All right, as much as I was focusing on seeing the Bonelock soon, I couldn’t hold myself back from inspecting the Faith thing I’d unlocked. As we rode on skeletal horseback, I opened up my [Status] screen. There it was—a small, glowing square spelling Faith. I clicked on it.
You have devoted your soul to the Faith of the Bone Goddess. All beings must one day return to the earth from whence they came, whether in a decade or several thousand decades. Time catches up with us all. And on that day, you, like all before you, will turn into bones. You will lose your hope, your dreams, your very soul. All that will remain is a void, and only the light of the Bone Goddess will show you your place.
[Talent Classes Available]
A practitioner of one of the Dark Arts, Reapers hate you. And Satan. And anyone else involved with the Afterlife. And funerary business scams. Your sole purpose in life is to make all their jobs harder by bringing the dead temporarily back to life. Needless to say, you can work Death Magic easier than you can breathe.
Look, the only thing separating you from a vampire is that you don’t need blood. If you go out into the sunlight, you burst into flames because crypts never get any sun. Wear cravats, balaclavas, and a cloak. Thankfully, all your mob friends are cool with it, so you get a pass.
You are the antsiest being in existence. You go everywhere you can, collecting the dead and depositing them into the Afterlife. You can’t settle. Ever. It’s anathema to your existence. If you ever break the record and do manage to retire from reaper-hood, let the authorities know. Someone will send your successor to collect your soul.
[Select a Talent]
- Deadsworn: [Every death in the Vicinity of 10m will now make you stronger for 10 seconds.]
- 10% Bonus to Attack upon nearby death
- 10% Bonus to Defence upon nearby death
- 10% Bonus to Health upon nearby death
- 10% Bonus to Stamina upon nearby death
- 10% Bonus to Speed upon nearby death
- Increases susceptibility to Debuffs and Status Conditions
- Mancery of Decay: [Spread the Flame of Rot from your faintest touch.]
- Damage [DMG]: [x1/4 to Weapon Damage] + [20 Dark Damage] applied every 5 seconds
- Duration: 25 seconds
- Stamina cost: 75
- Rallying Call: [The crypt is no bar to its Lord’s call.]
- 50% Bonus to Morale
- 50% Bonus to Regeneration
- 25% Bonus to all friendly Mob Stats
- Bonus to Buffs
- Stamina cost: 90
- Internment: [Always bury your friends, always bury your enemies alive.]
- Damage [DMG]: [x3 to Attack] + [75 Dark Damage] + [75 Earth Damage]
- Inflicts Rooted
- Stamina cost: 50
- Reaper’s Gale: [Death is often calm and peaceful, but sometimes, it’s a violent storm.]
- Damage [DMG]: [x5 to Attack] + [250 Dark Damage]
- Vicinity Effect: 5m
- Stamina cost: 85
- Soul Seal: [Every blow you inflict weakens the enemy a little more.]
- Minor Bonus to applying random Debuff with every hit on the same enemy
- Damage [DMG]: +20 Attack with every hit on the same enemy
Okay, that was interesting. Very interesting. Enough to make me forget I was on horseback and that I needed to keep an eye on where I was headed, otherwise the Skeleton horse was liable to plunge me into a lake. I looked around and made sure I wasn’t too far from Levy and Cathy on the road. With a glorious hiya, I whipped the reins and brought my mount closer to theirs. There. Now I had room to think and focus on more interesting things.
Okay, all those Talents were excellent. Good enough that I wanted them all in my arsenal. After all, who wouldn’t want all those Bonuses from [Deadsworn] or destroying a ton of enemies in one blow with [Reaper’s Gale]? But I had to think about it more logically. Things were coming to a head. A warlike head. And what happened in wars? Pitched battles where many died, where it wasn’t individuals who fought so much as different sides. And I knew there was only one ability that was going to help me win this conflict.
Pixie had said something about this Faith being related to Hell. Or at least, I was pretty sure she’d said something like that. I had no idea how exactly, but I wasn’t too worried. The Talents were too good to pass up.
You’ve learned the [Crypt Lord] Talent: [Rallying Call]. Got strong lungs? Well, don’t we have the perfect job for you. From now on, you’re going to be screaming into the void about how everyone needs to come to your level and be all entitled and arrogant about it.
50% Bonus to Morale
50% Bonus to Regeneration
25% Bonus to all friendly Mob Stats
Bonus to Buffs
Stamina cost: 90
I didn’t feel any different. No rush of power or clarity in the head. Not much difference from before. But I did feel good about the possibility of better prospects for things to come. Maybe the Orcs and the Jotun together would be a frightening prospect to take, but this small Talent was another little boost for us.
We made good time to the Bonelock. I had vital information to share. Not just the fact the Orcs and the Jotun were working together against the Skeletons, but that I was willing to help however I could. I actually felt confident about doing so. My abilities from the scythe and my Faith buoyed me with new confidence. I could take on the whole word! Okay, that was getting ahead of myself a bit, but I was stronger than before now. I could make a real difference in the battles to come.
Rib Hold was an unusual hive of activity this time around. The normally dim light had brightened so that the Skeletons were running all around the place, conferring with each other until a single representative headed upstairs. The higher floors were still sunk in the unnatural gloom, though.
The guards at the gate tried to stop us, but then they saw Cathy’s face and hastily stepped away. Our entrance caused quite a stir. Most of the clattering Skeletons stopped whatever they were doing and stared at us unabashedly like we were an alien circus act. Well, we were a bit out of place. The Skeletons were all arrayed for war. I caught armour on them all, along with a variety of weapons—from simple bows and arrows to large axes that would make an Orc jealous and whips that looked like they’d been stolen from extreme-BDSM dungeons. In fact, our entrance was like the beginning of a dark joke. A Crypt Lord, a priestess, and a renegade Skeleton walked into a castle…
“Call the Mistress,” Cathy said to the Skeleton at the foot of the main staircase.
“Ma’am, the Mistress is busy—”
“This is more urgent than anything, Sutter. Go call her. Now.”
The force in her voice made the Skeleton baulk. Hell, it made me and Levy stare at her too. She was normally so mild-mannered. Sutter nodded and then bolted up the stairs.
It didn’t take long for him to clatter downstairs again. “She’s coming. She’s not happy at the interruption—”
“Oh she’s going to be a lot unhappier soon enough,” Levy said. He sounded quite happy about that observation.
Sutter swallowed so that his spine bobbed.
The Bonelock made her appearance moments later. She definitely looked a bit harried. Her dark, velvety cloak was a little shabby and her hair had lost some of its lustre. But her horns gleamed bright as ever, just like the light in her eyes.
“Do you realize you’re interrupting at the very last time you should be?” she asked. Damn, even her voice was a bit strained. Were things going worse than I’d assumed?
“Apologies Mistress,” Cathy said. “But the ritual was a success and we met with the Bone goddess as you requested. She had words for us, and I believed their urgency supersedes anything else going on.”
“The Orcs are holding themselves back because they are expecting reinforcements. Not just Orc reinforcements, Jotun reinforcements too.”
The hall had gone silent at the Bonelock’s arrival, but now a low murmur went through the crowd of gathered Skeletons. I looked around us. They were all scared. I could almost sense the disquiet coming off them like waves of heat off an oven.
“Quiet,” the Bonelock said. She didn’t have to raise her voice. The Skeletons shut up at once. “Tell me everything the Bone Goddess said.”
Cathy reported everything word for word. Literally. She was really good at remembering, saying things I’d forgotten but belatedly recalled when Cathy brought them up. Including the fact that I was very likely responsible.
The Bonelock was glaring at me. Sure, it wasn’t like her permanently affixed brows could sink into a frown, but the light in her orbits had an antagonistic cast to them. “Is this all true?”
I stepped forward and nodded. “It was a mistake, for which I apologize. I didn’t realize the Orcs would take it this far. But I’m willing to help, however I can.”
“And what am I supposed to do with a new Afterlifer who barely knows the ins and outs of the world he inhabits?”
I told her about my new abilities, which Cathy hadn’t mentioned yet. “I can help. It looks like I’m connected to Hell the same way you are, so we have that in common. It’s true, isn’t it? You’re pulling power from Hell to run your miniature system.”
“And what if I am?”
I stared around at the other Skeletons. They were all quiet, all frozen to their spots. Damn it, why couldn’t these Skeletons as expressive as the ones back at the Ruins. “Does everyone under that system know?”
“They know what they need to know,” the Bonelock said. “If you think I’m going to let any creatures from Hell come here and take over simply because I use a similar power that they’re used to, then you’re sorely mistaken. My system has stood for centuries. What makes you think there might be any trouble now?” She shook her head as though to forestall me from answering. “We have drifted from the topic at hand. You were speaking of Orcs and Jotun, yes?”
I sighed. Answers weren’t forthcoming right this instant, and she had a point. We needed to act. Fast. “I want to help. What’s the current status of the Orcs? Tell me where the Skeletons need assistance and I can go over there.”
The Bonelock surveyed us all. Her eyes settled on Levy. “Are you willing to help too, son?”
“Why else would I be here?” Levy asked.
“To see your mother?”
Levy snorted, jaws clacking together like clattering marbles. “How can we help, mother?”
The Bonelock gestured at one of the Skeletons in the crowd around us. He stepped forward. Clearly, this guy was a leader of leaders, like the Field Marshal or whatever the equivalent was in Spinal Glade. He wore regal armour with with enamel sections and a long cape of ermine flowed from his back.
He bowed at the Bonelock. “My report, information valid as of two hours ago. The Orcs have managed to set up a large perimeter, but their staked-in position is several leagues from the edge of Spinal Glade. We have intel that they have spread out their lines so we cannot get past them to attack their supply lines easily. Furthermore, we’ve had scouts report that they’re bringing in artillery and heavy infantry forces. Since we’ve arrayed most of our forces behind our defences, further skirmishes have yielded few results. We still outnumber the enemy but the Orcs’ numbers are growing by the hour. Our advantages are dwindling.”
Okay, wow. I knew I’d caused a bad conflict but this sounded like full-on warfare. Artillery? Heavy infantry? I tried to wrap my mind around that, pictures of armoured pikemen standing before a barbarian charge revolving in my head. Damn it. I shook my head. No point working myself up without even seeing anything in the first place.
“In other words,” the Bonelock said. “We need to strike hard, strike fast, and strike first.”
“Then prepare the forces, Esteban. Move the entire defensive contingent closer to the frontlines, then take a chunk big enough to bore a hole through the Orcs. We cannot let them settle in and wait for their Jotun friends to join.” Her voice turned vicious. “We will take over the Orc camps and when the Jotun arrive, expecting a warm welcome, we’ll surprise them with a massacre. Leave no one alive. Understood?”
Esteban bowed again. “If I may make a suggestion, Mistress?”
“What else do I pay you for?”
Esteban was smart enough to not reply directly. “The Orcs may decide our defences are weakened when they see how many we bring to kill them, and a section might retaliate against the Glade itself. While I have complete faith that the defenders not accompanying the foray are fully capable of repelling an assault, I humbly request that you stand with the defenders to prevent anything untoward from happening.”
We all looked at him. Man had some balls to ask the Bonelock to defend her home personally.
Apparently, the Bonelock didn’t mind. “Naturally.”
Esteban looked a little surprised, just like the rest of us.
“Isn’t that playing your hand a little early?” I asked.
“Who said I was going to fight? Moral support plays a much larger role in conflicts than most give credit for. Break your enemy’s morale, and you will win without needing to massacre everyone in brutal effort. Conversely, reinforce your allies’ morale, and your victory will require less effort.”
Morale. Hmm. I’d never seen anything of Morale before except for that one mention in one of my abilities. A Talent offered by my Faith, the one I’d finally accepted so that I could help them all achieve victory. I smiled. Looked like I’d made the right decision after all.
The Bonelock descended along the staircase until she was halfway down. She stopped at the landing, the shadows from the higher floor trailing her like an umbral cloak. Now that she was a little closer, I could see her granite-grey face looked pitted and worn. Tired.
“Theo,” she said. “For you and your little party, I have a special task.”
I nodded. “What is it?”
“While the drawn lines seem simple and straightforward, there are actually several hidden passages and entryways to and from Spinal Glade and into the exterior world. You’ve already explored one of these—the Salt Mines of Meztiz. But there are others. I want you to investigate one of these and take any necessary measures to stop the Orcs from infiltrating through that direction.”
“Understood. Where is this?”
“It’s not far from the Salt Mines. The lake that led to the Mines also has a tributary that comes from a large swamp.”
I frowned. “A swamp?”
Esteban cleared his throat. “I can certainly send a few security details there, Mistress.”
I glared at him. Damn, don’t take away my job!
“It won’t be necessary.” The Bonelock was still looking at me. There was a challenging glint in her eyes. “I have faith in Theo and my son.”
“And me,” Cathy said.
I stared at her. “Wait, you want to go too?”
“This is my home! If I can’t def—”
“It won’t be necessary,” the Bonelock said. “As I said, I have faith Theo and my son can take care of it.”
“It’s not about necessary, Mistress. It’s about being able to stand up for what I want to believe in. I want to fight. I want to see more of the world. I want to use everything I learned to do something that actually has an impact. That’s what I’ve been preparing for, right?”
The Bonelock was silent for only a second. “Your time will come.” There was a note of impatience in her voice. A hint of frustration she was clearly trying not to damp out. “One day, all this will be yours. Until then, patience is your greatest test.”
Cathy shook her head stubbornly. The torchlight made her robes look like it was woven from sunlight. “Mistress, I have been sheltered and shuttered for way too long. It is time I finally started showing what I can and cannot do to everyone.” Her eyes danced across the other Skeletons present in the hall. “Silence the grumblers and prove what I’m capable of. If Theo and Levy can handle it so easily, then there should be no real danger, yes?”
“Okay, that’s it,” Levy said. “Listen, mother. If she’s not going, I’m not going. If I’m not going, Theo’s not going. If none of us are going, then you’ll have to send your troops over there If you do that, then—”
“Enough.” The Bonelock hadn’t raised her voice but there was a good amount of steel in it.
I stepped in before things got a little too out of control. “I think it’ll be fine. I’ve got a lot of new Talents to make use of.”
“Fine. Go then. You’ll need to travel to Ghillie Swamp.” She waved a spindly arm at one of the many Skeletons in the hall. “One of them will give you the details. Now get going. I need to take care of this mess before it gets any worse.”
Clear Ghillie Swamp. Get some deodorant and carry air-freshener sticks with you. This place stinks worse than a Jotun’s chamber pot.
- Make an inroad for the Skeletons
- Chop down 80 trees
- Construct 20 [Standing Torches]
- Construct the Log Road
- Kill 60 Ghouls
- Kill 10 Crocs
- Kill the Skeleton’s enemies
- Kill the enemy Scouting Party
- Destroy the enemy Camp
- Kill 30 enemies
“That’s it, right?” I asked.
“Go,” the Bonelock said. “And return safely.”
I nodded. Under the eyes of Spinal Glade’s war council, the three of us left to face down our enemies. Strange how for all my attempts to lead the Orcs away, I was going to fight them in the end anyway.