Theodore the White swung his sword mightily, cleaving the zombie in two. It disintegrated in a dry explosion of dust and bone, choking him. Another of the monsters reached for him from behind, forcing him to reverse a short way and use his elbow barbs to fend if off. He felt the spike pierce rotten flesh, and heard the sickly sound of trapped air escaping from the zombies’ gut. It fell away, dropping to the floor as its un-life drained away.
There was a brief respite as the creatures regrouped, and the fighter took the opportunity to wipe his brow, breathing hard. His armor, shined to a silver gleam just the other day, was now dented in several places and covered with grime and goo. He had lost his helmet a short while ago, knocked off even as it had protected him from a lucky blow by a club wielding skeleton, and his blond hair was tousled, sticking out randomly.
He glanced about. He was still in the same corridor he had wandered into earlier, though further along. The walls were made from smooth dark gray stone, bereft of any significant marks. The floor was also made of stone, though a little darker. The passage was narrow, leaving little room to maneuver, and this was limiting his ability to swing his sword effectively. However, it also hindered the zombies that were once more moving forward, reaching for him with yellowing claws outstretched. He shouted a short battle cry and thrust at a gap-toothed, grinning face in front of him, splintering the skull and tearing the head away from the neck.
A hand grasped his leg and he stamped on it hard, snapping the bone with a gruesome crack as he drove his weapon into another body, tearing a gaping hole in the side. He panted, his breath emerging in loud gasps that echoed through the passage as he pounded at the zombies. His attackers made no noise other than a windy wheezing.
He blocked another lunge, lamenting once again the impulse to do a little exploring on his own, away from the safety of his fellow adventurers. Too late for regrets now of course, though how could he have known that slab would drop and block his exit? Redthorne has insisted this area was safe. He wouldn’t trust wizards any more, that was for sure.
He grabbed a cold arm that tried to wrap itself around his neck and twisted, wrenching it clean off at the shoulder. He swung the dismembered limb like another weapon, becoming desperate now. It smashed against the side of an undead thing with a half staved-in head, doing nothing much in the way of damage.
There was a hissing from behind, indicating more zombies were approaching. With strength borne from desperation he hacked at the two still in front of him. Gray skin split and yellow ribs splintered as they fell aside under his onslaught. He pushed past, careening blindly down the tunnel, outrunning his pursuers, who moaned with rage at his escape.
Two ancient doors, dark with age, lay ahead. One blocked the corridor; the other was set into the wall on the left. He slammed into the first one, hoping to break through. Instead he bounced off with a dull thud, dropping his sword on the floor with a metallic clang.
Regaining his balance, he looked around. Without the wizard to replenish his magical illumination it was becoming difficult to see.
He could hear the zombies closing on his position, and frantically pushed on the second door. To his immense relief it swung open with a loud creak. Slipping inside, he slammed it shut behind him. Off to the side he could just make out a broken crossbeam leaning haphazardly against the wall. He reached for it, and used it to brace the door, before slumping against it himself.
There was a loud thump as the zombies slammed against the other side, trying to gain entry. Their dead hands scratching the wood in a futile attempt to reach their prey.
“Ssssecure issss it?” a dry voice whispered next to his ear.
He jerked and reached for his sword, only then remembering it was still on the floor where he had dropped it, on the other side of the door.
“That wassss carelessss of you,” came the voice. “I bet you won’t do that twicccce.”
A cold hand caressed his hair. “Welcome to my lair mortal.”
Theodore the White turned and looked into a face, a wrinkled and ancient face, skin pulled tight over the skull. A hint of red twinkled within the depths of otherwise dead black eyes.
Thin lips pulled back to reveal long yellowing teeth. A breath of cold, as if from a tomb, washed over him. He screamed as chill fingers wrapped around his neck, and tried pulling at a wrist that should have snapped off in his grasp, yet the hand remained firmly where it was, and squeezed.
Theodore’s vision began to dim as his air supply was cut off. He tried to shout as he felt two sharp fingers pierce his eyeballs, but his body refused to co-operate. Pain ran through his head as his ocular orbs burst like ripe grapes, spilling blood down his cheeks. His body spasmed as he was lifted off the floor and pinned against the wall.
As he breathed a strangled death rattle, Theodore the White felt those ancient digits pierce his skull and rip into his very brain…
~ * ~
“It’s not fair, you always get them. All we get is cut to pieces.”
Dreth looked up at the zombie, who was holding his detached arm in his left hand. He chewed on a piece of fresh brain, taken from the newly killed fighter, as he spoke. “That’s what zombies do. They’re just the warm up. Anyway, you had that wizard a little while back didn’t you?”
“That was two centuries ago!” the zombie retorted. “And he was a scrawny one too.”
“Well, that’s life,” said Dreth, shrugging.
“Ha! If only. Well, I better scrape up the remains of Arnold I suppose. Cut his skull clean in half your dinner did, and I’m all out of bone glue too.” The zombie shuffled out.
Dreth shook his head as the undead closed the door to his crypt. He looked down at the latest catch and then dragged him over to the side of the room. Another death. How many was that over the years? A hundred? A thousand? He had stopped counting.
Sure, it had been fun being undead, or whatever he was, when he was first posted here. Ripping the eyeballs out of adventurers still living skulls, tearing off limbs and generally finding horrible ways to kill and torture. After so long though, he’d begun to think of the future, and let’s face it, eternity is a pretty long time.
He did a fair imitation of a sigh, and gazed around his chamber. The room was a reasonable size, due deference to his status, with another small chamber off to one side. Standard dungeon design, the walls were made of dark stone blocks, as was the floor, which was cluttered with loot. Most of the gear was armor and weapons taken from his many victims, but a couple of chests near the back were stuffed with gold. The coins and jewels were a kind of torture in themselves. It wasn’t as if there was anything he could buy around here. The other room held piles of bones, the remains of adventurers foolish or unlucky enough to cross his path.
It was his own fault, he admitted to himself. He’d made his own tomb, now he had to lie in it. When the mysterious wizard had offered a naïve young adventurer immortality, in return for acting as a guard for a while, he should really have read the small print for the definition of ‘a while’.
Still, what were his choices, really? He could search for the wizard, but he knew the odds were slim that he was still alive after all this time. Then again, he could remain as he was. Sure, one day someone powerful enough to beat him for good may come through his door, but that could be a thousand years hence.
He sat down on his chair made of bones and thought about that. A thousand years. Ten centuries stuck in this place. No, it was no good. He couldn’t take it, there had to be a way out.
Maybe the treasure the dungeon guarded was the answer. It was supposed to include some sort of super magical artifact, and that might have the power to free him. Reaching it wouldn’t be easy though. He was a pretty ferocious guardian, but there were supposed to be worse elsewhere in the dungeon.
He sat back, picked a gobbet of flesh off the corpse of the unfortunate Theodore the White, and considered his options…