How many times have you hacked down a zombie
without thinking about it? Ever wondered who the
shadowy force is behind that dungeon? Spared a
thought for the poor denizens who are sat around
in those chilly Crypts waiting for the next
victim? No? Perhaps it's time to see the story
from the other side...
Tired of Death! Dungeon!
by Neil Hartley
Tired of Life Death. Neil Hartley.
A Comedy of Terrors.
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
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 blocking 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
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
"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 na´ve 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
He sat back, picked a gobbet of flesh off the corpse of the unfortunate
Theodore the White, and considered his options...
Crug the Barbarian growled, his muscled body gleaming in the dull light.
"Sure trap?" He gestured forward with his overlarge sword.
"Of course I'm sure. Some sort of trip mechanism I think," Littlehorn
replied, annoyed at having his expertise challenged.
The Halfling thief was clad in black leather, with a short bow and quiver
slung over his shoulder. Several daggers were strapped to his chest, and
he carried a small pack on his back. It was all standard dungeon
exploring issue. Sighing, he turned and examined the ground just ahead of
them once more. The corridor looked the same as the others they had been
wandering around in for the past several hours. This area of the dungeon
was obviously designed to confuse, and it did a good job of it. The
section here was straight, sloping down slightly. He'd stopped because
one of the cobbles ahead looked a lighter gray than the others, and seemed
to be slightly higher.
He glanced over his shoulder at his three colleagues, who were standing a
little way behind him. A faint breeze came out of the gloom to the rear,
as if trying to push them onwards
The barbarian looked bored. He swung his huge sword idly in one hand, and
ran his fingers through long dark hair with the other. He wore only a
loin cloth and a pair of sandals. Standing next to the large man was the
wizard, Redthorne. Dressed in long red robes, he was scowling and leaning
on his staff. His beard tumbled halfway down his chest, and the
traditional pointy hat sat jammed down over his ears. It had fallen off
in a scuffle with some Orcs earlier, and was now slightly bent near the
"You'd better move forward and see to it," the wizard ordered. "One of us
would just blunder into it if we went together."
"Why do you not cast a detection spell?" the final member of the group
asked. The cleric, Nom the Noble, was standing and trying to peer into
the darkness through the eye slits of his helmet, which covered the upper
half of his face. His armor was colored white, and he held a matching
shield with a circular emblem painted on it, the symbol of his god. By
his side, a wicked looking mace was attached to a wide leather belt.
"We're not far in," replied the wizard. "I don't want to waste magic now.
The thief is up to this, aren't you?"
Littlehorn nodded. "Wait here," he said, and moved off carefully, scanning
the ground intently.
Behind him he heard Nom speak again. "I feel death nearby."
Littlehorn rolled his eyes as he inched forward, and replied without
looking back. "We're in the most dangerous and ancient tomb this side of
the Very Black Mountains. Of course there's death nearby. It's all
"Probably Theodore," grunted Crug, as the thief dropped down to slide
forward on his belly.
"Yes, I told him not to wander off on his own," Redthorne said."Shhh!"
hissed Littlehorn, as he detected a small wire ahead. "There's
With a crash that echoed off the walls, a stone slab slammed down behind
him, cutting him off from the rest of the group. Simultaneously a spike
shot up out of the ground, piercing his leather armor and stabbing into
his leg. His magic light went out, leaving him in total darkness.
He rolled over, pulling his leg off the barb with a wet squelching sound.
Clutching at his thigh he tried to staunch the bleeding. He could dimly
hear the pounding and shouts of the rest of the group from the other side
of the new wall.
"Damn!" he moaned. "Damn damn damn!" Reaching around, he groped about in
his pack for a bandage.
There was a noise nearby. A grinding, as if part of the wall was moving.
"Is that you Crug?" he whispered.
There was no reply. Littlehorn squinted into the dark, but even with his
night vision he could see nothing. His hand located the bandage and he
drew it out of the bag, trying to move without making a sound.
There was an echo of a whisper. He froze, even as a cold sweat broke out
on his forehead. His heart thumped in his chest and his breathing sped
He started, very slowly, to move again when the bandage was torn from his
hand. A cold breeze sprang up, chilling him to the bone. Littlehorn
dragged himself to one side and pulled out his dagger. A sound in front
of him! He swung the blade blindly.
Something, his bandage he quickly realized, was thrown around his neck, and
he was yanked back. Cold fingers pulled the knife from his hand whilst
something held his legs. The Halfling groped desperately at the cloth,
trying to free himself.
There was the chill kiss of metal along his midsection, cutting through the
leather armor, slicing neatly up from pelvis to chest.
"Aaahhhhhh!" His breath felt icy in his throat.
A hand, cold as death, reached into the slit in his stomach, pulling at his
insides even as he thrashed about futilely, sobbing and gagging on bile.
A low hiss in his ear. "Trouble breathing? Let me help." The hand pushed
up under his ribcage, an alien intrusion in his guts, and squeezed.
"AAAaaaaaargggggmmmmmfffff!" Littlehorn gagged as his insides were
brutally thrust upwards, forcing themselves up his throat, distending it
obscenely, and vomiting them out of his mouth in a mash of tissue and
"Hmmm. I love Halfling!" The zombie threw away a femur and sat back with
a smile on his face.
"Yars, thmmfks frrr hemmfing us," said his friend, mouth full of liver.
"Think nothing of it," replied Dreth, sitting in his chair and watching the
two undead gorge. He waited. The zombies were typical of their kind.
Both were clad in dirty rags, with rents in the cloth revealing yellow
rotting skin underneath, pot-marked with boils, lesions and sores. Their
teeth were brown and yellow, and both had wispy gray hair that barely
covered the flaking skin on their skulls.
"Wait a minute!" the first one frowned. His name was Cuthbert, and he was
unusually bright for a zombie.
Here it comes, thought Dreth.
"Why are you being so nice all of a sudden?" he asked. "I mean, I've been
down here hundreds of years, and you've never helped us before. Why
"Ythhs, why now?" echoed his friend, who was called Percy.
Dreth tapped the arm of his chair, which was made of arm. "I have come to
a recent decision. I've decided that I've had enough of this `life'."
"Oh, I see." Percy lost interest, and bit back into the still steaming
organs of the Halfling.
Cuthbert though, who was brighter, or at least fresher, looked at Dreth.
"Call me old fashioned, which I am, but I get the feeling that you aren't
doing this as a goodbye present. Anyway, isn't it against the rules to
abandon your post? I mean, you're a Guardian! There are probably things
they can do to stop you wandering off you know."
"Like what?" Dreth said. "Give me a letter of bad conduct? Dishonorable
discharge? I don't think so. Hand me that hand will you?"Cuthbert picked
up the pale appendage and passed it to Dreth. "No, I mean, you know...
Guardians." He tried to wink knowingly, but only succeeded in looking
like a bewildered, and very unhealthy, owl.
"Guardians to Guard the Guardians? Who Guards them? Who Guards the
Guardian Guardians?" Dreth picked a ring off a finger and stuffed the
hand into a pack.
"Stop saying Guardians. You know what I mean." Cuthbert picked up a foot
from the pile and nibbled on a toe. "Look, as a favor the lads and me
would be willing to come in and cut you up real good. Eat you if we have
to. That would kill you wouldn't it? Release you from damnation and all
that. I could look after your maggot collection, if that's what's
Dreth sighed, which was particularly impressive in a wheezy sort of way.
He put his pack down and turned to face the undead. "Look, I don't want
to die okay? At least not without seeing some of the world anyway. You
know how old I was when I... I became like this?"
"No," said the zombie, spitting out a toenail.
"Well," Dreth looked around the room. "Truth is I can't remember, but
probably not very old. The point is, even if you cut me up into little
cubes, I wouldn't die! I would just be little-cube shaped, and very
"Oh. I see."
"Cuthbert, how long have you been down here?"
Cuthbert shrugged, a rather one sided gesture as his left arm was over on
the table. "A couple of hundred years maybe."
"Why don't you leave?" Dreth picked up his sack again and peered inside.
"Well, it's a job you know? I was never very good at being alive, truth be
told." Cuthbert looked uncomfortable for a moment. He took another bite
of foot and masticated noisily. "Anyway, ten minutes out there and I'd be
hacked apart by some over-zealous Cleric or something."
Dreth tied his pack off and looked at the undead munching on the remains of
the thief. "Why don't you come with me? It'll be an adventure."
"No, thanks, I was never the adventurous type. Anyway, I'm okay here.
It's not that bad really."
"When I said, `why don't you come along?' I wasn't really asking." Dreth
examined a variety of swords and other weapons he had saved from his many
"Bastard. Everyone always picks on us Zombies, we're the scum of the
undead world, isn't that right Percy?" He nudged the other zombie, who
was sucking an eyeball out of the skull with a slurping sound.
"Eh? You what now?"
Cuthbert made a tutting noise and attempted to take a deep breath, though
this was not altogether successful as his lungs were quite rotten.
One sword that seemed to throb with black energy caught Dreth's eye. The
hilt was silver and gold, inlaid with various red gems. White runes were
engraved up the length of the blade. He picked it up and swung it about,
testing the balance.
"Hey! Watch where you're waving that thing! Nearly had my arm off! My
other one I mean."
"Sorry," Dreth said, not very sincerely. He found a suitable scabbard and
strapped the sword on around his robes. "How do I look?"
"Like a dead man walking."
"Haha. Very funny. Now, finish your adventurer. There's one more thing I
need your help with."
Cuthbert tucked the foot into his belt and stood up. "Now what?"
"There's a group coming through the tunnels. This one," he pointed to the
now mostly eaten thief, "and that stupid fighter who pulled your arm off
were members of their party."
"I want to take one with us."
"You what?" Cuthbert gawked at him, spitting out several teeth. "Are you
mad? Oh wait, you mean as a snack."
"Nope, I mean whole and upright. Sometimes the fully alive can get past
things that we... not quite living can't."
"Why just one then? Why not take the group? There are still three left."
Dreth rubbed at his forehead. The trouble with zombies was that their
brains were mostly rotten, they weren't too great on thinking. "There's a
wizard, a Cleric and a barbarian. All of them together may be a bit hard
to control out of our little area. One though, one would be manageable."
"Well, I'm not taking the Cleric, that's for sure." Percy folded his arms.
"They give me the creeps. Have you ever been turned? Not nice I can
tell you. A friend of mine was turned a while ago, he's been off his game
ever since. Hardly even bothers to shuffle along properly any more." He
shook his head sadly.
"The Barbarian would be the easiest," said Cuthbert, getting back on
"Perhaps so, but the wizard would probably be the most useful," Dreth
"Dangerous those mages," Percy countered. "The current record holder for
the Pit of Doom was a mage. The Giant Spiders were cleaning up for
"Still, something to be said for a good spellcaster." Dreth kicked the
Halflings' mutilated head across the room, bouncing it off the wall so it
came to rest against a pile of skulls.
"Good shot," said Cuthbert.
"Crug no like," Crug said in his most eloquent tones. "Crug think trap."
"I concur with our brawny friend," the Cleric interjected. "My instincts
say we should pay heed."
The three surviving adventurers were huddled in another passageway. Having
failed to open the slab that had trapped Littlehorn, they had backtracked
and taken another route in the hopes of finding their friend. They hadn't
found the thief, but they had narrowly avoided two spiked pits, one
swinging axe, a fireball activated by a pressure pad, and three tripwires.
They were still no nearer to finding their companion, and tempers were
beginning to fray.
"Look, of course it's a trap. The whole place is one giant trap."
Redthorne rubbed at his forehead in annoyance. "I admit I made a mistake
hiring that worthless thief, or I should have at least hired two. Still,
he's gone now, and I say we push ahead with our mission. Unless you are
going to renege on your agreements?" The mage raised his staff in a
"Nom does not break his sworn oath!" declared the Cleric.
"Renege is what?" said the Barbarian.
"Just move forward," sighed Redthorne. "Slowly!"
The three set off down the corridor, which had a number of shadowy alcoves
along the walls, containing nothing they could detect. They traversed the
tunnel with no mishaps, much to their relief, and emerged into a large
dark cavern, the use of which was not apparent.
There was a slight noise, though it wasn't possible to identify where it
originated from, as the whole place seemed to echo. The three stepped
into defensive formation, with Crug in front, his enormous sword raised
high. Nom clutched the Orb of his god, Grom, and muttered a blessing,
whilst Redthorne held his staff and readied magic.
A skittering noise came from the left. Crug swung round as a large black
spider appeared out of the dark and lunged towards him. Two more of the
creatures materialized from the right and Redthorne turned to face those,
staff blazing white in his hands. More movement could be made out in the
Behind them, from the tunnel they had just emerged from, came another
sound. Nom turned to see a zombie, arms outstretched, lurching towards
"Undead to the rear!" he cried, raising his orb.
"Deal with them then! We'll take the arachnids," the wizard commanded,
throwing white fire at a giant Black Widow.
"I kill spider!" Crug said, covered in green gunk. The remains of a
greater tarantula lay on the floor next to his feet.
Nom faced the zombie and raised his Orb. He cast his mind out to the Might
of his god, and reached for the Power. The mighty deity Grom responded,
sending the force of Good through his vassal and towards the undead in an
invisible wave of energy. The creature made a hissing sound and staggered
backwards as the magic impacted.
"My thanks to my Lord," muttered Nom and, taking his mace in hand, strode
forward to finish the foul beast, which was now fleeing up the passage.
The wizard shouted something behind him, but Nom was intent on his prey,
and ignored the warning. The zombie lurched around a corner into an
alcove and cowered against the wall as the Cleric approached.
"Die creature of evil!" Nom raised his mace of Smiting and brought it down
upon the creatures' skull.
Or tried to. Something restrained him. He looked up and saw a thin hand,
pale skin barely covering the bone, gripping the shaft of his raised
A dry voice whispered next to his ear. "Perhapsss not." Nom straightened
as sharp claws dug into his back, just below his armor. He screamed in
pain as cold fingers wrapped around the base of his spine, severing all
control to the lower part of his body. He pitched forward, to be caught
by the zombie he'd so recently cornered.
"Time for the zombies to fight back Cleric," it hissed in his face, blowing
fetid breath over him.
There was a wet sound, and Nom felt a cold sensation along his back as his
spine was forcibly wrenched from his flesh. The restraints on his armor
snapped and it fell to the floor with a dull clang. The tearing sound was
loud in his ears now, and with the last moments of his life Nom saw his
corpse fall forward, a long bloody hole where his backbone had been,
terminating at a ragged tear where his head had been twisted away from the
Blood spread outwards in a dark pool on the stone floor, and Nom's spirit
ascended to join his god.
"You cut it fine is all I'm saying," Cuthbert complained as they walked
along. "Another second and I'd have just been a load of rotting
"You were never in any danger. That medallion I gave you warded off the
Cleric's power didn't it?"
"Maybe so," Cuthbert looked down at the dull black necklace hanging around
his rotten neck. "But it still hurt."
"Well here then, you deserve this one." Dreth handed over the Cleric's
head, now permanently etched into a look of horrified surprise. The still
attached spinal column dripped blood and muscle tissue.
"Oh nice! I do like a good lollipop." Cuthbert took the remains and
licked at the still dripping backbone. "Yummy."
They wandered back along the dark corridors to where Percy was waiting.
"Where are they now then?" asked Percy, looking jealously at Cuthbert as he
savored the tongue of the holy man.
"The spiders pushed them back, they're resting just outside the Troll
caverns." Dreth arranged his cloak about him so that it looked the most
ominous. "We still need to separate them before they leave our territory
"Why not just rush them?" Cuthbert asked, waving Nom's jawbone about.
"Oooh! A gold tooth! I always wanted a gold tooth!" He wrestled with
the jaw, pulling at the item in question.
"I suppose we could," Dreth considered it. "We should be able to take them
easily enough now the Cleric's out of the way. We need to act quickly
though, if they wander into the trolls we'll have a hard time getting the
"I dunno," said Percy. "That wizard seems to be pretty powerful. I think
we should push them into the goblins. Then we can take the wizard whilst
the Barbarian is fighting them. We know the tunnels in that area, and the
goblins are scared of you."
Dreth looked up in surprise at this unusually bright idea from Percy. "Not
a bad choice, though we aren't on the best terms with the Goblin King if
"Pah! Goblins. I can't be held responsible if I accidentally eat one of
them can I?" Percy looked disgusted.
"Maybe so, but you could have checked that it wasn't their princess first,"
"Look at me! I have a gold tooth!" Cuthbert danced around grinning, his
new denture forced into a gap in his gums.
"Just concentrate on the problem at hand please, or I'll give your lollipop
"Bah, you were never fun," the zombie cradled the Clerics' head and sat
down. "Why don't we get the spiders to attack them, and take the wizard
in the confusion? Worked for this one," he patted his toy.
"How would we get them back into the spider's lair?" said Dreth. "They
know it's there now. Besides, the spiders lost quite a few of their kind
in the fight, I doubt they would go for it."
"We could offer the Barbarian to them," suggested Cuthbert, trying to see
his reflection in an old helmet.
"No fair! You got the Cleric!" protested Percy. "The Barbarian is mine!"
Cuthbert grinned a gold tinted grin and held the noggin close. Dreth shook
his head and considered the options. "We may have to go with the goblins,
I'd prefer to lure them into the troll caverns, but I can't think of any
way to do that." He sat down on his chair and then jumped slightly as a
piece of parchment slid under the door.
"What's that then?" asked Percy.
"How should I know? I've never had anyone slip anything under the door
before." Dreth thought a moment. "Well, except for a thief one time.
Anyway, give it too me." He waggled his fingers.
"Yes your highness," Cuthbert said sarcastically, picking up the paper and
handing it to Dreth, who was silent for a minute as he read the spidery
"So?" Asked the zombies in unison, when he finally put the parchment down.
Dreth passed it back to Cuthbert, who squinted at it in the gloom.
"What's it say?" said Percy, who had forgotten how to read. He peered over
Cuthbert's shoulder as his friend read the notice out loud, tracing the
text with a finger.
Deceased and Desist Order.
It is come to our notice that `Dreth', subsection 3b, area 4 (undead),
designation: Undead Way Guardian (advanced level); henceforth referred to
as `The Resident', has been engaged in un-authorized activities. To wit:
Venturing outside allotted dungeon domain (undead).
Furthermore: It has come to our attention that the Resident's lair has been
left unattended for unacceptable periods of time, and that the Resident
has engaged and distracted several zombies, designation: Guardians (Fodder
level), from their assigned patrol areas.
Such activity is in direct breach of agreed protocols and directly
contravenes the contractual duties of the Resident.
This order is the first and only warning, as specified in sub-section
4,509, paragraph 52, lines 309-466, for the Resident to return to Dungeon
Guardian (advanced level) duties. Failure to abide by the terms of the
contract will result in disciplinary agents being dispatched.
Thank-you for your attention. Have a nice day.
"Fodder level is it?" muttered Percy. "Cheeky buggers. I'm a professional
I am. That's downright degrading."
"Who's DM?" asked Cuthbert, passing the note back to Dreth.
Dreth shrugged. "No idea, don't care." He scrunched the notice into a
ball and threw it on the floor.
"Do you still have this contract?" Cuthbert said, as Percy wandered off
grumbling to himself.
Dreth scratched his head. "I don't think so. I signed it before... before
I became like this. After the wizard changed me I didn't really think
"So you're going to stay here now then?" inquired Percy, who had started
rummaging through a pile of old equipment in the corner. "Hey! Look! I
found a wand!" He held up a long stick.
"Let me see that," Dreth said. He examined the artifact closely for a
moment. "Hmmm, a wand of illusion, still a couple of charges left." He
rubbed his chin. "I think I have an idea..."
"Are you listening to me warrior?" Redthorne poked the barbarian with his
"Crug hear. Crug no like. Cleric dead for sure. Just..." the fighter
counted on his fingers for a moment, "two of us now. Not good. This
The mage leaned back against the wall of the alcove they had taken refuge
in after the spider fight. "Yes, I know. However we're blocked off from
the exit. Big dropping slab remember? We have no choice but to push on."
He consulted a piece of parchment. "I think I know where we are anyway."
He pointed at a location on the map. "According to this there are goblins
that way somewhere," he waved his hand to their right, down a dark
"Goblins easy kill. No problem."
"Yes, for once we're thinking along the same lines. The important thing
is... We must not split up! Do you understand? Hey! Are you listening
"Quiet. Crug hear something."
"Don't quiet me! This dungeon seems to work by picking people off one by
one, if we stay together... Hey! Where are you going? Weren't you
listening to what I just said?"
"Crug hear woman! Maiden need help! Quick!"
"What the... Don't be an idiot! What's a woman doing down..." The wizard
cursed to himself as the barbarian stood up and started jogging off to the
left. "Blast the moron!" He scrambled around, stuffing papers into his
pack before scrambled after his sole surviving companion. "No more
barbarians! I swear! Next time it's Rangers all the way. Crug you
numbskull! Where are you? Oh there." He glanced the back of the
barbarian hurrying off down a fork in the tunnel, and scrambled after him.
"Wait for me!"
The wizard panted as he raced down one tunnel and then up another after his
companion. "Hold on blast you! This is not somewhere we can simply run
The passage terminated abruptly, and the figure stopped at the dead end to
turn and face him.
As Redthorne drew closer some sixth sense caused him to slow and raise his
The fighters' form shimmered and changed, to be replaced by a different
profile altogether. The impostor was still tall, but far from the muscle
bound torso of the barbarian, this one seemed to be more corpse-like.
Indeed, it appeared to be skeletal thin. Pale skin was drawn tightly over
bones, and dark eyes stared out at him from a deathly white face.
The figure stood still, its black robe hanging loosely around it, revealing
a sword strapped to one side. A dark Aura swam about the weapon, visible
only to the wizards' extended senses.
"Beast! What have you done with Crug?"
"The barbarian is being dealt with by some friends of mine. He shall be
worm fodder before you can do anything about it wizard." The voice was
barely more than a hiss.
"Then you shall die!" Redthorne raised his staff.
"Wait!" A claw-like hand raised in a gesture. "Look behind you."
Redthorne looked at the creature through narrowed eyes. What was going on
here? He glanced behind him. Two more figures, mere zombies, were at his
back, one wielding a rusty sword and the other apparently straining to
hold a spear.
"You may get a spell off, who knows? It may even hurt me, but even if you
manage to harm me, my friends will run you through."
"What's your game creature? Why do you toy with me thus? Do you have my
"Your comrades are no longer a consideration," it said ominously.
"However, I need your help."
"My help? My help?" Redthorne kept his staff leveled at the figure. "You
are but a foul servant of evil! Why should I help you?"
"Aside from the obvious answer that you will end up dead if you don't? It
could work to your advantage."
Redthorne cocked his head to one side. This didn't seem like your usual
dungeon ploy. Something strange was going on here. He lowered his staff
slightly, whilst still remaining alert. "Go on, I'm listening."
"Save me! Help!"
Crug could hear the damsel clearly now, her high pitched voice ringing with
desperation. He held his sword in front of him and moved, panther like,
towards the sound. Of course it could be a trap, but Barbarians didn't
heed that sort of thing. They went in sword swinging. It was a tactic
that had always worked for him before.
Turning into a large cave he squinted in the gloom. The voice was coming
from... over there! He slid quietly forward, towards a dark shape lying
on the floor.
Crug crept up and knelt down next to the figure. "Never fear pretty
maid... Arg!" The barbarian leapt backwards and swung his sword.
The trollop* cackled and rolled to one side, avoiding the swing. "Oh! My
love has come to rescue me!" she rasped, clasping her hands together in
"Troll! Me kill now!" Crug jumped forward with surprising agility for
someone with such bulk, catching the trollop by surprise with an attack
that cut her arm neatly off at the shoulder.
"You Human! Do you know how long arms take to grow back?!" The creature,
no longer amused, snarled, showing long yellow fangs.
"Hah! Crug no scared one little troll!" The barbarian advanced, weapon
ready to strike again.
"Perhaps a big one then?" A shadow detached itself from the cavern wall
and advanced to reveal the largest, meanest looking troll Crug had ever
"Crug know no fear!" said Crug, not quite truthfully.
The large newcomer stepped forward, hefting a huge club. "Come then."
Crug spat and advanced, thrusting his sword as he did so. It pierced the
trolls' side, causing green blood to spurt messily.
"Get him!" shouted the trollop.
Suddenly the barbarian was surrounded by large green creatures. He dodged
to avoid a swing from a club, only to have claws rake his back, scoring
lines of fire across his body.
He twisted, slicing and cutting green flesh as he did so.
There was a sick crunching noise, and a something slammed into his ribs.
He heard his bones break under the impact and the air seemed to be sucked
from his body. Crug staggered, looking up just in time to see the large
troll swing his giant weapon round in a long arc. Time seemed to slow.
He tried to jump back, but his legs were no longer responding. The
barbarian could only watch as the club drew level and then smashed into
the side of his head. He heard a short tearing sound and, for a brief
second he seemed to be flying through the air. Then his detached brain
ball hit a wall, and it all went dark...
*Female troll that is.
"I still don't believe the Barbarian would be defeated that easily," the
wizard said again as they walked down the service tunnel towards the troll
quarters. Lurching along with them were Cuthbert and Percy, muttering
amongst themselves as they went.
Dreth shook his head. Why were mages always so stubborn? "You haven't met
Kevin. He's the largest troll this side of the Luminous Lands. Even if
he is a big, er..." He trailed off.
"A big what?" asked Redthorne. "Hey! Is that zombie eating a foot?"
"Sorry!" said Cuthbert, holding out the remains of the Halfling's
appendage. "You want a bite? I haven't eaten much of it."
The wizard recoiled in horror. "That's Littlehorn!" he said accusingly.
"Part of him anyway," grinned Cuthbert, nibbling on heel.
"You are monsters! What am I doing with you?"
"Not becoming dessert if you remember?" said Dreth, trying to nudge the
conversation back on topic, whatever that was.
"Did you also take my Cleric?"
Cuthbert grinned widely for an answer. In his mouth a lone gold tooth
Redthorne shook his head. "I should have listened to Barth. He told me
hiring adventurers from a tavern was a mistake. It seems he was
"Don't be too hard on yourself," said Percy kindly. "This is one tough
"Okay, somewhere around here," said Dreth.
"Are there these tunnels all through the dungeon?" asked Redthorne.
Dreth nodded. "I assume so, though we only know the ones in our area.
This is as nearest exit I know of to the troll territory." He felt around
the wall, looking for the hidden door switch. "It's been a while. Ah,
here we go." He pressed several bricks in succession and part of the wall
swung aside with a grinding noise, to reveal a damp passage beyond.
They stepped through and moved off as the door swung shut behind them.
After a little way down Dreth turned to the wizard. "Best keep quiet.
Don't say anything provocative. We agreed to give your barbarian to them
as a good will gesture, and the leader is a friend of mine, but we don't
want to push them even so. Trolls are not renowned for their honor and
The wizard nodded as they walked into a dimly lit cavern. To one side
large green forms sat, lay, or stood about, several apparently fighting
with each other. To the other side smaller figures, young trolls, were
playing some sort of kickabout game. Dreth saw what they were using for a
ball and hoped the mage wouldn't notice, though it seemed the wizard was
too busy trying not to gag at the smell.
They walked through the cave towards a crude dais, upon which a huge troll
lounged. He had a wilted flower in his greasy hair. On one side of him a
trollop was sprawled on the floor, chewing on something.
The seated troll saw them and stood up, one hand on his hip. The enormous
creature loomed above Dreth as he approached.
"Dreth my good fellow! So wonderful to see you again my dear!" His voice
was surprisingly camp, which seemed strange coming from such a big
creature. "We received your present!" He gestured at a pile next to his
seat, which turned out to be Crug, neatly dissected.
Dreth felt the wizard stiffen next to him, and laid a hand on his shoulder
for a moment before turning to the troll and speaking. "Glad you didn't
have any trouble with him. Let me introduce you to my team. This is
Redthorne, mage. Standing drooling here are my old colleagues Cuthbert
and Percy, zombies first class. Guys, this is Kevin. He's the leader of
"Charmed to meet you two. Please my lovies, help yourself." The troll
king gestured towards the barbarian pieces, upon which the two zombies
hissed their thanks and lurched forward to pick at the remains.
"So, my dear, a mage eh? Are you sure you know what you're doing? They
can be such beasts!" Kevin draped a friendly arm around Dreth, who took
Dreth shrugged. "If I intend to seek out the treasure of this place, I'm
going to need all the help I can get."
Kevin sighed. "Well, your funeral I suppose, but you know humans can't be
trusted. Living ones anyway," he amended hastily. "Such a waste of a
handsome body too." He pawed at Dreth and shook his head sadly. "So,
what can Uncle Kevin do to help?" The troll put a finger into his lanky
hair and twisted it around whilst pouting at the wizard, who stood quietly
to one side.
"I need information about how to get to the inner sanctum. Any help you
can give us would be appreciated."
Kevin frowned for a moment. "Well, as it's you asking darling, I have
someone who may be able to help." He looked around for a moment.
"MUUUUDD!" He shouted in a deafening roar, which echoed off the walls.
Dreth looked around. No one seemed to be paying any attention. Kevin
scowled. "That bitch. Wait here a moment." He minced off, somehow
managing to make the `raving fairy' walk look dangerous.
The zombies wandered back over, mouths full of fresh Crug.
"That troll is eating her own arm!" said Cuthbert in a stage whisper to
Dreth, pointing to the trollop.
"So?" asked Dreth.
"It's disgusting is all," replied Cuthbert, waving the remains of the
barbarian's hand and spitting out several finger bones.
"Well, you are what you eat I suppose." Dreth shrugged and turned to the
mage, who was looking on in revulsion. "See? Your great fighter is
nothing more than lunch. Do you need any more convincing?"
"You've made your point. But tell me again. What do I get out of this
"You get to live for one thing, and the treasure is supposed to be
fabulous, if we can reach it. You will get your share."
Redthorne nodded, but he didn't look too happy. He opened his mouth to
speak again, but was interrupted by the arrival of Kevin, who had a small
figure in tow.
"This is Mud," said Kevin, gesturing at his stunted companion. "He's my...
ah, advisor." He gave a lewd wink.
Dreth looked Mud over. He didn't seem to be much of a troll in the
traditional sense. Barely as tall as Dreth, the creature had a hunchback
and wore round battered spectacles. His skin was a sickly white color,
instead of healthy green. Under one arm he held an enormous book.
"We need to get to the treasure. What can you tell me?" asked Dreth.
Mud coughed and pushed his glasses further up his warty nose. "The
treasure is it? Well, what I can tell you is mainly hearsay, gathered
from other denizens and adventurers."
"Before they were eaten," added Kevin. "He knows that. Get on with it."
Kevin examined his nails, which were painted a variety of colors.
"Well, it's not much. There's really only one way to go from here that I
"And that is?" asked Dreth.
"The Dark," replied Mud. "I don't know what's in there though." He
"Great," said Dreth.
"Would you stop for lunch sweetie? I think there's enough to go around.
If not, perhaps the wizard?" Kevin looked at Redthorne and licked his
"Ah, no. I think we'd better get off, thanks anyway," said Dreth
hurriedly. He gestured at the zombies. "Come on you two, stop stuffing
your faces and let's go. We have a dungeon to delve!"
"Well, if you need anything, you know where to find me." Kevin gave a
little wave and turned back to his throne with his arm around Mud.
They were on the way out when Percy noticed the young trolls playing
football with the barbarians' head. "Hey!" he complained. "No fair!
They're playing with their food!"
"Here we are then. Home sweet home." Dreth pushed on the door to his
crypt, which swung open with a creak.
Redthorne entered cautiously and looked about, taking special note of the
pile of body parts and stacks of discarded armor and weapons.
"I helped him with his chair," said Percy.
The wizard examined the bones that were assembled into a throne-like seat.
"Very atmospheric," he said, and leaned against the wall with his arms
"I have to get something, back in a minute," said Cuthbert, shuffling out.
Dreth took a final look around his room. How long had he been here? Three
Hundred years? More? Time was not easy to track when one was underground
day and night. He'd almost forgotten what outside looked like. He
pottered around, putting a few items in his sack with the snacks.
"So, this is the undead area is it?" said Redthorne, evidently trying to
"Seems to be a lot of zombies around."
"Why is that?"
Dreth looked up from a pile of skulls. "Why is what?"
"Why the undead?" Redthorne gestured to himself. "I'm a wizard of the
11th order of White Light. I have quested far and wide in my search for
knowledge and power. Yet wherever I go it seems I encounter undead.
Zombies, skeletal warriors, mummies, ghouls, wraiths, ghasts, vampires,
and the occasional lich," he ticked them off on his fingers. "That's why
I hired the Cleric. I dislike those of the holy orders to tell you the
truth, too full of themselves in my opinion, but they are useful." He
paused a moment to stare at the head and spine Cuthbert had left on the
table. "Well, usually."
"You wonder why tombs have so many undead wandering about in them?" Dreth
said. "Perhaps because they are tombs?"
"A point I admit," said Redthorne, nodding thoughtfully. "Though not only
tombs, dungeons of all kinds, and ancient buildings as well."
"Well, that's easy." Dreth tried on a helmet with a skull emblem on and
discarded it after a few moments consideration. "Low maintenance. Other
creatures need air, they get old and die and, of course, they need food.
"So what are all those half eaten body parts in your bag for?"
"I said don't need food, a snack here and there helps while away the time.
Good for the complexion too."
Redthorne was about to say something further when Cuthbert returned,
sidling into the room.
Dreth threw one last item into his bag and passed it to Percy. "Carry," he
"Ready to go then," said Cuthbert.
"Wait a moment! Hold on a minute! Stop!" Dreth said, halting Cuthbert's
progress towards the exit. "What, by all that is damned, is that?" He
pointed a long bony finger.
"I would ask you to watch your language from now on," sniffed Cuthbert.
"And it's not an 'it', it's a...er, he. Yes, a he I'm fairly sure."
Cuthbert pushed forward the small figure that had been hiding behind his
leg. "Go on, say hello to Uncle Dreth."
One brown and one blue eye peered up at Dreth from knee level, as the
miniature zombie shuffled forward uncertainly.
"H...hello Uncle Dref," it said. "'m Sprat."
Dreth stared, unable to formulate a response. Centuries of half-life had
thrown adventurers, monsters, animations, spells and a wide assortment of
strange devices at him, but he'd never seen a tiny zombie before.
"He's my son. Put him together myself," Cuthbert beamed proudly, moving
the small undead back behind him as Dreth's face went a paler white than
Dreth opened his mouth. No sound came out. He tried again. "What... how,
I mean what do you mean he's your son? You're dead for Dreg's* sake! You
can't have a son!"
"Undead," corrected Cuthbert. "And that's racist, or something, that is.
The re-animated have every right to have offspring."
Dreth brought a hand up to his head. He suspected he was having a
headache, which he had always thought impossible in this incarnation. "I
don't actually think that is the case. Living reproduce. The dead don't.
They are practically well known for going around not having children."
Cuthbert sniffed. "I don't care."
"Anyway, he can't..." Dreth paused for a moment as he was about to ban the
little one from coming along. 'Why not?' he thought. A small body could
reach places the others might not, and anyway, it would be one more
obstacle to throw to the wolves, or dragons or whatever they were bound to
meet. Anything that could add to his chances of success should be
Dreth smiled a horrifying smile. "Well, of course the little one can come
along! I expect he's excited to be out and about, aren't you son?" He
ruffled the 'kids' hair, nearly dislodging the scalp in the process.
Cuthbert looked at Dreth suspiciously for a moment. "Well, okay then." He
straightened Sprat's hairline and smiled down at his child. "See? Mr.
Dreth is a good monster."
"This is all very touching, but are we going to get moving or not?"
Redthorne spoke from where he was waiting in the doorway.
"Where are we going anyway?" asked Percy, struggling with the bag.
"I believe The Dark is the only real option available," said Dreth. He
closed the door to the room that had been his for the last unknown amount
of centuries, and looked up. "This way," he said. "Cuthbert, in front
With the zombie taking point they set off.
*Dreg. Relatively minor deity of Not-quite-living creatures.
The door was stone. Ancient stone, with dark markings engraved upon it
that twisted in unnatural shapes the eye couldn't quite follow. Before it
Fallacy the Fair stood bound between two stakes embedded into the ground.
Her arms and legs were stretched into a star shape, muscles pulled
taught. Her heaving bosom glistened with sweat, despite the chill of the
chamber. She couldn't remember how she had ended up in her current
position. The last thing she could recall was being in her house with her
mother, and a shadow falling over them.
She heard footsteps behind her, and a low voice spoke. "The Door must be
opened. He will walk the earth once more, and feed upon the souls who
dwell upon it."
Fallacy's eyes widened, and she struggled against the bonds as the cold
bite of metal entered her back. She screamed in agony as the blade moved
down, slicing open her skin. A pause, and then something entered her body
through the gash and groped around inside her. The light began to fade as
she felt a tearing sensation.
The last thing she saw before succumbing to the darkness were her own lungs
flung over her shoulders, still heaving as she gasped desperately for
"Behold. The Dark." Mud gestured at the tunnel entrance that led down
into an inky blackness. "A place of menace, gloom and Evil. No one who
has ventured into it has returned to tell their tale. Some say it's a
bastion for lost souls. Others say the Darkest Lords of Hell were
imprisoned here when the Light caught them, where they catch you and feast
upon your spirit for eternity. I believe it's Nothingness. A place in
the universe that remained unfilled by the Creator when he was bringing
All into being."
The group looked doubtfully at the blackness.
"A good place to throw the garbage though," said Percy brightly.
"So, how many people have been lost down there then?" asked Redthorne.
The White Troll looked uncomfortable for a moment. "Er. Well. I think a
half-elf escaped down here once. A thief if I recall correctly."
Dreth sighed. "So 'No One who has ventured into it' consists of one thief,
probably running away from Kevin in a feeding frenzy?"
Mud sniffed. "We trolls aren't renowned for keeping records you know.
Anyway, you asked me to show you the way, there you are. Have a good
time." He turned away and marched off back towards the Troll Caverns in a
"I can cast a light spell," said Redthorne, once he had gone.
"No need," said Dreth. He held out a hand and looked at Percy, who dug
around in the sack and pulled forth a couple of torches.
"A light..." Percy looked around as column of fire roared up from the floor
next to him. "Oh, that's handy," he said, He plunged the torches into
it, igniting them just as the flames died down to reveal a figure.
"A demon!" said Redthorne, stepping backwards and raising his hands.
"Oh, it's only an imp. What do you want short stuff?" asked Cuthbert.
"I'm here to stop you." The imp, a knee high red creature with a
traditional demonic tail, stood self-importantly in their path. The
circle of fire guttered out around him.
"Ha! Even zombies can take imps out!" Percy stepped forward.
"Wait! I command you!" The imp held out a hand.
"What's the holdup here?" asked Dreth. "What do you want imp?"
"Are you Dreth?" asked the small devil.
"What's it to you?"
"I'm here on behalf of the Management. You are hereby ordered to desist
from your unauthorized movements and return to your posts. Failure to do
so will have..." the imp paused for dramatic effect. "Consequences."
Cuthbert looked at Percy. "Isn't that a sort of board game?" he asked.
Also by the same author:
Narg and the Necromancers' Tower - A Classic Swords and Sorcery tale.
- Brutal action set in a corrupt city of the future.
Tired of Death: Overlord - Dreth's adventures continue... outside!
Available in paperback or download at:
Also check out:
Copyright N. Hartley 2007.
Copyright © 2007 by Neil Hartley
All rights reserved unless specified otherwise above.
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