Mizor (Act III)
Glorious Kurast, huh? The dockside only had enough space for one ship, all the rest was overgrown. Mizor normally wouldn't see anything wrong with this, but this growth was not natural. For one thing, the dock obviously wasn't old or abandoned, but had been in use within the year. For another, he could put his paw on the trunk of a tree and feel it growing, its woody fibers twisting like living rope as it sprouted black leaves up to the overcast sky. Lut Gholein was bad, with monstrous beasts plaguing the desert, but this... nature itself seemed to have been taken into league with the demonic invasion. It was unimaginable how such a thing could happen, but here it was.
As Mizor stood staring at the impossible green corruption curling like claws around the docks, a small, thin man greeted him.
Hratli: "Well. As sanity is in such short supply here, I suppose you must be our savior, and the greatest of all men. Welcome to Kurast, traveler. I am Hratli, smith and enchanter."
Paige: "Thanks... say, aren't smiths a little... bigger, usually?"
Hratli: "That would be true, if madness were not the course of our days here. I am, as you see, a pathetic specimen, who appears unsuited to his craft. Our finest healer is tall and powerful, with hands that can crack the strongest betel nuts, while a great warrior, a slender woman, stands on our southern docks and does nothing all day. Nothing is as it should be."
Mizor: (Looking at tree as it grows six inches taller during Hratli's speech.) "Auhh."
Hratli: "Your words are full of wisdom. I could learn much from your sage council. You should let others know of your arrival. They will be overjoyed."
No one on the docks was particularly happy to see them, but no one was ever happy to see Mizor the first time he came to a town. There were quite a few people wandering the docks like lost souls, with nothing to eat but fish and bananas. Besides the healer and the warrior (who certainly didn't look the part), there was a hermit-like alchemist who threw rocks at Mizor until he went away, and a mercenary battle-mage who obviously didn't catch colds easily. Maybe it was her way of dealing with the warm and sticky weather. Deckard Cain had come over with them; didn't he have anything better to do, like go somewhere else? Oh well, at least he was good for figuring out item enchantments.
Moving off the docks onto land, Mizor saw, up ahead, a man stumbling into the jungle. He was completely covered in a rough brown robe and cowl, but the aura of menace he radiated was unmistakable... this had to be the wanderer who was host to Diablo! The Krakatoan Body Slam would have been the move of choice, except that the wanderer vanished as Mizor approached. Drat. But they were catching up with him! Mizor was at least a month behind at Rogue's pass, and a few days behind at Tal Rasha's tomb. Now, he had finally caught up to Diablo, and would surely overtake him before he'd reached Mephisto! Unless something went wrong, but what could possibly happen?
Mizor led his group along a river; it was better than trying to make their way through the jungle. The greenery was growing even faster beyond the dockside, and sometimes, buried in the green, Mizor could see a house or other structure, only recently abandoned. This was not a virgin jungle, but had been the suburbs of the city. Now, it was full of birds with skull faces, gigantic mosquitoes, and psychopathic midgets with blowguns. The midgets were the most annoying, they were horrifically fast. Mizor could run up to one, swing his axe, and it would have run away by the time the blow came down. None of the monsters could really hurt Mizor, though they all tried as hard as they could.
One of the skull birds was carrying around a little jade statue of a barbaric warrior. How, Mizor did not know, but how had that midget been carrying a poleaxe? Cain said that Meshif collected jade, so they took it over to his ship. It turns out that it was the very rare #47 of a 60-statue set put out by Steroid Stud magazine. Meshif was so happy to complete his collection, he gave Mizor a frilly little filigree statuette of a golden bird in exchange. It was all very odd, but it would explain why Meshif was so well-built for a sea captain, if he read muscle magazines. Maybe he'd picked it up in the navy. Alkor the alchemist gave Mizor a potion in exchange for the bird. It was very tasty and good.
Deeper in the jungles, giant spiders had built huge underground nests to incubate their eggs. Cain said the spiders had once been much smaller, and harmless; yet another example of how the corruption of demons could taint even the purity of animals. Mizor went through both of the nests they found, killing huge, venomous spiders and crushing their eggs, when he found something locked in a chest: a human eye, but the iris was red. It felt much tougher than a normal eye had a right to be, too, so Mizor took it back to Cain to ask about.
The eye Mizor found in the spiders' cavern was a holy relic of some kind. Cain had been talking with the townspeople while Mizor was out slaughtering the minions of evil, and it seems that a long time ago, a priest named Khalim had opposed the rest of the high council of Zakarum on some religious matter. This was before the evil of organized religion had become as obvious as it was now, so when the council killed him, it didn't raise much of a stir. But parts of Khalim's body wouldn't burn on his pyre: his eye, his brain, and his heart. His favorite flail proved likewise indestructible. Naturally, this was a sign from the Light that Khalim was blessed, so the council hid these parts in secret locations, to disguise their own corruption and hypocrisy. Cain guessed that this was Khalim's eye, and was sure it could be used in some way to bring about Mephisto's downfall.
When he visited Hratli to get a psycho-midget's head off of his boot (the damn thing bit him and wouldn't let go even after he decapitated it), Hratli mentioned that he had a protective spell around the dockside, which kept the monsters and most of the jungle growth out. With slow persistence, the jungle was rooting into the spell and weakening it, but there was a way it might be reinforced. Before the religion of Zakarum was established in these lands, the religion of Skatsim held sway. The Skatsimi had powerful relics, one of which was a dagger called the Gidbinn, which could bolster protective enchantments, and with it, the spell on the docks could be strengthened. Which religion prized what toy made little difference to Mizor, but magic was magic, and the dockside spell did keep the mosquitoes out.
Back in the jungle, Mizor trudged through a great, bug and zombie-infested marsh, which contained nothing of interest. Plunging in deeper, everything suddenly went quiet... just before the jungle came alive with dozens of midgets! They were everywhere, running around like screaming little monkeys, blowing tiny darts from behind leaves, zipping in and out and suicidally diving into you with knives half the size of their bodies. There were bigger ones too -- no, that was one riding on another's shoulders, breathing fire and raising up its fallen kin. They hit hard, took quite a bit to kill, and were just everywhere... Mizor and Paige had to fight for every inch they gained. Paige mentioned something about sympathizing with Karen Black, but Mizor didn't know what she was talking about.
After too much of this, they found a tiny village, with tiny little huts, skulls impaled on tiny little spikes, and human bodies in a huge pot set to boil so long they'd gone green and moldy. Well, they may not have been there very long; the jungle was so moist and fetid, even Mizor was growing mold in places he couldn't keep clean. To one side a dagger was suspended above a little woven mat: was this the Gidbinn thing? When Mizor went to get it, it burst into flame, and a new wave of midgets attacked. One of them had a dagger, obviously of great power, which Mizor gave to Ormus. Wasn't it Hratli who'd made the enchantment? Anyway, Ormus was very pleased, gave Mizor a fairly nice ring, and composed a poem in his honor.
Growing green with rack and toil,
Whose odor does remind one
Of meat begun to spoil;
or threats slimy and fungal!
For what a bear does in the woods,
He may do in the jungle!
Under the midget village was a dungeon. It was deep, maze-like, full of traps, and populated by more midgets than you could shake a Gidbinn at. The Flayers (judging from the human remains, they seemed to like flaying things alive) also kept their dead with them. Like most dead these days, they were lively; livelier and faster than the living ones, and they exploded into nasty, bony shards when destroyed. At least they didn't have lungs, and so couldn't blow darts. The dungeons were also home to many ghosts; places where people die in agony often are. These things gave Mizor the first real problem he'd had for a long time, when they sapped his spiritual strength with their touch. Spirit is so necessary for a lycanthrope, and after his first hard fight, Mizor learned to make a great shockwave before engaging ghosts, to stun them and keep them from swarming him.
At the bottom of the dungeons was a golden chest guarded by a fearsome Flayer shaman. The chest containing many treasures, and a human heart, still beating. Mizor wondered if the eye could still see, and the brain still think. What a revolting condition to find yourself in; was this a sign of a blessing from the Light, or a curse? He packed it away and returned to the surface, fighting on deeper into the jungle until they reached the outermost walls of Kurast, which surrounded the lower city.
Well, if Mizor had begun to feel too sure of himself, lower Kurast changed his opinions. The area looked easy, relatively easy monsters and lots of magic items for the taking. Mizor was idly kicking baskets open as he waited for some green vultures to come down, not noticing that one was a unique, and both his wolves and Paige were in a nearby building, bumping up against the wall. Minions do that a lot; they get lost easily. Then the vultures came down, completely surrounding Mizor, and the unique got the first hit, instantly draining Mizor's mana reserves. Ah, extra fast, and mana burn. The unique and his crowd bunched up tight around Mizor and began swatting as fast and as often as they could.
The unique had a lot of hit points, so Mizor started thinning the crowd, taking out minions one by one. As the fight dragged on, and Mizor took more and more hits, something that he'd begun to think about in the Flayer dungeon was becoming painfully clear: Goreshovel simply wasn't doing the job anymore. It was nice, it was fast... it did more damage than any of the Great Axes he'd found, and he didn't want to fight with anything slower than that. The fight got so bad that Mizor was seriously considering drinking a purple potion, when the Great Bear saw his plight, and came to his aid just in the nick of time! (He really just hit level 30, and got his hit points and mana back.) Running out of the circle, Mizor stomped out a shockwave, and mopped up the stunned vultures easily. But that was much too close.
Paige got another deduction in pay. She mumbled some excuse about the door being stuck, but Mizor would have none of it. He also unsummoned both wolves, even though it made Paige cry. At least he wouldn't have to listen to any more "where's my puppy-wuppy?" talk, the Great Bear realized that Mizor could have a real pet now. So, he summoned his bear. Ah, much better, a bear worthy of the name; big as a house! Well, big as a room. Maybe big as a sofa. But bigger than a wolf! A much more proper fighting companion.
Back in town, he did some more shopping. Hratli had been making weapons in his magic forge, but had nothing worth using. Ormus had nothing, Asheara had nothing, and he hadn't found a single useful thing in Kurast. Maybe he should take something to Charsi, she said she could imbue an unenchanted item with magical properties... no, better save that for an emergency.
Mizor, Paige, and Bear returned to Kurast, and cleaned up the rest of the lower city, much more carefully. Bear was wonderful, smashing demons around; sometimes, they'd bounce off walls and Mizor could smash them again on the rebound. Moving in ever further, they came to a huge marketplace, and saw Zakarumites for the first time. Supposedly, these were warriors of faith and the light. They were ragged, starved, and empty-eyed, but died easily. Some small temples stood at each end of the bazaar; inside were huge hairy beasts, ghouls that summoned fire from the heavens, and hordes of mostly-naked women who attacked in a suicidal frenzy. Mizor wondered if they'd been nuns or something. In one temple, a black book stood on a lectern, though none of these people seemed up to any heavy reading. Alkor was happy to have it, though.
Under the bazaar were sewers, wide and extensive, but only one level deep. On a trip back to town, Hratli presented him with something that might replace Goreshovel: a Brutal Maul of the Bat. The weight felt good in his paws, but Mizor kept Goreshovel handy, just in case. Down in the sewer, a horde of burnt-black skeletons attacked, with one of those huge mummies, like the ones from Lut Gholein. Mizor charged up Maul bashing skellies, then ran around, took a swing at the Horadrim Ancient... and watched its head pop off and bounce into the water. Oooh. Mizor began to like this new maul. Onward they went, and Mizor began to like his new maul more and more; sure it took forever to connect, but the things it hit tended to go away very quickly. In a sump, a golden box contained a well-preserved human brain, firm to the touch. Ew.
By now he was thoroughly lost, so Mizor went up the first sewer outlet he could find and came out in the upper city. More Zakarumites attacked zealously, with priests who healed them and summoned cold blasts. All were quite undernourished, and died easily. The priests disintegrated in a puff of skin and bone fragments when struck down; Mizor wondered if any of them were really alive at all anymore. The upper city also had two little temples, with nothing especially exciting about them or the city itself. The center of Kurast was called Travincal, a city within the city, built on an island in the center of a large lake. A bare stone causeway led out over the water to the center of everything, where Mephisto had been imprisoned, and now ruled his captors.
Approaching Travincal, Mizor saw several tall buildings that had once been grand. Neglected and falling apart, they surrounded a black tower that had fallen down long ago; Mephisto's soulstone was kept below it. Hratli had wondered why the Horadrim built a tower to house the stone, when they had every intention of burying it in a deep vault. Mizor just shrugged; he had seen too many things that made no sense to him, in so many parts of the world, to wonder at an unneeded building. The raised causeway had two small temples, filled with some of the same serpent people Mizor had seen in Lut Gholein. This land had supposedly produced the cat people who plagued Lut Gholein; how did the monsters get across the sea? An interesting question, but Mizor had more pressing matters before him.
The causeway led into the middle of Travincal, where 4 blood-stained altars had been raised before the symbol of the sun's light. Mizor doubted that the light appreciated them. More zealous followers of Zakarum filled the city, but these looked well-fed and muscular, not the half-starved wretches Mizor stomped so easily. Not that this saved them, or their priests. Also in the city were ghouls, who brought more burning rocks from the sky; if nothing else, they provided convincing proof of the corruption of Zakarum, to see them at war alongside the faithful. They went through the city, smashing religious nuts left, right, and center, and finally approached the blackened tower.
The high council of Zakarum itself was in the tower, ready to defend... what? They would not come out until Mizor approached quite close. After getting a look at them, Mizor was sure the reason was nothing less than shame. None of them even looked human anymore. Their bones and flesh were twisted in chaotic ways; limping and flailing grotesque limbs, making bizarre hooting noises, they rushed out with fearsome speed. Smashing them would be a mercy, and Mizor felt quite merciful, looking at them. It wasn't easy, their twisted bodies were tough and resilient, but with Paige's cold arrows chilling them, and a few well-placed shockwaves, Mizor and Bear broke their bones and sent them to their reward.
Inside the tower, a glowing glass orb sat on a short stand. Mizor didn't look too closely at it. Going over the bodies, Mizor found a flail, surely belonging to Khalim, and noted that only 3 of the dead things had high council medallions; weren't there more of them than that? Ormus confirmed that the number of councilors was 7. Sankekur, head of the church of Zakarum, now embodied Mephisto, so 3 council members were unaccounted for.
The flail was Khalim's, and Cain suggested putting it in the Horadric Cube, with the eye, heart, and brain. Together, they created a flail with spiked golden skulls for balls; an odd look for a weapon of light, but Mizor wasn't sure if anything wholesome could come out of the church, even if it was Khalim's. But the flail could be used to smash that orb, which was apparently what kept the Zakarum faithful from rising up against their masters. And here Mizor had thought they were all just nuts, they were actually being compelled by this thing. Well, maybe organized religion couldn't completely wipe out common sense, if Mephisto needed magic to control the church.
When he returned, Mizor tried bashing the orb with his Maul; it wouldn't break. Even Goreshovel's edge couldn't crack the glass. But Khalim's flail did, and as the orb shattered into a million pieces, the flail vanished in a flurry of golden motes of light, which rose up to the sky and spread out to the horizon. A vast groan went up, and a sigh as great as the land itself shook what was left of the tower to the ground. Outside, trees and vines were dying back everywhere, falling off the buildings and collapsing into little piles of earth. Good, clean earth, it looked like too; Mizor normally wasn't happy to see plants dying away. Then he noticed a hole in the back wall of the tower, where a stairway led down; it had been blocked before. Mizor was sure Mephisto would not wall up the way in before his brothers arrived; he was probably late again.
The vaults below were deep, and full of danger. The worst were the Flayer skeletons, with their habit of exploding; Mizor learned to let Bear handle those, with the help of a few shockwaves. Bear's fur must be thicker than Mizor's, the flying bone fragments didn't seem to bother him. On the lowest level, Mizor found the last three members of the council, the powerful ones; each attacked alone, but occupied his full attention. A group of Vampire Lord champions gave him some real trouble, before they found Mephisto himself.
He looked strange... misty and only semi-substantial, with a rotted torso, huge spindly arms, and a ragged spinal column hanging below as he floated along. Sankekur had seen better days. The mists around him seemed to be poisonous (poisonous hate?) and strong enough that Mizor couldn't eat hit points back faster than he lost them; strong stuff. Paige, for once, was wise enough to hang back and fill him with cold arrows, and Bear took the main brunt of Mephisto's attack; Mizor just had to re-summon him between blows. The lord of hatred died, after only two greater healing potions, almost a textbook battle.