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A note from Gravlox15

Welcome to Forsaken Talents 2: A Black Soul

Don't forget: you can check out the cover for book 2 on my website, stuartthamanbooks.com

I awoke the next day feeling a lot better. My arms and legs were still tired, but they didn’t outright hurt like they had yesterday. That was a fantastic improvement.

I figured the time was a little before noon, and everyone was up and at their tasks before I emerged into the sunlight. Thankfully, the ground had dried a good bit since the rain, so my boots didn’t stick to the mud. Even though my necropolis was essentially made of bones and exuded pure evil, I didn’t like things getting needlessly dirty. Tracking mud through our apartment in Atlanta had gotten Ingrid in trouble more than once when she was younger.

Around the fire where everyone took their meals, I noticed we had a few new barrels of fresh water and a rack of smoked fish that hadn’t been there before. That meant a new shipment of food had come in from Riverside.

I found Helvegen working with the herbalist NPC in our little patch of farmland. They had dug a shallow irrigation canal from the farm plot to the moat, though there still wasn’t more than a couple inches of water there, so the canal was dry for the time being. “Hey,” I called, grabbing the woman’s attention. “Did everything go well with the food delivery? No incidents?”

Helvegen smiled and brushed some of the dirt from her pants. “I took care of it all,” she said proudly.

“Excellent.” Having a manager to run the more tedious parts of Undercroft Citadel would certainly be useful. I was already sold on the idea.

“Would you like a progress report on the rest of the citadel’s activities?” she asked.

I couldn’t imagine that much had changed since yesterday, so I politely declined her offer. I felt like the president getting a national security briefing from my closest advisors. It was a nice feeling to command so much respect and authority. When I had managed an entire office at the Ministry of Health back on Earth, I had commanded similar respect, though it was never exactly genuine. I had lived as a cog inside the merciless machine of bureaucracy, and I had had more than a few detractors. Of all the people who had hated me, Vic had practically been their leader, my eternal nemesis. Just like he was now. Some things never changed.

“I need to go visit Tendershoot Mine today, and I’d appreciate if you went with me to see how things are going,” I told my personal assistant. Helvegen was starting to remind me of the secretary I had employed back at the ministry, though she lacked a digital notebook strapped to her forearm and a headset resting around her neck. She did, however, have a few squares of parchment folded up and sticking out of the top of her belt along with a charcoal pencil.

Helvegen readily agreed, and I stepped back inside the necropolis to grab Infernum before heading out beyond the walls.

We left through the main gate and started circling back to the direction of the mine. “Any ideas how we could fill the moat?” I asked. We walked next to the ditch the charnel golem had constructed, and while it was still an impressive structure, it was woefully far from what it needed to be to actually keep people out.

Helvegen thought for a moment with her hand on her chin. She took out some of her notes, read a few lines, then returned them to her belt. “Kulgun doesn’t know any alchemical methods of collecting or producing massive amounts of water,” she answered. “Perhaps there is some other warlock magic that might be able to fill the moat. I’ll talk to the conjuror this afternoon and find out.”

“Perfect. And it doesn’t even have to be water. Maybe the warlocks can cook up some nasty magic for it. When we get back from the mine, see what you can come up with. I’d like to get the moat filled in this week.” I thought of shadowy black tentacles of magic reaching out of the moat like an evil, sentient rift. Something like that would certainly fit in with the overall aesthetic of Undercroft Citadel, and I had to imagine that Lady Kalma would approve, were she here to see it.

“I’ll see to it today,” Helvegen said.

We started walking away from the walls, and I was pleased to note that the tracks our NPCs were laying had come quite a long way since I had last check on them. “Wow, the miners have been busy,” I remarked. The iron cart tracks only needed another two or three hundred yards to reach the wall. That was certainly impressive.

“I’ve had the workers taking extra shifts since the moment I returned from Echelon,” Helvegen happily announced.

“You know, if you worked for me back on Earth, I’d offer you raise,” I said. The woman’s forethought and tenacity was something I really valued.

“I knew we would need more raw materials coming into the workshop and the forge more than anything else. When you didn’t return right away, I started getting everyone ready to fight. Enhancing the defenses is a top priority,” she explained.

We reached the end of the track, and four NPCs from Riverside were busy laying more lengths of track and hammering them into the ground. They reminded me of pictures I had seen in history texts when I was in college. They just needed some overalls and old fashioned hats, and they would fit right into the nineteenth century age of expansion when all the captains of industry had sent rail tracks from coast to coast. I wondered how many of those old railway lines still existed, now submerged under hundreds of feet of ocean water. There must be millions of pounds of steel and iron rusting beneath the ocean waves along with everything else the sea had claimed.

Stealing my focus back to Wonder, one of the NPC workers came up to us and offered a polite bow. “If you are going to the mine, would you like to ride there instead of walk, masters?” the woman offered.

The group of workers had a small minecart full of supplies nearby, and the front of it had a heavy rope where it could be pulled along the tracks. “No thanks,” I said. “I could use the walk. My legs are a bit sore, and they need the exercise.”

The NPC dutifully bowed again before returning to her labor. It was backbreaking work to drive rail spikes into the hard ground and set the tracks. I called up the worker’s stats and confirmed my hope that the woman had added to her physical stat. She was level twelve, already fairly high for a classless peon, with a physical stat not far from my own. Her craftsmanship was also high, though I suspected that doing the same repetitive task over and over wouldn’t keep yielding a benefit to that category for very long. Still, when the next fight came, I could give our laborers swords and send them to the front lines as an effective peasant militia. That much in physical meant that even though the woman wouldn’t know how to fight, she’s still be able to crack a few skulls.

“We should rotate the laborers out every few days to train with Xollmomath,” I told Helvegen as we kept walking down the tracks toward the mine entrance. “They’re strong, and if we need them, I’d like to know that they’re at least moderately competent in a fight.”

Helvegen took out her notes once more and jotted down a few lines. “I’ll make a different work schedule for them right away. When they’re not in the mine, I can have the warlocks take over to train their physical stat as well.”

“Yeah, that’s what I want. We have to make sure everyone is getting at least a little bit of cross training. You never know when we’ll need certain NPCs to take on different roles.” We arrived at the mine entrance, and two NPCs were there working the small forge. They had a pile of iron ore along with a few bits and pieces of other metals lying in a wooden crate, and two fresh ingots of different sizes were sitting in another box waiting to go to Geirr at the workshop.

“How much have you harvested?” Helvegen began, ready once more to record the progress of every single worker in Undercroft Citadel.

The NPC wiped his brow and counted some of the materials. “We sent six ingots earlier, five of iron and one brass. There’s a lot of exposed ore down where the previous miners had left, so getting it out of the rock is easy. Once that vein is finished, it’ll take a lot more time to bring the raw ore up to the surface. Even though we don’t have too many miners, we’re working quickly.”

I gave the man a pat on the back and thanked him for the progress he was making. He seemed genuinely appreciative, though I didn’t know how loyal the AI would make him after only a few days of servitude.

Once Helvegen had the mine’s progress and resources catalogued, I turned our sights farther north. “Alright, we need to know exactly what’s out there. I have a rough idea of the landscape from watching streams and playing a little bit before the server crash, but almost anything could have changed. If we’re going to keep expanding Undercroft Citadel, we have to know what kind of territory surrounds us. Ready for a little exploring?”

Instead of the smile I expected, Helvegen looked a little worried. “You didn’t bring your armor,” she said.

I wrapped my fingers around Infernum’s hilt on my left hip. “We aren’t trying to fight anything today,” I explained. “We just need to do a little scouting. The moment we see something we can’t handle, we head back to the base. And besides, if I go down, you’re more than capable of running things on your own, right?”

Helvegen’s expression soured even more. “But—”

“Lighten up!” I interrupted with a laugh. “We aren’t going to fight. We’ll be fine. Come on, let’s go.”

Finally, the painter seemed to grasp exactly what it was we were setting out to do, though I did hear the mumblings of further protest under her breath.

It was kind of nice having someone who feared for my safety like Helvegen did. Even long before my wife died, no one had paid any attention to my wellbeing at all. All the focus had been on her—her treatments, her doctor visits, her medications—and rightfully so. If I had died in a car accident on my way to visit her, the focus still would have been on the next round of chemotherapy or the next surgery, not planning my funeral. After she had finally lost her battle, the general atmosphere hadn’t changed. For the most part, Ingrid had been too young to worry. On top of that, it wasn’t like working at the Ministry of Health was a particularly dangerous job. I wasn’t a police officer heading out on patrol or a relief worker bring supplies to any of the radiated zones.

Now I was the leader of a powerful dungeon, and I had people looking to me for direction every single day. If I died, there would be serious consequences. Knowing that Helvegen was worried about me venturing outside the walls without my armor brought a smile to my face.

We marched along in silence, neither of us keen on small talk, until we saw the first vestiges of something other than grassy plains. The land became much wetter beneath our feet, and large willow trees jutted up with increasing regularity.

A ways into the marshy trees, we saw a building. A tower rose above the willows, and it was flanked on either side by a long stone wall about eight feet high. It looked like the corner of a keep half submerged beneath the swamp. Judging by the amount of vines and creepers crawling up the sides, it hadn’t been maintained in years.

I batted away a mosquito trying to land on my arm. Undeterred, the insect flew around my head until I lost sight of it. I felt a sting on the back of my neck a few moments later and grimaced. I hated insects. Giant spider dungeon bosses were one thing, but natural insects that were nothing more than annoying always got on my nerves. Killing them didn’t even yield experience points.

Helvegen and I approached the tower head on, cautious but not overly concerned. All we could hear were the sounds of the marsh. When we were right up against it, I reached up to the bottom of a windowsill and started hauling myself out of the murky water. The tower and walls had sunk just low enough so that what had once been a high first-story window was now only a few inches above my head.

I pulled my head up the bottom of the arrow slit and peered inside. Everything was dark and musty. Without a torch, I couldn’t hope to see much beyond my own face. I drew Infernum as gingerly and quietly as I could and then held it up behind me, a little bit to the side so that it wouldn’t be in full view of the window. When I willed it to life, I was disappointed. The tower was abandoned. It held a crumbled assortment of stone and wood resting among at least a foot of smelly, fetid water. There were no windows on the other side of the wall to tell me what else might be there.

I dropped back down into the marsh with a splash. “Just old debris inside,” I said. “Let’s keep looking around.”

Helvegen had her paper out and was writing down the location of the ruined keep. When she finished, we began walking east next to the sunken wall toward the next tower.

About halfway to the northeast corner, I heard a voice. It sounded vaguely human, though I couldn’t tell for sure.

I held up a hand, though I hadn’t needed to—Helvegen stood as still as the wall, her eyes betraying a little bit of fear.

“We’re just looking, remember?” I whispered.

About thirty feet ahead was a fallen willow tree resting against the side of the wall. It extended far enough up the stones to serve as a decent ladder. I clambered up the wet, moss-covered tree and balanced at the top of the ruined wall.

In the small keep’s battered, debris-strewn courtyard sat a dozen or so human captives. Two of them were players with names floating above their heads: a level fifteen warrior and a level twelve wizard. Their hands were bound behind their backs, and they looked terrified. Off in one corner—what looked like it had been a stable at some point—was a heap of remains. Whatever captured the humans had been eating them.

I didn’t have to wait long to see what it was. A noisy band of orcs, each of them ponderously large at over seven feet tall and with sagging, unclothed bellies, marched in through what remained of the keep’s gate. They were cheering and waving weapons around above their heads like they had just come from a successful raid. The humans awaiting their deaths had probably lived in a nearby village, and the orcs had likely taken them the previous night. None of the captives looked like they had been beaten or otherwise physically harmed, leading me to think they had only just begun their ordeal.

As I watched from my position on the top of the sinking wall, one of the human captives noticed me. His eyes went wide, and I shook my head, holding a finger over my lips. Luckily, the prisoner didn’t make a noise. He looked a little relieved, and then he turned his head back toward the ground and pretended I wasn’t even there.

I dropped down from the wall with a splash. “A band of orcs with some prisoners,” I told Helvegen. “Maybe twenty orcs, probably ten humans left. Two of them are players.”

“What do you want to do?” the woman quietly asked.

I knew what she was thinking. I had told her we wouldn’t fight, and that was certainly my intention. Without my armor, it wasn’t worth the risk. One the other hand, rescuing the villagers could lead to a massive reward. If their homes were destroyed, I could offer each of them a place in Undercroft Citadel where they would have food, shelter, and a backbreaking job mining ore out of the ground. The players were both classes that would be useful as well. A warrior wasn’t terribly exciting, but a wizard would be more than useful for our ranks.

“We need more information,” Helvegen said after she had a moment to think it over.

I agreed. We didn’t know where the humans were from, how far away their homes were, or if there were any more left. For all we knew, we could charge in to save them only to be attacked from the rear as their own villagers came storming up from behind to take us unawares. Making matters worse was the issue of time. If we went back to the citadel to gear up and get more people, we ran the chance that the entire human group would be killed before we returned. The two players alone were a prize worth the risk of fighting.

“Come on, let’s find a better spot to watch things. If we go in, we’re not doing it blind,” I whispered.

Helvegen shook her head, but she followed me nonetheless. I led her along the wall to the next guard tower, one with a gaping hole where a catapult shot had torn through many years ago. The hole was large enough for us to slosh through, the water coming up over our boots and dripping nasty, foul-smelling slime down onto our toes.

From the inside of the northeast tower, we had two options. A partially disintegrated staircase went up to our right, and a short door missing most of its planks exited into the courtyard to our left. Without knowing where the stairs would lead, we didn’t have much of a choice. “Once we come out of the door, the orcs will see us. We won’t have much time,” I said quietly.

“Do you intend to fight them all?” Helvegen asked.

I had to stop and think before answering. Outside, a distinctly human scream cut through the buzzing sound of swamp insects. It carried on, wailing at full volume, until it abruptly stopped. “If we can save the two players, I don’t mind leaving the NPCs behind. But we could use the laborers for the mine. Our first priority should be killing every single orc.”

Helvegen nodded and took a few deep breaths. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Honestly, I didn’t feel ready. My arms and legs were still a little sore, and without my armor, I didn’t know what was going to happen. In my mind, I saw it playing out rather simply. I’d charge forward, cut down two or three of the lumbering orcs before they had the chance to fully react, and then Helvegen would cast a spell to make them see all sorts of armies and other monstrosities bearing down upon they. The orc tribe would turn tail and run, and we’d have a brand new wizard ready to serve Undercroft Citadel.

Of course, the way I saw it in my mind was far from how things began. I charge out of the ruined toward with a warcry, Helvegen close behind me, and sliced through the first orc’s midsections. Blood and fire flew everywhere. Orc innards splattered the ground, floating atop the swampy water like bits of morbid cereal in a bowl.

Chaos erupted everywhere. I pushed through the muck toward the next closest orc while simultaneously flinging my shadow pet at a third, buying myself enough room to properly maneuver Infernum before more of the grey-skinned beasts could figure out what was happening.

Two more orcs fell before me, and then I heard Helvegen shouting. I turned to see her, but she wasn’t yet engaged in melee.

“My magic doesn’t work on them!” she called to me.

I should have known the orcs wouldn’t care what the painter made them see. They were bloodthirsty brutes, only barely intelligent. That was going to be an issue.

The rest of the orc tribe had finally gotten their bearings. They ran toward me like giant bipedal animals, saliva running from their mouths and incoherent grunts rising up from between their stubby tusks. I cut down another, and then I had to backpedal. In the swampy, uneven marsh, I held every disadvantage. The orcs knew the land, and their footing never faltered. They had probably been born in the swamps, lived their entire lives there, and I had so little experience that I could barely hope to maintain my balance enough to stay on my feet.

Two heavy orc hands came rushing at my torso, one from either side. I slashed down on the first hand, severing it cleanly at the wrist, and the second caught me in the kidney. I flew sideways and lost my balance. Infernum sizzled as I dragged it through the water, desperately using it like a cane to keep from falling flat on my back.

My shadow pet drained another hit of my stamina, and i had to release it. I needed every ounce of energy I could muster if I was going to survive.

Looking for an answer, I summoned my character sheet to the bottom of my vision and quickly flipped through all of my talents. A huge grey foot stomped down toward my head. I activated Forsaken Barrier at the last possible moment, and the spell jolted me through space in the blink of an eye. The illusion it left behind was convincing. The big orc howled in victory when his foot smashed through an intangible skull, and then Infernum cleaved him apart at the shoulders.

A heavy club came rocketing in for my back. I could hear the speed of it cutting the air, and I knew that a single solid hit would probably be enough to lay me low. I still had enough endurance left to activate Forsaken Barrier at least one more time, but there were more than a dozen orcs left in the swamp. I couldn’t keep it up forever.

Then I saw my answer staring my in the face from my character sheet. The orcs were sheer physical, nothing but mindless brutes who knew how to brawl and could do little else. The simple fact that one of them had genuinely thought it had killed me when it had stomped through my illusion was testament to how little cunning the creatures possessed.

I planted my feet and activated Visage of the Dark One. Translucent black wings dripping ethereal magic sprouted from my shoulder blades, and a swirl of green magic suddenly danced in the air in front of me. I had no way of knowing for sure, but the heat around the front of my face gave me the impression that my eyes were glowing with power. “Stop!” I commanded, holding out a hand directly in front of the orc’s chest.

To my utter shock, the creature stopped moving. It stared dumbfounded, its mouth still open and its hands still wrapped around a primitive club.

The green magic surrounding my torso leapt outward and wove a delicate pattern through the remaining orcs, stupefying each one in turn. Their collective cunning score was so low that I had effectively ensnared each and every one of them in a mental trap from which they could not escape.

“Throw down your weapons!” I shouted.

At once, the grey-skinned orcs obeyed. They tossed their clubs and axes into the water at their feet without a single inkling of dissention.

I turned to Helvegen with a smile plastered across my face. “I think we just got ourselves a tribe of orcs,” I said.

Your Influence skill has increased to 26!

Looking back to the orc right in front of me, my magical wings still gently fluttering above the water, I issued another command. “Show me your leader!”

The orc obeyed, dipping its head and moving in front of a female orc. The tall creature was bedeckt in a leather skirt and matching vest, though the garments did little to conceal her impressive mass, nor did they look to be useful in combat. Various bones and other trinkets dangled from the female orc’s clothing, and they swayed back and forth as she moved, clicking into each other like a child’s noisemaker.

“You! Bow before me!” I bellowed.

Moving slowly like a landslide cascading into the swamp, the orc woman dropped down to her knees and bowed her head.

I had no idea if the orcs spoke any language or not. On the streams, orc encounters had always been rather one-sided, involving far more violence than diplomacy. Still, I had to try. "What is your name?" I demanded.

“Ugg’chugg,” the orc replied, her voice as slow and heavy as her movements.

“Ugg’chugg… you belong to me now. Do you understand? I am your new master!” I twirled Infernum at my side for a bit of theatrics. Behind the orc, the human prisoners had amassed into one thick knot of panic, pressed up as tightly against the fortress wall as possible.

The orc female looked defiant. “No one is chieftain except me!” she shouted. Her breath was putrid and hot on my face.

I waved her back with my sword. Even on her knees, the orc was still about an inch taller than me. “You will remain chieftain, Ugg’chugg, but I am your master. You obey my orders and help my people, or I’ll kill every single one of your tribe. Is that clear?”

The orc seemed to think it over for a moment, if indeed she was capable of such complex cognition, before lumbering back to her feet. I didn’t know if the orc standing once more meant she was about to attack me or pledge her loyalty. The situation felt like it could go either way.

Thankfully, Ugg’chugg didn’t reach down into the swamp to retrieve her war club. She slammed a meaty hand on my shoulder, nearly knocking me down in the process, and then offered a toothy, rotten grin. “If you and yours are killing humans, the mighty Half Goat clan has no problem serving a new master.”

The ‘Half Goat’ moniker sounded oddly familiar—maybe I had read about it on the forums or in a book, I couldn’t remember—though it didn’t matter in the end. The orcs would be a fine asset to Undercroft Citadel. I just didn’t want them living within the confines of the walls on account of the stench. I also wasn’t sure how much food they would need or what it would look like.

I returned the woman’s strong shoulder pat, stretching up on my toes in the muck to reach her, but I was still too short. All I managed to do was awkwardly grab at the top of Ugg’chugg’s vest. Thankfully, she got the idea. We had made a pact. “Let’s get these captives back to my necropolis. I’m eager to show you around and see where everyone will fit in.”

The orc’s toothy grin widened, and she finally reclaimed her crude weapon from the slime beneath the murky water. Before I could ask what she was doing, Ugg’chugg whirled on the tied captives and bashed the brains from the nearest one. The humans shrieked and tried to scramble away, but there was nowhere left for them to go.

At their chieftain’s command, the rest of the surviving orcs turned on their prisoners, smashing them to pieces with their clubs and axes.

I ran as fast as I could through the swampy muck for the wizard. He was the only one I cared to save. I reached him just a moment before one of the orcs, knocking aside a huge grey hand with the flat of my blade. The orc looked upset, but it soon found solace in the guts of another human captive, and it lost interest in the wizard altogether.

“Come with me if you want to live,” I told the player. The name floating above his head was Karlo. The man nodded, his eyes so wide they looked like they might fall out of his head, but he scrambled along as quickly as he could. I led him back to where Helvegen was waiting.

The screams began to dwindle as the human livestock was reduced to nothing more than butchered meat. Some of the orcs had already begun to indulge in their feast, not bothering to build another fire to cook the bloody body parts, and I had to turn away from the scene.

Helvegen took a knife from her belt and cut the man’s wrist ties. “We need to run!” Karlo said urgently. “We can escape while they’re busy… with my friends.” The horror in his eyes spoke volumes.

I shook my head. “We aren’t going to run,” I told him.

Karlo’s knees buckled, and he lost his balance. Helvegen lifted him roughly by the shoulders until he regained his footing.

“The orcs are mine,” I said flatly. “They’re going to serve me at Undercroft Citadel, and you are as well. Unless, of course, you’d rather join your fellow villagers over there being torn to bits and eaten. Your choice.”

The wizard’s eyes darted back and forth between me and the orc tribe. From the corner of my vision, I saw the man’s hands starting to move in a specific kind of pattern reminiscent of spell casting. I didn’t wait for him to finish whatever spell he was about to unleash. Without my armor, I couldn’t be sure that the spell wouldn’t kill me outright, so I swung Infernum as hard as I could for the wizard’s waist. My sword bit into the flesh of his thigh and then cleaved through the bone underneath, and the man’s spell died on his fingertips.

Karlo gurgled out a few incomprehensible last words as he died.

“So much for our wizard,” Helvegen said.

I shook the corpse off the end of my blade and turned back to watch the last of the slaughter. The orcs were making a sport of it, tossing a pair of the still-living humans back and forth and taking turns bashing them with their clubs. “They’ll make fine soldiers, but I don’t want them inside the walls ever,” I casually remarked. “If they get ahold of our zombies, they’d probably tear them to shreds. We can’t let them destroy everything we’ve worked so hard to build.”

“Where do want to keep them? I don’t know if orcs build towns and cities like humans. I don’t think so.” Helvegen looked mildly alarmed as she watched the last few prisoners expire, the final one pulled apart with an orc holding her legs and another holding her arms. A few months ago, the sight of such horror would have churned my stomach and forced me to look away. Now… I didn’t care. That was life. Well, it was death—and I was certainly no stranger to it.

“We’ll figure out what their chieftain needs to keep them happy and obedient, and then we can set them up with some land around the mine tracks coming into Undercroft Citadel,” I answered.

Helvegen liked the idea. “They can guard the shipments coming in,” she reasoned.

“Exactly. We’ll use them as a buffer outside the walls. And we only have NPCs working the tracks right now, so if one of them happen to go missing every now and then to sate an orc’s belly, I honestly don’t care. That’s the price we pay for protection. Also, make a note to have Xollmomath and Elyk test the brutes tomorrow. I need a clear picture of their combat capabilities. I know they’re strong, but the leader is a shaman as well. Hopefully they can fight.”

When the orcs were finished with their gruesome meal, I instructed their chieftain to gather whatever supplies they had and follow us back to the citadel. As it turned out, they didn’t own too many worldly possessions. The orc clan numbered seventeen after I had cut down a fair amount of them at the beginning of the battle. Their leader was a shaman, level twelve, and all the others had the rather generic raider class which meant they would have talents relating to pillaging, plundering, and otherwise sacking enemy developments. Combined with their brute strength and overwhelming size, the tribe was already more than powerful enough to raze a settlement the size of Riverside. When the final battle with Echelon came to fruition, letting the orcs loose in the middle of the town square was going to be a fun thing to watch. They’d bring terror and destruction no matter where I dropped them off.

Helvegen and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting the Half Goat clan settled into a spot about half way between Undercroft Citadel and the mine entrance. I had to tell them each more than once that they would incur my wrath if they went around eating the workers. The only thing the orcs seemed to respect was power, and Infernum certainly delivered that in spades. I used Visage of the Dark One again to ensure that my various rules about orc behavior had made an impact beyond their dense skulls before heading back to the necropolis and some much needed rest.

I climbed the stairs to my room and mentally commanded the lights to come on. Everything was bathed in a soft purple glow. I hung Infernum on the wall peg next to my legendary armor, and when I turned around, Helvegen was standing in the entryway looking sheepish.

“Hey, what’s up?” I said. I had expected her to be spending more time managing the rest of Undercroft Citadel in my stead, so I was surprised to see her. At least her lack of urgency told me that nothing was on fire and there was no army about to knock down our walls.

“Um,” she began, shifting from foot to foot.

I sat down on the edge of my bed, exhausted from the day’s work, and gave her a look that I thought prompted her to go on. When she still didn’t say anything, I stood up and walked over to her. “What’s on your mind?”

She paused again, then turned back toward the staircase. “Nothing, I just had some ideas for a few new buildings. I’ll tell you tomorrow. Good night!”

Helvegen scampered down the stairs and was out of sight, clearly embarrassed.

Whatever it was could clearly wait until the morning, and I just wanted to get some rest. I commanded the lights to dim so that they were barely visible and climbed under my sheets. Once the magical air conditioning was blowing a gentle breeze of chilled air, I fell asleep.

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Gravlox15

Bio: Professional fantasy author - Stuart Thaman - check out stuartthamanbooks.com for a free novel! Be sure to read the Killstreak series for some awesome epic fantasy LitRPG!

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