The muscular barbarian surveyed the circle of bodies around him, and spat in the gore-soaked sand.
“Is that the best you can do?” he roared at the distant figure atop the largest of the tombs that dotted the desert in these cursed parts. “If my charmed spear was in my hand, wizard, rather than wedged in the breastbone of your troll bodyguard, you’d not be so cocky!”
The wizard shrugged expressively, then curled his blackened claws upwards, as if lifting something heavy, and invisible, in each hand.
The desert in front of the barbarian erupted, and a score of skeletons in varying states of decomposition scrambled out, clutching the rusted blades they’d been buried with.
“I unsheath my mighty two-handed broadsword, Skullsmasher, and swing it in a circle, to behead all of the skeletons at once,” the barbarian declared.
“Roll the D20,” the dungeon-master urged.
“Space commandoes don’t retreat!” the tribune’s voice echoed around the space hulk. “Give me glory among the stars or give me death!”
His feet chewed steel fragments from the bulkhead floor as he backed up, bracing steel-encased legs wide as he fired his Gatling cannon. Collapsed uranium slugs hissed and sizzled through space orc armor and bodies, churning them to green soggy stew. For every one he killed, a dozen more boiled out of the side corridors, running at him in a suicidal frenzy.
“You only have 50 cannon rounds left,” the tribune’s powered armor advised him. “That’s around three seconds’ worth.”
“By the blood of the Martyred Emperor!” he swore. “I use my suit’s sensors to look for passageways or vents behind the walls, floor, and ceiling.”
“There is a superheated plasma pipe at the far end of the wall to your left. It’s a very difficult shot, but if successful, will release a cloud of deadly gas.”
“I wait until the orcs are right in front of it, and then fire everything I have at that spot on the wall.”
“Roll the die.”
The soldier slid into the cover of a bullet-pocked fragment of concrete wall that stuck up from the rubble like a rotten gray tooth.
He was bleeding from several minor shrapnel wounds, and his head was still ringing from the sniper round that had deflected from his helmet in a shower of lead and ceramic fragments.
“We’re pinned down, sarge,” he yelled over the din of small arms fire and grenade concussions. “We need to flank them and flush them out!”
The grizzled sarge was a dozen yards away, in the lee of a burned-out enemy tank. The rest of the squad were scattered in similar improvised shelters nearby.
“Sit tight, private. We need to wait for support!”
“I ditch my pack and unsling my auto-shotgun,” the soldier grunted. “Then I run low and fast into the side door of the enemy strongpoint, without being seen.
“Roll the die.”
“20! Your lucky die does it again! The tip of your sword takes the heads off every attacking skeleton in a single 360-degree arc. The path to the evil wizard is clear!”
“Your lucky D20 gives you another 20! Your last shell punctures clean through the bulkhead and the plasma ignites, searing everything in the corridor. When it clears, you are the only one standing.”
“20! Your luck’s in again! You sprint to the building unharmed, and…” the bullet punched a hole through the front of the young private’s helmet before he could do much more than stand up, let alone finish whispering to himself. He collapsed, lifeless. Inches from his twitching hand, a rivulet of blood and dust trickled around a scuffed and chipped translucent twenty-sided red die.
David A. Gray is a Scottish writer and creative director living in NYC. His shorts have been accepted by Daily Science Fiction, Starship Sofa, Ahoy!Comics, Raven Review and others, and his debut novel, Moonflowers, was published in 2019.