"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 crossed.
"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 make conversation.
"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. Undead don't."
"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 ordered.
"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 usual.
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 welcomed.
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 please."
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 air...
~ * ~
"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 huff.
"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.
Please switch to the pop-up to complete the payment.
This's an experimental test for reading assistance in case.
We highly recommend you to enjoy the beauty of the original words.