“Greetings,” a voice whispered ominously from the darkness as the party approached the mountain range.
“Hi. Dad,” Sorrell said as she continued to walk through the large rocks and hills that James assumed hid Abaddon’s camp. Abbadon materialized from the other side of a rock and stood before his daughter, her contingent of skeletal guards, and James’s party.
“It is nice to see you daughter,” Abaddon said as he brought his skeletal daughter in for a hug, “I am happy that you made it out in one piece.”
Sorrell laughed and pointed to James, “I almost didn’t! These baboons dropped a huge boulder on top of me!”
Abaddon’s hood glared at James, who put his hands up in a defensive gesture, “That… was an accident.”
“It’s okay,” Abaddon said, “you completed your side of the deal, I will complete mine and take you to a Mystic. For now, though, let’s all get some rest.”
James still wasn’t sure if he trusted the creepy hooded figure yet, but he had no illusion about how tired he was. He would happily take up Abaddon’s offer to get some sleep, but only after he got some answers from Sorrell. A quick glance at his relieved party member’s faces told James that they felt the same way - more than ready to finally get some rest.
The various large boulders and uneven ground that could be found by the edge of the mountain range that surrounded the Great Savanna made it easy for the party to hide. After Abaddon lead the party through a winding maze to get to his camp, it was clear to James that they would be safe from any pursuers from the city. James decided that if Abaddon didn’t kill his party in their sleep, he would make it a point to make camp by the mountain ranges in future missions through the Great Savanna.
James was finally able to properly greet Noma. The soul merchant seemed nervous at first but quickly relaxed, no doubt due to James’s intense friendliness. James wasn’t entirely sure why Noma was nervous. He figured it had something to do with the whole Ogrim’s dungeon ordeal, but James knew it all turned out okay, and he trusted Noma, so he didn't even bring the situation up. To James, seeing Noma was like coming across a friend he hadn’t seen in awhile.
After introductions and greetings were done, James set up his Ingo and Abominar fur pile next to Sorrell. As he pulled out supplies to cook up a quick Abominar Fat Stew, James overhead Patrick whisper ‘I told you so’ to Noma as the two settled in their own fur piles.
Omero was already asleep. The Italian didn't even invest the extra time to take out Ingo furs from his satchel and simply layed in the mud. Alex was off somewhere with Abaddon and the skeletal guard, no doubt setting up a fire guard rotation to make sure everyone would get an uninterrupted night's rest.
“Do your guards need to sleep?” James asked Sorrell, who was leaning against a rock and poking at the fire with a stick.
“No,” Sorrell answered quickly.
“Do you?” James inquired, just as quick.
Sorrell sighed and tossed her stick into the fire before turning to James, “I do need sleep, so please ask the questions you really want answers to, because I am tired.”
“Okay…” James said, “Why do you call Patrick and I Perturbers?”
“Because I was called it so many times in The Outpost that it just became part of my vocabulary. I apologize, as it is really a terrible term,” the skeleton answered reluctantly.
“Yea well… it is also rather hard to pronounce. Per.. turb..errs,” James vocalized each syllable, trying to return the skeleton to her usual playful mood, “I just don’t get why we are Perturbers.”
“It is because you are being changed by magic,” Sorrell said sadly, “just as I have been, just how my father was, and just how every prisoner on the streets of the Outpost have been.”
“I don’t really see any changes though. I mean, I feel them, but I don’t really see them,” James stumbled.
“I see them though, and soon you will too…”
James contemplated her words in silence for a while before growing concerned and nervously asking, “are we…” Sorrell raised the bone above her eye socket, “are we going to.. Ya know... Become skeletons?”
Sorrell gave a hearty laugh, “No, I don’t think so. You are already a bonehead, but I don’t think you will be turned into a skeleton.”
James didn't want to offend the skeleton, so he held in his sigh of relief. Instead, he just nodded and gave a soft smile. His smile was returned, but Sorrell’s face quickly turned dark. The facial expression of the skeleton, illuminated by the flickering firelight, made for a sight that would have otherwise given James the chills, had he not got a glimpse of the creature's playful outlook previously, “There is a strong magic out there that turned me this way against my will." Sorrell started, "You will be changed by your magic, as are all magic users other than Mystics and Shamans, but you are doing so willingly. I had no choice.”
“How will I be changed?” James interrogated. He suddenly realized his body was quite tense and strained, so he made an effort to relax his muscles.
Sorrell shrugged and looked off into the fire, “I don’t know. It depends on a lot of things.”
“Like what?” James followed up almost as quickly as the words left Sorrell’s mandible.
“Like your mastery for one, your class choices, your skills and abilities, your spells… Everything really. It is impossible to predict how magic will change someone…” Sorrell answered impatiently, “How don’t you know this?”
James paused. It was his turn to look into the fire. Instead of broaching the subject about how he was from another dimension to the relative stranger, James attempted to change the subject, “It was soul magic, wasn’t it. Your soul was stolen…” James guessed, “That is why you were turned into a skeleton isn’t it?”
Sorrell studied James. It seemed to him that she was seeing him for the first time as something other than a handsome piece of meat, “Yes… the Lich King took it,” she seethed.
Like usual, James woke up before the rest of the camp. He wasn’t sure why he couldn’t sleep in lately, but he knew for sure that was annoying and that he needed to sleep more. Luckily, James had some spiked fruit and a stone pot in his inventory. Some spiced cider was exactly what he needed at the moment.
James surveyed the camp as he set up his stone pot. It turned out that he wasn’t the first one to wake up in the camp after all.
Where are you creepy cloak dude? James thought as he peered around for Abaddon.
He didn’t feel too motivated to search for the creature, especially since his daughter was still in the camp, so James gave up his search for Abaddon before it began. With the Spiced Cider brewing, James leaned back into his fur pile, propped up his head with the soft white Abomminar skin, and pulled up his interface. A notification immediately appeared, catching James off guard. He figured he must have missed the notification the last time he checked his interface because he was too excited about learning a new cooking recipe.
Congratulations! Your Party Leader skill has surpassed level 10. You can now choose from the below 2 sub-skills or augments.
Sub-Skill 1 - Cruel Defender, Those under your command ignore one armor point when attacking.
Sub-Skill 2 - Moral Defender, Those under your command gain an additional armor point.
Cruel and Moral? James asked himself as he read the new notification. He was expecting to be given the option to choose two sub-skills since each skill could only have two sub-skills to begin with. He knew that he wouldn’t be offered an augment until he had at least one sub-skill. James also knew that his interface adapted to his actions and choices, which made him wonder if he did anything especially cruel lately.
Is this because I left the soldier’s in The Outpost to fend for themselves? James wondered, admitting to himself again that it was a crappy thing to do, even if it was the best thing to do for his people. What would that first skill have been if I opened this notification earlier? Would it have been something else entirely?
James chose the Moral Defender sub-skill and looked around to see if his party noticed the change. Besides a few twitches from Patrick's fur pile, no one in his party seemed to notice that they were now slightly more durable.
James's eyes fell upon the sleeping Sorrell.
It was odd watching her sleep. Her chest didn’t rise and fall as she breathed. In fact, it was entirely impossible for James to tell if she was actually sleeping and just dead. She was, after all, a pile of bones. James figured that if a woman had actually died and was left to waste away in the elements, eventually she would look just like Sorrell did at that moment. He contemplated poking her with a stick to settle his nerves but decided that he didn’t want to interact with someone so lively and energentic without his morning cider.
The previous night, James had been close to telling Sorrell about his town and his portal to the Lich King’s realm. The skeleton seemed like she had a vendetta against the Lich, but James had no idea what the repercussion of talking to her would be. James found it extremely nice to have someone that he could potentially discuss the dungeon with, but he forced himself to use all his willpower and avoid the topic. He wanted to join forces with Sorrell and Abaddon, but he still knew so little about them.
James gave one last curious glance at the skeleton laying beside him before returning to his interface.
James – Level 27 (1 level gained since last open)
Constitution, Level 18 – Controls how much health you have and the rate at which you regain health.
Strength, Level 17 – Affects your ability to use weapons, lift objects, and your size.
Endurance, Level 11 - Controls how much energy you have and the rate your endurance regains.
Agility, Level 10 - Controls your movement abilities in battle, dodge, critical strikes, and unarmed combat damage and your ability to resist character controlling abilities.
Will, Level 12 – Affects your ability to tap into health, endurance, and mana reserves.
Intelligence, Level 34 – Controls the data you can gather from your interface, the world, and how much mana you have.
Wisdom, Level 35 – Controls the rate at which you gain all types of experience, and more.
2 statistic points ready to distribute.
James reread his strength description and got hung up on the ‘affects your ability to lift object’ portion. He certainly wanted to be able to lift heavier things, especially considering that he couldn’t budge that boulder that fell onto Sorrell yesterday.
What if a boulder fell on Lilly? James thought, successfully convincing himself that it was okay to put his two free stat points into strength. James grew slightly larger as he spent his points, causing the tip of his toes to pop out of his fur pile. He instinctively sucked them back up into his cocoon.
James suddenly realized that the instinct to keep his feet warm would probably die out now that he was essentially immune to temperature. The realization made James wonder what other parts of his humanity would change if he kept growing his Fire Mastery. Most important of all, James wondered if the changes were worth being able to throw fire bolts at things. James knew if he asked Patrick that question, the red-head would respond with something like, “Duh, of course its worth it, dude,” or something along those lines. James wasn’t convinced though.
What about Michael and his death magic, how will he be changed? What about the water mage back in the village? James thought, concerned. I will have to get more information from the Mystic.
That was when James decided everyone had slept long enough. There were people in dungeons to save, game mechanics to learn, and Spiced Cider to drink.
The campground went from a yawning mass of sloths into a ready group of adventurers in the short time it took to chug a stone cup of Spiced Cider. James was slightly surprised that Sorrell woke up at all, mostly because she just looked so thoroughly dead, but he was happy that she wasn’t. At least, she wasn't dead in the sense that she could move and talk like other things that were alive.
James contemplated how he would classify the skeleton rather frequently since they first met, but he was still no closer to figuring out the appropriate way to refer to it.
Her, James corrected himself as he watched Sorrell stretch her non-existent muscles.
“Okay father, we are ready to go,” Sorrell said under her breath as she walked up to join the party.
James looked around curiously. He hadn’t seen the robed figure since the night prior. “Who are you talking to?”
“Abaddon,” Sorrell answered in such a tone that suggested she would have rolled her eyes if she had any, “obviously…”
“But how?” James asked moments before the robed figure materialized from behind Patrick. The red-head didn’t seem to notice that Abaddon was either behind him the entire time or just walked up to him, but James did. He jumped quite visibly, as Abaddon still gave him the creeps, but did his best to play it off like was scared or startled.
“Party chat man,” Sorrell answered as she moved to greet her father, who was still hovering behind the large red-head, “Geez, you really have been living under a rock haven't you?”
Alex gave James a look at the possibility of party chat while outside of any Spirit Battleground. James passed the look to Omero, who diligently scribbled a note into his book of maps. Patrick nodded in appreciation at Omero’s note-taking skills and at the same time seemed to shrink into himself as Sorrell stepped close to him. Patrick jumped up in the air and swore as his eyes followed the skeletal woman and he finally realized Abaddon was standing behind him.
James laughed, happy that he didn’t warn Patrick. Seeing the large red-head jump in fear was much more satisfying than he thought it would be.
“Jesus man!” Patrick said as he slowly realized he wasn’t under attack. The red-head let his hand drop from where it was seconds away from unsheathing his True Iron Maul. He turned to face Abaddon, “Why don’t you take off that creepy cloak already! We know you are a skeleton now. You don’t have to hide that from us anymore,” Patrick said, clearly flustered.
Abaddon tilted his hood in thought.
“You might as well Dad, they will find out sooner or later if we are taking them home,” Sorrell said after her father released her from a long hug.
“Okay,” Abaddon grunted after a long silence. Everyone moved to form a half circle formation, facing the hooded creature. Abaddon started by removing his gloves.
Okay, skeleton hands, James thought.
Those same skeletal hands reached down to gather up the wispy and almost ethereal edges of the bottom of the black cloak. Abaddon slowly lifted his hands.
Okay, creepy back boots, James thought.
Skeleton hands lifted the cloak higher, revealing torn calf muscles and rotten flesh.
Thigh muscle rotted away to reveal calcified hip bones as the cloak raised higher and higher.
Omero walked away.
A singular spine supported the way up to a muscular and scarred human chest.
Abaddon finished pulling up his cloak and tossed it onto the ground, revealing half of a skeletal body and half of a rotten, battle-weary human form. The two halves met at Abaddon’s face.
“Okay! Okay! Put it back on!” Patrick pleaded.
Bones moved behind Abaddon’s half rotten face and grew behind his head. They became longer, revealing other bones attached to the first set.
James raised an eyebrow.
Abaddon stretched his skeletal wings, letting out a relieved sigh as they reached their full span and cast the party in bone patterned shadow.