No one was sure when it became common to build a basement out of long halls and tiny rooms, but these days, you couldn’t enter a fort or ruins without walking through an underground labyrinth at least once. Most adventurers accepted this as fact, and never really questioned it.
Hill was questioning it now though. The halls tunnelled and dug for what felt like miles. There were dead ends, and unused rooms littering the path, but very little on a straight way. They’d finally gotten clear of the smell of burnt maggot. Only now, it had been replaced by a new, and not more welcome stench. Hill tightened his grip on Party Starter.
“You smell that,” Leif commented. “Rotting bodies. But mobile rotting bodies.” One of the skills picked up quickly by adventurers was a distinct sense of smell. The ability to tell the difference between still rotting corpses and moving rotting corpses was pretty distinct. “Zombies,” Leif commented with a victorious smile.
“Might not be,” Hill replied with no conviction. Ahead of them, there was a distinct groaning noise. Hill sighed. “Zombies don’t always mean necromancer,” he continued. “Sometimes they’re just about.”
“They’re about all right,” Fell stated. She pointed ahead, as several zombies lurched around the corner, groaning and limping about. She waved her hands, and orange tinted smoke formed around her. “I got this one,” she said with a smile.
“Hold on,” Leif interrupted. “They’re not coming at us.” He motioned at the zombies. “Look.”
Sure enough, the zombies shuffled around the corner, and turned away from the adventurers. They were dragging a few bodies, much fresher then themselves, and showed no interest in the trio. Fell swore, and stopped her spell mid incantation.
“Sorry,” Leif offered. “I’m sure there will be a chance later.” He nodded towards the zombie horde. “We should see where they’re going; might lead to the necromancer.”
“If there is a necromancer,” Hill corrected through gritted teeth. “I think they’re bringing those bodies for our cannibal captors.”
“It’s not going to be cannibals,” Leif commented happily.
“We’ll see,” Hill replied.
The zombies stumbled along the hall, followed closely by Hill, Fell, and Leif. The three began at a good distance behind the undead, but soon were only steps from joining the crowd. The zombies didn’t seem to care, which wasn’t that big a surprise. Being dead, zombies didn’t often care about much. They had no problem leading the adventurers straight to their master, because no one had thought to tell them to have a problem with it.
The hall ended at a large room filled with greasy smoke. The zombies marched in, and threw the fresh bodies into a giant metal grinder that dominated the center of the room. Off to the far wall was a large oven, currently being watched by tall spindly man in an apron. He had a pair of Gruberlings nearby, but had them busy flattening out pie crust. It was, to say the least, a bit off as far a scenes went.
The man watched the zombies with an appraising eye as they loaded bodies into the grinder. It took him a good few minutes to even notice Hill, Fell and Leif. “Hey, hold on,” he commented to the adventurers. “How’d you lot get down here?”
The three all blinked at each other. They’d expected something more sinister than ‘how’d you get down here’. This man was obviously the big bad; there was certain protocol to follow. Fell was the first to recover enough to comment.
“You tied us up,” she offered. “In the far room?” She made a face. “Took our clothes? You’d think that would be at least a bit memorable.”
The spindly man looked the three over. He gave a slight nod. “I suppose it would have been,” he admitted. “I have servants for that sort of work.” He glanced them over again, his eyes stopping briefly on Party Starter. The man swore. “I specifically said no adventurers,” he muttered to a nearby Gruberling. “I was very clear on that.”
The Gruberling hissed what might have been an apology back. It went mostly ignored by the adventurers. Hill was already walking into the room. He shot a smile at Leif, before pointing at the machinery.
“Is that a giant meat grinder?” Hill asked the cook. “A giant meat grinder for grinding down people?”
Fell walked slowly around the room, keeping the long table between her and the Gruberlings. She picked up one of the unfinished pies, and immediately put it back down as a dread realization came over her. “Oh Gods,” Fell muttered, turning a slight shade of green. “Did we order the meat pie last night?”
“It’s pretty likely,” the pie man offered. “I mean, it is our specialty.” He mimed out a large marquee. “House on the Hill Meat Pie Emporium?” He gave a sheepish shrug. “Most people can’t taste the difference,” he commented.
“Meat Emporium,” Hill recalled. “That does sound familiar.” He shrugged at Fell. “I think it was a pretty good sales pitch at the time.”
“I ordered the salad,” Leif added smugly. He thought for a second. “You did make the zombies though, right? I mean, you are a necromancer?”
“I dabble,” the Pie-Man admitted. He stared confusion at Leif’s smile towards Hill. “I’m not sure you three recognize the situation here,” the cook suggested. “I mean, yes, I’d rather not have a bunch of adventurers here. It’s a hassle. But these are my zombies, and these Gruberlings do listen to what I tell them to do. You are all sort of outnumbered here, and I do need you dead.” He motioned to the adventurers, and both the Gruberlings and the zombies turned towards them.
The adventurers moved immediately into practiced position. Fell stepped quickly backwards to get range for her spells, while Hill charged directly towards the Gruberlings. Leif stepped forward as well, but without the urgency of his larger companion. He tossed a dagger at one of the maggot men to get its attention, but he didn’t bother with the obscenity filled battle cry that Hill was using. Despite this, Leif did meet his Gruberling target slightly faster than Hill met his.
Leif grabbed one of the pie plates, and shoved it pie first against the Gruberling’s face as the maggot man leapt over the table at him. He then drove a dagger through the center, pinning the plate to the Gruberling. Leif took a moment to point out his work, before he pulled his thrown dagger from the Gruberling’s shoulder, and replaced it in the monster’s chest.
Hill nodded grudging admiration of Leif’s work as he dodged his own Gruberling’s attack. He stepped forward with both hands on Party Starter’s hilt, and drove the great sword through the Gruberling’s groin. Then, with a twist and a lift of his shoulder, Hill pulled the great sword straight up; cutting the maggot man neatly in two. He stood in the shower of gore, and stared at Leif.
“Well, yes,” Leif drawled. “It is impressive. But is it art?”
“Using a pie plate isn’t art,” Hill retorted. “It’s just.” He stopped. “Alright, the pie plate was pretty damn funny.”
“Thank you,” Leif said.
Hill and Leif turned attention to the horde as one of the zombies groaned at them. Zombies were not that fast. Possibly because they weren’t in any hurry. During Leif and Hill’s fight, the entire group had managed to meander closer, and given time, might even become a threat. Once you got over the stench, and the horror of the walking dead, it turned out there wasn’t that much to be afraid of.
“Zombies?” Hill suggested.
“Zombies,” Leif agreed.
“Oh, no you two don’t,” Fell snapped. She’d shifted across the room, and was already gesturing towards the oncoming zombies. Orange smoke flared from her hands, and burst into small flames in places. “I’ve been waiting all night to cast this spell, and I’m damn well casting it if you two are in the middle of those zombies or not!”
Fell didn’t wait for the men to agree. She waved her hands and chanted the last bits of her incantation. Finally she stomped her foot, and pointed at the zombies that were doing their best to come across the room.
A pillar of white fire burst from the floor in the midst of the zombie horde, instantly incinerating the few that were directly in its path. The fire hit the ceiling, and umbrellaed back downward, encircling the rest of the group. It was almost too bright to look at, but no one could force themselves to look away. The zombies, being undead and without care, continued forward; each flickering out of existence as they tried to casually wander through a wall of white fire.
The pillar of fire didn’t go out so much as it just stopped existing suddenly. Beyond the smell of ashed zombie, and the scorch marks on floor and ceiling, it was like it had never happened. Fell nodded approval at the area of devastation before turning to Hill and Leif for approval.
“Yeah,” Hill stated. “That was worth waiting for.”
“It was quite the spectacle,” the Pie Man agreed. He’d slid right behind Fell during the light show, and quickly wrapped a long arm around her; pinning her hands to her chest. He held a large meat knife to her throat.
“Damn sexist,” Fell accused. She used a whiny mocking voice as she continued. “Grab the girl as a hostage, she won’t put up a fight.”
“I’m not being sexist,” the Pie-Man replied indignantly. “I grabbed you because you’re a wizard. Your type don’t often put up any sort of fight.”
“Classist,” Fell spat.
“It’s not classism,” Pie-Man defended. He turned purposely, keeping Fell between him and the men, and keeping his knife at Fell’s throat. “I mean, honestly, look at your friends. The big one would just get mad if I stabbed him, and the little one is too slippery for me to hold.”
“You though, I’m pretty sure I can take. And no, not because you’re a girl. You’re a wizard.” The Pie Man continued. “I mean, wizards. All that time spent in libraries and whatnot. You’re not going to be able to put up a decent fight. This is just common sense really.”
Fell made an indignant noise. “Has it ever occurred to you that some wizards might actually take time away from books? Maybe that some wizards take a few minutes a day to consider physical activities?”
“Not for a second,” the Pie-Man stated curtly. “Now, unless you two want to see your pretty friend’s throat torn open, I’d suggest…”
He didn’t get further than that, which was probably for the best. Beyond ‘I’d suggest you both drop your weapons and kindly feed yourselves through the meat grinder’, he didn’t really have a follow up.
The Pie Man was interrupted mid sentence as Fell grabbed his wrist, and twisted hard. Pie Man dropped his knife, and let go of Fell. She didn’t bother turning to face him as she slammed her elbow into his chest, and the back of her fist into his teeth. Fell stepped forward away from the cook, as he stumbled backwards.
“Oh you total…” Again the Pie Man was interrupted, which again was probably for the best. Hill stomped forward, and hit the man hard with the flat of Party Starter.
The cook was flung backwards. He tumbled over the table, and smacked into the side of the oven. There was a hissing sound as the flesh on the side of his face cooked against the hot metal. He squealed, and pulled free with a slurching noise. The Pie Man hadn’t managed to step away before Leif tossed a dagger, and pinned the man’s hand to the oven. There was a new bacon hissing, barely covered by the Pie Man’s screams. By the time he pulled free, his arm had been burnt to the bone.
The cook shrieked and swore. “My master comes!” the Pie Man shouted at the three. “Quatterlash will return soon, and when he does…”
“He’ll have something to eat,” Fell finished. She made a quick gesture, and a translucent hand shot forward. It hit the Pie Man in the chest, and drove him into the oven. With a dismissive wave, Fell magicked the door of the oven closed.
“Harsh,” Hill commented.
“I’m a fan of ironic justice,” Fell replied.
In the end, it turned out that they were in the basement of the House on the Hill Meat Pie Emporium. By this point, it was barely a surprise. The three never did find their money pouches, but since there was more money in the pub’s till then they’d come in with, they were willing to consider it a scrub. Besides, they’d also managed to steal away with several bottles of random alcohol, so there was that.
Hill, Leif and Fell watched the House on the Hill Meat Pie Emporium burn for awhile before they set out again. It was a pretty quiet journey for the first bit, as Fell dropped behind.
Hill slowed down, and walked beside Fell. “You ok?”
“Oh yeah, sure,” Fell muttered. “We just saw possible proof that the Titans are returning. I’m fine.”
Hill considered a moment. “Could be an isolated incident,” he offered with a shrug. “This might be the last we ever hear of this.”
Leif chuckled at Hill as he dropped back to join the others. “Oh, you don’t believe that any more than she does,” he commented. “We’ve never kicked open a hive like this without it coming back to haunt us, and you know it.”
“Could be a first time.” Hill said. He sighed and shook his head. “Ok, not likely. I’m trying to cheer her up,” Hill added. “You don’t have to be a jerk about it.”
“Just being a realist,” Leif stated in defence. He turned attention to Fell. “If you are truly concerned, I have something for that.” Leif tossed a bottle of pilfered wine to Fell. “There, now open that, and continue drinking till you’ve forgotten what the problem was.”
Fell waved a finger at the bottle until the cork popped free. She gave the men a half smirk. “We’re talking about the return of Gods,” she commented. “Drinking is a stopgap answer at best.”
“Sure,” Hill agreed as he opened a bottle of his own. “But it’s been a pretty good one so far.” He pointed off towards the road. “C’mon. We’ve got a bit to go till we hit a town. Maybe we’ll find an inn along the way.”