As promised, another short story! Sorry its so late, I’ve had a lot on my brain lately. Anyway, this story is actually the first in a series of short stories taking place in an alternate reality. On this alternate Earth, life experienced an explosion of diverse adaptations soon after the last Ice Age. The cause of this has never been found, but the result is that the monsters of mythology on our world have become real on this alternate Earth. The catch? All the monsters are “scientifically plausible,” meaning there is no magic.
As a result of these monsters, humanity has had a very different history. To combat these creatures we developed The Hunters, elite fighters for hire whose sole purpose is to find and kill any monster threatening a human settlement.
Now, fair warning, even though these aren’t expressly adult science fantasy pieces they do mention or bring up topics or parts of life that one might usually find in Young Adult novels aimed at the older end of the demographic. So, if you are uncomfortable with blood, mature moral quandaries, or mentions of certain natural bodily functions, this series may not be for you.
With that warning out of the way, I hope you enjoy this story! Please comment your reactions or critiques below and subscribe if you have not done so! Now, on with the story!
Killing the Dead
“Do female vampires have periods?” Martyn asked.
“What?” Quinn responded with an incredulous look. “Why would you ask me that?”
“You’re the monsterologist, I thought you’d know.”
“For the hundredth time, I’m a crypto-zoologist and no I wouldn’t know because I’ve never had the chance to study a living vampire in that way.”
“Can a vampire really be called living?”
“How does that work? I thought they were undead.”
“No, they’re infected by a disease that makes them appear dead and drains them of most of their blood, requiring regular replenishing. I can explain it to you in more detail later.”
“No, you cannot,” a third voice, husky and quiet, spoke commandingly.
From their vantage point dangling upside down and bound in chains over a large pit, Martyn and Quinn turned their heads to see who among the many reanimated dead in the cavern surrounding them had spoken.
Moaning zombies with mouths hanging open stood beside bulbous-headed, spore spewing revenants. Above them all towered the draugrs, six to ten feet tall each and strangely clean for undead creatures. Only the mercenary vampires, asleep during midday hours, were missing from the congregation.
The shuffling, grumbling bodies of rotting flesh parted to allow the speaker to step up to the lip of the pit and into the torchlight of the cave.
A long cloak and a tall, obsidian staff topped with a dead human heart were the first things the two hunters noticed about the figure. Then they saw the white and gray rotting hands that clutched the staff and the face beneath the hood missing the skin and muscle around its jaw. They smelled the pungent odor of dried blood through their filtration masks and felt the spores of the dead-life fungus rub across bits of exposed skin in the light breeze coming from an opening to the cave system somewhere far above.
“Well, somebody doesn’t know how to use lip balm,” Martyn quipped.
“Silence,” the lich commanded, growling from somewhere within his ravaged esophagus. “You disturb our home, interrupt my experiments, and sterilize several of our spore patches. What have you to say in your defense before we drop you to the stalagmites below?”
“I only want to point out that you were eating the people of the nearby village,” Quinn said, “and that I would appreciate it if you don’t monologue. It really ruins any fear you might radiate if you start droning on and on.”
“Also,” Martyn added, “we would like to know how you pronounce Bs and Ps with no lips.”
“Ignore him. That’s usually what I do,” Quinn said, rolling his eyes.
“You still haven’t answered my vampire question.”
“Well, why don’t you ask Mr. Lich here?”
“Good idea. Hey, lipless!” Martyn shouted. “Do vampire chicks get super cranky at the end of every month?”
The lich looked quite taken aback.
“Why should I answer that?” the undead king asked.
“Because it’s a liginamate question.”
“I think you mean ‘legitimate.’” Quinn said.
“Silence!” the lich hollered. “You will die now!”
The decayed man lifted his staff toward the bridge from which the two hunters dangled. A nine-foot draugr wielding a massive cleaver shuffled from the right side of the bridge to its center. Raising the enormous blade in one hand, it swung down at the rope holding Martyn and Quinn over the spiky rocks far below.
Suddenly, a large explosion rocked the cave, shaking the bridge, and sending the giant zombie tumbling off the wooden structure. Quinn and Martyn were given an excellent view of their would-be executioner falling down the hole meant for them.
The lich and his horde spun to face the tunnel from which the explosion had come.
“More intruders!” the lich screamed in rage. “Go! Tear them limb from limb!”
Zombies, revenants, and draugrs surged into the narrow hallway, a slobbering, roaring mess of bodies scrambling over each other like insects. The lich hurried after them, leaving only a couple of draugrs to guard their prisoners.
Not long after the majority of the horde had left the cavern, two shotgun rounds burst through the kneecaps of one of the draugr guards, tearing through the rotting muscle and sinew, and echoing through the cavern. A third shot rang out and the collapsing draugr’s head was chopped clean off its body in one swing by a heavy axe blade.
The other draugr turned to avenge its fallen comrade, but barely had time to roar a threat before a razor sharp dagger sank into its shoulder, another piercing the base of its skull and severing the spinal column instantly.
“Took you long enough,” Martyn said to the two women who were now cleaning their blades of undead blood.
Although it was impossible to see their faces behind the filter masks covering their eyes and mouth, Martyn and Quinn recognized the women immediately.
“Sorry,” the blond-haired, strongly muscled Ingred said, not sounding the least bit apologetic. She wore her usual leather and fur armor studded with strategically placed metal plates and studs woven in. In her right hand, she carried a large, one-handed battle-axe with a complex, triple-barreled pistol mechanism built into it. In her left hand was a less complicated large, metal, round shield with a double-barreled, semi-automatic shotgun fused to the inside. “We had to take a detour through a revenant nest to get your gear.”
Mika, with braided black hair and a lithe figure, scampered silently up the bridge scaffold and padded across the wooden beams to where the men hung. She wore a full body leather suit that fit her like a second skin. Several wickedly sharp knives of varying types glinted from their sheaths set within the armor’s forearms, shins, and belt, upon which was set a number of pouches tightly bound to keep their contents from jostling around.
“Well at least it wasn’t an incubus nest like that one time,” Martyn said as Mika started hauling them up to the bridge.
Ingred shuddered, holstering her triple-barreled pistol axe and shrugging a long bag off one shoulder. “Don’t remind me. I still can’t get the smell out of those clothes.”
After dragging the two men up onto the bridge, Mika’s reddish-tan fingers quickly worked at the knots and freed her companions.
“Ugh,” Martyn groaned as he stood up and stretched. “Good to be right side up again. I was afraid the blood rushing to my face would turn me as red as Mika.”
Quinn glared up at his taller and more insensitive friend as Mika silently fussed over him, checking his body for any injuries. He showed her that he hadn’t suffered anything beyond a few bruises and some rope burn. This seemed to ease her worrying a little, but she still insisted on helping him off the bridge, shoving Martyn down to the cave floor with her foot.
As Martyn fell and Quinn and Mika clambered down, Ingred unzipped the long bag she’d been carrying.
“Hallelujah!” Martyn cried, hopping up off the floor, reaching into the bag, and pulling out his gear, which he proceeded to reequip himself with. Quinn soon followed with his equipment.
Martyn latched his breastplate over his shirt and fastened plate greaves to his shins over his black cargo pants and combat boots. After slipping his fingers into leather gloves and tightening his vambraces, he flicked his pump-action shotgun-lance up into his hand with the tip of his boot, spun it fancily a couple of times and slid it into the magnetic sheath attached to the back of his breastplate. Finally, he flourished his dual pistol-longswords and slid them into the sheaths on his belt.
“So, what’s the plan?” Martyn asked as he and the rest of the group looked expectantly to Quinn.
Quinn shouldered on a black trench coat covered with a dozen pockets filled to the brim with ammunition and explosives. Onto his back, he hefted a large hiking backpack attached to a pneumatic bolt launcher through a plethora of tubes and ammunition feed belts. The bolt launcher itself was strapped to its owner’s arm and gripped tightly by the handles.
“That explosion should have collapsed at least one tunnel,” Quinn began, “but it likely didn’t kill any undead. Once they realize it was a distraction—which should be soon—the lich is going to send everything he’s got at us. Luckily, we were able to plant more charges throughout the cave system before you and I got captured, Martyn. If we lead them down the right tunnels, we can lessen the hive’s numbers significantly before reaching the entrance caverns. After that it’s just a matter of defending ourselves against the remaining forces.”
“Only two hundred slobbering, decaying, near mindless monsters plus their lich lord to fight through,” Ingred said, half sarcastically.
“At least all of his forces are well documented varieties of undead,” Quinn continued, “No anomalies to preserve for research. Anyway, copper should be sufficient for the bulk of the horde. Revenants are the only ones, other than the lich himself, capable of emitting airborne dead-life spores. I’ll handle them. Draugrs are strongest, but completely incapable of passing on spores. Ingred, you should focus on those. Martyn, you’ll handle the zombies, as your reach and speed should be more than a match for their horde rush and will keep you a safe distance from their bodily fluids, which is how they transmit. Finally, we’ll have to deal with vampires awoken from their daytime slumber. They’re dangerous, but will be disoriented and angry at having to fight in the middle of the day. Mika, your silver daggers will inflict greater injuries and your silent movement will keep you on even footing with the bloodsuckers. I’ll cover you as much as I can with silver bolts. Are you alright with that?”
Mika nodded, touching Quinn’s arm reassuringly.
“What about Lord Lipless?” Martyn asked, glancing around at the tunnels. “Copper won’t be enough to stop him. Heck, silver probably won’t be enough either.”
“I’ll have to use a gold bolt,” Quinn scowled deeper than usual behind his filtration mask. “I’ll just have to make sure I aim carefully. Gold bolts are not easy to make or fix.”
“Knowing our luck, we’ll probably end up using at least two bolts,” Ingred said dryly. “But with the bounty we’ll get from this job we should at least break even after replacing them. We might even get lucky and be able to charge a bit more for the lich’s head or something.”
“Alright then, everyone ready to face near certain death at the hands of the already dead?” Quinn smirked, lifting his launcher a little higher.
“Sounds like a regular Thursday to me,” Ingred said, redrawing her axe-pistol.
“My body is always ready,” Martyn said, grinning widely behind his mask and brandishing his shotgun-spear.
With that, the team of monster hunters took off down the tunnel leading to the main entrance cavern. Moments later, they heard the sound of dozens of enraged undead charging through the tunnels behind them. The slaps of decaying feet on stone echoed through the carved corridors. The hunters ran faster.
Mika stumbled for a half second, but Quinn noticed.
“Do you have your suit’s AC turned on?” he asked, breathing heavily.
She shook her head.
“Turn it on now. I don’t want you dropping from heat exhaustion.”
She gave him a look he could see through the filter mask.
“You’ve never fainted because I always remind you. And I don’t care if it’s a little noisy. In the middle of battle it won’t matter.”
Mika huffed quietly and switched on the ventilation system for her leather body suit. A nearly inaudible hum echoed from the little fans inside the armor. She scowled at the noise.
The sounds of snarling, slobbering reanimated bodies got closer and louder.
“Anytime now, Quinn,” Martyn urged, taking quick glances back down the tunnel.
“Wait for it,” Quinn said, watching the walls closely. He had a rough idea of where the charges were, but he wanted to be sure they’d passed them before he flipped the switch. He just hoped the camouflage he’d used to hide the explosives wasn’t too good.
The noise of gnashing, rotted teeth was getting a little too close for comfort. Martyn told Quinn they were close enough to see now. Quinn’s eyes kept scanning the walls.
There they were. Hidden by pieces of cloth the same color as the surrounding tunnel was a ring of explosive charges primed and ready to detonate.
“Three…” Quinn started counting, “two…one…ZERO!”
He pressed the detonation button on his control gauntlet.
A shockwave rumbled down the stone corridor, reverberated through the entire cave system, and shook hundreds of stalactites loose. Superheated air rushed out while gale force winds attempted to fill the vacuum left by the fire and kinetic energy. The monsters hunters were forcibly ejected from the tunnel into the entrance cavern. Their undead pursuers were less fortunate, with little but ashes left to signify their existence.
The monster hunters staggered to their feet, but the relieved smiles behind their filtration masks at surviving the chase were quickly dashed from their faces. Standing before them was the lich’s entire remaining horde, including the lich himself, who stood atop a wooden platform carried by four draugrs. Zombies with vacant stares, revenants with bulbous dead-life fungi puffing spore from their heads, giant weapon wielding draugrs, and pale, hissing vampires with bags under their eyes were ready to tear the four young adults to shreds.
“How?” Ingred whispered through clenched teeth, raising her weapons and steadying her breath.
“There’s more than one tunnel leading here,” Quinn whispered back. “He must have predicted that we’d have more explosives planted and sent his forces through the other tunnels to cut us off.”
The lich raised his staff in premature triumph.
“Now,” the lich roared, before getting cut off by a copper crossbow bolt burying itself in his shoulder and several gunshots blowing apart some of his minions’ heads. The lich stumbled and toppled off his platform, screaming for his army to attack.
Already half of the vampires lay shrieking on the ground as the wounds inflicted by Mika’s silver-laced knives and daggers burnt through their flesh, muscles, and organs. The entire frontline of revenants fell from the copper bolts fired by Quinn’s whirring, hissing, pneumatic launcher. Martyn pumped his shotgun-lance and Ingred reloaded six cartridges of her pistol-axe. Another zombie’s head was blown off its shoulders and three more draugrs took a bullet to their face.
Despite the numbers that fell to the long-range attacks, the swarm eventually got within melee range.
Ingred’s opponents were the first to close the distance to their target. A mighty great hammer was swung down at her by the first of her giant foes. With a quick backstep, Ingred avoided the blunt weapon. As it slammed into the ground, she leapt forward, hopping onto the backside of the weapon and using it to springboard up to the draugr’s face, burying her axe in its skull with a pistol-enhanced swing.
Wrenching her weapon from the undead monster’s face with another pistol blast, Ingred jumped from the falling draugr’s shoulders to a still “living” one’s. Head after giant rotting head was sliced or blasted off as Ingred soared from one draugr to the next.
The revenants were the next to get uncomfortably close to their target.
Quinn, seeing that he was losing ground, pressed a button on his control glove. His multi-functional pneumatic launcher made a lot of whirring and clanking sounds and the nozzle rotated to reveal another barrel with a darker, more weather-beaten appearance. As soon as the nozzles switched, he pulled the trigger.
A great jet of red, sticky fire burst from the barrel and engulfed several lines of approaching revenants. The inferno was so hot, it caused the sacks on their heads to burst open and the spores inside to pop like popcorn. The undead disease spreaders flailed in pain and terror, trying to escape the fire that clung to their flesh.
The flamethrower quickly ate up fuel, forcing Quinn to reach inside his coat, pull out another costly fuel canister, and stick it into a slot in his backpack. Once the revenants were far enough back, whether by dying of flame or running back to escape the conflagration, he switched back to the copper bolts.
Mika was a blur amongst the vampires. Her silver-steel daggers lashed out as she danced through the half-asleep blood suckers. Only a couple of times did a vampire’s claws come close to scratching her, after which those particular vampires lost their hands before they had time to blink and found their hearts skewered before they could blink twice. This would not have been possible at night.
The zombies were the last to reach melee range. Whether this was due to their tendency to trample each other in a charge or Martyn’s skill with a shotgun will never be known. However, Martyn would be sure to let everyone know it was the latter.
Regardless, the first zombie to get within striking distance found a lance through its brain and crumpled to the floor. About a dozen more zombies had the last thing to go through their minds be the point of a spear before their sheer numbers were able to get the horde close enough for the long reaching weapon to become ineffective.
With one last broad sweep to knock down a line of zombies and give himself some elbow room, Martyn holstered the shotgun-lance and drew his pistol-swords.
The air was suddenly filled with flying body parts and bullets as Martyn’s blade sliced through the air and the undead with equal fervor, a pull of either sword’s trigger helping to propel the blades faster through their arcs or to rid a zombie of its limbs.
Martyn paused only to reload or whip out another pun. Even some of the undead seemed to pause long enough in their shambling to groan at some of the jokes he made. Some of the highlights included “I’ve really got to hand it to you” and “Wow, you guys are getting serious. Dead serious.”
Soon the entire cavern was filled to bursting with sounds of battle. Gunshots, the crash of bodies falling to the floor, the roars of the horde, the screams of pain, the painful one-liners, and the hollering of an irate lich lord all became a prolonged and messy echo within the cave.
Eventually, one voice rose over all the noise and the hollow ringing of a staff slamming once into the ground halted the battle.
The remaining undead horde formed a large ring around the four hunters and their lich lord.
“Now you will fight me,” the lich growled. “So that I will not lose any more of my children. And once you are dead, we will feast on your—”
Quinn’s launcher rattled and shot out a bolt aimed straight at the lich’s throat. Faster than the hunter’s had thought him capable of, the undead lord caught the bolt in his free hand, inches away from his neck. He dropped the bolt just as quickly, yelping in pain as the shimmering yellow shaft burned his skin.
“Gold,” the lich spat venomously, knocking aside the precious metal arrow with his staff. The horde closest to the projectile backed away from it quickly.
Apparently done with threatening speeches, the lich charged, getting too close for any of the hunters to try another long range attack.
Going after Ingred first, the lich swung his staff like a club, meeting the huntress’s shield as she blocked the blow. Quickly retaliating with a pistol propelled axe swing, Ingred found her weapon halted by one of the lich’s hands grabbing the compound weapon mid-arc.
Pivoting her shield, Ingred fired both barrels of her shotgun at once.
The heavy buckshot did little more than sting the lich. However, not wishing to be shot again, the undead lord hopped up and slammed his skeletal feet into Ingred’s chest, sending her flying back and skidding several feet along the ground. The lich meanwhile used the momentum of the attack to backflip away, land on his feet, and turn to face the two hunters running toward him.
Martyn was the first to reach the lich and proceeded to engage the staff wielder in a dangerous dance of slashes, stabs, and parries. Mika darted behind their opponent and waited for the right opportunity to strike.
Quinn meanwhile had skirted the battlefield and recovered his golden bolt. The horde attempted to stop him, but was stopped by the mere presence of the gold.
Mika leapt into the fray, attempting to backstab the lich. That’s when the fight started getting crazy. Suddenly, two hunters specializing in fast, precise timing were coming to a stalemate with a staff spinning lich. Ironwood clashed with silver-steel and high carbon steel. Even the pistol shots of Martyn’s sword couldn’t hit the undead lord.
Suddenly, Ingred leapt high into the air and brought her axe down at the lich lord as hard as she could. The lich made the mistake of thinking he could block the heavy weapon with his staff. The pistol-axe broke through the staff and sent the lich staggering back.
Martyn and Mika leapt toward the horde leader to take advantage of his brief disorientation. However, he recovered faster than expected. Quickly parrying two stabs, he spun the two pieces of his staff and smacked the hunters back and onto the ground.
Hefting the splintered ends of what remained of his staff the lich lunged forward and stabbed down at Mika.
Mika rolled to the side, avoiding the attack and wrapped her arms around one of her attacker’s rotting arms.
As he stood back up and tried to shake her off, Ingred grabbed his other arm in a vice grip.
The two huntresses pulled the lich in opposite directions and turned him to face Quinn’s readied bolt launcher.
Just to make sure the lich wouldn’t move, Martyn leapt to his feet, charged forward, and sank his swords into the undead lord’s legs.
The lich let loose one final rebellious roar before Quinn pulled the trigger and sent the deadly golden bolt straight through the horde leader’s head.
A beat of silence ruled the cavern as the lich’s body, now once again fully dead, fell to the floor.
Then the remaining undead forces, one by one, let out screams of panic and began to flee through the tunnels branching out of the cavern.
Ingred watched the fleeing undead with sad eyes before turning to Quinn.
“Do we have to?” she asked, looking at his control gauntlet.
“Yes,” Quinn said with finality. “If we let them live, they’ll stay here until they grow hungry, at which point they’ll swarm the nearby towns en masse. If that doesn’t happen, then chances are another lich will come and take control of them. We need to get rid of them all.”
Ingred let out a silent sigh and turned toward the exit, away from the tunnels.
Quinn waited a few more seconds. Then he lifted his control gauntlet and pressed the grand detonation button.
Explosions echoed from the tunnels as the entire cave system shook one last time. A rush of scorching air exited the tunnels and blew in their faces.
No one said anything for a few moments.
“Well,” Martyn said, clapping his hands together and rubbing them greedily. “Let’s loot what we can from these bodies and go get our money.”
“Good idea,” Ingred said.
“Agreed,” Quinn said.
Just outside the single, massive, steppe-pyramid style collection of rooms that constituted a town this far out west, stood five figures. This city was the very one which had been having trouble with nearby undead. The first four figures were the hunters hired by the fifth figure, the mayor of the city. The mayor, though heavyset, was not out of shape. With a large mustache and dark hair just beginning to gray at the edges, he held a surprisingly commanding presence.
“I’m glad to see you all made it out alive,” he said, looking genuinely relieved. “I hope you didn’t run into any difficulties.”
“Nothing more than the usual occupational hazards,” Ingred said, pocketing the cash reward they’d received.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t rather stay for at least one night?”
“No thanks,” Quinn said. “Your funds are already strained enough to pay for our services. We don’t want to bother your citizens more than necessary.”
“Besides,” Martyn said, “You don’t have a hunter station or anything we can use to repair our stuff and the nearest station is only half a day’s walking distance.”
“Meaning,” Quinn elaborated, “If we start now, we’ll be able to reach that station tomorrow afternoon since we won’t walk all through the night.”
“Well,” the mayor said hesitantly, “If you’re certain, I suppose I can do little more than offer my sincerest thanks once more.”
“You’re very welcome,” Ingred smiled. “I hope we can visit here sometime when you aren’t under attack.”
After a few more “thank yous” and “you’re welcomes,” the four hunters finally set out again, filtration masks off and breathing fresh air.
Ingred’s green eyes still looked a little sad. Quinn’s brown eyes and eternally serious face seemed lost in thought while he double-checked all of his equipment. Mika’s almond shaped black eyes scanned the surrounding countryside and occasionally made their way to Quinn. Finally, Martyn’s light brown eyes were closed and turned toward the sun, enjoying the beautiful day.
“Ah man!” Martyn suddenly cried out, his eyes flying open.
“What?” Quinn asked, afraid they’d forgotten something.
“I never found out if vamp chicks get periods.”
The rest of the team sighed in exasperation.