As the room fell silent, Grinder was standing in the middle with his hands raised. When no response came, his expression soured and his arms slowly lowered to his sides.
“What is wrong…? You seem upset, don’t you see how great it will be when I rule?”
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Anger began to show on Grinder’s face, and black smokey tendrils started growing around his hands and arms.
“No? You don’t see? I will make you see then…”
Vingria began backing up with a horrified expression on her face. “He became unstable, like the ghouls…!”
Deciding he had seen enough, Solus marched forward, his hammer in one hand, and ready to dodge whatever it was that Grinder might do.
Growling incoherently, the four-legged abomination raised all of his arms and pointed them forward. The tendrils stretched out, becoming solid and rapidly closing the distance between Grinder and Vingria. Seeing the incoming tendrils, Solus rushed to raise a stone wall, but the tendrils blurred around them when they touched, ignoring the barrier. Shocked, Solus was too late to stop them from grabbing Vingria who was almost out of the door again. Latching onto her arms and legs the tendrils raised her in the air, dragging her back towards Grinder.
“Let go of me you disgusting things!” Vingria yelled, howling and trying to struggle free. The spots the tendrils touched her began steaming and hissing.
Stepping towards her, Solus dropped his hammer and grabbed the tendrils with two hands. As soon as he touched them, he felt a slight stinging sensation. Ignoring it, he held them, stopping the tendrils from moving before increasing the pressure.
“No, let go!” A loud, angry shout came from Grinder, and more tendrils shot from his arms, aimed at Solus this time.
Ignoring them, Solus felt the tendril in his hand stretch, and with a last burst of effort, he tore it apart. As soon as he did, the other tendrils began swinging around, hitting anything that was too close. At the same time, a hissing scream came from Grinder. The tendrils rushed back towards Grinder, where they wrapped around him, the tips swaying around and pointed at Solus.
Kneeling, Solus ripped apart the remaining tendrils that were still around Vingria. They now seemed out of Grinders control, but the parts that were touching Vingria were causing her skin to bubble. Looking at her, Solus saw her eyes were rolling back in her head, and her lips were drawn back, revealing her teeth. When he ripped off the last of the tendrils, Vingria sagged down, seemingly unconscious.
Rising, Solus summoned the stones from one of the walls, creating a gaping hole and wrapped the stone around Vingria in a round sphere-like cocoon. Satisfied, he turned back to Grinder who was looking at him, hissing and rambling. Walking forward, Solus began summoning stone walls, creating a cage around Grinder. He left only one entrance for himself. Running forward, Solus jumped, creating a crack in the floor where he had been standing. When he was in the air, Grinder became silent and looked up, his eyes glistening.
A bad feeling rushed through Solus, and he immediately began summoning a platform from one of the walls to stop his forward momentum. Before the platform could take shape, however, the tendrils around Grinder stopped their weird motions and solidified. As soon as they lost their transparency, they flew towards Solus, wrapping around him in mid-flight. More tendrils formed and within moments Solus was bundled up, handing in midair.
“You are too gullible. Do you think I am stupid?” A burst of high pitched laughter followed, and Grinder walked over to the hanging Solus.
Looking at his prey, Grinder laughed. He moved in a flash, and the next moment one of his hands was dug a finger length into Solus’ leg.
Pain from his leg shocked Solus. He had assumed his crystalline skin would be too hard for the other to penetrate, but now he felt a finger rutting around in his flesh. Grunting, he tried breaking free of the restraints, but there were so many of the tendrils that he could only feel them give a little. Concentrating, he created stone spikes from the stones of the cage he had previously made, aiming them at Grinder.
Seemingly sensing something, the black undead jumped back without looking, and the spikes pierced the floor where he had been standing. Seeing more spikes head his way, he began hopping and jumping around.
“Stop that you annoying fool! Obediently stay put so I can take your manaorb.”
Grinder began waving his arms around and more, and more tendrils began rushing towards Solus until he was so wrapped up he couldn’t see the outside anymore. Realizing he couldn’t attack what he couldn’t see, worry began clouding Solus’ mind, and he used his sensing ability. He could feel the vibrations in the stone around him when Grinder moved around, and he aimed the spikes at those locations.
“HOW CAN YOU DO THAT!” A loud howl managed to pierce the layer surrounding Solus.
Feeling a small amount of satisfaction, Solus began struggling. He aimed some of the stone spikes towards the cocoon he was now in, but they only pierced a little way in, not far enough to reach him. Not giving up, he continued sending more and more stone spikes into the cocoon, hoping Grinder would tire before him. Then he felt something on his leg, in his leg. One of the tendrils had found the hole made by Grinder and was now slowly burrowing under his skin. Feeling the foreign object crawl inside him, Solus panicked and lost control of himself. Without restraint, or paying attention to Grinder, he summoned all the surrounding stone to him. The building began shuddering, but Solus didn’t notice it, as he started roaring. He wanted out! He wanted to pull the thing out of his leg. It was now gnawing its way up, heading towards his torso.
“STOP STOP STOOpppp” A loud yell from Grinder was followed by the feeling of falling, soon followed by a blow against the cocoon.
With a blurry mind, Solus noticed he could feel more stone, and he began using it to put pressure on the cocoon. Feeling the tendril reach his lower stomach, he let go off all the breaks he had put on himself to stop from destroying Skulltown, and he could feel the pressure build from the outside. Creating sharp points, he pierced through the cocoon, the sharpened stone grazing his skin on some spots as it shaved off the tendrils. Moments later Solus felt his arms free, and he ripped at the hole in his leg. Clutching a small part of the tendril, he pulled at it, but only ripped off the portion in his leg. Feeling the rest wiggling around in his stomach, he panicked again. Without care, Solus summoned large stone claws on his fingers and pushed them deep into his own body. Although there was a lot of resistance, Solus kept pushing until he had his hand all the way in, angled towards the last of the tendrils. Gripping it, he ripped it out, together with part of his flesh. Dropping it on the ground, he stamped it to smush before sitting down. He was shaking all over, and blood was dripping from his leg and stomach as his consciousness began wavering.
“Where are you! You can’t hide from me!
A muffled roar from above jogged him out of his stupor, and rage filled his weary mind. Looking around for his enemy, he only saw stone and quickly sensed he was now below the surface of the ground. Feeling up he could pinpoint the location of Grinder as he was stomping around. A sinister smile crossed Solus weary face, and he began creating an enormous pit around him. It was the most massive thing he had ever attempted, and he felt the energy drain from him. But he didn’t care. He wanted to make the other one pay. When he was sure he had created a hole the size of the tower, he expanded it up to the surface. Soon it began cracking from the weight from above. Solus was now so tired he wished he could lie down and sleep, but he kept going, knowing that Grinder would find him if he did.
In a last moment of clarity, he wondered where the other undead were. They had been in the tower, and if he was underground something must have happened to the tower. Realizing he had no way of knowing if they were safe he made a half-hearted attempt at feeling around. He had not expected to find anything, but only a meter away and slightly above him he felt something knocking against the stone. Sensing the floor of his trap would soon give away, taking whoever was hitting the rock with it, he created a small tunnel sloping towards the sound. Standing next to it cost him all his remaining willpower, but he wanted to be sure he could jump whatever it was that might drop down. When he sensed something slid down the slope, he realized he was acting insane. What if it was Grinder or one of his minions? Before he could change what he was doing, a crumpled heap slid into his small alcove, crashing against the wall. Astonished he looked at it, realizing it was the top half of a zombie.
“Drys?” He muttered, barely recognizing his own weak, muffled voice.
The shape on the ground stirred, and the head raised.
“About time you showed up. But did you have to bring down the entire tower?” A slightly familiar voice asked, with barely any emotion.
A loud cracking was his answer when the last layer of stone gave way, and everything next to them began falling down an immense hole. The sloping tunnel Drys had slid through partially broke open, and some light filtered in together with vast amounts of dust.
“Aaaahhhhhhh” A loud howl came from the middle of a large pile of rubble that was dropping down the hole.
Walking towards the tunnel, that was now very short, Solus got an impressive sight of the large pit. He had imagined the pit to be much larger than the tower, but he had overestimated himself. Half of the tower was dropping down the hole, while the other half was tilting the other way, about to fall away from the hole.
Walking back, Solus felt some energy come back to him. He wasn’t sure, but he thought it came from the surrounding stone. Although not enough by far to fix him up, it at least gave him the ability to pick up Drys. Looking down at the zombie remains he was holding, he noticed besides the lack of arms and legs, the zombie also had many crisscrossing wounds all over his torso.
“I tried holding out, but he used those tendrils to root around in me. At one point I couldn’t hold on anymore. But I managed to put a large weakness into his pattern. His mind is unstable, and he won’t be able to think clearly most of the time.” Drys murmured, appearing to have lost a lot of energy.
“By the way, do you know you have a large hole in your stomach?” Drys continued, his voice almost inaudible.
Creating a route up, Solus listened to Drys whisper about what had happened, only hearing part of it. With most of his awareness, he was listening to a loud banging noise that was coming from the middle of the pit. I seemed to originate from beneath a large pile of rubble. When he reached the surface, he walked towards the edge and looked down. Although not the size of the tower that had been standing there before, the pit was as deep as the tower had been tall.
“You couldn’t find another way to end that monster?” Drys whispered, looking down with a mixture of awe and pain on his face. “It cost us almost a hundred manaorbs and a long time to make that…”
“Look at you… You have no arms and legs, and you are worried about a tower.” Solus replied, a tired grin on his face.
“Now be quiet, we aren’t done yet. That monster is still down there.”
Putting Drys on the ground, propped up against a hastily summoned wall, Solus began circling the pit, looking at a spot at the far end. Halfway there, a loud explosion came from beneath the rubble, and stone fragments were hurled everywhere. Crawling from beneath a large part of debris, Grinder exited the collapsed tower. Trying to stand, he almost fell sideways. His left side only had one leg remaining, missing all the other limbs. And the one he had left was in bad shape. From what Solus saw he had probably been partially crushed.
Grinder managed to get back up and slowly a few thin tendrils began shaping around him, flowing to the spots his limbs had been. Solus looked on aghast when he saw small wiggly forms start to grow from the sides of Grinder’s torso. Was he healing this fast? He needed to finish this now, or he would have to flee!
Feeling around his waist, he found the last of the small manaorbs and quickly absorbed them. Although they barely helped, it would have to do he thought. Raising his hand, he raised it in front of him, and in the pit, stones began whirling and rolling around. Following his gesture they began grouping together to form a giant hand of stone attached to a wrist stuck inside the ground. Tottering, Solus fell to one knee, feeling the world turning a little darker. Clenching his teeth, he made a grasping motion, and the hand that was behind Grinder’s back grabbed the undead, almost entirely enveloping him. More sensing than seeing it, he knew he had his prey in hand, and Solus slowly closed his fist. A piercing, non-stop cry came from the pit, overwhelming all other noise. Feeling the last of his energy drain away, Solus used it to clench his hand into a fist. As soon as he felt the palm of his hand with his fingertips, the cry inside pit stopped abruptly, replaced by a squishing sound.
Grinning Solus laid down on his back. He couldn’t see anything anymore, only being able to use his stone sensing to feel no more movement from inside the hole. As he began losing consciousness, he felt like taking a long nap.
“Well done… Well done. Who would have guessed the little skeleton that couldn’t talk would help me this much?”
Solus jerked in shock, and he tried looking around even though he couldn’t see.
“Don’t bother. There isn’t anything left that you can do now. You have helped me greatly. Now I can go back and report that this place is more dangerous than previously anticipated. ” A soft grin followed, and Solus recognized it.
“SILT!” He whispered, barely able to remain sitting.
“Yes. Now I am sorry, but I can’t stay here to talk. I really wanted to find out how you managed to escape from Urdan, but I will have to end you now. You have grown far too powerful, and if I let you continue like this, there is no telling how strong you will become.”
Solus noticed small footsteps closeby, and he attempted to shape the stone beneath him so he could hide underground, but nothing happened.
“Don’t bother. I might not be as strong as you physically, but my ability is unique. You can’t use your abilities when I am too close.” A whispered voice came, almost from behind Solus back now.
Attempting to crawl up, Solus felt a blow hit him across the back of his head, knocking him to the ground. More punches began raining down on him, and although none of them were dangerous by themselves, as tired as he was, he felt himself begin to lose consciousness again. As the sounds around him became muffled, he thought he heard yelling from far away.
“..ter… urt… ma..ter…dont … you … HURT…. MASTER” The last words came through loud and clear, as he heard and even felt the ground shake as something humongous came running their way.
“What the… you’re lucky I will give you that. I can’t fight whatever that is, right now, so I will be leaving. But don’t worry, we will be back, and then this valley will be mine!” Silt’s voice became weaker, as he was running away while leaving a final warning. Moments later a loud crash next to Solus almost flipped him over, and he felt arms pick him up.
“Master, you alright!? Skull here! Don’t worry! Little skeleton ran away!”
Feeling himself be raised as if he weighed nothing, Solus struggled to speak.
“..it.. ere” His voice cracked and broke.
A large head was shoved next to his mouth, and he heard an overly loud voice next to his ear.
“What, master? Say again?”
Swallowing, Solus tried again, managing a soft voice.
“Bring sphere from undead… ” Feeling himself slip in and out of consciousness, he waved his hand in the direction of the pit.
“Pit” he managed to say before everything turned black.
Voices, annoying and loud. As Solus began regaining his consciousness, he heard voices talking closeby, waking him.
“Do you think that numbskull will wake up soon?” Vingria’s raspy voice came.
“No call master numbskull! Me hurt you!” A deep angry voice replied.
“Calm down he should wake up soon. The energy in that manaorb is enough to evolve all of us two times over.” Drys’ calm voice replied.
Wondering if he should stay put, and ignore them, Solus felt a soft warmth flow through his body, most of it centered around his stomach. It seemed to originate from his left hand and squeezing it a little he found he was holding something. Probably a sphere he thought, that would explain why he was feeling his energy come back at such a rapid pace.
“What do we do with him? He is dangerous.” Sig’s voice came, smooth and now Solus paid attention to it, very different from the others.
Getting curious, Solus opened his eyes. He was lying on his back, and the sun was almost right above him. Bringing his hand to his face he saw he was holding a shiny black manaorb, larger than normal ones, but nothing compared to the one from the wyrm.
“He is awake!” Vingria’s excited voice caused him to look to the side seeing a small gathering of familiar figures standing close by. Sitting up, Solus looked around. Next to him was what was left of Skulltown, besides a gaping hole in the ground. The debris that had been the tower, now mainly consisting of bone parts was lying next to it. Between the pieces he saw undead moving around, occasionally picking up things and bringing them to a slowly growing pile. Getting up, he noticed that the small group was now standing in front of him. Sig was holding the remains of Drys and Skull was towering behind him, holding something in his arms that was struggling. Looking at his dumb skeleton minion, Solus was surprised to see the skeleton was now even larger than he was, and he wondered if the lack of intelligence resulted in larger physical bodies. He shuddered when he realized that this would then also apply to him.
“Why is spacing out again, he just woke up!” Vingria’s voice brought him back to the present, and he looked at Drys.
“After you fell unconscious Skull gave you the manaorb, and your body began absorbing it. The rest of them found him sitting next to you after they managed to get out from under the debris. Sig found me and brought me with him, and that’s about all. We have been sitting here until you would wake up again. ” The undead hesitated for a moment.
“What happened with Grinder? And Skull said something about a small skeleton attacking you? Was it a sigmiton?”
Thinking about Silt, Solus realized he didn’t see Norg anywhere, and then realized what Skull was holding. The huge skeleton had his arms wrapped around Norg, keeping him still and ignoring the occasional claw that scraped his bones. Deciding it could wait, for now, he tried keeping his mind from wandering all over the place.
“What did you say? No, it wasn’t a sigmiton, it was Silt.” Looking for a reaction, he wasn’t disappointed to see a startled expression on Drys’ face and a confused one on Vingria’s. He continued before they could start asking questions. “He said something about coming back, and that the valley would be his. The strange thing was, he said I had helped him…”
“This isn’t good, if that filthy bilestain comes back with another army we won’t be able to stop him!” Vingria spat out, looking both helpless and upset. “And you nu…. uhh… destroyed what was left of the town, so we have nothing to hide in if the wyrms or the sigmitons come!” She continued, catching herself right before she was about to curse at Solus.
Realizing she was partially right, Solus felt somewhat guilty when he looked around at the destruction he had caused. Thinking for a moment, he had an idea and inspected himself, trying to determine how much energy he had regained. He was happy to find that he was recovering at an incredible speed, energy appearing to flow to him from the rock below. Feeling around some more, he realized the energy was mainly going to him, only some minute traces entering into the other undead. Shelving the finding for later, he focused on the stone surrounding him and began shaping it.
“What’s going on?” Vingria shouted, looking on as a short distance from them the ground began shaking and rising.
The rest merely looked on, half having already linked it to Solus and the other half too stupid to care.
Trying to remember what the buildings in Skulltown had looked like, Solus only remembered they had resembled skulls. Glancing at his minion Skull, he quickly rejected the idea. Thinking back to the buildings in the town he woke in, he began forming the stone into a rectangular shape but added a giant skull partially sticking out of the front. He registered some murmurs and shouting coming from the side, but ignored it and kept going. When he felt he was done he opened his eyes to look at his creation. In front of the pit now stood a dark-grey three-story building. It looked like a white skull was trying to escape from the front of it, the mouth open and the jaw disappearing inside the ground. In between the teeth was an opening to enter the building and on the third floor were holes for the eye sockets, partially showing rooms inside.
A curious feeling off happiness filled Solus, and he knew he would need to build more things after this. It came natural, and he wondered if it was because he was part stone elemental. Looking to the others, he noticed they were staring wide-eyed at the building.
“So what do you think? I was thinking of creating more of these, and perhaps a large one in the center. Then some walls around the outer perimeter to keep out the wyrms and everything should be done.” Solus said enjoying the look of astonishing on the others face.
“Won’t you run out of energy soon like this?” Drys eventually asked.
“Not likely. Moving all that stone away to create a pit was much harder. Now I only need to move some stone up and change its form. I can create a couple of these building each day. ” Solus replied, a smug look on his face.
“I guess you are good for more than just breaking things” Vingria grumbled.
“Alright, then I would suggest you start with the walls, and better make them taller and wider than the previous ones. While you do that the bonemenders can create some simple buildings for the others to stay. I would suggest the rest of us stay in that one you just made while we think of what to do next. ” Drys stopped and looked at Solus for a moment, then at Vingria and then back. “If that is ok with you, Solus?”
Solus noticed everyone was now looking at him, and he realized they were waiting for him to agree. Looking at Vingria he saw she had a dark expression but kept herself quiet, and Drys was only paying attention to him. After a while, he nodded. “Let’s do that. After the wall is finished, I have some things to discuss with you Drys. While I am working, I want you to think of a way to fix yourself and Norg. Sig, you carry Drys to the building. Stay with him to make sure he gets what he needs.”
Drys nodded and made a head gesture towards the new building. Sig seemed to understand, turning towards the building and walking away, closely followed by Skull. The others followed quickly, leaving Solus alone. He turned around to look at the valley, wondering how high he should make the wall.
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