After my hard-won victory, my injuries were tended to without preamble. My left arm was reset and splinted with a large, chitin-like material which was then bound tightly with leather straps. My right shoulder was put into a gentle cloth sling. My groin was slathered in a putrid smelling salve, eliciting only the barest of blushes from the busty Amazonian medicine woman. Then she wrapped the entire area with clean linens and told me to take it easy for a few days. I wasn’t sure what good that last bit would do but I suppose for a wound like that all you can do is wait for the swelling to go down naturally. I was given another strange liquid to drink, one I was told would speed up the healing process.
Ceridwen, the village Chief, watched my entire treatment process with a grin. She didn’t say much, mostly because the medicine woman was busy explaining to me the proper care I was expected to give my injuries. When the medicine woman announced I would need a few days rest to fully recover, the Amazonian Chief only laughed.
“I’m sure a warrior like him will be better in half that time!”
Once the medicine woman mentioned to the Chief that she had done all she could, Ceridwen clapped her hands twice and two guards came into the medicine woman’s tent, my clothes and belongings in their arms. They placed them gently in a pile in front of me. I wasted no time in getting dressed. I already knew, but I checked to see if Ethnea’s head or belongings were included. Of course the head wasn’t. I knew Ceridwen probably wanted it for a burial but I was sour about the bounty I’d lost. As I rummaged further, I noticed the wooden pipe I’d found at Ethnea’s camp was in my bag, along with a sizable twist of tobacco. When she noticed I’d found these items, Ceridwen grinned at me and winked.
“A show of good faith,” Ceridwen said, “You beat one of our best. We consider you an equal now.”
I only grinned lightly at her beaming face and tried not to roll my eyes. Maybe they now considered me an equal, but I didn’t reciprocate. How long could the pretense of equality even last between our kind? The only true equality in this world is found in death. But the idea of equality between man and monster is laughable. If one man can be born a king and another a leper, what kind of kinship can be found between me and these beasts?
“Come, we will sit around my fire and talk like women.” She said, waving for me to follow her.
As I followed her, I kept about two strides behind her, as I assumed would be respectful. She didn’t turn around to wonder why I wasn’t walking next to her, so I supposed I chose correctly. She led me through the Amazonian village proper. The crowd from before had dispersed by this time and the Amazons had gone back to their daily lives. They hustled about doing their daily chores like tanning leather and fetching fresh water. There were a number of weak looking men with thick iron collars skinning fish or haggling in a marketplace. The Amazonian society is matriarchal, so they capture men to serve as their bitches and fuck-toys, I suppose. Just take your stereotypical tribal savages and reverse the gender roles and you have the Amazons. Charming bunch.
I noticed that none of the Amazons we passed would look at me. In fact, they were doing an expert job of ignoring me. Some of them made it more obvious, their gazes would turn sharply away once they noticed me walking behind their Chief. I knew they must hate me. I killed one of their own and then defeated and humiliated their leader’s granddaughter. They must have hated me. The only one who didn’t seem to hate me was Ceridwen herself. She respected strength above all else. It worked out for me, but what a fickle sense of respect that is. And one has to wonder if those whom she once respected show signs of weakness, do they lose her favor?
We arrived at a large canvas tent, perched on a hill overlooking the entire village. The tent itself looked more like 3 smaller tents joined together. There were armed Amazon guards on either side of the tent’s entrance. The tent flap was made from the fluffy pelt of some sort of dangerous beast. Cerdiwen entered first, and then held the flap open, motioning me inside.
It was mostly dark inside, with a dimly lit fire in the center casting thick shadows on the wall of the tent. There wasn’t much in the way of furnishings in the tent, simply mats and pillows covering the tent’s floor. She sat down crossed-legged next to the fire and waved her hand to signal to me join her.
“Very good!” She chuckled as I took my place beside her, careful not to jostle my injuries.
After a moment’s pause, Ceridwen clapped her hands once more and one of the guards peeked her head inside, awaiting the Chief’s orders.
“Maerscylla,” Cerdiwen boomed, address the guard, “This is a celebration! Prepare a small feast! I want you to serve our best wine, and bring about five of the healthiest cockslaves for me and….oh.”
Ceridwen paused in thought and looked at me, genuine curiosity on her face.
“You wouldn’t happen to be interested in a cockslave or three, would you?” She asked, no hint of insincerity in her voice.
“I’ll…have to decline, thank you.” I said through gritted teeth.
I really was flattered she offered her sex slaves to me, but I’m not fucking dandy boy. I have a pretty good idea what a ‘cockslave’ might be and I have no desire to be in the same room with one.
“In that case,” Ceridwen drawled with a hint of disappointment as she turned back to the guard, “Forget the cockslaves. It would be rude to indulge in front of a guest.”
The guard nodded and pulled her head away from the tent flap.
“Sorry about that,” Ceridwen laughed and she turned to face me, placing a large hand gently on my shoulder, “I keep forgetting you’re a boy. ‘Fraid we don’t have any female toys around here, at least, none your size!”
She threw her head back in laughter and slapped me hard on the back, knocking the wind out of me. I have the hardest time dealing with people like this. If they laugh too much, they likely drink too much. They’re never serious when you want them to be and nothing substantial ever gets done. I noticed there had been a sudden change in the Chief’s demeanor; the strict judiciary I had seen during my ‘trial’ was replaced with a jovial barbarian. The contrast made me uncomfortable.
“I’m not a boy,” I protested, more sharply than I intended. “I am a man.”
“So you say,” Ceridwen chuckled. “Well, if you want to be called a man, you’re a man. It matters little to me, I’ll call you whatever you want. You’ve earned it.”
“That’s not what I mean,” I insisted. “I guess a better way to explain it is that I used to be a man and now I am a boy.”
“I don’t know much about humans, sure, but doesn’t it usually happen the other way?” Ceridwen said with a sly grin.
“Usually, yes,” I said without humor. “You could say I was cursed to look this way.”
The smile from the Chief’s face vanished.
“Don’t you go making fun of curses, boy. I won’t take kindly to jokes in that vein.”
“I assure you,” I spoke slowly, “I speak no jest. I’ve been cursed in the literal sense. See here.” I turned my head and pointed to the hole in my cheek.
“A wound that never heals,” I said as I watched Ceridwen’s eyes go big as she took in my visage, “And a body that never ages. I’ve been cursed by a vile wench, I tell you.”
At that moment, several Amazons entered the tent, carrying plates of food on simple wooden trays. They set them down in front of us, along with a a few generous horns of wine, and left. Ceridwen didn’t so much as acknowledge them as she rubbed her chin and stared at me.
“And who be this vile wench?” Ceridwen finally asked, reaching for her wine.
“Some fucking Dark Elf,” I said as I spat into the fire. I had momentarily forgotten my manners in my anger.
I quickly looked over at Ceridwen to see if she was cross with my outburst, but her eyes were distant and vacant. She sipped lightly at her wine and ate from her plate. She looked over at me occasionally, weighing me in her mind. She seemed to be on the verge of asking many questions, but none of them came to her lips. I couldn’t believe that she was being bashful. That old bitch was about as subtle as a succubus with a choir boy.
“Why?” She asked finally, looking at me with curiosity.
I laughed. Without humor, of course. I’d made a habit of that, apparently. There’s so little I find that makes me laugh naturally. It’s easier to mimic the motion, makes you appear to be alive. Like moving the air in and out of your lungs, pretending to breathe.
I sighed and spoke again, “You know, nobody’s ever asked me that before. Hell, I didn’t even ask it myself for a long time.”
Ceridwen made no response. She idly munched on the meat and vegetables before her, expecting me to continue.
“Well, where do I fucking begin, huh?” I spoke with mock enthusiasm, “Why did she turn me into a twelve year-old boy? Well, I imagine she fancied twelve year-old boys.”
Ceridwen continued to stare blankly at me. I continued.
“Why did she decide to rip off half my face? I can’t say for sure, but I seeing as how she couldn’t stop finger-fucking herself while she was doing it, I’d wager it gave her some sort of pleasure listening to me scream.” I was trying to keep my voice steady and calm; I was failing. I was going into an emotional rant and I couldn’t stop.
“I suppose that reason could also be used to answer why she decided to pour boiling water down my back and stick needles under my fingernails. Though I will confess I don’t know if she was masturbating when she did those things because I was too busy blacking out from the pain to tell.”
My hands clenched and my voice shook, but I was driven to keep going. Ceridwen did not stop me.
“Why did she do it at all? I’m not sure, you’d probably be better off blaming Drow society. But for the final question, why me? I don’t think there’s an answer to that. Maybe some of us are born to be abused by others.”
“You don’t believe that,” Ceridwen finally interjected.
My hands unclenched, shocked out of my monologue, “Oh? How do you know that?”
“Because,” Ceridwen said with a knowing smile, “A warrior that fights like you doesn’t believe the dice have already been rolled. The strongest warriors fight against the dice, against their fates. They kick and scream and claw their way out of the darkness.”
And just like that, I smiled. Not a grim, sarcastic smile, but a genuine one. I didn’t smile because I’d thought I’d found my soul-mate or that I was ready to get all chummy with a senile Amazonian warrior past her prime. I smiled because she said something I agreed with, because she understood something few others did.
I pulled out the pipe from my bag and packed it with some tobacco. Ceridwen pulled out a crude match and struck it against her knee. She leaned over and I leaned forward to allow her better access to light the pipe for me. After the tobacco began to burn and I sat back, she blew the match out, throwing it into the fire. I put one hand over the hole in my cheek, covering it so I could get the suction needed to take a long draw from the pipe.
I exhaled, not through my mouth, but by removing my hand from my cheek and allowing the smoke to billow out of my gaping wound. It’s not all that pleasant, but it makes for a fun party trick. The Chief cocked her eyebrows at the sight.
“That pipe was my Grandmother’s, you know.” Ceridwen spoke softly.
I fumbled and coughed as she said that. I quickly pulled the pipe out of my mouth, prepared to give it back to her or face whatever pricetag she had attached to it.
“Ah, don’t worry,” She said with a chuckle, taking a gulp of her wine, “You can keep it. I gave it to Ethnea, and she was supposed to give it to Kicva, but, well…maybe it’s better for that legacy to die with you.”
Hesitantly, I put the pipe back in my mouth, re-covered my cheek and took another drag on the pipe, enjoying the sting of the tobacco in my throat.
“I may be able to answer one of your questions,” Ceridwen said while looking into the fire, “‘Why did she do it?’, that’s what you asked about the Drow that cursed you.”
“What of it?” I said between puffs.
Ceridwen smiled sadly. “I think that maybe, she was just a monster. Ah,” she paused and laughed, “I don’t mean a monster like what separates me and you. I mean she was a monster up here.” She tapped her head with one finger.
“Ethnea was like that, I think,” she continued with a sigh, “I saw the signs of it but I didn’t want to believe them. she was always too eager to go raid a village. She would rush in before anyone else, tearing up everything in her path. She would beat the men so badly we couldn’t get any usable slaves out of them. One time I caught her touching herself over the corpse of a human soldier.”
“Despite what you may have heard about us,” She said, “We frown upon that kind of behavior. We view males as a delicate commodity. Violence against the men we capture is…unbecoming, to say the least.”
Ceridwen took a long swig of wine before continuing, “She would keep trophies, too. She thought I didn’t notice. Mostly bones of men she’d killed, but also swords and pieces of armor. Once Kicva was born, I took her away and raised her myself. Once I finally admitted there was a problem, I thought that the cause was us, this entire village. I thought maybe the isolation would cure her. So I exiled her.”
Ceridwen drained her horn of wine, “Some people are born as rabid beasts. The kindest mercy you can give them is to put them down. I see that now. I don’t blame you for what you did, but don’t blame me for what I didn’t do. It’s unthinkable for a parent to kill their child, even if their child is a monster.”
I said nothing. I looked away from Ceridwen’s face and stared back into the dying fire. I’m not in a place to judge. I said it before, but I’m not arbiter of justice. I have no moral authority. I would have killed Ethnea whether she deserved it or not, so I have no room to criticize.
“You’ve certainly gone through quite the mood shift.” I remarked as I exhaled hot smoke.
“Ah,” Ceridwen sighed, “A leader has many faces, Kelt. Sometimes you need to be authoritarian, other times you need to be kind. But sometimes the mask slips, and you show too much of yourself.”
She trailed off ambiguously and silence hung between us once more.
“You know,” Ceridwen spoke up with a light chuckle, “If you were a woman, I would give you a piece of land in our village and a couple male slaves as a gift. But since you are not a woman, the most I can offer you is that pipe and promise you your freedom.”
I blew out of a puff of smoke, “You cannot promise me what is not yours to give.”
Ceridwen laughed her booming laugh once more.
“I’m no scholar, little boy…no, little man, I won’t play word games with you. Just know you do not need to fear the shackle in my village. You’ve earned passage.”
Just then, an Amazonian guard popped her head into the tent.
“Ma’am,” she shouted with urgency, “We’ve spotted an army approaching on the horizon. They bear the flag of the Drow Empire.”
Ceridwen responded by growling and throwing her empty horn of wine out the tent flap, barely missing the guard’s head. To the guard’s credit, she barely blinked as she ducked her head slightly to dodge. I guessed that was a natural occurrence around here.
“Get the women ready. Make sure they get the filthy cocks out of their mouths long enough to sharpen their weapons worth a damn. And bring me the heaviest fucking hammer we’ve got.”
The guard nodded silently and swiftly ducked out of the tent flap. I could hear her shouting the Chief’s orders in less kinder terms outside.
“I must apologize, Kelt,” Ceridwen said to me as she stood up, stretching out her back and legs, “But I’m afraid I’ll ask that you take your leave right about now. There’s going to be a war here, and you don’t want to be around here.”
“You’re going to fight against the Drow Empire?!” I said incredulously.
“Of course,” Ceridwen shrugged, “What else can we do?”
I scoffed and blustered, “Well for starters you could consider running the fuck out of here! Do you know how many nations the Drow Empire has crushed beneath its heel? The only thing that awaits you if you stay here is death or slavery.”
“Run?” Ceridwen laughed, “That’s the cowardly thought of a man for you. Listen here, I’m a woman, through and through, and this is a village built on that legacy. I’d rather die than run.”
I just stood there agape, not knowing what to say. I’m not even sure what bothered me so much about this situation, but I felt like I couldn’t let it go. Like I felt like I had to stop Ceridwen somehow. I thought quickly and the words tumbled out of my lips.
“Well if you won’t go, then let me stay. I’ll help you fight.”
“Ha!” Ceridwen shook her head, “No offense, little man. But it’ll be a cold day in hell before I rely on a man’s help. Besides, great a warrior as you may be, you’re still injured from your last skirmish.”
I looked down at my splinted forearm, holding the still burning tobacco pipe and my other arm in the sling. I doubted I could swing a sword without hurting something. Her words rung true; I was in no position to volunteer my military services. I wasn’t even sure why I felt obligated to offer my services to those that had kidnapped me and accused me of murder.
Ceridwen’s harsh tone caught me off guard, but I knew they held truth to them. In the end, all that garbage about seeing me as an equal didn’t amount to much. As soon as I disagreed with her, I was relegated to ‘little man’. I didn’t really mind though. I felt like the veil had slipped in Ceridwen’s sudden outburst, like a genuine side to her had shown through. I don’t blame her for getting agitated, and my feelings certainly weren’t hurt. I realized ‘little man’ was probably an affectionate term, probably the best I would ever get from her.
“The Drow will burn and rape this village, you know.”
“Yes,” she said as she smiled sadly, “I know.”
And just like that, she left. I stood in the tent another moment in shock. I had previously thought pride was the trademark human flaw. I guess even monsters can sometimes be stupid and prideful. I snuffed out the pipe and stored it back in my bag, shouldering it as I prepared to leave.
I opened the tent flap and stepped out into a chaotic Amazonian camp preparing for war. Amazons floundered around, setting up barricades in the roads and boarding up their houses, presumably to protect their male slaves inside. It must have been mostly a symbolic gesture, I figured. They all knew barricading their doors and windows wouldn’t stop the Drow soldiers. Sometimes people have to exercise the futile effort, just to comfort themselves with the knowledge that they did all they could.
I walked calmly through the streets that swam like a flooded river. There were no chores being done. There was no haggling at the market. The entire village scrambled around to go to war. Nobody had time to meet nor avoid my gaze as I walked through; they had forgotten me in their preparations. I walked through a village preparing to die, and I realized I may be the last person to see it intact.
Just as I was about to walk out of the bounds of the village, I spotted a particular Amazon as she rushed past me. It was Kicva. Her hair had been cut very short and close to her head. Amazonian warriors only cut their hair if they lose in battle. Her hair had been rather long before. I thought back to Ceridwen’s hair. I recall she had a braid that fell below her torso.
Our eyes met for the briefest of moments as she jogged past me, but that was all. There was no anger in her eyes, just the barest hint of recognition. She obviously had better things to do than fuel her grudge against me. After she passed me, I turned around to watch her continue to jog away. In all honesty, I may have been watching her shapely behind as well. Certainly I was angry with her, in a way I could say I hated her. She was my enemy. But she was an enemy I did not kill. She was an enemy I was leaving behind so that she could throw herself into the great Drow war machine.
It didn’t feel right.
I left the village.
Of course, I didn’t go far. If I was to be the last person to see this village, I figured, I ought to witness it at the end, and be able to tell its tale. Plus I was still hurting for gold after my bounty had been snatched from me. Drow scalps were at a premium now, ever since the Empire got really aggressive. I was hoping the Amazons would kill enough for me to recoup my losses after the battle. I hunkered down on a hill overlooking the village which would give me an overview of the entire battle, while still keeping me a safe distance away.
I took out the pipe and began smoking again. I leaned lazily against a tree trunk and watched my smoke drift upwards and into the darkening sky. It was nearly nightfall before I saw the Empire approach. They came in on the horizon like a black cloud swallowing the earth. I could see the proud black and purple flag billow in the hands of the flag-bearers. It was too far for me to see, but I already knew what crest it bore: a purple sun shackled with chains. I’m told there are also elvish runes sewn into their flags which roughly translate to “Unity through Slavery”.
I began to feel the tree rumble and vibrate behind me. The Empire’s army literally shook the earth on which it walked. I sometimes wondered why the Dark Elves wasted so many soldiers on conquering relatively tiny villages like the Amazonian one. The only conclusion I have ever drawn is the Drow don’t do fair. They don’t care for pitched battle. They send twice as many soldiers as they think they need to ensure they win as easily as possible. They were the ultimate cowards, and that’s why they ruled a third of the world.
I heard the battle cries of the Amazons as they pounded their shields and hammers into the ground. They were psyching themselves up before the first wave hit them. I exhaled, through the mouth this time.
I briefly wondered if the Amazons down below had ever faced the Empire in combat. I doubted it. The Empire usually doesn’t leave enough survivors to serve anyone a second helping. For the uninitiated, it usually comes as a shock to find that the first waves of soldiers from the Drow army are not actually Dark Elves.
The Drow Empire is a political faction for which slavery is like blood through its black and twisted veins. Its armies are no different. When they capture a piece of land, or ‘reclaim’ it as they would likely say, they add the surviving indigenous population to their reserves of slaves to bolster their economy and political power. The best fighters of these slaves have the grand honor of fighting on the front lines as disposable slave-warriors. It just so happens that incredibly weak factions who face the Drow Empire in combat may end up losing definitively before a true-blooded Dark Elf graces the battlefield.
From my perch against the tree, I could see the first wave as it approached the Amazons’ barricade. A thin and wide rank of hoplite Lamias, chained together by the necks like a huge horizontal chain gang. They slithered forward at a brisk pace, their spears pointed at the ready. Shackling them together ensured each one would match the pace of the others or else fear falling and being dragged through the dirt by the rest of the group.
Following behind the Lamia line was a scattering of rag-tag soldiers composed of Orcs and the occasional Oni. Both of them were spared the old-fashioned shackle and chain and instead bore the magical leather collars the Drow afford the more valuable slaves. The Orcs were dressed in what amounted to rags as they charged with crude rusty broadswords in hand. The Onis had it a little better, donning makeshift leather armor and wielding fortified clubs and maces.
The very back of the charging army was composed of Centaurs and very low ranking Dark Elves which together made up the archery division of the slave army. The low ranking Dark Elves come from impoverished and outcast families in Drow society, which barely affords them social status above slaves. They are able to avoid being shackled or collared, but their service in the slave armies is still compulsory. Although, it’s not a bad gig, I suppose. They mostly sit in the back and fire arrows towards the front of the army. They never have to worry about friendly fire while doing so because the Lamia and Orcs up front aren’t worth a second thought to them.
Far back in the distance, kept apart from the charging army, were these regal black shapes on horseback. They were the Drow Acolytes and Priestesses, the upper crust of the Empire. They sat on horseback from a distance and watched. I’d never heard of a skirmish with the Empire which ever required these high ranking Drow to unseat themselves from their graceful ebony mounts. Bringing back the head of a Drow Priestess would make me an immeasurably wealthy man, but I didn’t enterain the thought for long. They stood like a ghostly shadow on the darkening horizon, surveying the violence with a hint of apathy.
To the Amazons’ credit, they held their ground admirably. The first wave of Lamia hoplites dashed themselves frantically against the barricades and were cut down quickly by sword and axe alike. However, the Lamias served their only purpose and wore down the barricades and disrupted the Amazons’ defensive positions. The Orcs came in next and still didn’t pose much of a threat. Even in groups of five, a single Amazon could hold her own against the poorly armed and trained Orcs. The Onis came in and were much more of an even match. An Oni’s and an Amazon’s physical strengths are comparable, after all.
Overall, at that point, the Amazons had only a slight disadvantage because of their lack of formal military training. Amazons are used to fighting alone so they have nowhere near the experience the slave warriors did. Even with the numerous Orcs, Onis, and other assorted slave monsters outnumbering the Amazons, it would have been a close battle if that was the end of it.
It was the arrows that killed them.
It was surreal to look up and see a sparse cloud of arrows arcing through the sky towards the Amazonian barricade. The arrows came down on the brunt of the fighting force, probably killing more slave warriors than Amazons. But it didn’t matter; the Amazons were already at a number disadvantage. Every Amazon was worth at least 50 slave warriors. So the slave army was happy to shoot arrows from the back as the meat shields up front kept their enemy busy. It didn’t end well for the Amazons. Most of them didn’t wear any sort of armor or anything that could stop an arrow from penetrating them. If they didn’t die outright, they were quickly cleaned up by the horde of slaves attacking them from the front. Some of the smarter Amazons tried to shield themselves from above with wooden planks of some kind, but that only gave the raving Orcs in front of them a free pass to attack at their legs and torsos.
It hadn’t even been half an hour before the Amazonian ranks broke. I still remember that small group desperately trying to retreat, betraying their own kind and attempting to abandon the village. The Drow Empire does not allow retreat. They were chased down quickly by a group of swift Centaurs wielding compound bows. The horse-women chased down the Amazons, shooting the deserters in their legs and trampling those they could. The ones that survived would be the unlucky ones; they would face a life of slavery and most likely serve in the very army that had defeated them and destroyed their village. I guess that’s the price they paid for running.
After the sounds of battle had died down on the now mostly silent village, a trumpet blast could be heard coming from the mysteriously cloaked Drow on the horizon. They were calling the slave army to pull back. Like mechanical soldiers, the slaves immediately stopped whatever carnage they were engaged in and limped out of the village, sometimes dragging fallen comrades next to them to clear the way.
Once the slaves had moved out of the way, the Drow rode in on their black steeds. I knew that continuing to watch would be a mistake, but for some reason I felt compelled to see it, to say that I stuck with the village until the end. The Drow dismounted their horses and stepped unto the bloody battlefield. Many of them unsheathed expensively crafted daggers and began turning over bodies. If they found still breathing, they would slide the dagger into the side of the neck swiftly, ending the waning life.
I suppose the Drow were probably hoping to loot something from the corpses. Not necessarily anything valuable, but some sort of trophy to take back. When finding the Amazons were simple people that cared little for jewelry or ornamentation, I can only imagine they were slightly disappointed and angry. Not a particularly good thing, considering what came next was kicking down the village’s doors.
And kick down the doors they did. Of course, most of what they found was the Amazons’ only precious resource: male slaves. The Drow dragged the male slaves kicking and screaming into the gore-filled dirt road in the center of the village. Many of the Drow slit their throats right there, but a few of them prolonged their entertainment. They would tear off their own clothes and straddle the men, stabbing them as they pleasured themselves. The Dark Elves are all sadists, you see.
The funny thing is, I don’t remember any of the men’s faces. I know they ranged in age quite a bit; a few elderly slaves all the way down to basically children were all in the mix. What I do remember are the faces of the Drow that raped and killed them. I remember their faces of dark pleasure as they selfishly destroyed the slaves for their amusement. It was a face I had seen before. But more chilling than that, perhaps, is the look of apathy that replaced their previous look of pleasure as the slaves died and were discarded. It was as if the men had only served as a momentary distraction to them, and they were back to being as bored as they were when they started. That is the true face of evil; the face that can keep a blank expression while walking through a field of death.
Eventually the Drow had picked the entire village clean. They set fire to some of the village huts still standing, gathered up their captured Amazons, and recollected their army into a congealed mass. Once the slaves were organized into their proper ranks, the Drow remounted their eerie black horses and urged the army to march onward, surely to conquer some other insignificant faction down the road. I watched the army march away and disappear on the darkening horizon.
I knew I couldn’t leave while the Drow were still so close, so I laid down in the grass and waited. The sky darkened with ominous clouds and it began to rain. I put my ear to the ground and listened for the sounds of the Empire’s marching to die away. Once it did, I stood up and began walking towards the ruins of the Amazon village.
The rain began mixing with the gore and refuse that had been left in the streets. It caused the blood to bubble to the surface and mix together into one fetid pool of misery. I walked among the blood-beaten streets, looking at the remains of Amazons as I walked past. I tip-toed around corpses, doing my best not to step on anyone. I wasn’t completely successful; sometimes there would be entrails that I couldn’t help but slip in.
I searched every one of those bodies until I found her. Kicva’s corpse was right next to her grandmother’s. She wasn’t one to abandon her post, or her family. I briefly wondered with a flash of guilt if she felt honor-bound to redeem herself because her loss against me wounded her pride. But I shook my head. I’m sure she would have fought just as hard had she never met me at all and it’s not like I was at fault for defending my innocence. I still couldn’t shake a pit of guilt I felt forming in my heart. This village had been razed the very same day I entered it, like the Empire had followed me here like a dark specter. It wouldn’t be the first time I was cursed.
I examined Kicva’s corpse. Her tanned skin was now pale and lifeless from the blood loss. There were many minor wounds across her body, arrows and cuts across her torso and legs, but most of the damage was superficial. I turned her head to the side and saw an ugly dagger wound in the side of her neck. I knew that was the wound that had killed her, but it wouldn’t have been an immediate death. She had bled out, meaning she would have died only minutes before. I could still feel the warmth of her skin as I held her head in my hands.
A strange feeling overcame me. I looked into those glassy eyes of hers and felt her stare piercing into me. I saw the faintest hint of bruise on her eye socket and a cut on her lip. Those wounds were from me, when we fought together only hours before. I recalled the grim satisfaction I felt as I gave her those wounds. I looked at her and felt empty. She was supposed to be my enemy, I was supposed to hate her, but what I saw felt wrong. It was like listening to a song you don’t really like, but feeling annoyed when it gets interrupted midway.
I felt extremely regretful that she had to die.
Just as that thought echoed inside my head, I felt a sharp pain in my cheek wound. It burned as badly as the day I received it, and I cried out in pain, slapping my hand to cover it, though it had no effect. Through my squinted eyes, I saw Kicva’s corpse’s eyes light up with an ethereal purple light. I scrambled back in surprise, momentarily forgetting the pain in my cheek.
It was not sudden. It was not quick and startling. Kicva’s corpse stood up slowly, deliberately, implying awkward motion and control. I stared open-mouthed as her body rose from the dead while my the pain from my wound seared into my skull.
The corpse stood up to Kicva’s original impressive height, albeit with the poor posture and stance befitting something that was supposed to be dead. Her now glowing iridescent eyes scanned the area blankly until they settled on me, sitting down a puddle of blood and rain while I propped myself up with my one good arm. The corpse tilted its head in recognition as it saw me. That was my cue to snap out of it.
“Shit,” I swore, “This is not fucking good.”
Although I never had any experience with them, I knew from second-hand accounts that the creature in front of me was no longer an Amazon, but a zombie instead. Even one such as I didn’t dabble with the undead. That was wicked stuff, the kind even the Dark Elves barely dared to speak about in hushed tones. I stumbled to my feet and backed away from Kicva’s zombie, which had not moved from its stationary position. I unsheathed my crude sword from my back with my good arm and scanned around. The zombie in front of me was one thing, but a zombie can only be raised by a necromancer. If one was close by, then the corpse filled streets around me had the potential to be disastrous. I was looking for an escape route.
I took one more cautious step back from the wretched-corpse as I kept my sword pointed towards it defensively. The zombie wordlessly took an uncertain step forward as well, matching the distance between us.
“Stay back you bitch,” I warned as I tightened my grip on my blade.
The corpse tilted Kicva’s head to the side, and those glowing eyes blinked once.
And then the zombie shambled backwards one step.
My breath caught in my throat, a combination of a nervous laugh and a startled cry almost escaping. Confused, I decided to repeat my warning.
“I said get back, vile beast!”
The zombie blinked again and carefully shambled backwards one more step. Once it was done, its eyes locked onto me again, and the head tilted expectantly.
Incredulous, I lowered my sword and ran a hand nervously through my hair. I smacked myself on the head a few times to clear up the fog that had gathered there. I shut my eyes tightly and counted backwards from five, steadying myself. I opened my eyes again. Kicva’s corpse stood in the same position it had been, eyes barely blinking as the rain poured down on both of us.
“Alright,” I said, unsure, “Sit…?”
The zombie blinked twice that time, before falling to the ground and arranging its limbs in such a way to mimic the way an Amazon sits cross-legged at a fire. Once it felt it had posed itself correctly, the zombie looked back up at me, purple glowing eyes wide.