Ch070-Friends, Enemies, And The Rest
The notifications stopped showing up after a certain point. Sylver initially assumed there was a distance limitation, but even when he made the harpies let a few through to get closer to him, he still didn’t get a notification for defeating the proto zombies.
And it took him an embarrassingly long while to figure out why.
It was because he had already killed them. As a necromancer, a person who specializes in working with the dead, Sylver should have realized this much much sooner.
On the one hand, Sylver gained a newfound respect for his invisible, possibly automated, opponent. One of the most powerful features of undead was the sheer amount of damage they could take and still keep moving. Shambling armies of undead weren’t shambling for the fun of it. They very often missed a step and broke their feet off, and ended up walking on their shin bones, their feet left behind them, to be trampled into the ground, never to be seen again.
Undead made from fresh corpses were great, they didn’t need a whole lot of guidance when it came to marching or fighting. Undead made from skeletons and, what could only be described as remains, needed more concentration and effort than they were usually worth.
The rare times that Sylver created a zombie army for himself, he ended up having to discard nearly a fifth of it by the time they arrived at their destination. Mostly because he had to take them apart for parts to make sure the remaining four-fifths were in fighting condition. It was slow and tedious work, and only hardened Sylver’s stance that shades were the most superior form of undead.
On the other hand, as a person having to deal with such a resourceful necromancer, it was infuriatingly annoying.
Thankfully with Sabo and the harpies handling everything, Sylver didn’t even have to look at the recycled proto zombies, much less kill them himself.
Sylver leaned down to look at the thrice dead proto zombie. They died once when they were alive. Then again when Sylver killed them when they were proto zombies. And a third, or possibly fourth, time now.
Except Sylver didn’t kill this one. And neither did Sabo or the harpies, someone had frozen and shattered them.
Recently enough that they were still partially frozen.
“There is a direct and physical path to this item, at least at the moment,” Sylver quoted, as he stood back up from his examination and looked ahead.
“Lola did say there were only a few bodies found, and that a huge portion of the force was missing. Doesn’t mean they all died,” Spring said, as the harpies returned from scouting ahead and sat perched on Sabo’s bulky shoulders.
Sylver consulted the map again and approached the wall that wasn’t supposed to be there. To no one’s surprise, his hand passed through the false image and he very easily stepped through it. The room hidden behind the wall had a single door on the other side of it.
There was something written on it, but the only thing Sylver could focus on at the moment was the fact that the door was wide open, and the singular chest behind it was open and visibly empty.
“Knowing the demon, quite literally the minute it said, “at the moment” someone’s hand was already touching the [Dead Man’s Last Stand],” Sylver said, as he turned into smoke and made sure the chest was empty.
“You’re handling this uncharacteristically well,” Spring mentioned with a very careful casualness so as not to accidentally tip whatever was keeping Sylver so calm.
“Not my first time getting fucked over by a demon… But this is good,” Sylver said, as he walked out of the false wall and started to walk down the corridor again, leaving the fake wall and door behind.
“How is this good?” Spring asked with genuine curiosity.
“It’s a sign that Poppy’s effect wore off. Or it doesn’t reach this far down, or that Nameless and company are far enough away that I’m no longer affected by it. And quite honestly, I was expecting this. And because we don’t have a whole lot of choice but continue going down the corridors and get to the end of the crypt, there’s still a chance whoever took the [Dead Man’s Last Stand] might still be here,” Sylver said, as he ran his hand down the side of his cloaks cuff.
It was the closest thing he had to a nervous tick. Even if he was furious, and not nervous. Sadly Sylver was all too aware that nothing would be achieved by getting angry.
“I see…” Spring said as he followed after. The shade knew the man was lying. He was too close to him to not feel the bottled-up bubbling rage, but at the same time understood that if he chose to pretend everything was alright, he would pretend along with him.
Sylver and Spring walked in silence for a while.
They passed frozen corpse after frozen corpse, each one appearing to be slightly more freshly killed than the ones before. Sylver was moving without anything getting in his way, whoever came through here appeared to have had to fight their way through.
Although the question did arise, why did they bother? Sylver was planning to just walk on the ceiling to avoid them, the only thing these zombies could do was throw their swords at him, and they never even did that.
Creating a creature that can use ranged attacks is significantly harder than creating one that can use melee. Even naturally created undead very rarely used ranged attacks. It required too many moving pieces, too much functioning grey matter, just using a melee weapon and putting everything into speed and strength was much easier, and more effective.
This of course made opponents that focused on ranged attacks nearly impossible to deal with, but that’s where the numerical advantage came in. Take whatever damage is dealt, and simply swarm them, like ants.
Not to mention, creating an undead that can accurately aim is a massive undertaking. Although the necromancer who had created this crypt had managed to create Sabo and the harpies, so perhaps the purpose of the proto zombies spread out throughout the corridors wasn’t to kill but slow down?
After a certain point, Sylver stopped reforming into a physical form and simply floated up near the ceiling at a comfortable pace. He was slightly faster than if he were walking or running, but this was mainly because the ceiling was wonderfully flat and polished, and Sylver essentially glided against it.
More and more dead zombie corpses showed up, and when Sylver’s path went left, courtesy of the path right being blocked by a giant wall of darkness, changed from their usual frozen and shattered shape into shredded and demolished chunks. Sylver briefly examined them as well, but couldn’t quite put his finger on what would have created such damage. It appeared both blunt and sharp, possibly an ax, or a mace, or a morning star.
But more importantly, all the zombie blood on the floor gave Sylver a bit more hope. There were footprints in some of it, 4 different people as far as Sylver could tell. Sylver regretted his lack of knowledge in the subject, given how rare it was for anyone he was tracking to ever leave footprints.
But he knew enough to say with certainty that at least 4 people passed through here. With the high likelihood of teleportation or someone floating or flying, Sylver wasn’t able to say with certainty how many there were exactly, only that there were at least 4 that had to walk through the blood-filled corridor.
Sylver stood still and stared directly at the wall. The bricks were made of that same, oddly smooth, dark stone, had the same pattern like carving in them, and even the mana looked and felt the same as the bricks under Sylver’s feet.
And yet he could put his hand through it as if they weren’t there. More than that, the shades couldn’t tell it wasn’t a wall. When Spring materialized and tried to push his hand through as Sylver had done, he was touching a solid wall. The harpies had no issue passing through it, and neither did Sabo. The wall didn’t exist for them, but it did for Spring and the other 50 or so shades.
Sylver thought about it for a few seconds, and very carefully pushed his face through the wall that wasn’t a wall.
The hidden room was identical to the one Sylver had been in previously, down to the propped open and empty chest, and the wide-open door. Being slightly more genuinely relaxed and accepting of the situation, Sylver turned into smoke and traveled to look at the writing on the door.
There were three lines etched onto the outside, each one with a different number of characters and length, and two characters at the very bottom that matched the ones above but looked new. Sylver gently placed his hand against the door and sent a pulse of mana through it.
He felt some of the mana return, felt the door, the surprisingly simple locking mechanism inside of it, the sheet of metal used for the carved in letters, and lastly a wire, for lack of a better word, stretching so far away that Sylver waited for an entire minute, but didn’t feel a response from the mana traveling down it.
Repeating this a few more times Sylver remembered where he had seen this before. He groaned as he stood up properly and started to write down all the characters he could see.
“This is a challenge crypt. It all makes sense, the weak zombies littering the corridors, the fact that the fights have been largely one on one, or at least evenish, the question marks and appraisal being useless…” Sylver said, almost biting the end of his pencil as he stared at the characters in his notebook and tried to tie meaning to them.
“A challenge crypt?” Spring asked, checking inside of the chest just to be sure.
It was empty.
“They’re usually built when the deceased doesn’t have any next of kin. Tribe leaders, sorcerers, kings, queens, basically anyone who has something that other people would want after their death but doesn’t want to just give it to them. The whole thing is built to test the person entering it, to see if they’re deserving of whatever is at the end of it. It’s good because that means that there won’t be anything objectively impassable… Probably,” Sylver said, rewriting the characters and sorting them by the number of strokes, and then by complexity.
“But?” Spring asked.
“But the problem is that they’re built with someone in mind. A prophecy, a specific set of skills, a certain outlook on life, it can be anything. You either need to be strong enough to force your way through it or be the correct person for it. There are ways to trick it, if you can guess what the owner of the crypt is after, but…” Sylver explained, looking down at the square-looking characters spread out all over his page.
“But you can’t understand what’s written here, so you can’t even begin to guess,” Spring finished, as he took Sylver’s closed notebook and tucked it away.
“It doesn’t look local. But I’m not getting an earth feeling from these either, could be one of the elf heroes. Not a dwarf, they hate necromancy too much, so either elf, gnome, or something else. All the ‘half shades’ used bladed weapons instead of blunt ones, so a race without easy access to healing magic. Or a naturally fast regeneration, they usually use the weapons they’re most afraid of,” Sylver thought out loud, looking down into the spike-filled trap near the door entrance, as well as the flat stone block up above it.
“My money is on human; I’ve never seen elves use traps without any mana in them. Then again, this is exactly the kind of thing gnomes would do, make the challenger think the whole thing was built by humans or some other race, to trick them into being unprepared later on,” Sylver said, slowly looking around and trying to think if the architecture had any awkwardness around it.
Every race had small unsaid rules when it came to their architecture, that didn’t translate onto paper. Meaning an elf had no issue telling a genuine elven wall apart from a perfect fake, but couldn’t explain why the nearly identical copy was fake.
It just felt wrong.
Sylver had the same feeling here, although he didn’t even know which architecture, he was comparing it to, for it to feel wrong to him. There was simply something off about it.
He ultimately decided that it didn’t particularly matter. Knowing which race had built it wouldn’t help him in any way, considering he couldn’t read a single word of their language.
One positive thing about these proto zombies was the fact that they were predictable. All zombies were, to an extent. Natural zombies were a completely separate matter, but zombies created through necromancy had a limited amount of information they could handle.
Some subsects of necromancy had an eerie similarity to the magic alchemists used to animate their golems. The main difference being that golems functioned solely off the mana provided by their creator, while zombies could be made to be self-contained systems.
But the issue with them being self-contained, usually meant that it was difficult to control them directly. Golems didn’t need any instructions, they functioned off their creator’s mana, and would do whatever their creators intended for them to do. Zombies on the other hand had to be told. Very often, well in advance.
Sylver got around it in the same way he had with his shades, by making their priority be always checking to see if they got any new orders. In the past Sylver would twitch his fingers in a certain manner, to get a specific shade to listen to him, but now he had Spring directing the majority of them.
He still sometimes gave them manual orders, but with Spring’s direct connection to Sylver’s soul and thoughts, and the unexpected usefulness of [Dead’s Dogma], Sylver very rarely had to do more than snap his fingers, or mutter under his breath.
But zombies didn’t have a direct connection to their creator, they had a set of instructions. Sylver guessed that the creator was using something in their surroundings to give them the appearance of unpredictability, to make sure they didn’t all swing their swords in the same manner.
Sylver liked tying his zombie’s attacks to how many steps they had taken, but quite honestly had never tried very hard to make their instructions any more complex than that. There was simply no point, shades were better in every single way imaginable, 99% of the time. And when it came to making armies, Sylver usually had commanders in charge of the mindless undead, handing out orders on the fly and matching their attacks to the situation at hand.
Sylver continued to lazily drift up against the ceiling. Faster than he would travel if running, but slower than traveling while inside of Ulvic. Sadly, with the potential of magic traps catching him off guard, that wasn’t an option. He didn’t think there weren’t any left in the chaos left behind by the people ahead of him but didn’t dare to risk it.
It was one thing if he could see a trap coming, he could arrange the smoke so he effectively dodged out of the way, but he was one hit from his heart being separated from his body. The connection between the smoke clouds could be minuscule. If it was needed, Sylver could make himself as thin as a human hair if he concentrated on it, but the issue with that was that if the hair is cut, whatever half doesn’t have Sylver’s core, is effectively severed from Sylver’s body.
If the smoke is cut using holy magic or silver the separation would be quite permanent. In the same way, Sylver’s attacks couldn’t be healed without a great deal of time, mana, and effort, any attack made on Sylver with silver, could take weeks, even months, to fully heal.
Sylver’s path through the crypt was fairly straightforward. Whenever he came to an intersection, one path was always sealed off behind a giant flat wall of darkness, and the other was wide open, inviting even. Sometimes the corridor was angled upwards, sometimes downwards, mostly left, and very rarely right, but throughout it all, he was constantly moving towards the same general area.
In some sections, proto zombies were standing around, waiting for him. But even after getting Sabo and the harpies to kill some of them, he still wasn’t getting any experience and didn’t want to bother. Sabo was big enough, and strong enough, that he didn’t need to fight the slow-moving zombies, he barrelled right through them, shoving them off to the side.
None of them died, of course, their skin might have rotted and fallen off, but their bones were much stronger than a normal person. But by the time they managed to get back up, Sylver, Sabo, and the harpies were long gone.
Sylver stopped twice to eat and have something close to a nap, while Spring kept a lookout and directed Sabo and the harpies to handle any proto zombies that got too close. Oddly enough they didn’t seem all that interested in coming over to where he was resting, Sylver’s best guess was that they had orders to stick to their territory.
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