Eight hours later, James fell through the magical dome, much in the same way he did the first time, but with much more scrapes and bruises. Thankfully, he had enough sense left over not to bang his head on the marble floor this time. Abaddon appeared through the golden film shortly after. James felt the robed creature’s good hand land heavily on his shoulder. James let out an exhausted grunt. His body couldn’t handle any more strain.
“Good job out there, today…” Abaddon said as he walked away, “...dude.”
James waved the robe off and collapsed onto the floor. If James had learned anything in the hours he was hunting bone monsters with Abaddon, it was that the Mystic could deal insane amounts of damage, and most importantly, that he could trust the rotting man with his life. At least as long as Abaddon wanted him alive. James still wasn’t sure if Abaddon trusted him though. During their “trust-building exercises,” James didn’t get much opportunity to save the robed figure. In fact, he didn’t get any. James essentially wandered the dark tunnels of the Underworld until any of the creatures stalking him in the darkness got bold enough to attack. When that happened, James was mostly left alone to fight for his survival. It was only when one of the caverns he had wandered into began to quake, did Abaddon make his presence known.
"Ughh," James complained as he lay on the floor, pleading for his health and energy bars to regenerate. He was beginning to doubt the mediation skills of his companion Omero. Abaddon agreed to the trust building exercises way too easily. It had to mean that the whole idea was in the robed figures favor. Indeed, James had learned he could trust the rotting man, but he also learned that Abaddon was extremely powerful. Much more powerful than he was. James shuddered as he recalled the moment his soul was stolen from him briefly. The debuff he got was considerable. If Abaddon was still so powerful, even with the stolen soul debuff, then the rotting man must have been a serious force to be reckoned with before he and his daughter lost their souls.
James stood up, positive that Abaddon used the entire trust-building exercise as a show of force. It was clear that if the rotting man wanted to destroy James's village and kill everyone within it, he could. No matter what he tried to do to stop him. James stood up and shakily climbed the marble stairs to the main hallway that made up Abaddon’s research facility.
The gold cloaks were still busy running all around the hall. They emerged from vine enclosed rooms, dodged their brethren, and ducked into other vined enclosed rooms. On the way back from the trust-building exercise, Abaddon revealed a lot of information about what his facility was for.
Omero popped his head out from one of the vine walls in the hallway, “Hey James,” he started before looking James over, “Ohh man, you look terrible!”
“Yea, Abaddon put me to work,” James said as he followed his companion into the room.
Unlike most of the other rooms, this one didn’t have a moss-covered floor. The same marble that made up the colonnade filled hall, spilled into this room. Patrick, Alex, and Omero were busy watching a gold cloak complete various magical spells in rapt attention.
“What did you guys do?” Omero asked as the two joined the show.
“Well… he kind of left me out there to fight skeletons for a while. Then some kind of shadow creature…” James paused, “I don’t really know how to explain it. The thing… killed all the other bone creatures and took their bones. I never actually saw the creature until he used all the bones to form an Abominar. Then I had to fight that bone Abominar. It was much stronger than the living one we fought. It easily whooped my ass, but eventually, Abaddon came out of the shadows and downed it with one spell.”
“Sounds fun!” Patrick commented without taking his eyes off the gold cloak.
“It wasn’t,” James said as he prodded his slowly healing bruises.
Alex turned to James, “Do you trust him now?”
James shrugged, “Only as far as I could throw him…”
“I can throw him pretty far,” Patrick added.
“I wish we could just die,” Patrick said as the party prepared to leave Abaddon’s magic done. The robed figure had promised to take Lilly under his wing and teach her the spell that would protect everyone's soul from the Lich King. It wasn’t the solution James had wanted. He was hoping for some sort of scroll that would immediately teach someone the spell, but nothing was ever that easy, so the party would have to go back to the village and fetch the blonde woman.
“You heard Abaddon - if we die here we will just respawn back in the dome. It would be a waste of time.”
Patrick groaned and mumbled something about walking for so long being tough on his large body and not being able to talk to his buddy Noma on the journey since the Soul Merchant found a new best friend.
James wasn’t looking forward to the long journey home either, but he was excited at the idea of being home. The journey would certainly suck, but it would be worth it. He would finally be able to see the Martyrs and the people of his village. James imagined that the Martyr cubs must be just about reaching adult size. If they weren’t, they would at least be able to talk by now. Most importantly, Alex, Patrick, and himself would be able to enter the Lich King’s dungeon without worrying about having their souls stolen and dying for good.
Two nights prior, just after James’s health bar had finally filled up, Abaddon had cast the spell on his party to protect their souls. The spell was visually disappointing, especially after seeing the robed figure kill a giant bone Abominar with a single, spectacular spell. But when it washed over James it was the opposite from disappointing. James knew with every bone in his body that his soul was secure, and that was a feeling almost as unforgettable as the time he got his soul stolen, just on opposite sides of the pleasure spectrum. When James asked his party how they felt afterward, they all just shrugged disappointedly. He figured that they didn’t notice a difference because they didn’t know where to look. James had never really been able to feel his soul before the day it was ripped from his body, but ever since then, he was acutely aware of its presence.
Abaddon had vehemently refused to travel to James’s village and cast the spell on everyone there. In fact, that was the only reason the party had waited an entire extra day to head home. A whole day was wasted trying to persuade the robed figure, but he wouldn’t budge. The entire situation left a bad taste in James’s mouth, even after Abaddon finally disclosed the reason he couldn’t leave. It turned out that the Soulless were all slowly turned feral, and that the vast majority of the undead were not actually evil, yet. Abaddon was looking for ways to slow down the process that turned his kind into feral beasts. He needed to buy some more time for his people, and especially his daughter.
James learned that the rotting man was indeed a Mystic, but he wasn’t a master of holy light, which is the magic type you needed if you wanted any spells that had to do with manipulating the soul. Abaddon was actually a powerful lightning Mystic and had spent much of his life mutated by the magic. Finally, when he achieved his Mystic status, he was able to reverse his mutations, or at least control them. Abaddon explained that he lived most of his life mutated and that he vowed to never do it again. He said that he used to plead with everyone he came across not to take the path of the mage. But then, the Lich King stole his and his daughter’s souls and he had to walk down the path of the mage once again. His body was currently mutated by light magic because he hadn’t mastered it.
All those excuses didn't help James though. Sure, the rotting man's story was a sad one, but none of the excuses caused the bad taste in James's mouth to disappear. The rotting man told James that not having a soul does odd things to a man, and after casting the spell that protected James’s soul, Abaddon could already feel himself becoming more feral. That didn't help either.
When James offered to go and kill the Lich King right away, Abaddon laughed. James didn’t see the holdup. He figured the rotting man could go to the village with them, cast the spell that sealed in everyone’s souls, then they could go to the dungeon and kill the Lich. It turned out that wasn’t the case. Abaddon informed the party that the Lich King would not be easy to reach, even if they had the strongest army of Mystics in the land. Magical seals, spells, doors, and his minions would be protecting him. Abaddon said that the Lich King wasn’t the strongest evil in the land for no reason. The Lich King was as smart as he was cruel, and would have every manner of protection stacked upon brute force and made redundant by magic. All of this information made James even more impatient to get home. He immediately dismissed his party, knowing that he wouldn’t get any more help from the rotting man, and commanded everyone to get some rest, because they would be leaving before the sun rose the next day.
James couldn’t actually tell when the sun rose that morning, but he woke up early like usual and silently gathered up his party. The gold cloaks were all still running about, casting various spells, and finding the best ways to raise their light masteries, but none of them bothered his party as they snuck out.
“Okay… the skeletons will attack again, but if we stay together and don’t give them any time to build up, we should be fine,” James whispered to his party just outside the golden dome, “3 - 2 - 1 - go.”
James pushed his body through the magical membrane and felt his skin pull back. When he landed on the other side he waited just long enough to make sure the rest of his party made it through as well. Then they all ran.
Unlike James's party, the bones that covered the floor of the Underworld had no trouble waking up early in the morning. As soon as the party started running, the bones skittered and jumped after them. It wasn’t until the party was halfway to the tunnel did the bones start joining forces and combining into rolling pinwheels of doom, canine creatures, and the least scary version of them all - regular skeletons.
James looked back to check on the lagging redhead just in time to see a fanged skull fly through the air. Its mandibles chomped as it went, all the way into Patrick’s back. The redhead howled in pain. Alex blinked and punched the skull with his reinforced fists. The skull refused to release it’s bite on Patrick, even with Alex’s Pointy Bracer Cover piercing it. Four more skulls launched into the air.
Shit, James thought as he watched Alex and Patrick’s awkward attempt at dislodging the skull as the ran.
“Is that a trebuchet?” Omero asked as he pointed off into the shadow.
James split a skull in half with his Legion Commander’s Short Sword as it fell into him and batted another away with the flat of his skinning knife. Pieces of skull rolled back into the darkness. He followed the direction Omero was pointing with his eyes and saw that the bones had formed a triangular structure within the shadows, complete with a counterweight.
Fuck, the superior siege engine, James swore to himself as he watched the trebuchet launch another volley of skulls. Thinking quickly, James cursed the siege engine and launched a volley of firebolts in response. Another swear left James’s mouth when he realized his firebolt didn’t have enough impact damage to dismantle the structure and the burning effect didn’t actually affect the bones at all.
“Keep running! I will catch up!” James said as he watched a large skeletal creature load itself into the bucket of the siege engine. James activated Jump Strike and exploded into the air. The trebuchet was far enough away that he didn’t run the risk of smashing into a stalactite, but he did have another concern, like the six or so skulls that were chomping their way over to him. James wasted no time in casting and quickly had three firebolts burning their way to intercept the skulls. He couldn't cast anymore by the time the other three skulls reached him. James split two in half with his short swords, but one got through and embedded itself into his leg. He struggled to dislodge the bone as he plummeted toward the siege engine.
The trebuchet launches its cargo moments before James could smash it into the ground. A creature with numerous appendages that consisted of long leg bones that were sharpened to a point soared past James. He did his best to try and chop up the creature before it could reach his party, but the creature twisted its complicated joints in unpredictable ways in an effort to avoid James’s prodding swords. A second later, James smashed into the superior siege weapon. Fire billowed from underneath his feet and traveled outward, carried by his shockwave. His landing proved too much for the skull attached to his leg. It fell off and shattered onto the ground, pushed by the momentum from James's Jump Strike.
James spotted his party in the distance and considered running back to them. A quick survey of his path forward let him know that he would be tripped and stabbed by the various bones undulating on the ground. James looked up and nervously waited for the multi-appendaged creature to land by his party. If James had a watch, he knew he would be ignoring it and staring down the bones that were creepily rolling towards his feet.
The creature hit the ground a dozen paces in front of his party and immediately extended all of its appendages outward in an effort to skewer his party. James activated Jump Strike once again.