Part 39: An Act of Mercy - GlaziusThe Darkness of Astoria - Part 2: An Act of Mercy
Changed the screenshots over to PNGs. They're larger, but better-definition than what I was using before. I don't know if it matters or not, but it definitely doesn't wash the dialogue out in a certain place.
I tracked down the Mu Heather had mentioned. There were only a few protective circles, so it wasn't too hard.
Zasani. The woman known as Heather Townshend has done what I have hoped. I have hopes that you and I can be civil and work together, despite your status as a hero and my status as, well, Arachnos.
The problem of Dark Astoria is one that concerns Lord Recluse greatly. He has sent Scirocco, Ice Mistral, and myself to deal with it. Scirocco believes that Lord Recluse wishes to somehow utilize the power of Mot to his own end, perhaps due to his link with the power of Tartarus.
However, Recluse is not here personally, so we shall... use our own judgement regarding Mot.
I am sure you are aware that Mot seems to be feeding off the deaths of those in this world, particularly those who die in a violent manner.
This fact means that time is against us on this matter. Every minute a person dies, and every minute Mot grows stronger. I believe the beast previously only gained a small portion of power when someone died in a violent manner, but now that it is fully awakened, it can absorb violent deaths wherever they happen. This god of death also seems to have the ability to twist a person's thoughts and destroy their hope. I assume you have seen it just as we have; we lost a small squadron of Arachnos operatives when we first came here because of that.
I believe it's safe to assume that this absorption by Mot gives him more power than a simple death of a person. This leaves us with an intricate problem, Zasani.
These Knives of Vengeance seem bent on delivering some form of bloody justice to those who they believe have done something wrong. Mot is luring those who have a tie to Dark Astoria or itself to this city, and these Knives seem to believe that those people must be killed and made to pay, which is only empowering Mot faster than we can combat him.
What you're saying is we need a way to stop the Knives of Vengeance.
Yes, stopping the Knives of Vengeance should be our main priority. We also need to get more information regarding how to combat Mot and the possible connection these Knives have with it. Our main concern should be how to stop it from altering our minds and absorbing us, as so many have been before.
Scirocco and Ice Mistral departed to raid one of the Tsoo's main safehouses for information; the group has refused to work together with us, and so we must rely on force. I know you are fully aware of this. They have been in Dark Astoria for years fighting the forces of the Banished Pantheon.
I would request that you depart to aid Scirocco and Ice Mistral, as I fear that the Tsoo have become stronger than we could have ever anticipated.
The Tsoo weren't the only concern. I could sense ghosts at the corners of my vision again.
Ice Mistral had been cornered, but she was willing to come along.
Scirocco wasn't too far from her.
Was Mot waiting to spring a trap on us, or...?
Ah, there they were. They were pouring out of somewhere deeper inside, most likely. The Tsoo were probably just trying to escape.
I found some notes Hua Tov had left, about Mot's method of operation, twisting all your memories toward misery and despair. He confirmed what I'd seen myself, that someone consumed by despair could be devoured by Mot directly.
He also mentioned the last person who fought against Mot, a man named David Hazen. Unfortunately the name was about all he could dig up.
Together, Scirocco and Ice Mistral were pretty impressive. I could see why he chose her, and why she stuck around.
But I wasn't ready for what we found in the heart of the warehouse. I'd never seen anything like it. It almost looked like one of the Pantheon's giant walking totems had somehow gotten crusted over with ice.
It was moaning something about how Mot remembered me after all this time, which was kind of odd. It wasn't that long ago I'd plucked Sigil and Kadabra from its grasp. I should hope it remembered me, but then again it was the size of Astoria.
But when we focused our power on it and it broke apart, memories flooded into me.
I was walking through Dark Astoria...
No, being dragged, being taken somewhere...
This alley... I thought I had enough to go on now...
And then the memory faded.
Somewhere in Astoria, someone was despairing. And Mot was growing stronger. Scirocco and Ice Mistral didn't seem very inclined to help me, but that was fine. They had their own agendas.
I followed the trail of memories as best I could.
And wasn't this a surprise.
...well, actually, I was kind of surprised to learn that the missing supergroup had survived so long. And that these Knives were responsible for killing them.
But they weren't going to kill anyone else if I could help it.
There are things you have to do to complete this mission, but freeing the hostages isn't one of them. You get a little meaningless clue when you free them all, but nothing happens... yet.
The tunnels progressed from slate-grey administrative quarters down to access tunnels to the sewers below. The walls were weathered by generations of dampness.
How many people had the Knives abducted? Whatever else they were doing, they were definitely separating these people from anything that could have reminded them of the happier memories Mot was sealing away from them.
I swept the place clean, then started down the stairway to the lower depths.
Mot's tendrils extended here, through whatever subterranean network it had established.
The Knives had one last prisoner.
I had my suspicions about what his allegiances might be, but nobody deserves the Erinyes. Nobody deserves Mot.
And Mot was reaching for him.
Yeah, suspicions pretty much confirmed. The Knives knew a lot of things about their old employers.
But Malta had field agents here, and that meant he knew something.
Name's Max, yeah, I was in Astoria trying to see if what I heard was true when I was rounded up by these gals. Horrible stuff, really, they made us watch as they slaughtered a supergroup of heroes. Those guys didn't stand a chance; there was about ten of them, they couldn't have more than forty security levels among 'em all.
Anyway, you're looking to put a stop to the monsters in this, right? I can give you a hand, sure, but I need time to get together all of my data. It's only gonna be against the Knives of Vengeance, though. If you're after Mot, I'd suggest looking for information about a guy named David Hazen.
This guy supposedly fought Mot back in the 1800's. A contact of mine was supposed to drop off documents regarding Hazen at the old Astoria bank. I'm not going anywhere near there, not in this condition, but my contact already made the drop off. Get to that bank and you'll find what you're looking for.
I let him go. I'd been punching my way out of Malta traps for a while now. No sense letting paranoia ruin what might be a way to put a stop to Mot.
Zasani, Scirocco and Ice Mistral told me that you had gone to look into this 'suited man'. We received word that he made it safely to one of the portals out of Astoria; the woman known as Heather Townshend said she saw a rough-looking man escorting the suited man to safety.
I have gone over the information you and Scirocco recovered from the Tsoo. It makes sense to me, the information regarding a person's mind being warped in this place. I... am somewhat concerned regarding Scirocco, if I may be blunt.
Scirocco has a sordid past, as you may or may not be aware. If Mot is looking to gain more power, then Scirocco would be someone who would be a prime target to sway towards hopelessness. Scirocco is, for lack of a better word, showing his weakness in these days. Ice Mistral can detect it, but I am unsure why she has not acted upon it. However, I am a trusted companion of Scirocco, and I will do my best to aid him.
The man named Max said that someone once fought Mot in the 1800's... that is quite odd. The first that I had heard of someone fighting the darkness in Astoria was in 1953, when the Freedom Phalanx reclaimed Dark Astoria from the first time the darkness overcame it. They all believed that was the first and last time this would happen... but after the darkness came again, no one was able to stop it. I wonder, though... the Circle of Thorns were here in Astoria, even before the darkness first engulfed it. Hrm...
Something to think on. Do you know where the bank is?
Yes, the bank. Here is the location. I should warn you, Zasani, if the Knives of Vengeance attacked Max, it is possible that they also attacked the man who was meeting him here. I'm unsure why they would choose such a place to meet, but that is not our concern at this moment.
I am going to continue monitoring Scirocco. Ice Mistral has contacted me, saying that he has begun to act distant, saying that he has given up trying to teach her his various lessons on how to properly use her powers. I believe the city of Astoria and Mot are beginning to destroy Scirocco's mind, but we will deal with that.
The Knives of Vengeance were operating outside the bank. Somehow I doubted it was a coincidence.
I hate it when I'm right.
Max's contact made his drop in the empty bank vault. A dossier.
David Hazen had lived out much of his life in an insane asylum. Most of the knowledge of his prior actions had been deliberately destroyed by the authorities at the time.
He'd recovered one primary source - a page of Hazen's journal. It mentioned some creature called the Sentinel, the will of Mot, that haunted Hazen's dreams, waiting for him to slip into despair.
...and then I found out why the authorities had sealed away all mention of Hazen.
It was like the little show Mot gave me on the way to Astoria. One moment I was just... somewhere else entirely. Inside one of Mot's tendrils, it looked like. But I heard a voice, much more focused than Mot's random wandering.
Hang in there, Zasani! I can get you out of there, just hold on...
If you can destroy Mot's followers within there, I can teleport you out.
I would love for us to finally meet face to face, but I must investigate this latest turn of events...
Just know the time for speaking through letters is over.
Letters. While I was working with Ouroboros, I always found letters. Written to me, even in times when I never should have existed. They were warning me about Ouroboros and its people, about the dark secrets they possessed, how they couldn't be trusted...
And about something called "the Coming Storm".
But I had to say, things didn't seem too stormlike.
Well, that was a minor power of the Pantheon's? But it seemed like they were bringing the big guns to bear now.
This is the first real mission against the Incarnate-level Banished Pantheon.
They ran from levels 20-30 originally, with the bosses in the 20-24 ratio being spirit masks, channeling Pain, Sorrow, Death, and Desire. The lieuts and bosses of the Incarnate versions mostly express those aspects. Pain (red) uses powers from the villain Pain Domination support sets, Sorrow (green) massively debuffs defense, Death (black) massively debuffs accuracy, and Desire (magenta) uses mind control, including fear powers.
The lieuts can also summon the old spirit masks, but they're ridiculously fragile underlings now.
I couldn't see where the tunnel ended. I had no idea how the Pantheon were even surviving in here.
However they managed it, they brought more of those hulking ice-beasts with them.
Finally I reached some sort of terminus. One more fight, and I was home... I hoped.
Front and center here is a demonstration that the Pantheon also gets a new element - frost - which seems to reflect Mot's power, as expressed in the Ravagers and other units.
Then the world shifted, and I was back outside. I got in touch with Mu-Vorkan as soon as I could.
Are you alright, Zasani? I was unable to reach your signature for a while. Some unknown man helped you escape, you say? Hrm... a third player within this place, then. Interesting.
It is too bad that the informant Max spoke of was unable to find more regarding this David Hazen. However, what he did find is somewhat... coincidental, almost to the point of fault.
You see, Zasani, we have officially lost all contact with Scirocco. He told Ice Mistral that it was over, and that it was time for him to face the Sentinel.
Ice Mistral had no idea what Scirocco was talking about with this Sentinel nonsense. However, if we go off of what was said in Hazen's journal, then it would appear that this is a major force behind Mot's power.
Zasani, if we could strike against the Sentinel, it would deal a major blow to Mot's power. Then, if things fall into place, Max will deliver the information on how we can cripple the Knives of Vengeance.
The two combined would be a major victory for us against Mot. Scirocco will be able to lead us right to the Sentinel; Ice Mistral tracked him down to an old cavern system nearby, but she was driven away by a pack of monsters from the Banished Pantheon. All you need to do is get there and take down the Sentinel.
What about Scirocco?
Scirocco? Look, Zasani, Scirocco has made his choice. Yes, I understand, Mot will become slightly more powerful if he takes Scirocco, but we will easily shift that when the Sentinel is defeated.
Scirocco recruited me into Arachnos, Zasani. The Scirocco that is in that cave now is a far cry from the one that found me. He has become weak-willed from the realization that he is in a place he does not like. If Scirocco were truly a powerful man, he would make the decision to continue to fight his fate, but he is not.
You're free to save him, though, as I certaintly do not have the power to stop you. Just bear in mind that the Sentinel is most likely an extremely powerful foe. If you have any allies who would brave Astoria, now would be the time to call them.
I wondered what the Mu's angle on this whole thing was. Maybe this was his way of dealing with Mot eating at him, too.
But I powered through the Banished Pantheon and made my way into the cave.
It felt... familiar, in here. Like the place where that mercenary had given herself up to die.
Junior versions of the hulking ice-beast were all over the place, filling the air with a rain of chilling shards.
The Pantheon taunted me. They thought Scirocco had already succumbed.
A few of them were talking about some woman dealing with Mot. ...Ice Mistral, maybe? I doubted it was me. They knew who I was.
And... Mot was getting stronger memories of me? Something seemed off about this. It wasn't like Mot and I had fought before it was sealed away.
The Sentinel waited for me, unconcerned. Whatever Scirocco had come here to do, it didn't involve disturbing it much.
Well, then. If I wasn't going to have his storms with me...
I suppose I could use my own.
Another Lore-class power. These Storm Elementals originally occupied the farthest reaches of the Shadow Shard, in service to a mad god of destruction.
The Sentinel said something about how I'd left it to die as I lunged at it. Now I knew something was up. But the past would have to take care of itself, at least for now.
The Knives of Vengeance chose the worst possible time to decide to come after me.
Worst for both of us, really. That giant field of shards probably hurt something that wasn't sheathed in flames a lot more.
If you saved all the people from the Knives earlier, they come after you as ambushes while you fight the Sentinel.
If you didn't save all the people from the Knives earlier, Mot's more powerful, and the Sentinel will periodically spawn runes with huge amounts of health that make it invulnerable, until they're destroyed.
But it wasn't invincible. ...then again, if Mot could just recreate it whenever it wanted, it didn't have to be.
A few Knives later, everything was clear, and I turned to Scirocco. At least I could recover the body.
...but to my surprise, he was alive. I asked him what happened.
I found myself consumed by memories of the past. Unlike you, hero, I have few happy ones.
Ghost Widow is fond of saying that the dead cannot change. But for much of my life I have been cursed to do evil, whatever my intentions may have been.
The dead cannot change, but I was convinced that I was not permitted to.
The Sentinel gave voice to all the things I never wanted to admit about myself. I was welcome nowhere - my results not among the lovers of justice, my intentions not among Recluse's cadre.
I was ready to die.
I did not know what to make of Ice Mistral. She should not have been able to survive the journey, but she was there. With no gain for herself. And... willing to die.
And then I understood. She, who I had thought intractable, had changed.
I, who I had thought intractable... I could change also. And I fought against the Sentinel.
Punched a bit above your league?
Ha. But I did not last long. ...though perhaps I can.
I have turned my back to the powers of Scirocco that I inherited. The genie, Serafina, who governs them... I will ask the Midnighters if they can put me in touch with her.
Yes. When we meet again, the Sentinel will not be above my league.
I imagined Mu'Vorkahn would want to know that his immediate superiors just went AWOL.
... Well, Scirocco has returned, and he has told me that he intends to stay here until Ice Mistral is recovered. An honorable gesture, to be sure, but Lord Recluse will not care for the fact that Scirocco is going against orders.
However, it is good that you were able to defeat the Sentinel, even if it did warp away, as you describe. This could be a moment of reprieve to strike against the Knives of Artemis. Kalinda, the Fortunata, has put out a detailed report showing that the Knives of Vengeance have just wiped out an entire group of small-time villains within the Rogue Isles. All this will do is power Mot, undoing our... ahem, your hard work.
I shall be going back and forth from Dark Astoria for the moment to report on Scirocco's progress. The man known as Max wishes to speak with you now. He requests that you two talk purely on a communicator, as he would prefer not to get himself embroiled in this whole business with Dark Astoria.
Mu'Vorkan tore down the sigils that shielded his little observation post. No sense marking himself out now.
What was going to come of this? A Patron, abandoning Recluse's service? He couldn't remember the last time it happened. And it certainly created a hole at the top.
Scirocco had told him many things, trusted him with much. Perhaps he could use it to his advantage.
Arachnos had commandeered one of the tunnelers Nemesis favored. It bored into Astoria smoothly, and the tendrils of the awakening god had not yet closed the breach.
How much longer would that last?
No one bothered him on his way to the central tower in Grandville. Perhaps, for now, he was beneath their notice.
But first, to report to the lynchpin of Recluse's balance of power.
Mu'Vorkan. Tell me what happened in Dark Astoria. Where are Scirocco and Ice Mistral?
Daos was a cunning man. Perhaps he had already heard the truth from some other source. It was best not to hope that he hadn't, in Mu'Vorkan's experience.
Hrm. Lord Recluse will not be pleased to hear that Scirocco went off on his own. However, this may still serve our interests. Ice Mistral is a valuable asset to the organization; if she were lost, we would be weakened, there is no question about that.
If Scirocco recovers her, then both of them will return stronger than ever. If he fails and we lose both of them, it could mean that we have a large power vacuum within Arachnos. Hrm...
I will have to think over what to do about this, Mu'Vorkan. Report to Magus Mu'Drakhan for now. He will decide what to do with you next.
Drakhan was one of the few mystics with an uncovered face, found worthy of displaying his own identity instead of being a cipher under a mask. Mu'Vorkan envied him this, as did all the Mu.
Mu'Vorkan, you return from Dark Astoria. I have already heard of Scirocco and Ice Mistral being lost to us. It is to be expected; Scirocco does not have the same blood that you and I have flowing through us.
We may soon find the Mu united, Mu'Vorkan, if Scirocco does not return. I shall make sure I have the ear of Lord Recluse during this time.
Should Scirocco prove to be too weak to return, then I shall step forward in his place. You have been loyal to both Scirocco and myself, Mu'Vorkan, and I will not forget that.
What plans do you have for me, should you become a patron?
You will be part of my elite council of Mu, Mu'Vorkan.
You know as well as I do that there are still many divisions amongst us. We must be united under my direction, but I cannot do it alone. You, like myself, have seen the spirits, fought our ancient enemies, the Oranbegans. I have not forgotten your role in our research regarding Lilitu, who still remains trapped within our spirit gem.
Part of a slightly smaller faceless crowd, then.
Mu'Vorkan never knew precisely why he did what he did next. Perhaps he felt emboldened by dancing around the tendrils of an awakening god but not being snapped up.
...perhaps he was aware of the little voice gnawing inside his head, and knew that if it went poorly he could lose himself to despair and find himself thrown to kinder mercies than the Arachnos way of dealing with insubordination.
But whyever he did it, he went deeper into the central compound.
One of Recluse's pet scientists was working on an interesting project. The Hamidon of a parallel dimension was capable of producing creatures that could stand up to Incarnate power. Perhaps this one could as well. But its creations could not be turned to Arachnos' ends. Its control was absolute.
...though perhaps not so absolute anymore.
Perhaps this was a time to dissolve absolutes, he thought as he summoned the lift to the topmost floor.
The council chamber was largely empty. No Black Scorpion, preening with his technicians. No Ghost Widow, with her throngs of seeresses. No Captain Mako, picking his teeth and looking for a fresh kill.
But there was one who was always there, looking down on Grandville and what he had created.
Hrm. A Mu. Why do you speak to me, Mu? This is highly irregular, though I must commend your bravery for coming here.
You are the one who was with Scirocco and Ice Mistral in Dark Astoria, were you not?
I was, Lord Recluse. I come here to make a request.
A request. Go on, Mu, but do not tempt my patience.
And Mu'Vorkan made his request. He introduced himself to Lord Recluse, and asked that as Scirocco's closest confidant, he be elevated to the position Scirocco had once held, above any of the unmasked Mu.
You're a bold one, Mu'Vorkan. Most would stay where they have been assigned, but you have a burning desire to rise beyond your rank. I will make a bargain with you.
What is the bargain, my lord?
If Scirocco does not return, then you shall have your status raised to patronage if you can prove yourself better than Mu'Drakhan.
Should Scirocco make it back... then whichever one of you manages to bring me his head and the head of your competitor will gain patronage. You should know, however, that this means you will have to kill Ice Mistral.
If you can kill Scirocco, Ice Mistral, Mu'Drakhan, and find yourself a powerful second in command, then you will have proven yourself to me and to the other patrons, for now.
If you fail, of course, you will be killed by any one of those who you have chosen as your opponent; be aware, Mu'Vorkan, that you are not the first, nor will you be the last, to try this. Scirocco, Ice Mistral, and Mu'Drakhan have fought many who would seek their positions of power. You will either be a nameless face amongst those who have dared to rise above their rank, or the one who will succeed and take hold of true power.
I will succeed, my Lord Recluse, you will see!
Daos frowned on dissension and backbiting in the ranks, and hordes of his own subordinates frowned along with him. Without permission, plans to disturb the order were ferreted out and quashed mercilessly.
But with permission... that, in itself, opened many doors in the future.