Erk, Dante, and Julio sat in Rivet's house quietly as the old man went to make his rounds in the cemetery. The zombies only came out at night so they had some time to kill. Erk almost whished Latran was there. At least then they could play a card game.
Instead, they only entertainment they had was watching Julio twitch nervously. Every few minutes he would look over his shoulder at the door.
Eventually, Erk got tired of watching him and asked, "Why are you moving around so much? You've been fidgeting like a pigeon ever since that old man mentioned zombies."
"Don't say zombies!" Julio said quickly. He glanced over his shoulder again as if expecting to see a zombie busting in the door.
Erk shared a look with Dante. "Any idea what this is about?"
He shrugged. "Probably has to do with his first job. I don't know much about it, but I think he had to shut down a novice necromancer or something."
"What's a necromancer?" Erk asked with a raised eyebrow.
Dante leaned forward. "You usually find them in Dark Guilds. They use magic to control dead bodies. The Magic Council banned that kind of magic years ago but you can still find people who use it."
"Never trust them." Julio interrupted. "They're rotten to the core." He started sweating. "I had to hunt one down once. She was sending zombies to harass a village. When I finally found her she told me she wanted to turn herself in, that she'd learned the error of her ways. And I was an idiot and believed her."
"Let me guess," Erk mused, "she was hot."
"Drop dead gorgeous." He agreed. Erk and Dante had to stifle laughs. "The next thing I know, I'm tied up and she has freaking zombies trying to tickle me to death."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Dante cut in. "Let me get this straight. You were almost TICKLED to death by ZOMBIES?" He and Erk shared another look before they busted up laughing.
"It's not funny." Julio glared at them. But that just made his two friends laugh even harder.
Suddenly, they heard a gut-wrenching moan coming from outside and they instantly went silent. Rivet quickly ran through the door with a panicked look on his face.
"Quickly!" He shouted at the three wizards. "They've returned. Please give this old man some peace. Drive them out and make sure they never return!"
That was all they needed to hear. Even Julio managed to get a bit serious, even if he was still shaking.
"Leave it to us." Erk said confidently. They walked outside to find the sun barely peaking over the horizon and all around them they heard groaning. But they didn't see anything. They stood there waiting for something to happen.
Then, just as the last rays of sunlight faded, they came into view. There were dozens of them, corpses in various stages of decay. But over them all, they heard a light giggle.
"You guys hear that?" Dante asked seriously. His normally joking tone gone. "I don't think we're alone."
"What was your first clue?" Julio shouted at him. He looked around frantically, his hands gripping his flute tightly. "We're freaking surrounded!"
"Not them idiot." Dante shot back. "I mean someone's controlling them. It's like that old man said, I can hear someone laughing."
Erk listened as well and he could definitely hear it. "Sounds like a girl." He noted.
That got Julio's attention. He stopped shivering and started straightening his clothes and running a hand through his hair.
"What are you doing?" Erk asked.
"What?" He replied. "Gotta look nice for the ladies."
"Don't you ever learn?" Both Dante and Julio shouted.
They didn't have any more time to talk as the first of the zombies reached them. At first, it looked like it moved sluggishly but it was deceiving. It quickly sprinted over to Dante and swiped at him, but the guild wizard managed to jump out of the way.
"Enough talking. Time to start slaying some zombies!" He planted his bare feet firmly on the hard graveyard soil with a broad grin on his face. He brought his hands together and a brown magic circle appeared in front of them. "Earth Make: Imps!" He shot his hands forward and a swarm of small creatures made of rock burst from the circle. They were small and slender, with long pointed ears and tails that ended in pointed arrows. They wielded small pitchforks and spears also made of rock.
The zombies had them outnumbered and outsized, but the little imps grouped up and started attacking zombies one-by-one.
Dante grinned at his work and slammed his hands together again. "Can't let them have all the fun. Earth Make: Gauntlets!" Another brown circle appeared and Dante's hands were covered in earth, creating hard gauntlets. "Quit standing around you bums or you'll miss all the fun!" He yelled. Then he launched himself at the nearest zombie and began showering it in punches.
Erk and Julio glanced at each other before smirking. Erk snapped his goggles over his eyes. "Time to put all that training to the test." He got into a runner's sprint position. "Steam Engine!" He shot at a zombie whose skin had mostly rotted away. He slammed into it, knocking it sideways, before coming to a stop where it had been. "Ha! Take that, you rotting piece of meat!" He shouted triumphantly before speeding off to the next opponent.
"Seriously? All you could come up with was 'you rotting piece of meat'? Lame!" Julio shouted at him. He was still scared, but once the fighting started, he was able to push his fear aside for the moment. He glanced at the tree where he'd seen the white birds earlier. They weren't perched in the tree anymore, but they were circling above it, cawing at the battle below them. "Avian Call!" He raised his flute to his lips and played a sharp note. The birds all looked in his direction and flew over him. Julio played a quick, harsh tune and the birds sang with him, their cries being taken up by the others of their flock. They darted down at the zombies and started pecking at them, not really causing any damage, but distracting from ganging up on anyone.
They fought like that for a while. Erk would knock zombies away and send them reeling into other zombies, none of them able to so much as lay a hand on him. Dante and his imps were doing the most damage. If one managed to grab hold of the molding wizard, it would soon taste a fistful of earth.
But it didn't last for long. One by one, Dante's imps were destroyed and he didn't have enough time to make anymore. So soon, the three found themselves back to back.
"We can't keep this up for long." Erk said between breathes.
Dante winced as the last of his earth imps were crushed by a particularly fat zombie. "He's right. And more and more of these things keep coming. We need to find the one controlling them."
Julio looked confused. "How do we know something is controlling them?"
Dante rolled his eyes. "Think with the head on your shoulders for once. With a hoard this size, there has to be something controlling it, otherwise all these zombies would have wandered off by now."
Erk wiped some sweat from his eye. "But we can't get out of here. We're surrounded." He ducked as a zombie took a swipe at him and Dante knocked it away. Then he glanced at Julio. "Can those birds of yours help?"
Julio blinked and grinned. "I'm an idiot."
"Well I'm glad you're finally accepting that." Dante said, batting away another zombie. "But why are you an idiot this time?"
Julio rummaged in his pockets before pulling out a lacrima. He tossed it into the air and one of his birds caught it in its claws. He pulled out another similar lacrima. "I usually use these to peep, but it should be able to find the person we're looking for."