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|The Black Road|
|Published||April 2, 2002|
The Black Road is a Diablo novel written by Mel Odom in 2002. It involves the story of Darrick Lang and his encounter with the demon Kabraxis and Kabraxis's lieutenant, a former Zakarum priest named Buyard Cholik. The story takes place around the time of events in Diablo I and briefly mentions the fact that Diablo is walking the world of Sanctuary.
The novel was included in the Diablo Archive.
Darrick Lang is coming home. Years ago he left the town of Bramwell to walk the wide world as a soldier of fortune and champion of the realm. But Bramwell is not as he left it. Something dark and terrifying has ensnared the townsfolk, something very old and very patient, tangling innocents in a web of malice and profaning the very earth itself. Now that same power calls to Darrick and his only hope may be to walk the same perilous path of damnation.
Darrick Lang, a sailor in the Westmarch Navy, is on a mission with other sailors to rescue a favored nephew of the King from a notorious pirate captain named Aribar Raithen. They track down the pirates to a hidden cove in a long-forgotten harbor named Tauruk's Port, rumored to be the site of the long-lost buried city of Ransim. The pirates, led by Raithen, are working under the direction of a former Zakarum priest, Buyard Cholik, who believes Ransim to hold a gateway to a plane of Hell ruled over by a powerful demon named Kabraxis.
The sailors, led by Darrick, manage to destroy two of the pirates' ships and rescue the boy, but he is insistent on further investigation of this possible gateway to Kabraxis. Cholik, however, has already opened the gateway, and offered his soul to Kabraxis. A small force of sailors led by Darrick arrive at the gateway just in time to witness Raithen confront Cholik and Kabraxis. Kabraxis offers to spare them in exchange for their loyalty, but Raithen refuses and is burned to death by Kabraxis. When Kabraxis discovers the watching sailors, he raises a large number of skeletons to kill the crew. Darrick manages to escape, but in their flight his best friend Mat Hu-Ring is killed.
Blaming himself for Mat's death, and without Mat's help, Darrick is unable to deal with his memories of his traumatic past, in which he, as a bastard child, was abused physically and emotionally by his butcher father. Gripped with guilt, Darrick sinks into alcoholism and is eventually abandoned by the Westmarch Navy. Working briefly as a mercenary and bodyguard, Darrick lives as a vagrant, not wanting to live but being unable to commit suicide, before finally collapsing in a small town called Seeker's Point, where he is found and nursed back to health by an old man named Sahyir.
Under Kabraxis' direction, Cholik arrives at a large town named Bramwell, and founds a new religion, with Kabraxis being the supposed prophet. Through simple acts of healing aided by Kabraxis' powerful demonic magic, Cholik quickly gains fame and wealth, building a vast church and rapidly earning converts from Zakarum. Kabraxis' plan is for his religion to eclipse Zakarum itself, first taking over all of Westmarch and eventually enslaving all of humanity to his will. His plans seemingly come to an end when an assassin described only as an extremely burnt man attempts to kill Cholik in his own church with a crossbow, but Kabraxis is able to heal Cholik and keep him alive. Their scheme comes to fruition when they successfully convert Bramwell's ruler, Lord Darkulan. With Darkulan's help, Kabraxis intends on converting the King of Westmarch, creating an army of believers that will eradicate Zakarum from Sanctuary.
Sahyir directs Darrick to a friend of his who might be able to help Darrick with his troubles. This friend turns out to be a powerful and experienced demon hunter and mage named Taramis Volken, who leads a group of warriors and is intent on recruiting Darrick to his cause. Volken is successful in earning Darrick's trust when he reveals he knows both of Kabraxis' location and intentions, and plans on going to Bramwell to kill Kabraxis, if possible. He has come to Seeker's Point in search of a powerful artifact which will aid him in this goal - an enchanted sword named Stormfury, once used by a mighty warrior named Hauklin to slay Kabraxis in an earlier incarnation and is possibly the only weapon that can kill him.
They find Stormfury, but are unable to wield it - it is ensorcelled so that none other than the one destined to slay Kabraxis can touch it. Volken is certain this must be Darrick, as he was the only person to survive witnessing Kabraxis in Tauruk's Port, but Darrick finds himself unable to touch Stormfury until he suddenly begins to hear Mat's voice in his head. Mat reveals that after his death at Tauruk's Port, he has been drifting as a spirit, unable to pass on and unable to communicate with Darrick until the latter had found Stormfury. Mat intends to guide Darrick to killing Kabraxis, the only way he can finally be at peace. Darrick and Volken and the demon hunters however, are soon attacked by demonic creatures summoned by Kabraxis, who has divined their identities and locations and plans on killing them.
Armed with Stormfury, Darrick and the demon hunters slay the creatures and begin their journey to Bramwell, which by now has become one of the largest cities in Westmarch, brimming with travelers from all over the world who have journeyed there to witness this new religion. Cholik's church has become a mighty fortress, with an army of Kabraxis' converted warriors serving as guards. Darrick and the demon hunters commandeer a ship and, setting it on fire, steer it in a direct course into the Bramwell harbor, triggering a massive explosion that breaches the sewers underneath the city. They then enter the sewers, attempting to find an underground entrance into the well-guarded church.
After battling undead horrors summoned by Kabraxis in the sewers, the demon hunters apparently come to a dead end. Darrick, convinced that Mat's voice in his head must be another demonic trick, almost loses his faith when a path opens in front of the group, opened by Captain Raithen - the pirate captain that had fought Kabraxis at Tauruk's Port. Although burned to death by Kabraxis, Kabraxis had also cast a powerful spell to raise the undead army there, and his magic had in turn raised Raithen's corpse as well. He was the burned man who had attempted to assassinate Cholik, but after communicating with Mat and witnessing Cholik's apparent resurrection, he is now also convinced that Darrick is the only one who can truly kill Kabraxis.
With Volken and Raithen's help, Darrick and the demon hunters storm the main hall of Cholik's church, battling Cholik's guards and even killing Cholik himself. However, in the process Darrick is pulled into the Black Road, the plane of Hell that is ruled by Kabraxis where his power is most strong. For a brief moment, Darrick is reverted to a child, confronted by his father. After one of his routine beatings, Darrick had stolen a length of rope and tied it in a noose, intending to hang himself, but finding himself unable to do it. Darrick's father taunts him, eventually putting the noose around Darrick's neck and leaving him to hang. However, with Mat's help once more, Darrick is able to see that this is an illusion created by Kabraxis, and as a man, not a child, armed with Stormfury, Darrick cuts himself free and battles anew with Kabraxis.
Although he is armed with the mystic Stormfury, Kabraxis is an inhuman foe and a formidable adversary. The duel is heated until finally Darrick gains the upper hand and prepares for the killing blow, but Kabraxis warns him that, due to his guilt over Mat and his inner demons created by his traumatic childhood, he will never be pure and that if he kills Kabraxis, he will have to pay a high price. Darrick hesitates only momentarily before agreeing to pay it and beheading Kabraxis. With Stormfury and Kabraxis' head in hands, Darrick reappears in Cholik's church in Bramwell and declares the battle over. With both Kabraxis and Cholik dead, the religion is at an end and the remaining believers are quickly scattered by the demon hunters.
Some time later, the legend of the religion is dying and the common people are in disarray, having lost their hope. Raithen has disappeared without a trace, and after his battle with Kabraxis, Darrick never hears Mat's voice again, convinced his old friend has finally been avenged and moved on. But in a conversation with Volken, Darrick reveals the price he is paying for Kabraxis' death. Tossing Stormfury aside, Darrick's body begins to mutate and transform, changing into a demonic appearance. Holding Stormfury is enough to revert this change and restore Darrick's human form. Having killed Kabraxis, but not properly banished him, Darrick has become the next portal between the mortal realm and the Black Road. Darrick remarks that he can hear Kabraxis' voice in the back of his head taunting him, and wonders that, if he ever gave up or died, Kabraxis may be able to return once again. Volken, certain Darrick is a good man, promises to kill Darrick only if Kabraxis eventually gains an edge over him.
In an epilogue, the pair are walking down Bramwell's harbor when Darrick spots a dying young girl, who had fallen into the water and been crushed between two passing ships. Feeling Kabraxis' demonic power flowing through him, Darrick lays on hands on the girl and is able to heal her to perfect health. At first the surprised townspeople think Darrick is a healer of some sort, but they quickly turn into a lynch mob when he is recognized as the one who killed Buyard Cholik. They are threatened but Volken talks them down by reminding them their false prophet was a demon who intended to enslave them. Beseeching Darrick's help, a line quickly forms of ill and dying people in need of healing. Darrick questions whether this is Kabraxis' plan, as using his demonic powers may actually make their connection stronger, but Volken tells him he has a demon's great power and can do great good with it, should he choose. Darrick then decides to be a force of good, and goes down the harbor healing Bramwell's people, listening to Kabraxis screaming at him in his head as he does.