After walking north from the town and wandering through a mile of prairie grass, the party came across a hill with a jagged boulder at its peak, and a game trail marked with a crude sign.
“Beware ye Death Mvshrooms, and Tvrn Aside.
Signed, ye Under-King.”
V’vendy reached out and touched a finger to the moldy wood. “Fresh paint.” She noted.
Lady Ira snorted. “How naive.” She said. “Thinking that a sign warning of hideous death will keep people away.” She loosened her sword in its sheath, and adjusted the harp case she’d slung over her back. “I move that we investigate.”
“Yes!” Uuco said, rushing ahead of everyone else. “Forward!”
“Wait! We should–” V’vendy cried out, as Uuco rushed up the hill out of earshot. “–check for traps.” She sighed.
The party climbed up the game trail, reeds crunching under their feet. The trail led to a cave carved into the side of the hill, which had another sign posted next to its dark yawning mouth:
“Death Mvshrooms Inside. Go No Fvrther
! ! !”
There was no sign of the old Nobble.
“Uuco?” Dragon Face shouted, glancing around. “Where are you?”
“Shhh.” V’vendy said, pulling her hood over her white feather hair. “There’s something in the cave.”
“A person?” Ira said, a hand falling to her short sword.
“An animal?” Corax muttered, fingering his own blade.
V’vendy squinted. “There’s something on the ground.” She whispered. “Let’s check it out. Quietly.”
They crept into the cave, hugging the walls. Their eyes adjusted to the dark, and they were soon able to see that the thing on the ground was a body, lying face down and stripped of everything but ratty leather trousers.
Magical purple light blossomed over the corpse suddenly, kindled from the tips of Uuco’s fingertips as he crouched over the body. “It’s okay, guys!” He called out, as everyone flinched back. “I checked! No pulse!”
The corpse rolled over and sat up. “Cheeeesssssseeee…..” It croaked, settling his fingers around Uuco’s neck.
“Oh crickety-wickets!” The Nobble wailed. “Zombie!”
V’Vendy drew and loosed in one motion, an arrow sprouting from the zombie’s neck.
“Forward!” Ira barked, drawing her blade and slashing at the zombie’s neck. The undead besat released Uuco and staggered back, swaying out of the way of the Harper’s sword. It moaned and swung a withered paw at Dragon Face’s chest.
The wrestler caught the zombie’s arm and held its wiggling finger back. “You’ve got spirit for a dead man!” He crouched and gripped the zombie by its trouser waist. “Let’s test that spirit–by seeing how you handle my Dragonnnnnnnn Claw Twister!”
With a heave, he threw the zombie at the cave wall. The zombie bounced off the rock, limbs flailing like an upside down spider, and scurried to its feet. Its lips peeled back to reveal yellowed, sharpened teeth.
Then a hammer flew through the air and smashed those teeth in. “In the name of the people…rise no more!” Corax boomed, severing a tendon in the zombie’s leg with his curved sword and shoving him back.
V’vendy shot again, planting another arrow in the zombie’s eye. The zombie stumbled, and Ira lunged gracefully, rapier piercing through the zombie’s heart.
The zombie slid off the blade, backing away with a snarl…and into the arms of Dragon Face, who wrapped it in a bear hug.
“This is the grip of a true champion!” He boomed. “Break free if you can–!”
“Double-die, you dairy-crazed ghoul!” Uuco snarled, thrusting his index finger forward. A spark of lightning crackled around his finger, formed into a painfully bright ball, and shot into the zombie’s gut.
Both Dragon Face and the zombie spasmed as lightning arced over their skin. Then the zombie exploded, desiccated flesh chunks flying everywhere. Ira and V’vendy side-stepped the viscera. Stanirf frowned and fished a severed finger out of his beard.
“Dragon Face!” Uuco cried out, rushing to the fallen wrestler. “Sorry, pal! Didn’t see you there.”
“It’s…no trouble.” Dragon Face demurred, adjusting his mask as he got up, his hair poofed out like the fuzz on a cotton seed.
Ira crouched down by the zombie’s shattered torso. “Bandits don’t raise the dead.” She said calmly. “That innkeeper was right: someone dark magic is sewing chaos in this area, and they’ve made their base here.”
V’vendy looked troubled “But why?” She wondered. “How does zombies and agitated wild creatures get them what they want?”
“To find out, we should split up!” Stanirf declared, brandishing his hammer and curved sword. “Whoever’s controlling this zombie must be nearby–“
The zombie’s shattered torso twitched suddenly. “It’s still alive!” Dragon Face shouted, raising a foot to stamp down on the corpse’s remains. “Well…it’s not dead-dead.” He corrected, lips thinning. What I mean to say is, it’s still undead. But what is life and death, when you think about it–?”
With a loud ‘crunch’ and squeak, a swarm of tiny field mice burst out of the zombie’s chest and swarmed over Dragon Face, clinging to him with their paws and nibbling him with their incisors.
“Hidden Gods!” Dragon Face wailed, thrashing and spinning around. “They’re all over! Get them off, get them off–!”
“I’ll save you!!” Uuco declared, summoning lightning between his hands.
“Wait, no–!” Ira shouted, raising a hand.
***To Be Continued ***