Chapter 30: The tortured

Solus was moving ahead of the rest, forming a long cavern in front of him as he walked. It was wide enough for two undead to walk side by side. After a while, the tunnel in front of him broke through into another cavern. It was a long line straight towards the tower. Solus had created it while he was staring at the tower. Walking through it he felt around to see if he could find any existing caverns under Skulltown. He was surprised when he detected some immediately. They were far underground, and he felt they might even be deeper than the sigmiton caverns. He decided he would go there after everything had settled down and see if he could find more sigmitons.

After a short walk, Solus reached the end of the tunnel and looked up. If everything went according to plan, he should be right under the tower. Slow and with great care, he began creating a passageway to the surface. When he was almost through he stopped and listened. He heard nothing, and if his guess was right, they would enter into the room where Vingria had met them the first time they came to Skulltown. Pushing through the last layer, he waited to see if anything would happen. When nothing did, he looked into the room and found it empty. His estimations had been correct and satisfied he climbed up, looking around. Everything seemed the same as before, but all doors were closed. Behind him, the other undead emerged into the room.

“Yah, finally back to… UGH – KAFJDAH PLDFLKH” Vingria, who had started speaking loudly after entering her old room, was struggling against Solus as he clamped her mouth shut with one of his hands.

With his head raised, he listened for any sounds indicating that she had alarmed anybody. He absentmindedly noted that his fingers almost wrapped around her entire head. When all seemed quiet, he let out a breath of relief, before glowering at the still struggling zombie. “Be quiet you brainless fool!” he growled, trying to suppress his anger.“ If they had heard you, we would have lost the element of surprise, and what use would our ambush be then?”

After waiting another moment to ensure she wouldn’t start shouting again, Solus slowly removed his hand.

“I wasn’t that loud, and don’t put your filthy hand on me!” Vingria hissed, moving out of reach as fast as she could.

Glaring at Vingria one more time, Solus looked at Sig. “Go to the walls and put your head through them, do it low to the ground. Don’t look for longer than a moment, and then come tell me what you saw.”

“Yes, boss.” Sig nodded before walking towards the nearest wall and sticking his head through for a second. “Nothing here boss, it looks like an empty hallway.”

“Keep going, try all the walls.”

Sig walked around, sticking his head through walls, reporting what he saw. Everything was empty, and Solus was wondering what was going on. Then Sig moved to a wall beside a large door. Sticking his head through the wall, he jerked it back almost immediately, backing away a few steps.

“That room… It’s lined with small prison cells. In front of them is a large zombie, and with their backs towards us are lots of undead. He was looking in my direction when I looked through the wall, but I don’t think he..” Before Sig could finish his fast, hissed sentence, the door in front of him slammed open.

“DAMNIT!” Solus growled, before rushing forward blocking most of the entrance with his massive frame. Through it, he looked eye to eye with one of the largest, ugliest zombies he had ever seen.

“Whoooo arrrr youuu?” The zombie asked, his words slurred and long. Behind him there was a small horde of undead, looking through the door. In the other room, cages lined the walls just like Sig had reported, and Solus saw that some were inhabited. Between the cages was a grim-faced undead, quietly observing Solus.

Gazing across the small horde of undead that stood behind the ugly zombie, Solus saw that almost all of them were evolved zombies or skeletons in many different colors. As far as Solus could see there were no recently awoken skeletons.

Noticing the ugly zombie was about to speak again, Solus stepped forward. “What a stupid question, why should I tell you?” Not waiting for an answer, Solus stepped forward and grabbed the zombie, clutching his head in his hands.

The zombie reacted instantly, slamming his fists forward against Solus’ chest. Feeling the soft blows, Solus chuckled before he began squeezing his hands together. A sharp scream was cut short when the zombie’s skull burst apart. Dropping the zombie, Solus kicked the remains before they could hit the floor. The large body slammed into some of the startled undead, knocking them over.

“FOLLOW ME!” Solus yelled, before rushing into the room. “Sig, if you see anyone tossing things my way, end them!”

His minion followed close behind him, scanning the room for anything that attempted to attack Solus.

Rushing towards the first of the undead, Solus summoned two hammers and began hitting the zombies and skeletons that were massed together. The undead responded fast, and some rushed forward while others attempted to back away. Knowing the ones that were backing off would probably try tossing stuff his way, Solus rushed into the first line, using his enormous mass to barrel his way through their ranks. Behind him, he heard Vingria shout a battle cry before racing into the room followed by the rest of their group.

Standing in the middle of the group, Solus started rampaging. Swinging his hammers as fast as he could, he began hitting everything around him. He aimed for the heads, and the skeleton skulls he managed to hit pulverized. The mass of moving bodies, however, had slowed him down, and a small group of acid throwers had taken advantage of the distance to initiate their skills, preparing to hurl the acidic projectiles towards Solus.

Remembering how he had thrown stones in the previous battle, Solus threw his hammers. They curved through the air, before hitting two zombies. One was tossed back by the impact, falling in the middle of the room with a crater on his chest. The other one was even less lucky, and the hammer hit him in the head, leaving a headless zombie behind, that dropped to his knees before falling over.

Not bothering to summon new hammers, he used his hands to grab the undead that were too close to him and fling them around. Within minutes he had decimated them, leaving only a few moaning forms behind. Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the rest of the undead were being cleaned up by Vingria and her group.

Deciding they could take care of the rest, Solus moved across the room. Not bothering to look where he was stepping, he crushed the remains that littered the floor as he headed towards the still silent zombie. It had been standing and watching since the start, not uttering any sound, and Solus wondered if it was an illusion. Moving within arm’s reach, Solus towered over the smaller zombie.

“Shouldn’t you help the others?” Solus asked, wondering if he should throw a stone at him.

The zombie raised an eyebrow, before grinning. “Why should I help them, they were about to make me fight one of these experiments.”

Before Solus could reply, Vingria moved next to him. “Don’t believe him, he is the lieutenant of Grinder.”

“Tssssk” The zombie in front of them looked disappointed and stepped forward raising his hand. A bluish flame shot out of it, hitting Solus in his face. He was hurled backward, knocking down some of the undead that were standing behind him.

“You think you are something special because you are a little bigger than the rest of us? Let me show you what real power is.” The zombie said as he stepped forward. Vingria rushed him from the side, but he slapped her away, causing her to fly sideways into a wall.

Looking at their leaders being knocked away, the other undead began backing up, distancing themselves from the incoming enemy.

“I am going to end some of you, and the rest will obediently go back to their prison.” The zombie said, in a deadpan voice.

From his position, flat on his back on the ground, Solus looked at the ceiling. It had been a while since anybody had managed to knock him over like that. When the blue ball hit him in the face, he had momentarily panicked. Then the force of the flame had pushed him back, and he noticed that except for the fact that it managed to knock him down, it didn’t do any damage.

The words of the zombie annoyed him. Who was he to tell them what to do? Pushing himself upright, he looked at the zombie that was coming his way. Seeing Solus raise himself appearing undamaged, the zombie froze.

The room fell silent, his frightened companions watching on as Solus erected himself to his full length without breaking eye contact with his enemy. The room echoed with plopping sounds when he stretched his back, as he cracked all of his vertebrae one by one. With a defiant look on his face, he strode towards the zombie. “That’s a nice skill you have there!“

The zombie shook himself and sneered. “You must have some defensive ability. No matter, I will hit you so many times it will break in the end.”

Raising both hands, the zombie summoned two blue flames and flung them at Solus. Before they arrived, a large stone slab shot up from the ground, blocking both of them. Although the stone splintered a little from the impact, the projectiles were stopped.

Walking around the slab, that was almost as high as himself, Solus motioned at the zombie. “Come, try again, this is good practice!”

An angry snarl was his response, as a stream of fiery blue bolts streaked towards him. Solus summoned another slab and managed to block half of the balls before it broke into pieces. The zombie started laughing but stopped when he saw three more slabs erected between them.

Having enough of the game, Solus created a deep pit underneath the zombie. When he removed the last layer and was preparing to see the zombie fall into it, the zombie jumped aside.

“Don’t think we haven’t seen what you are capable of! We saw you when you destroyed the guards!”

The zombie began circling the room, throwing blueish fire at both Solus and the other undead. Solus’ slabs blocked most of them, but the few unlucky ones that did get hit were instantly incinerated, leaving only a handful of dust behind.

Rushing towards the zombie, Solus had to dodge to the side in an attempt to escape an incoming flame, and he felt his anger stir. His enemy was too elusive. Every time he got close he had to dodge the blue fire or be flung across the room. Hiding behind a slab he had an idea. Focusing for a moment, he summoned another set of hammers before rushing from cover and throwing them towards the undead.

Laughing obnoxiously, the zombie dodged to the side, not noticing the grin on the Solus’ face. When he landed on the ground, the thin surface that Solus had left to cover his trap, caved in. Before disappearing from view, a startled scream emanated from deep inside the hole, getting weaker as the zombie fell down the shaft… The only testament of his presence was a gaping hole on the spot where he had been standing. Walking to the side, Solus looked down. He had made it as deep as he could, and the zombie was still falling. After another few seconds, a soft muffled noise came from the hole, indicating the zombie had reached the bottom. Solus filled the pit with rock wondering if the zombie would pull a miraculous escape as Uran had.

Stretching himself, Solus felt a bit weary, but not as tired as he thought he should feel. He looked around and saw the other undead were now standing in front of the cages. Curious, Solus walked to them, occasionally kicking the remains of undead to the side. When he arrived next to Vingria, he noticed the side of her face was destroyed. Her cheek had a gaping hole in it, showing broken teeth. Her skull also showed a slight indentation. 
Looking at her for a moment, he wondered how she was still standing.

“Are you alright?”

A sniffle came in response, followed by a voice that had a lisp to it.

“I would feel much better if you would evolve me into something stronger!”

Sighing, Solus guessed she was doing fine, and he focused his attention on the cage. Inside, he saw a green shape draped across the ground. It had the general form of a zombie or skeleton, but its skin was leathery and shiny. It had hands that were larger than they should be, with long talons on each fingertip. Its face, partially hidden as it lay on the ground, showed a large jaw. From the lower lip, one sharp tooth jutted upwards.

“Norg.. wake up! Look who is here!”

Solus sat down shocked. Vingria had spoken to the shape on the ground, in a gentle and kind voice that made him wonder if she was the same Vingria that he knew. But most of his attention was focused on the now stirring form in the cage when he realized that it was Norg.

The green figure raised his head and looked around. When he noticed undead around his cage he scrambled up, rushing towards the bars, his single tooth glinting.

“What do you want weaklings! Come then, come! I will destroy everything you pit against me!!! RRAAAWWWWW”

Norg was towering over most of the other undead, not as tall as Solus but close. But where Solus was a towering behemoth, Norg was thin and nimble. Looking at his longtime travel companion, Solus noticed the many wounds and scars across his body and felt an emotion burn bright inside him. It was sympathy, and it was the first time he was feeling it. Angered at what had happened to his talkative, good-natured friend, Solus moved close to the bars.

“Norg! It’s me, Solus! I managed to escape from the sigmitons!”

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Inside the cage, Norg backed away, breathing rapidly with a feral look on his face.

“Don’t bother, they changed him into a ghoul. Drys and I attempted this shortly after you left, but quickly found they are emotionally unstable. Ghouls cannot control themselves and will attack anything at sight.” Vingria was standing next to Solus, looking inside the cage, pity in her eyes.

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“After Grinder caught us all, Norg came and tried to break us out of prison. They captured him, and tossed him in with us.” Vingria kept her eyes fixed on the form in the cage.

”Then, when Grinder’s minions came to take another one of us for experimentation, they were going to take me. Norg attacked them, and instead, they took him.” Sighing, Vingria shook her head.

“There is nothing we can do for him. Perhaps Drys can figure something out, but we will need to find him first.”

A sharp pain caused Solus to drop to his knees, interrupting anything else Vingria might have said. Grabbing his chest, he felt his stone-elemental side attempting to gather life energy again. It was the first time after he had left the forest and it caught him by surprise.

“What is wrong? Did you get injured during the fight? Bloody numbskull, you should have been more careful!” Vingria sat down beside him, concern and anger flashing across her face. The shock had wiped away her previous facade, revealing her true self again.

Unable to respond, Solus fell facedown on the ground, trying to resist the urge to howl in pain. The rest of the undead were watching in confusion. It only lasted for a short while, and Solus sighed as soon as he could move again. He hoped it would be a long time until it happened again, and he realized he was lucky it hadn’t occurred during the battle minutes earlier. Standing back up he saw that the undead were examining him.

“Don’t worry, I am fine. Just used too much energy, that’s all.” Solus lied, before looking inside the cage.

Norg was watching the happenings outside of his cage, saliva dripping from his mouth. There was no recognition in his eyes when he looked at Solus, only fear and anger.

Raising his foot to stamp on the ground, Solus caught himself in the last minute and put it back down. He didn’t want to destroy the building, and, he thought, there were better things to vent his anger on.

Turning, he looked at Vingria. “Let’s go find Drys.”

He pointed at the other undead in the room. “You all stay here and guard this room. Sig, you follow me and explain to me in a moment, where you were during the battle just now. ”

“Where are Grinder and Drys?” Solus asked, motioning Vingria to walk.

Hissing in annoyance, Vingria walked towards another door, leading them to another room, one with stairs.

“At the top of the tower. And we better get there fast, from what I have heard Drys isn’t doing too well…”

Wondering how Vingria knew this, Solus walked next to her up the stairs. “So Sig, what were you doing while I was fighting?”

The wraith was walking behind him and made a strangled sound. “I am sorry, boss. But you told me to do something about the ones attacking you from a distance. Before I could even start, one of those big zombies attacked me, and I had to fight him. When Vingria got around to helping me, you were already done.”

Solus frowned, and he glanced at Vingria, who looked back at him for a moment.

“He is right. Those bloody zombies were strong, and we aren’t like you. Most of us can barely take one of them on, let alone what you just did. Now, if you would evolve us all, we could actually help you.”

A loud noise caught Vingria by surprise, and she almost tripped. Looking to Solus, she saw he was grinding his teeth so hard that small particles were falling from his lips. Swallowing, she turned back to the stairs.

In silence the three of them climbed to the top of the stairs, arriving at a hallway with a single door at the end. Stopping, they looked at each other for a moment.

“Only Grinder should be in there” Vingria whispered.

“Sure” Solus grunted absently while walking towards the door. Inspecting it, he beckoned Sig. When his minion came closer, he picked him up. “I am going to hold you up. Look through the side of the wall at the top, and hopefully, nobody will be watching there.”

Sig nodded, and a moment later Solus could almost see through his head. Raising his hands, Solus held his minion close to the wall next to the ceiling and saw him stick his head through. A moment later the wraith pulled it back, indicating with his hand to be put on the ground. When he was standing again, he looked at Solus. “There is one… undead… in that room. I’m not sure what it is but it has four arms and four legs, and it the same color as the rocks in the wasteland. It is almost the same size as you Boss. There is also something lying behind him on a rock that seems to be held there by long shiny things.” Sig raised his hands, seeming annoyed he didn’t know how to explain better.

Looking at the door again, Solus sighed and summoned a giant hammer. Holding it in two hands, he glanced at Vingria and Sig. “If you see any chance to attack, do it. If I think I can’t win, I will create a hole in the wall and jump down. If that happens, run as fast as you can. ”

“Boss!” Before Solus could kick open the door, Sig whispered quickly.

“What is it Sig?” Solus asked, sounding annoyed at the interruption.

“If you can’t win, can you make a hole as you did before, but in the floor? And drop him?”

Thinking for a moment, Solus nodded. “That’s a good idea.”

Turning to the door, he put his full weight behind his leg and kicked forward. The door burst inward, unhinged and flying ahead of them into the room, cracked and broken.

Following behind the flying door, Solus moved into the room and saw the undead Sig had mentioned. It was, he quickly noted, larger than he was.

“So, there you are! I was wondering what took you so long Vingria. And you brought a friend? Is this the one I have heard so much about? Solus?” A surprisingly smooth voice came from the undead, seeming misplaced for such a horrifying creature.

Stepping forward, Solus raised his hammer. “Where is Drys?”

A soft laugh came from the undead. “He is here, don’t you recognize him? Perhaps I was a bit too harsh on him…”

The undead stepped aside, giving them a free look at what was behind him. On a large slab, the head and parts of a torso belonging to a zombie were held tight by rusty metal chains. To the side of the slab were small pieces of flesh and bones and one hand.

“DRYS!! What did you do to him Grinder?” Vingria yelled, stepping forward, a horrified look on her face.

“Ahh, so you do recognize him! He didn’t want to help me at first, so I had to convince him. It worked though, look at this magnificent form! Now nobody can stop me, even that fool who send me will be no match for me. I will be the new lord of this world!” Grinder raised his arms, a maniacal grin on his face.

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