TDL BK I, CH 30: Attack of the Ghouls

Chapter Thirty: Attack of the Ghouls

Yelling angrily, Guillaume met the newcomer head-on, swinging at its head. It defended itself with a clawed hand. It was not enough. Guillaume’s sword cut deep into its wood-like flesh, only stopping where it met bone. Screaming in pain, it whipped its other hand at his face. Guillaume ducked under the attack before rising with a textbook, [Rising Slash] that opened his opponent from groin to collar bone. Snarling, the creature snapped at him, spraying sputum onto his face. He backed off, frowning. The creature was weird. Cutting into it felt like chopping into wood rather than flesh. The long wound he had cut into it leaked dust and flakes instead of blood and guts.  

Belatedly, Guillaume realised that this monster was just like the others, a corpse twisted by dark magic. He couldn’t imagine what could have caused this degree of change, but its flesh had toughed and dried to the consistency of wood. Blocking a clawed swipe, he kicked it away. It was strong, far stronger than the skeletons had been. However, its strength was dispositional. It was strong enough that he’d placed it as a fourth, maybe fifth-stage initiate, stronger than Golda for sure but much slower than its apparent cultivation would suggest. Its undeath state also made normal attacks meaningless, as evidenced by the torso wound, a death sentence for a normal person but a nuisance to his opponent.

‘We’ll see how it fares without its head!’

Howe rolled with his opponent. It twitched frantically, carving furrows into the stone floor. The lightning-coated blade in its side kept it spasming, preventing it from getting its bearings. He kept it pinned down, pouring more mana into it until the acrid smell of burnt leather filled his nose. Slowly, its struggles died down, eventually ceasing entirely. Pushing off it, Howe whipped his head about, seeking to rejoin the battle raging around him at the point where he was needed most. 

Guillaume was holding his own, even dominating the battle in his rage. Cyne was not so lucky, barely keeping her foe at bay with her spear. Instead of three men, she had one. The second was rolling on the ground, whimpering, and the third was likely the chap who had gotten ripped apart earlier. Diarmuid was better. He and his men had their monster surrounded, taking turns attacking whenever its back was turned. 

‘I guess it falls to me to rescue the beauty’, Howe thought to himself.

Choice made, he blurred towards them with [Lightning Rush]. Two metres away, he made a great leap forward before crashing down on the monster and stabbing it in the head. It collapsed nigh instantly. 

‘Two more!’ he thought to himself. 

Turning around, he found that Guillaume had already killed his opponent and was busy chopping up the one Diarmuid had been fighting. Knowing the situation was handled, he was almost content to sit back and watch when he heard the telltale signs of clacking bones. Howe turned once more to the corridor they’d opened up and found to no one’s surprise, a bunch of skeletons stumbling through the stone doorway. There were five of them, with many of them missing limbs; an arm here, a leg there, a crushed sternum here or in an eye-popping case, no arms whatsoever. Without losing a beat, he raised his arm and fired a blast of lightning into their number.

The [Lightning Blast] did its job, frying the skeletons where they stood.

Guillaume roared, his sword beheading the monster where it squirmed on the ground. The rest of its body, limbless from his earlier attacks, twitched for a couple more seconds before fading away. Sparing a single glance at the floating item it left behind, he turned to the open doorway. Howe’s attack had left scorch marks and floating loot everywhere. Surveying the damage, Guillaume made a mental reminder to himself to learn more magical skills after this. He’d always thought practical skills were a better investment, but the ease with which Howe dispatched their enemies was too eye-catching to ignore. In comparison, his [Sunset Sword Arts] were ineffective.

Snatching up the loot —this one glowed a variety of colours for some reason—he asked, “How many did we lose?”

“We lost Munir and Cary!” Diarmuid answered. “Buchart might lose his arm if it is not looked at, but other than that, only bumps and scrapes.”

Guillaume closed his eyes, not wanting to look at what the monster did to Munir or, rather, the bloody mess it had left of him. The sight of it chewing on the man was already burned into his eyeballs. Coming here may have been a mistake, he realised. They could have sat back, watched others explore the mystic realm and prepared better with that information. No! Turning his back to the door was the real mistake. Who cared about the outside world? He should have stayed on top of things. If he had, things might have turned out better.

“We’re leaving!” he announced. 

Howe glanced back at him from his place in front of the door. The other man was gathering up the loot the skeletons left behind, but he stopped to gesture at the darkened corridor. 

Guillaume shook his head. They were leaving, and that was that. Luckily, his friend read the mood and joined him to organise the procession back to the portal.

“You did well!” The Vast Heaven Exultant told him. 

Guillaume did not want to hear it. He had just lost two men. Already, he dreaded the messages he’d be sending to their families. 

Sparing a glance at the wrapped bundles, the man softened his tone and added. “We’re going to have to cleanse those in case they’re carrying the undead curse. I’m sorry.”

Guillaume nodded, gesturing for Cyne and Howe to bring forward the loot for appraisal. Loud gasps from the Vast Heaven side alerted him to the fact that they had probably obtained something extraordinary. Quickly, he focused on the jumbled pile of weapons and miscellaneous implements, trying to find what had triggered that reaction. He did not need to.

“If you’re willing, we’d like to buy the violet and prismatic artefacts!” the Elder said, his voice turning serious all of a sudden.

“How rare are they?” Howe asked in excitement. 

The answer was only one word. “Very!”

Guillaume looked them over, especially the bastard sword with the rainbow glow. Maybe their trip wasn’t as ill-fated as he first believed.

“Then we’d like them appraised”, his friend responded with a smirk. 

“I’m not sure you understand”, the tall man said, catching and looking right into Guillaume’s eyes as he spoke. “That prismatic artefact might as well be a second-tier weapon!”

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