Chapter 34: Forced Draft

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The wait this time was a lot shorter than Solus had anticipated. He had barely gotten annoyed when the new skeleton’s eye sockets flared with and uncommon pale blue light. With a sudden motion, the undead that had been a sigmiton only shortly before, sat upright, looking around. When its gaze fell upon the pillar in the middle of the room, sigmitons still walking around it, it shuffled back across the ground, inside the tunnel.

“Stop!” Solus whispered, trying not to draw too much attention.

The skeleton froze, looking at Solus for a moment before turning its head back towards the pillar.

“Master, we need to leave. This is a perilous place to be.” A soft, feminine voice came from the skeleton, startling Solus and causing him to stand up abruptly.

Not noticing the reaction of her new master, the skeleton continued. “If the absorber wakes up and finds us here, we will be destroyed!”

Gazing at the pillar for a moment, Solus saw no change but didn’t feel like taking any risks. He walked to his newest minion and picked her up before moving deeper inside the tunnel. Halfway in, he turned around and created a temporary wall, closing off the mysterious cavern. The female sounding skeleton had made no comment when she was picked up, but a soft sigh echoed through the now closed off tunnel when she saw the wall appear.

Putting the skeleton down, Solus moved to sit on the opposite side, his back against the wall. “Tell me everything you remember since waking up. And start with why you can speak.”

A soft grin echoed next to him. “That will not take that long master. I have o..”

Before she could continue Solus interrupted her. “One thing, don’t call me master. Call me Solus, or if you have to: Boss. Not master.”

The skeleton looked at him for a while. “I will try to use Solus from now on. But I can’t promise that I might not accidentally call you master.”

Curious, Solus looked at the skeleton. “You are different from the rest of the skeletons I have seen. You seem very self-aware and capable of speech, do you know why this is?”

“I am unsure. While I was walking around the absorber, I learned the difference between me and the rest. The absorber examines us and then decides who to absorb. He inspected at me a few times but never chose me. Every time he picks someone he speaks as you do and after a while, I learned how to do it myself.” The soft voice became even softer towards the end of the sentence.

“What does the absorber do when he picks someone?” Solus asked, having a general idea, but wanting to be sure.

The skeleton looked at the closed-off tunnel for a moment before answering. “The one chosen places his hands on the absorber and then turns into dust. Reddish energy immerges and disappears into the absorber. ”

Solus closed his eyes for a moment, a lopsided grin on his face. It was as he had thought, the name was a dead giveaway.

“And how often does this absorber feed on sigmitons?”

“I don’t know what that means M… Solus. What is sigmitons and what is feed?”

Grinning again, Solus realized he had forgotten the skeleton had only just awoken and knew next to nothing.

“You used to be a sigmiton, those walking around back there still are. And feeding is what the absorber did. Every time one of you touched the pillar and he absorbed you what he did was called feeding.”

The skeleton held her head to the side in a weird gesture. “I understand. But Solus? That pillar is not the absorber. ”

As soon as the words registered Solus jumped to his feet looking at the closed end of the tunnel. From behind the piece of rock a soft scratching sound began emanating through the tunnel. It sounded almost like someone was trying to scratch away the stone. A moment later it was replaced by soft tapping. Solus looked at his new minion and noticed she was staring at the place the sound came from. Waving his hand, Solus tried to get her attention, but she seemed hypnotized. Gritting his teeth, Solus took a step towards her, trying to be as silent as possible. He used his rock shaping to absorb any small tremors he might make. But something got through because the tapping stopped right away to be replaced by hard banging noises that began increasing in intensity. Cursing, Solus stepped forward, picking up the skeleton. He shook her until she awoke from her reverie.

“Listen up. Walk out of this tunnel and hide in the cavern somewhere to the side. And tell me, you felt my strength and that of the absorber or whatever. Who is stronger?”

The skeleton looked at him for a moment, the lower part of her jaw opening and closing a few times until she replied. “You should be stronger, but the difference is negligible.”

Nodding, Solus put her on the ground and gave her a shove. “Get out of here and hide. Only come back if I am the one calling you.”

Turning towards the wall that was now shaking as if under an immense barrage Solus sniggered. No big difference? His new minion had no idea. He had used only a small portion of his strength on her, or she would have turned to dust within moments. He walked to the wall and put his hand on it. It cost him little effort to increase the strength of it and as far as he could feel the one at the other side wasn’t anywhere near him in power. Pondering for a short moment, he created a passage inside the wall, angling around to the side until it almost entered the cavern some distance from the previous entrance. Walking in, he placed his hands on the last of the rock separating him from the cavern. He tried to determine if nothing was on the other side. He couldn’t be too sure, but he guessed it was clear, so he opened it up.

Looking through the opening, he saw the pillar from another angle and the sigmitons were still walking around it. Stepping out, he looked at the old entrance, from where the knocking sound came.

Looking at the source of the noise, Solus saw an unusual undead. It was smaller than he had anticipated, only half as tall as he was. Using its multitude of skeleton arms the creature was hitting the rocky wall so hard dust was falling from the ceiling. Its lower body, white and round and close to the ground was skittling back and forth on short flexible looking spikes. He found it vaguely resembled a cross between a wyrm and a skeleton, with the lower part being the wyrm.

The thing hadn’t noticed him yet, and he observed it for a while as it used its many arms to hit the wall. It was hard to see the front of the skull, turned as it was to the wall, but Solus noticed something odd about the shape. From the angle he was standing it seemed too long.

After some planning, Solus created shallow pits around the creature, covered with a thin layer of stone and spikes covering the floor. Satisfied, he walked into the room keeping his eyes focused on the creature’s back. Halfway to his target, he glanced towards the sigmitons to make sure they were still walking around the pillar. He was greeted with hundreds of red, burning eyes staring straight at him. Shocked, he stopped walking and snapped his eyes back to the creature. It was now turned his way, looking straight at him, glaring with his deformed skull. The lower jaw was elongated and jutted forward, sharp teeth glistening in the light coming from the pillar.

A soft growl echoed through the room as the creature slithered towards Solus.

Swirling his head between the creature and the sigmitons, Solus tried to keep his eyes on both as he backed away, towards the tunnel. As soon as he put his first foot inside the tunnel, he stopped, and a mean grin surfaced on his face.

“Got ya.”

The slithering creature stopped, appearing confused. A second later, it looked down, but it was too late. Although the floor rumbled a bit, nothing happened below. But from the top one of the large sharp tipped stones plummeted down piercing the creature and pinning it to the ground. Screeching it started pummeling the ground around it with its arms. At the same time, the floor under the incoming sigmitons crumbled and they dropped a short distance. They were now stuck inside the ground from the knees down, glaring at Solus, unable to move.

Ignoring the sigmitons, Solus walked around them to the now struggling creature. “Talk, or I will end this now.”

The creature that was still hitting anything in sight, and trying to get free stopped its movements. Its head raised as it looked at Solus.

“Release me!” A voice echoed through the room with no clear origin.

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“Of course not! I just caught you, why would I release you? Stop saying stupid things. Now tell me, what are you, and what that thing over there is?” Solus said in an amused tone, pointing towards the pillar.

The creature gave no reply, just looking at Solus for a moment before snapping at him. Annoyed, Solus moved closer and struck the creature on the side of the head. The creature swung backward only staying in its place because it was still pinned down. Frozen for a second, it then shook itself and looked up. Snapping, the creature tried to bite Solus. Seeing the slow movement coming from a mile away, Solus stepped to the side and hit the creature again, harder this time.

A ripping sound echoed through the cavern, followed by a loud thud. The creature was now lying against the side of a wall, half of its body still lying there, where it was pinned to the floor.

“Ah. A bit too hard.” Solus said as he walked passed the twitching lower half. Arriving at the rest of the creature, he crouched down to examine it. The moment he got close the still form moved, rushing for his face. In a reflex, Solus raised his hand and grabbed the incoming object. A soft crushing sound came from his hand, and looking at it he saw he was holding a fractured bony object. The creature was now glaring at him, but not moving anymore. Gripping one of the arms tight, Solus stood and dragged the thing along towards the pillar.

“Last chance. Tell me what that thing is.” Solus said as he raised the thing towards the pillar.

“…I don’t know… When I awoke, I was here, next to it. Back then the cavern was larger because there had been no cave-ins yet and there were more of us. But I was the only one next to it. ” The creature responded, sounding reluctant to continue.

Shaking his hand, Solus heard cracking sounds come from the creature. “Keep going. How did you become like this, and what does that thing have to do with it?”

A hiss came from the creature before it continued. “Sitting next to it made me stronger, smarter. After a while I became aware. I explored the cavern but there was nothing, and I became bored. Then one of the others came too close to the stone. My stone.” The creature began talking faster, harder.

“First I wanted to destroy it, but then I noticed I could feel the energy feeding into the other one. After waiting for a little while I took the other away and found I could do more than feel the energy. With some effort, I could absorb it. The more energy I absorbed, the more I changed!” Soft laughter came from the creature, who was now rambling without appearing to realize it.

Solus was having a hard time keeping up with the things it was saying and decided he had enough. He shook his hand again, rattling the thing until it was quiet.

“Enough. Only answer questions. Why are they walking around the thing?”

Silent for a while, the creature finally answered when Solus raised his hand to shake him again. “NO! Move your energy inside, and the stone will start radiating energy that lures the others. While it is doing so, the others don’t grow very fast, and I come here to absorb the ones that are the strongest. ”

Having heard enough Solus shook the creature until it was silent, ignoring the broken arms that dropped to the ground. He looked at the group of sigmitons that were still standing around. Something about the story he had just heard struck him as weird. If they only walked around, why did they become aggressive? He looked at the creature and was about to ask something when he noticed its skull was hanging in a weird angle from its neck. One more shake snapped it off, and the skull dropped to the ground.

“And I had more questions…” Solus muttered as he dropped the remains to the ground. He picked up the skull, crushing it as he moved towards the edge of the group of sigmitons. Shaking the dust off his hand, he looked down to see the creature had left him a reasonably sized manaorb. He placed it inside a bag around his waist and put his attention back to the sigmitons. They were still standing there, looking at him with red eyes, some attempting to rip their legs free. Grinning, Solus counted around a hundred of them. Enough for the start of his army of minions. Thinking about his army reminded him of his latest minion, and he used his power to try and find her. Feeling nothing, he guessed she was probably standing still and hiding as he had told her. Walking towards the tunnel opening, he stuck his head inside.

“Everything is fine! That thing is dead. Come back here.” He yelled, realizing he should give her a name when she got here. The walls vibrated from the power of his voice.

Not waiting to see if she would come, Solus headed back, wondering how he should do this. As he did with Sig and Skull, increase the pressure all around and see who would survive? Or one at a time?

“Better not all at ones, or I will destroy most again.” He muttered to himself after a while.

He took a step forward and grabbed one of the sigmitons ripping it out of the ground. “You are going to be first!”

Holding it up, he began increasing the pressure, wondering how long it would take to convert them all.

“Ahhhh finally done!” Solus yelled, dropping the last of the sigmitons to the ground. Surrounding him were lots of unmoving skeletons and sigmitons. Some had already finished evolving but not awake yet.

“What are you going to do with the pillar Solus?”

Solus shrugged and headed towards said pillar. Next it to it, Sumil, as he had called his latest minion, was sitting.

“It is too dangerous to leave it down here, so we will be taking it with us while we go around looking for more sigmitons.” He sat down next to her and the pillar that was no longer pulsating with red light.

Halfway into converting all of the sigmitons, he had taken a break and examined the pillar. It had taken him only a moment to turn off the attraction by moving his energy inside. After that, the thing started drawing energy from the surroundings. He quickly found that the reason the sigmitons got stronger from standing close to it was that the power moved through them as it headed towards the pillar. It did hardly anything for Solus, but Sumil was still becoming stronger from sitting next to it, so he had ordered her to do just that.

“How long will it take before the first of the others wake up?” The soft female voice awoke him from his tired thoughts.

“Not that long. The first few have finished evolving and should wake up any minute now. From that moment on, we will be busy as they will need guiding.” Yawning Solus laid down on his back and closed his eyes.

“Wake me up if you need anything or if anything unexpected happens. Otherwise, let me sleep.” As he found his mind slowly drift off, Solus thought he heard Sumil ask something about sleep, but tired he shut it out.

Sitting next to her master Sumil tried to keep from asking questions. She had always been curious, and having someone that talked back, and answered her questions had been a great experience. Looking at Solus’ still, form, she wondered what the world above was like. Solus had responded to some of her questions, speaking of a massive glowing sphere in the sky and many ruined buildings. She was also curious about those wyrms, wondering if they were as large as her master had said.

Turning her head around, she placed her back to the pillar and began looking at the others. She wondered how many of those could already speak. Master, no Solus, had said that she was special because she could already speak.

Without any idea of time, she kept looking, tirelessly at the unmoving shapes until one began stirring. She got up, quickly moving alongside it. It was one of the smaller skeletons, and one of the first Solus had converted. Looking at it, she wondered why it had woken up before the ones next to it. Those had there manafields changed earlier and should have woken up sooner. Before she could think longer, she reflexively jumped back. One of the arms of the skeleton had shot up, the hand making a grabbing motion at the air above it.

Getting ready to run to Solus and wake him, Sumil backed up. The skeletons eye sockets began glowing softly green, and it sat up. Looking around it noticed Sumil but just looked at her.

After waiting for a moment, Sumil relaxed a little. “Can you speak?” She asked, trying to mimic Solus.

The skeleton focused on her again, and she noticed something in the energy surrounding her. Solus had explained to her that skeletons usually needed to learn how to speak. And he had said they needed to use their energy to move the air around them.

“You need to move the energy while you think your thoughts. That way I can hear what you think.” She said softly to the skeleton. Nothing seemed to happen until a loud buzzing noise caused dust to fall from the dark cavern ceiling.

“Yes like that, but then softer! Keep trying.” Sumil said. She was about to say something more when another skeleton began moving, slowly getting up and looking around.

“Keep practicing. I need to explain how to talk to the next one. If you can speak come help me!”

Sumil walked towards the next skeleton, wondering how many would be ready to speak before Solus woke up.

Soft murmuring was the first thing Solus heard as he began waking up. It sounded like many undead holding a hushed conversation. Stretching himself as he lay on the ground, the murmurs stopped. Wondering what was going on, Solus sat up and looked around. Surrounding him, and the pillar, was a group of undead, all of their eye sockets pointed towards him. With a push on the ground, Solus erected himself, looking around to see if he needed to defend himself.

“They have all awoken mas… Solus. Most can speak now, although some are still practicing.” Moving his head around, he saw Sumil sit behind him, closer than the other skeletons.

Clearing his head some more, Solus looked around. “All of them have awoken?”

“Yes” Sumil replied, slowly getting up.

Solus looked at her for a moment before examining the group of skeletons. Now he was fully awake he noticed he could feel all of them, a gentle energy thread connecting them to him. Most of the skeletons had green eye sockets, indicating they were mostly normal, but he noticed a few blues, yellow and orange ones between them.

“Listen up. If you know anything not related to this cavern tell me.” Solus said, curious to see if there were more unusual ones amongst them.

No one replied, and after a while, Sumil moved to stand next to him. “I have talked with all of them, but no one could speak without being taught first. The absorber probably took the ones who had grown too fast.” She said, her round white skull pointed towards him.

Although he was slightly disappointed, Solus knew he should be happy to have found a single minion like Sumil. Then he realized something, and he started worrying.

“Sumil. Did you give them all names?”

“No Solus, I don’t know how to think up names. We have been waiting for you to grant them names. ”

Hearing the answer he was dreading, Solus groaned.

“After this, I will need to sleep again…” he whispered as he got ready for a headache.

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