After we pass through the foot gate, Grumpy takes us to the left, where there’s a path along the foot of the wall that we follow. The walls and crenellations are high enough that we can’t see the guards stationed there. The forest has also been pushed back, leaving an open field of about five hundred yards. Plenty of space to fire on attackers. The area also appears to be growing grass for hay, a good use for the space as it doesn’t give much to attackers – especially if it’s ‘put to the torch.’
Hawks are flying over the field, diving for mice and rabbits. Small birds flit around, and there are bees and butterflies too. It’s all very ordinary; no orange trees from Dr. Sues stories or other things. I make a finger gun, aim at a fat bumble bee, and say, “Pew! Pew!” A red laser light comes out of my finger and misses the bee by at least a foot.
Mason laughs, “Everybody does that once they learn it works. You need practice, but don’t do it here. It makes the guards nervous, not because you’re a threat with your finger gun, but because you could start a fire with it.”
“The book said it was effective against pests. Is there an advanced version that wasn’t in the book?”
“There aren’t that many cantrips, advanced or otherwise, that let you make a severe attack directly against an opponent. Hurting people and breaking things is usually done with tiered spells. You can summon tools and use them as weapons, but they aren’t as effective as a crafted weapon,” added Gilden.
Grumpy asked, “With that bit of knowledge, what kind of tiered spells would you expect?”
“The classics, Magic Missle, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, and others made popular by RPGs and movies.”
“So, how do you think you learn a tiered spell? It’s not the same as with cantrips,” asked Grumpy. The other looked on, waiting for my answer.
“Well, I would expect that you could get some from Easter Eggs, though I don’t think that’s the primary method. It would make sense that you can have somebody who knows the spell train you, and I would expect that to be the most common and expensive. It also seems like there should be some creation method, a cycle of research and experimentation. Since we are already going there, I’ll add that we may find something in the graveyard if I am right. I have a couple of other ideas, but they are odd enough that I will keep them to myself for now.”
Gilden asked with wonder, “You think that there are spells hidden in the graveyard?”
“I am confident that there is knowledge in the graveyard. It could come in many forms; spells could be one of them.
Mason added, “And if anybody knew it, they have kept the secret so well that nobody else even suspects.”
It was quiet while they each thought about what I had said.
— * ~ * —
The path branches, and we take the right branch, leaving the wall’s shadow. Less than two miles along the trail, we come to an eight-foot-tall, spear-tipped, cast iron fence with dead vines woven through its bars and curls. There is a ten-foot-tall stone pillar about every twenty-five feet with an iron lantern mounted upon the top. I can see gravestones on the other side. The markers appear to be recently placed, and the epitaphs are easy to read. Hey, when we get inside, I want you to look through these newer markers to see if there is one for anybody you know who died recently.”
Mason replied, “They aren’t buried here.”
“I know, but I think Nirvana creates a gravestone every time we die. This would cause the graveyard to get larger regularly. I also think that the undead who spawn here are based on how many people died in a given period.”
“That’s crazy…and yet it fits what we know,” said Gilden. “Let’s split up into two teams. We should be pretty safe along the front fence.”
Grumpy replied, “I agree, and I’ll go with Jeb.”
“Ok, we’ll meet back here at the entrance in thirty minutes.”
— * ~ * —
Ten minutes into our walk, Grumpy pointed out a grave, “That one is for a dock worker who was crushed by cargo when a net wasn’t secured to the crane properly.”
“Excellent, we don’t have to search anymore; let’s go back and compare to see if they found someone I want to try first instead.”
When we all get back together, our choices end up being the dock worker, the drunk who I saw run over, or an alchemist that blew herself up by accident. Most excited by the alchemist, we went to her grave. “Ok, just so you know, I don’t have any big expectations for this particular grave. I just want to see what might be here for a sloppy alchemist! I would like for us to all search the headstone before we start digging. Just in case we find something and won’t have to dig.”
I let them search first and after all of them searched physically, Mason used a cantrip; making binoculars with her hands, she sings, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Her eyes start to glow, and she takes her hand away from her face.
“Nice, I like that U2 song!”
She walks around the headstone and then goes to the one next to it and the one behind it. She hasn’t walked all the way around the last one when her eyes stop glowing. “Ok, I have a pattern. What did you find?”
Grumpy replies, “My skill with masonry makes me think that the headstone is acting like a plug. You can lift it straight up and will see that it is recessed about six inches into the foundation.’
Gideon adds, “I agree. You can lift the headstone, and there may be a hollow chamber under it.”
“The cantrip revealed that there are two locking blocks, one on each side, that need to be pulled out before the stone will lift,” said Mason.
“Great, let’s see if there’s anything hidden under the headstone!” After about five minutes of prep with the shovel handles to knock out the locking blocks, we could lift the stone. There was a shelf for the headstone to rest on and hollow space. The opening was about twelve inches long by four inches wide, and it was twelve inches deep. Big enough for you to stand up a large book or several novels. Easy for us to collect the scroll at the bottom. “Excellent! Just like I thought, we are going to find things related to the people the marker represents. Though it looks like they would be ruined if left uncollected too long or if there were heavy rains. What’s on the scroll?”
Gilden opened it and said, “It’s a potion recipe with an ingredient underlined. I’m going to guess it’s the one they messed up with. We’ll have to wait a few days and ask when she revives.”
“All right, we’ve proved part of my theory, and now you have a clue to the rest. Let’s open the one behind it and find out what’s in it, even if we don’t know the person the grave is for. Let’s put this back so we leave little evidence of our discovery.”
We got to work and soon had the next gravestone out of the way and were looting the space. Gilden pulled out a spindle of fine white thread. “I think this is spider silk. Perhaps they were killed by monstrous spiders?”
“Or perhaps they fell into an industrial loom or something. You’ll have to ask around or leave word at the church for when this person revives.”
“This is interesting and all, but it’s not vast riches and secret knowledge,” said Mason.
“True, but I said this was just a clue to the real treasure. We need to head deeper into the graveyard. Let’s find some graves that are much older!”
As we moved deeper into the graveyard, we could see the occasional zombie milling about. After the third one, I asked, “Why don’t we kill them? I need to learn how to use this thing,” brandishing my ranseur.
Grumpy replied, “Sure, there’s no harm as long as we don’t attract a mob of them.”
Looking around, I noticed a man in a destroyed business suite. “How about that one?”
Gilden said, “Let’s do it! You approach, and we’ll back you up. Most zombies only die if you destroy their brains. The easiest way is for somebody to pin them down while another person bashes them. You’ve got a good tool for pinning them, so stick him in the torso and push him over. Holding them down will be harder as they struggle. We’ll do the bashing while Mason keeps a watch for others.” Mason and Gilden both pull a flanged mace out of their inventory and move to flank me.
I ready my ranseur by holding it so the tines are horizontal and parallel with the ground. I begin to walk forward, bracing for when the zombie charges me. I know from gaming that placing the butt to the ground and letting the foe run up on the tines is a good idea. I’m not likely to get knocked over while they do more damage to themselves. I’m going to have to be ready to shift my grip and position. In order to control the fight, I start to softly call out to the zombie to get his attention and have him charge me. “Hey, rotting and putrid. How are you doing? Seen any tasty brains around here?” The zombie looks up, moans, and starts to move toward us. Slow at first, working his way up into the speed of a fast jog. But it’s a weird gait that has him shifting side to side, correcting and over-correcting his balance. Grumpy and Gilden each take a position to each side where they can use the gravestones as cover, leaving a clear path to me. Now that he’s moving at me, I position the ranseur for a charge and hold steady, adjusting so the center tine, the spearhead, is always lined up with his center of mass. I’m not as prepared as I thought I was – when he crashes into the ranseur, his oddly positioned body twists on the head and pulls it to the right and out of my grip. As he falls, impaled, to the ground, I scramble to grab the shaft and pin him into place as he struggles to get up. It’s a real fight; he’s so much stronger than I expected, even knowing from reading and movies doesn’t make it real. No sense of pain and no self-preservation instinct makes his aggression even more effective against me as I have both, and fear can only compensate so much. I am also starting to be very grateful for the distance the ranseur keeps between us. Suddenly, there is a loud crack, and bone and flesh explode out from where the zombie’s head used to be. After a moment of shock, when everything suddenly stopped, I found myself violently ill. The smell, fear, and joy of survival are just too overwhelming. I dry heave some more and then have to sit down. The explorers give me a few minutes to collect myself.
“Well, I’ve killed so, so many zombies in video games, but nothing was ever like that. And I feel weird. I expect to be amped up, and I’m not; I think that is the lack of adrenaline.”
“That’s most of it. Your expectations are reinforced by how you have felt in the past when afraid – heartbeat changes, adrenaline flows, etc. Your heartbeat increased, and your avatar received the extra energy that would come from adrenaline because your brain to it to do that, but the chemical reinforcement to the nerve impulses is missing. The spike in mental energy and corresponding dip afterward from how your brain would convert that adrenaline into energy didn’t happen. It expected to get that hit, and it didn’t. That’s part of the changes you need time to adapt to,” said Grumpy.
“Fine. I’ll think about that some to see if it helps me internalize it. Let’s look around and see why this zombie was out here.”
— * ~ * —
Mason calls out, “I think I found it!” We gather around the grave she’s standing at and she points out the name. “Look here – the gravestone is different. It’s for a famous person who lived:”
|2177 – 2237
“Ok, Who is he?”
“Sorry, Nate Webb was the forty-second actor to portray James Bond,” she replied.
“They are still making James Bond movies? That has to be the longest-running movie franchise ever!”
Mason looked a little abashed, “Well, I recognize him because I had a crush on him in high school. The Bond movie at that time was, Live, Die, and Live Again.'” Quietly and a little sad, she mumbled, “He died after I came here.” Then in a more normal tone, “He didn’t look very awesome as a zombie – didn’t make any connection at all.”
Gilden whispered, “Let’s open it up!” Grumpy dropped to the ground and started hammering out the locking stone on his side.