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Hambone, Skeleton Doorman

      Far north, off a path you won't find in the Drakesdoom Mountains, lies the entrance to a long forgotten dungeon. Every now and again, some adventurers come across an old map carelessly left upon a desk, or a demon disguised as a wandering beggar who will let slip the way to this ancient place. Full of swagger and eyes glazed with greed, they'll set off, eager to journey and plunder and come home with a story, unaware of the dangers within. 

      Untold dangers lay waiting within the dungeon. There are traps, abominations, monsters, more than a few rats, a feeling of general despair, and a musty smell that just won't go away. Dozens upon dozens of adventurers and some mountain goats have lost their lives in those dark tunnels, all meeting some dark and grizzly fate. But no fate is worse, or more loathsome, than that of being cut down by the lone skeleton who sits quietly, and patiently just beyond its threshold. A skeleton named Hambone. 

      Hambone has been the doorman to the dungeon known as Hellsmouth ever since his Lich master first began carving out bits of rock in the mountainside some four hundred years before. Hambone was the first skeleton raised by his master, a fact he was very proud of. Since that first day, his master had brought a great many demons up from the depths, reanimated large sums of corpses, and even constructed a few lumbering creatures that roamed the caverns, but Hambone knew he was more special than the rest, for he was the first, and he watched the door. 

      Hambone operated on a cycle, and he knew that cycle well. He would start by watching the proverbial door, since there was no actual door, just the mouth of the cave. Day and night, rain or shine, hambone stood with sword in hand, watching and waiting for any who would approach the cave. Eventually, someone, or something, always did. 

      Next was one of his favorite parts: he waited. Hambone thrived on waiting. He had seen many an adventurer rush in, or heard countless stories retold near his post about his work associates being so impatient that they ran up and attacked too soon, or waited too long and were killed by an adventurer. Hambone shook his head hearing these stories. Amateurs. He had perfected the art of waiting over the years, he knew it as well as he knew the various bones that comprised his being. 

      Waiting. It was very important. Sometimes nothing would come, and that was the hard part. Waiting through the gaps. But Hambone never half did his job. He waited, and he waited the way he knew he should, watching the door. Then, as he knew they would, someone would come along. He always felt a little giddy when they did, since they were usually so enthusiastic about finding the entrance. 

      "Been lost for years," some would say.

      "Untold treasures lay untouched within," others would say.

      "Probably has some old traps," one would assert, "We should be careful."

      Next, Hambone waited. There was no way of knowing how any of his would be victims would come into the cave. Some ran in. So brash, so bold. Others came in cautiously, examining every inch of rock. So careful. Some strolled in, neither looking carefully, nor ignoring much. So blasé about it all. Hambone knew how to wait for each type. 

      For the reckless, his solution was simple, if not a bit indirect. The reckless ones always made it to the back of the entrance, where the Drop was. There was no ladder, no set of stairs leading deeper within, his master's idea, and it always stopped the reckless ones first. They'd run in, yelling about treasure, or screaming holy vows to their gods, charge right past Hambone, and up to the edge of the pit. Hambone would sigh, for he liked reckless ones the least, and reach up to the chains that hung from the ceiling next to him. There were several imbedded in the rock, but one, if you got close enough to see, disappeared into a small hole in the rock. This is the one Hambone would pull, which would cause the lip of the pit to shift, becoming something like a slide. The reckless ones would scurry, scuttle, and most usually, fall straight down to their deaths. 

      There was the occasional reckless one would would somehow manage to cling onto a side or find some foothold in the slope. Hambone would tsk at them if he could, but instead he would walk over, and rap them sharply on the head, neck, or extremity with his blade until they too slid down to their deaths. 

      The confused ones, Hambone liked them a bit more. Sometimes they truly had no idea what they had discovered, wandering into the entrance with awe and wonder, and only a bit of curiosity. For them, Hambone had only to walk out from the shadows, brandishing his sword to cause them to jump nearly to the ceiling and exit so quickly they'd leave behind the pants they had just pissed. 

      The apathetic ones were similar. Perhaps they did know where they were, but they didn't care. No one had been to the dungeon in ages, they moaned. Probably plundered long before, the fussed. Most likely full of skeletons, they'd wager. Hambone would grin, if he weren't perpetually grinning anyway. They would come in, one light source between the group of them, and half stare at the walls, glance at the floor in a meek attempt to look for traps, and stumble about the room with a general air of, "Is this worth it?" It would usually be at that moment when Hambone would shamble out, sword drawn, and plunge his blade into one of their backs. 

      In this method, Hambone normally killed one or two adventurers from the party. Surprise gets past a guard more times than pure skill, and most parties were only three to six large. But, this method always led to the next type of group, the one that Hambone liked the most. The careful ones. Sometimes the group started off careful, other times it took a tragedy of one or two members to get their heads on straight. Whatever the cause, they would come, slowly but surely, creeping into the cave, and close to Hambone. 

      This was his favorite kind of waiting. Hambone had a collection of skeletons he stood with. None were as animated as he was, or as dedicated to their job, but they stood alongside him all the same. A gift from his master, who was always delighted when Hambone succeeded in sending another batch of souls down to his depths. The idea for non-living brothers and sisters had come to Hambone long ago, soon after he surprised his first group. His master had been thrilled Hambone had done so well and offered him a boon. 

      "I could give you muscle and sinew," his master whispered to him, "Make you as strong as an ox, or as large as a barn." Hambone didn't hate the ideas, but no, he liked the way he was, and wished only to have the skeletal remains of those he had killed. "Hm," his master had pondered, stroking the decaying flesh mound that once was his chin. "I'd like to raise any adventurer you kill from the dead and use them as experiments down in my lab. Plus they're always covered in so many goodies. Tell you what! When I finish my experiments, I'll strip the flesh from their bones and have them brought straight to you. You might not get them quick, but I'm sure after too long you'll have more than you know what to do with. My experiments don't always have a high success ratio. I'll even give you some of their swords!" 

      Hambone agreed happily, and his master kept his promise. Every few moons, some horror from the depth would gurgle its way up the Drop, leaving a stack of bones on the lip for Hambone. Hambone would put them together best he could, and prop them up on the wall next to him. In time, most of the wall was covered with other skeletons, ones of all sizes and shapes, holding various weapons at the ready. But among the bones, only one set was the real deal. Hambone hid among his kind, and adventurers never saw him before he got them. 

      The cautious adventurers would creep in steadily, examining every upright skeleton they came across, poking and prodding for any sign of life, or undeath, as it were. To Hambone, this was the best kind of waiting. Watching as the examiner(s) got closer and closer, usually growing less and less suspicious with each non-mobile skeleton they came across, until eventually they came to Hambone. Now, Hambone had one final trick up his sleeve, something devious, something else of his own design. 

      Over the years of slaying would be tomb-raiders and lost souls, Hambone had collected a small trove of one kind of treasure: necklaces. The rest he always threw down the hole, the other denizens of the dungeon would sort out where that all went. The necklaces were of special use for Hambone. Now, if you recall, there are chains that dangle from the ceiling just next to Hambone, and they sometimes draw a curious eye. Or rather, they used to gather a glance or two, but now they always stole the looks of whoever was glancing about, for the chains were interlaced with the many necklaces Hambone had collected. Gold, silver, even some platinum adorned the chains next to him. And almost without fail, the adventurer who would be examining every inch of the cavern would always come across Hambone and his chain, take one look at Hambone, and reach for the necklaces. And that's when Hambone would strike, ever so gleeful that his plan and his waiting had paid off, relishing the surprise on the face of the humanoid who suddenly had a sword in their gut.

       Now, all of this is not to say that Hambone was an exceptionally skilled killer. Far from it. Hambone had gotten the drop on quite a few adventurers in his time, but quite a few had also gotten him. More often than not, some damned spellslinger would hurl a bolt of fire and send him scattering, or some large adrenaline filled brute would break his rib cage with a maul or some such nonsense. Hambone had his fair lot of setbacks. But Hambone didn't mind those times either. Usually he could hear their screams as they made their way down below and met the nightmares that lay within the deep, and that was satisfying enough for him. 

      But this brings us to the last kind of waiting, and the kind that Hambone loved the most. Waiting to be fixed. It never took too long, not nearly as long as it sometimes took for new faces to come roaming into the dungeon. But inevitably, if someone or a group of someones made it past Hambone, and he lay in pieces, he only had to wait to be fixed. After a time, a green glow would emanate from the Drop, and his master would come floating up out of the depths, pursing what was left of his lips. He'd float over, lean down, and pick up Hambone's head, and he had never done it unkindly. 

      "Ah, Hambone," his master would sigh. "Look what they've done to you." Hambone would clatter about how he had tried, what he thought had gone wrong that time. Sometimes the adventurers had just destroyed every skeletons they saw, sometimes they just weren't surprised when he sprung out. His master would listen, nodding his head thoughtfully before answering, "Well, maybe next time they'll be sloppier." And with a flick of his wrist, Hambone would feel himself being pulled back together by the very same magic that had brought him up the first time, oh so many years before. He'd thank his master deeply and watch him begin to float back down the Drop. And just before he'd disappear completely, he would always say, "Guard the door Hambone, and guard it well." 

      And so Hambone would, with vigor, pride, and just a hint of dark magic. 

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