The Animated Dead
The passageway curled and turned like a piece of kinked hair.
“This reminds me of the summers I spent spelunking in Rockborough,” James whispered to Iriel.
“You intentionally spent time exploring caves?”
“I did. And climbing up the sides of steep cliffs, too.”
“It was fun.”
Iriel shook her head. “How dwarven of you.”
James smirked. “Yes, it was, actually.”
They followed a few bends in the tunnel; when the passageway straightened, Evan signaled for them to stop and be quiet. He listened and heard shuffling in front of them.
“I hear something,” he whispered. “Iriel, scout ahead, but don’t let yourself be seen.”
She stepped past Evan and crouched. Slowly, she crept down the passage a few more feet, pausing every few inches to listen before resuming her way forward. A few minutes later, she returned in much the same fashion.
“What did you see?” asked Evan.
The elf stuck out her tongue and squeezed her eyes shut. She shook her arms and torso, as if trying to shake off an insect or small crawling forest creature. “Ick. The necromancers have animated some dead bodies. They are pacing back and forth across the entrance to the cave up ahead.”
“Zombies,” said Evan with a frown. “The necromancers use them as guards. They will attack if we get too close. See anything else?”
“No, I saw nothing else,” replied Iriel. “But I only glanced into the cave quickly so I wouldn’t be seen.”
“What’s the plan?” asked Brashani.
“Well, the simplest way to deal with zombies is to hack them to pieces.”
“Ick,” said Iriel again and scrunched her nose.
“I know,” agreed Evan. “It’s disgusting, but I don’t want to be detained here. There are likely to be worse and more time-consuming things up ahead. So we charge in and engage them.”
“I could fire bomb the room,” offered Brashani.
The priest’s face brightened. “That’s a better idea. Let’s start with that and engage whatever’s left.”
Brashani stepped forward to the spot in the passage he had seen Iriel use as a scouting position. He saw the zombies with their dull eyes with no pupils, the tattered clothes, and their pale — nearly white — skin. He lobbed three small red points of fire into the cave ahead of him, took a step back, and detonated each point. Fire exploded all around the mouth of the cave and enveloped the zombies. Brashani held up his hand and prevented the flames from swarming into the passage where he and his companions waited.
The flames burned for several minutes. When Brashani saw the zombies collapse, he extinguished the fire and waited for the flames to subside. Then he lowered his hand and examined the zombie remains. Charred flesh and broken bones littered the front of the cave entrance before him.
He turned back to the others and said, “All clear.”
Evan and the others moved up and peered into the cave. As they did, the broken bones of the zombies started to fuse together.
Iriel’s eyes bulged. “What is this?”
“The magic that’s animating them is still at work,” said Evan. “Looks like we’ll have to fight them, after all.”
Even as Evan spoke, a newly formed skeleton stood up and grabbed a torch from a nearby sconce. It approached them.
Evan stepped up, swung his sword, and broke off the arm with the torch. Using its fist, the skeleton caught Evan by the side of his arm. He stumbled to one side. Other skeletons were assembled now and approaching the others with torches. Daniel grabbed one and slammed it against the wall; it shattered like glass. James cracked his whip and broke his opponent’s arm. Brashani hit a third skeleton with a jet of flame and blackened its rib cage. Iriel fired her bow, but the arrow hit the skeleton’s hip and fell to the ground with no effect.
The skeleton fighting Evan turned to face him. Evan swung his sword and snapped a rib. In response, the skeleton swung at Evan again and missed.
Daniel pivoted on one foot and turned his attention to the skeleton Iriel had fired upon. He picked it up and threw the animated creature into the skeleton approaching James. Both skeletons broke apart into a pile of bones.
Brashani threw a fireball at his opponent. It dipped a little and then swung into the rib cage of the skeleton, where it exploded and sent shards of bone in all directions. One fragment hit James.
“Watch what you’re doing,” snapped the bard.
“Don’t stand so close to my opponent next time,” returned the wizard.
Evan took another swing at his assailant and severed the skeleton’s head. The skeleton’s frame continued to move forward and the headless creature swung at Evan again. Evan ducked. Daniel stepped up next to Evan and grabbed the skeleton’s arm. Rotating on the ball of his right foot, Daniel rammed the monster’s body against the wall; it splintered.
Evan surveyed the area of combat to see if the bones would reassemble, but they did not move. Satisfied they could proceed, Evan signaled to his comrades to proceed toward the rear of the cave. Upon reaching the back wall, they found a small opening. It was too small to walk through, however, and from what Evan could see, it led nowhere. Following the wall a few steps more, they found another exit. Turning to his companions, Evan asked, “Ready?”
“Yes,” replied Daniel.
“All set,” said the fire mage.
“Lead on,” said James.
“I am,” said Iriel.
Evan proceeded out of the cave and down another twisting passageway.