And Other Stories



Pale sunlight streamed down through the gaps between white-grey clouds that blanketed the sky. It shone down on a barren field, sparse patches of dry grasses and wild plants. A gust of wind blew by, rustling through the plain, kicking a few loose clumps of dirt along. Tattered fabric whipped in the wind, a few forlorn banners and cloth clinging to fallen figures. There were a few littered around, motionless and crumpled. Birds circled overhead, but none had yet landed to disturb the scene.

A black cloak billowed and whipped around a lone living figure, stepping towards the macabre tableau. Pale hands gripped a wooden staff, carved smooth and straight. The head bore a few simple embellishments, inexpertly but painstakingly crafted. The end was lifted aloft, held above the ground rather than used as a walking stick. Eventually the figure stopped, a short way from the first corpse, and planted the staff into the ground. It took some force to fix it in the soil, from which it cast a long shadow. The cloaked person then bent down, producing materials to mark lines and symbols on the ground around the pole.

The shadow grew shorter, as the sun rose higher in the sky. The clouds started to break apart, and light streamed down on the scene. The birds had descended, although they had been kept away from the closest body. The already pale fingers had been sapped of more warmth and color by the wind, though the light began to restore some. A complex and intricate series of ruts had been dug into the ground and filled with trace amounts of powders. They formed shapes and arcane symbols, surrounding the staff and the nearest body.

The hooded figure looked towards the body, for a moment. It was so far undisturbed, aside from the sigils marked around it. It still looked like a person. A person that could have merely been asleep, if not for the ugly stain on the ground underneath them. The others weren't faring as well, but the cloaked person didn't dwell on them, and turned once more to the staff.

Quiet words issued forth, snatched away by the persistent wind as soon as they were uttered. But that was enough, and the figure took the tip of the staff in hand, loosing a long sigh. The wind didn't shift, and the sun's shine didn't falter. A crow peered towards the pole, but the other birds didn't take any notice. For a long few moments, nothing discernible changed at all.

Then a small noise could barely be heard, struggling against the wind. It was a faint intake of air, a breath being laboriously drawn. The sound grew steadily louder, and more haggard. It wasn't coming from the cloak, the wearer of which stood quiet and still, but rather from the crumpled cadaver on the ground. One hand, clad in a chainmail glove, twitched. Sluggishly, its fingers shifted and curled in on themselves. The arm bent at the elbow, the hand gripping the dirt, while its other arm moved out from beneath itself. It struggled to move, but managed it in steps, unsteadily pushing its upper half off of the ground. It hacked a cough, a congealed black mass slipping out through pallid lips.

The figure in black watched, rapt, as the thing rose to its feet. It lurched, and found its balance, before standing stock still. After the rustle of metal that had accompanied its movements, things fell eerily quiet. Two pairs of breath, one deathly quiet and the other coarsely gasping, against the backdrop of the howling wind. The thing was wearing the armor the person had died in, chain and padding with a tunic draped around the torso. Multiple gashes had been cut into the front, and dried blood dyed much of it an awful dark crimson. The skin that was visible had drained of color, left sickly, cold and pale.

It didn't have a helmet, though its dark brown hair was cut short in the fashion to wear one. The face wasn't marked by any damage or scarring, although it appeared somehow off. It was discolored, and there was a dullness to the eyes, which were focused on nothing. The irises were still brown, but there was something off about them. A lack of lustre that was difficult to pin down. Despite all of that, it was stubbornly difficult to refrain from recognizing the thing before them as a person, though they knew that was wrong. The face was feminine, which had been a surprise to the figure, but quickly dismissed as an irrelevant consideration.