The horde marches forward, ambling out of the darkness together with the creeping streams of the dead-light that sicker along the ground, winding through the blades of midnight-blue grass like serpents on the hunt. All of us crawl together towards the only thing that our thoughts have space for now, the last living things in this domain. They don’t see us just yet, apart from the sharp-eyed elf who I can see giddily jumping up and down on the tips of her toes in the back of the group as she looks towards me. They begin walking down the small dirt road that leads from here, through the forest and through the graveyard towards the altar, towards the crystal which has made us manifest.
The graveyard-keeper is speaking, the old man waving his torch around the darkness as he talks for dramatic emphasis. All of them are huddled around him to listen. As they stare off into the darkness that we creep through like the creatures of the night that we are. As they listen to the tale of the graveyard-keeper, as if they had had no part of it, I see the priestess in particular huddle closer to the wizard. I’m starting to get the feeling that she isn’t particularly fond of darkness and creepy-crawlies now that I look back on it all. I suppose that’s another weakness I can try to keep track of, for whatever reason.
I think the thief liked cute things? No… no… that was the wizard, yeah! So the priestess is afraid of spooks and the wizard has a blind eye for cute things. That’s two down. We lurch forward, our collective groans and agonized moans ringing out together with the howl of the wind, carrying our disembodied voices over to the group. This is the signal. The graveyard-keeper swings his torch back, throwing it into the darkness out from which we shamble. The flame hisses and it singes against the wet grass, the glowing shine illuminating the many silhouettes of the hoard encroaching upon them. The priestess screams a high-pitched shout in surprise as the fight begins.
The hero pushes himself forward, taking the lead as always. What a control freak I think as I watch the first of the dead reach towards him. With a single swipe of his magical sword, several arms fly off into the air. Fire begins to shine out from the hands of the wizard-girl, who is guarding the thief at the side of the priestess. There is an irony to that, but I don’t really want to think about it right now. The graveyard-keeper, bless his heart, has decided to run all the way back to the house now on his own. Several of the dead begin to follow him, eager to make the world quiet once more.
The hero yells at him to come back, but he doesn’t listen. He’s just following his nature. Just doing what the dungeon is telling him to do. To go to safety. Though what is to be understood as safe isn’t decided by his own reasoning, it is decided by the whispers of the dungeon. Tendrils of creeping white light already begin to surround and envelop the house, even before he gets there. The dead-light is insidious. It can’t hurt or touch the living directly, but that is why it has us. But its presence is nonetheless unnerving for the living. The whispering dead-winds constantly hissing into their ears, constantly hissing dark words into their thoughts. Constantly whispering the wishes of our dead hearts into theirs. It makes them unsteady and uneasy and uncoordinated even if they don’t know it themselves.
The hero-party might be resilient enough to withstand it. But the graveyard-keeper is just a man. Just a man like all of us. Just meat. Only a thin line of life separates him from us. One that we intended to cross soon enough.
The world shakes as a bright orange flame blasts out from next to the house, sending the swarm of the dead flying. Singeing and scattering them as the windows of the building now blow out entirely, sending fragments of glass flying in all directions and allowing the strands of serpentine light to streak in through to penetrate the last bastion of shelter here. To taint it with the cursing malignancy of our souls. An arm flies just past me. Just past the rest of my small swarm that is heading straight for the heart of the hero-party. The others can take care of the graveyard-keeper while we keep them busy here.
My eyes meet the hero’s in that second, as I stand just before him. My fingers barely about to graze the surface of his pristine, polished armor. It’s an odd time to think about it, but as I reach for the meat that makes up the human I wonder; how does he keep his armor so clean down here? I mean, we have lax hygienic standards in the dungeon, sure. I wouldn’t call it unlivable though. But it’s definitely a fixer-upper. But here he is in all of his radiant and shining and perfect glory. Our eyes just look into each other’s and I reach for them. I reach to take them. I want them. I want them out. I want them to stop looking at me. I wan-
He ducks to the side a split second later as a shout from behind him rings out. I see a flat surface of rainbow-colored elf vomit, no, white-magic. I need to stop mixing that up. In that second I see it fly towards me, towards us. The heavenly magics of the priestess just flying past the hero in order to swallow us whole and to remove us from this world. The screams, the fighting, the explosions, the horrible groans of the risen dead, the whispers of the dead-wind. Everything is quiet for a moment. Just silent. Everything turns warm as my body flies backwards, enveloped by the mystical energies drawn from some place none of us know anymore.
I feel… I feel that feeling you get when it’s cold outside and you enter your home. When your fingers begin to thaw immediately as the warm air touches your skin. That feeling you get when you take off your shoes and your coat and you look at the place you have built, when you look at the smiling faces of your family welcoming you back home after a hard day. It’s warm. They aren’t the family you were born into, but it’s one you found along the way. Somehow that made the feeling feel even warmer. Those feelings all together come over me, fill me in that last second with a sensation I don’t remember ever actually knowing. Some deep wholesomeness, some… warmth. Like I’m being held by something that loves me. Softness, meaning, comfort surround me as I fall into a place that tells me that this is where I had belonged all along. Somewhere warm.
I hit the ground and the last thing I see is my friend Piotr do the same.
Whispers, whispers crawl through the dirt. Twisted and wretched and hateful whispers crawl through me. They crawl through him and fill us with disgust. With disgust at the things we are. Disgust at the men we were. Disgust at the warmth we feel. The dead-light creeps and twists and winds its way around my broken, jagged bones and snaps them back into place with shattering cracks. The whispers of the night seep into my rotting, worm infested brain like a drip of black-water permeating my meat as it comes to tell me the truths of this world. As it comes to wash that disgusting warmth and happiness and love away. Those things aren’t welcome in the graveyard, those things aren’t welcome in me. Belonging? Warmth? Family? None of that is real. It never was. It is a lie. A final lie of the white-magic. The cruelest trick the human gods have to play. None of that is part of the dungeon. None of it ever was. My head snaps to the side with a crack as my mangled body spasms, as the dead-light tears me back up to my feet as if a string attached to my head were being yanked up into the air. As the dead-light claws onto my soul and violently jams it back down into this warped, disgusting body that is mine. Pressing me down a little too tightly, almost compressing my soul in its haste to stuff me back inside.
Goo dribbles out of me. A viscous black ink seeps and oozes from my mouth as my body rises from the dirt again. As our bodies rise up again from the grave anew. As our limbs are sewn back on by the mystical seamstress who whispers into our ears. The one who sends tiny strands of white, glowing worms through our meat that pull us back together as we lunge forward again towards the hero, who is now a few steps further back.
I look to my friend and groan, “Hey, Piotr?”
“What is it Miika?!” he asks in a hurry.
“You’re up early today!” I say, laughing.
The hero swings again.