This story is by Austin Quesenberry and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Ancient ruins built into the side of a great stone mountain loomed before five adventurers. Renowned far and wide as heroes, they sought to destroy a great evil that had made this tomb its home. They pushed open the giant stone doors and cautiously peered inside. A long, dark hallway stretched out before them, seemingly endless as it was swallowed up in inky blackness.
Gareth, a renowned fighter and their leader, turned and spoke to the others, “I cannot guarantee any of you will make it out of here alive, so if you are having second thoughts, now is the time to voice them.”
Jacob, the strongest of the five, laughed and in a deep voice said, “We all know why we’re here and what we’ll be up against. If we had any doubts before, I hardly think we would have made the journey out to this godforsaken place.”
“Well put my old friend,” the kindhearted Ben said, “We do this for a reason greater than ourselves.” He put his hand to a pendant that hung around his neck. Each of them had a similar pendant, a token to remind them of the people they could depend on through hell and high water.
Crysta, ever calm and collected, nodded and said, “Right. Nico is in there, waiting for us to save him. We shouldn’t keep him waiting.”
“Yeah, he’s always been such a damsel in distress,” Willow said, grinning at Crysta. “Who knows what he would do without us around.”
Seeing the determination in everyone’s faces, Gareth said, “Then let us go and save our friend.” He turned and walked through the doors, the sunlight falling away from his body as he stepped into the shadows within. The others hesitated, then they too were swallowed by the dark.
Lighting torches, they slowly made their way through the ruins. Cracked walls, collapsed hallways, and a thick layer of dust showed how the passage of time had worn this once-magnificent fortress into a shadow of its former self.
After what seemed like hours of narrowly avoiding traps and striking down countless monsters, they finally found themselves in a large, open room littered with bones. It appeared to be a reception hall, with a long, moth-eaten red carpet leading up to a set of stairs with an ornate throne resting at the top. In it sat a figure swathed in an old, tattered robe, holding a gnarled staff in its withered, skeletal hand. From beneath the shadows of the hood, two smoldering red orbs peered out at them as they entered.
Using the staff to help itself stand, the figure walked to the edge of the stairs. “Leave this place,” it said in a dry, rasping voice. It gestured to the skeletons scattered about the room, “Or you will meet the same fate as those foolish enough to anger me.”
Gareth took a deep breath and walked forward. “You know we can’t do that,” he said, looking up at the shadowy form before him. “We’ve managed to make it this far. We’re not leaving until we save our friend.”
The glowing red eyes dimmed as they regarded him for a moment, then it said quietly, “You’re too late. He’s just another pile of bones by now.” The eyes flared back up and its raspy voice shouted out at all of them, “I am the Lich King and you are trespassing in my home!”
There was a chill in the air as the figure raised its hand and the broken remains of the skeletons scattered about the room started to swirl around and gather at the base of the stairs. Bits and pieces of bones and debris joined and melded together, higher and higher, until a golem made of bones towered before them. The lich pointed a finger in their direction and the golem began walking towards them.
Gareth shouted to the others, “Ben, Crysta, Jacob, you three hold off the golem, Willow and I will take care of the lich.”
They nodded and Ben furrowed his brows and chanted, “Light of the sun, powerful and pure, burst forth!” A brilliant light filled the room in front of him, consuming the bone golem and the lich. When the light faded, several layers of bones from the golem had fallen onto the floor around it and it seemed disoriented, while the lich seemed to have been surprised and had stumbled backwards a few steps, a smoking arm covering its face.
Using this opportunity, Gareth and Willow rushed past the golem and up the stairs towards the lich. Jacob ran forward and swung his war hammer into the side of one of the golem’s legs, crushing several femurs. Crysta pulled a seed from a pouch on her hip and threw it at the ground by the golem’s other leg. The seed immediately sprouted, and vines began to grow and wrap around the leg, rooting it in place.
The golem had recovered at this point and let out a roar as it swung a giant fist at Jacob, catching him in the chest and sending him toppling backwards. It pulled its leg back and managed to rip through the vines holding it.
As Gareth and Willow ran up towards the lich, its form shimmered and suddenly there were several copies of it facing them. Willow drew their bow and aimed it at them, channeling magic into the arrow, then released it. The arrow sailed through the air for a second before splitting into several dozen, raining down on and destroying the copies. Gareth rushed in, sword glowing, and landed a series of blows on the lich, each one releasing a bright flash of light.
The lich hissed angrily, and a powerful wave of necrotic energy blasted out from it. It slammed into Willow and Gareth, sending them tumbling down the stairs. A loud crack was heard as Gareth’s head slammed into one of the stairs and he stopped moving. Eyes glowing like crimson suns, the lich raised its staff and a sinister green beam of light streaked towards Willow. In an instant their body lit up impossibly bright, before collapsing in on itself, reduced to nothing but a fine, gray dust.
Crysta cried out, “No!” Her face was a mask of anguish as the ground began to shake and crack violently. Several pillars of rock suddenly jutted out from the ground and walls, slamming into the sides of the lich and the golem, pinning them.
Jacob stood up and let out a battle cry, clenched both hands around his war hammer, and swung it over his head. It caught the golem square in the chest, making a loud crunching sound as it caved it in. The golem began to rattle loudly as the bones started to collapse inward, the body falling in on itself.
Then, without warning, the golem exploded, sending a spray of sharp bones in every direction. Standing right in front of it, Jacob was impaled several times and fell over, a large pool of blood forming around him. Crysta had a few jagged bones sticking out from her chest and Ben had a large one jutting out from his leg.
The pillars of rock holding the lich begin to crumble and fall, its dry laughter echoing throughout the room. Ben limped over to Crysta and began to chant a prayer with his hands glowing, but the lich raised its staff again and whispered a hoarse, “Die.” Ben stiffened as a green aura enveloped him, then he dropped dead next to her.
Crysta screamed in rage, blood pouring from her mouth, and sent out a blast of fire at the lich. It was surrounded in flames, burning higher and higher, and just as she thought that that might have done it, a shadow stepped through. It stretched a hand towards her, ready to snuff the life from her body, when a ray of light pierced its chest and it let out a terrible scream. Gareth was standing behind it, sword shining in his hand, blood covering his face from a gash on his head.
The lich attempted to swing around, but the sword was firmly lodged in its chest. The light from the sword grew brighter and brighter, sending streaks of shadows pouring out of the body of the lich. The red light burning in its eyes faded, steadily dimming, until finally they were dark.
Crysta smiled weakly to Gareth, then slumped on the ground where she lay. Gareth looked around the room, hoping that someone else had survived, but was dismayed to see that none of the others had made it. He noticed something shining from the fallen form of the lich and picked it up. It was a small pendent, with etchings inscribed all over it.
He sighed and set it on the ground, raised his sword, then smashed it. There was a bright flash of green and the body of the lich turned to dust… Nico was finally free.