Solus was looking at Sig’s bony hands rummage around inside a skull, as the skeleton attempted to excavate a manaorb from one of the skeletal corpses. After a moment Sig’s hands returned empty, and the skeleton took a step back.
“There is nothing.” He said somewhat defeated, looking at the two remains in front of him.
Shaking his head, Solus looked at Skull. The skeleton was currently sitting on the ground, holding a manaorb that he had managed to excavate on his second attempt.
“Does this mean Skull is self-awoken?” Solus turned to Vingria who was sitting nearby, observing them.
“I don’t know. Drys is the one who usually tells me those things. I only know you are self-awoken, for the rest? Figure it out yourself.” A curt reply came.
Annoyed, Solus turned back to Skull. He knew he could let him try a few more times, but they needed the manaorbs right now. Deciding experimentation could come later, he handed Sig three orbs.
“Absorb them and come find me when you are done. And don’t forget to bring Skull.”
Seeing Sig nod and walk off, Solus moved towards a skeletal corpse, ripped open the skull and removed the manaorb.
With a scowl on her face, Vingria was observing Solus as he walked between the remains. From the moment she had left the one that had awoken her, and moved to this part of the wasteland she had been one of the strongest and smartest undead around, and everybody had listened to her. Then she had met Drys and realized she wasn’t the smartest by a long shot. It had taken some getting used to, but Drys wasn’t that strong, so they had managed to find a balance. But then Grinder had come, and he and his lieutenant had easily overpowered her and tossed her into her own prison, and she had to admit there were others, more powerful as well.
Looking at the ground, she tried to keep a reign on her emotions but failed. Perhaps she should have stayed with the others and be a minion for the one who had awoken her.
She hissed, annoyed at her depressing thoughts, and angry at Solus. If he would only give her his evolution! Everything would be alright after that. Cursing in anger, it took her a while to get a grip and calm down. She hated losing herself to her emotions, and she wished she hadn’t evolved into a zombie. Before, she had noticed that Solus had far more control over his emotions, and she wanted this as well. When she saw Solus finish, she decided to try one more time to get him to share his pattern. Trying to put a smile on her face, she walked over.
Kicking aside the last of the undead bodies, Solus looked at the manaorbs he was cradling in his arm. There should be around sixty if he had counted right, and that would be enough for every undead to get one or more. As he was pondering, he heard something. He looked up and saw Vingria heading his way. He wondered what she wanted this time, probably still his pattern. Although he could give her his old one, he wasn’t sure he should. She had been leading Skulltown together with Drys, but he felt she wasn’t doing a very good job.
Solus sighed. Ever since his last evolution, he had noticed a lot of things that he had failed to see before, and in hindsight, he felt Vingria’s choices were even worse than his. When she got in front of him, he wondered if he should help her or not. Other things seemed more important, and he wanted to discuss things with Drys after they got him back. Drys could tell him more about what had happened, and besides that, he needed him to fix his status window.
“What do you want?” Solus asked as he looked down on the smaller zombie.
A glare flashed across Vingria’s face before she ground her teeth. “I want to become stronger. Can you give me your inscription?”
Solus was startled by her directness, and for a while, it was silent as they stared at each other. Right before Vingria was going to lose it, they were interrupted.
“Solus, we have finished absorbing the manaorbs.” Sig said as he and Skull moved to stand next to Vingria.
Happy to have something to distract him, Solus nodded and looked at his two minions. He found that something had changed after both of them had absorbed the manaorbs. He could feel their existence, although barely, and it reminded him of how he could feel the stone around him. With some of his energy, he tried pushing it like he did the stones.
With a loud crash, Skull fell over, startling Vingria. She and Sig looked at him as he was laying in a heap on the ground.
“What just happened?” Vingria croaked.
Looking at the motionless skeleton, Solus could feel the undead energy was still there, but it seemed to be running wild. He tried to use his power to control it, but it kept breaking away. Gritting his teeth, he moved closer and kneeled next to the motionless skeleton putting his hand on him. Immediately he felt a strong connection that siphoned energy from him. He quickly stabilized the surging energy, and immediately Skull lurched upright, knocking against Solus’ chest.
“Happened, what? Where… Master?”
Ignoring the skeleton, Solus stood back up and looked at Sig. “Sig, come here and summon your manafield.”
Still looking at the other skeleton in confusion, Sig did as asked.
“I am going to give you a new inscription. With it, we can see if you are ready to evolve again.” Solus overlapped the smaller manafield with his own and began the inscription process.
Before, when he saw Skull fall over, he had an idea. With the connection he could control them, making sure they wouldn’t end up attacking him. But some just awoken skeletons were less than useful. It would be much better if they were evolved. Although he wasn’t afraid they could actually hurt him after they did, it would be a shame if he ended up evolving them only for them to become enemies. So he was going to try it out, and see if he could still control them after they became stronger.
When the inscription was finished, Sig raised his hand as if he was trying to touch something in front of him.
“Don’t bother. You can’t touch it. Now tell me the values on the screen.” Solus said, curious to find out his currently most useful minions progress.
“…” Sig looked at him, and for the first time, Solus saw a truly surprised skeleton.
Seeing Sig look like he had lost his mind scared Solus. Had he done something wrong? He should have attempted it on Skull first. He was already stupid and losing his only smart minion would be a waste.
“What is wrong?” He asked.
“There are some weird symbols in front of me, but I don’t know what they mean.” Sig said in a deadpan voice.
Loud laughter broke the stunned silence and Vingria fell backward holding her stomach. She tried to control herself, looked up and saw Solus’ face and lost it again.
“Why are you laughing?” Solus asked, confused why he wasn’t feeling angry. Something about the way Vingria laughed seemed different from what he had seen of her before.
“..you…he…silly face….. Can’t… read!” Vingria tried to speak in between bouts of laughter. After a while she managed to get a grip and sat upright, looking at Solus.
“Haaa… To read, one needs to have at least one evolution. Well, that’s what Drys told me anyway. I don’t know what most of it meant.” She looked at Solus, a silly grin still plastered over her face, probably wondering how he would respond.
Solus ignored her and walked to one of the partially destroyed skeletal remains. He ripped off a bone and beckoned Sig to move over. “Look at this, then point at the things you see.”
Then Solus wrote the numbers zero to nine in the ground.
“Look at the screen in front of you, then start at this side and go to that side.” Solus said as he put one dot between the numbers and pulled it to the right.
Sig was silent for only a very short while before he pointed at the bone. “Can I hold that?”
Solus nodded and handed the skeleton the bone.
Within a few moments, Sig had written a few numbers in the sand. “This is what it says. You forgot to put down the middle symbol so I just copied it.”
“And you couldn’t come up with this yourself?” Grinning, Solus looked at Vingria, who was looking at the numbers on the ground, a stunned looked on her face.
Vingria ignored him, but a scowl crossed her face for a brief moment.
“You can inscribe on other’s mannafields…” She said, looking at him, eyes glittering.
Groaning, Solus ignored her and turned back to Sig, handing him another manaorb.
“Ok, I am going to try something, but first absorb this and tell me if the numbers become the same.”
Taking the manaorb, Sig sat down and started absorbing it.
Solus looked on and was surprised when he found he could feel the energy move from the manaorb into the skeleton. When the manaorb crumbled, almost turning to dust, Sig stood back up.
“I can’t absorb any more. Is it full? The numbers are the same now.”
Feeling content, Solus looked at Skull quickly. The skeleton was still sitting on the ground, looking around in a confused manner. As far as he could tell, it might take some time before his other minion would be of any use again. He needed to be more careful.
“Summon your manafield again. I am going to evolve you.” While speaking, Solus summoned his manafield and began digging through his memories. He was looking for the patterns Drys had shown him. They had been simple, and he was sure he could remember them clear enough to inscribe them. Soon he found the one he had been looking for. It had been amongst the choices Drys had shown him inside the hall of patterns, one that Drys had not seen as an option.
“Rank A racial evolution – Wraith variant (intelligence++)”
Solus had no idea what a wraith was, but Sig was intelligent, so it seemed like a good fit. He had considered a skeletal mage, but his curiosity got the better of him in the end. Besides, he was pretty sure that if Sig went out of control, he would be able to deal with him quickly. It was only a first level of evolution after all. Just when he wanted to start, he had an idea and looked at Vingria, who had been observing Sig and him.
“Do you know what wraiths are?”
Startled, Vingria looked back.
“Yes. They are a bizarre sort of skinny zombie. They can turn invisible and move through certain solid objects. We had two wraiths before, and they had some interesting abilities, but they were both destroyed by Grinder. Are you going to make him into one? Drys said not everyone is capable of becoming everything, and if you force someone to become something they should not be, they might become useless trash.”
Looking at Vingria, Solus decided she might be useful in her own right, even if she annoyed him a lot. Then he turned back to Sig and began focussing. He did his best to remember the pattern, but some parts seemed to blur together with other patterns he had seen. It wasn’t the first time that he had noticed some patterns had similar parts so he wasn’t too worried and used what he remembered. It took longer than the small status window pattern, but when he finished, Sig was lying on the ground, with a grey mist forming around him. Concentrating, Solus felt the energy move around within the mist changing the skeleton. He assumed that it meant he had succeeded and sat down next to Sig, waiting patiently for the evolution to finish.
Solus was hovering above Sig, paying close attention. The mist around the skeleton had solidified into thick black smoke and was slowly fading away. Left behind was a slender being that resembled an emaciated zombie with flawless, grey skin and shiny black hair. Seeing the well-defined muscles under the skin beginning to twitch, Solus summoned a hammer. He wasn’t going to take any chances.
Sig opened his eyes, and Solus saw they were completely black, with no pupils.
“Ma…Solus?” A croaky voice emanated from the wraith’s throat, and Solus saw that Sig’s hair was moving strangely. Almost as if dust was flowing around.
Solus concentrated and quickly found his connection to Sig. Surprisingly enough it was even stronger than before, and he felt he could end Sig there and then if he wanted to. Remembering what had happened to Skull, he left it alone, and unsummoned his hammer.
“How do you feel?”
Sig got up, and while doing so, Solus again noticed something odd about the wraith. It was like he had no weight, or very little.
“I feel fine master. Although I have noticed those emotions I have heard about, it isn’t as distracting as I had expected.” Sig was slowly waving his arms around, in an attempt to familiarize himself with his new form.
Solus sniggered. “You say that, but you just called me master again, and did not seem to notice. I will ignore it for now, but watch it!”
A surprised look crossed Sig’s face, and he quickly apologized. Solus, however, ignored it and stepped closer.
“Tell me what you are capable of now. Did you get any new skills?”
Sig nodded, and then disappeared from the spot he had been standing on. A cloud of grey particles hung where had been at, with two glowing red eyes looking at Solus.
A gasp from Vingria showed she was still there, and Solus shook awake. He raised his a hand and touched the cloud. He could push his hand inside, and it felt like he was digging into the ground. At the same time, he felt a slight drain on his energy, as if he was using a skill, or running at his top speed.
“Can you still speak?”
“Yes.” A whispering voice came from around him, somewhat similar to a projected voice but smooth and silky.
“Show me the rest.” Solus was sure there should be something more, and he wasn’t disappointed.
The grey cloud disappeared from view, moving at high speed towards the ruins of a nearby bone building. Without slowing down, the grey cloud hit a partial wall and disappeared from view. Moments later, the form came back from another spot in the building, hovering in place for a while before starting to bob around. A smaller grey cloud appeared in front of it, before shooting at a building wall. It exploded upon contact creating a dark scar on the wall and startling everyone around. Then the cloud began moving back towards them in unsteady shuddering bursts. Before it reached him, the cloud dispersed, and Sig fell on the ground before slowly getting back up.
Walking towards the tottering wraith, Solus steadied him with a hand.
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“What happened?” Solus asked, but he had a good idea what was going on.
“It costs a lot of energy to move through walls, and that blast took the rest.” Sig answered.
“How long till you can do this again? I need to find out what is going on in that tower.”
Sig was silent for some time before answering. “If I can get another manaorb I should be able to go through walls again soon.”
Solus handed him another orb before turning to Skull. The skeleton had finally regained some form of clarity and was standing next to Vingria. When Skull saw Solus walk his way, he started talking immediately.
“Master, me like Sig!? Want!”
Shaking his head, Solus had the feeling the skeleton had lost even more intelligence and wondered what was left for him to evolve in. After thinking about it for a bit, he decided it would be fine to just evolve him into a warrior and see what would happen.
“I was wondering, why don’t you let your minions use boss? If you dislike them calling you master, wouldn’t that be better?” Vingria asked as she was standing next to Solus. In front of them, Skull was lying on the ground, bone fragments from the soil beneath him increasing his size.
“What is wrong with them calling me Solus..?” Solus asked, still confused about how they even got to this subject.
Vingria laughed a bit before continuing. “It isn’t wrong, but for some reason undead that are awoken by others act like this. Nobody knows why, but only a few are different.”
Solus pondered on what she had said. He wondered if it had something to do with the fact that undead used to be minions and summoned beings, as the status window had rubbed into his face many times. As he watched across the ruins of Skulltown, he wondered if he had to choose between boss and master. He guessed he would prefer boss then, although it did remind him of the mad skeleton Uran. Looking at Sig, he saw the wraith observing him. Solus had found he had a distinct dislike for the completely black eyes, but he couldn’t say why.
“Sig. If you call me boss from now on, will that stop you from calling me, master?”
The wraith fidgeted, which was a strange sight, as he was using his hands to move through each other. “I think so, boss. It is harder to call you Solus or nothing at all after my evolution.”
Noticing Sig was uncomfortable Solus let it go and decided he would figure this out after the main problem was gone. He looked at Skull’s still form and felt like kicking him awake. The skeleton had been growing and absorbing more bone for an extended period, and his current form was one of the most massive skeletons Solus had ever seen. He had changed the basic skeleton warrior pattern a bit, and it had done something unusual. The rest of the undead had all finished absorbing the rest of the manaorbs, leaving Solus with a handful in case of an emergency. They were standing around, waiting for Solus to give the signal. Inspecting the central tower, Solus decided he couldn’t wait for Skull. The skeleton would have to catch up later because his patience had worn out.
“Sig, head inside the tower and see what they are up too. After you find out, get back right away.”
Without another word, the wraith rushed towards the tower, changing into his ethereal form when he was halfway there. Seeing him rush off, Solus felt a bit bad. It reminded him of how he had gone off on a fool’s errand inside the sigmiton crevice, and now he was sending someone else to do the same. Well not the same, he corrected himself. Before Solus could finish his self-admonishment, Sig rushed back out of the tower. Wondering what he could have seen in such a short time, Solus saw one of the main doors in the tower open up. Bursting out, and rushing after Sig came two of the dark, four-legged beasts he had seen inside the forest. Not even halfway back, Sig reformed back to his solid shape and started sprinting.
“He won’t make it…” Solus muttered, and at the same time, he moved, sprinting towards the incoming wraith, creating thumbs as he went. He quickly noticed the hunters were moving faster than he was, and he might not make it. Growling, he concentrated as good he could, and started creating a wall of rock in front of the beasts. However, they almost ignored it, just jumping and climbing over it. Annoyed, Solus began increasing his pace, using his powers to push his feet forward every time he landed on the ground. Leaving behind large stone patches his speed became almost uncontrollable. Almost at Sig, he spread his arms and tackled both of the two beasts who had been pouncing at his minion. With his massive bulk, he swept the two away, directly crushing them against his chest. Driving his feet into the ground, he came to a skidding halt, plowing through the soil and leaving a large ditch behind him. Solus tried grabbing the beasts around their snouts. One succeeded, but the other one managed to bite his arm causing a slight sting in Solus’ arm. A loud snapping sound could be heard after which the beast howled as broken fangs dropped to the ground. Grabbing one beast with his hand and holding the other clenched to his chest, he turned around to walk back. But, heading his way, were the undead, including Sig, who had not gone far at all. Wondering what to do with the two beasts, he created a stone cage, almost the size of a small house and tossed the beasts inside. Closing the cage, he looked at the two things, that were now moving around inside the cage, looking for a way out.
“There are more of those things inside, and a lot of other things I have never seen before. They are preparing an ambush like you said, boss.” Sig, moved over, looking inside the cage.
Solus sighed, he didn’t like the word boss either. “How many and what type of undead are inside?”
“Twenty of these things, and at least thirty different types of evolved undead. I couldn’t get past the first room because they attacked me right away.” The wraith responded.
“That is impossible! There can’t be that many of those bile-stains’ left.” Vingria said in a loud, angry voice.
“Leave me alone for a while. I need to think!” Solus said, walking a little distance away and peering at the tower. He had the feeling that storming in would just get them ambushed. Gradually his mind began spinning, trying to find a way to get Norg and Drys out of the tower.
“Do you think he will come up with a plan?” Vingria said as she looked at Sig.
“Yes, the boss will find a way. So far he has never failed.”
“Hmpff, if you say so. I think it won’t be that easy..” Vingria scowled, before walking back to the other undead.
Sig stayed put, switching his gaze between Solus and the still immobile Skull.
Sometime later Solus walked back and gestured Sig to follow him. They made their way to the other undead, who were standing around, waiting patiently. Only Vingria was sitting next to her blackguards, cursing in a low voice. Seeing Solus move over, she got up and walked towards him.
“So what did you come up with?” She barked.
Solus looked at her for a moment, wondering why she seemed out of control again. He looked at Skull and motioned the two blackguards. “Pick him up. We are taking him along.”
The guards looked at Vingria for a moment, and only moved when she nodded. They picked up Skull, who had already grown bigger than both of them. Then they followed the rest, walking after Solus who was heading for one of the partially intact buildings.
“So we are waiting till they come out?” Vingria asked, sounding amused.
Ignoring her, Solus waited until everybody was in the building before he picked up a large piece of debris and blocked the entrance.
“No. Grinder likes ambushing so much? We will give them an ambush.” Not caring to explain further, Solus moved to the back of the building and looked down. He created a tunnel, with an opening in front of him and jumped inside. “Leave Skull here and follow me.”
Without hesitation, Sig jumped in after him, quickly followed by the other undead. When only Vingria and her two black guards were left, she grunted and looked upset. “They just follow him… Nobody asked me!”
Her two guards glanced at each other, but didn’t answer. After a moment, Vingria jumped into the hole, cursing, and grumbling, followed by her two guards.
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