1.01 H

The dead charged out of the darkness in an unending tide of desiccated corpses. Their ruined flesh and glowing eyes in hollow sockets flickered in the torch and magelight. Zombies ran, crawled or shuffled in a wave of discolored skin, but they weren’t alone.

More undead had appeared: skeletons that sprang at the nearest adventurers with inhuman grace and ghouls, the advanced form of a zombie which moved and fought with supernatural speed and strength. And far worse, in between the lesser varieties of the dead larger shapes and pale figures could be spotted.

Crypt Lord!

“Not just one! Four of them!”

“We’re surrounded! Retreat!

“Hold your ground!”

Calruz’s massive voice rose above the others. He cleaved a running zombie in two as he shouted at the adventurers.

“Hold, damn you! Fall back in order! Warriors, hold and mages retreat to the chamber!”

It was impossible to tell if anyone had heard. The undead were coming from all sides, not just the two passageways but from behind the adventurers as well.

Yvlon and Ceria stood side by side, eyes darting left and right. The undead were everywhere. They were already attacking the adventurers around Ceria and Yvlon, and only their position in the middle of the group had given them a chance to react.

Ceria raised her wand, but there were too many bodies in the way from where she was. Yvlon was in the same situation. The blonde adventurer looked behind her. The adventurers were trying to move back, but a group of the dead had appeared behind them, holding them in place.

“Where are they coming from?”

Ceria pointed.

“There! Secret passages!”

Parts of the stone wall had opened up to let the undead come pouring out. They were only small alcoves, barely large enough for a small group to stand comfortably. But the dead had been packed inside, waiting until someone stepped in their trap.

And now the trap was sprung and death was all around.

The warriors in front of Ceria were grappling with the undead, but they were hemmed in, and had trouble lifting their weapons. Yvlon stepped backwards and slashed at a skeleton that was stabbing a mage. The woman collapsed, bleeding, but disappeared under the press of legs before Ceria could grab her.

Desperately, Ceria shifted to line up a spell, but she was trapped. They were too close together. She looked at the back of a warrior in chainmail and raised her wand. She could help him with a spell—

A huge, clawed hand seized the warrior around the waist and dragged him screaming up into the air. Ceria froze as the undead monster who had seized the armored man hurled him into the press of the dead where he was instantly swarmed and torn apart.

The other adventurers around Ceria fell back rather than get into range of the thing’s claws. She tried to retreat, but now the press worked against her. She was suddenly at the front and the monster was in front of her. It was no zombie. She knew she was staring at a Crypt Lord, one of the thinking undead.

A Crypt Lord was a dead creature animated by powerful magic that had grown even more terrible over the years since its reanimation. Whatever shape they originally had, it had been twisted by rot and decay. They stood taller than every adventurer save for Calruz, their hunched backs and huge, bloated faces grinning with more sharp teeth than a human could have.

It wasn’t teeth, but bones. Yellowed bones that had been shifted and broken to create the illusion. The Crypt Lords ate the dead to recover their bodies. That was why their powerful arms and legs had a terrible patchwork appearance as the flesh and bone had fused to become whole.

The Crypt Lord grinned at Ceria, and black liquid ran from between its teeth. They had blood, of a kind. Poisonous black blood that carried disease and death.

It spat and Ceria dove at once. The black poison struck her, but most of it landed on her robes. She rolled to a safe patch and saw two glowing blue eyes peering at her from above.

For a second Ceria relaxed. It was just Toren. But—this skeleton wasn’t the same. It was covered with red blood and held a jagged, broken sword in its hands. And Toren was miles away and above ground.

The bloody skeleton raised the blade and brought it down on Ceria as she tried to roll again. It struck her in the back.

Ceria shouted in agony, but again her robes caught the blade and took most of the blow. She still felt like something was trying to crush her spine, but she was alive. Not for long, though. The skeleton raised its sword again.

Ceria pointed her wand up. A shard of ice blasted the skeleton’s head off and the rest of the body crumpled to the floor.

Shaking, she leapt to her feet. She was exposed. The Crypt Lord spat again, but this time at another adventurer. It was too dangerous. She raised her wand and aimed.

The monster had an amalgamation of eyes it had stolen from corpses. They clustered together in huge fleshy sockets, around fifteen individual eyeballs in each ‘eye’. They spun towards her and she spoke.

“[Ice Spike]!”

The thick shard of ice buried itself in the Crypt Lord’s head and a gout of black blood spurted outwards with the ruined eyeballs. The Crypt Lord roared soundlessly and ran towards Ceria.

“Duck!”

Ceria didn’t know where the voice came from, but she instantly crouched. She felt her hair catch on something and several strands were yanked out as Cervial loosed a crossbow bolt straight into the Crypt Lord’s other eye.

This time it did scream out loud, a wailing cry that came from multiple voices within it. Ceria staggered back as it began to flail around, striking the other undead around it as it searched for something to kill.

Ceria turned, but suddenly five zombies appeared out of the melee and ran at her and the archer-Captain. He cursed and pulled out a shortsword rather than reload. Ceria took one down with another [Ice Spike] before two of them lunged at her.

Ceria knew over fifty spells she could use, but her wand had contained the [Ice Spike] spell and thus she could cast it faster than anything else. She hammered a shard of ice into the chest of one zombie, making it sit down hard and then fled from the other one’s hands.

The undead Drake lurched after her, but a woman with a mace bashed it to the ground. She was one of Yvlon’s Silver Spears, although her silvery armor was covered in gore.

Ceria didn’t bother to even shout thanks. In the next moment both she and the warrior were fighting again. She fired over the head of an archer and caught a ghoul as it leapt down on the man. He looked up, backed away, and then shot the creature three times in the face.

More movement. Ceria spun and saw a downed figure she recognized.

A ghoul was crouching on top of Gerial, slashing at him with its claws. Ceria didn’t hesitate. She ran forwards, drawing her belt dagger from its sheathe. She planted it in the back of the ghouls’ head, ramming it through the softened skull and into the exposed brain.

To her horror, the ghoul didn’t die from her attack. It turned its head, glowing crimson eyes flashing with hatred at her. It raised a claw, and Gerial kicked up. The Ghoul tumbled off him and he sat up and ran his sword through its shoulder.

Ceria raised her wand and blasted the creature’s face apart. It went down for good and she helped Gerial to his feet. His face was a bloody mask, but he grabbed a potion from his belt and emptied it over his injuries. They began healing even as Ceria watched.

He gasped and shuddered as Ceria covered them with her wand.

“Gods, this is a mess. Where are the others?”

“I don’t know.”

Most of the torches had been dropped on the ground, and only a few [Light] spells were illuminating the darkness. It made everything twice as hard, as adventurers mistook each other for enemies.

“Gerial. We can’t regroup like this. I need to cast [Illumination], but I’ll need defending.”

He nodded.

“Do it.”

Ceria raised her wand and began focusing on the spell. It was so difficult as adventurers fought and monsters screamed around her, but she had to. Her mind was focused on a single point, and then that single point became many. She held the image of what she wanted in her head and willed it to be certainty.

Form on me! Horns of Hammerad, to me!

Gerial shouted as he struck and kicked undead around them, trying to keep them from reaching Ceria. She saw even as the magic in him surged. She was in a half-place, half in this world, watching, fearing, trying desperately to cast a little faster to save her friends, half in the world of magic, riding the eddies and currents and seeking the truth.

Motion. She saw a Drake—the only one that wasn’t dead in this place—running away. A break in the dead coming from behind had created an opening, and he ran through it, fleeing the battle.

Part of her wanted to shout, but the magic was nearly ready. Olesm was running in the other direction faster than Ceria thought he could move. Eight other adventurers fled with him, all of them mages to judge by their clothing.

A group of skeletons was in hot pursuit. They disappeared into the darkness and Ceria prayed she wouldn’t be too late. The magic reached a tipping point, and she opened her mouth.

[Illumination]!

Light suddenly filled the long corridor. Adventurers cried out, shielding their faces as orbs of light flew up from the ground, bright, shining white beacons spaced ten feet apart. They turned the darkness of the crypt into day.

For a second the undead faltered with the living. They hesitated, perhaps as the Crypt Lords sensed their advantage was gone. The adventurers shook the temporary blindness from their eyes. Now they could see the enemy. They roared and attacked.

Gerial crashed into two skeletons, scattering their bones. Ceria raised her wand and used another spell.

A small wave of water struck Gerial behind the knees. He staggered, but his heavy armor kept him upright. The skeletons weren’t so lucky. They fell to the ground and immediately began pushing themselves upright.

That wasn’t her main goal, though. Ceria aimed her wand at the spreading pool of water and it froze. Gerial cursed as the water turned to ice, but he was suddenly surrounded by a huge area of iced ground. Adventurers jumped out of the way rather than fight on the unstable footing, but the dead were less intelligent. They slipped and fell as they came after them, easy targets.

More zombies rushed at Ceria and she ran back. The adventurers had formed a rough circle and she found another mage throwing bolts of fire off of his staff. He whirled and smiled at her.

“Ceria!”

“Sostrom!”

“You take that side I’ll take this.”

They stood back-to-back, blasting corpses back with their magic. Ceria spotted Calruz and several other warriors fighting the Crypt Lords, keeping the four massive creatures at bay while the lesser undead tried to break through the ranks of adventurers.

“We need more space!”

Sostrom yelled it in Ceria’s ears. She nodded.

“There! Get to Lir!”

The two mages ran back, letting other warriors close the gap. The mage-Captain was hurling lightning with his staff at a Crypt Lord. Ceria grabbed him by the shoulder and he spun.

“We need to cut them off! Can you cast a spell?”

He shouted back.

“I can! But I need an opening! And the dead are behind us as well!”

“No!”

Both Lir and Ceria stared at Sostrom. He pointed.

“Look!”

Another hole had opened up behind the embattled adventurers. Flashes of light and spells blasted apart zombies and skeletons. More adventurers, fighting in the burial room they’d passed.

“There’s our opening! If you can buy us time—”

“Give me a minute. Can you clear the area first?”

Ceria nodded.

“Sostrom—”

“On it.”

He covered both mages as they began to concentrate again. Ceria raised her wand and felt the heat building in her wand. She aimed and shouted at the adventurers in front of her.

“I’m going to cast a big one. Everyone get back!”

They looked around, saw the fiery glow coming from her wand, and scattered to the left and right. Ceria saw Gerial ram into Calruz to get the Minotaur to move aside. She aimed at one of Crypt Lords as it swiped at the retreating adventurers.

“[Fireball]!”

A glowing orange orb of fire as large as a basketball burst from her wand. It shot down the corridor and struck the Crypt Lord in the chest.

Ceria felt the blast kick her backwards and heard only ringing. Sostrom caught her, and for a few seconds all was smoke and confusion. Then Ceria saw the Crypt Lord howling, caught ablaze and the dead around it scattered, literally in fiery pieces or thrown to the ground.

She shouted at the mage next to her.

“Now, Lir!”

His face was covered in sweat. Lir raised his staff and pointed at the open space as the undead tried to gather for another charge.

“[Wall of Flames].”

Fire burst from his staff and shot past the adventurers, some of whom were unlucky enough to be scorched by the magical flames. A curtain of fire blocked off the corridor, each flame reaching nearly to the ceiling. The adventurers in front fell back, as the undead entered the flames and retreated, burning and screaming.

“Now—everyone, to the rear!”

Yvlon’s voice rose and the adventurers turned. Some of the undead had been caught behind the fire. They were hacked to pieces and the group ran back to the large room.

“The spell is about to run out! Mages, buy us some time.”

Lir nodded. He raised his staff and two more mages joined him. They pointed at the single entrance to the room and walls of light and magical runes appeared on the floor, blocking entry.

“[Ward of Safety].”

“[Lesser Barrier].”

“[Sanctuary of Light].”

None of them were particularly high-level spells, all being Tier 1 and Tier 2, but together they did what an individual spell would not.

Ceria saw the wall of flames spell Lir had cast die out, and then the undead ran at the barrier. But they crashed against the spells and though they struck and hit the magical walls, they were unable to break through.

The adventurers watched, tense, until the undead began to pull back. The four Crypt Lords stared silently at the magic and then began walking back into the darkness. The undead followed silently. In a matter of minutes they were gone.

The battle was over. And just as if another spell had been cast, suddenly Ceria could hear the other noises around her. Men and women crying out in pain, the voices, the scraping of metal and splashing as people poured potions over wounds or took off armor to get at injures—all the noises that had been covered by the pounding of her heart.

“Screw me with a Wyvern’s tooth, what the hell was that?

Gerald was shouting in the center of the milling adventurers. He was holding a piece of cloth to stop the bleeding as a healing potion regenerated a huge bite that had been taken out of one of his legs. He pointed to the corridor filled with corpses.

“They tore us apart out there! That was an ambush! A damn ambush from the undead!

“How many people are injured? Who’s missing?”

Yvlon strode around the room, listening as adventurers called out. Ceria looked around for her group and ran to the Horns of Hammerad. Miraculously, they were all there. Marian, Gerial, Caluz, Sostrom—

“Hunt? Where’s Hunt?”

Ceria looked around in sudden panic.

“Here. He’s here, Cerial.”

One of the other warriors, Barr, pointed to the ground. Ceria saw Hunt was lying with his head propped up against a pack, his face twisted into a grimace, hands frozen in a clawed position.

“What—”

“A Wight got him from behind. It raked him with those damn paralyzing claws and he froze up. He’s okay—but the magic isn’t going away for a while.”

Ceria sighed in relief. It wasn’t good—Hunt was out of commission, but he wasn’t dead. She looked at the other adventurers. They were all battered, including herself. Even with healing potions, they all had some injuries. Except for Calruz. The Minotaur looked like he’d barely taken a scratch in the fight, and only the gore painting every inch of his battleaxe testified to his involvement.

“Ceria. It is good you are well. The lighting spell was well-timed, as was the fireball.”

He nodded at her as he scanned the room. She opened her mouth for a scathing retort, and closed it.

“Yeah. I’m glad everyone’s here. How many people didn’t make it?”

The answer was six, which was nothing short of a miracle. But it was really only six dead, and many more wounded. Most of the injuries the adventurers had taken could be cured with healing potions, but several had lost fingers or limbs, and some had broken bones in ways that couldn’t be healed with a mere potion.

The hardest-hit group had been Cervial’s Flawess Flight. They’d lost two in the ambush, and two more in the scouting group. He was weeping as he reloaded his crossbow with another bolt.

“I fired it right at the damn monster, but it just took Elise and ate her. Damn it. Damn them.

“That was a disaster.”

Lir agreed as he rested on a stone slab. His face was grey, a sign he’d used too much magic. Ceria felt the same way, although the mana potion she’d taken was helping.

“How did they sneak up on us like that? We let our guards down, thinking the undead couldn’t.”

“They were being lead by Crypt Lords, that’s how. Those bastards can command the other dead.”

“Crypt Lords. I’ve never fought their kind. Those giant things at the back—they can think?

Lir and Ceria nodded.

“How dangerous are they?”

“A Crypt Lord is a threat capable of wiping out a Silver-rank team if they’re not careful. Estimated level is…around 22. Possibly 26 if you factor in their special abilities. They’re mostly dangerous because they can command the dead around them to do things like lie in wait or use pincer attacks.”

Gerald swore.

“Gods. No wonder Charlez and his team didn’t make it out. We very nearly didn’t either.”

“Good job on that [Illumination] spell, Ceria. Without it we would have been cooked.”

Ceria bowed her head as Yvlon nodded at her. Cervial nodded dully and Gerald grunted.

“Yes, and the mages certainly saved us. But there’s a problem. Where’s that damned lizard?”

“W-who? Me?”

Gerald scowled across the room at Olesm. The Drake flinched as he stormed towards him.

“You! I saw you running away! I should run you through myself, you coward!”

Olesm raised his hands as Gerald’s fists tightened.

“Please, allow me to explain—”

“Hold it Gerald!”

Another mage sitting with his back to a wall raised his hand wearily as Gerald’s face reddened. He pointed at Olesm.

“That Drake didn’t run. He saved us. And you as well. When the undead were running at us, he got a group of us mages and used a skill to let us escape the ambush. That let us get back here and open a path for the rest of you.”

“What?”

Gerald stared incredulously at Olesm. The Drake grinned nervously at him.

“[Rapid Retreat]. It’s ah, a [Tactician] skill although many [Thieves] and similar classes know it too. I heard Calruz shouting to get back over here and I thought the rest of you would be right behind me.”

The adventurers murmured in appreciation. Gerald hesitated, and then nodded slowly.

“Well. Good job. My apologies. Thank you for doing that. If you hadn’t—”

“It was a terrible ambush. My [Dangersense] only went off at the last moment. If we’d paid more attention to the scouts—”

“They were our best. Nothing should have been able to take out all of them without making a sound. Not even a horde of the undead. All of them had escape skills. So how—”

Yvlon rested a hand on Cervial’s shoulder comfortingly. She looked around at the other adventurers.

“We can worry about that after the threat is gone. Those spells won’t last forever. And we need a fast decision. Do we press on, now we know how many undead are out there, including Crypt Lords? Or do we retreat?”

“Retreat?”

Even Cervial raised his head at that word. He shook his head, dark fury in his eyes.

“No. We don’t do that. That was an ambush, not a fair fight. We’re going to go after those monsters and shoot them to bits.”

“Any idea on how?”

That came from Gerial. He stood at the barrier and stared out into the darkness. Ceria’s [Illumination] spell had cast light on the entire floor, but only as far as she’d walked. The branching corridor was still dark, and not a single undead could be seen from where he stood.

“They’ve already hidden themselves again. If we keep going, we’ll just run into another ambush. Granted, we know it’s coming, but I’d rather not do that again.”

Lir nodded as he got to his feet slowly.

“We could set traps and fortify this location. If we need to retreat—”

“An extended battle like that is risky. We’d be looking over our shoulders the entire time, and we’d never know we got them all.”

Yvlon sighed as she wiped her sword clean with a cloth.

“Those Crypt Lords are deadly. We need to take them out first. Do that, and the rest of the undead lose a lot of their threat.”

“Do we have any way of detecting them? A spell?”

“We could search for trapped rooms, but we’ll burn through magic fast that way. It’s risky.”

Cervial bared his teeth.

“There’s no way in hell I’m retreating, not without a huge pile of gold to put on my people’s tombstones.”

“I’m right with you, but how—?”

“I have a plan.”

Every adventurers turned and the arguing stopped as Calruz spoke. Ceria looked up from her second mana potion and had to stop herself from raising her eyebrows. Calruz? His plans were about as complex as a Goblin’s, and everyone knew it. Including him. He left all of the finesse to Gerial and Ceria.

But the Minotaur had taken the stage and it was her job to back him up. Or kick him in the tail if he said something really stupid.

“We should face them all at once.”

Ceria’s foot twitched, but Gerald was quicker.

“Are you mad, Calruz? Why in the hells do you want to do that? They nearly tore us apart in that ambush and you want to take on the rest all at once?”

The Minotaur snorted at him.

“You speak of seeking them out in their homes, but that is foolish. We are adventurers. We are stronger than they are. If we remove the element of surprise and cowardly attacks from behind, we stand a better chance of wiping them out at once than fighting with our backs to the walls every five minutes.”

The other Captains and vice-Captains fell silent at that. Yvlon raised her eyebrows and looked at Lir, who nodded.

“Calruz is right. In a straight battle without an ambush we’d hold the advantage. If we could turn it into that I’d place all my bets on our side winning handily. But how do you propose we do that, Calruz? Those monsters aren’t exactly smart, but they’re clever enough not to commit to an all-out attack. You saw how they retreated once we put the barriers up.”

“I will lure them out. If one of you possesses a [Loudness] spell or something similar, I will provoke them into attacking.”

“I know that spell. But are the rest of you agreed…?”

Lir glanced around. Yvlon hesitated before nodding, but Gerald and Cervial were already picking up their weapons.

Calruz glanced around.

“You. [Tactician]. Do you have any skills that would turn the tide of battle?”

Olesm gulped.

“Yes. A…a few. One good one. Should I use it now…?”

“No. Wait. We will recover a while longer. And then we will go and destroy those who would take our own.”

Calruz’s eyes flashed. He lifted his battleaxe and the adventurers began to stand. It swept over them, a moment of passion that turned to anger. They had been attacked. Hurt. Some of their friends had died. It was time to fight again.

Ceria felt the same mood swing through her. She eyed her wand and estimated that she could cast quite a number of spells before she ran out of mana. Yes, the undead had struck first and done damage. But they hadn’t killed the adventurers.

Now it was their turn to strike back.

 

—-

 

Calruz strode down the corridor and waited as the adventurers formed up around him. He hadn’t gone too far from their room which was now their camp for the wounded and where they’d fittingly placed their dead. He waited with his hands on his axe as Lir cast the spell to amplify his voice.

“Done. I’ll cast a [Muffle] spell so we don’t get the worst of whatever you’re about to do.”

Calruz nodded. He stared into the darkness. All of the undead had vanished into the darkness, leaving only the truly dead behind. Yvlon stood next to Calruz, staring up at him curiously.

“Do you have [Taunt] as a skill? I don’t know that would even work on the dead…”

“Pah.”

That single word echoed loudly in the darkness. Calruz’s already loud, rumbling voice had been amplified several times over so that Yvlon winced. He motioned her back silently and whispered, which was still louder than shouting with the spell in effect.

“I do not need a skill. Be ready. When they attack we will crush them.”

Yvlon nodded and stepped back into line. This time all of the best warriors and other four adventuring captains were in front, with all the mages and archers towards the back. Ceria stood next to Sostrom, heart beating rapidly. Assuming Calruz’s undisclosed plan worked, they would be in a perfect position to meet the undead. If he knew what he was doing.

When the [Muffle] spell had been cast, Calruz narrowed his eyes. He raised his battleaxe and gripped it tightly. Then he raised his voice and shouted.

No. Not just shouted. His first word made Ceria’s ears ring, and she went temporarily deaf as his voice rumbled through the entire building.

Pathetic spirits of the dead! I am Calruz, leader of the Horns of Hammerad! I challenge you. Face me and meet your end!

Outside the ruins, the guardsmen and adventurers standing guard in front of the building looked around. They thought they’d heard something, and the shifting of dirt within made them reach for their weapons. But no attack came. Above, that was.

Even with both her hands covering her ears and the [Muffle] spell, Ceria could still only hear ringing after Calruz had finished. His voice had echoed in her bones and she felt almost nauseous as well.

She tried to say something, and realized she still wasn’t hearing. She shouted, and heard a bit of sound.

“What?”

Sostrom looked at her. Ceria pointed. He looked, and then saw it.

Movement. In the shadows, in the darkness of the long corridor at the edges of where Ceria’s [Illumination] spell had been cast, things moved. A huge shape appeared and grinning teeth and long claws made of yellowed bones moved into view.

One Crypt Lord, and then two, three…four of them appeared out of the darkness, followed by a horde of the dead. They opened their mouths and howled at Calruz as the Minotaur took his place in the line of adventurers.

“Strike me blind Calruz!”

Gerial had to shout above the ringing of his ears. He grinned wildly at the Minotaur as Calruz bared his teeth at him.

“How’d you know that would work?”

“The dead do not like sound any more than you do. It is an intrusion. I have challenged their honor. And so—we begin!”

Lir really should have taken the [Loudness] spell off of Calruz. He did, but only after the Minotaur’s large voice had set everyone’s ears ringing a second time. The Minotaur pointed.

The undead were indeed massing to charge. The adventurers waited, hearts beating, ears filled with echoes of thunder.

Olesm cleared his throat. Ceria thought he did, at any rate. She was still having trouble hearing, but the Drake spoke loudly.

“It looks like it’s my turn.”

“What?”

“I said—never mind. Here!”

The Drake pointed as the undead began to run down the long corridor. He opened his mouth, and Ceria heard the words clearly.

“[Attack Formation].”

All of the adventures gasped and looked around. As Olesm had spoken, the weapons and armor they carried felt like they had grown lighter. Even the mages felt a second wind and their magic came to them more strongly than before.

Ceria gaped at Olesm as he grinned at her.

“What was that? A skill?”

He nodded.

“I can only do that once a day at my level. But yes—it can change a battle. The rest of my skills are mostly defensive or information-oriented so this is all I can do.”

“What?”

“Never mind!”

The undead were running now, closing the long distance at alarming speed. Olesm raised his voice again as he pointed to one of the Crypt Lords. It was the one Ceria had hit with the fireball, and though it had eaten some eyes, it was still half-blind as well.

“That one is more injured than the rest. Bring it down first.”

The mages around him nodded as they readied their spell. Ceria watched the undead approach. Cervial loosed crossbow bolt after bolt with the other three adventurers in his group, felling zombies and skeletons, but the Crypt Lords and the rest of the horde ran on.

Yvlon raised her voice as the undead drew closer. They were around thirty meters away and closing ever faster. She unsheathed her sword and pointed.

Mages!

The magic casters needed no further casting. Ceria and Sostrom pointed their wands and loosed their spells along with the other casters, filling the hallway with magic as the warriors kept their heads down.

The first row of undead met a wave of magic and simply…vanished. Lightning crackled through gouts of flame and spiraling bolts of energy blew limbs apart. Not all the magic had gone into the attack though; pools of slippery liquid appeared on the ground, slowing the undead and a second wall of flames turned a group of zombies into screaming torches.

Half of the mages loosed another spell before the undead were too close. Calruz stood upright and Gerald shouted.

“Now warriors, follow me! Charge!

The armed rose to their feet and roared, drowning out the howling of the undead as they ran straight at the undead. Ceria saw the first zombie raise its hand to strike Gerial before Calruz’s massive hand punched straight through the zombie’s hand.

The adventurers and undead collided in a crash of sound that nearly rendered Ceria deaf again. But she was already running with the other mages, firing shards of ice at one of the Crypt Lords as she did.

 

—-

 

All was motion. Gerial spun and cleaved the head off of one zombie effortlessly. He felt like his body was on fire. He felt like his heart was on fire. He was fighting at his best, thanks to Olesm’s skill. And not just him. Around him the captains were cutting through the undead now that they didn’t have to worry about hitting allies in front of them.

“[Whirlwind Cleave]!”

Gerald’s axe scythed through the stomachs of three zombies and a ghoul, dropping them to the ground where the big man crushed their heads with an armored boot. He turned and barely dodged a Crypt Lord’s massive hand, but Cervial raised his bow and loosed a bolt right into the monster’s face.

“[Point-Blank Shot]!”

The flesh around the bolt tore and the big monster lurched back. Gerald and two other warriors attacked it from below as it tried to recover and Gerial caught a skeleton that was trying to attack them from behind. He bashed it repeatedly with the pommel of his swords and watched it collapse as he broke a hole in its skull.

Yvlon’s sword tip exited the neck of one zombie as she struck a skeleton in the head with her shield. The blow shattered the undead’s skull and it collapsed, the crimson light fading from its eyes.

She whirled, and her shield came up to block a ghoul’s slash. She pushed the monster away and it staggered. Gerial saw Yvlon pulled her sword out of the dead man’s stomach and the ghoul folded up. He hadn’t even seen her strike.

Gerial turned and found another Crypt Lord about to spit at him and Yvlon. He tackled her to the floor and the black rain covered another adventurer who fell to the ground, screaming.

“Back, back!”

Someone yanked Gerial to his feet. He looked up and saw Sostrom as the mage struck the Crypt Lord in the head with several fiery bolts of magic. It roared and seized him in one huge fist.

Sostrom!

The mage screamed in agony as the Crypt Lord squeezed. Gerial stabbed it in the stomach desperately, but it was too big and wouldn’t let his friend go.

“Move!”

He felt something shove him aside and then Calruz was there. The Minotaur raised his battleaxe and Sostrom fell to the ground, the severed hand still holding him.

The Crypt Lord howled and grabbed at Calruz, but the Minotaur dropped his axe and gripped the undead’s head with both of his hands. He roared in fury as he ripped the Crypt Lord’s head off. The black blood spurted from the stump and covered the Minotaurs’ fur as he hurled the head and bit of spine away.

“Gerial! Back me up!”

Gerial nodded and fended off a Ghoul while Calruz reclaimed his axe. The Minotaur’s skin was fizzing where the black blood had landed and he unceremoniously dumped two potions over his fur and then downed an antidote.

Several feet away, Ceria was in trouble. She’d been separated by Sostrom when the monster grabbed him, and a Ghoul was trying to catch her as she doged backwards.

Gerial sliced a huge hole in the ghoul’s side, giving Ceria an opening. She hit the ghoul with three ice spikes, sending it spinning away.

A zombie struck Gerial from behind, hitting him in the back and knocking him to the floor. It fell on Gerial, biting and tearing as he shouted for help.

Ceria didn’t hesitate. She pointed her wand at the zombie’s back.

“[Flashfire]!”

Instantly, the zombie burst into flames. It stopped clawing at Gerial and started writhing, trying to put out the flames. Gerial shoved the corpse off him and got to his feet. The zombie tried to crawl after him but Calruz ran forward and bashed its skull in with a single kick.

“How many Crypt Lords are down?”

“Two—no, three!”

Gerald had just cleaved the head off of the Crypt Lord he’d been fighting. The last monsterous undead hesitated as its minions surrounded it.

“I will take care of it if you get me close.”

“Done!”

Ceria nodded and she and Sostrom ran towards Lir. The mage turned, and then all three began blasting at the undead, sending charred and broken bodies spinning to the ground.

Calruz looked at Gerial as the other man panted for air.

“With me?”

“Of course!”

They charged into the ranks of the undead. Gerial body-rushed a skeleton and planted his sword in a zombie’s chest as Calruz swung his axe and sent body parts flying. The Crypt Lord raised its head and stared at the Minotaur, possibly seeing a threat in the only creature larger than it was.

It raised its clawed hands at the same time Calruz raised his axe. Gerial knew what he was going to do and ran backwards as Calruz roared.

The Minotaur brought down his axe, cutting through the Crypt Lord’s twisted arms as it tried to block. His axe cleaved downwards, not stopping for bone or sinew as he vertically bisected the front part of the Crypt Lord’s body and struck the ground in an impact that smashed the stone floor.

Even from several feet away, Ceria felt the impact in her bones. The Crypt Lord lay on the ground, bones and skin twisted and torn.

The undead faltered, and then began to attack again. But suddenly they were without their controlling intelligence. Calruz roared, and the adventurers formed up around him. They pressed the undead back, back, until they hit a wall and were ground into paste upon it.

In the silence after the battle, Olesm shakily walked around the few twitching corpses and stared at the Crypt Lord Calruz had killed with his [Hammer Blow] skill. He stared at Calruz as the Minotaur leaned on his battleaxe, panting.

“I—I didn’t hear you say anything.”

Calmly, Calruz raised his battleaxe and shook the bits of gore from it.

“Not every skill or spell must be shouted.”

The Drake nodded slowly and looked around. The battle was over. He looked at his own sword. He’d hung back and fought with the mages, but he’d still killed several zombies and skeletons. He felt shaky, sick, exhausted as the adrenaline left him. He looked at Ceria as the half-elf downed another mana potion and wiped at her mouth.

“We’re alive. Now what?”

The half-elf grinned at Olesm, threw up a bit as the mana potion ran through her system, and grinned even harder. Blood and entrails had painted her face, but she didn’t seem to mind.

“Now? Now we get the treasure.”

 

—-

 

On the second day, Ryoka found the dead Gnolls as she was running through the underbrush. The six warriors had been stripped of all their gear, but she saw where they had been stabbed repeatedly before being left to rot. They were freshly dead, but the insects were already gathering and they stank.

She stared at the corpses a long time, until the crawling acid flies chased her away. There was nothing she could do. She ran on, not knowing she was being watched.

 


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32 thoughts on “1.01 H

  1. I throw myself on the mercy of the kangaroo court…just kidding. Or am I?

    This is another problem. I thought I would get done in two chapters, really, I did. But fight scenes have a way of getting out of hand when I’m around and this might be a classic example of that. It’s long, and it’s late and I can’t really justify dumping six thousand more words on this chapter, because that would literally make this two chapters long.

    So it’s unfinished, and the part you’re all expecting is yet to come. Sorry about that, but I guess this is a clear example of writing schedule vs time to write. Anyways, I hope you liked the fight, and that I’ve improved since the last time I had to write a big one. Let me know what you think, and I’ll see you on Saturday, which feels like a long time away.

    Hopefully it gives me time to finish this well.

    • Wait.. not finished? I’d say you ended the chapter at exactly the right point. Battle over, and hints to treasure and intrigue. Cliffhangers and promise of loot are 2 of the best endings in my book 😉

    • We’re a kangaroo court eh? Well if I’ve gotta be a kangaroo then having a government job would be nice. Lol.

      Thanks for the chapter, it’s very good!

    • I can see that — fight scenes getting long. Time compresses in a fight. A lot happens quickly, and as the author you wouldn’t want to leave anything out. I applaud you for wanting to hone your craft, but some of this can’t be helped.

      Yeah, I enjoyed the battle.

    • It’s been one week now since I decided to read your work, after finding your tale on erfworld. I must say both your stories enthralled me and made me only go to sleep past 3am, the entire week. You could say I binge read everything there was to read. Please continue the good work and I am eager for more!

  2. Don’t feel any need to rush to other story segments. This was an exciting battle with great flow that didn’t diminish the intensity even when they paused fighting. Quite enjoy your writing and the story you’re creating. Thanks for the update.

  3. Erm… wait a sec. Isn’t Toren kind of made up of several skeletons where missing bits had to be patched and others got fortified? And, “he” can think… and level. And, patch “himself” to some degree…

    Baby’s. First. (Bonded) (Low-Level) Proto. Crypt. Lord.

    Way to go, Pisces. 😐 I hope to hell you patched that bug, doofus. 😛

    Thank goodness Toren is crap at chess and is learning Barmaid faster than Warrior, because levels in Tactician and loads in Warrior could become dire very quickly if independence along with no love gained for the living gets reached. <_< (Although, I think Toren got hit by the music, too: there's hope our put-upon, silent Jeeves got an inkling to enjoy existence a bit more than most undead get.)

    • I’m thinking it wasn’t Pisces. There’s been one other named [Necromancer] introduced thus far, and they were reported as being near Liscor’s vicinity. They were also reported as having an entire kingdom of undead, so–

      • I think it was Pisces since he attuned Toren to Erin. I’d assume you have to know the person you attune it to, which would make sense. Also the other necromancer is nowhere to be found and is supposed to be a few days away from Liscor.

        • Just jumping in on the comment chain. I may not have made this clear, but aside from being raised by a necromancer, the dead can just rise on their own if there’s enough magic or death nearby. A Crypt Lord can literally build itself if a zombie/ghoul/something else icky lives long enough. Evolution doesn’t stop after we die, it just gets ugly.

          • This raises soo many questions. In my next life I might become a crypt-zoologist, the questions are burning… Though as a crypt-zoologist, my first objection would be the word ‘evolution’ – this would be more like Lamarckian adaptive change… And how would that work? It might actually *be* evolution on the cellular level, if undeath is like a form of magical cancer that battles it out through various strains of ‘undeathness’, with the winner determining the characteristics of the overall undead…

            Like I said, questions man. Questions.

      • I didn’t say any of this mausoleum is Pisces’ work (it’s way too ancient). Or anybody’s work, for that matter.

        But, Toren has a few traits that are a bit… more similar to these Crypt Lords than your average, mindless zombie or skeleton. And, that is Pisces all over. 😛 He’s managed to tap into that side of the necrology.

        • WOW I hecked that up badly. Reading comprehension, where.

          But yeah, I see what you mean. He’s wielding ancient magic strong enough to create a self-sufficient undead with will of its own, and ain’t that somefin.

  4. Thanks a lot for the chapter!
    I just found this story a week ago and had to binge read it in 1 or 2 days.
    It immediately became my favourite webnovel, which is why I hope seeing you getting more supported.
    After looking at your patreons status, it’s noticable that the amount is still rather low.
    I don’t know if you are familiar with the chinese translations, but looking at the patreon sites of several translators, then those who release chapters more frequently than others get the most subscribers.
    In my opinion, the stories don’t even have to be good, take Martial God Asura as an example, which is overwhelmed with criticism on novelupdate, as some other tranlations are, which nevertheless get many subscribers.
    Those who can bring more often distraction in the daily lives of the readers get supported, not those with the most biggest chapters or even best content.(could be wrong,though)
    Given that you write something from scratch one can’t expect you to simply write more chapters. You can’T force your inspirations.
    That being said, you could divide your chapters, thus releasing 4 chapters in a week. It shouldn’T be that hard, as they are so gigantic.
    Even if it comes to an abrupt ending, I would still advice you to do it.
    One more thing, I would suggest to let your story be read on http://gravitytales.com, as you are doing it on royalroadl.com.
    If you are not familiar with this site, it offers a huge amount of chinese translations, which currentlyhave quite a big fan base, and some original stories.
    One of those is ‘How To Avoid Death On A Daily Basis’, which is, as you probably know, one of the highest ranked novels on topwebfiction.
    Gravitytales is one of the most visited sites, if not THE most, amongst the translation sites.
    So, you would get a huge number of potential readers.

    Not that these methods necessarily have to work, but at least try them.
    If it does not, then look for alternatives , and keep looking for them.
    I can only imagine how hard it must be to become a successful self-publisher.
    When I look at the blogs of some self-publishers, I see sometimes that they advertise the books of others, while theirs are being advertised by those ‘others’. This might be a thought for when you come to the point of selling it on, probably, amazon. Try to get into contact with other authors so you can help each other.
    One last thought regarding patreon. You could add the ‘Reward’ bar on the right side. Even if you don’T have any rewards to give to individual patreons, you could simply, as i have seen many others have done, offer your gratitude, or even better write something witty. Humor works wonders. Think what Pisces might be saying, and you have them already chuckling.

    Hope my lack of grammar skills weren’t too distracting.
    Wish you the best Luck!

    • Thanks for commenting! This is good input, and I had no idea Gravity Tales existed since I haven’t read any chinese-translated web novels yet. I’ll fill out one of their submission forms and see if they’ll have me, although The Wandering Inn doesn’t have a huge reader base just yet compared to what they’re asking for (10K views per each chapter). We’re around 10% of that which is still huge.

      One thing I don’t think I’ll be able to do is the 4 chapters per week thing. True, I write long chapters but I do it in one sitting and because I’m up against the deadline. I wouldn’t like to slice up what I’ve written and the effort of putting together four chapters per week might be too much. Plus, it would add way too many chapters to the table of contents which already needs an overhaul.

      But I do like the comparison between my story and translators earning a huge amount for converting a story from Chinese to English. Is that even legal? I’d ask whether the original authors knew if that was going on. If it were my story and I were asked by a fan I’d think about it–I’d love for my story to be translated into Japanese, Chinese, etc. but it is a tricky thing when people are profiting off of your work and none of it goes back to you.

      What I will do is take another look at my Patreon and maybe think up some humorous rewards. But on that note, does anyone have a reward idea that might be easy for me to do but that people would want? I feel like access to early chapters/bonus content is a bit problematic since this story is free and the donations are just to keep me alive, but let me know.

      Aaaah! Technical stuff is NOT what I’m good at!

      • First your question regarding the legality of receiving money for the translations.
        A percentage of the money is being send to the authors, or so we are told.
        I know only of one case where the author, of Martial God Asura, sent a video message thanking his english fan base, so he has to know of it.
        Second, you said you don’t like to ‘slice’ the chapters up, but why don’T you at least try it. If you want to make it for a living, then you might have to make a few concessions, and this wouldn’t even be a big one.
        Tee more often you post chapters on sites like royalroadl, or which other site you post it on, as well, the more likely it is that more people will see it, amongst the Latest released chapters.
        On royalroadl, for example, are so many chapters released of various novels at each day that after an hour its already not shown on the main page.
        The more often one post the less likely it is that it’s being ‘drowned’ by the other releases.
        That’s why chinese authors of webnovels have a release rate of 1 chapter or even 2 per day, because otherwise their work will simply not being noticed, at least it would be much harder.
        A bit of an extreme example, not that you should try to hold up that bar. The chinese authors have a much bigger competition.
        If you dont see much a difference even with the ‘slicing up’ then you could simply stop doing it, but you tried a new method, at least.
        Few suggestions for sites you could use to post chapters on , as well:
        (https://www.wattpad.com/
        https://www.inkitt.com
        https://writeon.amazon.com/)

        As for the high bar gravitytales sets, which you wouldn’t be able to hold up, you could check out this site https://kobatochan.com/original-works/ . It focuses on korean novels,though, but it is still well visited, as far as i know. I don’t know their requirements, unfortunately.
        And if that not works than try a smaller visited site and try to work yourself up.
        The money that is being spend on gravtiytales makes me sometimes want to faint, and you come more likely across a generous fan.

        I know that i make it, as though you have your increase of fans is low.
        You had posted chapters on royalroadl only 28 days ago, and you are already on the 5th page of the ‘Best Rated’, which is amazing.
        But why be satisfied with what you have when you could improve that.

        You wish to write for a living in the future, don’t you?
        If it is just a hobby, then forget what i suggested.
        No reason to make it more exhausting than it has to be.

        Hope i didn’t annoy you too much by making you read another big comment.
        Good Luck!

        • Hm. Royal Road is interesting since I know we in the top 50 and going strong until repeated 0.5 ratings kicked the story back into just under the top 100 slot.

          That’s the trouble with a voting/rating system on sites, so for now the story is getting buried by the countless updates it’s true. But I could delay my updates and do a 4-chapter spread just like you are suggesting and keep it the same on this site.

          Looks like the Gravity Tales application has to wait, but I’ll look at all the other sites you mentioned. Thanks for all the suggestions!

          • I have a possible suggestion for a witty patreon reward.

            “Perscies is overwhelmed with joy.
            To show it he decided to create for you your own skeleton to satisfy all your needs. ; )”

            WEll.. i guess it is rather a creepy reward than a humurous one. 🙂
            I would advise you to make rewards that reminds them of funny moments of the story , like Erin and her rather crazy dish(acid flies)., which she so gratefully like you to reward with.

            • I have one last website to suggest for you to post the story on.
              I just saw that Wuxiaworld, which should be similarly well visited, as gravitytales is, allows users to post their original stories.
              The downside is that it’s “only” on their forum site, which is obviously less visited, but i still saw that some stories got over 40k views, so you could get quite a few new readers, nevertheless.
              THe upside is that because it is not on their homepage, you don’T have to reach a certain average amount of viewers, like you do on gravityt. .

      • Well I just binge-read everything in a few hours, and I must say I’m loving it, as for suggestions to rewards, I’ve seen examples of authors who add bonus world-building chapters in return for donations met, but you’ve also got a brilliant story going so it just needs time to grow a bigger fan base, I’m definitely voting for it, I’d even contribute if I could, it really is that good

  5. Don’t worry too much about the size of the update. Honestly, I don’t. Just write your story and then release it. Personally, I think it’s more important to release the updates on time than worry about how big of an update it is. I agree with Tim (above) that you could even release your story in smaller parts without worrying about losing readers. Your story is good enough for it.
    Keep up the good work!

    • I usually don’t care about the update length, but I wanted to finish this part without dragging things on too long. Heck, even I think the gap between updates is long since I like writing and seeing people’s reactions as much as anyone else. I just don’t have time to write more with a job, and hate writing anyways. The product is what I seek, not the joy of typing away.

  6. This chapter doesn’t feel ended prematurely! I think the conclusion of the battle is a great place to conclude!

    From a writing perspective, it might be easier to track which characters are which if they kept their personalities during fighting– even if it’s just a word of dialogue or a description. Even in an epic fight scene, the story needs to be character driven to remain fun.
    You do an excellent job of this with the minotaur, but he’s such a recognizable character already that im not having trouble keeping track of where he is or what he’s doing.

    Nice work on this one. It was sweet to see the difference in tone between the disorganized ambush and the fight they were prepared for. I like that you made their victory because of planning and of banding together, as opposed to the deus ex machina of the Drake’s magic chess abilities. That was there, but it wasn’t why they won, and it would have been unsatisfactory if it had had been.

    Waiting for the next one

  7. Just a thought: pimp the keep. With Ceria et al initially attacking Toren at the beginning of their relationship to her confusing Skeleton #38 with the slimmest Barmaid ever… I think a major change in personal presentation is required. One that yells “not your standard random encounter”. 😛

    Poor Toren. Somebody needs to get a Ouja board, a wax tablet or just a pile of handmade Scrabble tiles and some reading lessons to get their actual opinion across, because I’m fairly sure whatever Erin picks out will not necessarily go down well. And, now I’ve doomed myself to thinking about a barista outfit pinned onto a very reluctant skeleton… >_<

  8. I also feel your patreon page lacks goals with funny descriptions
    and rewards

    Looking at the other creator’s I support, my suggestions:
    – 1-2$ per month: love, hugs, adblock absolution
    – X$ per month: public thank you, your name at the end of each post, or somewhere in the site
    – X$ per month: Backstage Access: secrets of the world: 1 post per month only for these patrons with secrets of the world not necessarily related to the characters
    – Y$ per month: Personal Access: 1 google hangsouts per month where you get to talk with your favourite author and ask anything, or just talk and play games
    – Z$ per month: Unpublished Access: you now write in google docs, and patreons of this level get an invite when you create a doc to start writting and thus can watch live as you type away into the night

    I also concur with the expressed opinion that concessions are to be expected, to raise the fan-base faster – such as (maybe continue posting here normally) but then splitting the chapter and posting in the other sites 1/day with a time delay

    Cheers 🙂

    • OR maybe split the chapter and offer your patrons them earlier.

      So, for instance, on sunday the patrons get the 1st half , while 1st is ‘only’ available for non patrons on monday, on which the 2nd half can already be read for patrons, and on Tuesday for non patrons.
      ON Tuesday can the patrons, already, read the 1st half of the next chapter , 2nd Wednesday, and Wednesday,THursday for non pat. .
      This way both parties can read every day for 4 days a chapter.
      It has a much nicer flow in my opinion, and for you doesn’T change much.
      It’s not tha i ask you to release the sunday chapter on saturday for patrons or the tuesday one on monday.

      THe only downside would be to have to go through the hassle of posting more often, which is in my opinion a minor inconvenience.

      This way you would have a real incentive to give, without having to work more than you do now.

      • One last thought would be to give, as i said, the patrons a day earlir access to the half chapters, but only for those, who give you 1 dollar, while the more generous patrons (2 maybe 3 dollars) gain immediately access to the full chapter on Sunday and Tuesday.
        As i said in an earlier post, try different methods, and, if you realize that they are not very effective, change them (Trial and Error), until you find a satisfying system.

        • *seems like i didn’t pay attention.
          I wrote sunday, although you are releasing on saturday.
          So, for patrons Sa/Su, while for non pat. Su/Mo.
          The dates for the other chapters stay the same.
          Quick question. Which timezone do you live in, and what time do you usually release the chapters.
          The dates for the other chapters stay the same.
          Quick question. Which timezone do you live in, and what time do you usually release the chapters.

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