“Mike,” Radio’s voice, calling through the back window into the cargo bed of the truck, sounded worried.
They’d set out just after breakfast that morning after a night in the barrack area of the base. Mike had spent his time, meditating and cultivsting. His drive to grow stronger had been renewed by Wilson’s verbal beat down the evening before.
Grunting at the distraction Mike let go of his void state and stuck his head up into the rectangular window. He didn’t have to ask what the problem was, it was immediately obvious.
Blocking the road was a square of armed skeltelons in formation. A handful of steps in front of the formation, sat a skeleton in black plate armor mounted on a demonic looking black horse. He carried a lance with a fluttering pinion bearing a skull beirced by a sword. The heraldry repeated itself on his battered metal shield. Under his helmets visor Mike could only see two red eyes hidden in shadow.
The scene was odd. Had the skeletons been attacking Mike would have dismissed it as a new side of the system. But the skeletons sat at a parade rest as if waiting on Mike’s team to make the first move.
“What do you think?” Mike asked, not specifying who he was talking to.
Nikki and Jessica talked over each other in their haste to give him an opinion and Emma smirked looking at Mike with a look on her face that read, “you’re an idiot aren’t you?”
Realizing he’d never made the chain of command clear, Mike grunted. He really didn’t need petty drama. Knowing he was olayig favorites but not really caring he said, “Jessica?”
Nikki huffed gripping the steering wheel tighter for a moment before releasing a deep breath. Seeing her reaction Mike gave a simple justification for his decision.
“Jess has been on my tram since this started.”
Nikki nodded but he thought he heard her mummer, “not the whole time she hasn’t.” He didn’t ask her to speak up or to repeat it. As far as he was concerned it was better to let the issue die.
Seeing he’d more or less sorted it out, Jessica said, “I don’t know what they’re doing. In my opinion it’s either a challenge or an escort.”
“A challenge is interesting. But why do you think it could be an escort?”
“They’re skeletons,” Jessica answered his question with confidence that impressed him. Mike knew he wouldn’t have been half as sure as she sounded in her place.
He got what she meant though.
“You mean like Troy. I guess that’s a good point. He’s a player and a skeleton.”
“And he was going to learn Necromancy when we left,” Jessica added.
Grunting his agreement Mike looked at Nikki.
“I’m going out there. If something happens get everyone out of here. Jessica is in command and youre her second. Got it?”
“Yes sir,” she muttered.
“I’m going with you,” Emma said like it was already fact and Mike snorted.
“No you’re not kid. I’m the only one of us that might get away from them if things go pear shaped for me. If i had to get you out too– let’s just say neither of us would like it if it came to that.”
Emma puffed up her cheeks and clearly fake-pouting she said, “at least take Redbird with you.”
As if it sensed she was talking about it the little sparrow on the dash looked up and cocked its head. Twittering it launched itself into the air and landed on Emma’s shoulder. She whispered something to it and the bird hopped through the window up onto Mike’s head.
Mike could feel the top of his head grow warm but other than that nothing happened.
“I guess I can take the bird. If it will make you happy.”
“Redbird,” Emma corrected him, “and it will.”
“Whatever. Radio, got anything to add?”
Swallowing the kid said, “no sir. You know what you’re doing.”
“Kiss ass,” Emma muttered and Radio hung his head making everyone laugh.
Taking that as the note to depart, Mike climbed out of the truck bed and walked around to the front. Pulling his ax just in case he spun it around in his hand before casually bringing to to rest against his shoulder.
The display of skill didn’t seemed to phase the knight or any of the skeletons.
“What can we do for you gentlemen?” Mike asked.
The black knight stared at him with its redeyes, unblinking and unconcerned. After several seconds a deep gravelly voice, like stones rubbing against east other, sounded out from deep in its helmet.
“The master is waiting for you mortal. We are to make sure you arrive to him safely.”
An escort then, Mike though to himself as he asked out loud, “is your master the wizard Troy?”
The knight again spent much too long staring at him before it answered in a completely different and altogether famikair voice.
“I’m just screwing with you Mike. This guy is basically a puppet. He can’t talk. Go ahead and come to the apartments, from the looks of things we have a lot to talk about.” The skeleton nodded at his truck at the last, alluding to the fact Mike hadn’t had a military vehicle when he left.
* * *
Troy was out front waiting on them when they got to the apartment, along with Rajesh, Hector and a handful of unfamiliar faces. To either side of their little huddle of survivors were two more squares of skeleton warriors, twenty five to a square, five skeletons wide and five deep.
Mike walked right up to the Skelton wizard and with a smile he wrapped him up in a hug. They really didn’t have that good of a relationship, but seeing him not only well but clearly prospering made Mike feel great.
“Ease up big guy,” Troy said with what might have been a laugh, “do you have any idea what kind of bullshit is involved in swapping out broken bones in a skeleton?”
“Not a clue,” he shot back as he set him down.
Jessica and the gang climbed out of the trucks massive cab and introductions were made before Troy lead them all inside.
Mike couldn’t help noting the apartments had seemingly been reinforced. The few windows were boarded up. The beginnings of both a moat and. a wall had been laid out. And Mike spotted at least five narrow slits in the outer walls that might give an archer or a gunman a relatively safe place to return fire at the street from.
Inside the building the changes were even more noticeable. Barricades blocked the hall in both directions from the lobby and more men and women walked those same halls, armed for a fight. Here and there were skeletons standing at attention armed with a simple round shield and a spear.
It was hard to make a direct comparison between Wilson’s high tech security and private military contractors, and Troy’s low tech security and his seemingly “more is more” policy.
“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Mike said, gesturing at everything.
Troy laughed, “Yeah. Real homey isn’t it?”
“What’s with all the skeletons,” Jessica asked as they walked toward the stairs to the second level.
“Those are my life saviors.” Troy answered. Hestisting he looked at one do the silent sentries before giving more details.
“About two days after you guys left I had skimmed through my magic books enough to have an idea what was in them. The spell that caught my eye was [Raise Dead]. It needed a corpse and almost even bit of mana I had at the time. But there were corpses everywhere and my mana refilled every theory minutes or so. So I gave the spell a try. It took another day or so to master it but once I did everything changed.”
“He’s not kidding,” Rajesh said, and Hector nodded.
Mike looked at then closer for the first time and noticed that the armor the dwarf was wearing had runes on it and the hammer in his belt loop gave off the faint blue of a magic weapons in most games. Hector likewise wore several pieces of jewelry including three amulets tucked intot he front of his rather expensive looking doublet.
Since Troy was wearing the same old robe he hadn’t thought to look too closely at the two notorious cowards. Now that he had it was clear the apartments were doing better than just okay.
“What changed exactly?” Mike asked, now genuinely curious.
“It turned out I got credit for my undead minion’s kills. If I partied with Rajesh and Hector they got a cut of the credits too. There was an upper limit. Only ten skeletons per player slot, meaning only thirty minions could be feeding us at a time. But they were undead like me and didn’t need to rest. That was thirty minions killing twenty four hours a day. Every day. I kept making more until I leveled the spell up and found I could combine ten skeletons into a single skeleton warrior like the one I sent to lead you here. Then I started practicing other spells.”
Shocked by what he’d just heard Mike couldn’t help asking, “what level are you now?”
If a smile had a sound, Mike could hear it in Troys voice as he answered, “Not as high as you might think. The skeletons can only handle small fry. But I just hit level fourteen a while ago.”
Mike was in shock. Jessica however was still curious, “and Rajesh and Hector?”
“We stopped at level ten. Since the skeletons aren’t ours we only get experience and credits if we stay within a certain distance of them. Once we hit level ten I decided to try raising my blacksmith skills and Hector bought a few skills of his own.” Rajesh said followed by Hector’s addition of the skills he’d learned.
“I took jewelry crafting and enchantment. I can make minor magic items now.”
Mike whistled. He couldn’t help but grin. With Troy’s noon raising cheat and using Rajesh and Hector as in house production, their battle power had just sky rocketed.
Then a terrible thought occurred to him, assuming they are willing to go with us now.
It turned out to be a non-issue. Troy was eager to try his new magic in the field and Rajesh and Hector were still cowards. Wilson’s base with Troy’s skeleton guards would obviously be stronger than the apartments alone.
By lunch they were moving out, the truck loaded with survivors who had not yet become warriors, wizards or demons etc. While Mike and most of his team were mounted in the midst of a group of armored skeleton warriors along with Troy as they discussed everything that had happened since they parted.
I tweaked my back the other day. Nothing major but I decided it would be easier to do this chapter laying in bed using my phone. I was both right and very very wrong. It was easier on my back. Everything took like four times longer though. That’s the biggest reason the chapter is late this time. That and I can’t stop writing other things.
Author : The Steve