Varnae (Act V)
While I was wending my slothful way through Hell (everyone always believed I'd go there for some more interesting sin) Baal, Lord of Destruction, scorched his way through the northern highlands like a bolt of lightning. His goal in that uninteresting region is Mount Arreat, the highest, most inhospitable peak of the north, wherein something called the Worldstone rests. My host is reluctant to share with me the importance of this particular rock, except to say that since time immemorial, the inhabitants of the northlands have organized their whole lives around it, to the exclusion of all else. His argument is unconvincing; a savage may adore a rock as he pleases, but that is no concern for civilized men.
While Tyrael may fret with concern over his stone, I shall go into the wilderness with purer motives. Baal is an invader, an outsider defiling humanity's earth with his presence, and must not be tolerated. By whatever means necessary, his kind must be expunged, and the ways between our world and his closed forever. Then, finally, humankind can turn its attention to the angels. While they may leave of their own accord, more likely they must be shown the door by force. There is also the smaller, more personal matter of vengeance, and to save what remains of my Natalya. I have no doubt that my enemy has kept her, in some form, to toy with; anything to torture me, his most implacable foe.
Of the northlands, I know nothing save that they are rugged, cold, and inhabited by wild savages of warlike disposition. Respecting no law or code of conduct, these barely-human creatures wander aimlessly, their heads empty of all knowledge save that of hunger and the power of brute strength. They do not reap, and neither do they sew, but live out their lives in mindless circles of violence without the intelligence to comprehend anything greater than their own impoverished condition. According to Deckard Cain, barbarians have two popular gathering points (I cannot bring myself to call them cities): Sescheron, a tiny borderland trading post which serves them as a "capital", and Harrogath, nearer Arreat and unseen by outsiders. Razing Sescheron may have taken all of five minutes, but Harrogath still stands, and will be our destination. Deckard is eager to see the place; he knows nothing about it, which for him is more than enough reason to go. I considered asking if he knows about frying on a giant griddle, but the old dear wouldn't appreciate the irony.
The illustrious, noble, blessed archangel Tyrael is more than happy to send Deckard and I on our way to perform our duties: he to provide information in an area he knows nothing about, and I to what I hope will be the resolution of Tyrael's Folly, part 3. Duty is an ugly word... a word men use to excuse themselves when doing something stupid.
On first glance, Harrogath (if this be that place) seems surprisingly advanced. True, I have been in larger cities, but the wide streets are smoothly paved with closely-fitted stones, an improvement over Lut Gholein. The protective wall is also stone, high and impressively thick. Monumental sculptures adorn several nearby buildings, leading to the impression of an active arts community... ah, no: my first impression did not last. From the indelicate odor wafting past my nostrils, Harrogath lacks even a rudimentary sewage system. If we measure the advancement of a culture by the distance placed between humanity and its excreta, I am among savages. On the positive side, if there are no sewers, I will not be called upon to clear them out.
Not many people wander the streets; my arrival merited hardly a murmur. Those I do see are large, hirsute, unclean, and unkempt, with expressions of vacant stupidity spread over their broad, coarse faces. When dealing with ignorant savages, it is best to put up a strong front, making it clear that one is not to be trifled with. Also, in this case, I should restrict myself to words of less than two syllables, and sentences shorter than five words.
The first barbarian I spoke to laughed in my face, for a long time. I waited patiently, trying to ignore the snickering from Khaleel. As the fellow wiped his tears away, he apologized for his rudeness (!) and explained that the city has been under siege, short of food, steel, and manpower; laughs have been few and far between. I'm afraid I was at a loss, and mumbled something about being there for precisely that reason. This brought more laughter; it seems I missed my calling in life. Through his wheezing, he told me Baal's armies were outside the city gates, led by a most vicious general, Shenk the Overseer. For now, they have reached a stalemate, but there is an inherent weakness in Baal's army. His soldiers are all slaves, driven into battle with pain and fear; if Shenk died, his underlings would lose their motivation, and the siege could be lifted easily. It seems a simple idea, one I might expect from these simple people. Real battles are not won or lost by the "hero" defeating the single "villain." That only happens in sagas and cheap novels.
The town's other inhabitants behave more or less similarly. A small hospital by the eastern wall is full of bandaged, broken warriors -- my entrance provoked much laughter. The nurse, an older woman named Malah, is courteous enough, though she also sees me only as a source of mirth. Their captain of war, Qual-Kehk, charitably compliments me on my warlike looks, my bravery in coming to Harrogath, and my success at improving the morale of his men. Were he not an overgrown lummox with enough muscle to squeeze his brains right out of his skull, I'd think that was a subtle insult.
I can scarcely believe it, but I have found an island of sense and civilization amid this sea of sweat-soaked muscle! The world is worth saving after all. His name is Nihlathak, an older fellow but still sharp as a tack, blessed with a sense of reason and insight I thought would be entirely lacking in this forsaken place. I can scarcely believe he is from here, but he assures me his ancestors have dwelt in these mountains since the days of yore. Ah, the truth comes out! While they dwell among the mountain folk, all the tribal elders are of a different stock, set apart by blood. (I thought he seemed unusually slender.) Instead of wasting time with martial skills, the elders studied arcane arts, allowing them to raise a protective force dome over Harrogath, the only reason the city still stands. The other elders died, but these things happen.
Nihlathak is also full of juicy gossip about everyone else in the town. You can tell a man who knows himself -- he also knows everyone else. Old Malah is easily understood, generous to a fault, and bears no ill-will towards anyone, all sure signs of encroaching senility. A much-loved figure in Harrogath, she is virtuous enough to say exactly what she thinks, which happily amounts to very little. Qual-Kehk is a gifted warrior, accomplished enough to master the arts of war and foolish enough to attach importance to them. His whole life has revolved around responding to Baal; when the demon lord finally came, he was so overjoyed he immediately sent half of his own men to their deaths. I laughed myself silly hearing the tale. Ah... town life nourishes all that is worthwhile in men.
Sadly, I must leave my new friend and begin my search for Baal. Time waits not for me, and I've an entire mountain to explore. Beyond Harrogath's gates, death stalks the land. So much waste! Bodies are simply everywhere, and not all human. I have been able to identify Plated Demons, dwarfish creatures with thick, leathery skin but no special talents, and Earth Maulers, a genus of earth demon. These creatures have an odd trick of extending tentacles through the ground from their upper limbs, enabling them to strike opponents some distance away. I cannot imagine this to be a particularly powerful attack, especially compared with the potent magics I have faced before.
This is the most inconvenient battleground I have ever seen! Who dug all these trenches and platforms, anyway? True, the narrow bridges would be easy for one man to defend, but the single men I have seen here do not bother to stay in the narrow places. They make their stand in the open, where they may be swarmed from all sides as they brawl in a frenzy of mindless bloodlust. I prefer an open battleground, but not to stand still and be murdered! These narrow bridges mean I can only reach a few enemies at a time, and must wait for them to die before the next rank can advance. In the meantime, the Earth Maulers burrow through the ground and send spikes up through my feet. Khaleel's sorcery is well suited to this ground -- the narrow bridges force the enemy into compact groups, which his ice magics make short work of. I am almost certain the barbarians dug these trenches; who else would sculpt a battlefield into something so unsuited to barbaric tactics?
Ah, a quandary of mine has been answered. Periodically, as I slowly advanced, a ball of ice or lightning would fall from the clear sky. No enemies flew above, so I could not identify the source of these attacks. Infernal machines with a single long arm hurl these missiles, with incredible power and range. Physically, they are nothing but Plated Demons, twisted around and fused with a steel frame. Earth Maulers man these living machines, loading them with balls of elemental magic or poison to hurl downfield. Strangely, the machines are invulnerable to curses, but can be poisoned like a living creature.
Hey this is Khaleel. Just want everyone to know that for the battle with Diablo, I was there. He never even mentioned me, but I was there for D and Meph too. Don't listen to him whining, he's nothing but my curse-bitch, I do all the killing.
Who's been in my journal? Whoever it is, their penmanship is atrocious. Nihlathak must write more clearly than this, and I'm sure no one else here is literate. My future biographer can edit that out.
The further I advance up this hill, the more inspired my foes become. Some now wear bits of armor appropriated from who-knows-where, including some odd helms decorated with wings and horns. According to the smith (the very large fellow who still laughs at the sight of me) these are assault helms, their bizarre appearance meant to inspire terror in those who behold them. With an effort of will, I held my tongue on the subject of inspiring terror. Older pieces of headgear, made from animal hide and bone instead of steel, also dot the hill, but these he will not speak of. Perhaps, having devoted what little intelligence he has to metalwork, he has nothing to spare for antiquities.
The hills narrow up ahead, with a sheer cliff face encroaching on one side. A few warriors have managed to survive this far. A few Decrepification curses might aid them... if they ask nicely. Some groveling might help sway my mind. The narrows are guarded by, of all things, a pack of Imps! These mischievous little sprites date from the time when mages were foolish enough to think their wills strong enough to dominate demonkind. Small and easy to keep, Imps worked to enhance their master's magic, making it easier for them to prevail in magical duels. Soon, all sorcerers had at least one familiar Imp, but thought of them as mere tools, not living things with their own agenda and goals. Many a mage found himself being carved to pieces by his own Imps while still alive; the pieces were used to make more Imps. What surprises me is seeing them here -- they make poor combatants and do not belong on the battlefield. Striking them down is not difficult, once they have been cornered.
Further up into the hills, the ground becomes more open, giving me freedom to move about. I seem to be in their encampments; I've found food preparation sites, stashes of arms, and more of the machines which Deckard Cain has identified as "catapults." Unsurprisingly, their favorite food item is a big, juicy barbarian. They enjoy them so much, rabbits roam free and unmolested. Given what I know of demonic temperament, I would have expected them to crush the fluffy things out of sheer spite; perhaps they really do require constant supervision to be properly malicious. Their stores of catapult missiles are fascinating; I've taken one of their "poison" balls back with me to study, having had many opportunities to observe their potency directly. Even with the Jade Tan Do, this venom lingers; Khaleel has nearly died of the poison on more than one occasion.
Shenk the Overseer (I presume) is one of the least pleasant demons I have laid eyes on in my entire career. Grotesquely bloated, with long, stick-like arms waving an iron whip, the thing reminds me of a particularly incompetent middle manager I had the misfortune to deal with the last time I had business with my city's government. A wall of Plated Demons stands ready to defend their master. Knowing from previous experience that Hell hath no fury like a bureaucrat scorned, I end-run the process and go over Shenk's head, cursing a few of his slaves with Attraction and circling around. Khaleel keeps them busy, leaving Shenk to me.
My, my! What a messy little demon Shenk turned out to be! I cannot be sure if his physical form dissolved, or simply collapsed under its own weight. When his underlings notice... well, that did seem to take the ginger out of them. Mopping up is easy.
Nihlathak is not impressed, though I cannot expect martial victories to find favor with such a man, especially considering how much remains to be done. My deeds do convince him that my tales of Hatred and Terror may hold some truth. In time, we can come to speak to each other more as equals; I feel I could learn a great deal from Nihlathak. Qual-Kehk, more easily impressed, commends me for my deeds, though his words mean little. Malah, good-hearted and pious old fluffy-headed den-mother that she is, described me as an angel come straight from Heaven to rescue the city! To my face, yet! Well, at least no one is laughing.
The hour is late; there are many empty homes in this city, so I choose one for myself to stay in. I believe I have made an adequate first impression, but apart from Nihlathak, I have no intention of spending any more time with these savages than I must. They are so very lucky I am here to save them, though I can't abide them at all. It's things like this, it occurs to me, that prejudice the common man against priests of Rathma. In spite of their flaws, I do love humanity -- it's people I can't stand.
Breakfast, among barbarians. The source of certain odors is now unnecessarily clear; these people do not believe in the power of dietary fiber. My morning meal choices were Roast Rabbit (complete with ears), Roast Rabbit sans Innards (for those with delicate sensibilities), and for the gourmet, Roast Rabbit in an Unidentifiable Brown Sauce. Without exception, the animals were served nearly raw. At Khaleel's suggestion, we broke our fast at Atma's. I have no idea why the Horadrim built a waypoint in Harrogath, but I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
Before leaving, the mountain of meat who serves as Harrogath's blacksmith offered to set any item I liked with jewels or gems. His people are fond of such barbaric splendor, I have seen. Many times in the hills, I passed by some half-naked savage, grunting in the snow, who nonetheless shone with gold and jeweled finery, and whose weapons glittered with various shiny rocks. Higher-status warriors positively gleam, though they may not have enough cloth among them to make up one shirt. Deckard Cain has spoken of the northern tribes as being legendary for their heroic constitutions. Myself, I suspect their vigor springs from their way of life; those not built like an ox are killed off at an early age.
Though I have little cause to trust his skills as a jeweler, it amused me to hand over my Jade Tan Do, and see what he'd make of it. Should he ham-handedly destroy the dagger, I would of course be upset, but every cloud has a silver lining. That mountain of flesh would make an ideal servant. The Jade Tan Do confused him (perhaps it challenged some larger = better dogma of his) but with unexpected ingenuity, he hollowed out a socket in the handle and set it with gold wire, ready to accept a gem. More than that, he explained, risked destroying the strong enchantments woven tightly through the blade.
Now, what to set in the dagger? Emeralds provide death magic, and would enhance the Jade Tan Do and my magic still further -- but the dagger's blade is reddish-gold, and my current ensemble is red and white. I cannot imagine a way to make green, even a small note of it, work with me. A red gem or a demon skull would be safe choices, but not pragmatic ones, and I must bow to practicality. Then again, the matter is moot if I do not have any of these things. Let me see... a topaz... a sapphire... ah, a "shael" runestone! One of these would lighten the weapon, quickening my strike. Aesthetically neutral, yet highly practical; my best choice at the moment. Curious things, runestones -- their appearance suggests a form of magic as ancient as my own art, yet they were completely unknown to me until a short time ago. I wonder where the knowledge were hidden away for so long.
Better prepared than ever, I set out to the higher mountains, where my enemy searches for the Worldstone. Harrogath's wives and daughters, out corralling rabbits, stare as I go past; I must cut a fetching figure, though perhaps strange to their eyes. The way is made easier by steps carved into the bedrock... with a rail beside them? Yes, a hand railing, out here in the wilderness! Perhaps these clumsy louts are top-heavy with muscle, and have difficulty with stairs. At the top there is another waypoint. Hmm... the Horadrim must have explored these mountains sometime in the past. Obviously, they did not find anything of importance, or Destruction would know how to reach his goal.
A small party of Plated Demons ambushed me out of the steppe, but without a leader they are no threat. Perhaps they were scouts, or messengers. Beyond is a vast open steppe, littered with Imps. Yes, Imps, by the dozen! Numbers do not help my foes: a single stab disposes of them, even Khaleel needs but three blasts. What is Baal thinking, sending such ill-suited soldiers against me? A few armored Behemoths accompany them as riding beasts, but too few; perhaps one Imp in five can find a seat in their howdahs. It seems my enemy cannot muster decent troops. This battle is over before it properly begun.
Continuing upwards, it appears my greatest enemy will be exhaustion. It is fortunate that the mountains are so cold -- in Lut Gholein's heat, chasing down all these Imps could kill me. Signs of nomadic savages litter the ground, for those with an eye for such things. Piles of skulls and bones (probably those of their ancestors, left exposed to the elements) serve as territorial markers, or perhaps crude temples for their vulgar religion. Curiously, these bones are somewhat animated: when I approach, the skulls turn to regard me, and occasionally toss out a crude weapon or a few coins. Who could have guessed that the rites of Rathma might be respected in this awful place?
Another unexpected novelty! Stretching across the steppe is a wall, perhaps eight feet high, built of sticks and frozen mud. Baal's forces, hastily assembled and ill-prepared, could not have made this. Only the mountain's human (if barely) inhabitants could be responsible. But what prompted these rude savages to bodge together such a structure? Ah, Tyrael's words return unbidden to me: the inhabitants of the northlands have organized their whole lives around the protection of the Worldstone, to the exclusion of all else. This primitive barrier must have been built in imitation of the protective walls around cities. Strange... Harrogath is all stone. There is plenty of stone in the area. Stone is a much more durable material than mud, which would melt if the temperature ever rose above freezing. They possess the materials, and the skill; why did these barbarians not make their wall of stone? While I do not expect great things of them, even they can't be THAT stupid.
Perhaps I should not be unhappy about the wall's fragility: Baal's troops have commandeered the structure, and armed its towers with hellfire cannons. While Khaleel picks off the towers, the task of battering through the wall falls to me. Fortunately, the sledgehammer was made with this purpose in mind, and I possess one of the most heavily enchanted hammers that exists. Behind the wall is an shockingly clumsy wicker cage -- definitely demon-made -- with a few captive savages. The sight is comical; even I, with my bare hands, could escape that cage! Take away a barbarian's axe, and he falls to pieces. Well... I should be charitable: they are unarmed, isolated in the midst of their enemies. Certainly, they could escape with ease, but would never get far.
At my earliest convenience, I cast a portal these fellows can use to return to Harrogath, and return myself. Who knows? Should Baal have better quality soldiers in his personal retinue (a likely possibility) I might need some cannon-fodder of my own to distract them. While in town, I ask Nihlathak about the wall. It seems it is one of many ringing the mountain, meant to slow an invader's progress. Harrogath is an ancient city, built by some precursor to his people that he will not name; no living northman knows how to work stone. All is clear now: in a distant age, a great people must have occupied these hills, and suffered some cataclysm which wiped them out. Now, where great men once lived, a primitive race roams, ignorant of their art. They must have been great artisans indeed, for Harrogath to have remained intact so long under the care of these savages.
Now that I understand them better, battering these barbaric walls to bits is something of a pleasure. It's almost an insult that these feeble structures were meant to imitate the strong stone walls of the ancients. What might they have been like, I wonder? Little outward sign remains, but they must have been a highly advanced civilization. Harrogath's structures are large and spacious, quite unlike the few miserable huts I have found dotting the steppe. They even laid out different kinds of stone, all strong and durable, so their varying colors formed decorative patterns in the columns and gateposts. Yes... my first impression of the city's grandeur has been borne out, and has nothing to do with her present occupants.
I am growing to despise these Imps. They love nothing more than to teleport behind a rock or a bush, then laugh and vanish away as I approach. I wish my studies had extended to assassin spirits, that would be just the thing for the little runts. Smashing one of their tiny huts is a pleasure indeed. All the same, a magical solution to the problem they represent would be convenient. Decrepification does not prevent them from teleporting. Their spells do so little harm, Attraction does not serve. They move too quickly for Corpse Explosion. Dimming their vision helps, but I am inexpert with the curse and its range is limited. Ah, well; were they a threat, I would alter my strategy to accommodate them, but these pests give me little reason to alter my habits, inefficient as they may be here.
Another mud wall falls behind me. This one had two cages, with plenty of muscular brutes to liberate. Let the demons go hungry for a change. Further up the mountain, I come across the unexpected sight of a Hell gate, glowing red over a fiery crack in the earth. An invasion point for Destruction's troops, perhaps? A staging post? Or simply an opportunity to warm up? Whatever it is, I am certain more demons wait on the other side, and it would be unwise to leave them at my back. Should the gate close, I can simply seek out a waypoint; they are everywhere, after all...
Hell does lie beyond the gate; specifically, an island in the River of Flame. Like those near Terror's fortress, this island is artificial, built of stone blocks. Unlike those islands, this one seems recently and hastily constructed, with large gaps between the stones and spots which nearly drop into the river's magma. I must be cautious. No large fortifications are visible above the river's shimmering heat.
As seems to be Hell's habit, they have made a maze on the River of Flame. In keeping with the theme, this one is supplied with Minotaurs. Huge beasts bulging with brute power, they are strong, quick, and very aggressive. Fortunately, they are not numerous; a large pack of them could be the death of me, particularly if they resist Khaleel's cold blasts or my venom. With them come Plated Demons, and generals similar to Shenk; I had hoped he was unique. Not that he was dangerous, but killing him made such a mess...
This open maze has presented me with unique opportunities. Frequently, I can spy my foes on the other side of an open gap. The curse of Attraction causes much enjoyable confusion in their ranks. I have made a curious observation: the "general" creatures (who may be related to Toad Demons) are using magic in a strange new way. One will summon up some life energy, and use its whip to transfer that energy to a nearby Plated Demon. The smaller demon swells with the excess energy, and after a short pause (long enough to run close to an enemy) it literally explodes. In effect, a Corpse Explosion before the victim has died! I am very glad to have first observed this from a distance.
These islands are obviously a staging area. Iron war wagons and pieces of catapults lie about in disarray; some were apparently driven about in such urgent haste, they fell into the river! I cannot help but pity Destruction. His only strength is in numbers, and perhaps a few tricks which are easily countered once they become known. Any sense of urgency which possessed me has long since evaporated. The spoils are of poor quality, but I can afford the time to make a thorough search of the mountain. He will not escape my wrath.
In Harrogath, Qual-Kehk is kind enough to thank me for rescuing so many of his men. My presence seems to have humbled these great slabs of meat: I've hardly heard anyone talk about how weak and pathetic civilized men are. Perhaps they could be even be educated, though I'll happily leave that to another. To express his thanks, Qual-Kehk gave me a set of runestones, saying they should be used in a shield. Of course! These runestones must be the magic of the precursors, that lost civilization which once occupied this area. No wonder they seemed so "barbaric" when I first laid eyes on them. These primitives have a kind of magic, for the same reason they live in stone buildings -- they inherited both from a greater people. I'm amazed I hadn't seen it before now.
Hey its Khaleel again. I know why pasty hates Imps: they look just like him I swear! They got the hair and the snotty faces but better tans. I still do all the killing.
More scribblings; they look like chicken tracks, but the northmen do not keep livestock of any kind. Must I have a lock put on this journal?
I had not even time to take breakfast before old Malah was in my quarters, urgently insisting on speaking with me. There is something horrible about the very old; where once greatness might have been, only simpering impotency remains -- though I doubt that of Malah, except for the last. When I am to die, let it be at the height of my villainy. That having been said, I hope it will not be soon: dying on this cold, rocky mountain would be most uncomfortable.
But I digress. Dear old Malah is absolutely apoplectic over the disappearance of her chief elder's (the eldest elder?) daughter, someone named Onion. Ah, the quaint customs of these simple people. This pungent "lily of the mountain" vanished from Harrogath shortly before my arrival, and suspicion for her unannounced departure has fallen on Nihlathak. The women of the northlands, who seem to be cruelly-used slaves for the most part, remain indoors when blood-letting is called for. Being more likely to survive battles balances out the fraction who are killed by their own husbands, and returns the gender ratio to equality. The issue of sexual egalitarianism is a foreign one for these people, and foreign ideas (indeed, any ideas) are actively discouraged. Should I ever bother to broach the subject, even those who stood to gain the most would greet the idea with hostility. Mother, of course, felt that a woman willing to settle for mere equality ought to get what she deserved.
But I digress again. It seems my fancy will alight on anything but Malah's concerns, perhaps because I wish to dismiss them out of hand. I do so dislike listening to old people prattle on, doubly so when it's an old woman humbly requesting aid for another. Humility is not to be trusted; on the rare occasions when it is not a false front, it's a sure sign of religion. Give me a self-interested woman, I'll know where I stand with her.
The situation is worse than I feared. When I spoke to Nihlathak of Malah's visit, he actually snapped at me! Apparently, Malah is so convinced of some wrongdoing on his part, she has been spreading rumors everywhere her idle tongue can reach, and his reputation has begun to suffer. All who have suffered under the slanders of a malicious old gossip will know of what I speak, and the anxiety created by the invasion has only made her work easier. A self-righteous oldster with the respect of the community makes a formidable enemy. It is no wonder his temper has grown so short of late. As for the girl (Anya, not Onion) she seems to have been a headstrong young thing with more devotion than sense and more stubbornness than either, common enough traits among these people. During a lull in the siege, she left Harrogath, seeking what remained of her kin elsewhere on the mountain. Thoughts of her obviously trouble poor Nihlathak, and I can see her loss has affected him deeply. I wonder if they were fond of each other?
Unfortunately, words speak loudly among the northlanders, despite Qual-Kehk's insistence to the contrary. It is saddening to see a great man who has already suffered so much brought lower still by a campaign of whispers. Had he a share of my own warmth and charisma, I am sure Nihlathak could dispel the rumors, but the focused malignity of all those around him has left the man an unstrung and acrimonious wreck. Even old Deckard Cain, who I hoped would be more sensible, finds him so disagreeable he is willing to believe anything which discredits him. All over a girl! If my understanding of the situation is correct, elder Nihlathak is one of the few inheritors of the north's Precursor people remaining. Even if she had a face fit to launch a thousand ships, no girl is worth the loss of that knowledge.
My exploration of the mountain continues. Baal has massed more ground troops on the high plateaus, collecting crowds of Plated Demons and their overseers. As yet, I am unsure what to call these creatures; even the resemblance to Toad Demons is slight. Khaleel refers to them as "blubber bags" for their tendency to burst open like 10 pounds of suet in a 5-pound sack. As they are ugly and not very dangerous by themselves, I am reluctant to devote much thought to nomenclature, but "Frog Demon" is preferable to "blubber bag".
Plated Demons are a braver cousin of Fallen Ones, also not particularly dangerous except in numbers. Packs of them can easily surround me if I am not cautious, especially near one of their huts -- an absolutely shocking number of them can cram inside those lean-to's. The real danger comes when a Plated Demon is charged with life energy from an overseer's "Body Explosion" spell. Judging from their expressions and the suicidal enthusiasm of their attacks, I would say the spell is extremely painful for the demon. The final result, I can attest, is also very painful; twice now, the blasts have reduced my bony armor to splinters in an instant. Happily, the remains contain enough energy to make a decent Corpse Explosion, a useful alternative to poison for creatures who no longer fear my blade.
The natives were restless in this area, it is apparent. Not only are there the anticipated walls, but hovels with fenced-off areas beside them. In association with each structure is a pile of animated skulls and bones, reinforcing the supposition that they must serve some sort of religious function. The presence of fenced areas is striking. All are square or rectangular, between 20 and 40 feet per side. Posts are set deep into the frozen earth perhaps 10 feet apart and cannot be easily removed. Set across the gaps are planks, from the ground up to a height of 3 feet. These are not temporary barriers, but permanent barriers. Though they are now empty, and no signs of life remain (not even prints in the snow) I cannot help but feel these were used as livestock pens.
To the unenlightened, this may not seem surprising -- after all, many primitive peoples have domesticated animals. However, there is an order to these things. The truly primitive keep no stock, just as they cultivate no plants. Wandering without any restraining laws, taking from nature's bounty as they please, satisfies their meager wants completely. We call these "nomads." A more advanced sort has domesticated animals -- the "pastoralist." Even these still drift from place to place with few attachments, taking their animals with them as they roam. The most advanced "agriculturalists" have finally settled and devoted themselves to cultivating and improving their land. It is to these last that we owe the existence of towns, cities, and civilization itself.
Given this, finding evidence of domestic animals among a people reputed to be simple nomads is unexpected; evidence of permanent corrals is shocking. A hypothesis comes to mind, that these corrals are no longer in use and may represent an older society. It cannot be that the present inhabitants of the mountains domesticated animals, then abandoned the practice for a more primitive way of life. However, the fencing appears too recently made to date from the Precursor age; even the cold, dry climate of Arreat's slopes could not preserve wood so well. The only reasonable assumption is that these barbarians have something akin to an advanced culture, which the rest of the world is ignorant of. Advancement from nomad, to pastoralist, and thence to agriculturalist, is as inevitable as the adoption of stone tools, then those of bronze, and finally iron. My hosts have progressed further along this chain than they originally led me to believe; why, I wonder, was I deceived?
Another peculiar discovery has come to light -- the Infernal Torch! This long-lost wand was part of an ensemble given to my people in ancient times, when even we were entranced by the delusion that Hell might be our friend. There is a mystery here, I can sense it, as though pieces of an ancient puzzle are falling into place. The animated "temples" scattered across the mountain form another piece, and the animal corrals a third. Far more has taken place here than my hosts are willing to let outsiders know. Personally making inquiries in Harrogath would be time-consuming, but that is what Deckard Cain is for -- the old dear said he would try to ingratiate himself with the natives. It is time to see if he can find some genuinely worthwhile information.
Another pit of Hell pierces the tundra; within is another maze on the River of Flame, with more Imps, Plated Demons, and Minotaurs. I am becoming very grateful to my ancestors for the wisdom of creating the Attraction curse. If only Khaleel appreciated such subtleties... I have explained again and again, if they are frozen, they cannot kill each other, but he becomes bored so easily and cannot restrain himself. No patience, no style; he wants it all now, by the simplest possible path.
Ha! I wish I had predicted it, but poor Khaleel has had a rather nasty lesson he won't soon forget from a group of Minotaurs. As they stared across a gap at us, I cursed them, as was proper. Khaleel moved further on, seeking a more advantageous vantage point, and placed himself near a bridge across the gap. The result was predictable... to anyone else, that is. The leader of this pack, a huge brute enchanted with lightning, charged across the bridge and Khaleel bravely stood his ground, blasting into the bull's face. The sight of the lightning, the smell of a frying sorcerer, and the sound of those two enormous axes clashing their way though Khaleel's armor was such a delightful feast for the senses, I fear I was a bit slow in coming to his aid. When Khaleel's bones knit, I'm sure he can find it in himself to thank me properly for his life. On the good side, he doesn't have that silly little beard anymore, or any of the rest of his hair.
After Malah reassembled Khaleel, we returned to the mountain. His behavior has improved noticeably already. Further up, I have found a waypoint, possibly an indication that this was once an important place, though nothing now remains. At the top of the hill, a wall of ice blocks further progress, but a gap runs underneath. Should I turn away and go elsewhere, I wonder, or explore under the ice? Caves are favorite places for demons, and there should be plenty of time to investigate. Curiously, a tall urn of a type I have no experience with has been left on the plain near the cave entrance. It appears to be a funeral urn made of high-quality porcelain, completely different from the wooden ossuaries I have seen elsewhere on the mountain. Opening it disgorges three large spiders, an odd thing for any sort of urn to hold. Could this be a relic of the Precursors? Might there be more inside the cave? The hour is late, so any discoveries must wait.
Before entering the caves, I feel I should tell Nihlathak. He is the only leader these people have, even if they do not appreciate him, and if I am to enter a sacred area I should give him a respectful warning. He says nothing, but I can see he is troubled. What secrets lie in those caves, I wonder? This is no time to speculate; I must wait for morning, and remember to tread lightly among those ancient ghosts.
Rather than face Roast Rodent, I dined at Atma's; she has gotten a lovely claret in, lacking structure but with a heady robustness that complemented her Lemon and Orange Beef's zest grandly. While thawing out, it occurred to me it would be entirely sensible to stay there for the night. Not only would I sleep easier (a night spent shivering is not a restful one) but the opportunity to partake in a civilized night life again would be a pleasant one. Being a trading center, Lut Gholein is full of amenities to soothe away the weary traveler's cares. I can only imagine how things were when the harem guilds were operating. Khaleel's new hairstyle has garnered him sympathetic attention from the local mercenaries, a few of whom sport similar scars. If I cared to listen, I am sure I would hear all manner of overwrought tales of my harsh cruelty. Small men tell large tales. Of myself, the barest facts suffice.
Ha ha its me again. He thinks hiding his diary under his pillow like a girl is gonna work! Just so you know, I took down that bull guy, he just stood there then ran around and said he was killing when he was just running around squealing like he always does. I still do all the killing, still.
My ruse worked beautifully! That vituperative Vizjerei never noticed, but staying the night in Lut Gholein was all part of my plan. I knew perfectly well someone was writing their own notes in my journal, but my unwelcome co-author's horrible penmanship concealed both his intention and identity. There is only one person who had the opportunity this time: my own servant, Khaleel! I have confronted him, and he has confessed. For his punishment, I have been forced to go out of my way and find a child's book of letters. Every night, he must present to me three full pages copied from this text, in his own execrable hand, until he has achieved legibility. Not only will this irritate him, but the patience and effort required may improve his mind, something even he cannot consider detrimental.
On returning to Harrogath, I noticed Nihlathak was not at home. Word about town is that he left during the night, though they presume too much based on this. In all likelihood, he has had enough of their chattering behind his back and taken his leave of them. I would have done so long before now; his people's mood is so foul, everything he says or does is viewed in the worst possible light. There is no point dwelling on it -- just contemplating their ungrateful attitude towards this superior man raises my bile. Besides, I wish to leave this icy wasteland behind me as speedily as possible, and staying in Harrogath to argue with fools does none of us a service.
The ice caves are a remarkable formation, but one I suspect is not entirely natural. Lighting is provided by torches and bonfires, but even these merrily burning blazes do little do dispel the bone-clutching cold. Even directly over fires, this ice will not melt. A few jars, all crude pottery and basketry, sit in the corners. These contain bones and some valuables, but nothing like the elegant urn can be seen. Ah, there is one, as beautiful as the last!
By all the earth and all my ancestors, I must be more careful! As I examined the urn, a large group of Minotaurs came from behind me! So completely was my attention occupied, I saw and heard nothing until they were upon us, and an aura of freezing cold caught me in its grip. So convulsive were my shivers, I could barely move! A few of them distracted themselves with Khaleel, who was in no better shape than I. Their leader and his favorites devoted all their attention to me. The curse of Attraction confused them temporarily while I took the better option and ran for my life. Khaleel sensibly followed, and there commenced a running battle, from the urn to the cave entrance and back again several times. Whittling their number down slowly with curses and poison, they went from six, to five, to three (two fell nearly simultaneously) and finally to two. At that point, nearly exhausted and in a great deal of pain, we stood our ground and met them face to face. Well, face to navel; Minotaurs are very large. It occurs to me they might well represent everything a northlander could want to be: huge, physically powerful, full of animal savagery and mindless bloodlust. If any of the local warriors ever made it this far, they might simply die of envy.
Once that was over with, I was much more cautious. It shocks me that nothing else came during the battle, we all certainly made enough noise and these caverns are full of enemies. Besides the Minotaurs (again, blessedly rare!) I have come across Frozen Creepers, an odd name for an odd beast from Hell's frozen mountains. Not all of Hell is fire and blood; rings of mountains separate the outer territories from the inner, all populated by demons suited to high, jagged peaks. In addition... mmm, yes, how shall I describe this... suffering away in the icy cold are some of Hell's least capable combatants, Succubi. And I thought using Imps as troops was a desperate measure. Or does Destruction think their crude charms can delay or forestall my purpose? For one who has known true love, these harlots mean nothing. My Natalya is... was more beautiful and more dangerous than the lot.
Perhaps these caves are natural, though the lack of meltwater even above fires compels me to believe otherwise. The local people use the caves for burials of their cremated relatives, in the aforementioned baskets and pottery jars. I never imagined I would see earthenware as primitive as this: simple coils of clay are piled up in a rough shape, then squeezed with the fingers until most of the gaps have closed. Even the simple idea of the potter's wheel eludes them. The contrast with the much-older porcelain urns I still find occasionally is shocking.
Of all the luck, another group of Minotaurs surprised me as I was examining an urn! Have these creatures been informed of my tastes, and devised a scheme to lay in wait near art objects? This one was enchanted with lightning, and our battle was heard in the surrounding caverns. Before long, they were joined by four more Minotaurs, along with a harem's worth of Succubi and a dozen Frozen Creepers. What could we do? Even Khaleel had to behave sensibly at that point. From our hiding place in a corner, my Attraction created a riotous pell-mell of confusion, while he concentrated on maintaining a wall of frozen beef between the chaos and our tender flesh. Oh, how fiercely the sparks flew! As did the blood and bones; Corpse Explosion is ideal for situations like this. When our barrier finally fell, all that remained was two Creepers and the Minotaur; soon, there was only the Minotaur, and alone he stood no chance. The greatest danger lay in slipping while running from his bolts.
Discoveries I have made in this maze of ice: either local warriors have penetrated the caves, or some were imported from the steppes to amuse the Succubi. Twice now, I have found bound and helpless men obviously killed by slow torture, as well as one poor woman whose fate I shall not elaborate on. My second discovery is that the ancient urns I have found are the cause of my misery, for they are trapped. A simple experiment confirmed this: when I touched the next one, I watched in one direction while Khaleel faced the other. Sure enough, a group of Creepers appeared out of thin air. I suspect the urns were enchanted to summon guardians long ago, in the antediluvian days when they were made. The spell has been twisted slightly to summon Baal's servants instead.
I should note, the Succubi cast curses. Their choice is a poor one, a simple aim-enhancing curse my people abandoned ages ago in favor of Damage Amplification. The effect is barely noticeable.
Another note: some the axes the Minotaurs use, one to each hand, are actually halberds. Should I tell Qual-Kehk and his mighty warriors, or would that break their little hearts?
Brackish water has formed pools in a deeper part of the caves, and a sharp stench pervades the area. For a short time, I wondered what had died, before I met the Zombies. Always, there must be Zombies; all three of the Brothers are so fond of them. These carry weapons and wear the remains of armor, and will occasionally work themselves up to a fairly speedy charge. Having so much rotting meat slam bodily into one is disconcerting, and unusual for a servant. Obtaining any level of enthusiasm from a dead mind is next to impossible.
Very well, I admit, I am impressed! The Zombie I killed rose again! I killed it, it was as dead as any dead creature had a right to be, but it got back up and tried to kill me again! In all honesty, I must confess I did scream fit to wake the dead (two more, in fact) when I saw that, though more from surprise than fear. To one such as I, seeing a servant drag itself up from its own destruction is both alarming and exhilarating! How did Destruction do that? How can I obtain the knowledge without being forced into some bargain? Nothing can stop me from killing him... no, nothing will, truly. I must maintain my focus.
Another new creature has appeared, relatives of the Sasquatch of gentler climes. In their honor, I hereby designate these "Abominable Snowmen." There are also Succubi, but they do not hold my interest. Such common creatures. The Snowmen are shaggy and so inured to the frigid environment that Khaleel's efforts against them are nearly fruitless, even with the help of my curses. I order him to keep his eye on the Succubi, something he seems inclined to do anyway.
Another side note: when flailing about in the midst of combat, take care not to upset any burial urns which should happen to be close by.
Here near the water, the ice formations take on strange shapes, perhaps from repeated thawing and re-freezing. Some look humanoid, enough so that I wonder if they were carved into human shape long ago. Or is my imagination playing with me? The twists and turns of these caves are monumental; without the foresight to sketch out a map, I surely could be lost for the rest of my life in these tunnels. For any who travel in this area after me, please remember that pencil and paper are not a luxury. Do not use ink, it will freeze solid.
Another wonderful discovery! And one I thought would be beyond Destruction's talents! He is known to use curses, but never to use the Ice Curse! This curse, like the Stone Curse, is one of the great forgotten spells of eons past, known to no one living... or so I thought, before I came upon this huge block of ice with a living person embedded within! I can see the victim is some young girl, plainly alive and unharmed. I know I simply MUST find some way to interrogate Baal before I kill him. This knowledge must not be allowed to pass out of mortal experience again. The ice block, as unyielding as legend insisted it would be, will give up none of its secrets; I must find Baal! Hmm. I wonder why this girl was cursed? Perhaps she knows something. If so, I should like to know as well.
Questioning the girl will be difficult without freeing her; unlike the Stone Curse, the Ice Curse prevents all harm from coming to its victim. Sadly, I have neglected certain aspects of my education, and the ice resists my attempts to dispel it. Dear old Malah is a good hand at dispelling curses, as all healers tend to be... but going to her would mean speaking with her, and I'm not in the mood. Ah, but I should. There is so much to be gained.
The meeting with Malah left a bad taste in my mouth. She is sure the girl is Anya, and that Nihlathak has done this. It is entirely possible that the girl is this Anya, though I attach no importance to the fact. As for Nihlathak... everything this old harridan sees becomes more grist for the mill in her open war on that man's reputation. If the foragers catch a skinny rabbit, it's Nihlathak's fault. If she dropped dead, it would be Nihlathak's fault. Actually it might be, but I attach no importance to that, either. While railing against "that snake" with all the pejoratives her limited experience could summon up, Malah mixed one of her anti-curse cure-alls for the ice. Such a waste... but I must get to that girl.
Events have taken an unexpected turn. The girl is Anya, of the same slender racial stock as Nihlathak, and presumably all the other elders. Nihlathak was indeed the one who cast the Ice Curse; my respect for his knowledge grows by leaps and bounds. When I began to question her about the curse, she told me that Nihlathak obtained his knowledge as part of a bargain with Destruction. In exchange for the Ice Curse and other ancient Rathman rituals, Nihlathak has given Baal some sort of relic. She gave some description of it, but I'm afraid I was no longer listening.
That moment, gentle reader, was when I felt the first presentiment of doom in my heart. How could anyone with any respect for knowledge not know what comes of bargains with the lords of Hell? How could anyone who felt the deaths of his people so acutely deliver them into the hands of humankind's greatest enemy? Have I been deceived again? The girl had to be lying, but I knew she could not be. What I saw with my own eyes precludes that.
This Anya is, despite her age, already knowledgeable in the ways of magic. As a token of thanks, she has given me a totem, the head of a Horadric Mummy the blacksmith forged at her request. How in the world did these people get the raw materials for one of those? Or was it made from scratch -- as sweet Charsi joked, forging a head? Ha ha! So sorry. She has opened a portal to Nihlathak's home. That is good, I would like to visit him. Perhaps we can discuss this and clear up this whole business. He really should not have stayed away for so long, it's starting to look suspicious.
Nihlathak's temple is a magnificent building; the style and quality of construction clearly mark it as the work of the Precursor people. There is something here I find peculiarly familiar, even comforting. Far down in a secluded hollow between three peaks, the wind and biting cold do not reach here; I suspect no one could enter invited.
Honestly, where has my head gotten to? Piles of corpses strewn about the front garden is not a welcome sign, particularly here. I doubt if I will ever grow accustomed to these new zombies. Their smell no doubt contributed to that air of familiarity; I wonder, has Nihlathak made them? It would explain their presence here, and around the Ice Curse block. Is the world ready for servants like these? While they are durable, I cannot help but feel dismayed by their resilience. Tramping back and forth through the veil separating life and death so determinedly smacks of the infernal.
My name is Khaleel. I am 34 years old. I am in Harrogath with a weird guy who likes dead things. He is very efamin eefemani ephe girly. I used to be in Kurast, which was really cool because I liked my boss. She was hot, and cool. Sometimes at the same time. Then I went to hell and kicked major demon ass. That was cool too. And hot. I have to fill 3 pages with writing every day, but I ran out of paper so I took girlyman's book.
I cannot let myself be distracted for a moment! While I was risking my life battling a zombie enchanted with fire, who do you suppose was hiding behind a pillar, with MY journal? He certainly thinks his little joke was funny; perhaps in the future he could write comedy. At least his penmanship is improving. That zombie, I feel compelled to mention, was the most pathetic wreck of a corpse I have ever beheld, as though legions upon legions of heartless thugs had repeatedly used it for target practice, without remorse or pity. The look in its one remaining eye was of resigned terror and utter helplessness in anticipation of yet another beating. I could only feel pity for the poor thing.
The interior of the temple is in a shocking state. The stonework is in deplorable condition, far worse than anything in Harrogath. Fallen stones have been replaced with, of all things, human bones, a most curious choice of building material. Was this meant to be an imitation of Rathman techniques? The floor is covered with filth, so much so that its condition or even the original texture cannot be perceived. This cannot be Nihlathak's temple -- that stupid girl must have made a mistake. And yet, there are zombies... many, many zombies, with a scattering of Minotaurs. Clearly, this is home to someone with knowledge of reanimation who is allied with Destruction. And yet... what I see here cannot be. Nihlathak spoke reverently of his ancestors -- how could he treat their memory so shabbily?
I suspect that my reception was prepared specifically for me. The mixture of zombies (who are nearly immune to my venom) and Minotaurs (creatures much too dangerous to kill slowly) is a formidable one. The zombies would fall easily to a forceful approach, but the presence of Minotaurs makes taking up the maul too hazardous. More than usual, Khaleel feels he is carrying the weight of our encounters single-handedly, though Corpse Explosion does some good, when he is kind enough to leave me a body. I suppose it is easy to forget my servant. I often wish I could.
Tombs are scattered throughout the temple, of course, perhaps hearkening back to the days of the Precursors themselves. The local people now cremate or deflesh their dead, storing the ashes or disarticulated bones in ossuaries. Perhaps they believe this denies men like me the chance to "enslave" the spirits of their ancestors; I will admit, it is an inconvenience. The tombs, like everything else, have fallen into disrepair. Most are covered with filth, their legends unreadable, or have collapsed under the weight of time's passage and not been restored. If Nihlathak is responsible for this place, I am becoming deeply disappointed in him. My first impression was of an entirely different kind.
This is Khaleel, stealing the book again. He is heart-broken over Nillytek Neelachuk whatever. They were in love. He says to write comedy, so here is a joke I heard from old man Cain:
A Necromancer walks into a bar and
(Transcriber's note: at this point, the page is torn and the writing partially defaced.]
Sorcerers! We are battling through legions of foes with all possible speed in the desperate hope that all is not lost, and that supercilious sorcerer cannot stop playing pranks! It is well past midnight, I have had no sleep, and need all my concentration to do battle, not to watch out for my own servant! Later, I shall think of a punishment. I have found the bodies of a few local people, recently killed by slow torture. Has Baal made a loan of his harem-slaves as well? If Nihlathak allowed this to be done to his own people... granted, they are not the best people, but letting Succubi have at them goes completely beyond the pale.
Deeper in the temple, things have grown perceptibly worse. Large sections of stone have fallen and been inadequately patched; columns of welded bone support the ceiling. Many of the bones have been worked, or even enchanted -- none so much as the Infernal Torch, but wands are present in numbers. Large packs of Death Maulers (resistant to cold, ha ha!) now come alongside the seemingly infinite legions of zombies. Their tunneling and burrowing is not improving the temple's architectural integrity. I would kill them first simply to preserve the structure, except that another sort of creature has taken greater priority.
My newest favorite is without a doubt the ugliest demon I have yet laid eyes on, the foulest to the nose, and the most horrid in its habits, for which I chose to dub it a "Defiler." The creature resembles an inflated bladder with a spindly body hanging beneath, and floats at a height 6 to 8 feet above the floor. Extended, spindly forelimbs with the predictable razor-sharp claws help the creature to push itself about, but in addition is another extremity whose function was not initially clear to me. Repeated observation has confirmed that this is the Defiler's generative organ. This limb is long and flexible in the extreme, with a sharp tip the creature will insert into any nearby victim. All of its partners are unwilling and its attentions unwelcome in the extreme, but this does not dissuade the Defiler in the least. Even zombies seem aware of the Defiler's vulgar intentions, and attempt to avoid the creature, but never resist or retaliate once caught.
After the brief relationship is consummated, the Defiler's victim is left in great agony, and positively eager to enter combat. Death, it seems, is preferable to its fate: carrying the Defiler's offspring. Should the victim die soon after inception, that is the end of the matter. However, the Defiler's habit of remaining at the rear of combat means its victims face a long, excruciating journey to death, enough time for the offspring to gestate. After their host's death, worm-like spawn burst from the skull, as quick and vicious as a Flesh Mother's pups. The Defiler avoids combat unless cornered. It strongly resists cold, to Khaleel's annoyance, but poison functions admirably. I have found resisting its advances will forestall the Defiler's attempts -- or if not, the offending organ is easily cut short.
Ah, I should have known! The temple has a Horadric waypoint. Through this, Nihlathak could have visited other parts of the world, furthering his education -- no one, no matter how intelligent, could develop as sophisticated a perspective as his in this intellectually-impoverished region. He must have learned about the order of Rathma while traveling, and naturally his curiosity was aroused: Rathma may be the only magical order as old as his own ancestors, if not older. Sadly, he never seems to have studied with us, a tragic loss for us both. Throughout the temple, I have found the remains of obvious attempts to replicate old Rathman experiments. Notably, he used human subjects, an unwise decision in this area. I should also note that he has studied Corpse Explosion intensely, leaving signs of his interest deeply embedded in the walls. I do not wonder at the temple's condition now.
I take this to be the lowest level of the temple. The walls have all been braced with bones, though the stonework is mostly intact. Populating this basement are Plated Demons, and the long-anticipated Succubi. The Plated Demons were the true surprise, though their presence could also have been easily predicted. Knowing how these creatures are used, Nihlathak's stragety is easy to guess at; he has played his hand too soon. There is no reason now to doubt his involvement in this, as difficult as it is to accept. The wisest man in Harrogath is instead its greatest fool.
As for the Succubi... I can only say I am deeply, deeply disappointed. I have found in this demesne evidence of the worst sort of behavior, scandalous in the conventional sense and all involving Succubi. If their sluttish charms could turn his head, I was truly wrong about him. It seems impossible. What sort of sad, pathetic little man would sell himself for a harem of painted strumpets? Selling oneself for knowledge I could understand, though no demon would tell a mortal man what he needs to know to save himself.
The deed is done. His plan was simple: engorge Baal's slaves as their Overseers do, send them against me, then set the resulting corpse off again after death. His skill with the spell was greater than mine, I knew, but the stratagem was easily countered. I simply held my hand, and gave Khaleel the pleasure of all the kills. His ice left no intact bodies, and with no corpses to use, Nihlathak was helpless. He even sent his cherished Succubi to me once my ow plan became clear.
What a waste. Nihlathak was familiar with the arts of several magical cults: he could teleport himself, and summon a chilling blast of wind. That last spell, even I did not recognize. That so much learning, so much raw ability, should be squandered for so mean a reward... he did not sell himself dearly enough at all. As I knew it would be, the relic Anya spoke of is gone. It is also morning, well past dawn. I am exhausted, but in such a state of nervous tension I know I will never sleep. For the first time, it occurs to me that no one may ever read this journal. These pages will burn, with all else that is.
What an overly sentimental gush my last entry was! True, I had grown to enjoy Nihlathak's company, and the loss of his knowledge is a sad one, unless he wrote his discoveries down, which he certainly ought to have. Writing is a remarkable invention, I wish more wise people would take advantage of it. Deckard Cain, for instance, always carries about a book, though I have never seen him refer to it once. Sometime, I shall have to get it away from him and see what the deuce he's so fond of it for. Perhaps Khaleel could give me a few words of advice on stealing books.
Where was I? Oh, Nihlathak. Every barbarian in Harrogath was howling about his "betrayal" giving Baal the Worldstone. This worried me as well, I confess, for I had fallen into the error of confederacy: simply because I am allied with some force does not mean I share all their goals. To repeat: who gives a fig for the Worldstone? Let Tyrael and his savage servants wail and gnash their teeth over their precious rock! The Lord of Destruction is my enemy, my intent only the protection of the mortal world, leavened with a certain amount of personal vengeance. I had gone back to Atma's and had consumed my first Black Mushroom before that epiphany struck me -- bless that evil fungus for the mind-altering poisons which grant such clarity of vision! Don't mind the black spots before the eyes and the barmaid turning into a tentacled monster, an experienced imbiber learns to ignore all that.
Now, I have come back to Harrogath to resume the chase. From my perspective, Nihlathak's giving Baal the Relic of What-have-you is to my advantage -- now, I know exactly where to find Destruction. Best not tell anyone, they think I value the Worldstone as they do, and it is to my advantage to let them go on thinking that.
Off to battle! Khaleel is concerned that my present state of mind will prove disadvantageous for this little adventure, but I can assure him I drunk just as well when fight. Or intoxicated! Black Mushrooms don't really intoxicate anyway, the senses sharpen and the mind reels with pleasure as you see things as you want them to be. Drink too many, and you see things as they truly are, but I have had only one and am in no danger of that horror. The closest I have been to the summit is the ice caves, best to resume the climb from there. According to Anya, a side branch exits much higher, near another set of caves. Pleasant enough girl, this Anya, competent and knowledgeable, but entirely without womanly charms. Oh, my dearest Natalya... such a beautiful island of arrogant irrationality, a blessed relief from the dull cares of carnal existence. Soon, we will be together again.
Demons in the caves: Frozen Creepers and Death Maulers. Ice and earth! According to the theory of Sanguinity, an idea first attributed to Trismageni, many lesser demons are created during battles between Heaven and Hell, when the blood or ichor of a powerful being falls on some receptive material. Earth demons, Ice demons, Lava demons, and various plant demons are well known. Why are they always demons, I wonder, even when the blood which created them was shed by an angel? Evil must be stronger than good. Don't tell the Zakarum, they might fall all to pieces. Oh wait, they already have. Ha ha! A few zombies guard a small temple area in one large cave. If circumstances allow, servants can survive their creator by centuries, though these ones do not.
This is Khaleel. This guy is such a freak. He's giggling! At least he's not screaming anymore, man that got on my nerves. What did I say about the Nilly guy? A hot babe like Anya comes along, nothing. He wants a creepy old fart or a leather vamp. Freak.
Ha ha! My happy smile (thanks to the Black Mushroom, I cannot quite conceal it) brightened Qual-Kehk's day so much, he told me everything I needed to know about how to reach the Worldstone. These people interpret joy in the face of impending annihilation as a sign of bravery. In my case, it's a sign of marching into combat with one Black Mushroom too many inside me. The Worldstone is, naturally, hidden in the most obvious place: the very tip-top of the mountain, guarded by gods who must deem a supplicant worthy before he may enter and see the holy of holies. Interestingly, he described the gods as the Ancient Ones. Could this mean that some remains of the Precursors can be found at the peak? Are there ancient guardians, perhaps some advanced zombies, or mummies preserved by the cold, dry air? Or will I only find superstitions and whispering ghosts? Whichever way things turn out, I am sure to find much to reward me there.
Continuing on, always upwards. Burial urns become more frequent the further I go, both the ancient relics and the modern excuses. The Precursor urns are all trapped, but I have grown so accustomed to the "surprise" it means nothing now. Perhaps in those antique days, tomb robbers did not come armed and prepared for battle, so thieves rarely survived an encounter with a trapped urn and there was no need to vary their results. It also occurs to me that the Precursor people were accustomed to using their servants in ways it would be cruel to use a human being, placing them in limbo for centuries until a jar should be opened. Only my people now use servants thus, packing them into barrels and the like. Could there be a deeper connection between us, or do I flatter myself?
The journey is not going well. These caves are the most confusing I have ever explored, so much so that drinking even one Black Mushroom before entering may have been unwise. A few others have been here before me; I have found their remains frozen solid into postures of supplication. Such brave fellows. Earlier, I had wondered if the ice had been carved into human-like shapes, but I suspect a more sinister origin now. Then again, I could be wrong -- Succubi guard this section of caves, and may be responsible. I imagine a Succubus would like her men hard enough to break. I should not let idle speculation distract me, however; the frozen men are a mystery, I'd best stay moving so as not to share their fate.
Finally! I have reached the surface; it is now mid-afternoon. Trees are abundant, leading me to guess that Hell has not reached this height.
I spoke much too soon. Of course Destruction has been by here, and doubtless ordered his minions not to touch the trees; they would all be destroyed had he not. Imps, cursed little teleporters, are using the woods to their advantage, firing their annoying little smoke-bomb missiles from behind every tree and bush. Ah, they were ordered not to fell the trees! A giant Crush Beast tried to approach through the trees, taking almost comical care not to disturb a single twig. Why preserve the forest, I wonder? To fool me? To taunt me? Only one being knows, and I doubt he will answer honestly.
What a tedious business this is! The pattern of defense is so predictable: a sea of Imps between walls manned by Plated Demons, with the occasional crusher added like a meatball in sauce. Now, here is another infernal pit, just like those before it. His brothers had more imagination. Perhaps Destruction is simply well-named: Terror and Hatred are mental states, some thought must be involved to appreciate them, but Destruction is as simple as breaking glass or pitching over a cliff. Perhaps if Diablo or Mephisto had possessed Tal Rasha, the result might have been a more worthy foe, but no amount of magical knowledge will make Baal anything more than a predictable oaf.
Man o man, those bull-guy dudes are bad. Boss is running around with some, but these ones are immune to cold! He's screaming at me like its my fault. What am I supposed to do?
Again, I spoke too soon. In the pit I found a group of Minotaurs immune to Khaleel's chilling blasts. A few rounds of combat with them dashed my Bone Armor to bits, and I was forced to flee the field. Victory through sniveling cowardice is my specialty, however, and I was able to kill them all in time. Poor Khaleel! He bravely interposed himself between the danger and myself a few times, but it must be frustrating to feel so useless in the face of such a threat. Like most sorcerers, he tends to focus overmuch, never realizing that a broad skill base has advantages over expertise with a single spell. From here on out, we must be more cautious. And, I must find something for him to do when facing an enemy immune to his magic. Not that I need his help -- he just behaves intolerably when forced to be idle.
That infernal pit was unusual. Like the others, it was made of stones dropped into the River of Flame, but seemed to have been constructed with more care. Walls decorated with spikes and pentagrams graced the upstream sides of the pathways. Perhaps this section is older than those I found below, though that would imply that Destruction opened his first infernal pits high on the mountain. That would be strange indeed.
While bashing and dashing up this tundra, the answer came to me! The demon lord Baal is in possession of Tal Rasha, and his knowledge. The Horadrim built many waypoints here on Mt. Arreat, indicating knowledge of the Worldstone and its location. When Destruction came, he must have made straight for the peak, but could not move on from there to the Worldstone itself. Something (or someone) does guard the peak, and was powerful enough to repulse a lord of Hell. Since then, he has laid waste to the area, opening infernal gates as he moves around. I still do not know why this forest has been left intact, though it is doubtless an unimportant detail for Destruction. More importantly, those guardians still wait at the peak, and may need to be neutralized. But if these guardians were made by the Precursors, it may take cleverness to deal with them, rather than raw muscle; if that is the case, it is only natural that Baal should fail.
Night is falling. As I have not slept in two days, I happily retire from the field, technically giving a few surviving Imps a short-lived victory. A new charm was among my possessions, and a note in a familiar hand:
-- The Mule"
Despite my exhaustion (or perhaps because of it) I fell asleep quickly and awoke refreshed from a deep and dreamless rest. My manservant has not defiled my journal yet, so he must still be unconscious. For the first time in days, Destruction's armies cannot be seen from Harrogath's walls. The sky is an icy, unclouded blue, and the weather unseasonably warm and sunny, though not enough so to melt the snow and ice. Happy little flop-footed bunny rabbits gambol about outside, perhaps thinking that spring has finally arrived, with all its attendant glories, after a harsh and horror-filled winter. The sight is enough to raise one's gorge, until the alternative is considered. Without those fluffy happy bunnies, we would have no breakfast. Ah, life! Necessary antithesis of death, the light which casts that cool, comfortable shadow. Even life at its lowest is worth preserving, though I do not entrust my morning repast to the locals' culinary skills -- as I do not wish to visit Atma's this morning, I prepare my bunny myself.
Off to the frozen steppes of the northlands! My infernal foes appear to have retreated during the night, concentrating themselves around the mountain peak. When I return home, I will have to ask father why the older generation ever used Imps. Perhaps as a servant on its best behavior, one might be tolerable, but I find the wretched little things an unendurable nuisance, worse even than Flayers. A few Plated Demons man the walls. The northlanders built so many of them; I wonder if the world will ever see a greater example of wasted effort. Unexpectedly, some local warriors have come out of the city to attack the walls. Why, one may ask, have they decided to spring into action so late in the game? Jealousy is the obvious explanation, very satisfying to see in those who once laughed in my face.
At one point, we had to cross a flow of smooth ice, which afforded a moment's amusement when Khaleel slipped and fell. I should have thought he would be accustomed to ice slicks. Doing battle on ice was an interesting challenge. The Imps, perhaps thinking we could not move freely over so slick a surface, lay in wait for us there, but their plan was foiled when I discovered that sliding over the ice was quicker and less tiring than running. Maneuvering was a bit touchy at first, but I soon grew accustomed to the tactic and gave them a sound thrashing. I could grow fond of winter sports.
At the top of the ice field is another cave, with a few urns unceremoniously thrown outside. None were trapped. Inside, I meet the standard combination: earth and ice demons, with a few Minotaurs. Ho hum. Even the caves themselves are tedious, long hallways with very little branching, and only a few trapped urns which summoned angry earth demons. In view of past experiences, I should count my blessings -- on previous occasions when I complained of boredom, my enemy obliged me with battles for my life. It is only natural that I should be watched from afar; what else could my enemy possibly find to interest him here?
A lower set of caves is guarded by a group of Frozen Creepers. I fear Khaleel may be jealous of them, he took it upon himself to close ranks and attack with his sword. As a fencer, he is a capable sorcerer. After a time, when they began to genuinely threaten his life, I took him by the collar and removed him from harm's way before killing the beasts myself. Envy, as an acknowledgement of one's inferiority, should be encouraged in the lower classes, but not to the point where it becomes spite. That leads to contumacy, insurrection, inefficient battle tactics, and other pointless rebellions against wisdom and sense.
The first thing I see in these lower cellars is a dead woman, tied spread-eagle to a wooden frame and skinned alive by someone who knew what she was doing. This means Succubi. They will be accompanied by either Yeti or Minotaurs. Ah, there are the Yeti. My foe is so predictable. Some legends speak of battles with the lords of Hell as fascinating contests of wits; those ancient heroes must have been very stupid.
The strongest creature in the cellar was a Frozen Creeper, strong enough to be immune to Khaleel's cold spells despite all my efforts on his behalf. While my servant dealt with his servants, I went at him with the sledgehammer; I do wish the crudest stratagems were less effective, but c'est la guerre. The creature wore a hideously unstylish old helmet Deckard Cain said belonged to some long-ago adventurer named Sigon, which vanished from my pack as I made my way over to the smith.
In the highest part of the caves, natural stone and ice suddenly gives way to broad steps and carved passageways. At the very top, a sharply-rising stairway leads to daylight. So steep are these steps that we are both forced to literally climb, going on hands and knees to get over the risers. Beyond is nothing but space... cold, clear, indigo-blue sky in which stars are faintly visible, even at noon. Accustomed as I have become to rarefied air, I feel giddy and unsteady on my feet at these dizzying heights.
Where is everything? Perhaps I expected something different, and am due for yet another disappointment. The northlands have already given me so many, despite the fact that my expectations were never high. The peak is a flat area, perhaps 50 yards at its longest. The entrance from the ice caves is on the west. On the east, another entrance leads down into the mountain. In the center is what I can only describe as an "open air" temple, a circle of carved monoliths surrounding a small, simple altar and three statues. The statues are the greatest disappointment. Completely representational, each depicts a mighty warrior, large and strong, fitted with the finest armor and weaponry. In fact, these "gods" look exactly like the boobs in Harrogath, only slightly larger and with money. It has been said that man has rarely conceived a god truly superior to himself. These monuments display nothing but the northlanders' lack of imagination. I wonder how they made them.
Once again, events did not go as expected, and it was a disappointment. The altar, as is to be expected, is the center of the temple. Approaching it released the temple guardians: the statues, of course. I really should have known. Perhaps I was clinging to a faint hope that the Precursors might do something unexpected, not subject me to a straightforward trial by combat against three muscle-bound louts with brains the size and quality of walnuts. But no; I am guessing that these buffoons were Precursors themselves, willingly petrified to serve as eternal guardians. They couldn't even pronounce their own name correctly -- everyone knows the name is "Nephilim." How could such a stupid people be responsible for the great things I have seen? How could their modern descendants have slid to such a low state of civilization?
If you are curious about my trial by combat, gentle reader, nothing noteworthy occurred. The Precursors were strong, durable sorts who depended on their heroic constitutions to survive battles -- like their descendants, slightly magnified. Each had some "trick" maneuver he was fond of. One was armed with stacks of light axes, and threw them from a short distance. Another was fond of skipping across the field of battle like a spinning top, slashing weakly at anything within reach. To think others have accused ME of unmanly behavior! The third may have had a signature attack, but never used it; he merely lumbered from place to place with a great axe, and might have hurt me badly if I ever let him strike.
Wait a moment, they just mentioned Tyrael! As I write this, the three defeated Precursors have re-petrified, and declared me worthy, to no one's surprise but theirs. It seems Baal is inside the "Keep of the Worldstone" and preventing Tyrael from entering, and...
Oh, blast, bother, that DAMNED angel should roast in Hell! The Nephilim have told me the Worldstone's function: its energy suffuses this dimension, preventing outside spirits (like the lords of Hell) from drawing power for themselves. With the Worldstone, only powerful demons and angels may even enter our world, and none operate at full strength. The Worldstone is, in fact, the main reason our world has been free of outside interference for so long. Tyrael did not see fit to inform me of any of this. The angel must have supposed I would be happy to charge into battle like some Paladin, knowing nothing of the cause but willing to risk my skin without a second's thought just because he told me to. That damned celestial idiot... FOR THE LAST TIME, I AM NO ONE'S SERVANT!!
That having been said, I go into the keep now. Not because I am ordered, but because I care so deeply about humanity and myself. Blindly following instructions, especially from a supposedly "wise and incorruptible" source, is the mark of a fool. I do this because I want to, and because I know I must. That, I am convinced, is a far purer and stronger form of "goodness" than anyone else will ever know.
A short while ago, I made what I supposed might be my final entry in this journal. Tyrael, agent of Heaven and advisor to fools, sent me into the northlands to save the Worldstone, never seeing fit to inform me of its nature and purpose. Underestimating its importance, my search of the northern mountains moved at a leisurely pace, playing into the hands of my enemy, Baal, Lord of Destruction and commander of Hell's largest armies. The demon lord, unable to enter the Worldstone Keep where the stone lay, wrought havoc and destruction throughout the region, causing the northmen's last tribal elder, Nihlathak, to despair. In his wretched state, Nihlathak gave to Baal the key to destroying the Worldstone, hoping Baal would then leave his people alone. A drowning man will clutch at any straw, sadly, but by giving Destruction his desire, that poor man guaranteed humanity's doom. Cursing his memory like the others do might bring some comfort, but my sympathy for his terrible plight moves me only to pity. My curses go to the angel.
Inside the Worldstone Keep, evidence of the Worldstone's destruction is everywhere. Many pieces of crystal, each the size of a house and red as life's blood itself, protrude upwards through the floor. While it was intact, I am sure the Worldstone was a marvelous thing, an epically-scaled, sanguine symbol of the beauty and power of mortal life, but little hope remains for it now. Even Khaleel seems to have realized that something is deeply wrong, and is flailing about in an endeavor to provoke me into returning to the Keep. I shall, in my own time. My own vengeance will be attended to -- and to finally, defiantly, spit in my enemy's face before darkness consumes me is a gesture I have always wanted to make. But I will wait. While in the Keep, I paused for a moment to admire the construction; a painful burst of lightning erupted beneath my feet, accompanied by what could only be my foe's harsh laughter. Obviously, Baal has already found what he sought and done what he set out to do, and is impatient to see me that me might laugh in my face. Gentle reader, you may think me spiteful, but I refuse to be goaded, by man, angel, or devil. The more I am pushed, he more I shall resist, to my dying breath and beyond.
For my own amusement and interest, I shall record a description of the Worldstone Keep and its architecture, the likes of which I have not seen in all my travels. Overwhelmingly grand in style, the Worldstone Keep bears only a vague resemblance to other Precursor structures, but employs common thematic elements. There is nothing graceful or light in the Keep, quite unlike the Heavenly styles of Pandemonium, where stone and metal were presented in such elegant forms the dense medium seemed to float and soar like the ether. Here, all is close-spaced columns and flat lintels, each made from a single piece of stone. Shallow but precise cut-outs decorate the floor in maze-like patterns, always turning at right angles... in fact, I don't believe there is a single obtuse or acute angle in the entire structure. The star of Order is never seen, but strongly implied in this staunch regularity. Furnishings are scant to the point of being entirely absent; a few elaborate tombs break the endless emptiness of the square halls, as well as the ubiquity of right angles. All are adorned in the colorful styles I saw in Harrogath, using differently-colored stones side by side in geometric patterns; I suspect that the Worldstone Keep predates them considerably, though it is also possible that the Keep's style is special, reserved only for this most important temple.
To my surprise, human remains can be found inside the Keep. Did Baal import some to feed his zoo of minions? Difficult to judge; only a few tiny pieces remain intact, the rest having been ground to jelly and smeared into the floor. The first floor of the keep is guarded by hordes of Imps and Minotaurs, with Defilers behind them to insure their enthusiasm for battle. More lies below, I am sure -- lumps in the otherwise perfectly level floor unquestionably indicate spots where pieces of the Worldstone failed to break through. Ah, I have found a human hand clutching a weapon; this person was not brought in by the demons, unless he or she died in some sort of gladiatorial sport. Perhaps a few local people served as temple guardians, though how they were chosen for this task I have no idea. If they had to face the same trials I did to enter, surely they could have dealt with Baal's army witho
Another "hotfoot" from Baal -- any more of this, and I could grow to dislike him. Perhaps I shall try his patience as he has tried mine, judging by experiment exactly how slowly I may move and avoid his impotent wrath. The Minotaurs, I should note, are of the strongest variety, invulnerable to the chilling effects of Khaleel's magic. Their presence no longer fills me with fear, though I cannot explain why; now, they are nothing more than the first foe who must die. Perhaps, as I realize my mission cannot succeed, I also know death cannot interfere with my efforts and poses no threat.
The second level of the Keep stretches rectilinearly before me, and I can easily see it is not the deepest from the holes in the floor. The crystal chunks which made them, of course, lie embedded in the ceiling, accounting for the lumpy floor above. For all this rude treatment, the building is still quite stable; architecture this muscular will not be demolished easily. A plethora of Plated Demons fills these halls, and by spying around corners I have seen some who are already bloated with energy, placidly waiting for me to approach. Their devotion is remarkable; even undead servants care more for their own existence. Perhaps that sort of thing is what encouraged my ancestors to take on demons as servants; a servant so eager to do anything I ask without question would be enticing.
Apart from a waypoint, I find nothing of interest on the second floor. The third floor is a repeat of the first: Imps, Minotaurs, and Defilers. The halls all look the same, of course; the only indication of depth is a greater concentration of shattered crystal punched through the floor. Minotaurs are hard on the armor, but otherwise there is nothing here to interest me. Every conflict with Baal's army I have experienced has had a remarkable sameness to it: a mix of powerful infantry (the Yeti, Plated Demons, or Frozen Creepers) escorted by quicker but fragile magi (Succubi or Imps; exploding Plated Demons could be considered self-guided fireballs.) The Minotaurs are probably members of his personal retinue, which he has scattered here and there without rhyme or reason. Were they more concentrated, their strength would be insurmountable, but dissipated as they are they do him little good. It is as though the Lord of Destruction has a book entitled "How To Wage War"; it is a small book, little more than a pamphlet, full of poor advice which he never deviates from.
An oddity of the Worldstone Keep has caught my eye. The maze-like patterns on the floor do not branch, and thus do not form a true maze. More properly, the path depicted is a labyrinth, which loops endlessly through the entire level. No matter how the path twists, it inevitably returns to its beginning. Were it not so damaged, and so heavy, I would be tempted to pull up the floor and carry it away home; nowhere have I seen a better analogy for life and death, especially on such a scale.
The next level down is most probably the deepest. Fiery light suffuses every corner, leaving no shadows. Baal's strongest Minotaurs are present, but in groups of four, not two. Beside them are Succubi by the dozen, though these are the best I have yet seen -- their wings and other demonic features are golden, glittering like cheap tinsel. Perhaps Baal is trying to prove to the world that is really is possible to polish excrement.
Horrors! These Succubi know a worthwhile curse, Damage Amplification. Decrepification is more to be feared, but to be so vulnerable to physical blows in the presence of Minotaurs would be terrifying indeed. The brutes are dangerous enough as they are. I'd best proceed carefully, and try to isolate them from each other.
So much for isolating them from each other! In a small side room, I happened upon a huge group of Succubi with a few Minotaurs. It seems Baal has little control over his minions. I do not want to think about what they were doing in there, but at least this batch of bulls had to fight without their armor.
At the rear of the level is what may have been a temple; Baal, in his infinite and completely undeserved arrogance, has made it into a throne room. There the great scuttler sits, on a high platform flanked by banners, deeply impressed with himself -- I suppose he does live up to his own meager expectations. I'm sure he is expecting a ferocious attack; perhaps I shall engage him in conversation. Surely, he and I can find something to chat about.
My attempts were fruitless; Baal did nothing but laugh. Perhaps he suffers an embarrassing speech impediment. Reaching him was difficult, as he kept the best of curses for himself: Decrepification. Even climbing stairs under the weight of that curse would be an ordeal, and Baal worsened the matter by summoning more minions to protect him. Granted, his first try was only Fallen Ones, but they were followed by a pack of Horadric Mummies, with skeletal cold magi in company. These were a novelty for Khaleel, and the combination of Baal's curse and the chilling effect of their magic was more than either of us could tolerate. I have made a quick retreat from the room; Khaleel has recovered, and is picking off the magi at range.
My future biographer will have a terrible time with this tale. To reiterate: I am facing an foe with magical power capable of laying waste to cities, and brain power insufficient to light a candle. His chief mummy was immune to my venom, but my alternate weapon took it down with sledgehammer finesse. After the mummies died, he re-summoned the Zakarum council, led by a familiar face: Bartuc, brother of Horazon, and easily the most egotistical sorcerer of all time, which as you can imagine is saying something. Imagine seeing him again after all these years. Now that I have disposed of Bartuc, Baal has brought in Balrogs. Where are the heroic battles of wits against a foe of my own caliber? Baal has provided endless armies, but defeating endless armies is more a matter of persistence than intelligence. I am sure this will not bring any satisfying final denouement either, unless Tyrael turns up.
Great Rathma's ghost! Baal had one surprise up his sleeve: the last summoning must have been his personal bodyguard. I have no clear idea what they were, but they were quick, strong, and dangerous; note accompanying sketches. Their initial charge knocked my Bone Armor out so quickly, I did not notice it was gone; the second blow smashed me across the room and out the door, with the whole pack in pursuit. Khaleel did his utmost to stop the beasts, with such zeal that I had to drag him to a portal to save his life. Knowing they would stay clustered about the portal, I returned by waypoint. Arranging their deaths was a long game of cat-and-mouse through the complex; they were highly resistant to my venom, Khaleel's chilling magic... indeed, everything we had. Finally standing over their twitching corpses was a moment of enormous satisfaction, though as far as my interest in my enemy goes, it was too little, too late. Strangely, the lead creature had in its possession a Fool's Scepter of the Leech. Was this one of our kings in a former incarnation?
When I returned to Destruction's throne, he was gone. A red gate stood at the rear of the platform, where Baal's spidery bulk hid it from view. Climbing up now is easy, and beyond the gate is a huge chamber containing the Worldstone. It can be nothing else. Imagine a crystal of purest ruby the size of an entire town, floating serenely in space, unsupported by any visible force. Now imagine that crystal turning black as corruption cleaves through the stone, twisting it into new forms better suited to Infernal energies. As you watch, crimson shards peel away from the main mass and float buoyantly away, slowly pushing their way out of the chamber through the solid stone walls. By the base, Baal waits, laughing and pointing out his handiwork, as though I couldn't possibly have noticed without his help. I'm sure he'll want to say more, but I have been so unimpressed with all he has said and done already I'm sure I can miss it.
With all the satisfaction that comes from squashing a particularly noisome insect, that is that. The Lord of Destruction, while in possession of one of history's greatest sorcerers, fell to my venom and a sledgehammer lodged in his skull. And, on cue, here is Tyrael.
I do dearly, desperately hate that INFURIATING angel! With sincere humility, that fluttery luminescent glowworm of a sorry tin-plated milk-blooded excuse for munificence APOLOGIZED for not telling me what the Worldstone did! He thought I understood its significance; everyone else in the mortal world does. That's because everyone else in the mortal world actually LISTENS to stupid angels and lets them tell them what's important!! Oh, I am so disgusted with him. After that, Tyrael destroyed the Worldstone. The main mass was no longer suitable as a vessel for our world's energies; corruption would soon fill it with infernal power, and it could only become a weapon for Hell. A few fragments remain, but not enough to maintain the interdimensional veil. I kept one; it is a beautiful thing, glowing red as blood in the light. Perhaps something could be done with it.
And that, dear reader, is how the world stands as of today, a day that will be remembered as the day the world ended. I can hardly wait to tell father, he never would have thought I had it in me. I suppose, strictly speaking, the world has not ended... an age has merely passed away. You must understand, the Worldstone was placed in Mt. Arreat by Heaven to prevent outside agencies from using extradimensional powers in our world. This interfered with both demon and angel alike, and was the main reason Tyrael could do so little. The Brothers had the Soulstones, which drew power from the Worldstone. Once corrupted, the Soulstones allowed them to make use of their power unchecked. Now our shield is gone, and only our knowledge and our wits stand in Hell's way. When I am needed... look elsewhere, for I am beginning a long, well-deserved rest, at the suggestion of Tyrael. It was the only sensible thing I've ever heard him say.
I remain yours truly,
Varnae Cesare Amygda von Rhus
Initiate of Rathma
Slayer of The Prime Evils,
Savior of Civilization
hi. the litle werdo got thru to the end huh?
Yeah, barely. You should have seen him when he walked into that one room with the bull guys and demon babes. Man, he turned pink!
he terned pink owt here i had to cary a dam parasol for him
Okay, the bulls and babes thing was kind of gross.
i dont want to no! bad enuf to heer him yamering about ded guys
Gods, I know! He is damn strange. This one time, he fell in love with this freaky old guy in this place we had to go. That was totally gross.
somhow i kind of new hed go that way
He tried to cover it up by falling in love with some leather-babe too.
i kind of new hed go that way to
Yeah, always going on about hair and clothes and interior decorating.
he tryd to dres me up but im not into that
You should have seen him at the end. Baal dropped this purple Gothic Plate called Rattlecage, pasty looked like he was in heaven.
purple? he wor blak befor is purple the new blak?
I don't know. And, of course, he thinks he's god's gift to magic. Look at that stupid signature up there. "Savior of Civilization" my left nut.
man he puts lots of curly bits on his werds
Whenever he gets too snotty, just start talking about the 6-foot boner joke.
man i no it was so funy wen he told it then denid it he lies
Anyway, I'm Khaleel, I killed Baal, and pasty was my Curse B!tch.
good job my man