“What are we even doing here?” growled Royce of Waeflian, as he raised his arm to shield his eyes against the burning desert sun.
“We’re hunting the dreaded Wizard, Lord Zaghim,” replied Alas, the eleven maiden who rode alongside him. Her fair and delicate features seemed to shimmer and glow in the sunlight. “The great King Roland has bade us to-”
“I know what the fuck we’re doing here,” Royce groaned, as his Laiginsaur made it’s way across the burnt and scorched earth. “It was a goddamn rhetorical question.”
“-as you know Lord Zaghim, in his blind rage has cast a curse on the land, which may not be lifted until we can recover the sacred stone of-”
“Shut up, Elf,” said Manna, the third and final traveler of their group, a tight knot of frustration creeping into her otherwise tired voice. Then, turning to Royce, she said “It can’t be much longer, now. We’ll reach the Crypts soon enough.”
“Yeah, that’s great,” he sighed. The midday sun was rising now, and he could feel the heat pouring through onto his gloved hands. “Soon. It always has to be soon. Can’t ever be now, oh no.”
The Desolation was a dull place, even at the most exciting of times. Once a lush and verdant jungle, it was now nothing more than moribund sand and dried lake-beds. Nothing still lived here, only the death called it home now. The most exciting thing to happen to him all morning was when a Winged Skull had nearly chewed his right hand off while he’d been preparing a spell. Manna had managed to split it in two with the massive Halberd she kept slung along her narrow back.
The boredom hung across this land so thickly that Royce imagined that a determined enough man could cut through it with a knife. His only companion was the constant whisper that the wind made, as it blew along the sand. Manna shared his disinterest, softly humming to herself, as though to will time itself to just speed itself up already.
He was going insane. Between the motion sickness from the Laiginsaur’s marching, the now unbearable lethargy, and Alas’s constant and exceedingly unnecessary interruptions, he was fast falling asleep.
For a moment, he wished he could think of a funny joke to break the silence, but he’d already dried up his well of cock jokes and he couldn't remember how the one about the stranded teenagers and the farmer’s pumpkin field went.
He and Manna were mercenaries, and their ever constant search for wealth and power often brought them into conflict, be it with monsters, or men. Rarely, though, were their travels this uneventful. Alas, hadn't been with them long, the elven woman had forced been forced into their party by their new employer, King Roland, who had claimed that Alas’s father had been slain by Lord Zaghim and she was honour-bound to seek vengeance.
After four hours of travel, Royce began to strongly suspect that Roland had made the entire story up to get rid of her for a few days. Supposedly she was a powerful Archmage, but Royce had never seen her cast anything remotely useful, and wondered if she wasn't also an alcoholic or some shit.
Alcohol. Damn. He could only feel three bottles left by his side. His brewski supplies were running at a dangerous low. Could this day get any worse?
It could. “Look!” shouted Alas, a sliver of excitement showing in her normally stoic and wise voice. “We near the-”
“Oh my fucking God,” Royce said, clenching his hands into fists. He could feel a throbbing in his head as he continued. “If you don’t fucking shut the fuck up I swear to fucking God that I will shove this holy mace so far up your Elven ass you will vomit nothing but prayer and good deeds for the next goddamn year! Do I make myself-”
“As amusing as it is to watch you tear into the elf,” Manna said, her arm pointing off into the horizon. “We’re nearing the Crypts. See? That mountain on the horizon is the same one on my maps.”
A sigh of relief escaped Royce’s lips. “Eyes on the prize, right Manna? How much longer?”
“Fifteen minutes. More if we order the Laiginsaur to hurry. I’d rather not though. Who knows what kind of sentries Lord Zighem has lurking around his dungeon?”
Alas spoke up “I can sense no life within the range my clairvoyant magic.”
“Yeah that’s just fan-fucking-tastic,” Royce said, squinting his eyes and looking off at the mountain. “You know we’re up against a Necromancer, right? He’s going to have zombies and skeletons lurking around, not hired security guards.”
“Mummies,” Manna said.
“Well, we’re in the desert, right?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“So it’d make more sense for him to have mummies than zombies, wouldn't it?”
“Okay,” Royce rolled his eyes. “What’s the difference?”
“Well usually mummies receive some sort of embalming process to extract most of the fluids and organs from their remains, in order to preserve-”
“Right, right. I’m sorry I asked,” Royce said, dimly remembering that the history and culture of the desert was one of Manna’s fields of studies. Not that there was much actually left, just the ruins of a few pyramids, but she read books about them when she could and was hoping to help rebuild one sometime in the future. “In what way does this actually help us right now?”
“Right,” he said, hoping to chance the topic before he had another Alas to deal with. “I’m going to start praying to Archiel now, you want the standard suite of protection spells, or should I go for extra strength?”
“Better make that extra strength, Zoghum is supposed to be a powerful sorcerer.”
Alas spoke up. But mistress! Lord Zaghim is actually a Wiz-”
“Shut up, elf,” Manna said, as Royce’s powers washed over her, providing protection against evil magic and disease. Powerful though Archiel may be, though, his blessings were no substitute for the sturdy plate she wore.
These blessings continued as the three road towards the mountain, Royce and Manna in the front, with Alas bringing up the rear. They advanced slowly, weary of an ambush, but there was nothing visible for miles.
Royce, suspecting that the evil wizard may have employed some sort of invisibility spell fired off bursts of his holy rays, giggling softly and making “pew pew pew” sounds to himself as he did it, stopping only when Manna slapped him across the head and told him to stop being such a fucking dumbass.
The mouth of the Crypts was a stone carving of a dragon’s head, jagged teeth lined it’s jaws, as if to dare any would be hero to climb down into it’s throat. The three dismounted, and Royce used the power of Archiel to seal the Laiginsaurs in a pocket dimension. Strong and sturdy, the beasts resembled a cross between a lion and an elephant, they were able to put entire infantry divisions to rout, but, they were large and cumbersome, and would be of no use in tight corridors of the Crypts.
With a command, he could return the Laiginsaur’s to this reality. Royce really hoped he didn't die, because then they would be sealed away forever. Different religions around the world had different opinions of reincarnation. Some said it was a load of poppycock, others insisted it was totally for real.
Royce kinda hoped it wasn’t, because a Laiginsaur was really goddamn expensive, and if he died and accidentally lost the party’s mounts, Manna made it very clear that she would track him down after he reincarnated and do something horrible and ironic to him, like burying him in Laiginsaur shit or beating him to death with one’s skull or something.
For a moment, the three of them just stared into the gaping abyss of the Crypts. It was like he could reach out and grasp the evil that emanated from it. Royce of Waeflian was a Cleric of Archiel, sworn to uphold justice and honour throughout the seven realms. To do this, he was granted use of some of Archiel’s eternal powers for this eternal task. He knew that the battles ahead would not be easy ones, but, for Royce, this didn’t matter. He was committed to protecting the weak from the corruption of evil.
He looked once more at the entrance to the Crypts. Gripping his mace, he smiled. This was what he was made for. This was his purpose. This was why-
Alas gasped, and tried to say something before Manna caught her and said “Shut up, Elf.”
Suddenly, Royce heard the sound of sand shifting. With a gasp he realized that Zaghim had buried his henchmen beneath the sand, the undead required no food, nor air, making them the perfect ambushers.
“It’s a trap!” he shouted, jumping aside as zombie’s arm rose out of the sand, and tried to grasp his leg.
Manna unslung her mighty Halberd, and retreated into the entrance of the Crypts, knowing that no zombie could climb through the stone, and knowing that if she charged out into the sand, she could easily get surrounded.
“Dust these fuckers!” she commanded, and Royce eagerly obeyed.
Uttering prayers beneath his breath, he joined her in the stone dragon’s mouth, and began spraying the area with low level blasts. Alas was still in the sand, trying to fight a zombie with her knife for some stupid reason, and Royce made sure to “accidentally” hit her in the face a few times.
Holy Rays were especially powerful against the undead, but Royce could only channel so much of Archiel’s power at once, and he didn’t want to drain his reserves by breaking out the big guns just yet. These blasts were designed to slow the zombies down, not to kill.
Contrary to what Manna insisted, he did have some grasp of complex tactics beyond ‘shoot bad guys from a distance and run away like a fucking pussy when they got into melee range.’
A zombie, staggering under the blows of Royce’s golden blasts lunged at Manna, only to be sliced neatly in half.
Most of the others had fully reached the surface, fully half of them were still pursuing Alas, who’d taken to running in the opposite direction, where Royce couldn't actually cover her with his Holy Rays, or do any healing on her.
But the rest were charging right for them.
It was time to stop literally spraying and praying. Royce muttered another prayer, and dialed up the strength attacks, and methodically begin targeting the ones closest to them.
Two beams of golden light burst forth from his palms, and turned two zombies into ash on contact, while Manna buried the axe end of her halberd into a third’s chest, knocking it to the ground.
“Guess you aren’t going to go on any more dates with your GHOULfriend, eh zombie?” Royce shouted.
“You’re just embarrassing yourself,” Manna said, as she sidestepped a zombie’s lunge, and brought the spear end into in the back of it’s head.
“Oh yeah? Let’s see you do better!” Royce said, firing off another barrage of Holy Rays.
Manna grinned, and brought her halberd up. Stopping a zombie slowly marching towards her, she bolted towards him as fast as she possibly could, then at the last moment jumped, and brought the axehead down upon it, burying it deep into it’s heart with a geyser of blood and gore.
Turning to Royce, her grin widened as said “It looks like I just popped a stiffy.”
“Damn it!” he growled in frustration. “Okay fine, you win this round.”
The horde of zombies had begun to clear out now. Finally coming to her sense, Alas limped back to the party, one of her eyes had been gouged out, and she was missing several fingers. Royce sniped several of her pursuers with his beams, while Manna rushed onto the sand to finish off the last of the ambushers.
When the smoke cleared, and the last of the undead went down for good, Alas, clutching her side, said “It seems I've been wound-”
“Shut up, Elf,” Manna said, walking towards the entrance to the crypts. “And drink a potion already would you? You look like shit.”
“Yes mistress I wi-”
“Shut up, Elf, Royce said, walking over to join the two. “Manna? You ready for this?”
“I’m not hurt. I think those were recent victims of Lord Xolgum,” she ran her hand along her long, red hair. “Which probably hadn't been mummified yet.”
“You still on about that?”
“I want to fight a mummy. Bite me.”
As they entered the Crypts, they emerged into pitch blackness. Royce put his hands together, and suddenly a glowing sphere of light took shape, and hovered over the party.
The room was made of ancient, weathered sandstone, skeletons were hammered into the walls, and in the distance was a figure. Clad in dark clothing that seemed to absorb the light itself.
“Oh shit,” Manna whispered, as the figure turned to look at them.