“Some mysteries are better left to be solved on another day.”
Amanda jumps in and separates us. “Edmund! Do you even realize what you and the others did? Everyone thought that something happened to you! They freaked out and the Third even tried to frame Joyce for your disappearance! He suggested to pack up and leave, since the area obviously isn't safe.”
Edmund’s reaction is genuine surprise. He pulls up his eyebrows and opens his mouth, unable to find an immediate response. It takes a few moments before he manages to think of a reply. “Well. That's a problem. Didn't I tell everyone that we would be outside overnight?”
She shakes her fists. “Yes, you fool! But when we went to look for you this morning, everything was gone! You could've left someone behind to guard the teleporter!”
The scholar clears his throat. “I am sorry. This obviously wasn't handled correctly. These caves are too fascinating, I guess we simply stopped thinking.”
I smile and step away from them. There is no reason to catch their mental illness, assuming that whatever they have is contagious. “Where are the others?”
Edmund gestures towards the tunnel. “They are exploring the cave.”
“They are alive? All of them?” I didn't want to reveal my feelings like that, but his revelation came as a surprise. Aw, why am I even trying to defend myself? I am simply no good when it comes to human interactions. That's the plain and simple truth.
“Why do you sound so surprised?” Kiara asks and her expression turns worried.
I shrug. How should I explain this. “Well, this is obviously some kind of holy place, or even a burial site. If I buried my family in such a shiny tomb, I would do everything in my power to deter grave robbers.” My eyes wander to the teleporter and my voice turns cheerful. “It's obvious that the creators of this place knew enough about magic to create some nasty surprises for people who try to desecrate this place.”
Oops. I hope they didn’t understand that the wrong way. I clear my throat and try to avoid their eyes.
Edmund saves me from the awkward situation by clearing his throat. “I am thankful for your advice and it may not look like it, but we aren't total idiots. Everyone has the strict order not to touch anything. After such a long time, the only real danger comes from magical traps. Though, most small spells have surely dispersed by now. If there is something left, then it must’ve been a grand working.”
Tristen's expression turns dark. “And you really think that a bunch of civilians would follow such orders?”
The scholar nods and tries to say something, but loud screams interrupt him. They are coming from the tunnel and they don’t sound happy.
Brian curses and runs off into the darkness. Tristen, Fae and Kiara follow on his heels. They didn’t hesitate. Will I get the same loyalty once I am the one who is paying them money?
Their departure leaves me alone with the two scholars, who have shocked expressions on their faces. Their eyes wander back and forth between me and the corridor. I am faced with the same decision. Either I follow my four frenemies, or I stick with the two intellectual dolts. Okay, Amanda might not be so bad. At least she seems to have common sense.
Which still means that I would rather stick with the idiots who are running towards the danger than with the idiots who caused this whole situation in the first place. “Sorry, guys.”
I run down the corridor and leave the two scholars on their own.
Twenty metres down the tunnel, I reach a small room with four entrances, an intersection between two tunnels. Tristen is battling a genuine zombie. Okay, calling it a battle is definitely exaggerated. The zombie is trying to bash in Tristen’s head with a large club, while the rogue is gracefully avoiding each blow. He manages to stab and slice the creature from time to time, but the animated body doesn't care about such wounds.
The zombie looks like a zombie, but he moves like a real soldier. And I mean the agile kind. The creature’s armour is dusty and made of copper, but seems to be in perfect condition. It looks like an advanced Aztec warrior. The warclub is wooden, but there are a lot of nasty-looking spikes at the end.
Four of the scholars are huddling at the wall next to me, clearly frightened out of their wits.
Brian is fighting a second monster in the tunnel to my left, while Fae and Kiara are shooting arrows and crossbow bolts into the tunnel to my right. Holding this position isn't the smartest move. I grab the first scholar who is within my reach and shove him into the tunnel behind me. “Get back to the teleporter!”
Then I realise that there are more opponents coming down Tristen's tunnel. The rogue may be able to deal with one or two opponents, but not with the writhing mass of bodies which is quickly approaching this intersection.
“Tristen, get down!” I point my hand down Tristen's tunnel and unleash the flamethrower. Tristen gets a little singed, but he dives to the side and escapes most of the blast. His opponent gets burned to a crisp and falls. The same happens to the second and third approaching enemy.
But what comes next is truly intriguing. The following zombies show that they are a little more than their movie equivalents. They pick up the bodies of their fallen comrades to use them as shields against my fire, so I switch tactics and blast them with force magic and energy blasts. Which isn't quite as effective as roasting them to a crisp.
“Retreat! Back into the corridor!” Tristen crawls behind me to avoid the torrent of spells which I am throwing down the corridor. Brian uses his shield to push his opponent away and retreats while Fae and Kiara do the same.
I quickly follow them and throw up a barrier to wall off the corridor. Seconds later, the wave of bodies slams against my shield. For the moment they are stopped. “I can't hold them off forever!”
Brian steps in front of me and holds up his shield. “Oh, Lord of Light! Give me your power and smite the unnatural!” A ray of light is emitted from his shield and my barrier breaks. But it doesn't matter since the zombies are howling in pain. They aren't killed outright, but every creature which is touched by the light tries to retreat at all costs.
For a few moments it looks like even Brian's spell can't stop them, since the front rows are simply pushed forward by the following reinforcements. But then their advance halts and they start retreating. Then all of them are fleeing back into the darkness beyond the intersection.
I wait and listen to the sound of many retreating footsteps, but it seems like we actually managed to force them to retreat. Only the bodies on the floor are proof of the attack. Then I slap Brian on the back of his helmet. “Why didn't you do that earlier!?”
The huge man turns around and smiles apologetically. “My teacher taught me the spell as a last ditch defence against creatures such as these. There are things which shouldn't be done with the powers that were given to us.”
He bashes the flat of his sword against his shield and the shield crumbles under the impact. “Additionally, this spell isn't exactly easy on my equipment. I don't care much about losing a good shield if it allows us to retreat safely, but we should really go now. I won't be able to perform this feat a second time without a properly prepared shield.”
I reach for the shield and break off a piece of it. It crumbles to dust between my fingers. Okay? Did the spell use the force of the molecular bindings to fuel itself? That's a neat trick if the user doesn't have much power of his own.
We retreat back to the room with the teleporter and are greeted by the scholars. The four who were rescued are frantically trying to explain what happened. Edmund doesn't look very happy, since they obviously lost two people in the attack.
“We just followed the main corridor. We didn't touch anything, I swear! There was this huge hall at the end. It was so large that we couldn't see the other side or the ceiling. Oleg and Marsha went further in than the rest of us. Then those things came out of the darkness. They swept over Oleg and tore him to pieces. Then we ran. I think that Marsha couldn't catch up. But I never dared to turn around to look.” Another scholar takes over. “It felt like we were running for hours, but these creatures didn't slow down. And on the way back, we ran into the adventurers.”
Edmund shakes his head. “I told you not to touch anything.”
I raise a hand to voice my opinion. “Excuse me, but if I had created an army of undead guardians, I would place them at the deepest part of the tomb. Then I would instruct them to rush over anyone who comes too close to the place which I want to protect. It would ensure that the trap kills any random tomb raiders. The lack of traps at the entrance was obviously meant to draw in the victims far enough to get them.”
Amanda takes Edmund at his upper arm and guides him back to the teleporter. “It's clear that our expedition isn't equipped for this kind of exploration. We need to return with something which can deal with this horde of zombies.”
Edmund gestures with his hand. “But it could take decades to gather enough funds for a second expedition! You have no idea what it took to finance this one.”
“I know. But we already learned more about this ancient civilisation than anyone else ever did! Aren't two deaths enough to stop?”
The First Scholar visibly deflates. Within moments he looks much older and less energetic. “No, you are right. I have no idea how I can explain the deaths of Oleg and Marsha to their families.”
I watch in silence as the present people use the teleporter. One by one, they leave the tomb behind. Their only accomplishments are a few notes and sketches of the shrines. Oh, and they left two more bodies to add to the army of guardians. I stay until I am the last one to leave. A quick glance down the corridor leaves me unsure of whether I am being watched or not.
In my current state I've simply no interest in exploring this place, but at some point in the future I'll certainly take a look at what's so important to justify such a defence.