Just get on with it, Pudding Bowl!’ the bristling dwarf knelt, shouldered his blunderbuss and took aim at the rotting, claw-scarred door.
‘It’s just, I don’t think this is quite the way; we might be releasing something we can’t control.’ Whimpered Burr, hunkering down by the aforementioned access point.
‘It’s just a bloody vampire or something, Wobbly. Just get that door open or I’ll shoot you through it.’
Burr muttered a quick prayer to any god that might have been listening, localized, inter-dimiension-ary or otherwise, and reached for the rust pitted door handle.
There was a mighty bellow of ‘Raaagh!’ from the room beyond and the door exploded inwards. Burr took the full force of the splintering oak in the face and chest and was jettisoned across the flagstones.
Heldmann the Barbarian combat rolled into the room with his broadsword at the ready, growling and huffing fiercely, spittle varnishing his dark beard and the ground below him. A psychotic spittle tsunami if you will.
Through the door way peeped the shrunken, bent over form of the wizard, Greybeard, wide eyed and his staff at the ready with a slight nimbus of light at the end protruding into the room.
The Elf ranger, Gretchen, sighed and shouldered her bow. She leaned against the remainder of door frame and lit her pipe. ‘I told you. I could smell the pair of them before we even entered the castle.’
‘Hmmm, perhaps.’ Muttered the old man. ‘Well at least that’s one problem solved.’
‘Balls!’ Bellowed the barbarian relaxing his stance and raising to his full height. ‘I thought you chaps were this blasted vampire.’
‘Bugger it all!’ huffed the dwarf engineer relaxing his aiming squint. ‘We knew it was only yous! Just wanted to give ya a surprise is all.’
‘Do I smell a feint trace of wee, Herr Dwarf?’ Purred the Elf with a lopsided grin.
‘Bah, out of it fancy britches. You know perfect well that’ll be Burr. Nice of you to drop by mind, any later and we’d be on ours way home just as you were arriving. We’ve almost tracked the damn parasite down and we’re about to kill it. Now form an orderly queue.’
‘Clearly you have everything well in hand…’drawled the elf.
‘Ah, yes’ began the wizard hobbling at speed into the room. ‘That’s what we came to tell you…wait a tick, where is Burr?’
‘Dead in the corner there.’ Rumbled the dwarf flapping a hand in the general direction of the blubber pile.
‘Oh dear lord’ exclaimed the elder tottering over to the prone form of Burr. ‘I told you to take absolute care of him.’ The wizard cast a few spread hands over him, intoned an incantation along the lines of ‘Umbly-Bumbly-Boo’, and then snapped his fingers in front of the pudgy man’s face. Burr’s eyes snapped opened and he tried to scan his surroundings with dull, glazed eyes.
‘Easy, Chosen One, you’re safe. For the moment. Just let your senses fully return before getting up.’ The wizard turned to address the group as a whole. ‘I’m afraid we are all in the most grave danger. No pun intended.’
‘Aren’t we always? Roared the barbarian proudly, smacking a fist on his pecs. ‘We’re heroes, we’re supposed to be…’
‘Please, let me finish. This vampire we seek is not the usual run of the mill undying foe.’
‘Oh really?’ said Burr sitting up and rubbing his neck. ‘You mean it’s not the usual fluffy, welcoming aristocrat who’s all charm and curtesy until he fancies a bit of a snack?’
‘Erm, no. Not really. Quite the opposite actually. All my research and my enquires in the village seem to point to one thing. One rather large thing…It’s a Strigi Vampire. A Ghoul King.’
‘Oh for f….’ the ranger trailed off and kicked a pebble hard against the wall.
‘Ah’. The barbarian simply said and lowered his considerably huge sword.
The dwarf un-cocked his blunderbuss and stroked his beard thoughtfully.
‘Yes,’ continued the wizard at pace. ‘I thought that would give you pause for thought. So perhaps we might want to sit this one out and take a slightly less heroic stance? But never the less, take an altogether even more important role in this matter: by traveling to find the nearest witch hunter, a detachment of the Emperors finest, a Priest of Sunna and an out of the way cave somewhere for us all to then hide in until this all blows over. Questions?’
‘But why didn’t you tell us this on the way here, wizard?’ rumble the barbarian dangerously.
‘Because I needed an escort. And obviously you wouldn’t have come otherwise. Besides, we all have to look after, Burr. If the stars, portents, prophesies and the author are to be believed then we must safe guard him at all costs. The world depends on it!…Apparently.’
‘Well I’m not staying here,’ said the elf sulkily. She knocked out her pipe bowl then disappeared into the shadows of the next room.
‘Er, well’ mumbled the gigantic barbarian staring at his feet. ‘Well if there was anything we could do. Y’know to kill it, then I’m all in. But…y’know…’
The dwarf inspected his boots and beard for an easy excuse. He finally came up with: ‘Bugger that, I’m not wasting good ammo on a shit sucker! I’m off.’ He hefted his armament onto his shoulder and stomped across the room after the elf.
‘Wait, wait, wait! That’s not the attitude!’
The party turned, or slid back out of the shadows, to stare blankly at Burr.
‘Hello’ he said pleasantly. ‘What?’
‘You were saying’, coerced the wizard.
‘Oh,’ said Burr genuinely surprised, ‘was that me?’
‘Yes, Burr: Wait, wait, wait, what?’
‘Erm, I don’t know I hadn’t really thought it entirely through. Well look, Heldmann, I’ve seen you slaughter whole war bands of Wildhorns and Orcs single handed…’
The barbarian gave him a half smile and a quarter shrug.
‘Gretchen, I’ve seen you shoot a whole flock of bats out of the sky in the time it takes me to say, ‘Eugh, bat poo! Run for you lives.’
The elf merely raised an eye brow and continued her deep disapproving glare.
‘Bottkrak Ye Engineer, you…’
‘Oh look, we get the picture, Burr.’ Snapped Grey Beard butting in with a windmill of flapping robes. ‘There’s no need to go on, dear boy.’ The mad geriatric took a snort of what was presumably snuff out of a small tin. After a huge sneeze he continued in a reedy, nasally type way-‘But you don’t seem to understand. It’s a full moon out there, it’s around midnight and we’re on its turf. We don’t stand a chance. More immediately important-we-can’t-kill-the-thing!’
The aging wizard took a chug from a small purple vial, a deep breath and continued on apparently more relaxed. ‘See here, I’ve brought some vials of thrice-blessed holy water and a stake or two, but they were more of a token gesture.’ He unslung a back pack and began rummaging around within.
‘We could always stake Burr to the ground and give him a bed bath? Chimed the elf helpfully. ‘And I always carry a bunch of garlic with me to ward off his smell.’
‘So we’re set then, we’ve got all we need!’ cried Burr jubilantly. ‘Why don’t we suffuse the garlic in the water, cover the stakes in it then somehow fashion a firing mechanism to shoot it at the vampire.
‘Ok Burr, here’s a stake,’ huffed the red faced wizard suddenly stuffing the whole bundle into the fat man’s arms. ‘Here’s some holy water. In fact, here’s all the holy water. Now off you go and kill that nasty, immensely huge, terrifyingly strong, horrendously swift and agile, undead monster. Ta-ta! Don’t be long now.’ He patted him on the shoulder with unconvincing companionship.
‘Erm, what I was trying to do was…’ stammered Burr shouldering the sack. ‘Rally round the whole group with a can do attitude. Y’know, lead by example? Heard of that?’
The rest of the group merely stared at him dumbfounded. A tumble wheel traversed between them. A skeletal rat ran half way up the wizards robes, sniffed then ran away again.
‘I see,’ started the wizard. ‘What you are suggesting, Burr, is suicide…’
‘No: Heroism! Against all the odds, come what may, against impossible forces and odds and what not. The nemesis at the climax of the story in his castle of power. The final show down. None of this mean anything to you?’
‘Ok, chimed the elf re-lighting her pipe. And what are you going to be doing whilst we’re fighting this thing? That is of course if it hasn’t already picked us off one by one silently in the darkness?’
‘Er…well…I hadn’t thought of that. I just assumed he’d play the game and be waiting for us in the throne room in the tallest tower with his hordes of treasure and a bunch of easily overcome-able guards.’
‘No.’ Gretchen said flatly. ‘No, it won’t be like that, Burr. We’ll be lambs to the slaughter. We probably won’t even see it until its already feasting on our innards in front of our still staring eyes. It’s not the cutsey-wutsey, effeminate, prepossessing, romantic, dashing, type vampire; it’s a huge hulking monstrosity, hell bent on tearing us all limb from limb then feasting on our remnants, type vampire.
‘Oh, I haven’t heard of those guys before.’
‘‘Well, now you have. And how exactly do you propose to insert one of those rather small and flimsy wooden cocktail stick through its abnormally huge, muscular and tough ribcage? Hm?’
A familiar tumble weed rolled back the other way between the group. The skeletal rat returned, shook its head vigorously at Burr then scampered out of sight.
The full gravity of the situation seemed to come upon fat man rather suddenly. ‘Oh well, we tried’ he shrugged. ‘Off we go then’ beaming, he picking up his shield and making to move off.
‘Quite right, Burr. Knew you’d get there eventually.’
The rest of the congregation got their stuff together and made to depart.
‘Well on the plus-side,’ began the wizard conversationally, ‘we haven’t been detected yet. We’ll just slip out quietly and come back with the mob…’
Burr opened another door and stared down in revulsion at a grubby, grey, deformed and hunched over and unnecessarily ugly man-thing. Its obsidian, pupil-less eyes widened like dishes as it hissed and thrust its taloned fingers towards his face.
The enormous bulk of the barbarian’s silhouette hooved into view behind Burr. The creature was immediately taken aback then loped off at pace on all fours down the corridor. A blast from the Engineer’s blunderbuss threw it forward hard against the opposite door before being pinned by five elvish arrows in unison.
‘Balls,’ said the barbarian simply.
‘Bugger’ said the dwarf dejectedly.
‘For fu… sake’, Winced the elf.
‘Oh my…’ twitched the wizard, taking another strange liquor out of his sleeve.
‘What?’ Said Burr, turning happily to the band. ‘It’s dead, job done. And we all survived. Now we can return to the village as heroes. Not what I was expecting at all I must say. Easy!’
In unison the group turned to stare at him once more. The barbarian even went so far as to lift a mighty fist ready to bust him one.
‘Oh well, I guess it knows were here now. Prepare yourselves everyone.’ Sighed the wizard.
‘What? What, that wasn’t it? You’re kidding?’
‘No, Burr,’ wheezed the wizard, wearily sitting on a crate. ‘No, that was just a random ghoulish minion that just happened along. One of quite possibly hundreds. And all linked to one being.’
‘The actual for reals vampire?’
‘Yes, Burr. Perhaps we did have a chance, but now…They’ll come. All of them.’
Perfectly cued a chorus of echoing hisses and screeches erupted from all around the castle. The barbarian slumped against the wall with a cold, hard slap. The elf crouched with her face in her palms. The dwarf sat on the floor with his feet outstretched and stared vacantly at his antiquated firearm in his lap.
The malevolent screeches were already coming closer, and there could be heard the distinct sound of naked feet running on stone.
Burrs baleful glare snapped between the dejected group members. ‘Not a chance in hell!’ he spat viciously. We’re not giving up like that. Balls to this sodding vampire. He’s the end game to worry about later. Right now we can do ourselves proud and do what we do and take down as many of those sickening, dirty, little bastards as we can before we snuff it.’
Nobody shifted. Nobody spoke. ‘Right,’ huffed Burr hiking up britches and armour and readjusting his belt. He set about grabbing the nearest furniture and detritus and began building a haphazard barricade against the broken door.
‘There’s only two ways into this room,’ he wheezed as he worked. ‘From down that rather long corridor which the dwarf and elf will guard and this rather knackered doorway here which myself and the barbarian will guard. The elf huffed. The dwarf looked up to shrug. The twitching wizard simply entertained himself with whatever it was that only he could see in the mid distance.
‘The corridor will act as a shooting gallery, it’ll take them ages to get to you, and you can’t miss. We just need to make the other door way solid enough so only a couple of those little feckers can get to us at once. The barbarian will take care of them and I’ll protect his flank with my supposedly magical shield.
Meanwhile the wizard will be our eyes and ears for both groups and help out and heal as needed. He glanced at the distracted mage worriedly. ‘And occasionally, when the desire takes him, he can lob a fire ball or two into the room beyond, because all of the little bastards will be trapped in there, packed solid. Questions?’
‘Just two,’ said the elf, a warning note in her tone. She rose slowly and nocked an arrow. ‘Who are you and what have you done with our Burr?’
‘No time for that now Lanky Bird, the beasts are upon us. Don’t waste your ammo, or energy, just take the bastards down one at a time. No show, all pro, got it?’
By now the rest of the congregation were on their feet looking around rather foolishly and unhelpfully.
‘Now who put you in charge?’ bellowed the barbarian, suddenly sounding more himself.
‘You lot did, Bigman; as soon as you thought it was all over and the day was lost before the fight had even begun. We may not be able to kill this vampire but we’re going to go down swinging. If I die and the world ends by whatever means, at least you guys will be remembered as having fought for my life to the last, side by side.’
‘But this strategy stuff…’ rumbled the dwarf quietly. ‘How would you know all this stuff?’
‘Computer…er. Games, just games…never mind; I’ll try and explain later. Just help me make barricades.’
Heart beats later the door at the far end of the corridor burst open and a horde of foul, wretched, nearly naked bodies erupted out of the shadows. Filthy clawed feet stampeded over the remains of their fallen, squashed, broken, pin cushioned comrade as they screamed and hissed their way to the hero’s last stand.
The elf shot the fat man an angry look, then shook her head. She cart wheeled to her spot and with bow and fletch immediately in hand started making measured, timed shots into the oncoming horde. The door to the room on the other side shattered and another horde swarmed over to the barricade where the barbarian was already standing, his fingers flexing on his sword handle, his teeth gritted and brow furrowed, saliva already flecking his lips and beard.
Burr stumbled over to the giant and slapped his shield beside the barricade and door. Now the only way into the room this side was past the swings and jabs of the warrior’s broadsword.
In the centre of the room the wizard stared bemused at Burr’s back. He grinned a lopsided grin then shook his head. He drew an outline on the floor and a circular Sigel appeared covering the whole area and engulfing each hero in blue light. With a flick of his fingers a glowing orb appeared in the centre of the ceiling and began radiating warming, encouraging rays.
The heroes morale soared, their grips on their weapons tightened and the weapons themselves became light as air…inhuman vitality coursed through their veins.
The engineer and ranger worked surprisingly well together, like a well-oiled machine of death: The blunderbuss taking out the majority of the front line of foes; then the dwarf would dip back behind the barricade to reload while the elf took pot shots at those behind who were still dazed and confused. Together they were like a morbid threshing machine.
Likewise, each time the blood mad barbarian swung through the bodies pressed up against the barricade, Burr’s shield would then appear blocking hands and claws reaching through. When the huge man was ready for a focused return swing Burr would remove the blockage and duck…like a grizzly version of whack a mole. Whack a ghoul, if you will.
The wizard was far more relaxed now and even seemed to be enjoying himself; easily coping with healing the minor nicks and bruises his band suffered in a timely and orderly fashion. He even had time to repeatedly charge their weapons with temporary enchantments of fire and ice and got into quite a rhythm.
Suddenly the waves of revolting grey bodies and pointy teeth ceased. Either their moral had gone and they had slunk back off into the shadows to lick their wounds; or perhaps the whole tribe of them were prone, splatted and sticky on the flagstone floor.
Peace settled in the little room. Weapons were checked and fire arms reloaded. Arrows were retrieved from twitching corpses, brows were moped, pipes were puffed and barricades rebuilt.
A melodic note lifted in the room. The elf was laughing in her pleasing, harmonious cadence. Burr found himself trying to recall the last time he had heard it.
The dwarf gave his earthy chuckle and stroked his beard. The barbarian began to gaffore with his blood covered fists on his gore splashed hips. The Wizard tittered and lit an obscenely long cigarette. But Burr’s brow furrowed.
‘Hmmm, makes me wonder…’
‘No point wondering now, Piggyman’ bellowed the warrior. ‘Battles over…’
‘But not the war’, muttered the Wizard and gave Burr a grave look.
The rest of the company turned a worried countenance towards the fat man and the Wizard.
‘This bastard Vampire could have easily over run the barricade at any point.’ Pondered Burr aloud. ‘And crucially, when the fighting was thickest…So where…’ he said slowly and meaningfully ‘Oh where, has the Vampire been all this time?…’
‘…And why…’ began Grey Beard, just as slowly ‘Hasn’t he shown himself yet.’
‘Because…’ hesitated the elf. ‘It’s been here…
As one the company raised their head towards the considerably high vaulted ceiling.
There was enough moonlight coming through the lofty arched windows to enable them to make out a vast, hunkered shape atop a wooden beam spanning from wall to wall. Somewhere in that monstrous shadow were a pair of large, evil, red glowing eyes. They stared down hatefully at the heroes.
‘Erm…’ Ventured, Burr. ‘Run?’
‘Too late’ breathed the Elf, half drawing her bow. ‘Far, too late.’
The shape above them unfurled wings like a monstrous bat and pushed off from its perch. Plummeting like a lightning bolt to the ground below its considerable silhouette grew immense as it fell.
Burr had just enough time to scream some horrified gibberish before the red eyes closed with him. Then blackness. And cold, damp, stony oblivion.
Thanks for reading