's floppy ass. Ideally in that order."
"Duriel? Who's that?"
"I mean Diablo. Sorry."
"Huh. Whatever. You know where Tal Rasha's tomb is, huh?"
"Oh, yeah," Bodiccea yawned. "It's got a waypoint. Not the tomb, I mean. The canyon."
"The tombs of the seven Archmages. Wish I could be there; guaranteed to be some good loot. But I hated fighting those tomb guardians even when I had a whole band with me."
"Yeah, they're icky," Bodiccea mumbled, pulling on her armor. "Ugh. I hate getting up in the morning."
The door cracked open, and a hand reached in to put down a tray with two buttered bran muffins, a glass of orange juice, and a bowl of melon slices. "Sounds good. Well, you know we're all counting on ya. Get your little heiney in motion and kill the bastard."
"Hey!" she said, covering herself and staring at the tray. "What'd you do that for?"
"You didn't order me this time, that's what for. Good luck."
Out in the Canyon of the Magi, the first monster Bodiccea and Heather encountered was... bugs. Devourers, to be precise. Grumbling as gobs of corrosive green slime splattered all over her nice new armor, Bodiccea ran in and stabbed them to death, giving priority to any and all unhatched eggs. "I'll probably run into these stupid things on the River of Flame, too," she thought. While they were scampering around, a group of Hell Cats noticed and came running up to die. They were nicer and much less gross. The javelin throwers were annoying, but they were easy enough to run down.
Urns, chests, and fresh corpses were scattered all over the canyon, despite the fact that it was supposed to be lost and beyond the knowledge of humankind. Maybe the desert nomads were supposed to know about it, and just didn't tell anybody. They found a rare Unraveler Head (this would be the place for it), a Lizard's Large Charm of Greed, and a Sorceress orb with mana leech. Bodiccea just shook her head at that last one. What delusion were the Blizzard programmers laboring under to think mana leech would be a great caster mod? You have to hit the critter to leech anything. But asking was about as pointless as asking why Tal Rasha's set has so many nice melee mods.
There were a few interesting things in the canyon. A guard corpse dropped a low quality cap, damaged scale mail, a crude volgue, and a cracked scimitar -- a full Act II merc set with the scimitar they always wear as a bonus. The true tomb was just to the right of the corner tomb, but they didn't go in immediately. It's traditional to clear everything else first. The first tomb on the left wall had a well right outside the door, so Bodiccea stripped down for her first bath in months.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Heather asked.
"The canyon's clear, and I hate having bug spit on me. Besides, action heroines always strip down for a slow, languorous bath every chance they get."
"I don't remember Lara Croft ever doing that."
Bodiccea laughed. "Oh, come on, Heather. That whole movie stank of fan service, even if they never did a bathtub scene. Did you know Angelina Jolie was wearing falsies? She had more than one set, too: big ones for up-close-and-personal shots, and smaller, firmer ones for action scenes."
After thinking about that for a few seconds, Heather incredulously asked, "Are you saying she had stunt boobs?"
"You got it! They gave her bigger ones in the second film, but not even that could save that steaming pile. Anyway, I'm getting a bath while I have a chance. Like Dirty Pair. I'll be Kei, you can be Yuri."
"Do I have to?"
"No. Yuri would be in here with me, so there'd be implied lesbianism and all the fanboys would slobber all over themselves with lust. Besides, my hair isn't red."
"Well, my hair isn't blue. What is the thing with blue hair, anyway?"
"I dunno," Bodiccea shrugged. "All I know is, if it's anime, someone has blue hair."
"Or purple, or some other color not found in nature. Whatever. I'm finished, let's clear that tomb."
The first Tal Rasha's Tomb, marked by a circle icon, was chock full of undead: Apparitions, Ghoul Lords, and, of course, Unravelers making it more trouble than it needed to be. They fended them off in style, targeting the big mummies first. One corner had 7 Unravelers spread out along the hallway -- not a boss or champion pack, just normal mummies. Past them was a mana burn Ghoul Lord, a real pain for someone with no mana leech.
In one storage room, after killing 5 Unravelers, Bodiccea found a Maiden Spear of Frost. "I like the Amazon spears. They look really stylish."
"It does look nice," Heather agreed. "Is it a good weapon?"
"A little slow, so I won't use it. I kind of wonder, though... why are they called Maiden spears?"
"I dunno. Why?"
Bodiccea smirked. "After you're speared, you're kind of not a maiden anymore..."
Heather blinked. "Um..."
Giggling, Bodiccea threw the spear back. "It's frosty, so no wonder it's still a maiden."
"Yeah," Heather muttered. "You know, that spear looked a lot like the ones all the guards in Lut Gholein use."
After a moment's blinking, Bodiccea laughed. "Yeah! They do look a lot alike! Does this mean all of Greiz's guys are maidens?"
Heather grinned a little. "I don't think so."
"We'd better not tell them they're using girl's spears. They'd get all squeamish."
"So you're going to, right?"
"Of course! But later. Let's finish off this damn tomb first. We'll tell them before we go to Kurast."
The treasure room was guarded by a beetle pack. The Crushing Blow mod on "Strength" is a waste if you're using Impale. The golden chest of joy wasn't very joyous, so they went on to the next tomb, the one marked by a crescent. This tomb was a big one, full of mummies both greater and lesser. Bodiccea went to gamble with Elzix twice before they were even halfway through the place.
Most of the tomb was an endless crawl, watching the experience counter slowly rise towards level 27. Skeletons and mummies were drawn away from Unravelers, the Unravelers were charged and Jabbed, and so on and on. When they found a corridor that looked just like the one Ancient Kaa always hangs out in, Heather sensed how tense Bodiccea got... but the corridor turned out to be empty.
"How dangerous is Ancient Kaa?"
"Ancient Kaa kills a lot of characters. More than any of the act bosses."
"But he's not even a quest boss. How bad can he be?"
"Heather... the more familiar you are with this game, the more you begin to think Blizzard really didn't know what they were doing when they made it. I mean, the character classes were supposed to be balanced, right? Go back to 1.0, and compare a Whirlwind Barb or a Corpse Explosion Necro to a Fist of the Heavens Paladin. They didn't think life or mana leech would be very important either. And Hephaesto the Armorer, the prelude to Diablo, was way more dangerous than the big D, who used to be kind of a pussy. It's sick."
"So... Ancient Kaa is a lot more powerful than they thought he would be?"
"Oh, yeah. He used to be in the true tomb, but they moved him out after they figured out how dangerous he was."
"Ok. We don't have to fight him, then."
"Sure we do, Heather. We're doing full clears, so we have to get him."
The next room was lair to a spectral hit Ghoul Lord, who dropped some socketed plate mail and a Corrosive Smoked Sphere. Sorcie lollipops with poison damage, a concept even worse than mana leech. In the corridor beyond, a stone skin Unraveler was waiting. It dropped some cracked plate mail, and another charm of greed. The corridor was also shaped like Ancient Kaa's... but he wasn't there either.
Slowly, they went through the huge tomb complex. Finds included another Maiden Spear, and a jewel of Envy. Bodiccea couldn't figure out why the Envy suffix adds poison damage, until she remembered that poison turns you green. Then they found a third Ancient Kaa corridor. Skeletons came wandering out. Like usual, they lured them back a short distance, then ran in to kill the Unraveler. Three of them were grouped together in the back corner. Heather's bowstring sang... and sparks danced across the hallway.
The mummies cast, and Skeletons started coming from behind them -- they didn't get the stupid things far enough away. Bodiccea ran across the hall, dodging sparks, with Heather close behind. Ancient Kaa was in the corner, and he only had two minions; so far, so good. As Skeletons slowly came up behind them, Bodiccea ran in close and Impaled. Heather concentrated her fire on the other two Unravelers, letting Bodiccea take him down. The fight went well for Bodiccea; a big spear and a huge amount of life leech kept her healthy. Heather almost died. After a few potions and some rest time, they agreed that Ancient Kaa was much nastier than Andarial and went on their merry way.
At the end of the last dead-end hallway, they still hadn't found the tomb's golden chest of joy, and there was only one door they hadn't opened -- way back by the tomb entrance. Behind the door was a short hall with a few mummies, and the door to the tomb's main treasure chamber. In case of Unravelers, they lured the mummies into the entrance room, and while killing them, Bodiccea hit level 27. As she let out a "woo hoo!" a spear fell out of nowhere and hit her on the head, followed by a big bunch of charms and a note.
-- The Mule"
"Nuh uh," Heather nodded. "That's a lot of charms."
"Wow, yeah, 10 of them. Hey, an 'Honor' War Fork! That's better than 'Strength' any day. Lessee... nice damage, +1 to skills, life leech, life regeneration... hey, does deadly strike stack with critical strike?"
"I think it does. We can look it up."
"Nah," Bodiccea grinned. "Why research when you can experiment? Let's go see what my new toys can do."
Not very long afterwards, Fara saw a cloud of dust streaking towards her from the direction of the docks. A rush of wind blasted up to her, and when she'd opened her eyes again, Bodiccea was standing there, panting and staring with wild eyes and a huge grin. Her hair was a disheveled mess, and there were bugs in her teeth.
"HiyahiyahiyahiyaHIYA!!!! WeweredowninthistombwithsomeprettyghostiesandIwaslike WHEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! causetheghostieswereprettycolorsandtheywent OOOOOOOOOO!!!!! andIwentstabbystabbystabbystabbystabbystabbyandtheywent OOOOOOOO-POP!!!!! andCathansmeshandthisrareBababahatcamePOPrightoutandIwent WHEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! andameanmummysaid 'Iwantmymummy'!!! anditwasFUNNY'causeitsamummy!!! Iwentuptoit stabbystabbystabbystabbystabbyfalldownBOOM! allthehappyskelliesallaroundforaparty WHEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!! stabbystabbystabbystabbystabby WOWthisislikethetimeIate A WHOLE POUND OF CHOCOLATE COVERED ESPRESSO BEANS tostayawakefornightwatch!!!!! Ithink HeatherwastheretooIdon'trememberverymuchIwasbouncingoffthewallsbutthat'sOKIcome withmyownbumpers WHEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! IcangettheamuletwithmanaleechIhaveinmybox butIdon'twannarightnowIgosleepynowbyebye"
... and then she fell over with a thud. As the dust settled, Heather came up, carrying an armload of treasure. "Hello, Lady Fara. Here are some things from a golden chest. How is she?"
"Unconscious. Dare I ask the cause?"
"I think she's carrying too many charms. There's hardly any room in her pack."
"Ah, I understand," Fara nodded. "I have seen this sort of thing before. Let us get her to her room, she will need bed rest and quiet. We may also wish to clean her teeth."
"Ok," Heather said. "I'll help you carry her."
"No need," Fara said, and with surprising strength, hoisted Bodiccea up onto her shoulder in a fireman's carry. "Bring her spear." Then she smiled a little. "You realize, I am appointing to you the defense of her 'Honor'."
After she stopped staring, Heather grinned. "Which is probably more than she ever did."
Fara kept a diplomatic silence. "She mentioned an amulet among her things..."
"Oh yeah, and gloves. I'll get them. I guess we're not going to explore the Tomb of Tal Rasha tonight after all."
"Doubtless not. Let us go, and quickly." Fara shifted Bodiccea on her shoulder. "Though your mistress is lightly clad, she nonetheless could stand to lose a bit of weight."
Heather laughed. "Don't tell her that! She'd have a nervous breakdown."
"... Anyway, you should have seen her," Heather laughed, paying no attention to the hot breakfast cooling down on the table in front of her. "She was bouncing around the room like a squirrel on crack."
"That sounds cool," Kasim chuckled. "OD'ing on charms..."
Paige: "Has she woken up yet?"
"No. Elzix said he knocked on her door twice, and she told him to go away."
Khaleel shrugged. "Ok, so we know she's not dead. I'm guessing it'll take her a while to get on her feet again."
"And you took care of Ancient Kaa already," Kasim nodded. "After him, the only challenge is Duriel, and he's a pansy for tank characters."
"I hope so," Heather nodded. "Ancient Kaa was dangerous, and according to Ms. B, he doesn't get much easier than the way we found him."
"Never met him myself," Khaleel said, "but it's a good thing when a named critter only has two minions. Still, you did pretty well. I was kind of worried."
"Thanks," Heather smiled. "Next time, I'll stay back with the skeletons."
Klatu nodded. "Good idea. We could more easily endure the demon's magic, were there not so many bugs enhancing its strength."
Kasim snorted. "You mean like the fire enchantment bug?"
Paige: "I heard that lightning enchanted was never supposed to work with multi-shot."
"Nope," Khaleel said. "But it did, and since MSLE was the only boss mod that inspired fear, Blizzard decided to keep it around."
"Yeah," Kasim said. "Man, why aren't any of the bugs in our favor?"
Paige: "Well, Amazons get the whole Buriza-Cleglaw's thing."
"Hey," Khaleel's face brightened. "Could a Rogue try that out?"
Paige: "Nope. Crossbow and gloves."
"Damn! I think Rogues should be allowed to use crossbows."
"They're awful slow," Heather frowned.
"The Buriza isn't. Hey, Act II guys can use spears OR polearms. Why couldn't Rogues use either bows or crossbows?"
Paige: "The Buriza is a pretty good reason all by itself."
"Nah. If the Buriza by itself was that bad, Blizzard would have nerfed it. They just needed to make it so guided arrow couldn't pierce. There's no reason a Rogue shouldn't be able to use a Buriza."
Paige: (thinks about it) "You know, it would be nice..."
"Sure," Khaleel continued, grinning. "A crossbow is about as different from a bow as a polearm is from a spear, right? If Desert Eagles can use a Reaper's Toll, then Rogues deserve to be able to use a Buriza."
As the two Rogues considered the inherent possibilities, Kasim leaned over and murmured to Khaleel, "Figured out that being all protective wouldn't work, huh?"
"Shaddup," Khaleel hissed. "Yeah, it's the 'sensitive supportive guy' bit. Don't blow this for me!"
Paige: "Yeah, I've heard awesome things about the Buriza. It would be cool to use one..."
"... but Blizzard won't let us," Heather finished the thought.
"Hey, I know that," Khaleel shrugged. "It's not like we can do anything about it, I'm just expressing my opinion, you know?"
Before anyone could respond, Atma leaned in to put a fresh pitcher in the middle of the table, and quietly said, "She's coming down the street."
Heather nodded to Atma as the others retreated to the kitchen. "Thanks."
"Consider it a house service."
As Bodiccea came in, Heather was hurriedly scooping cold, clotted oatmeal up into her mouth. "Hey, girl! I got rid of some of those charms, so I think I'll be ok."
"Glud," Heather garbled. "I mean, good. Are you ok? Didn't wake up with a headache or anything?"
"Nope! Caught up on my sleep, that's about it. Hey, why do you have a whole pitcher of beer? You shouldn't drink that much this early."
"Um... that's from last night."
"But it's still frothy."
"Oh." Heather stared at the pitcher, then had a thought. "Want some?"
"Uh..." Bodiccea blinked. "Sure, why not?" After wiping out an empty mug, she poured herself a pint. "We've got a long day ahead of us. I want to finish those damned tombs and get out of here. For a wild oceanfront trading port, Lut Gholein is damn boring. Maybe we'll have better luck in Act V."
"What's in Act V?"
"Barbarians. Big, brawny slabs of chunkilicious beefcake. With that many to choose from, there's gotta be ONE who knows what soap is. C'mon, Heather. Time's a-wasting."
Bodiccea's new amulet was a Maiden's Amulet of the Bat -- mana leech and +1 to skills. The "maiden" bit earned her a rueful smirk from Heather, which she ignored. The gloves weren't as nice. They were rares, with improved defenses (but lower than Sigon's gloves), a bonus to attack speed (also lower than Sigon's), a strength bonus (again, lower than Sigon's), but +1 to javelin and spear skills. After switching back and forth from one pair to the other several times, she finally decided to keep Sigon's. Skill bonuses are nice, but +1 just wasn't enough to justify what she'd be giving up.
The Canyon of the Magi was full again: Devourers and Spear Cats, again. Bodiccea wasn't interested in clearing it a second time, so she drove a straight line from the waypoint to the third tomb from the right, which was marked by a square. Even after ditching a few charms, she still moved fast enough that Heather got in exactly two shots the whole time. The only significant find was Cleglaw's Claw, a weird name for a shield.
The square tomb was a small one, full of Apparitions and Unravelers. After Fending her way through a crowd of skeletons and their Unraveler, and finding that her mana bulb didn't drop even though 4 out of 5 stabs hit skeletons, Bodiccea threw away her Snake's Grand Charm of Inertia. Mana was no longer an issue, and she needed the inventory room.
"Are you throwing away your other biggest charm too?" Heather asked.
With a smirk, Bodiccea looked down at her chest. "My biggest charms aren't exactly the kind I can throw away. But yeah, I'm keeping the other grand charm. It's got resistance to all, which I need since I don't have any on my armor."
"Will you be getting a different kind of armor?"
"I kind of hope so. 'Stealth' is really more for spell casters. 'Lionheart' would be great. 'Smoke' wouldn't be too bad. Heck, the Cow King's stuff would be good, except I refuse to wear the hat. Caps are so ugly."
"Um..." Heather slowly nodded. "I guess I kind of agree with you about caps. They are ugly. That circlet looks really nice on you, though."
"Hell, yeah! This circlet is sweet, I'm keeping it no matter what."
"Is it really that important? I mean, what if someone gave you... uh, what is it, the unique Shako cap thingy?"
"Harlequin Crest? Moot point, I KNOW our mules don't have it. I still wouldn't wear it. Not only is it a cap, it's a NEON GREEN cap. U. G. L. Y!"
"But it's supposed to be really nice."
Bodiccea sighed. "Heather... what's the worst thing that can happen if I go for style over efficiency?"
"You could die."
"And how bad is that? Remember, we're softcore."
"Um..." After thinking for a minute, Heather sheepishly said, "You'd have to pay to bring me back from the dead, and get your body back."
"That's right. Bringing you back caps out at 50,000 gold: chicken feed. The icy-cold hand of death is a temporary inconvenience at worst. Besides, the Harlequin Crest is for magic finding, and we're not doing that."
"Do you think we'll be doing much magic finding?"
"No. Cookie-cutter builds like Frozen Orb sorcies magic find. We're gonna struggle every inch of the way, and it'll be worth it when we b!tch-slap Baal that final time."
"Are you sure we'll make it that far?"
Bodiccea grinned. "Sure I'm sure. What's gonna stop us? Dying?"
Try as she might, Heather could not think of a good answer to that. Resigning herself to fate, she followed Bodiccea further into the tomb.
The next room was almost empty except for an Unraveler and his minion pack. His trick was the holy freeze aura -- Bodiccea's greatest nemesis. Swearing and grumbling, Bodiccea ran across the room in slow motion, hoping that even if she didn't reach them, that she at least looked like Pamela Anderson did on Baywatch, only taller and not quite as trashy. Heather plinked away behind her, so the Unraveler was more than half dead by the time Bodiccea got there and Jabbed him to death. The rest of the pack fell, either to Fend of Heather's arrows. Among the loot was a 30% magic find Nagelring. "Another one?" Bodiccea thought, then put it in her pack. Even if she didn't want it, someone might.
The tomb only had four rooms, the last of which was the treasure chamber. The golden chest of joy was guarded by a physical immune Apparition, her other greatest nemesis. She'd sold her fire spear when she got the "Honor" one. Fuming, Bodiccea stood there and let the ghost hit her while Heather killed it... then remembered she'd put a point in Charged Strike. At least this time she had a circlet on when she slapped herself in the forehead. There wasn't anything good in the chest either, so they moved on.
The tomb in the corner of the canyon was also small, and full of Apparitions, Unravelers, and Gorebellies. Also a lot of urns, so many that getting across rooms became difficult. A lot of low-level loot was scattered throughout the complex, and the golden chest was guarded by an Unraveler with the holy shock aura, but there was nothing noteworthy.
The next tomb in line was the true tomb, so they ran to the far left end of the canyon to work their way back to it. Two tombs went by in a blur of shooting, stabbing, and clouds of mummy dust. There were Ghoul Lords, Preserved Dead, Gorebellies, and always, always, Unravelers, and not one bit of treasure worth looking at. Heather reached level 27; besides that, the only thing worth mentioning was when they found an experience shrine right inside the entrance. Bodiccea hit it and ran. The next two rooms were completely and utterly empty -- there was an Unraveler in a hallway, but that's it. Then, just as they found the treasure room, where two boss packs were waiting, the shrine bonus expired. Figures...
The last, true tomb was a big one, with Gorebellies, Ghoul Lords, and Unravelers. Bodiccea experimented a bit with Decoy. It didn't set off traps, and the undead were only sometimes fooled by it, but Gorebellies went straight for it. Several times, Gorebellies ambushed Heather while she was running to catch up. There were only two special packs: a champion pack of Steel Scarabs (Bodiccea had enough leech, but Heather almost died) and an extra fast Gorebelly who had urgent business with the Decoy. Heather wouldn't stop giggling until Bodiccea threatened to stop giving her potions. The Gorebelly dropped a rare Druid pelt. Why anyone would go around with a dead animal on their head, Bodiccea did not know... especially one that makes you look like a giant chicken.
When the tomb was clear, they went back to get the Horadric Staff and took it to the socket chamber. "Man, this was annoying," Bodiccea said, pulling her gauntlet up to look at her watch. "Five mini-dungeons in one day."
"How are we going to beat Duriel?"
"The usual way: I get in his face where it's safe, and use my fastest attack. You stay back and shoot. Lather, rinse, repeat until dead. I'm just wondering if I should use Jab, or try a Decoy and Fend. I get an extra Fend attack if my Decoy is in range, and maybe he'll have gotten so lonely in that pit that he'll go for the Decoy."
"Maybe," Heather tried to keep from laughing. "Which is faster?"
"Jab, but it hurts less. Ah, heck. It takes a while for Duriel to die, I can try both."
And she did. After casting the Decoy near Duriel, Bodiccea slowly scampered up next to him. Nobody ever wants to be close to Duriel, he smells disgusting, but it beat having him slam his fat self into her over and over. The first Decoy didn't last long, and he ignored the second, but by then Bodiccea was Jabbing without a care. Even with an extra stab, Fend was just too slow. The bug died on schedule, dropped a few useless items, and they were free to explore Tal Rasha's chamber.
Tyrael was floating over the pit where he should be. "Greetings, mortal."
"Hiya, immortal! How's it hanging? About 6 inches off the floor, I see. Very impressive."
The angel gave his usual speech, imploring them to take their quest to Kurast, with all possible haste and urgency. Bodiccea and Heather listened patiently. "What do we have to hurry for?" Heather whispered. "We know what's going to happen."
"Don't tell him, it would break his little heart," Bodiccea answered. "Ok, Tyrael, will do. You run along now. See you in Hell!"
Back in Lut Gholein, they went down to the docks. Bodiccea hadn't bothered to meet Meshif, but the instant she saw him, she smiled. "Hmm... I like. Tall, broad shoulders. The pirate thing works too. Like Johnny Depp, but buff." With a grin, she sauntered down to the water's edge and struck a pose. "Hello, sailor."