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TDL BK I, CH 22: Skeletal Enemies 

Chapter Twenty-two: Skeletal Enemies 

It stirred slowly, almost unwillingly, like a fitful sleeper being roused but wishing to return to its rest. However, it woke all the same. There was a warmth there. A disturbing warmth that made it unable to rest. It was too much, too close to ignore. Familiar but also hateful. The old bones began to shift, clacking and creaking as it forced itself to rise. Its head rattled from the gold coin placed in its skull. Placing a hand on an askew pew, it pulled itself to an upright position, standing tall and imposing despite its lack of flesh. 

Empty sockets surveyed its surroundings, easily finding the warmth that disturbed its slumber and recognising it for what it was; life. It would have scowled if it could, but its face was devoid of flesh and thus lacked any expression. All it could do was glare at the living with hate and envy. Even without a face, without eyes or features, its cold malevolence was felt and its targets turned at the sensation, looking for its source. The sickeningly alive intruders soon faced it, taunting it with their flesh, their blood, their vivre. It hated it. That warmth, that fire of life, needed to be snuffed out like its own was. It needed to embrace the cold of death. The skeleton reached to its side for its sword only for its bony fingers to clutch at nothing. The blade was still on the floor. 


At first, Nick stared at the standing skeleton with shock and, admittedly, a little fear, but when he saw it reach down for a sword, he burst into action. He was not stupid enough to stand and watch an enemy arm itself right in front of him. Ingrained muscle memory and fighting instincts had him leap forward, vaulting the pew between himself and the skeleton, sword already arcing out of its sheath. The creature was just straightening up, a surprisingly shiny-looking weapon in its desiccated hands, but his strike was true. He landed, harder than he would have liked, his eyes following the severed head as it tumbled through the air. 

Bony hands clasped themselves around the hilt of the sword and swung. Thinking the battle won, Nick barely saw the monster’s strike in time to lean out of the way. He tried to backpedal, only to curse when the back of his leg met wood. The pew! Raising his sword into a quick guard to block a follow-up strike, Nick realised with growing horror that the severed head on the ground — the skull– was turning towards him. The jaws opened and met several times in rapid succession as he fought its body, clacking together loudly with the meeting of teeth. It took Nick a moment to realise it was laughing.  

The sharp, clawed hand of fear gripped him as his mind slowly caught up to what he was doing, what he was fighting. However, that fear lent him strength and speed. Nick attacked in a frenzy, the full force of his sixth-stage mana condensation coming into play. The skeleton was no match. His trusty blade knocked the skeleton’s sword aside and easily severed his opponent’s sword arm in one quick move. This time, Nick kept his eyes trained on the body, and sure enough, the skeleton refused to fall. Instead, it stumbled towards him, its remaining hand reaching out. 

Horrified, he backed away, manoeuvring, so he came out on the side of the pew and in the central aisle of the temple. Still, his enemy came after him, turning unerring towards him as if guided by some dark intelligence. At its feet, the clacking skull hopped towards him. If asked, Nick would claim he knew what he was doing, but in truth, his actions were guided solely by fear. He kicked it, wanting the loud, dead thing nowhere near him. His boot crushed the skull, and the body immediately crumbled, falling apart into a disorderly pile of bones. A couple of tense heartbeats later, the bones faded away, leaving behind a pristine-looking blade that glowed briefly to his sight. 

Nick stood there for a second, stunned, his mind struggling to come to terms with what it had just witnessed and done. Too late, he raised his voice in warning, trying to alert his men to what was afoot but their screams already resounded throughout the chamber. He had been too focused on his own battle to notice, but everywhere you looked, the dead were starting to rise. Many of Adil’s shields were already amid combat but scattered as they were, it was difficult for them to form an effective fighting force.    

“TO ME!” Nick yelled in an attempt to rally his men. Acting quickly, he snatched up the strange sword and shoved it into his belt.

A second skeleton came his way, but Nick was better prepared this time. He rushed forward with all his might, uncaring of his mana expenditure. Before the creature could muster a defence, he had bashed its skull in. This one too crumbled. 

His theory confirmed, Nick let loose a loud shout. “DESTROY THE HEADS! THAT’S WHAT KILLS THEM!” 

Turning back, he saw the remains of his latest opponent also fade away. A couple of gold coins, gleaming and glowing took its place. The dots started to connect in his mind. Up ahead, he spotted one of his stronger subordinates, Connell, a fourth-stage fighter, smashing a skeleton’s head open with a battle hammer. That creature too, faded away, leaving behind an ominously glowing bone. The man turned to him, and they exchanged a look. He yelled at the other man to bag the loot and began to look around for more skeletons to fight. Already, the fear had left Nick. It was clear what was happening now, and the prospect of more treasure quickly overcame him. 

It wasn’t the same for everyone though. They had entered with ten men. Only six remained; one was injured so badly his hand hung limp at his side. The skeletons were frail, but the ambush they had mounted gave them very favourable odds at the start of the fight. Barking out commands, Nick had them gather around him facing outwards at the approaching skeletons. Together, they stood a good chance against the lumbering creatures. 

A soft woosh put an end to that thought. Nick wasn’t even aware something had struck them until Connell started to scream. He turned and watched the man scrambling to put out a dark flame eating away at his chest. As his men huddled around him to put it out, Nick scanned the room for the culprit. He found a strange skeleton dressed in rags waving a staff about. It gestured toward him with a bony arm as it moved its staff, a small ball of black flames building in front of the outstretched arm. The scariest thing was he was not alone. Nick made out two more figures making similar gestures. One had already sent a black orb their way. 

“SCATTER!” he shouted, diving behind a pew for cover from the strange magic. 

To their credit, his men did not question the order. They obeyed, instantly scattering in all directions, all of them except Connell; the man had been too busy rolling on the floor to follow suit. He screamed as the ball of flame struck less than half a metre from him, but he was otherwise free from further injury. Another fellow, Tonnis, wasn’t as lucky. A follow-up bolt caught him in the face as he moved to better cover. Nick and the others watched as the man tried to scream, black flames eating away at his head. The sight seemed to set something off. No one could say who started it, but there was a sudden mad rush towards the entrance as Adil’s vaunted shields fled.

“COME BACK!” Nick yelled. “COME BACK, YOU COWARDS!”

None of the fleeing mercenaries listened. One of them caught a bolt of magic fire to the back and just kept running. As he moved to yell at them some more, another bolt struck too close for comfort, causing Nick to realise that he was soon going to be left behind in the room with the monsters. Right then, all the fear came rushing back, and Nick Adil found himself hoofing it out of the cursed mausoleum, black fire crashing at his heels.   


Author’s Note:

Undead are a common enough enemy in games that we don’t give them the credit they deserve. I did my best to convey what the horror of facing them for the first time would be for someone who hadn’t faced them a thousand and one times already. I hope I did a good enough job.

In case you were wondering, yes. The loot glows softly until it is picked. Just a small quality of life feature Dunstan added to make things easier on the cultivators who wouldn’t be as conversant with the system as your average gamer.

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