For the hundredth time Amaltea wishes they were back at the monastery and not crawling through this ancient underground tomb and its cramped tunnels. She wipes the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand. Xenograg is using one of his flame balls as their light source. The flame is also very useful for burning down the unbelievable masses of cobwebs hanging throughout the tunnel.
"Almost there," Xenograg says.
"What are you looking for?" replies Amaltea.
"One of my books says there is an enchanted wand buried here," he answers. "The crypt should be right around this corner... yes. Here we go...." At last the tunnel opens into a room. Xenograg steps off to the right side to let Amaltea exit the tunnel.
She looks around the room while holding her sword, Tarillion, nervously with both hands. Her eyes fixate on the broken skeleton lying a few feet in front of her. Xenograg raises the flame ball higher to see. Amaltea looks from the skeleton to Xenograg.
"Was he trying to get the wand too?"
"Possibly," is his answer. "Maybe just gold."
Amaltea raises her eyebrows. "Guess he didn't go too far." The sound of movement suddenly comes from the direction of the sarcophagus. The body lying atop the sarcophagus moves and sits up!
"Who is there?" is heard in a deep and slow voice. Amaltea stands ready next to Xenograg.
"By the unholy..." mutters Xenograg.
Amaltea looks at him wide-eyed. "What?" The body stands and walks towards Xenograg and Amaltea. Xenograg conjures a magical barrier, which faintly glows with an amber color.
"I know who is there," continues the animate body. "Grave robbers! Thieves! Well, I know how to handle you!"
"The bastard is not dead!" declares Xenograg.
"You mean he is a wizard, and he's alive?!"
"Undead," corrects Xenograg. He claps his hands together, creating a flash of brilliant light. It affects the monster not at all. The corpse then raises his emaciated arms towards Xenograg.
"Die, foolish young wizard!" Amaltea raises Tarillion but wonders what her sword can do against an undead wizard. In the space of a few heartbeats, four bolts of green lightning flash from its hands. The first two bolts crack Xenograg's sorcerous shield; the third shatters it! The fourth catches Xenograg in the chest as he tries to raise another defense. Xenograg screams.
"XENO!" Yells Amaltea. Xenograg is knocked back and crumples against the wall, much of his skin blackened and charred. Amaltea, aghast, looks at the wizard. It is already looking at her.
"What do we have here?" the wizard asks. Amaltea runs and lunges at him, but Tarillion rings against an invisible barrier. "Young, beautiful, and spirited." Amaltea stops, almost hitting the barrier and looks around quickly.
"You don't have a chance against me, young woman."
"That's what you think," she says defiantly. The wizard raises a desiccated eyebrow.
"I may spare your life, for a price." Amaltea tries to keep her confidence and looks for an opening.
"A price?" Amaltea paces closer to Xenograg. She tightens her jaw. There will be time to mourn later -- or will there be? The corpse stands with its hands together.
"Most grave robbers being men, I haven't seen a woman in decades." Amaltea gives him a 'you've got to be serious' look. The creature's skin is shriveled down to its very bones and he has a disgusting smile on his lips that makes Amaltea sick. "Don't make me kill you too," he rebuts.
"What are you suggesting?" she says, frowning.
"Not a chance," is her immediate retort. The creature has not moved from its location. "Although," says Amaltea warily while lowering her sword. "Why don't you move closer? You want companionship, right?" Amaltea thinks she sees the room's magical barrier now. It runs from wall to wall and floor to ceiling.
"I'm old. Could you come over here with me instead? Besides, this end of the room has a chair." The wizard chuckles hauntingly at its joke about being old.
"The sarcophagus...I don't like it. I don't want to be near it." she replies, stringing the abomination along. "Why don't you come to me?"
"You do not like it? You have not even seen it yet. It cost me a fortune, I will have you know." He turns to look at his sarcophagus.
"I just don't like them. They really scare me." Amaltea moves around to take a better look at the barrier.
"On one condition. Put your sword down," counters the wizard. Amaltea thinks about it.
"If I put the sword down you will come to me?"
"I am certainly not going to approach you with it in your hand, am I?"
"Then I'll put it away." Amaltea sheathes her sword. Xenograg's flame ball still lies on the floor, casting dark shadows against the walls and ceiling.
"Not good enough, young woman." Amaltea looks at the ball, thinking there is something odd here in the room. The shadows play tricks with her sight. She brings her attention back to the wizard. Pursing her lips thoughtfully, she repeats the request.
"You actually want me to put my sword down?"
"I do not want to find out what that enchanted blade might do to me."
"What makes you think it's enchanted?" The creature snorts and waves his hand. Tarillion glows with a silver-white light.
"Did you honestly think you could hide that from me?"
"How about...I'll raise my hands up and you come take it yourself?"
"Enough of this!" he announces with annoyance.
With a wave of one hand, Tarillion is ripped from her belt by sorcery, clattering loudly on the floor near Xenograg's body. Amaltea is not surprised.
"Now you come to me," commands the wizard.
"Not part of the deal. I'm defenseless. You come to me."
"I could force you..."
"It wouldn't be fun to force me," she cuts in. "You want companionship."
The wizard sighs. "True. I despise brute force."
"Well, it would be better if I keep you company willingly," she responds. The wizard starts walking toward her. "I'll stay with you, but you have to come closer to me."
The wizard leaves the barrier behind. Amaltea tries to stay calm, not sure what to do next.
"I don't need my barrier now anyway. Don't even think you can beat me without magic."
"I suppose you are right," she says. The wizard steps slowly, but is now halfway to Amaltea. She starts thinking this was not such a good idea after all. Halfway between his old place and her...
Suddenly the wizard's abdomen ruptures! A glowing red bar is sticking out of the hole. The creature bellows in pain. Amaltea looks up to see a shadow behind the monster, which then changes into Xenograg.
"Xeno!" exclaims a wide-eyed Amaltea. Xenograg steps back. Amaltea looks from Xenograg to the other, dead Xenograg. Xenograg holds a flaming spear in his hands.
"Get Tarillion! NOW!" he yells. Amaltea runs to get Tarillion; there will be time for questions later. Xenograg stabs the wizard again. The wizard falls to its knees. Amaltea runs back just as the wizard is trying to cast a spell. She slashes horizontally, and her aim is true. The corpse's head comes off at the shoulders. The body falls forward and lies still.
Xenograg sighs loudly. Amaltea is breathing fast, standing with her feet apart, and looking down at the dead wizard. Xenograg's flaming spear disappears, and he drops to his knees.
"That was close."
Amaltea looks at Xenograg as if waking up. Xenograg looks up at her, then weakly reaches for her with one hand. Amaltea reaches for him, her hand shaking.
"Good work, Amaltea," he tells her. "You did it."
"You got him to come out from behind his protective barrier."
"How did you know?" she asks, her lips dry.
"You saw the barrier after I 'died', yes?" Finally feeling like she can think again, she throws her arms around her husband, holding him tightly and sobbing uncontrollably.
"Shhh. It is ok." Xenograg kisses her forehead and holds her. "That flash spell of mine was not a real attack," he starts to explain.
"It, it wasn't?" she manages to ask.
"It was part of an illusion of myself that I left behind. I really turned invisible and flew up to the ceiling."
"So when he attacked, he just killed the illusion." she comments as the strategy becomes clear.
"I was able to fool him into thinking he had killed me. It would have so it was very believable. I bumped into the barrier trying to get behind him."
"So you made it visible for me?" Xenograg nods.
"I used the bond between us to show it to you. Hoping you would draw him out from behind it."
"Then once he stepped outside he was unprotected."
"He was a major sorcerer, regardless. Physical combat was our only chance."
"What if he had killed me?"
"We both would have died, love." Amaltea hugs Xenograg again before continuing.
"Promise me one thing?"
"Don't do this to me ever again!" she yells, pounding him on the chest repeatedly.