"Back off, mate. I ain't gonna be nobody's lunch today, 'specially yours."
Gavin Strom had faced bigger and faster predators than this rotting ghoul before, although perhaps not as persistent. Of course, he had been caught off guard when the teleportation spell - which should have taken him to the same place as his new colleagues - mistakenly placed him not in the fortress, but in a crumbling cemetery somewhere in the the Valley of Endless Souls. Were there more sunlight overhead and less mist around him, Gavin might have been able to spot the outline of the fortress just off in the distance, where unbeknownst to him, the governor and his allies were fighting off a demon the likes of which he had never seen. As it was, he was a little too busy trying to avoid being chewed up by a rotten zombie.
For the last fifteen minutes or so, the two had been playing a game of cat and mouse in the misty boneyards of the Valley. While this particular "cat" lacked a certain degree of mobility and speed - what with its limping stride and a large quantity of exposed necrotic muscle tissue - it was testing the alchemist's endurance all the same as it seemed to have absolutely no need to stop and rest. Gavin had managed to stay ahead of-slash-elude it for a little while, ducking behind the occasional headstone or mausoleum here, making a mad dash into the fog there. But now was the time to face facts: the only way to handle this problem would be to stop it dead in its tracks.
"Y'want food, mate? Come get it."
With his hammer in his right hand - his bad hand, that is - Gavin stepped backwards in a wide circle and taunted the groaning mass of flesh and bone to follow his every move. Whenever it stepped in a bit closer, he swung the hammer forward in a wide arc, hoping to connect and shatter a bone or two. The first three or four tries all missed, prompting nothing but a slight hesitation on the part of the ghoul, who would then immediately start toward him again. Its disgusting maw opened and shut with a deep, agonizing moan and a disgusting clack of jawbone.
*Gnnnggghhhh...* *CLACK CLACK*
A brief glance over one shoulder revealed a few large fragments of tombstone not ten yards away. The alchemist saw an opportunity to end this little chase. In one combined motion, he swung forward with his hammer while simultaneously extending his left arm in the direction of the broken stone. The plodding menace took no notice at all as one of the pieces levitated off the ground and found itself a new home in the palm of Gavin's good throwing hand.
Timing would be key here; if he missed with this attack, there was a chance the human might not have enough time to recover without losing a big chunk of his flesh to his hungry assailant.
Gavin swung his hammer once again, ostensibly aiming for the creature's left shoulder blade but missing my a significant margin. This prompted it to lurch to its right to avoid the alchemist. Unbeknownst to the growling mass of flesh and bone, Gavin was about to let loose with the chunk of rock in his left hand, aimed lower, closer to its center of gravity.
The stone connected with the right-hand side of the creature's midsection, most likely shattering the pelvic bone. With a snarl, the zombie stumbled to its right, barely able to keep its own composure. It was all the opening Gavin Strom needed. Taking advantage of his attacker's momentary imbalance, he summoned a three-foot-high mound of soft earth under its feet and at the same time, switched his hammer over to his good hand. He swung upward in a wide arc, connecting squarely with the ghoul's lower jaw and knocking it backward. Between the sudden shifting of earth beneath it and the powerful strike to its skull, the creature fell to the ground with a solid thud.
The abomination of nature was still growling and squirming, in the manner of a wounded animal desperately trying to right itself and crawl to shelter. The alchemist was undeterred. "Sorry 'bout this, friend, but it's you or me."
And with one enormous two-handed swing, Gavin slammed the head of his hammer directly down onto the zombie's rotting skull. With a sickening *CRACK* of bone, the beast fell silent and still.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
After taking a quick minute to catch his breath and take a seat on a nearby headstone, Gavin pried his hammer out of the creature's remains. Surprisingly, no bodily fluids or other disgusting matter clung to the head of it; clearly, this walking corpse had been dead long enough for all its blood to congeal and solidify. Thank the gods for small favors, he thought to himself. In fact, the battle itself had helped take his mind off how cold the air in this rotting cemetery really was. As an Iridian farmer, Gavin was built for sun and warmth. He didn't even have sleeves on his leather vest, and the deep gray clouds that blanketed the sky overhead were preventing even the tiniest amount of warmth from reaching his skin.
The alchemist stopped warming himself for a few seconds and listened, making sure he hadn't just imagined that noise. The ghoul couldn't possibly still be animated, could it? No, that wasn't possible. It had to be coming from something else...
Another sickly moan came out of the fog, this one from a different direction. From the loudness of it, Gavin guessed the owners of the two voices must have been about fifty yards away. He could even hear a shuffling of feet coming from one of them. The sounds of struggle and combat must have attracted a few more ghouls. If he didn't keep moving, he was sure to have company very soon.
Quietly, Gavin slid the handle of his hammer back into the loop of his belt and started off in the opposite direction of the moaning and shuffling noises. He wasn't certain what direction he was headed, but he knew he didn't have much choice at this point. Keeping his steps as light as possible and his ears open for the sounds of the walking dead, the alchemist went forward into the treacherous mist of the valley.