Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
It was a dark place, a place where sunlight would never reach, a place of dreams and nightmares, with treasures untold and horrors unfathomable. 'Dungeon', that was what they called the place.
Within one particular Dungeon, there were halls, its path paved with stone slabs and its walls made of stone bricks. Someone had built this, in this place so deep underground. Or at least, it certainly had the appearance of being built by the hands of man. Yet, the ones coming through here, the ones who had been searching every conceivable corner in this dark place, as far as they knew, the hall wasn't there a day ago.
They ran, there were six of them, and in unison, they darted through the hall. With torches in hand, frantically, they ran. Behind them, shambling and scrambling after them were a horde of rotten corpses, very much dead, yet somehow moving. Yet still, as they ran through the hall, sections of the surrounding walls began to sink neatly into the ground, revealing hidden rooms from which more corpses surged forth accompanied by a flood of heavy stench that wormed its way into one's nostril like maggots digging into rotten flesh.
"Ughhh, that'll be in my nose for weeks!" cried a small figure, short and stout. From looking at them, one wouldn't be able to tell due to the full body armor and bucket-like helmet, but from their shrill voice, there was no doubt that this one was a girl.
"I-I'm s-so sorry. I-I didn't see the pressure plate," replying to the small one is a contrasting figure ahead of her, the tallest of the six. In spite of his size, his voice was timid and gentle. On his head, he wore a closed-helmet with a liftable faceplate, like something a knight would wear. On his torso, there was a chest plate and on his limbs, gauntlets and greaves of iron. Where his armor did not cover, one could see his bulging muscles.
"Save it for later!" an angry man at the forefront shouted. He wore a vest of leather over well-used chainmail with leather gauntlets and boots for his arms and legs. On his head, he wore a kettle hat, which was something like a brimmed hat made of metal.
The two immediately went quiet.
"Almost there! Keep it up!" a woman's voice came from right behind the angry man. This woman had a simple woodcutter's axe clasped in between her hands and had no protective wear whatsoever other than the clothes on her back. Strapped onto her was a large rucksack that burdened her every step.
The hall led into a room, one more than ten meters wide and perhaps three times the length. At the other end of the hall, there lied the entrance and perhaps, the only exit, and above said exit, a stone slab slowly descended, threatening to seal off the exit as it taunted those desperate to reach it with its gradual slide downwards.
"Finn, get the door!" the angry man yelled as soon as they cleared the hall and made it into the room.
Upon his command, the members spread out, allowing Finn, the big guy, who was the second from the rear to rush forward.
"Morgan!" the angry man yelled again, giving out a second order in succession.
"I'm already doing it!" an annoyed voice retorted. It came from a young woman in pitch black robes and a pointed hat. Hanging off the point of said pointed hat was a small blue gem in the shape of a teardrop.
With a wave of the ashen wood staff in her hand, a sphere of blazing crimson sparked to life. With another swing, she sent the sphere flying in a curved arc, around those in front of her, before landing right in the path of the shambling corpses. The sphere erupted upon landing, creating a rising wall of fire at the mouth of the narrow hall.
Against the light and heat, the corpses recoiled. Perhaps it was the instincts leftover from when they were still alive, but they feared the flames nonetheless. Most of them, at least.
There were three, climbing over the shoulders of the other corpses with unnatural nimbleness. The three corpses broke through the wall of fire and they were not burned. All three were wearing some kind of cloak, seemingly warding off the flames.
"Auguste!" a slender, long-haired figure called out. He wore a padded jacket and was readying a shortbow in his hands.
"I know," the angry man, Auguste, replied to him, his tone calmer when responding to the slender male. Then, turning towards the short girl, he shouted with his previous intensity, "Henri, hold the line!"
"Aye!" the short girl, Henri, responded before turning to face the three corpses. Tossing her torch to the ground, she unslung the large shield she carried on her back as she went.
With the shield in one hand and a shortsword in another, she charged at the corpses, knocking one down with a swipe of her greatshield. The remaining two corpses swung at her with their swords, but they were unable to find their way around the shield.
The greatshield Henri carried had an outward curved and was rectangular in shape. Standing at about a meter tall, with Henri's height, she would barely be able to place her chin above the shield if it were on the ground upright. That's how short Henri was. However, due to her stature, she was easily able to conceal almost her entire body behind her shield, making her extremely hard to hit head-on.
Then, there was her strength. Claiming to be of gnomish and dwarven descent, she supposedly has great strength and high magical potential flowing in her veins. Magical talents aside, Henri had shown immense strength for someone her size, allowing her to manipulate the slab of iron that was her shield as if it was made of a thin sheet of metal, making her even harder to hit.
However, if she has one weakness, then it would be her reach, which was about as long as she was tall, and tall she certainly wasn't.
Eventually, one of the corpses got around her, swinging at her while she's busy holding off the other one. The strike feebly bounced off her bucket-like helmet. From the low grunting made by the flanking corpse as its sword bounced off, it sounded as if it was irritated that its attack did not work.
"Oi Gusty, they're surrounding me! Where are you!?" Henri shouted in panic. She was not yet used to it, having to stand on the frontlines.
Soon after the short girl shouted, a blade cleaved into the flanking corpse's side. There was no armor of any sort beneath the cloak, only rotten clothes. Their bodies must have been looted before they were reanimated.
"Calm down, you're not going to die with a hit like that! That's what your armor is for," said Auguste, at times called Gusty, as he plants a solid kick into the corpse's torso, freeing his blade and sending the flanking corpse flying.
In his right hand, the blade wielded by Auguste was a shortsword with a wide and hefty blade, and while it was both excellent in cutting and thrusting, its weight made it less nimble than swords of the same length.
"I can't help it, alright! Havin' a sword swung at me is terrifying!" the short girl whined as the corpse before her continues to bash its sword against her shield. "How much longer do I have to do this for?"
Auguste turned towards the rear, spotting the rest of the party by the closing exit. There, the big guy, Finn, was straining himself trying to keep the stone slab from sealing their only way out while the slender male with long hair stood guard with his bow drawn. Crouching by the exit, trying to make it through the gap, was the woman with the large rucksack. The rucksack was getting caught in the exit, something they've experienced plenty of times due to the narrow entrances typical of this Dungeon, and the woman in black robes, Morgan, was helping her get through.
"Just keep your shield in front of you and hold your ground!"
Auguste breathed in before spitting out a deep sigh, one that not only expelled air but all of the pent up emotions within. He readied the shortsword on his right hand while his left hand was held against his back as if to keep it out of the way. Once more, he took another deep breath, taking note of the corpse heading his way. This was the one that Henri had knocked down with the shield. Rather than the heavily armored Henri, it had chosen Auguste to strike at, showing that perhaps some parts of its mind remained intact, trapped within the rotten flesh.
Auguste leaned forward, ready to pounce as the corpse approached. In response, the corpse swung its sword down with a stiff motion. It might have been nimbler than the rest, but it was still a rotting corpse. The swing was meant to hit Auguste the moment he rushed forward, but instead, Auguste slid several paces backward. His stance was a feint. He had meant to pull back.
The corpse advanced on him, and again and again, Auguste pulled back, just out of reach from each swing. As if it could still feel the emotions of impatience, the corpse then pulled its blade inward and began the motion for a deep lunge. It was at this exact moment, did Auguste step forward for the first time in this faceoff. From behind, with the left hand he had kept hidden at his back, he drew a second blade. It was a gift, and the one who gave it to him called it a parrying dagger. It was a longer than average dagger about half a meter long and had a crossguard most peculiar. Said crossguard was the sort that curved forward, designed to trap blades that came in contact with it. The most notable thing about it, however, was the ring on its side, a guard for the knuckle.
Sucking a breath into his lungs, Auguste, with the parrying dagger in hand, leaped forward at the same time as the corpse lunged at him with its sword. A metallic clang rang out. The dagger made contact with the lunging blade and pushed it aside, going right under Auguste's right arm. And as his left hand pushed the lunging blade away, his right was moving in on the corpse's neck, jamming the tip of his hefty shortsword into the rotting throat before pulling the sword free out the side, tearing the rotten flesh apart as it went. Then, so that the corpse does not fall on him, Auguste finished it off with a kick straight to the torso, sending the corpse flying backward.
Upon hitting the ground, the corpse's torn neck ripped further, causing its head to come loose, rolling off with the horrid stench of death trailing behind. Yet, even though the head had rolled on away, the corpse did not stop moving. It was hardly a surprise, they were still moving even after they were dead, losing a head or two wouldn't make that much of a difference.
A bolt of fire struck the corpse as it was crawling to its feet. However, as soon as it came in contact with its cloak, the flames dispersed, proving that the cloaks do indeed ward off either fire or magic.
"Auguste, Elaine's in the clear!" yelled the slender male with long hair.
Auguste did not check behind him. He didn't have the leisure as he was busy fending off the now headless corpse.
On the other end, Henri was fending off the remaining two corpses, using her shield to defend against one while swinging her shortsword around to fend off the other.
"Hya! Ha! Off with yer!" she kept yelling as she frantically swung her sword about. She did not hear the slender male.
"Henri! Pull back!"
But, with a shout from Auguste, she began to pull back.
As soon as she created space between her and the corpses, a ball of fire fell before the corpses, erupting into a wall of flames. Though the flames could not burn them, the sudden burst of light and heat up close made them recoil by reflex, granting the perfect opportunity for Henri to turn and run.
As soon as Henri began moving, Auguste quickly pulled away from the headless corpse and was prepared to make his getaway as well, when-
A dull metallic sound rang as Auguste swung his hefty shortsword to parry an incoming projectile. It was a sword, spinning at him through the air. The headless corpse had tossed its weapon.
In the short time that Auguste stood still to deflect the impromptu projectile, the other two corpses had already broken through the wall of fire and closed in on Auguste from two sides.
"Shit!" Auguste cursed, leaving himself little time to draw his next breath before sword strikes fell upon him.
As the symphony of sword clashes echoed behind her, Henri ran, she ran without looking back. She wasn't a warrior, she wasn't used to this, none of them were, none but the slender male with long hair. Other than him, the rest had only started the dungeoneering business roughly three months ago.
"Gladiolus, can't you do something?"
On the other side of the door, the girl with the rucksack, Elaine, was watching. Squatting with her rucksack against a wall, she watched through the gap of the exit held open by the big guy, Finn. She noted that Finn's hands were shaking and most likely, he won't hold for much longer.
"It's risky. I'll see what I can do, but Auguste's movements are far too erratic for me to have a clear shot."
Despite what he said, the slender male, Gladiolus, had his arrow nocked, watching vigilantly for an opportunity to shoot. Though he knew that his arrows might not do much to these sorts of undead, he could slow them down should he hit them in the right places.
Elaine turned her eyes back to Finn, then towards the running Henri.
"Finn, just a few more moments," she said gently to the large young man.
"I... I'll try..." Finn replied through his gritted teeth.
"Don't try, hold. If this door shuts, everyone on that side will be dead."
Elaine looked to the battle again, between Auguste and the corpses, one against two, no, it's three now, the headless one had joined into the melee. The inclusion of the third enemy made Auguste's steps more erratic than before, constantly shifting his positions so that only two could reach him at a time. Thankfully, the third one was slower than the other, and upon looking closely, there appeared to be an arrow stuck in the corpse's knee. It would seem that Gladiolus had gone and made a shot before anyone noticed.
"Henrietta," Elaine called out as Henri finally arrived before the exit, "let me borrow your shield."
Again and again, the swords came swinging down, reflecting the lights of the torches left on the floor and the wall of fire behind. From the left, from the right, a lunge aiming for the guts, a sweep aiming for the legs, each blow Auguste parried and blocked and deflected. With his wide and hefty shortsword, he focused solely on defending against the flurry of blows. Though his sword was hefty and was gradually wearing out his arm with each swing, the weight allowed him to absorb the force of each blow with minimum risk to his wrist and the width of the blade granted him that much more steel to block with.
Step by step, the corpses closed in, advancing with each swing. To the left, to the right, Auguste's steps were frantic and erratic, trying to keep only two enemies in front of him at all times when there were three trying to get at him. However, there eventually came a blow that drew blood, a thrust that sliced into his upper right arm, a thrust that Auguste barely pushed aside in time with the parrying dagger. It was but a flesh wound, though it could be worse had Auguste not reacted in time with the off-hand dagger when he felt that his right arm was too heavy to move.
He was nearing his limit, that much was clear from his ragged breath. His lungs squirmed in agony and his muscles cried out in pain. How much longer can he hold? Five more minutes? One more? Thirty seconds? Ten? He couldn't afford to ask himself that, it would be the same as wondering for how long does one have to live. If he had done that, then his will would undoubtedly collapse.
A roar. It came from neither Auguste nor the corpses. It came from the rear. A large figure with a battle-axe trailing behind.
As if triggering a primitive fear within the corpses, for but a brief moment, they froze in place, granting Auguste an opportunity to pull away, disappearing behind the large back of the large man, the one they call Finn.
Upon arriving before the corpses, Finn planted his feet into the ground, steady as a rooted tree, and swung his bearded battle-axe at the corpses. The bearded axe-blade glided across the air and cleaved right through one of the corpses before catching the one that happened to be standing right beside. It was a swing that wasted nothing, a full power swing that transferred all of Finn's upper body strength into the axe-head. It was a swing not meant for fighting, but for cutting wood, for cutting down trees with thick trunks and darkened barks.
With but a single swing, the two corpses fell, their top halves plummeted to the ground like the lumber Finn was so used to cutting. However, with a swing as large and powerful as his, it was only natural that he'd be off-balance after cutting something so feeble compared to the trees. Unable to recover in time, the third of the corpses, the headless one whose knee was smashed by an arrow, stumbled forward with the tip of its sword extended in Finn's direction, aiming for his thighs where there was no armor.
The sword dipped into the leather pants, piercing through the skin, but that was as far as it went. A hefty blade held against the corpse's chest stopped it from going any further. It was Auguste. Like a cockroach, he vanished behind Finn's back, not to be seen after line of sight was broken and reappeared out of the corpse's blind spot.
The hefty blade cleaved into the half-rotten corpse, cutting it from above its left shoulder and below the right arm. Due to the weight of the blade and the state of the corpse, it ended up being a clean cut.
"T-thanks!" said Finn, slightly out of breath.
"You're welcome. Now let's get going," Auguste replied, turning towards the exit, though not before taking one more glance at the corpse.
"Would yer hurry it up! Ah, it going to bend! It's going to bend!"
Keeping the exit from closing with her arms raised against the falling slab, there stood Henri, her greatshield by her side wedging the exit, helping her bear the weight of the slab. Or, in this case, it's Henri that's helping her shield bear the weight. Apparently, the shield couldn't bear the weight alone without beginning to bend and Henri had to jump in to save it. It was, after all, not cheap.
"Finn!" Auguste called.
Finn moved to take Henri's place, letting Henri pass through first. After Auguste had gone on through as well, Finn followed suit with Auguste and Henri holding the exit for him.
The slab was heavy, Auguste had felt the weight threatening to pull his shoulders loose even with Henri and her shield helping him. It's impressive that Finn and Henri had held it up for as long as they did.
With Finn being the last, all six had made it through, and after pulling Henri's shield from the exit, the slab fell and sealed the exit off completely.
The party was safe, for the time being.
End of Chapter 1