Dark green moss and vines cover the aged grey stones of the final ruin like mold growing on old bread. The massive pine branch growing over the top of the building’s front wall obscures the shadowy interior. I bring up one of my arms, stifling a yawn.
Weird, I guess the game interface doesn’t try to intercept helpful biological cues like a yawn. I have been playing for awhile now, I wonder how long I’ve been in here? I think back to the past few hours. The last several buildings had been a challenge, stuffed with all types of undead critters. Since fighting those two raccoons at once, I learned my lesson and only engaged one opponent at a time. Maybe it was the exhaustion, but I hadn’t come up with any new abilities.
I smile as I remember my liberal use of Two Handed Bash and Staff Quake. I might only be fighting corrupted forest creatures, and I really am not a violent person, but there was something satisfying about the kicking, bashing, and crushing. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the problem. Small thing is not bashed, needs bashing, I bash.
Eh, that’s enough ruminating, time to finish this collection of ruins. I’d love for Dan to see my progress. I won’t tell him that of course, but it would feel nice for someone to tell me good job for once. I think about the small bag hanging at my waist to bring up my inventory:
20 Essences of Undeath
5 Tattered Chipmunk Furs
7 Tattered Raccoon Pelts
8 Damaged Ferret Furs
The furs and pelts probably aren’t worth anything but it seems like these essences have to be useful for something.
I ready my staff and step through the pine curtain guarding the stone entryway. I blink repeatedly to get used to the decreased light. Once my eyes are adjusted I frown. There’s nothing here. I can’t hear any enemies moving around or smell the undead fur to which I’ve become accustomed.
Deeper into the enclosure I make out dark writing on the wall stones. What looks like an anatomy diagram surrounded by cramped, organized writing draws my eye. The writing is in a language I’ve never read before.
Ok, so this is the last building. There isn’t anything else to bash, and if I try to leave the clearing like Dan dared me to earlier, I’ll run into that transparent wall and fall on my tush again. I can’t remember anything interesting in the other buildings, and this is the only building so far with nothing to fight, so something else has to be going on.
I walk along the wall to my left and look for anything of note. My hand runs along the wall, the cold stones chilling my fingertips. There’s no moss on the inside, I wonder why. My foot kicks a hard object into the wall. I bend down and search in the pine straw until I grasp a smooth round object. I shuffle back towards the entrance where there’s better light. Gross, it’s a skull. I hope it was missing a nose cavity before I kicked it. I look at it closely and a message appears:
Skull of Devout Adept - 100% Full of Death
Full of death you say...I think about the Essence of Undeath in my bag and another prompt appears before me:
Endow the skull with 20 Essences of Undeath?
Sure, why not? The skull glows, uncovering intricate diagrams on the rough cut walls above a trail of bones intermixed in the leaves and pine cones below me. The glow illuminates a drawing of men kneeling around a large human figure. Some of the figures are kneeling, a religious ritual? I try to peer closer but jump in surprise instead, throwing the skull into the wall next to me.
“Good Evening! Easy on the throwing the old bone into hard stone. As you can see, I don’t have any arms to rub my wounds. Oh great, no nose cavity, what kind of skull am I now? At least my jaw works I suppose.” The glowing skull rests face up at the bottom of the wall, its jaw bone moves back and forth. It opens wide in what I suspect is a yawn.
“Ahhh, I’m quite famished. Would you mind if I took a quick nibble? I have the strangest urge for some live meat. Quickly now, lie down and place your neck here in my jaw, gently, though, I’m delicate. Anytime now, no rest for the wicked and all that.” What to say to a cannibal skull...Is an already dead human powered by magical means technically a cannibal? Is there an opposite of being a cannibal, dead human eating live human?
“Hmm, I’m guessing that’s a no then? What a shame. Do you humans speak in this age? I imagine I’ve been out for some time. I’d start flailing and signing and doing all that but again, lacking in arms.” His skull shakes a bit as his jaw keeps working at a rapid clip.
“Looks like the Gods blessed us with voluptuous giantesses, after all, I’ll have to congratulate Archie on managing to request his Miracle before mine ended his first life...that’s if I ever see his old bones. I bet he won’t return the respect. Scratch that, no congratulations. You there giantess, do you speak?”
“I’m not a giantess...well, maybe I am. But be nice, I have a gigantic skull crusher right here and I’m having a lot of fun using it. What’s this miracle?”
“Oh, you don’t know about boons and miracles from the Gods? Well take a seat and I’ll explain. In Incrementum, if you want to do something extraordinary, you need the help of the gods. The way this works...”
I reach down, pick up the skull and shake it.
“That’s enough of that Bonesy. I’ve already had one person try to bore me with game mechanics today.”
“Game mechanics? I’m not talking about a game giantess. I’m speaking of the Gods and you would do well to take them seriously.”
“Game mechanics are how this game works...Oh, never mind. Just tell me how to get out of here, I’m tired of these ruins.”
“Ruins?” If a skull could look affronted I guess this is what it would look like. “The place is a bit rundown I’ll admit, but this was a pre-eminent center of study in my day. I paid plenty of workers to build this with their own two hands. Why don’t you just walk out of here? And take a handsome skull souvenir. Well, I guess you might have to get through Archie first. He doesn’t look too happy.”
What? A giant, complete skeleton, stands in front of the door, where did he come from? The pine branch above us obscures half of the skeleton’s basketball sized skull. Archie holds a large club with a big knot at its end and a small shield in his other hand.
“You see, Archie was always a bit of a large, devout chap. He devoted all his efforts to Vitalia, Goddess of Life. He was a right pain in the arse, always preaching principles of service and self-sacrifice. ‘You can’t sacrifice this whole town for your own eternal life, that’s evil. Turn away from Decrepit, join me in the light and serve Vitalia.’ he said to me! Can you imagine? The nerve, as if I would sacrifice all my boons and faith at such a late point in my life.”
“When he finally revealed to me the miracle he planned on requesting with his dying breath, it all made sense. Archie needed a giantess of his same size. Anyway, I beat him to the punch. My miracle may have taken his life and the rest of the town’s, but it was obviously worth it. See how I’m still alive even in death? High five. Right, no hands.” I’m not sure how he’s doing it, being just a skull, but he manages to give a very smug look.
“So you killed him in order to power your own afterlife? Why shouldn’t I just roll you over to him right now so he can pound your skull in?” I ask.
“Self-interest of course. Roll me over and he pounds my skull, but then he pounds yours too. Keep me around and I might just tell you where you can find the town’s hidden wealth.”
A notification appears:
Undead Friend or Foe - Part 1
Allow Archie his revenge by rolling the undead scholar’s skull over to his feet, or not?Friend Reward:Unknown treasure.
Foe Reward:A menacing glare before Bonesy is bashed.
I am going to try to bash Archie anyway, might as well maybe get some treasure out of the deal. Unless...“Archie, do you know what Bonesy here is talking about? Is there really town treasure or is he lying?” Archie’s bends his knees so his head comes out of the branch.
“He’s lying. My name is Archibold. Pleased to meet you. If you could roll Decaide’s skull over here I’ll take care of his lying once and for all. I have no desire to fight you unless you ally with that abhorrent beast. Then I will have to strike you both down to prevent the rest of the world from being corrupted as I have.”
“So, you’re just offering to not hit me? I appreciate that of course but I don’t know which of you is really the liar, and I just met you...so you can see how this might be a tough decision for me...”
“Well, I could introduce you to my patron god, Vitalia, you would likely receive some extra faith, maybe even a bonus boon.” After Archie’s offer, my quest description updates:
Undead Friend or Foe - Part 1
Allow Archie his revenge by rolling the undead scholar’s skull over to his feet, or not?Friend Reward:Unknown treasure
Foe Reward:Introduction to Vitalia resulting in faith points and boon for no cost.
That’s more like it.
“That sounds like a good deal Archie, but I want the introduction before you get Bonesy. I have no assurances that you will follow through on your part of the deal. You look awfully suspicious, being a giant skeleton and all. Will that work for you?”
I cross my fingers and hope for the best. Archie raises his left hand, scratches the side of his nose and then shrugs.
“This is fair. But be warned, if you do not follow through and deliver the monster’s skull I will be forced to destroy you and then denounce your name to Vitalia. Vitalia, your servant Archibold seeks an audience.”
The abandoned room brightens. I look all around at the walls but don’t see a god.
“Yes, my child?” A disembodied voice seems to fill the room. Warm breath heats my neck followed by a faint humming as if I’m being rocked to sleep by my own mother. There’s nothing behind me.
Archibold keeps talking, now down on one knee. “Mother of Life, the source of all light, I would like to commend to you my newest acolyte. She has proven to be a true friend to life, deciding to relinquish the remains of the heathen Decaide if she might know your blessings. Can you find it in your heart to allow her access to one of your boons, so that she may continue to bring light to this dark world?”
“Are you sure my son? Her motives are not pure.”
“I do not see another way, mother. Either I must attack her to gain Decaide’s skull, which I am loathed to do, or persuade her with your favor.”
“Only for you would I grant this request, may it deliver you what you seek.”
With that, the room darkens and the warming presence leaves us. I see a notification in the top right of my vision but don’t focus on it yet, just soaking up the last remains of Vitalia’s aura.
This game interface is amazing. That must be what it felt like to have a mother hold you and say everything will be alright while humming sweet nothings. Mine generally said everything will be alright as long as I continued to excel at my studies, pushing me to graduate college several years before normal people, but hey I’m not bitter, much. Ugh, I want Vitalia to come back! Before I embark on the next leg of my plan I look at the notification.
Vitalia has decided to offer you a Neophyte level Boon and an additional you two Faith Points.
You may request her presence to negotiate your Boon at your leisure.
This must be the Boon system Dan and Bonesy tried to explain. Eh, I can always research it later. I tuck Bonesy into the sack at my waist and grin as I call out to Archie, “That was great Archie, thank you! Unfortunately, the Great Mother has inspired me to protect all my children. Bonesy, you’re staying with me.”
I dash out of the crumbling doorway so I don’t have to fight with a two-meter-plus long staff in a confined space.
“Treachery! I should have listened to the Blessed Vitalia in her eternal wisdom. I will whip myself properly after I punish you for your transgression and ground Decaide’s skull into dust!”
Two more stones hit the ground as Archie busts out of the building, clipping both shoulders in his headlong charge. I brace both feet at shoulder width and hold my staff in front of me in a neutral stance, ready to block his first attack and perform Joint Breaker quickly after. If things go as I think they should, this will be a tough fight but it shouldn’t be that bad.
Archie reaches me, raises his club above his head and slams it down, crashing it into my staff and driving my own weapon right into my nose. A quarter of my health bar disappears immediately. I step back repeatedly to get some distance from Archie so I can reset myself.
Blood runs over my lips. Ugh, so gross. Archie charges again, faster than I can backpedal. I do the reasonable thing and run away. I’m weaving between buildings, with Archie starting to drop farther behind me, but I’m getting tired. Crap, I must be low on stamina; I won’t even be able to break one of his joints at this rate.
As I run past the northeast corner of the next building, I take a hard left, but instead of continuing to run, I stop, grab my staff with both hands on one end, and crouch down. Archie isn’t far behind so I don’t have much time to wind up. He takes the turn. I swing with both arms at level with his knees. My staff shakes like a rung bell in my hands and Archie topples onto the ground.
I step over to hit him in the head while he is down, but from his prone position Archie kicks my leg causing me to fall over too. I land on my back beside Archie and start to sit up, but he brings his club down on my face. My head hits the ground and before I can react Archibold hits me with his club again. My health is down to three-quarters empty. The last thing I see is his club coming down on my face. I should have kept up my end of the deal and handed over Bonesy after all.