|| Asymmetry | Role-Playing | Earthdawn-ish | Chapter 2 ||
"They're dead, they don't like light, I thought that was a given."
The undead didn't appear to be doing anything but stand there, about twenty feet from the crypt.
"Okay, we can take these guys," Terzin stated confidently, and started sketching out a strategy.
"Have you ever fought a zombie, Terzin?" his cousin interrupted.
"Then how do you know we can take them?"
"There's only four."
They waited a while longer. The light became stronger. The zombies shuffled over to four open graves, and dug themselves down into the dirt.
"Okay, I was wrong," Harrick admitted.
They left the shelter of the crypt and headed toward the cemetery wall, avoiding the graves. They had only gone ten feet when all four graves erupted, and the undead attacked, moving with horrifying speed.
Terzin's arrow took one through the chest. It staggered back a foot and fell over. Robin's sling stone went wide. Harrick's Thorn Dart blew most of the face off another one, which also collapsed. Then they got up.
The sudden awareness that they were fighting things that could simply not be hurt hit three of the group in an unstoppable wave. They bolted for the low wall around the cemetery. Jared, unaffected by the strange terror, hesitated, then followed his companions. Harrick was well out in the lead, moving at his full speed. Robin and Jared wound up in the rear, not through their own choice. Although the undead appeared to move at a stumbling shamble, they rapidly gained on the laggard pair.
Fingers brushed Jared's back as the zombie tripped over something and fell; just as he thought himself safe, however, it grabbed hold of his ankle and sent him sprawling on the ground. The second was right there, slamming its hatchet down to cut through his armor; in their panic the others didn't even notice him fall. The other two kept going after Robin. She made the mistake of looking back only to see one right behind her, looked ahead and saw that the other had flanked her. Hatchets flashed. She was down, unconscious, and helpless.
The unnatural fear was still there. Harrick reached the wall; it looked fifteen feet high, and while normally he would have leaped it easily he found himself scrabbling pathetically over its (apparently) towering height, while the powerless voice of reason in the back of his mind knew it was only two and a half feet tall.... Jared rose to his feet with a roar, shaking the zombies off; red haze was descending over his vision, but it was rage, not his injuries. In fact, he no longer felt any pain at all. One of the zombies had its back to him, shuffling off after the two still fleeing.
Terzin glanced back and saw Robin lying there; he had a sudden vision of trying to explain her death to his aunt and uncle, and how it had kind of been entirely his fault. His head cleared. He sprinted back to her, past the zombie now heading after Harrick, dropped his bow and heaved her over his shoulder, headed for the wall with two zombies pursuing and closing rapidly.
Harrick had finally made it over the wall, still running. Finally, his head cleared and he stopped running, just before he ran into someone. It was a man, dressed all in black and masked. He was carrying a bow.
"Where are you going, young man?" he asked.
"Left!" the startled orc replied, suiting action to word and veering back around toward the cemetery. The wall was only two and a half feet tall now. Jared bounced a hatchet blow off his armor, grabbed the thing's shoulder with one hand and its head with another, and ripped the two apart. The head came off. He looked for something else to kill. The zombie chasing Harrick stopped at the wall, evidently decided the orc was too far away to catch, and turned back toward Jared, who laughed and motioned for it to come on.
Fleeing, Terzin jumped onto a tombstone and pushed off, gaining himself a couple more precious feet. One of them tripped over the tombstone, but the other continued to close in. Terzin hip-checked it into another tombstone; it fell and impaled itself on a stone spire and thrashed for a moment, then began to pull itself off the spike.
Harrick was trying to get back into range for Thorn Dart; Terzin and Robin were still too far away. He put on a desperate burst of speed, leaped, and cast the spell in mid-air. "Die!"
A zombie wrapped a hand around Robin's ankle. It let go as the thorns knocked it over, but rose again inexorably. Terzin finally reached the wall and tossed Robin over it, turning to defend her with his knife ready as the two undead closed in.
Jared was in a dead run, closing in on the zombie, unwilling to wait until it reached him. He punched it solidly, but it kept moving, though the hatchet bounced off his armor yet again. Again, but his blow seemed to have little effect. Third time did the trick; while it drew back for another blow he did the head trick again and snapped its spine. The arms were still moving, but it wouldn't be doing much.
Harrick got up and closed in on Terzin's portion of the battle, throwing an ineffectual stream of thorns at one of the two zombies. Terzin ducked and wove with the knife, took a nasty hatchet cut to his shoulder and tripped backward over the wall as he tried to retreat. Jared headed in their direction, that unpleasant light still in his eyes.
One of the zombies began to step over the wall, stopped, and swung his hatchet in Terzin's general direction, too far away to do any harm, as he regained his feet. The thing seemed unwilling or unable to leave the graveyard. The other lumbered off toward Harrick, who cast Earth Blend and disappeared. Its target vanished, the zombie then turned to Jared, much to his pleasure.
Harrick flickered in and out of visibility as he moved closer, attacked the zombie near Terzin again with more thorns, rather than risk hitting Jared as the fisherman closed with his new target. The zombie disintegrated. Its head kept moving, trying ineffectually to bite his foot. Terzin poked his sword at it; it bit down on the blade, and he whipped it over the wall. It bounced back in and rolled away.
Jared ripped off the thing's arm, along with the hatchet. It buried its teeth in his shoulder despite his armor. He ripped its head off. The haze faded, and the weight of his recent wounds returned with full force, driving him to his knees for a moment.
The undead had been vanquished. Terzin retrieved his bow.
"She okay?" Harrick asked. "Where's the guy in the black cloak?"
"Yeah. What guy in the black cloak?"
They left the graveyard posthaste. Robin revived fairly quickly once her wound had been seen to; neither she nor Harrick could find a trace of the man he had seen. He was pretty sure he hadn't imagined it, but.... Robin recalled the footprints they had seen doing down into the crypt.
They argued for a while about going back to Crapaud, or staying where they were and taking another stab at it. They decided that they couldn't go back to town without alerting whatever nethermantic spies might be there, which would make it impossible to try again later. People at home would probably be worried, but they weren't ready to give up just yet.
The four made a new camp, with a brush palisade to keep off dog attacks, in the thicker forest on the hill's western slope. Terzin scouted the area thoroughly and found nothing alarming, like a back entrance into the underground complex. Harrick and Robin did some hunting, and the group lived for the next few days on venison and toad meat, which Harrick worked his magic on, and the edible plants he could find. Once they were feeling a little better, Jared and Robin did some sparring. Since his spear had broken, she gave him hers in exchange for the sword, figuring that her slight edge on him in training might make the difference.
Four days passed without disturbance aside from the three-year toad that peered in over their palisade one night; Robin hunted it down the next day. The following day Jared was feeling back in fighting trim, and they all agreed it was time for another try. They hiked back up the hill to the crypt with grim purpose in their step, feeling both more cautious and more confident than they had the first time, now that they had a better idea what they faced. They brought more torches this time.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers et al