2nd June 2016: The writing on the scroll A Mortal Heart
(Diablo III short story)
Diablo, the greatest of the Prime Evils, was finally defeated by six heroes of legend: a barbarian, a demon hunter, a wizard, a monk, a crusader, and a witch doctor. The mighty heroes dispersed to protect people in cities all over Sanctuary and get on with their lives. Many years later, they reunited to have a few pints of mead in Tristram’s pub and share their news.
Maghda was serving drinks. Much reformed after starting her own coven and leading many to their deaths, she turned her hand from brewing foul potions to brewing the finest mead in all of Khanduras. She brought yet another round of drinks to the heroes’ table, quietly handing out the tumblers and goblets (except for the barbarian, who had ordered his beer in a bucket).
The wizard sipped wine from her goblet and said, “The times I spent with you all were the best times I ever had. When we fought the Evils side by side, at the peak of our powers.. that was the best feeling in the world. My years of honing my mind in Xiansai paid off and I could command time and space. I held the primal elements of nature in my two hands and rained fire and ice upon my enemies! But what use is that, with no enemies left to fight? I’ve scarcely touched a book since our victory.”
By the time the wizard finished speaking, the barbarian had drained his bucket of beer and had ordered something a little stronger. He burped quietly and agreed with the wizard, “I returned to my tribe in Mount Arreat, after we defeated Diablo. I used to relish pushing my body to its limits when I trained to combat the demon forces. But now, the training regimes have no meaning. Once, I fought Diablo in hand-to-hand – and won! How could I, after that moment, go back to mere training? I left my tribe and traveled over Khanduras, looking for good food and drink, and telling my story as I went. I wanted to return to my people, but it shames me that I’ve gone soft. I couldn’t let them see me now.”
The monk reached over and patted the barbarian’s beer belly. “If you did a bit more weight training, you’d soon be back in shape. I understand how you feel about your tribe; I can’t go back to my people either. But it would take more than a few weeks of training to redeem me. Everywhere I go, everything I see, makes me angry. My agility never left me, but inner balance is lost forever! A monk is only a monk if he can master himself, yet I can’t control my own temper!” And he trembled with rage at the very thought.
Not all of the heroes were dissatisfied with their lives. The witch doctor had made a remarkable transformation from the scruffy and unkempt savage he had once been. Now, he wore a magnificent cape of feathers and his mask was encrusted with gemstones. His cane was topped with a solid gold skull and he even wore shoes. “I keep company with Covetous Shen, these days. We talk to the spirits together. And both share a passion for fine jewellery!” he cackled. “By the way, I do not see that crusader.. Where is he?”
The demon hunter stopped picking her nails with the tip of a crossbow bolt. “The crusader? He’s far too good to be drinking past midnight. He’s probably in bed by now.” She glanced around the table and smirked softly, “You’ve all let yourselves go. You’ve all gone soft and become lazy. There is always a choice, but the only one of us who’s maintained their discipline is me.”
The monk locked eyes with the demon hunter. “Let’s go adventuring as we once did before. I’ll show you I’m as fit as I ever was.” The demon hunter didn’t blink, but she smiled slowly at the challenge. “You’re on. Who else has some fire left? Let’s explore the tomb at the centre of the Desolate Sands”
A great serpentine skeleton lay coiled around the tomb. At the centre, inside the gigantic skull, was the entrance. The heroes camped outside for the night. The demon hunter shot a boar for their dinner and the wizard set a roaring campfire. The barbarian and witch doctor argued over the best way to cook it. The barbarian insisted on a roast, while the witch doctor advocated a healthy stew (and got his way). The next morning, they all peered into the tomb’s entrance. It was a straight drop into the darkness, with no stairs or ladder. The monk and the demon hunter rigged up some climbing ropes and prepared to lead the heroes into the cavern below. “I’m not going in there”, said the barbarian. He was by far the heaviest of the heroes and did not trust the ropes to hold him. He watched the monk climb down first and then the witch doctor. Finally, he said, “I’m staying up here to guard the camp” and refused to go further.
The heroes explored the tomb cautiously. It had been many years since they had been in such a dangerous place. A small shaft of light glimmered from the entrance, but it did little to illuminate the vast cavern and the carved passages, so the heroes had to carry a torch each. Corridors branched out and branched again. No monsters appeared, but they were in great danger of becoming disoriented and lost, so the witch doctor made sure they travelled carefully and systematically, drawing out a map as he went. Everyone was glad to do this, except the demon hunter. She sneered, “This is unbearably slow. I’m going on ahead to find the deepest chamber and its treasure.” Nobody tried to stop her, for there was something about her arrogance that repelled them.
Up at the surface, in the heroes’ camp at the entrance of the tomb, the sun was beating down. The barbarian had drunk a good deal of wine the night before and was sleeping soundly. He did not hear the band of imps, led by a cruel and ruthless shaman, until they crept up and surrounded him. “Rakanishu!” cried the shaman, and they all attacked him at once. They overwhelmed the barbarian – he was too weak and they were too many. Abandoned by his friends and unable to muster his once mighty strength, the Barbarian met his mortal end.
Meanwhile, the wizard, witch doctor and monk had explored much of the cavernous tomb. They reviewed the map the witch doctor had drawn, and the wizard did some calculations in the sand. “The enchantments we’ve seen lead me to believe that the mana of this building is concentrated.. here!” she announced, pointing to the east side of the tomb. Her companions were impressed and they travelled to that location immediately. Sure enough, there was a concealed passage that took them to the lower levels of the tomb.
After many hours of traversing the narrow passages of the tomb, the three remaining heroes encountered its guardians. A dozen powerful Horadric mage spirits awoke. The heroes’ presence had triggered the re-animation of the remains. It was far from the epic battles the heroes fought in the past, but when the angry spirits were vanquished, the wizard, witch doctor and monk were all exhausted. They broke open a small locked chest and brought out the treasure. The wizard was bitterly disappointed. “This is it?” she cried, “This treasure is ugly! I don’t want any at all!”
The monk was instantly put out by her disdain for their endeavours, even more so because her words were true – the contents of the box were a poor reward for the effort and risk they had taken in coming to this place. “It’s not like you did any of the work”, he snapped. The wizard left in a bad temper, determined to leave immediately.
The witch doctor and the monk tried to divide the spoils peacefully, but there were only three items and everything they tried led to a dispute. The monk became too angry and the witch doctor too greedy to settle the matter amicably. “Look”, said the witch doctor, “There are three pieces of treasure and two of us, and I have the map so I’ll divide the treasure. This one is yours and these two are mine. You’ll have to accept it if you want to get out of here without getting lost.”
At this, the monk lost his temper and attacked the witch doctor. “You think you’re so clever”, the monk snarled, latching one hand around the witch doctor’s throat and wrist-locking him with the other. “But you’re no match for me, so you’ll do as I say. Now give me the map.” The strength left the witch doctor, and he gave a tiny nod – for the monk’s grip was unrelenting. The monk relaxed his grip as the defeated witch doctor handed him the map, but in that moment of distraction, the witch doctor’s mind unleashed a bitter curse. Calmly, the witch doctor collected the map and the three treasures, and started to make his way out of the tomb.
The monk’s body had been transformed, he knew that. He didn’t have arms or legs, and was very much smaller than his previous size. Unable to move faster than a crawl, unable to make a noise, he watched the witch doctor’s heels grow more distant, step by step, and the circle of light disappear. Never to regain his human form, the monk was unable to escape from the tomb and met his mortal end.
Carefully following his map, the witch doctor found the exit of the tomb. The climbing ropes still hung as they had been left, and he prepared himself for the climb. As his hand gripped the rope and pulled, something heavy slammed into him and knocked him off his feet. Dazed and in pain, he heard the smooth voice of the demon hunter. “How could you, so slow and unprepared, discover the tomb’s secret before me? Nobody is stronger or faster than I..” Her voice was calm but bitter.
“I see”, whispered the witch doctor, “You didn’t find it at all. So you gave up and laid a trap at the exit to catch the ones who did. Well you caught me. Let me go and you can have all of the treasure.”
The demon hunter considered his offer for a moment and was silent. The witch doctor struggled, but there was something restraining him. His torch had gone out and he couldn’t see anything at all. Understanding dawned upon him. The demon hunter didn’t want the treasure. She wanted revenge for her wounded pride, and to silence the sole witness to her failure. He was starting to frame a reply, when he felt movement nearby, and one of his pouches was searched and emptied. “What do you want? Tell me and let’s talk,” the witch doctor offered. He heard the quiet creak of the rope above him. Then after a while, a soft thump. She climbed out and cut the rope, he realised. He called out, but there was no response. Trapped and alone, the witch doctor met his mortal end.
The wizard wanted to get out, but without a map, there was no chance. She didn’t remember the way out, and wandered the corridors until her torch ran out of fuel. She used her glowing staff as a to light the way, but she was soon out of mana. Lost in the endless darkness and echoing corridors, the Wizard met her mortal end.
The demon hunter climbed from the mouth of the tomb and took in the scene of the barbarian’s last battle with hardly any surprise. She inspected each of the three treasures she’d taken from the monk. The first two were mere trinkets, but the third was a magnificent smoky gemstone. Crouched in the shadows, she could see it was lit by a red glow from inside. Of course, she thought.. that’s why this jewel was protected by Horadrim. Diablo was never to be eradicated from this world. He could only be contained, and this was his prison.
She thought to herself, “There is only one person worthy to guard this dangerous seed of evil and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. I shall protect it!”
(the writing ends here)