The Ballad of the Hamster (Part Four)

Day 86. 147,355 words.


Bloodraven, Part II

Stopping only long enough to kick a couple of hedgehogs to death and raise fresh Barries, he strode briskly towards Flavie’s annoying outpost. He noticed that there were four skeletons now.

One of the hedgehogs, nonsensically, had given up a fairly decent pair of boots when it died. Where this human-sized article of clothing had come from was anybody’s guess – likely they came from the same place as the full human skeleton that seemed to emerge from the ruins of the spiny rodent. Maybe the skeleton had been wearing the boots, before it became Barry. Either way, the boots couldn’t possibly have been any use to the hedgehog, but they somehow fit Hamster II perfectly, so he shook his head, pulled them on, and continued on his way.

Eventually the Blood Moor gave onto the Cold Plains, which at least tried to live up to its name. Not that the Blood Moor hadn’t seen its share of blood, but the whole thing still seemed silly to him. He battled his way through a few roving packs of grey-skinned women who sounded suspiciously happy to be dying, and another few hedgehogs, and some ever-present zombies. By the time he’d fought his way to the wall, he’d found himself a nice warm wooly vest and a pair of gloves to dispel a bit of the Cold Plains’ fabled coldness. The gloves were damaged, but at least the vest was pleasant. It took a nice hammering from the grey-skinned orgasm-deathrattle chicks, too.

Arctic Furs, the tag said. Hamster II wasn’t too sure about that, but they’d do until the real thing came along. The wall itself went on, seemingly all the way around the Plains and even boxing off certain parts of the middle of it, for no apparent reason.

After a lot of irritating wandering around in the Cold Plains, fighting pointless jabbering creatures that all seemed to have a grudge against him but nobody else, consulting his ‘quest book’ – which suddenly appeared at unwelcome moments in his backpack and told him he was apparently scheduled to perform not just this annoying Bloodraven task, but apparently a few others, as-yet undisclosed – for its unhelpful advice and inexact directions, and exchanging shouted insults with Flavie over in the distance, Hamster II finally arrived not only at the dreadful Burial Grounds of doom and terror, but also at the end of one of the longer, more grammatically fudged-up sentences of which he’d ever been a part.

He’d only recently popped out of blissful nothingness into this unsatisfactory world, so he hadn’t heard any of the jokes about graveyards being the dead centre of a given community, or being so popular that everybody was dying to get into them. But if he had heard any of these jokes, he’d have rolled his eyes and reflected that it showed just how much your average moron knew about … well, anything. Including graveyards.

His professional eye – if indeed you could call so criminally underpaid an eye ‘professional’ – took in the wandering skeletons, the mossy, moaning zombies, the tumbledown tombstones and mausoleums. People might have been dying to get into this place, but it seemed like they’d found a loophole once they were inside. This wasn’t a boneyard, it was a throbbing, jumping necropolis.

Hamster II glanced at Barry.

“Like it?” he asked idly.

Barry, for once, seemed unenthusiastic. The mouldering skeleton exchanged sockety glances with his comrades, also-Barry.

“It’s alright, boss,” one of the Barries offered.

“Bit crowded,” said another.

“Not the sort of place I’d consider raising a family,” Barry pointed out.

Hamster II shuddered away from the implications of this last factoid. “Okay,” he said, loudly enough to drown out the little voice in his head that was persisting in an exploration of Barry’s reproductive methods, and incidentally also loudly enough to attract the attention of some of the shambling zombies. “Okay, let’s bash them all up.”

“Yeah!” Barry said with all his usual fervour. “Yeah, yeah, let’s kill some guys.”

“I wanna kill that one,” Barry added. “Can I, boss? Can I?”

“Let’s all kill some guys,” Hamster II said expansively, “but I have to remind you – this is only a demonstrative exercise. We’ll bash some of them up, show how superior you are to the average zombie, maybe I’ll raise a couple more skeletons, show my skills, and then propose an alliance with Bloodraven,” Barries were not, of course, listening at this point, but Hamster II went on happily anyway. “And then we can get out of this crummy graveyard, at the head of an army of the undead, and we can wipe out that stupid encampment full of idiots, and I can get out of here and do something less dangerous.”

He entertained brief daydreams of setting up a shop somewhere, in a vibrant and exciting city full of enlightened and intelligent people who could make real conversation without sending him on quests. A shop where he would resurrect the bodies of dead pets for grieving kiddies, or maybe the bodies of dead kiddies for grieving parents. Or for grinning perverts. He hadn’t decided yet. It was a nice daydream. He’d make millions.

So he still had a smile on his face as he elbowed his way through the gathering crowd of zombies, whacking one or another of them occasionally with his wand, and came face-to-face with Bloodraven herself.

She was a corrupted Rogue of some sort, and she looked like one of the grey-skinned demoness women out on the Cold Plains, and they were meant to be corrupted Rogues as well, so he supposed things made sense as far as they went. The weird spiny red outfit made less sense, and her desperate dashing back and forth and shooting flaming arrows everywhere was downright silly. She was quite, quite mad. Hamster II suspected, in fact, that the only reason she had collected a vast army of undead monstrosities was because cats wouldn’t have anything to do with her.

“Join my army of the dead!” she cried in an unnecessarily theatrical voice, in between pelting Hamster II and his associates with burning twigs. Hamster II ducked behind a tree that was festooned with the bodies of dead Rogues. He wondered, with professional curiosity, why Bloodraven wasn’t using these fresh bodies to create stronger, more vital reanimations. She was drawing tired old carcasses out of the ground, and Barries were carving through them without a great deal of difficulty.

“Okay,” he called, deciding that affable agreement was called for. “Darn it, I will. Where do I sign?”

There was, temporarily, no response to this, and the skeletons and zombies intensified their attack. Bloodraven capered back into view, and shot another arrow.

“I must say, it’s nice to finally meet a fellow necromancer,” Hamster II tried to break the ice. “It’ll be good to work alongside you in a spirit of cooperation and…”

“Urrrf.”

“…and goodwill, and take care of that bunch of annoying Rogues and Warriv once and for all. I thought we could share the workload, namely by your forces … quit that.”

“Arf.”

“Namely by your forces taking out the Rogue archers, or by acting as a sort of shield, if you will, and allowing me to kill Gheed and Akara, although I have to warn you I think she’s got some secret weapon … and she’s a nutter … look, would you call off your zombies? We’re on the same side.”

“Urf, arrf,” the zombie in question took another slow, leisurely swipe at Hamster II, missed, and caught Barry a glancing blow to the ribcage. Barry chuckled and attacked. You couldn’t hold it against zombies, they had a long attention-span but not much room for new ideas.

“Anyway – ha ha, okay, cut it out – I have these four skeletons, they’re pretty good – see, they’re chopping up that zombie of yours, sorry about that but I’ll make it up to you. Anyway, I’d be only too happy to – yes yes, urf arf, very nice – happy to rent these boys out to you for a very reasonable price. Ow.”

The zombie had managed to get a blow in under Hamster II’s shoddy tin buckler, which lived up to its name and buckled. Hamster II’s arm throbbed. The red-clad woman with the stupid hat laughed, ran around very fast for no apparent reason, and shot an arrow at him.

“Ha ha ha, look at me, boss, look what I’m doing.”

“Go easy, Barry, don’t want to jeopardise our working relationsh… hey, I said quit that.”

“Urf.”

“Oh, heh heh, I get it,” Hamster II grinned. “Hazing the new guy, eh? Well, I guess that’s traditional. Okay, I – ow, not the face.”

Bloodraven laughed and shot some more burning arrows. Barry went down with several lodged in brain pan and pelvis, still swinging and cackling as he disintegrated.

Bloodraven moved in for the kill.

Grimacing, Hamster II swung his brittle wand again and again, reflecting – not for the first time – that this probably wasn’t the best use for a magical implement, even a magical implement that only cost one gold piece. He became dimly aware that he was alone, and took a moment to raise a selection of new Barries. If he’d thought for a moment that this demonstration of skill would awaken Bloodraven to the possibility of a truce, let alone an alliance, he was very much mistaken. Again, this wouldn’t be the first time.

“Why are you hiding in this graveyard?” he gave it one final try. “The Cold Plains are full of zombies and corrupted Rogues, the Blood Moor is overrun with demon hedgehogs, and there’s nobody outside the encampment who would actually attack you except for Flavie! Why aren’t you taking your fight out there? I saw any number of dead Rogues on my way here. In fact, I looted a few of them. We don’t have to be enemies. We can take them! It’ll be … will you quit that?”

Bloodraven, battered and snarling, fired another burning arrow. This one lodged in Hamster II’s shoulder and set fire briefly to his hair. He growled, broke his wand over the red-armoured loon’s head, and kneed her in the face while she was doubled over. Suddenly Barry and Barry were there, swiping and hacking, while Barry and Barry provided cover from the encroaching mass of skeletons and zombies. And then, before Hamster II could shout ‘don’t cut her arms, legs and head off and stamp on her torso, she’s our best chance to get out of here’, Barry and Barry cut Bloodraven’s arms, legs and head off and stamped on her torso.

With a great and dramatic moan, Bloodraven’s life-force exploded out in a great blue-green wave, her soul departed for the place over-actors go when they die, and a huge rope of lightning scrawled its way through the graveyard, knocking zombies flat wherever it touched them. With a final ominous roll of thunder, the boneyard fell silent, the dead remained dead, and Barries, miraculously untouched by the lightning of undead-killing +2, picked themselves up and started to chuckle and give one another clicky high-fives.

“So much for that,” Hamster II grunted. “What an amateur…”

He trailed off, looking down at the sundry remains of the terrible Bloodraven. The secret of where she’d managed to store so many napalm-soaked arrows had mercifully died with her, but it seemed to Hamster II that there were still things there for the taking. He considered briefly returning to the Rogue encampment with Bloodraven’s head on a spike, but decided he couldn’t be bothered. On the other hand, it looked as though she’d been carrying…

“A crossbow?”

He bent and picked it up. He could have sworn that she’d been firing flaming arrows at him with a long bow of some sort, and yet here it was, a crossbow. Inexplicable but apparently true.

“This is stupid,” he muttered, casting around for the long bow he was sure he’d seen, and finding nothing but blood-soaked ground and crispy-fried zombie-bits. Stupid. It was a sentiment he felt he’d been expressing for his entire short life, and would likely continue expressing on a regular basis until he could get away.

Bloodraven, his apparent ticket out, had transpired to be a waste of time.

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