Bodiccea (Act III)
As they stepped off Meshif's ship onto the docks of Kurast, Heather said, "Traveling with you is kind of weird. Everyone else takes a lot longer to sail to Kurast."
"Yeah, well, we skipped the cut scene. I hate that one more than most. All it's got is Tyrael completely failing to deal with the big D, then trying to get Marius to go down to Hell for him. Oh, and Marius doing something almost as idiotic as when the Diablo I hero stabbed himself in the forehead with the soulstone. When you think about it, the Diablo plot depends on a lot of people doing a lot of really, really DUMB things."
"Isn't that the classic definition of an idiot plot?"
"Yep! And speaking of idiots... hi, Hratli!"
"Greetings," Hratli smiled thinly, his eyes narrowed appraisingly. "Welcome to Kurast, o unfamiliar traveler whom I have never seen before. Though the season has passed, it is good to see tourists on the dockside once more."
"Thanks, glad to be here. At least I won't be getting sand up my crack anymore."
Slowly, Hratli nodded. "I see the warnings we were given about you were accurate. Much has changed in the holy city these last few years. I hope you brought your ti... your wits with you; sanity is in short supply here."
"Sorry, can't help you with that," Bodiccea grinned.
Heather smirked. "You could stop bothering Meshif."
"Come on. I only got to harass him for four seconds, he's hardly even used yet. Do you think I should bother him more so he'll miss me?"
"I don't think that would help," Heather said.
"Sure it would!" Bodiccea sauntered up to Meshif, who was loitering back as close to his ship as he could. "Hi, handsome. I need a man really bad. Are you really bad?"
"Look," Meshif said, his voice even higher pitched than usual, "I brought you here to this jungle hell, and that's only because Jerhyn made me. Something about keeping you away from his palace."
"He was probably afraid I'd redecorate and pick colors that clashed."
"I don't know and I don't care. All I know is, I'm to bring you here, get a statuette that will complete my collection, and I'll be free to go. My heart belongs to the sea."
"And your cabin boy, Roger?"
"NO. Don't you have something to find?"
"Oh yeah, a jade statuette, to trade for a golden bird. Baby, I don't know what you want with an action figure when there's a golden chick right here in front of you..." Laughing, Bodiccea said, "You know why that statuette's in the jungle? The Spider Forest used to be a rice field, and it was used to beat somebody to death out there."
Heather blinked. "Really?"
"Yeah! The infamous 'knick-knack paddy whack' remains unsolved to this day."
After a very long pause, Hratli said, "I wish I had said that."
"You will, Hratli, you will. C'mon, Heather. Let's go meet everybody."
Ormus was in his accustomed place, staring at the statue with an empty dish, where the Gidbinn would eventually reside. "Hmm..." Bodiccea muttered. "Should we even bother?"
"Why not?" Heather asked.
"He's got a killer bod, but I can only take so much of the 'backwards run the sentences until reels the mind' stuff. Blizzard didn't make their wizards cantankerous old fuds in beards and robes, but they still managed to make them all annoying."
Heather laughed. "The only one that sounds like is Cain, and he's not a wizard."
"True. Oh, he's over there. You've gotta wonder how he got off the ship and stumbled over here so much faster than us."
Heather nodded. "That is kind of weird. He did that in Lut Gholein, too."
"Yeah. Well, whatever. Let's go talk to Asheara."
Inside her building, the largest on the docks, Asheara was waiting. There was no door for Bodiccea to kick open, so she had to settle for strutting in like she owned the place. Their eyes locked, and the two women slowly sized each other up, like gladiators on the field of honor. Asheara broke the silence first: "One question."
"Can I borrow that outfit sometime?"
Bodiccea wavered, blinking, then squealed, "Oh my gosh, you are SO my new best friend right now! Is it the boots? The top? Not the boots, you don't wear boots. Hey, you don't paint your toenails! What's the point of going barefoot if you don't paint your toenails?"
Asheara smiled a little. "I don't wear nail polish."
"Oh. Yeah, you're going for the 'Sheena' look. I am amazed, I always thought you had to be tall, tan, and blonde to pull it off like that. I love the snake. I hate snakes, but you make it work. Just don't come near me with it."
Stroking her python under the chin, Asheara slowly began to grin. "I couldn't borrow anything from you, you know. I'm only a size 3."
"Oh. Well, yeah," Bodiccea shrugged, still smiling. "I stopped being a size 3 when I was about 10. Who makes your halters? I could never get a bikini I didn't fall out of every time I breathed. Do they make thongs too? I think I could do a thong, I just need to lose a little weight. What I really want is something off the shoulder. Bare shoulders with my hair pulled up would look SO sexy, but I've never found anything that gives me enough support. You are so lucky with that."
"Uh huh," Asheara nodded, slight annoyance creeping into her expression.
"No, I mean it! There are so many gorgeous things I CANNOT wear, but you could put on ANYTHING and make it look good! You're like this tiny little perfect person!"
Looking increasingly dubious, Asheara said, "I don't think you need clothes to look good."
"Oh, well, yeah. Um..." Chewing her lip, Bodiccea shrugged a bit, her smile fading. "When I said you were, uh, tiny and little, I didn't mean that was bad or anything."
"Yeah!" Bodiccea grinned. "Guys can see down your cleavage."
Asheara's eyes wandered down the Amazon's body. "Is that why your armor is hanging open down to your belly button?"
"More like it wouldn't lace up all the way," Bodiccea looked down; the leathers fit like they were made for her, which in a way they were. "It's hard for me to find things that fit."
Obviously not buying it, Asheara continued to appraise Bodiccea's navel. "Yeah. Gotta admit, you've got a hell of a pair of excuses. I've heard about you Amazons -- legendary warriors without peer."
"Well, yeah," Bodiccea's smile brightened.
"Good to hear it," Asheara smiled again. "You're gonna need to be to take on Zakarum and their midget minions. I've got my tailor's number around here someplace. You go get busy -- and come back anytime you want."
"Sure! This'll be so much fun! We can braid each other's hair, and I can show you how to use mascara, and maybe walk in heels --"
"Oh. Ok, bye!"
Bodiccea was practically bouncing as they walked towards Alkor's tiny hut. "Ohmigawd OH MY GAWD she is SO cool! Isn't she so cool? Try to tell me she is not so cool!"
"I dunno..." Heather looked worried. "She seemed kind of creepy to me."
"That's just the snake. C'mon, Heather, lighten up! I'm sure."
Heather shrugged. "I guess. Do you know how to walk in heels?"
"Hell, no. The last thing I need is to be taller. But she would look so good in heels, maybe a different hairstyle, some mascara and eyeliner, lipstick... do you think she's a burgundy, or more of a rose?"
"I don't think she'd wear makeup."
"Definitely not rose, she's kind of dark. She'd probably think it was just pink anyway. The hard part will be getting her into heels. Hmm..." Lost in thought, Bodiccea walked straight into Alkor's hut, took two steps across the floor, and smacked into the back wall. Bottles and jars jumped on the shelves as the whole hut shook.
Alkor looked up from a book, muttering, "What were those two great thumps there?"
"Sorry," Bodiccea said, holding her nose. "My bad. Hi!"
"Wooooo, girlie! You are even bigger in person and up close! And remind me of my dearly departed and unmissed wife even more. Scamper off to slaughter the minions of evil, and leave me in peace! I will sell you potions and salves if I must, but no more than that!"
"Aw. You don't want to help me put on the salve?"
"Not a chance! That is how I came to marry that witch in the first place!"
"Oooh! Which salve was it? Maybe I want some."
"I call it 'Relax, frosty b!tch'. This much is clear: you have no need for it."
Bodiccea laughed. "Got anything to make cute boys cater to my every whim?"
"Why do you ask such questions, silly girl? You do not need a salve for that! Now go away, or I will test new weight-loss potions on you while you sleep!"
After a short, confused moment's thought, Bodiccea said, "That's not much of a threat."
Alkor grinned a huge, almost toothless grin. "It is if it makes your boobies shrink..."
Bodiccea let out a sputtering laugh and backed away, eyes wide. "EEEEEK! You meanie! Ok, you win. I'll see you when I get the bird."
"No more suggestive comments, bouncy girl. You may re-awaken my repressed libido to plague the world once more, and no one wants that. Go!"
They wandered south to the lone bridge that connected the docks to land. Of course, Cain came wandering over. "I've not set foot in --"
"Kurast for many years," Bodiccea finished his sentence. "It's pretty different, huh?"
"The followers of Zakarum, if indeed this is their work, have changed remarkably. In my youth, they were as a beacon of light, but this nightmare --"
"Can only be the work of Hell, and you fear Mephisto may have gained influence over the heart of the church itself."
"Ah... yes. I suppose it is only natural that these things would have occurred to you as well."
"It's ok, Cain," Bodiccea said as she hugged him around the shoulder. "You are helping. Really. Anyhoo, that's it for the dockside. Heather, let's hit the swamp."
"But... what about the south docks? Don't you want to talk to Natalya?"
Bodiccea stared at Heather for a minute. "Why?"
"Um... you know, I can't think of a reason either. Are we going to talk to Ormus? He's the healer, so we'll need to sometime."
"Ugh. Yeah, you're right. In the land of exploding Flayers, you need to be on good terms with the healer. Let's get this over with."
They walked around the pyramid, somehow managing not to scuff the mystical symbols written on the ground in chalk. Ormus looked up, but not far; he was one of the few people they'd met who didn't have to look up at Bodiccea. "You now speak to Ormus."
"No, I don't. I haven't said anything yet."
"You just did. Ormus senses a dichotomy within you, one that is unlike other would-be heroes."
"Yeah! Should I smack you now or later?"
"No. All of them wonder that. You alone pursue what you do not desire, and turn away when you have what you sought."
Bodiccea thought about that one for a while, then asked Heather, "Ok, so I'm not a genius. Did he just insult me? I think he did."
"I don't think so. I think I remember reading that in a fortune cookie."
"You have questions for Ormus, he thinks. Better that you have questions for yourself, for in the answers you must seek true wisdom lies."
Sighing, Bodiccea squeezed her eyes shut. "Bodiccea is getting a headache, she thinks."
Heather nodded. "Too much thinking can do that."
"That's why I do it as little as possible. Awright, let's ask an expert." After walking off to a secluded spot on the south dock bridges, Bodiccea and Heather went back and out into the rest of the computer, looking for the others.
The first one they found was Varnae. He was sitting in an overstuffed chair in a Victorian drawing room, quietly reading and ignoring the candelabra floating in the air and the sound of skeletal fingers scraping underneath the floorboards.
I will never have a moment's peace until the day I die, and long thereafter, in all probability. While quietly perusing a fascinating collection of ghost stories in the most delightful milieu, that overly-blessed Amazon came to pester me with the most inane inquiry imaginable. It seems Ormus said something which confused her -- not that this is difficult or surprising, mind you, but she urgently desired a translation into plain language before deciding on a course of action. In short: should she respond violently immediately, or at a later time?
Ormus is one of those sorts who tries to give the impression of deep understanding by the simple expediency of obscurity, but interpreting his comment was not a difficult task. After hearing her mangled version of it, I replied, "Ormus has simply observed your habit of chasing things you do not want, and abandoning them once the thrill of pursuit is gone."
"Oh," she said, trying to accommodate this insight with what passes for her self-image. "So, I get to beat him up?"
"You will do nothing of the sort," I reminded her, "so long as he remains on the dockside, which he certainly will. Believe me, there is nothing insulting in the allegation at all, merely a recognition of a catch-and-release approach to romance. That alone is more than I would ever have expected from Ormus."
Disappointment writ itself large upon her features. Honestly, I have known female impersonators with more wit and subtlety. "Damn! Why can't we nudge NPC's out of town and smack 'em around? That would be such a cool feature."
"In this vale of tears, all must learn to face disappointment," I replied. "Now run along. I see Diablo, in his disguise, awaiting your pleasure just outside of town. You'd best go and fail to stop him."
After some rude comment best not repeated, she returned to her task, and failed exactly as all others fail, myself included. Fate can be cruel indeed, and humanity continues to strive against absurd inevitabilities through all the meager hours of our existence, which may well be the cruelest joke of all. Ah, no more for tonight; "American Idol" just started.
Kurast is a neat place. There are lots of holy cities in computer games, but most of them are based on Vatican City, not Angkor Wat. But first, they had to get through the jungle. Softly humming "One Night in Bangkok" to herself, Bodiccea led Heather up the trickle of water that was probably supposed to be the Argentek. The Argentek is the biggest river on the map in the world of Sanctuary, but maybe Sanctuary is that small. You can explore the trackless wastes of Aranoch in a few days. Near the docks were two bodies, one on each river bank; they didn't have much loot, but their presence got Heather wondering.
"I mean," she mumbled, "why did Blizzard put them there? There's even one on each side of the river, to make sure you see one."
"Oh, you know," Bodiccea laughed. "It's the classic 'Found On Road Dead' trope, a staple of bad fantasy writing. Whenever the mighty heroine walks into a dangerous place, the first thing she sees is a corpse, warning her of the gruesome dangers which lurk in the shadows up ahead. If the Blizz programmers were really on their toes, the F.O.R.D. would have been alive enough to gasp out a vague yet horrific warning, then gurgle and die."
"Maybe they thought that would be too nasty."
"Hey, they did it in Diablo I for the Butcher quest. Besides, they don't mind nasty: there's dead bodies and tortured bodies and cooking bodies all over the place in Kurast."
"Yep. Boiled, then left to get moldy. Nasty."
There were two kinds of monsters in the Spider Forest: Jungle Hunters (green ape guys) and Fetishes. Despite the name, they weren't dressed up in little leather suits with zippers over the mouths and eyes, and none of them carried whips, riding crops, or paddles. They did carry plate mail, pikes, and poleaxes, which is almost as bizarre as getting treasure from a cloud of gnats. The little ankle-biters gave Bodiccea plenty of chances to test Fend's utility on Flayers. As expected, it pwned, and with all her increased speed gear, chasing down the blowpipe Fetishes was no problem at all.
It took a while to find the jade statuette. Until then, they had plenty of time to check out new items. Specifically, helmets.
"Wow, that is ugly," Heather shook her head as Bodiccea modeled a bone helm.
"GAWD, yes." Bodiccea threw the helm to Hratli, who put it back on the shelf. "No one but a Necro should be forced to wear one of those. They look so disgusting it's actually an improvement. There's one that's worse, though."
Without a word, Bodiccea put on a great helm. Heather actually laughed out loud. "Ok, that is worse. Maybe if you'd kept Sigon's armor --"
"Don't even think about, Heather. Sigon's helm is a great helm -- I'd be wearing it now if that stupid Mule had his way. I just can't go for the 'knight in shining armor' look, especially on me, and guys look way better when you can see their muscles."
"The men in this game don't wear anything skimpy."
"No, damn it! Except Babas, and they're all bald. Come to think of it, Babas can pull off great helms. The silly horn thingies look kind of good on them. Did you know the exceptional great helm is an Amazon helm? It's got +2 to Amazon skills."
"That's pretty good."
"Not good enough. What I really need is a tiara. This circlet's good, maybe I could get it upgraded..."
Heather smirked a little. "They'd call you Barbie even more."
"I wanna be Barbie! That b!tch has everything. Except it's all pink. I like red. And gold. Ok, pink isn't so bad, but as an accent, not the main color. And it's got to be a nice pink, like rose or coral or peach. Barbie-doll pink is so PINK."
"Are you still thinking about Asheara?"
"Oh, sure!" Bodiccea grinned, eyes bright. "It'd be fun to talk with her! Let's go."
Eyes wide, Heather sputtered, "But... I didn't..." But Bodiccea was already gone. She ran after her as quick as she could.
Bodiccea bounded into Asheara's house and said, "Hi! How's it going?"
"The same," Asheara said, looking up from her tally book. "You're back quick. Figured out that you need a new merc?"
"One of your mercs?" Bodiccea guffawed. "Nah, just dropped by to say hi."
"Hey!" Asheara snapped, glaring. "My Iron Wolves are as dangerous as anything you'll find in the jungle out there. Don't piss them off, or me."
"Um..." Bodiccea thought about it, then shrugged. "Ok, I'll take your word on it. Sorry."
Turning to face her, Asheara snarled, "Who do you think's been keeping what's left of the dockside safe all this time?"
"Ok! Jeebus, I said I was sorry." About this time, Heather came running up, panting. "Hi, Heather!" Bodiccea said. "We'd better get going. Talk to you later!"
"What... happened?" Heather gasped as they ran away. Well, Heather ran; Bodiccea was still walking.
"I think somebody's having a really bad period," Bodiccea rolled her eyes. "We'll come back later when she's in less of a mood."
A lone champion Fetish dropped the jade statuette not long after they got back into action. Bodiccea traded it with Meshif, said goodbye, and trotted the golden bird over to Alkor, who was very happy to see it. He always is, for no good reason; maybe he just likes the chance to put human remains in what other people drink. After she'd gagged the stuff down (hey, 20 life is worth it) Bodiccea went to Cain for the long lecture about Khalim's Will.
"... to destroy Mephisto! You must prevent their meeting at all costs; should The Three be reunited, they will be unbeatable, and our world doomed forever!"
Bodiccea was leaning on her spear, gently snoring, until Heather tapped her on the shoulder. "Huh? Oh, yeah. So, it's like this: collect all the saintly bits, lay the smackdown on the council to get a saintly flail, cube, and whack the compelling orb with the resulting unsaintly-looking artifact."
Frowning and plainly annoyed, Cain said, "So far as your part goes, yes. Though I cannot overemphasize the urgency of your mission, and its importance both for our world and the Heavens above. All of our hopes rest with you. Have you any questions or doubts?"
After thinking about it for a minute, Bodiccea nodded. "Yeah, I have a question. How do you know all this stuff about Khalim?"
"I have spent a lifetime studying Horadric lore, and --"
"No, no, no. You said Sankekur took over after Khalim got killed, so unless he's 400 years old, all this happened after the Horadrim were gone. How do you know Meph's possessing Sankekur? How do you know to use Khalim's body parts? How do you know which bits are still around, and where they are? And how do you know the cube can make this holy flail? You were supposed to be farting around in Khanduras when all this went down, and 'no word has come out of the east for years.' So, how is it that you know now?"
"Ah..." Cain's eyebrows furrowed, then rose, then fell again; his mouth hung open, but no sound came out.
"Wow," Bodiccea's eyes went wide. "He's not making a sound."
"Um..." Heather whispered in Bodiccea's ear, "I don't think he knows."
"You're probably right," Bodiccea whispered back. "Cain? It's ok, you don't have to tell us. We know you're the man."
"I don't understand," Cain mumbled. "I... must have heard about it in The Rising Sun one night, from one of the many travelers who stopped there."
"Sure. That's gotta be it. Anyhoo, we're heading back out. Don't strain your brain too much, ok?"
The Spider Forest twisted back and forth, and up to this point, they hadn't found either of the side areas at all. In fact, the first side entrance they found was to the Great Marsh. There was a Monster Shrine right next to the entrance, so Bodiccea lured a Drowned Corpse to the shrine; it turned Fanatic, and dropped a maul when it died. Bodiccea picked it up and took a few swings. She never could stay away from a mall.
Back in town... or rather, on the docks, Hratli asked them to find the Gidbinn, to help power the magic dome. Everybody wants something. Bodiccea nodded while she was looking at axes. Great axes looked ok on her, giant axes not so good. According to one source, in olden times Amazons used a one-handed double-bladed axe called a labyris, but yet another game bug made using one-handed swinging weapons kind of impractical. Pity, but Blizzard was pretty quick about fixing bugs that might make Amazons good melee fighters.
Finally, three turns after they left the docks, Bodiccea and Heather found a side entrance, and Bodiccea got to Jab her first Flayer Shaman to death. Sticky spiderwebs covered the whole area, including the entrance to the Spider Cavern. No waypoint, but at least she'd find the eye. Inside, they found Poison Spinners, Fiends (lightning bats) and finally, Szark the Burning, or whatever he was. Bodiccea got level 28 from a pack of champion Poison Spinners, but most of the dungeon was quite dull.
After tugging aside some weapon, Bodiccea opened the golden chest of joy and grabbed Khalim's eye. "Ok folks, that's a wrap."
"You used that joke with the mummies."
"It works with spiders too. Wow, Khalim had red eyes. Weird. How sure are we that this guy was a saint?"
"Everybody says he was. Do you know what that spot of colored light is?"
"Huh?" Bodiccea looked over at a patch of magenta light glowing over a pile of webbing. "I dunno, you see those randomly in both Spider dungeons. They don't match up with the monsters, or any items."
Frowning, Heather nodded. "You don't think there could be anything buried under all the webbing?"
"I don't think so. Let's look." It took a few minutes, but after some hacking, tearing, and slicing, Bodiccea and Heather were looking down into a vast, empty void. Neon green alphanumeric characters in dozens of different languages flowed past in infinite, orderly, constantly changing columns. "Hmmm. I don't think that's what we're looking for."
"Do you see Keanu Reeves?"
"I wish. I don't even see a Windforce. Let's close it up and go."
The Spider Forest continued to twist around and around; this was the most complicated map of the area they'd ever heard of. The entrance to the Arachnid Lair side area was teeming with Flayers, so many Bodiccea wondered if they'd really found the entrance to the Flayer Jungle. It wasn't; they went in, got the waypoint, and went on to explore the rest of the Spider Forest. The river ended in a dead end not far from the waypoint; they'd have to go through the Great Marsh anyway.
"Ok..." Bodiccea contemplated the Arachnid Lair entrance. "Since the waypoint is right here, how about we take care of that in the morning?"
"Sure," Heather said. "I was wondering if I could get a new bow, too."
"You not doing enough damage?"
"Well, I'm doing ok. But even normal Flayers are taking me two shots to kill."
Bodiccea laughed! "Oh, poor baby! Let's go look at the uniques collection."
Outside, Bodiccea and Heather wandered into what looked like a reliquary. Besides a bronze cathedral bell which dominated the western half of the room, there were several pedestals of red brick, each with an artifact on it. Tearlach, Mizor, Kasim, and Khaleel were sitting at a table, playing some dice game. Thaddeus was in a corner, reading a book, while Amanita was reading a tabloid newspaper.
"Hi guys," Bodiccea said. "Where's bows?"
"Over there," Thaddeus mumbled, not even looking up.
"Thanks. Hmmm... you're what level, Heather?"
"Ooh, not good. Riphook takes level 31. Kuko Shakaku is level 33. And the normal unique bows suck."
"How about set bows?" Heather asked.
"All we have is Vidala's and the Arctic bow," Amanita said.
"Bleah," Bodiccea made a face. "Sorry, babe, you're not big enough yet. Probably not 'til we're through with the Flayer Jungle."
"Darn," Heather said. "Is there anything else?"
"Hmmm. I think bowazons like the Face of Horror for the monster flee. I need them to stay where they are, though."
"Huh. It looks like a plain mask."
"Yeah. With a name like that, you'd think it would be an evil clown or a smily face or something."
"Yeah," Heather nodded, looking at the game. Kasim had the biggest pile of cash in front of him, which annoyed Tearlach more than the other two. "Hey, where's Paige?"
Heather blinked. "Did anyone understand that?"
Khaleel shook his head. "Sorry. So, what do you think of Flayers?"
"Hey," Bodiccea said, looking around, "where's Xany?"
The room went quiet. Everyone looked at Bodiccea, then looked away, most laughing a bit or visibly fighting smiles. "All right," Bodiccea said. "What's so funny?"
"Nothing," Thaddeus said, getting up. "Excuse me, I left the iron on in the other room."
"I gotta put my winnings away," Kasim said, also making a fast fade.
Khaleel leaned over and whispered to Heather, "Hey, we've been waiting for you on the south docks, by Natalya."
"Yeah. We figure nobody ever goes there, so..."
"Ok, guys," Bodiccea said a little louder, glaring around the room. "What's going on?"
"Around here?" Amanita said, breaking into a grin. "Not a thing. Why?"
"Then what's so funny? What did Xany do?"
"Uh... I don't know exactly what she's done. I hope it's fun."
Frowning, Bodiccea said, "What are you talking about?"
"Well..." Amanita's grin widened. "After you outed Jerhyn, little Xany was so sad."
"Yeah? It's not like I was happy about it."
"She was sitting around moping, so I said, 'Look, maybe he is, maybe he's not. Why don't you go ask him about it yourself?' So she went to the palace. That was back when you were in the Canyon of the Magi. She still hasn't come back yet."
Bodiccea frowned in confusion. "What's she doing in there?"
Amanita wasn't restraining her laughter very well. "Boddy... she's in the palace. You know from Meshif that Jerhyn wanted you to stay out. Two. Two. Put them together, see what you get."
For long seconds, Bodiccea stood there. The sound of gears grinding was faintly audible in the quiet room. Then, her eyes went wide. "No..."
"That's what we're guessing," Amanita grinned wide.
"Hey, we might be wrong. They might be playing cribbage in there. Want to walk in on them and find out?"
"NO! Come on, Heather, let's go... Heather?!"
"She left with the other mercs."
Face crimson, Bodiccea glared around the almost-empty room, then stamped her foot and growled, "Aw, fuck you!" at Amanita.
"Not in a million years, Barbie. Maybe you should go home and sleep it off."
"I... I... shut up! Fine. If Heather ever comes back, tell her I'm sleeping. ALONE!"
"... and so she was, like, just sitting there laughing at me! I could not buh-LEEVE how incredibly rude!! It is SO obvious she's jealous. I mean, look at her! If it wasn't for those two warts on her chest, she'd have no figure at all. So anyway, she was just sitting there giggling about how that little witch stole him from me, and I just did not know what to say 'cause I'm a much nicer person than would say what I wanted to say, you know? I am so sure they were in on it together. You know?"
For a moment -- the first in many minutes -- Asheara's house was quiet... except for the faint snoring from the lady herself. Trembling with anger and spite, Bodiccea glared at her, then kicked the table where Asheara had her feet up. She woke, and muttered, "Sorry, you must have thought I cared."
"But they were LAUGHING at me!!!" Bodiccea squealed, tears streaming down her face.
"Hey, I'd have laughed. So you lost a guy. Who cares? There's alternatives."
"Oh, yeah, I know, but he was rich and cute and had his own palace and Xany liked him! I HAD to get him!"
"So kick her ass. Or write it off."
"Oh, I would! But she's, like, three times higher level than me. Besides, I don't even care about him. They were, all of them, sitting around the room LAUGHING AT ME!!! And I know that little slut was laughing at me, wherever she was and whatever she was doing."
"Uh..." Asheara frowned in confusion. "Ok, whatever. It's like this: I don't care about your stupid man problems. You've got a problem with this b!tch, you're not tired of men yet, kick her ass and take him back."
"Asheara!" Bodiccea pouted and stamped her foot. "Don't you get it? THEY WERE ALL LAUGHING AT ME!!"
"Bodiccea!" Asheara sniveled, mocking Bodiccea's whine, "I DO NOT CARE!! Besides, no man's worth fighting over."
"Hey, yeah!" Bodiccea instantly smiled. "She got one, that leaves all the rest for me! So what if he's lord of a desert dump full of hookers! There's got to be tons of hunks out there waiting for me. In fact, I know where there's a whole city of them!"
"Yeah, right," Asheara smirked. "And after you find out they're all idiots, think about the alternatives. There's more to the world than men, you know."
"Oh, sure! But they're the fun part." Eyes dancing, all tears gone, Bodiccea smirked, "Men are all animals, it's just that some make better pets!"
"Whatever, Blondie. Weird. From what I heard, I thought you Amazons had men pretty much under control."
"Sure we do! Anyhoo, I've got spiders to spy and Flayers to flee. Thanks so much for talking with me, Ashy-babe. I mean it."
After a moment's silence, Asheara quietly said. "Never call me that again."
"Aw, c'mon!" Bodiccea bounced, still grinning. "Don't be such a grouch. Sheesh! Be back later. Ba-bye!"
As they walked away, Bodiccea said to Heather, "I like her, she is so cool."
"I dunno..." Heather said, glancing away.
"Heather!" Bodiccea looked shocked, then rolled her eyes. "Come on. She oozes cool. She's got dozens of men obey her every command. And she knows how to dress! What's not to like?"
"Well, she did kind of say she doesn't care if something's bothering you..."
Bodiccea laughed! "Heather, she's got an image to maintain! Besides, she's right: if I've got a problem with the others, I shouldn't be bitching about it to her."
"Well, what are you going to do?"
"I'm gonna show them I DO NOT CARE what they think of me. Back to the jungle! First," Bodiccea started ticking off her fingers, "clear the Arachnid Lair. We can go straight from the waypoint. Second, run from the town gate to the Great Marsh, it's quicker from there. Go through the marsh, hit the golden chest and the waypoint. If we can, get the Flayer Jungle waypoint. Then... then I'll go tell Amy and Xany what I think of them."
"Sleep would probably be a better idea."
"Yeah, yeah, sure. But I want to make sure those two scheming b!tches know I don't care what they think of me."
Heather sighed. "And you're going to go out of your way to tell them this?"
"Well, duh. How else am I going to tell them?"
The Arachnid Lair was full of Poison Spinners, a boss pack of Flame Spiders... and Lampreys, damn poison-spitting maggots. Bodiccea forgot they could be found in the spider dungeons. She stayed green for almost the entire dungeon, and twice had to reassure Heather it was not jealousy, just a game bug that kept the poison from fading. The same colored patches of light hovered over random patches of webs, and the golden chest of joy didn't cough up anything worth getting excited over. After visiting Ormus for detox, Bodiccea and Heather went to the entrance of the Spider Forest and ran for the Great Marsh.
The shrine at the Great Marsh entrance was now an experience shrine, and just inside was a combat shrine and a refilling shrine. "Wow," Bodiccea thought. "There really is a god in every golden cloister around here." This time, the experience shrine got a full workout; there were plenty of Drowned Carcasses, Bramble Hulks, and Swamp Dwellers to kill, and a boss pack of Fetish Shamans. The shrine bonus expired just as the last of them died. After running back to get the combat shrine, they went on.
The Great Marsh went by quickly and easily. Zombies and Tree guys are so slow, most of them were dead before they even got close enough to swing. Big crowds just made Fend work better, though she still occasionally got a case of the whiffs. The side areas with big swarms of Flayers and River Stalkers were easy too; Bodiccea had to smile. Swarms are NOT a problem for this melee specialist. Heck, big crowds make it easier. The golden chest of joy dropped two wands, one with 10% life leech, the other with 7% dual leech. Why, Blizzard, WHY? Why do you find leech on wands and orbs so often? Why Obsidian Rags of the Whale, but no Obsidian Ornate Plate of the Whale? Sheesh... it's just not fair.
The next side area had the waypoint, and no chest. It was early yet, so Bodiccea and Heather went on. To their surprise, there was a third side area, with a second golden chest of joy and a boss swamp frog named Gut Eye the Quick. Like all bosses with "the Quick" in their name, he was not extra fast, just fire enchanted. He went splatooie most impressively, and dropped a Jewel of Ennui, which added lightning damage. What's with jewel suffixes, anyway? Bodiccea could sort of understand the Jewel of Envy turning monsters green, but what does boredom have to do with lightning? The golden chest gave them a Maiden Spear of Craftsmanship, one of the stupidest mods ever in a game with superior weapons.
After several more twists and turns, the Great Marsh forked. Bodiccea and Heather went to the right, into a dead end. The other way led to the Flayer Jungle. Their greeting was a Winged Nightmare pack, then Flayers, Flayers, and more Flayers, with the occasional Slime Prince thrown in for relief. Bodiccea wondered if kissing one would do anything, until it spit a fireball at her. She'd have to kiss a lot of toads to find a prince around here, and like Ashy-babe said, it just wasn't worth it.
Bodiccea hit level 29 as they were fighting their way into a side area. Almost there! This area had the Flayer Dungeon and the Gidbinn. While Heather killed the blowpipe Flayers, Bodiccea wondered if she should get the Gidbinn now, or wait until they'd cleared the area. Eh, why wait? Bring 'em on, she was better with groups than one-on-one anyway. To her disappointment, the Gidbinn was in the hands of a single Possessed Rat Man. The pathetic little ankle-biter barely even reached them before Heather killed it.
Bodiccea chuckled. "You don't need a new bow."
"Um..." Heather shrugged, and smiled a little. "I guess not. It used to feel kind of good getting things in one shot."
"You're taking down Bramble Hulks in 2 or 3; that's good enough. Should we go into the Flayer Dungeon now?"
"You said you wanted to find the waypoint."
"I know, but the dungeon's right here, and the waypoint might be a long ways off..."
"Hmm." Heather considered this. "Isn't there something that tells you where everything is so you don't have to hunt for it?"
"No maphack, Heather. Besides, it probably only works on battle.net. Let's stick to the plan and find the waypoint. We can always go in by the Great Marsh if it's too far."
"Ok. The act III jungles are really complicated. I think I like act II better."
"Yeah, big open areas are good. The jungle twists and turns every which way; getting the waypoints can take forever. On the other hand, mud is good for your complexion, and we haven't seen any of those giant mosquitoes. Let's get going."
Ormus took the Gidbinn solemnly, and put it in its place. Asheara was fairly impressed by how easily Bodiccea claimed to be dealing with the Flayers, and again offered the services of one of her mercs.
"Nah," Bodiccea grinned, happy to see Asheara's approval. "I like having Heather around too much. We're a real team."
"Oh," Asheara nodded, smiling faintly. "Good."
After a long silence, Bodiccea nodded. "Uh... yeah." Still smiling, she asked, "Hey, are you wearing eyeliner?"
Asheara blinked. "No."
"Oh. For a minute, I thought you were. Have you thought about wearing eyeliner?"
"Well, you should! A little bit more definition would make your eyes really stand out. And maybe just a tiny dab of foundation to cover that scar a little --"
"No," Asheara shook her head, still smiling but looking a little irritated. "I like my scars."
"Oh. Well, ok!" Bodiccea shrugged, and smiled. "I wouldn't want one on my face, but you make it work!"
"Thanks," Asheara's smile broadened. "You haven't noticed the hair, I take it."
"Huh?" Bodiccea looked up. "Oh! You've got red steaks! Is that a henna rinse?"
"Yeah. Thought you might like it."
"I do! I do! I'm sorry I didn't say anything... I guess I kept looking at the scar. You really should try some concealer, you could look so pretty."
"I'm never going to be pretty. You could use a few scars. It'd give you some character."
"That's funny, Heather said I was quite a character. Well, I've got to get a useless ring from Ormus. See you later!"
On their way there, Bodiccea jumped up and down and squealed, "OhmiGOSH oh wow I cannot believe it! I think I'm getting through to her!"
"I guess," Heather said. "She's still kind of weird. She looks at you a lot."
"Yeah! That must be why I'm getting through to her! This is gonna be so great. I'll send off to Mary Kay for a gift basket, and we can have a party! She's at LEAST got to have her nails done, that is just the bare minimum I will accept."
"Greetings," Ormus said as Bodiccea almost bumped into him. "This magic ring does me no good. Wear it proudly!"
"Uh..." Bodiccea looked over the ring. "Yeah. I'll take cash instead."
"Very well. Ormus has also composed a poem in your honor."
"Oh, goody. Let's hear it"
Quietly, and with great dignity, Ormus took a deep breath and began the recitation:
For moundula-nippulal, fleshula-orbulal, absolu-glandular fun!
And for gluteal-maxular, tushical crackular, cheekular morning-'til-night?
She's buttulo-asstical, fanny-fantastical, mashulo-fleshular right!
She's an areological, autoerotical, tubular boobular joy!
Some exposular regional, tushobutt creasual fun for every boy!
For a litisimal dorsical, hung like a horsical, calliphyligical ball,
She's the barea-moonular, fruit of the loomular,
Funular bunular, frenchical tongular,
Tushobutt cheekular, orgasimo-squeakular,
Most smorgastico-boobular one of them all!
For her part, Bodiccea was staring open-mouthed at Ormus. Then she broke into a broad grin, squealed "I LOVED THAT!!" and jumped over to give him a big hug.
Heather shook her head and quietly muttered, "Oh, why am I not surprised?"
Once they got back to the Flayer Jungle, Bodiccea and Heather quickly found a second side area only a short distance from the first. It was almost empty, except for the Swampy Pit and the waypoint. The arrangement was as convenient as they could hope for, and it was very late by now, so after hitting the waypoint, they went home for the night.
"Weren't you going to tell the others off tonight?"
"Nah, I'm in too good of a mood. That poem rocked."
"It was... something."
"Oh, hush. You're just upset 'cause nobody ever writes you poems."
Heather laughed a bit. "I guess I'm not pendular boobular fun."
"Nope! You should try it sometime, it's fun. Nighty-night!"
The next morning, Bodiccea was ready to go while Heather was still sleepy, so she went to find Amanita and Xanthippe by herself. It's not like they're joined at the hip or something. Amanita was easy to locate, out in active memory reading a web page, but Bodiccea couldn't find Xanthippe, in act II or elsewhere. A diligent search finally turned her up in one of the other games, trying on a deep red gown in a luxurious bedroom suite. Her hair was loose and her feet were bare as she turned this way and that in front of a full-length mirror.
"Green's more your color," Bodiccea snipped.
Xanthippe jumped with a gratifying shriek, then whirled around, eyes blazing. "What the fuck's the matter with you?! Don't you know how to knock?"
"Sorry if I might have caught you with somebody," Bodiccea lied, with a big cheesy grin all over her face. "Come on! Let's go talk with your little co-conspirator."
"What?! Jerhyn isn't here anymore. And don't you go near him!"
Bodiccea looked pointedly at the rumpled bed. "I kind of figured that out for myself. I'm talking about Amy. You know, Ms. Mental?"
"I know what you two are up to!" she said, grabbing Xanthippe by the bodice. "Come on! I've got something to tell the both of you."
Her eyes narrowing to obsidian slits, Xanthippe closed her fingers around Bodiccea's wrist and squeezed until the larger woman's grip loosened. Soon, Bodiccea had her face mashed into the wall and her arm twisted painfully high up behind her back. "I made matriarch for a reason," Xanthippe snarled. "Now, what the hell are you babbling about?"
"Ow. Ow. Leggo. Ow!"
"Oh, forget it," Xanthippe said as she released Bodiccea. "So, you've got an idea rattling around in that big empty space you call a head?"
"Yes!" Bodiccea said, pouting and rubbing her arm.
"You think Amanita and I are conspiring against you?"
"I know you did!" Bodiccea yipped. "You made me look stupid in front of everybody! They were all laughing at me!"
For a long moment, Xanthippe just stared. "What makes you think it takes two people working together to make you look stupid?"
Glaring, Bodiccea said, "Look, just come on so we can find Amy! I don't wanna have to tell you off, then go tell her off!"
"What, are you afraid you'll forget what you were going to say?"
"No! I'm busy, unlike some people, and I don't like repeating myself anyway!"
Xanthippe sighed. "Fine, whatever. Let's find her and get this over with. Anything so you talk less is a good thing."
Out by the web browser window, Amanita looked up as Xanthippe and Bodiccea came tromping over. "Hi, long time no see. Cute dress. Didn't have it in green?"
"There was a green one," Xanthippe said, "but I didn't like it. The skirt was too short."
Amanita raised an eyebrow. "Shorter than that butt-wrap you started out with?"
As Bodiccea burst out laughing, Xanthippe glared. "Look. I know they stuck us in those tiny outfits, but that doesn't mean I had to like it."
"Mmm," Amanita shrugged. "Anyway, I should be one to talk. I got pants the first chance I could too. Whatchoo two up to?"
"Oh! Yeah," Bodiccea stopped laughing and did her best to look serious. "I just want you two to know, in spite of all the whispering behind my back, and trying to embarrass me, that I do not care what you or anyone else thinks of me!"
For several long seconds, they both stared at Bodiccea. After loudly clearing her throat, Amanita at long last said, "Yeah, and?"
"Why did I let this bimbo drag me all the way out here?" Xanthippe muttered.
"That's all," Bodiccea said, standing tall and proud. "You can't hurt me, 'cause I don't care what you think. You can try to make me look stupid in front of everybody, it doesn't matter 'cause I know you're only doing it because you're just jealous."
Now it was Xanthippe's turn to burst out laughing. Amanita managed some restraint, but she still barely suppressed a grin. "Ok, this is new. What are we jealous of?"
Smiling triumphantly, Bodiccea started counting on her fingers. "I am better looking than you, I am more stylish than you, I am..." She bit her lip, thinking, "I am..."
Amanita slowly nodded. "You're closer to naked than us?"
"Yeah! Obviously, I have a lot more to show off than you, and you're jealous!"
Xanthippe tried to respond, but broke out in more giggles instead. "Um... ok." Amanita started laughing. "Lemme ask a coupla questions..."
"Shoot," Bodiccea smiled confidently.
"How much does your back hurt after a day of running around?"
The smile curdled a little. Bodiccea shrugged a little and bravely said, "Some."
"Can you sleep on your stomach?"
"Uh... not really, no."
"How about finding clothes that fit right off the rack?"
Bodiccea's face slowly fell. "Um... no. Not a chance."
Chuckling, Amanita went back to looking at the web page. "I'm not jealous."
"Well, you had some reason for wanting me to look stupid!"
"Yeah!" Xanthippe giggled, leaning over Amanita's shoulder. "And we conspired together to do it to her!"
"Who'd need a conspiracy to do that?"
"Don't you start!" Bodiccea snapped. "All I know is, you sent her off after Jerhyn, she was gone, and everybody started laughing at me!"
"Oh," Amanita tried to suppress a guffaw. "Ok, that was kind of mean."
"What was everybody laughing about?" Xanthippe asked.
"Her throwing a big hissy fit about you being off with Jerhyn."
"Cool!" Xanthippe snorted. "I wish I'd seen it."
"HEY!" Bodiccea shouted. "That's one more reason I'm better than you! If I got a guy away from one of you, I wouldn't go around gloating about it!"
The others looked at Bodiccea, and said, almost in unison, "Yes, you would."
Bodiccea drew herself up in righteous indignation, then shrugged. "Ok, yeah I would. But I still got a better Ormus poem than either of you."
"That's your opinion," Amanita said.
"And you can have it," Xanthippe said. "Do you even know what those words meant?"
"Sure! There was boobular, bumful, asstastic... uh... whatever, it was great."
"How about 'calliphyligical'?"
"Uh... ok, what's that mean?"
Xanthippe smirked. "It's from callipygian, meaning 'possessing large, shapely buttocks'."
"Wait a minute." Bodiccea frowned. "Was he saying I have a big butt?"
"Why wouldn't he?" Amanita said, not looking away from the web page. "You do have a big butt."
"I'll kick his ass later. What is that you keep looking at, anyway?"
"It's a fan fiction web site," Amanita said, "with critiques. They've got some interesting stuff to say."
"Yeah? Like what?"
"Apparently, you can tell bad fan fiction because there's only three types of woman: the slut, the b!tch, and the man with t!ts. Most bad fanfic writers are male. They write women either the way they want them to be, the way they think they are, or they just write manly stuff and have a woman doing it."
"Huh," Bodiccea nodded, and looked at Xanthippe. "Well, I'm the biggest b!tch here, so I guess that makes you the slut."
"Oh, hell no," Xanthippe crossed her arms. "Nobody dressed like that deserves to call anybody else a slut."
"Can't argue with that," Bodiccea grinned. "Maybe I'm the b!tch and the slut."
"I'm more of a b!tch than you ever were. The only way you're bigger is height."
"That's not the only way!" Bodiccea bounced. "Ok, I'll let you be the b!tch. Sluts have more fun anyway."
"Uh, say..." Amanita frowned, "what makes you two so sure I'm the guy with t!ts?"
Xanthippe and Bodiccea looked at her quietly, then looked over at each other. "Don't tell her," Xanthippe said. "She might snap."
Bodiccea, meanwhile, had noticed something. "Wait... are you wearing lipstick?"
Xanthippe glanced down, though she couldn't actually look at her own lips. Quite uncharacteristically for her, she seemed a little embarrassed. "Um... just a little."
"No way just a little, you've got way too much on. And bright red is SO not your color. What are you doing wearing red lipstick?"
"I... just thought I'd try it. Like from that song. You know, 'raven hair, ruby lips, sparks fly from her fingertips...'"
"Oh, no no no..." Bodiccea rolled her eyes. "Didn't anyone ever teach you how to put on makeup? You went to a women's school, right?"
Xanthippe frowned. "The Zann Esu teach combat magic, not... girl stuff."
"Never mind, never mind," Bodiccea said, hurriedly pulling out a makeup case. "Everyone needs to learn about this sometime. Now listen: if you want to keep men in line, mascara and a good foundation will do more for you than a million fireballs. My first piece of advice is: NEVER take makeup advice from a man. Hair, fashions, room decoration, but NEVER makeup. Your face is too important to leave to amateurs. And don't listen to bad songs written by men who don't know any better either. Ruby red was the 'Hi, I'm a slut!' color of the late 70's; I do NOT think that's what you want."
"Didn't think so. What your coloring needs is a dark purple, maybe a bronze. I don't have anything that's not for my skin tones, but I'll do what I can. Bronze eyeliner, just a little mascara, no powder, and I think this lip color will work. Let me check. Yeah, that's good on you. Hold still! If you keep squirming it'll go everywhere. And hold this mirror up so you can see what I'm doing. I won't be here to do this all the time! And while I'm thinking about it, we need to do something with your hair."
By now, Xanthippe was looking slightly overwhelmed. "What's wrong with my hair?"
"You've got great hair! But you can't let it hang loose like that. You've got a triangular face and not much cheekbones, so loose straight hair will not flatter you. That thing you do with your little hair net is ok, but there are other possibilities. Amy, could you give me some braids at her temples? I want two on the left side and one on the right, asymmetrical looks are in right now."
Amanita, who was regarding all this with a mixture of amusement and disbelief, said, "What makes you think I know how to braid hair?"
"Oh, I do not believe this," Bodiccea snorted. "Do I have to do everything? Both of you pay attention. This is IMPORTANT. Now, the best way..."
After almost 20 minutes of struggling and lecturing, Bodiccea leaned back with a satisfied (and smudged) smile. "There! Now do you see what a little effort can do?"
Xanthippe just sat there, blinking into the mirror. "Um... wow."
"Yeah," Amanita slowly nodded. "Damn. You look like a girl all of a sudden."
"That is the idea, you know," Bodiccea smirked. "I still cannot believe no one ever taught you two about this. Makeup is SO IMPORTANT."
"You said that already," Amanita replied. "So, why is it important to you?"
After giving Amanita a look of great disappointment, Bodiccea said, "Ladies, we have one truly awesome hold over men: their appetites. Men are like floor tiles: lay them right the first time, and you can walk all over them forever. Hair, clothes, makeup, all that 'girly stuff'? They're our weapons and armor. Spears and bows are ok for demons, but the real battle is in the bedroom."
Xanthippe looked up with a frown. Slowly nodding, Amanita said, "You're a 'The Rules' girl, ain'tcha?"
"'The Rules' is a great book," Bodiccea nodded. "There's a lot of wisdom in there, from women who've dealt with men their whole lives. You're not going to find experience like that with a bunch of Sorceresses who ran off and hid in the jungle."
They all went quiet, and the conversation died and fell with an almost audible thud. After packing up her makeup case, Bodiccea said, "Great. Now, remember what I told you, ok?"
"I will," Xanthippe nodded.
"Good. I better get going again. Talk to you later."
Once she was gone, Xanthippe slowly stood up and adjusted her dress. "Why do I want to get back into armor all of a sudden?"
"Because Jerhyn doesn't like you for your hairstyle or makeup or fashion sense? I feel like I need to take a bath."
"Yeah!" Xanthippe laughed. "Kind of. Do you think Jerhyn would like me like this?"
"Uh... probably." Amanita shrugged. "You look good. Just don't go over to the dark side, huh? One 'total woman' around here is all I can take." Then she laughed, and said in a high-pitched squeak, "No! Stay good, Xany! Stay good!"
"Stay bad, you mean!" Xanthippe giggled. "I was never good."
"Oh, I dunno..." Amanita gazed heavenward innocently. "You didn't show your face around here for three days. My guess is you were doing something good."
"Um..." Xanthippe grinned sheepishly, her face darkening. "Well... maybe."
"Cool, I guess. I never liked Jerhyn. He came off like kind of a weasel to me."
"Jerhyn was trapped in a terrible dilemma!" Xanthippe said, her voice suddenly rising almost to a shout. "What was he supposed to do with --"
"Ok, ok! Don't bite my head off."
Down on the south docks, Heather had met the rest of the mercs. The prevailing mood was not good; unlike Atma's, there was no place to sit and no refreshments, unless you really like green bananas. Eventually, even Klatu's patience wore thin. "What did you say she was going back there to do?"
"She wanted to tell off the Sorceress and the Assassin," Heather said flatly, "'cause she thinks they made her look dumb."
Khaleel gazed downwards, trying to suppress a grin. "I'm not touching that one."
"She's has been gone a long time," Heather sighed. "I hope nothing's wrong."
"Doubt it," Kasim shrugged, gazing absent-mindedly at Natalya. "It's not like anything could happen around here."
Paige: (smirks) "But the scenery's good, huh?"
"Huh?" Kasim glanced over at Paige, then back at Natalya. "Eh... it's all right," he finally said with a sheepish grin.
Laughing, Khaleel leaned over and loudly whispered "smooth" in Kasim's ear. "By the way Heather, has Miss Bouncy been treating you any better?"
"Sometimes, yeah. She's trying to make new friends, which is good for her."
Paige: (grins) "No wonder it's taking so long."
"Now, now, be nice," Khaleel held up his hand, giving Paige a little wink. "She's trying, that's a good thing."
"Sheesh, lay it on thick, why don't ya?" Kasim whispered to Klatu, who nodded, looking ill. "Who's she been trying to make friends with?" Khaleel went on.
"Just Miss Asheara. I wish she wouldn't, she makes me nervous."
That seemed to surprise Khaleel a bit. "Huh. Well, ok. I'd never have thought she swung that way is all."
Paige: (and Heather together) "Huh?"
Kasim and Khaleel didn't say anything, but Khaleel suddenly found himself in the center of a circle which was giving him its full and complete attention. "Uh... look, there's not much to say. It's just... you know, all the rumors."
"What rumors?" Heather asked.
"Um," Khaleel grinned nervously. "Well... a lot of us guys who work for Asheara think she's a... you know... that she doesn't like men all that much."
Paige: "Why do you think that?'
"Yeah," Kasim said. "If it's that she won't sleep with any of you, there's probably another reason for that."
Standing up straighter, Khaleel glared at Kasim. "Like what?"
"Hey, I didn't mean anything! It's just... uh... like, you know..."
"Like what?! We're all wusses or something?"
Paige: "Guys! I think Kasim was saying that Asheara, as a business woman, knows it's not a good idea to have relations with her employees. She could be sued."
"What she said," Kasim quickly and not very believably lied. "I didn't mean anything. Damn, you act III guys are touchy."
Fuming a little, Khaleel said, "Look, just because nobody hardly ever hires us doesn't mean the Iron Wolves aren't the best damn mercs around! It ain't my fault we gotta use swords, and there's no good caster swords in the whole damn game! I'd like to see how any of you guys'd do without a useful weapon!"
"What about Hexfire?" Heather asked.
"Hexfire. A grand spankin' +3 to fire skills. Whoop-de-doo! I use ice!"
"Then chill, ok?" Kasim raised his voice. "Sheesh."
After glancing at Heather, who looked a little scared, Khaleel shut his mouth, counted to 10, and said, "Sorry. I guess I overreacted."
Paige: "It's ok." (smiles) "Maybe if we could use the Buriza, they should let you guys use those little Sorceress orbs."
"That'd be sweet," Khaleel nodded. "Wish I knew why they stuck us with swords."
"I think they did it to match your graphics," Heather said with a shrug. "It does seem kind of pointless on a sorcerer."
Klatu smiled slightly. "Swords have a point. Sorcerers..."
"Sorcerers don't need one," Kasim laughed. "Just talk to Ormus."
Paige: (grins) "Or Drognan."
"Hey, hey, hey! I said I was sorry. This ain't 'bash the sorcerer day'. Besides, Ormus is a Taan."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Kasim waved his hand. "You were trying to tell us something about Asheara before?"
"Oh, yeah. Um... nobody's seen her do anything with anybody. But it's like Ormus says: she's proud and ashamed of being a woman at the same time. She always wears that bikini, but hates it when a guy looks at her. And she goes to gay bars all the time."
Paige: "Is that what 'The Slippery Fist' is?"
Kasim guffawed. "What else?"
"I think she goes to hang out with guys who won't make a play for her," Khaleel continued. "I know she's taken so damn many potions of manliness she has to shave every morning."
Heather gasped. "Oh my gosh, how freaky."
Paige: "I always thought the potions were for one of you guys."
Once he'd regained his composure, Khaleel shook his head and said, "What, did you think that was for some kind of weekly stud service? No way. She takes 'em. They're the reason her voice is that deep. And as long as I've known her, she's shown no interest in guys what-so-ever. The last one who tried anything got his 'orbs' frozen."
Heather nodded, wide-eyed, and almost whispered, "Do you think she... uh... ?"
"I don't know what, if anything, she's done. If she has, she's been pretty... what's the word... pretty discreet about it."
"N-no," Heather stammered, her cheeks blushing red. "Do you think she might be..."
They all waited for more to come, but Heather seemed unable to articulate what was on her mind. After some thinking, Khaleel asked, "Interested in your boss?"
Heather's face flushed to the roots of her hair, and she nodded. Everyone else laughed, and Khaleel shook his head. "I don't think so. I think she's got more taste than that."
Paige: (laughs) "You know, they say opposites attract."
"Opposite, nothing," Khaleel said. "I'm surprised she didn't b!tch-slap her all the way down here for trying to put makeup on her. Asheara hates that stuff."
Heather went very, very quiet, pondering the significance of this. The others didn't seem to notice her silence; Kasim said, "Kind of figured. That's all she ever talks about. Makeup and hair and clothes and sh!t."
Klatu was leaning on his sword, pondering with great concentration. "If Asheara is like a man now, after all the potions... she would want a woman. She could not do anything about her desires, but she would still want a woman, and not care what she talks about."
Paige: (stares at Klatu) "Huh?"
"I think he's saying Asheara might want her, and not care what she blabs on about."
Paige: "Ah. Well, you guys'd know."
Kasim rubbed his chin. "Weird. I always pegged Kashya for 'least likely to be straight'."
Paige: (frowns) "Excuse me?"
"Oh, man, not again. Look, I didn't mean anything..."
Paige: "No, no. I'm just wondering why guys like thinking about that so much. Girls who like girls, I mean."
"Oh," Kasim said, and nervously tried to think. "Uh..."
"That's, um..." Khaleel chewed his lip. "It's not like that. Try it this way: suppose you didn't know Kashya all that well. If you were to, you know, idly speculate about the various NPC's, which one would you figure isn't quite straight?"
Paige: "It shouldn't be important."
"Nobody ever said it was. But, if you were to speculate... ?"
Paige: "Um..." (thinks a bit) "Well... ok, even for a military commander, Kashya presents herself in a way some people might think of as masculine. But the way people act doesn't mean anything as far as sexual preferences go."
"Bullsh!t," Kasim silently mouthed.
Klatu, who had gone back to pondering, suddenly said, "Meshif."
"Huh?" Khaleel stared at Klatu. "What about Meshif? You figure he's not straight?"
Klatu nodded. "He has a womanly voice."
"And Asheara has a mannish voice. What makes him less straight than her?"
"Hmm... it is more offensive for a man. Better for women to seem manly than for a man to be womanly."
Paige: (rolls eyes) "Oh, please..."
Still blushing, Heather nervously said, "Guys? Can we talk about something else?"
"Oh, sorry, Heather," Khaleel smiled. "Didn't mean to bother you."
"It's all right... I just... um..."
"It's ok," Khaleel hugged her around the shoulders. "We'll talk about something else."
Heather smiled, and looked around. A long silence descended. "So..." Kasim said.
"I dunno," Khaleel said. "Hmm."
Paige: "Hey, Heather: your boss is over there. I think she's looking for you."
"Oop! Gotta run. Bye!"
"There you are!" Bodiccea said. "I've been looking around all over for you. Let's get back out there, I need to get a brain."
Heather drew up short, and stared at Bodiccea in dumfounded awe. "Miss B, sometimes the things you say make me believe there must be a God."
"Oh, good. Anyway, my mission was a success. I let those two b!tches know just what I think of their little games, and gave Xany a makeover she won't forget." Smiling, Bodiccea gazed heavenwards and sighed. "You know, I thought I'd hate act III, but so many good things have happened. The monsters are easy, and my example is finally getting through to people. Except for Amy; there's no hope for her. Ormus wrote that cool poem for me -- I need to memorize that -- and Asheara, the coolest woman on earth, likes me!"
"Um..." Heather murmured, "There's something that maybe you should know..."
"Huh? What about?"
"It's about Asheara... I think she's... um..."
"I... I think maybe you should stop talking to her."
Bodiccea stopped, staring at Heather. "Why?"
"I..." Heather started stammering again, "She might be... I mean... I don't think she's got really good motivations!"
"Oh, Heather!" Bodiccea tsked, flipping her hair back. "I just came back from telling those two off for being jealous of me. Don't you start! Asheara is super-sexy, super-cool, has totally amazing style, and you shouldn't be bad-mouthing her behind her back."
"I am not listening, Heather."
Looking a bit desperate, Heather asked, "Have you noticed she kind of has a mustache?"
Bodiccea shrugged. "It happens with some brunettes. That's what bleach is for."
Sighing, Heather looked away. "All right. If you think so."
"I do. Now come on."
From the waypoint, they headed into the Swampy Pit. It was muddy and sticky and gross down there, but well-lit, like all the dungeons. Demons and ghosts are remarkably diligent about lighting in their dank and fetid lairs. The first monsters they met were a pack of Preserved Dead. Of course, jungle humidity should destroy mummified tissue no matter how much sodium benzoate you add to retard spoilage, so there was no good reason for mummies to be there. Bodiccea's pointed arguments to this effect proved unassailable, and eventually the mummies lay down and started moldering away in good order.
Gloams, lightning bats, and Flayer Skeletons filled the rest of levels 1 and 2 -- no Flayers at all, curiously enough, until they hit level 3. There were three shrines, all made from giant skulls. Bodiccea poked around underneath, and found Flayer bones under each one. Her joke about "little big heads" went over like a lead balloon; Heather must still be upset. The deepest level was one of the labyrinth layouts, a genuine pain for anybody with a merc. Only Sorceresses don't mind mazes, they have the 'summon merc' skill. Heather got lost repeatedly; even when she tried leaving the game and coming back, she kept getting the wrong corridor, so Bodiccea cleared most of the monsters by herself.
Back outside, Bodiccea and Heather ran to the Flayer Dungeon -- or tried. It's hard to run through that many Flayers. To keep things interesting, sometimes Bodiccea stopped and let Heather do all the killing. It kept her experience levels up, and might improve her mood. The Flayer Dungeon was right where they'd left it, next to the still-burning Gidbinn totem and a portal shrine, easily the most useless shrine of them all.
Unlike the Swampy Pit, the Flayer Dungeon had lots of Flayers in it. In the first room away from the entrance, Bodiccea got swarmed by a couple dozen of them, with Skeleton Flayers thrown in just to make it fun. The first time the Fend bug hit her wasn't too bad -- she'd whiffed before, but there's always the second try. When the second Fend whiffed, and the third, she began to feel a bit concerned. Luckily, Heather decided to show up at that point, and saved Bodiccea's bacon.
The lowest level was a different maze, but still hard to get a merc through. Large sections were empty, apart from poison gas traps and a couple of magic flying scimitars. Those were an act II monster Bodiccea didn't mind seeing again -- they're pretty. In the last corner of the dungeon was Witch Doctor Endugu, one of the coolest bosses in the game for his name alone. In his presence, a case of the whiffs could be fatal. Fortunately, that didn't happen. They waited long enough before going in that most of his minions had scattered; they found him almost alone, and killed him with almost no risk.
"All right," Bodiccea said as she opened the chest. "More saint bits."
Heather nodded, saying nothing. Bodiccea looked up at her with a frown. "Ok, Heather: out with it. Or stop sulking. One or the other."
"I'm not sulking," Heather said glumly. "And nothing's wrong."
"You've hardly said a thing all day. Something's pissed you off."
"No," Heather shook her head. "I guess I don't have anything to say."
"That's never stopped you before. Come on. What's wrong?"
"Heather, I can't stand the silent treatment. We're a team. Do not do this to me."
Heather closed her eyes and started rubbing her temples. "I just can't think of anything to say. I'm sorry, but I don't feel like talking right now."
"Got a headache?"
"Ok. It's getting kind of late, let's just go home. We'll hit Kurast tomorrow."
The next morning, when Heather went to check on her, Bodiccea was already up and gone. Her first guess was that she was at Asheara's. She was, but Heather did not expect to find her in the position she was. Asheara was lounging in a low chair, her feet stretched out in front of her. Bodiccea was kneeling on the floor, Asheara's feet in her lap, vigorously rubbing one with some kind of soft stone.
"... so anyway," Bodiccea was saying, "that was pretty bad, you know? But it wasn't the worst thing. What was really bad is what they're talking about for next season, the worst thing I could have heard. You know what they're saying?"
"Mm-mm," Asheara nodded, lazily staring down at Bodiccea as she bent over -- right down into her cleavage, it looked like.
"Ruffles! Can you believe that? RUFFLES! Ok, maybe they look all flouncy and pretty on some skinny little thing with no chest, but they make me look like a parade float! When are they going to realize not everyone is a 16-year-old anorexic? We are pre-silicone; the only way someone my height can get curves is if I'm, well, a little chunky."
"You look pretty good," Asheara murmured, her eyes never moving. It sounded to Heather like she didn't understand or particularly care what Bodiccea said.
"Thank you!" Bodiccea beamed. "I know I should lose some weight, I really should. I do crunches every morning, and I lead such an active lifestyle with the monster killing and all, but it never seems to go anywhere. You're looking hotter than ever!"
"Mmm. You like?"
"You've always looked hot. Oh, hi Heather!"
"Hi," Heather said, frowning as Asheara looked up and glowered.
"Now, Ashy-babe? You need to do an exfoliation every night before bathing. Before, not after, or you'll lose more skin than you want. Get pumice blocks at The Beauty Boutique on Skovos, they have the best ones. Only do the tops if you're not going to wear shoes. You have such pretty feet, now that I can see them through the calluses."
"Sure," Asheara said, pulling her feet back.
"No, no, you still need the pedicure! Your nails need serious work."
Nervously shifting from one foot to the other, Heather asked, "Miss B? Didn't you want to go out to Kurast this morning?"
"Oh?" Bodiccea said, a bit sarcastically. "You want to go out with me?"
"You didn't seem too happy yesterday."
"Um..." Heather glanced at Asheara, and stammered, "I... uh... I was upset."
Standing, Bodiccea turned to face Heather with a smile. "I know. At least you'll admit it. You know, there's no reason that you and Asheara can't get along. Asheara, do you know any reason why Heather would be upset with you?"
Asheara and Heather stared hard at each other for a minute, until Asheara lazily shook her head. "Nah."
"That's 'cause there isn't any," Bodiccea smiled. "See, Heather? Asheara is cool with you. Maybe if you ask nicely, she'll give you some style tips. How about that?"
"Sure," Heather quietly mumbled.
"No problem," Asheara said with a smile. "I'm willing to share."
"Great!" Bodiccea bounced. "Asheara, I gotta hit the jungle again. You know, that whole 'kill Mephisto' thing? Boring, yeah, but it's gotta get done."
"Yeah," Asheara nodded. "Why don't you come back tonight? Maybe you can get your merc to not hide in the corner and stare like before."
"See? People notice when you do things like that. C'mon, Heather. Let's go!"
From the Flayer Jungle waypoint, Bodiccea and Heather fought their way on and on through pack after pack of Flayers -- about like usual, in other words. They actually went through a pack of champions without noticing they were any tougher than normal. Past a side area with nothing but a pond and a bridge to nowhere, they began seeing more corpses. Kurast must be close. Sure enough, a little further on was the pair of River Stalkers, the scattering of gold, and Stormtree. While he still had minions, Bodiccea used Fend, then switched to Jab once he was alone. Her health bulb never moved. Hooray for 17% life leech.
Lower Kurast was populated with Hell Buzzards, Doom Apes, and Zakarumites. Bodiccea had never seen this many three-quarters naked men in her life, and it was a damn shame she had to kill them all. Maybe in Travincal, she'd kill the council and get the orb first so the Zealots would be a little easier to seduce. Then again, Zakarumites turn funny colors the deeper you get into the city, so she might not want to seduce them. Until then, it was full clears all the way, which meant a lot of chasing Zakarumites down.
"I hate it when they run away," Bodiccea grumbled, kicking a Zakarumite off her spear.
"I thought you liked chasing men," Heather smiled a little.
Bodiccea turned to say something, then realized she was joking. "Heather! I like having men chase ME. Big difference."
"If you stop being so aggressive, they'll come back."
"And then I fend 'em off. Well, there's no time to play hard to get, so we chase 'em down and nail their asses."
Suddenly, Heather started laughing. "And none dare call it sexually suggestive."
"Heather, are you having a really bad period or something?"
Aside from a cold-enchanted Jungle Leaper and his pack, Lower Kurast went by uneventfully. Frost Novas are so annoying. There was plenty of loot, including a Vulpine amulet of Greed and plenty of identify scrolls. Bodiccea always made sure to leave one item unidentified, or Cain would get grouchy. Once she had enough money, they went to visit Alkor.
"Hiya, Alkor. Time to gamble."
"I will be happy to take a chance with you, bouncing girl! First: it pains me to waste time with you --"
"Oh, yeah," Bodiccea snapped her fingers. "The black book. Weird; I always forget that one, and it's one of the best quests."
"Quiet, stupid girl! First, your brazen advances taunt my withered manhood, and now you interrupt one of my best speeches? Gamble your money away then, and leave me to weep my bitter, impotent tears alone!"
"Aw, poor Alkor," Bodiccea smiled and patted Alkor on the head. "You're only bitter on the outside. Inside, you're full of creamy nougat. I'll take the ring."
"Ha! A ring of greed. Silly girl."
On and on they went, through building after building. The wonder chest was in the center, and coughed up six blues. A boss Zakarumite pack kept running away; various minions had to be chased down over half the city. The boss dropped the unique mace Crushflange. One basket popped out with 4 bundles of arrows when Bodiccea kicked it. If she used the damn things, she might have been happy. Finally, FINALLY, the last Doom Ape in Lower Kurast died and Bodiccea got enough experience to reach level 30.
"Woo-hoo!" Bodiccea whooped. "Let's summon a Valkyrie."
"I thought you said Bowazons liked those."
"Everybody likes Valkyries. Besides, maybe I'll know her."
Heather frowned a little. "What is a Valkyrie?"
"They're the spirits of the greatest Spearazons who ever lived, the personal servants of Athulua." Bodiccea grinned. "I guess Blizzard, in a rare moment of good sense, figured out that Bowazons and Javazons wouldn't make the cut."
"I thought you said they were a distraction and a meat shield."
"Heather, you need less memory or more tact," Bodiccea grumped. "Here we go..."
Raising her spear high, Bodiccea made a mysical gesture, and with a metallic crescendo, a glowing spear maiden in ancient plate armor appeared. She and Bodiccea gazed at each other, until Bodiccea suddenly squealed, "Aphie!"
"Boddy! Yay!" the Valkyrie answered, and they gave each other a big hug.
"Wow! I didn't even know you were dead."
"A 'hunting accident' with a Javazon using Lightning Fury," the Valkyrie snorted.
"Huh? You don't hunt with Lightning Fury, unless you want your boar pre-cooked. Did anyone buy that?"
"Nope," the Valkyrie grinned. "She got hers. Hey, who's your friend?"
"Oh! Aphelia, this is my merc, Heather. Heather, this is Aphelia."
"Hi," Heather smiled. "So, you know Miss B from somewhere?"
"Yeah," Aphelia laughed, "me and 'the body' go way back. Your sympathy is welcome."
"Hey!" Bodiccea frowned as Heather broke out in giggles. "I wasn't that bad."
"Yes, you were! Remember the time you made a play for my brother?"
"I did not! He was after me!"
"You asked him if he wanted to do some mountain climbing and stuck your tongue in his ear."
"Ohmigawd, that sounds so bad!" Heather's eyes widened.
Fuming, Bodiccea said, "Is it my fault he was 6 inches shorter than me?"
"Boddy, EVERYBODY was 6 inches shorter than you! And when you finally DID get some poor sap to be your boyfriend, all you ever did was flash him and run away laughing!"
"Aphie!" Bodiccea screamed, turning bright red. "I was still learning how to best make use of my assets."
"Is that what you crazy kids are calling it these days?" Heather laughed.
"It was just for fun!" Bodiccea objected.
"Until he got tired of chasing you," Aphelia laughed. "Then he left you and all we heard was broken-hearted boo-hoo-hooing for weeks on end. And you wrote that poem titled 'All Men are Morons'."
Still giggling, Heather turned to Bodiccea. "Wait a minute. You told me you left him, and your other boyfriends too."
"Shut up, Heather."
"Other boyfriends?" Aphelia said. "I don't remember any other boyfriends."
"Shut UP, Heather..."
Heather cleared her throat, trying to stop laughing. "Ahem. Yeah. Um... I didn't know Miss B ever wrote poetry."
"I think she was around 14. Lemmee see what I remember..."
"MY GOODNESS, LOOK AT THE TIME!! WE'D BETTER RUN UP TO THE KURAST BAZAAR PRONTO, OR WE'LL NEVER MAKE ANY HEADWAY ON OUR INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT QUEST TO SLAY THE HORRIBLE MEPHISTO AND FREE KURAST FROM HIS SHADOW!!!"
Without waiting, Bodiccea took off at top speed, drawing Heather and Aphelia along behind her towards the gateway to the Kurast Bazaar. Neither of them could run nearly that fast, of course -- they both had to bounce out of the game and back in several times on their way across Lower Kurast.
"Hey," Heather said as they met on their way through the monitor cable, "you know this trick too?"
"Knew it before you did," Aphelia said. "Mercs couldn't teleport 'til the expansion."
"Wow. You've got to tell me more about Miss B when you get the chance."
"Love to! Especially since Amazons don't have an unsummon skill."
"Oh, wow! You're really up on this stuff."
"Living in the realm of the immortals has its advantages."
Heather nodded. "Um... say, is Aloothua... uh..."
"Yeah. Is her consort really another goddess?"
"Do you really want to know?"
Heather thought about that for a while. "I think I'll be happier if I don't."
"I think you will be too."
A crowd of Hell Swarms met Bodiccea at the gates of the Kurast Bazaar. It's still weird how stabbing with a spear can hurt a bug swarm, but they'd be almost impossible to deal with otherwise. Heather and Aphelia were far behind her, and taking their sweet time catching up. As a matter of fact, as they meandered up to the battle, it looked like they were more interested in conversation than questing. More than mildly irked, Bodiccea broke away from the fight and ran back to them, a few Hell Swarms trailing along behind her.
"Ladies? Much as I hate to interrupt tea time, we're going into battle. Could one or both of you perchance get the lead out and join me for some light monster killing, hm?"
Heather and Aphelia looked up, eyes dancing, and burst out in giggles without saying a word. Bodiccea drew herself up to her full height, glared as best she could, and said, "Hello there, anybody home? Remember the demons? The quest? Killing? Looting? These damn bug swarms Heather's so good at killing?"
"Miss B... " Heather tried to say through her laughing, "did you really get caught sneaking into the boy's baths?"
"No, no!" Aphelia laughed. "Peeking in!"
Even as a Hell Swarm came up behind her and tried to crawl inside her armor, Bodiccea kept glaring. Blushing bright red weakened the effect considerably; Aphelia hardly noticed as she went on. "There were boys' and girls' baths for after calisthenics, and a wall in between. In case the boys were looking over, they put palm sap on top of the wall, so it'd get on their fingers, you know? None of the boys got sticky, but..."
"Heather? Oh, Heather? Could I trouble you for just a moment of your time to deal with these bugs, pretty please?"
Heather casually killed the swarm, somehow managing to pull her bowstring despite the giggles. "Sounds like Miss B was kind of boy-crazy."
"Kind of?! Lemme tell you about her at wrestling practice --"
"Aphie!" Bodiccea yelled, "I thought you were sent by the goddess to HELP, not sit around telling my friends stories about me!"
Heather stopped laughing. "We're friends?"
"Sure, we're friends," Bodiccea said, looking confused. "When you're not embarrassing me or something."
Heather scratched her head. "I didn't know we were friends."
"Heather!" Bodiccea said, now growing impatient.
Aphelia shook her head. "You haven't changed a bit, Boddy."
"Look, you two!" Bodiccea hissed, eyes narrowing. "I am the heroine here, so technically you two are supposed to be my servants. Do I have to start giving orders?"
A frown slowly crept into Heather's features. "Miss Bodiccea... are you having a really bad period or something?"
"NO! I am TRYING to get us back to business! We have to clear the bazaar, the sewers, and the temples today, so we need to get busy!"
"No, Bodiccea," Aphelia shook her head slowly. "You're embarrassed and paranoid and it's turned you into a great big b!tch."
"Hey, I'm dead. What do I care what you think?"
"Oh, yeah? Well, I got you here, I can get rid of... hey! I don't have unsummon!"
"Nope," Aphelia smiled. "They figured you wouldn't need it."
"In that case, I'll just recast and get a different Valk!"
With a gesture from Bodiccea, Aphelia faded into mist. Almost simultaneously, a flare of golden light and a metallic shriek heralded the arrival of... Aphelia. "Nope, nice try."
"Oh, poop! Let's try again."
"Sorry! I'm the on --" *SCREEAA!* "--ly one who'll come." *SCREEAA!* "The others say you" *SCREEAA!* "need a lesson in humility."
Panting, Bodiccea stopped summoning, more because she was out of mana than anything else. "I do... not! I've got... nothing to be... humble about! Wow, this is tiring."
"Um, Miss B?" Heather hesitantly began. "First, I'm sorry I laughed at the story about you."
Leaning on her knees, Bodiccea almost said something, then just nodded, still panting.
"Even though it was funny."
"Oh, it was hysterical!" Aphelia grinned. "Later, we figured out you could throw a towel or something over the top of the wall and not get sticky fingers."
"Hey!" Bodiccea gasped, "you never told me!"
"Heck no! We had to keep the boys safe from you somehow."
"Wah! Spoil my fun, why don'tcha?"
"Uh-huh," Heather nodded, smiling a little again. "Second, I guess you are my friend, kinda sorta. We weren't teasing you to be mean."
"Oh, I know," Bodiccea said, getting her breath back. "I just... I'm sorry. I am being a big b!tch."
Heather nodded. "Besides, the day's already half gone. I don't think we can clear the bazaar, find Khalim's heart, and get the black book today."
"Eh... probably not." Bodiccea smiled. "Friends?"
Heather nodded. "Sure!"
After they hugged, Bodiccea grinned at Aphelia. "Since we're buds, that means I can tell you embarrassing stories about Aphie, huh?"
Heather snorted with laughter. "If you want."
"You have embarrassing stories about me?" Aphelia raised an eyebrow.
"Unfortunately, no. The Aphelia I remember was such a little goody-goody she never had the guts to do anything daring or fun."
"Darn," Aphelia said. "What a shame. Maybe that's why I went to heaven."
"Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere. I know I'm going to Hell -- right after I kill Mephisto. And I'll know I had fun getting there."
"Knock yourself out," Aphelia smirked. "Get something with a little more coverage for the Barbarian highlands, though. It's cold up there."
"That would be a good idea," Heather frowned. "I am kind of wondering how come the bug swarms can't reach your skin. I mean, you've got so much exposed..."
"What I'm wondering..." Bodiccea shook her hair out, "is why you and Fara and Akara and just about every woman we've ever met has gotten all bent out of shape over my look! How I dress is my choice. If I didn't know any better," Bodiccea looked down at Heather with a smile, "I'd say you were all jealous."
"Um..." Heather frowned, and shook her head silently.
"Aw, c'mon! I'll bet there's some part of you, maybe a little tiny part, that wishes you had a bod like this and the guts to use it. Am I right?"
After some thought, Heather finally said, "I'll admit, I wish I was taller. Come on, Miss B! I've heard you complaining about how you can't wear clothes you want, or how much your back hurts. And I've seen the big creases your bra straps leave in your shoulders."
"Well... yeah, all right. I like the attention --"
"You love the attention," Aphelia corrected her.
"I love the attention, but sometimes this is just a big pain in the ass."
"And I don't like attention the way you do," Heather added.
"All right, already!" Bodiccea shouted. "The sun's gonna be gone in a few hours, let's at least clear the bazaar and find the super chests."
Heather and Aphelia both quietly stared at Bodiccea, at about their own eye level.
"Nothing," Aphelia smiled.
"We need to get the waypoint too," Heather piped up, smiling too.
"Of course the waypoint. ALWAYS the waypoint; they're more important than most of the quests. Let's roll!"
After clearing the Hell Swarms out of the way, the three amigas entered the Kurast Bazaar. A boss pack of Sextons met them almost immediately. The leader had the Holy Shock aura, which was annoying for Heather; she'd gotten used to not getting hurt, and the occasional zaps tended to spoil her aim. The old problem of Sextons healing each other was solved by resummoning Aphelia directly on top of the boss; she kept him occupied while Bodiccea and Heather whittled away his minions. A few Zakarumites with the pack made so little trouble amidst the flash of spears and hum of arrows, Bodiccea really only noticed them afterwards while she was searching the bodies for loot.
Back on the docks, Bodiccea found a few new items in her stash, with a note:
-- The Mule"
Blinking, Heather looked at in confusion. "Are those... tentacles?"
"OH. MY. GOD."
Even Aphelia was staring at it. "What is it doing to the maiden?"
Shuddering, Bodiccea threw the amulet in the swamp. "Yuck! I think it's Japanese, they have a tentacle thing over there. No, I'm taking it to Hratli's and having it melted down. Or smashed. Something. I need a shower. Wait here."
After retrieving the filthy thing with the point of her spear, Bodiccea carefully walked down to Hratli's. In the meantime, Heather and Aphelia looked through the rest of the stuff. "This must be the other amulet, and the belt. It's a sash of some kind."
"Is the amulet obscene?"
"No, it's cool." Heather looked closely at it. "It's really cool. Lots of fire resistance, +2 to Passive and Magic skills, mana leech... this is a nice amulet."
"That's good. I'm kind of beyond all that stuff now."
"I'd heard that," Heather said. "You come pre-equipped now, huh?"
"Yeah. It's random, but at least we have gear."
"I know what you mean. Back on the old days, we Rogues usually never made it as far as the monastery. Pretty good for having to do it naked, I guess."
"Hi!" Bodiccea said. "Mission accomplished. Took a maul to it myself. What's the rest of the stuff?"
"Got a really good amulet called Shadow Emblem, and a sash called... uh, String of Ears."
"Ew! I'm not touching it."
"There's no ears on it," Aphelia said.
"Yeah," Heather confirmed. "It's just really tough leather."
"Oh." Bodiccea looked over the sash. "Oh, yeah! This is one of those uber-1337 itamz everybody always talks about."
"For melee fighters, at least."
"Hush, Heather. Bowazons just run away. Actually, this should look better on me than Sigon's belt. It'll go with the leathers better, especially if I tie it so it hangs low on one hip and crosses over my butt like... that! Oooh, sexy. I like. I'll wear it!"
"Uh huh," Heather nodded quietly.
Aphelia shook her head. "Nope, she hasn't changed a bit..."
The only other monster type in the bazaar was Thrashers, or "sitting ducks" for anyone with as many speed boosts as Bodiccea. They found the waypoint quickly, and cleared the rest of the bazaar with little trouble. Priests in Upper Kurast dropped a few Blizzards from the other side of the broad canal separating them, but the inconvenience was minor and the damage insignificant. Once the level was mapped, including both temples and the sewer entrances, they went home to get some sleep.
"Hi, Ashy-babe!" Bodiccea bounced in the next morning. "Whatcha up to?"
Mildly irked, but smiling, Asheara said, "I thought I told you never to call me that."
"Yeah, I remember," Bodiccea grinned brightly. "Is it my fault it suits you? You'll just have to deal with it." As Heather and Aphelia walked in behind her, Bodiccea said, "Asheara, meet Aphelia, my new bud."
"Is that what that is?" Asheara said, holding up a hand to shield her eyes. "Kinda glowy."
"She always was brighter than me," Bodiccea smirked.
Aphelia snerked. "Remember, I didn't say it."
"But we all knew it," Heather smiled a little.
"Heather!" Bodiccea gasped, putting on a show of being greatly offended. "Someone woke up b!tchy today!"
"Maybe she got kicked out of the wrong side of bed this morning," Asheara speculated.
"Nah," Bodiccea laughed, "she and Aphie have been ganging up on me."
"Ooh," Asheara smiled. "Sounds like fun. Can I join in?"
"Oh, no!" Bodiccea wailed dramatically, throwing one hand up over her forehead. "All those I counted as friends are turning against me! What have I done to deserve this cruel fate?"
The room went quiet. Asheara broke the silence by saying, "I'm not touching that one."
"Aw, c'mon! I give you all a perfectly good straight line and nobody does anything with it."
Asheara shrugged. "So I'm no good with straight lines. Where'd Aphelia come from?"
"She's a gift from Heaven," Bodiccea said.
"Oh... so the armor comes off, huh?"
"Asheara! No, she's canned like tuna and stays that way."
Asheara opened her mouth to say something... then quickly closed it again. Aphelia quietly said, "I don't do material things."
"Yeah. I can't even give her potions."
"Huh," Asheara said. "A blonde who doesn't drink and keeps her clothes on. Not much of a gift from heaven, if you ask me."
"She's always been little miss goody-two-shoes," Bodiccea hmphed, sticking her tongue out at Aphelia. "I can't do a thing with her."
Asheara's eyes went wide. "I'm REALLY not touching that one."
"Could Ormus heal you?" Heather quickly changed the subject.
"Yes," Aphelia said. "Mages manipulate energy directly instead of storing it materially. It's kind of an inconvenience in the field, I suppose."
"What are you complaining about?" Bodiccea said. "You're not dying anytime soon, you've got, like, three times as much life as me."
"True," Aphelia looked Bodiccea up and down. "You don't have much vitality."
Asheara's gaze swept over Bodiccea, pausing here and there. "Could have fooled me. She looks like a healthy young lass."
"I needed a lot of strength and dex for the war fork," Bodiccea grumped, "so there wasn't much to spare. I don't have much stamina either."
"Aw." Obviously disappointed, Asheara shook her head pityingly at Bodiccea.
"I'm working on it! Besides, I get places so fast, I don't need much."
"There are places you don't want to go fast," Asheara laughed. "I don't get what you say sometimes, Blondie, but you're ok. How'd you swing getting an angel?"
"I'm not an angel," Aphelia said. "We Valkyrie are the handmaidens of Athulua, our goddess of storms and winds."
Asheara's eyebrows rose. "Is she the one who's with Kethryes?"
After a short pause, Aphelia nodded. "Yes."
"Oh." Asheara nodded, a knowing smile creeping onto her face. "I've heard of them."
The room went quiet again. Bodiccea broke the silence with a nervous laugh. "Aphie! We don't need to talk about them, Asheara might think we're weird or something. How's about we get back out there and get that black book, hmm?"
"The book of Lam Esen?" Asheara asked, her expression immediately changing to one of curiosity. "Zakarum took that years ago. If you can find it, I will be impressed."
"Great!" Bodiccea glanced around, grinning a little too broadly. "So, let's forget about weirdo goddesses who I have absolutely nothing in common with at all, and concentrate on our very important quest! You remember the quest?"
"Yes," Heather nodded. "It's nice someone does."
Frowning, Bodiccea tsked and said, "Wow, you are in a bad mood this morning. Let's go kill things, how about that?"
"Sounds fun. Lead the way, Miss B."
Bodiccea walked to the waypoint, with Heather and Aphelia running along behind. On the way, Heather whispered. "So, what do you think of Asheara?"
Aphelia laughed. "She's got a lot of attitude. I mean, the snake..."
"She always has that thing with her. I think maybe she's compensating for something."
"Overcompensating. And my gaydar was pinging like crazy."
"Oh, I know! Everyone is totally sure she is."
"And what does Bodiccea think?"
"She thinks she's hot and cool. She's been trying to get her to act less like a guy."
A guffaw burst out of Aphelia before she could properly rein it in. "Yeah, right!"
Bodiccea turned around. "Hey, what's going on back there?"
"Nothing!" Heather said.
Aphelia laughed. "We're just ganging up on you again!"
"Damnit, at least gang up on me in front of me where I can see you!"
"Well, quit running so fast that we can't keep up with you!"
"I'm not running, I'm walking. Phoo. Maybe a ton of extra movement isn't such a hot idea when you've got mercs to take care of. You're really slow in all that armor, Aphie."
Aphelia shrugged. "Well, maybe you don't need the Stealth armor anymore. Is it doing anything for you besides the extra movement?"
"Mmm... nah, not really. I hardly cast anything, don't need the dex bonus anymore, and I have more than enough movement bonuses."
Heather smiled. "I think the Mule has Iceblink. Wouldn't having 'Hit Freezes Target' work really well with Fend?
"Yeah," Aphelia nodded. "And Duriel's Shell has 'Cannot be Frozen.'"
"There's Shaftstop. Shaftstop and String of Ears would be great together."
"Even Skin of the Flayed One has life replenishing, not to mention even more life leech."
"OK!" Bodiccea shouted, holding up her hands. "Jeebus, when I said you were ganging up on me, I didn't mean literally. I'm not high enough level for most of those anyway. Iceblink would rock, but it's not like we need to make Normal any easier."
Looking a little disappointed, Heather shrugged. "Maybe you could upgrade Iceblink?"
"No dice; we're still in version 1.09. Heather, we'll be fine. Act III isn't that tough. Heck, we breezed through the Flayer Jungle, and that's the worst part."
Heather nodded. "If you say so."
"I do! Relax, I'm sure I'll get better armor sometime. So will you. Heck, you'd probably be wearing Iceblink if 'Hit Freezes Target' worked with ranged attacks."
Heather nodded. "Maybe. Sparkling Mail has worked out pretty well."
"Sparkling Mail rocks on a Rogue. Extra damage, lightning resistance; it's all good. Come on, let's go. We can play dress up the Amazon later."
Luckily, both of the temples and one sewer entrance were in the same corner of the Kurast Bazaar as the waypoint, and there were hardly any monsters. The Ruined Temple was empty except for Battlemaid Sarina and a gang of two minions; Bodiccea blinked and almost missed the fight. She dropped Vidala's Barb, and the black book was in its usual place. A stone skin Wailing Beast met them right inside the entrance of the Disused Fane, which was a bit of a surprise but hardly a serious one. A Lightning Enchanted Wailing Beast down the hall wasn't much of a problem either, nor were the Night Lords who populated the rest of the temple. Stifling a yawn, Bodiccea brought the Tome of Lam Esen to Alkor.
"You have found the book! It should contain important information about the Prime Evils. But as for you..."
"Say Alkor, how do you give people five unused stat points, anyway?"
Alkor grinned toothlessly. "Would you believe me if I told you it came from an injection of prime A-1 grade man juice?"
Bodiccea blinked. "And where would you get some of that?"
"From a natural source. Turn around and let me see your buttocks."
"Not unless you can convince me you did this to Tearlach and lived to tell about it."
"No back-talk, silly girl! You are too suspicious. Of course it is a potion, to be injected into the muscles. Drinking would destroy it."
Bodiccea smiled. "Then you can do it in my arm."
"You have more muscles elsewhere! I remember the large Barbarian. His went between his ears." Holding up a large syringe, Alkor said, "I am the alchemist! Let me put this where it will do you the most good. Later, I will weep and clutch at myself in despair."
Sighing, Bodiccea turned around and bent over. "Whatever. Thank you, Alkor, for once again adding a note of just-plain-wrong to my day."
"It is my speciality," Alkor grinned.
Newly fortified with 11 vitamins and minerals, Bodiccea and her crew went down into the Kurast Sewers. They were dark, gloomy, and full of dead things -- also, baskets of goodies, so many that Bodiccea wondered where Little Red Riding Hood was hiding. The monsters were Horadrim Ancients and Preserved Dead, neither of which should have been around in such a damp place, and Gloombats. No exploding Flayers, though.
The sewers are a huge level, so exploring them systematically is a must. Bodiccea went to the right, keeping the outside wall in sight. Occasionally they broke away to deal with a greater mummy or a River Stalker, but for the most part Bodiccea tried to keep everyone moving in one direction. There were several boss Horadric Ancients, including a Lightning Enchanted one. His poison breath was more of annoying, even when Bodiccea was Jabbing. Massive amounts of life leech is your friend.
The next greater mummy boss was hanging out next to a River Stalker, and a big crowd of Preserved Dead was nearby. That made things difficult; the spitter repeatedly knocked Bodiccea away from the Ancients and into the crowd of resurrecting lesser dead. She had to kill it first before dealing with the boss. After the battle, everyone was fine, though Aphelia was green with poison and stayed that way until they went back to town.
"Aphie," Bodiccea said with disappointment, "you know better than to walk through the poison clouds. They taught us about that in javelin school."
Aphelia scratched her head. "I know... it was like..."
"Like you couldn't help yourself?" Heather said.
"Yeah! It's like some kind of bizarre compulsion!"
Heather nodded. "It's like the green stuff is some kind of drug that's only for mercs and summons. It stinks, it hurts, but you keep going back to it."
"Whatever. Stop doing it. It took me forever to break Heather of the habit, I don't want to have to start on you."
Heather laughed, and tapped her arm. "Missy B!! I need some!!"
"Shut up, Heather. What's gotten into you today?"
"I dunno," Heather smiled. "But I kind of like it."
While exploring the sewers, they ran across several interesting things. Several sewer nodes had boats in them. Why is anyone's guess. Bodiccea stood in one with a mask on, singing about Christine, but neither of the others got it.* Bodiccea found a pike and tried it out for grins; even with Jab and all her extra attack speed, it was too slow. Sigh. That confirmed it: the pike-wielding Amazon had pretty much been nerfed out of existence. At one point, they passed an island out in the middle of a sewer node, with 4 Preserved Dead standing around in complete isolation. Heather killed them. At least they didn't drop anything nice; seeing a good treasure they couldn't reach out there would have been annoying.
On and on, and on they went. Eventually they found an entrance to Upper Kurast, and then another. Those would come in handy later. There seemed no end to the sewers or the pesky undeaders, until they found a super chest that dropped 5 blues. That was good for money, at least. According to the map, they'd come around nearly to their starting point when they found the golden chest of joy. It popped open with 6 blues, including a halberd Bodiccea tried out. It looked pretty spiffy, but spears are better.
Finally... FINALLY... just to the left of the entrance they came in originally, they found Icehawk Riftwing and the level 2 entrance. Down on level 2, there were 3 -- count 'em -- 3 exploding Flayers and three Stygian Watchers. As a reward for being so snotty, Bodiccea let Heather kill them while she looted the chests.
"There," Bodiccea said as she dropped the heart in her stash. "Let it be known that I have the heart of a saint."
"Along with his brain and eye," Heather noted.
"But not his thingy." Bodiccea laughed. "Ew, gross. Man, that took forever. I wonder why they didn't put alligators down there?"
"Why would they?" Aphelia asked.
"'Cause it'd be fun. Never mind. Let's check out the loot." Bodiccea dumped her pack open at Cain's feet... and picked out a flamberge. "Oh."
"What's with the sword?" Heather asked.
"Nothing," Bodiccea grasped the hilt and gave it a few swings. "Just remembering an old swordmistress I once heard about. This was before your time. Her name was Sapphidia, and she used a flamberge."
"Oh." Heather waited, but no more explanation came. "Gonna sell it?"
"Yeah, it's not much good. It's getting kind of late. Wanna hit Upper Kurast and try to find the waypoint?"
"You're the boss. It would be better."
"Ok, then. Let's go."
After crawling out of the sewers (Bodiccea cracked a joke about really knowing how to make an entrance) the three amigas set out into Upper Kurast. The waypoint is always near the Kurast Causeway, so they headed towards the center and east side of the area. On their way, they were intercepted by a pack of Faithful, mixed with some Zealots -- or "red naked guys" and "black naked guys" as Bodiccea called them. They weren't dangerous, but they ran away so often, half the monsters in the area soon got in on the fight: Thrashers, Winged Nightmares, even a few purple-robed Cantors found it in themselves to wander over. After it was all over, Bodiccea looked around at the number of bodies scattered around, and decided there couldn't be that many monsters left. Since the waypoint would be near the Causeway, they might as well clear Upper Kurast out completely.
On the west side of town, it was deeply satisfying to finally get all those Cantors -- the ones who just love dropping Blizzards on your head from the other side of the canal. They don't do so well when you can actually reach them; one even teleported right on top of Aphie and died. Other than them, and a few stray packs spread out along the north and south sides, Upper Kurast was practically empty. That first big fight did almost depopulated the whole area. Seeing how there was so little opposition, Bodiccea decided to clear out the temples and the Kurast Causeway. They could always run into Travincal and hit the waypoint there if they wanted to save time tomorrow.
Inside the Forgotten Reliquary, some Wailing Beasts ambushed them right inside the door, again. They were normal, so it wasn't a big deal. Another pack of Beasts was waiting down the hall, along with some Flesh Hunters. They didn't seem too interested in attacking; maybe men make for better eating. The Forgotten Temple was much the same, only with different monsters: Flesh Archers, Blood Divers, and a champion pack of Serpent Magi. Being from a tropical island, Bodiccea had no love for snakes, but these came in such bright and pretty colors, it was almost a shame to kill them. Maybe someone could make something nice out of the hide... especially the blue one.
"Hmm..." Bodiccea said, examining a tower shield one of the serpents dropped. "You know, tower shields are supposed to be the biggest shields anyone ever really used. Why is it that in the game, Tower Shields are smaller than Gothic Shields?"
"I dunno," Heather said. "It never seemed that important."
Aphelia smiled. "None of us use shields. It might be more appropriate to wonder why the Giant Axe is smaller than the Gothic Axe."
"Oh, yeah," Bodiccea smirked. "And Great Mauls are smaller than Mauls."
"That's true," Aphelia said. "Great Mauls have more reach and do more damage, but are visibly shorter."
"Maybe the graphics got switched during development," Heather said.
"Could be. Either that, or the names would up getting assigned a little randomly. I think a Glaive is really a kind of polearm, not a javelin."
Aphelia laughed. "Lucky they didn't make the Claymore a bow."
The Kurast Causeway was empty -- no Faithful, no Temple Apes, nothing. The two temples were just like the ones they'd cleared already. It got so dull, Aphelia actually disappeared out of sheer boredom and Bodiccea had to summon her again. During one trip back to town to sell and repair stuff, Heather wandered out to the south docks, where the other mercs were sleeping.
"Hi, guys," Heather said, looking around. "Are you all asleep?"
Paige: "We were." (yawns)
"Hey, Heather," Khaleel mumbled, staggering to his feet. "How's it going?"
"Great! Miss B is happy, and our new friend Aphelia is really nice. They knew each other from back on the Amazon islands, and she's got lots of really funny stories about her."
Khaleel grinned. "Yeah? Like what?"
"Well... there was this one time... no, I shouldn't tell anybody."
"Aw, come on!" Khaleel laughed. "We won't tell."
Paige: "If they do, I'll beat 'em up for you."
Blinking blearily, Kasim shook his head. "Uh, yeah. What was it?"
Turning red, Heather shook her head, still grinning. "Well... ok. This one time when they were young, the temple guards took them all to the beach. I guess Miss B was developing early and fast; her swimsuit was too small, but her mother wouldn't buy her a new one 'cause she'd outgrow it too soon."
Paige: "Uh, oh."
Khaleel said, "With her, that might be a threat to civilization as we know it."
"Um..." Heather blinked. "Yeah. Anyway, I guess she was getting uncomfortable, so she got away from the others, hid behind a sand dune, and undid her top. Then she fell asleep."
"I don't know," Heather said. "Maybe she lay down or something."
"Did anybody see her?" Kasim asked, his interest perked.
Heather shook her head. "No, but I guess she moved around enough in her sleep that her top came off completely, and she got a really bad sunburn where she shouldn't have."
Khaleel laughed. "Oops!"
Paige: (laughs) "Bodice burn."
Heather laughed. "It was worse when she had to put her top back on and go back."
"Yeah," Heather grinned, looking a little guilty. "So... I better get back."
Khaleel nodded, frowning. "Are you sure you'll be ok, Heather?"
"Guys!" Heather laughed a little. "You're really sweet, but I think I'm ok now. I've been really happy lately; I've even talked back to Miss B and she's been ok with it. We're getting along really well, and I don't think I need a support group anymore."
"It's ok. You've all been really nice, and I like talking to you. I'll come back sometime, you're all great friends."
Heather gave Khaleel a nice hug. "You've been really nice too! Thanks. Miss B is looking for me, I have to go. Bye for now!"
As she scampered off, Khaleel sputtered a bit more, then went quiet. Heather rejoined Bodiccea, and as they ran back to the portal, he snarled, "Damn it."
Laughing, Kasim clapped him on the shoulder. "Sucks to be you, I guess."
"Aw, man! I thought I had a chance with her."
"What can I say? The 'sensitive nice guy' bit sometimes makes 'em think you just wanna be buddies."
Paige: "Excuse me? What are you guys talking about?"
Both men went quiet; Kasim started looking off into the distance, and Khaleel stared at the tops of his shoes. "Nothin'."
For the first time, Klatu spoke. "The mage has been trying to woo her."
Paige: (blinks) "What? Why?"
"Well..." Khaleel shrugged, nervously stepping back and forth from foot to foot. "She's cute, and stuff."
Paige: (stares) "So... you like her?"
"Look, I said so, ok!?" Khaleel snapped. "Do I have to send up flares?"
Paige: (still stares) "Why didn't you just say something?"
Khaleel glared at Paige, then shook his head, appalled by her ignorance. "Like what?"
Paige: (frowns) "I don't know... something like 'I like you'?"
Laughing ruefully, Khaleel said, "Yeah. The thing is, whenever you just come out and tell a girl you like her, she'll say she's not interested in a relationship right now, or she's too busy with her career, or there's just no chemistry, whatever. A week later, you'll see her in a bar in a halter top and harem pants, snogging some Barbarian or somebody."
Paige: (glares) "That is not true!"
"Hell yeah it is," Kasim muttered.
Khaleel pointed at Kasim. "What he said! Paige, I know you're a girl, but I'm not talking out of my ass here! This is the outcome of many years of observation."
Paige: "Get out. Klatu, do you get women in halter tops crawling all over you in bars?"
Klatu smiled. "Yes."
Paige: "Of cou -- what?"
Folding his arms, Klatu quirked an eyebrow and broke into a broad grin. "Chicks dig wild men. What more can be said?"
Paige: "That is so not true."
Khaleel and Kasim said, in unison, "Yes it is."
Klatu laughed. "I will say they come to me more if I have bathed that week. But no less than three days before. Any cleaner, and I do not smell as a man should."
Paige: "I KNOW that is not true! Are you guys done playing your little joke?"
"What joke?" Kasim asked.
"It ain't a joke," Khaleel grumbled.
Paige: (fumes) "Ok, maybe the kind of women who hang around in bars wearing halter tops and harem pants go for big slabs of smelly muscle. Heather is not like that!"
"Blondie probably is," Kasim surmised.
Paige: "Oh, there's no doubt about that. Anyway, Khaleel... if you like Heather, why don't you just tell her?"
"'Cause she'd tell me to fvck off?"
Paige: "You don't know that!"
"What woman wouldn't?" Klatu grinned still. "No healthy lass would want a wizard."
"Shut up!" Khaleel snapped.
Klatu laughed. "I'll be kind to you, little man, and ignore that."
Kasim laughed. "Sorry, Paige. I know you're gonna deny it, but chicks go for jocks."
Paige: (frowns darkly) "Maybe that's because the jocks don't play stupid head games, lying about their motives and pretending to like you and want to be friends when all they want is to get you in the sack! Do you guys know, do you know what you're doing, Khaleel? You're pretending to be something else, and putting on a front. That's what Barbie does! That's exactly why nobody likes her, and you are being exactly like her!"
There was a long, thoughtful pause, before Khaleel finally spoke. "Yeah, I guess. At least head games work sometimes."
Paige: (stares) "Ok, I'm leaving. You three are disgusting."
"Hey, I'm not..." Kasim said, but Paige had vanished back behind the screen. "Aw, man."
Khaleel shrugged. "She'll come back. It's not like there's much else to do."
"Time will cool her anger," Klatu said. "I have seen this before."
"Like you know a lot about women," Khaleel scoffed.
Klatu smiled. "Someone here has to."
"Ah... fvck it."
Before charging into Travincal, Bodiccea went up to Asheara's. It was late, but she was still up. "Heya, Ashy-babe! How's the world treatin' ya?"
"Like usual," Asheara half-smiled, still a little irritated by the name. "You're looking good."
"Thanks!" Bodiccea bounced happily. "Ooh, your feet look so much prettier!"
Asheara rubbed the sole of one foot over the top of the other. "They kind of itch."
"That's ok, there's creams for that." Producing a bottle, Bodiccea said, "Now, this is a great product called 'Nair'. Let me show you how to use it..."
Asheara took a step back. "Isn't that that hair-removal stuff?"
After blinking in surprise for a moment, Bodiccea nodded vaguely, saying, "Ashy, I'm sorry, I thought you didn't know. The first time I saw you, I thought you just needed to bathe more, but when I got a closer look I could see you might want --"
Frowning, Asheara crossed her arms. "No. I look fine."
Still looking confused, Bodiccea laughed nervously, and said, "Um... I'm sorry, but you may have the hairiest legs I've ever seen on a woman. Your arms too; I've seen men with less body hair. Now, this is incredibly easy to use, and leaves your skin so soft! I got the melon-cucumber scent, it only takes a few minutes --"
Obviously surprised, Bodiccea said, "Um... I'm sorry, I know you like yourself just the way you are --"
"Hell yeah, I do." Asheara glowered darkly.
"That's good!" Bodiccea nodded vigorously. "That is good, really good -- everyone should be as happy with themselves as someone as totally cool as you! But there are still some small, very minor things you could be doing, that, you know, only another woman can really see... I know you hang around with guys here -- which is great! I wish I had this many men around me! -- but sometimes, you know, it takes a woman's eye to see where you might be doing something wrong -- just a little thing! -- and maybe suggest how --"
Slowly, almost wearily, Asheara said, "Blondie..."
She almost jumped. "Uh-huh?"
"Do you ever talk about anything but hair and clothes and makeup and sh!t?"
Bodiccea stared, then laughed a little. "Well, what else is there?" When Asheara's eyes snapped up to glare flaming hot death at her, Bodiccea put up her hands and shouted, "Joke! Joke! Ha, ha! Ok, I know, you've been competing in a man's world for a long time, and it's totally great that you've done so well! I mean, you're a successful businesswoman... leader of a band of cut-throat mercenaries feared by... uh... feared throughout the land... You had to be really tough to get where you are today!"
"Uh huh," Asheara nodded. "And I do not care if my legs are hairy. So talk about something else."
Bodiccea nodded, but sighed a bit. "All right. What do you want to talk about?"
Asheara smiled. "How about sex?"
Heather leaned over and whispered in Aphelia's ear, "Here it comes."
Bodiccea fidgeted a bit, and said, "That's... um... can I at least show you how to bleach out your little mustache?"
Asheara's hand snapped up in front of her mouth. "NO."
"No, it's awful thick!" Bodiccea peered closer. "I'm amazed I didn't notice before; are you shaving in the mornings?"
"Look!" Asheara glowered, "I did not get where I am by being soft and smooth and smelling like fruit. I do better with some rough edges." Then she grinned. "Besides, sex is a lot more fun when you're not worried about smearing anything. And that's the whole point of wearing all that crap, isn't it?"
Eyes wide, Bodiccea said, "Oh, Ashy... you have been in a man's world too long. 'All that crap' has nothing to do with sex! It's to make men think about it and want you so much, they'll do anything!"
"And then... ?"
"And then, they'll be so, like, flustered and stuff, you'll rule! And you have to keep 'em like that! I mean, why would a guy give you what you want if he gets what he's after first?"
Asheara nodded. "What if you want sex too?"
For several long seconds, Bodiccea stood there, stunned into silence. Finally, she stammered, "Uh... the chase is always better than what comes after."
"You're not listening. What if you want sex too?"
Now completely baffled, Bodiccea tried several times to speak, finally blurting out, "Why would you give away sex? That's the best thing we have to keep men in line! Our bodies are our most precious commodity, you don't just give them away!"
Asheara gave Bodiccea a very skeptical stare. "Personal question."
"Have you ever really been in a serious relationship with anybody?"
Aphelia smiled, and leaned over to whisper in Heather's ear, "NOW here it comes."
After a quick, vindictive glance back at Aphelia, Bodiccea declared, "Yes!"
"How serious was it? 'Cause I don't think you have."
"It was serious! We were together for... like... two months."
"Excuse me?" Aphelia raised her hand. "It was more like two weeks."
"Right," Asheara nodded. "So: did you two have sex?"
Bodiccea, who had been silently snarling at Aphelia to shut up, turned pink to the roots of her hair and shouted, "That's kind of nosy, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Did you?"
After a few moments of glancing around the room, Bodiccea said, "I've had sex."
Asheara raised one eyebrow. "With another person?"
"Uh..." Bodiccea turned even redder, fidgeting and passing her spear from hand to hand. After a long silence, she began examining the tops of her boots. "No."
The room was quiet for almost a minute, before Asheara burst out in laughter. "Oh, man... no wonder you sound like a soap opera, you probably get your ideas there, right?"
"I don't have time for soaps anymore," Bodiccea muttered.
"Right," Asheara laughed. "Yeah. Whatever. Gawd, you are a piece of work."
Still blushing, Bodiccea snapped, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know so much, you figure it out." Asheara chuckled. "Look... I love the view, but I'm sick of the bullsh!t. When you want something, get it yourself; nobody's gonna give it to you no matter how much skin you show. And, while it'd be tempting to show you what sex is, you wouldn't be worth the trouble. I'm going to sleep. Get outta here."
As she tromped away, Bodiccea began muttering darkly, finally speaking aloud once they were out of earshot. "What was that? Who the fvck does she think she is, talking to me like that? Just WHO does she think SHE IS!?"
"Boddy," Aphelia said, "I don't think Asheara likes you anymore."
"No thanks to you!" Bodiccea snapped. "I come over to talk, I'm only trying to help, and what does she do? She starts prying into my personal life and making fun of me. That little witch, they're all the same..."
"It's ok, Miss B," Heather patted her on the shoulder. "Maybe she got tired of you giving her so much advice."
"What's wrong with that? I am just trying to help! She needs help!"
"Boddy?" Aphelia asked. "Remember that kid back at the temple, the one who was telling you how to swim and dive and do acrobatics?"
"That little brat? You would not have believed her, Heather. Five years younger than me, and telling me how to do a forward flip, and... oh, I get it."
"Yeah," Heather laughed a little. "I think Miss Asheara thinks she knows more about how to relate to men than you do."
"Maybe," Bodiccea nodded. "She's... oh, hell, she does. Heather? Please don't tell the others about this. I'd never live it down."
Heather nodded, smiling. "Ok."
Bodiccea gave her a hug. "Thanks. I wonder what she meant by 'showing me what sex is'? Was she gonna order one of her guys to... ?"
Aphelia smiled faintly. "I don't think so."
"But what else could she do? Ok, ordering some guy to do it is kind of gross, and I would have beat the crap out of him if he tried, but --"
"Miss B?" Heather asked. "It's getting really late now. Why don't we just go to sleep and forget about this?"
Bodiccea sighed and rubbed her temples. "I don't think I could sleep right now. Let's go back to Travincal and get the waypoint. Maybe kill the council."
"Sure," Heather smiled. "Take your mind off things."
Three Night Lords met them at the gate. One survived long enough to run away, straight towards the waypoint; Bodiccea saw no reason not to follow. He stopped when a group of Zealots joined the fight, and three Heirophants began casting Blizzards and healing spells. If they'd given the Paladin healing spells this good, Bodiccea thought, more people might play Cleric builds. She ran through to the Heirophants, leaving the Zealots for the others. After touching the waypoint, she decided to go for the council.
After clearing a champion pack of Night Lords off the central dais, Bodiccea led her minions to the blackened tower. Strange name for it: it's not a tower, or much darker than anything else in the city. Anyway, they went in. The Water Watchers in the ponds outside ducked down, two council guys came loping out, and Bodiccea backed up to isolate them from the others. Aphelia didn't back out, though, and Heather stayed behind to support her. Cursing, Bodiccea ran back in.
As Bodiccea came back, Heather moved off to one side, attracting a large group of Zealots. Aphelia wandered past a Water Watcher on the other side, and got knocked back far enough to get the attention of some Night Lords. More Councilors came out, and Bodiccea furiously Fended them off. The next few minutes were a blur: Water Watchers spat their little guts out, Zealots scampered here and there, and Councilors summoned Hydrae and hobbled into combat. A Frost Nova went off, and many items dropped. Blood spurted, poison splattered, and firebolts roared across the water. It was truly a mess.
When everything had stopped moving, Bodiccea called out in the dark, "Heather?"
"I'm right here behind you."
"AH! Don't do that. Is that everything?"
"Yeah. You have Inner Sight too, you know."
"I know, I just forget about it. See if you can find a flail around here."
After a bit of fumbling around, Heather asked, "Is this it?"
"It is spiky with balls shaped like skulls?"
There was a short silence. "I thought it was supposed to be a saint's weapon."
"Look, don't ask me about Blizzard's aesthetic choices. Have you seen what the Amazon is wearing in the Install screen for this game? Leather elf shoes and knee-high stockings under a loincloth? Please!"
"I thought those were calf-high boots with ankle bracelets."
"Whichever, they're U. G. L. Y. Even Sigon's boots are an improvement."
While they were looking, Aphelia wandered back. "Oh, hi Aphie! As long as you're glowing, could you stand right over here?"
"Of course. This is a respectable pile."
"Yeah... the council drops a lot of crap. Here it is! Back to town!"
Back on the docks, Bodiccea nudged Cain in the ribs until he got up. "Oh! Ridding Kurast of the council was necessary --"
"Yeah, yeah, but it doesn't take care of the evil curse on this land, and doubtless Diablo and Baal have surely found their brother by now. I'm gonna craft the flail now. You don't have to congratulate me on how skillfully I open the cube and press the button. It's not that hard."
"Diablo and Baal have found their brother," Ormus said from the other side of the pyramid, "and have held their dark gathering. The portal to Hell is open, but they have broken their company, leaving it unguarded for you."
"Shhh!" Bodiccea hissed theatrically. "Don't tell poor ol' Cain, he still thinks we have a chance in Hell of doing this! How do you know the gate's already open, anyway?"
"The sight of the mystic is obscure to the eyes of others."
Bodiccea stepped around the corner. "Well, the butt of the Amazon's spear can whack the mystic repeatedly in the yin-yangs. You know, everybody thinks you're in on something evil, or you know something. So: do you actually know anything, or is this all 'I knew that was going to happen' psychic crap?"
Impassive as a granite spire, Ormus held his staff before him to block any sudden low blows and intoned, "Clarity is for the knowledgeable. Only those who know little appreciate how little is worth knowing."
"Right," Bodiccea hefted her spear. "Interrogation over. Commence beating."
Ormus smiled. "Child, you simply do not ask Ormus the right questions."
"I already know the answers to the right questions!"
"Then Ormus can impart no wisdom to you. You are, he might say, full of it."
"Oh, ha ha. Ok, then: why is it called the Durance of Hate?"
"A durance is a prison," Heather said.
"So why not call it the Prison of Hate? Or the Jail of Hate? You could call it the Gaol of Hate if you want to get all British on us."
The slightest trace of irritation infected Ormus' otherwise imperturbable features. "The name of a thing will not reveal its essence."
Heather smiled. "Maybe we could call it 'Mephy's Fabulous Green Breastplate Emporium?' That's what everybody thinks it is."
Bodiccea laughed. "There you go! Sounds like this was yet another aesthetic decision. Like naming it the Disused Reliquary, not Kurast Temple #5. Ok, I can sense the enormous lack of interest here. Let's go."
In her hand, Khalim's flail looked like a small whip. Once she got Heather to stop giggling and making leather jokes, Bodiccea smashed the Compelling Orb and opened their way into the Durance. Then they went around Travincal, mopping up the Heirophants and Night Lords. Having the Zealots turn on their priests would have been really cool, but they were probably supposed to be too discouraged for that. All they did was cower and run away, which was kind of a pity. Some of them might be cute if you scraped the black stuff off.
The Durance was drenched in blood and gore. Bodies were piled up everywhere, and the floor was as sticky as a movie theater after a kiddie matinee. Maulers, Stygian Dolls, and Cadavers populated the first floor. Flayer Skeletons are quick, but they weren't dangerous yet, and the long reach of a spear helps deal with them. There were lots of chests, most of them locked; Bodiccea went through a lot of keys.
"I wonder what the deal is with locked chests in here?" she muttered, looking over her dwindling key ring. "Even the lights are in keyhole patterns."
"I know," Aphelia said, standing quite harmlessly in one of the braziers. "I suspect it's intended to be some kind of irony."
"Yeah," Heather said. "Like Mephisto's supposed to be commenting on prisons, and how locking him in didn't do any good."
Bodiccea considered that. "Hmm... yeah, probably. Iron bars make not a cage and all."
Aphelia shook her head. "More like, locking him in physically lulled everybody into feeling secure, but did not interfere with his corruption of the land."
"Jeebus, Aphie, you're starting to sound like Ormus. Here's the stairs. Let's go."
Level 2 of the Durance was much the same as level 1; it even had the same monsters. Stifling yawns, Bodiccea and her merry band cleared the level, and hit level 31. She put the skill point in Fend, since she'd lost a jav/spear skill level when she switched amulets. The waypoint was right next to the stairs down to level 3, an ideal arrangement for Meph runs.
Rubbing her eyes, Bodiccea mumbled, "Man! I haven't been up this late in a long time. I hope I'm not getting old."
Heather yawned, and shook her head. "Should we just go home? It's really late."
"Um..." Bodiccea stared blearily at the stairs, right next door to them. "Ah, what the heck. I think I can sleepwalk through a fight with Meph, he's not that tough."
"What about Bremm Sparkfist?"
"He used to be bad when he was always lightning enchanted. Come on, we know the layout down there like the back of my hand, and Meph's a pussy. Dodge the cold ball and get in his face, he goes down like that. Let's get him."
The familiar walls of the Durance of Hate, level 3 soon stretched out before them. There were no Stygian Dolls, the Night Lords and random Councilors died without a fuss, and Meph used his cold ball on Aphelia. She vanished, but gave Bodiccea enough time to get nice and close to Mephisto and Jab him to death. He dropped the Berserker's Hatchet and a bunch of blue items. Bodiccea then amused herself with the evil spirits. It turns out they're invisible things that attack once, but stay there afterwards -- you can't walk through their spots.
"Man, it would be so cool if, just once, we could do something like close this gate and go after Baal instead of wasting time in Hell."
Heather sighed. "Yeah. It might actually save the world."
"Oh, there you go about that again. If we save the world, there won't be a Diablo III."
"Will there be a Diablo III?"
Bodiccea raised an eyebrow. "How much money do you think Diablo II has made?"
"Oh, yeah," Heather yawned. "I hope there's still Rogues. I want to see how it ends."
"Sure," Bodiccea grinned. "Rogues are a great excuse for some cheesecake."
"Yeah," Heather rolled her eyes. "Do you think we'll have better outfits?"
"If by 'better' you mean 'less skimpy', not a chance. Remember our audience."
"Sometimes, I wanna kick our audience in the nuts."
Bodiccea laughed. "Aw, c'mon. They've stuck women in lots worse things in games."
"Thas true." Yawning fiercely, Heather pointed to the Hellgate. "Well, Miss B, the plot awaits. I think you have to go in first."
"Sure," Bodiccea said, kicking one of the three fresh, white skulls Mephisto always drops. "What do you think these are supposed to be?"
"They probably mean the Three have linked their spirits to those three dead guys. So long as those skulls exist they'll always have a spiritual pathway to our world, and since we can't touch those skulls we're all doomed no matter what. Miss B, I'm falling asleep standing up! Can't we just go?"
"Awright, awright! Lemmee grab the Soulstone. Ok! Over the bridge and through the gate, it's off to Hell we go..."