“Stay still,” I ordered, as my fingers fumbled to work the crude needle and thread.
The zombie said nothing, of course. I wasn’t too sure she understood me at all. I couldn’t tell if her random twitching and swaying had decreased. I observed that she didn’t have much control of her body; her motor functions were sloppy and slow. She could never sit completely still.
Once I realized she wouldn’t attack me, my first instinct was to kill her again. I realized I was responsible for reanimating the zombie in the first place. I wasn’t sure how, but the faint tingling of pain in my jaw told me I had a clue. Yet, the zombie’s obedience endeared her to me. How often is it that you come across a creature designed to follow your orders? And this wasn’t just any old rotting corpse, either. This was an Amazonian zombie, resurrected from a fresh corpse. I didn’t know much about the Undead. But, I knew zombies in general were stronger than the living. I’d only ever heard of humans practicing necromancy on human corpses. Since the Amazonian zombie was such an asset, I decided to keep her.
My first step was to repair her body as well as I could. I led the zombie into a cave nearby and lit a small campfire, preparing my utensils. I pulled out all the arrow shafts still stuck into her flesh. The arrows had splintered inside the flesh. Those need to be dug out with my hunting knife. Throughout this process, the zombie made no noise of discomfort. Next, I cleaned all the blood from her body with a washcloth. I was looking for any cuts or wounds I might have missed before. The zombie gave me a blank, purple stare as I instructed her to raise her arms or spread her legs. She didn’t respond in any meaningful way when I disrobed her, nor when I began running the cloth over her dead flesh.
I looked at every angle of her body, thrice, to be sure. I made a mental note of every wound and cut that was there. Eventually, I knew I would need to find a preserving agent for her flesh. Stitching the cuts closed was the best I could do at the time. I took my crude home-made needle and thread kit and did my best to suture the wounds on her flesh. I closed the gaps in her skin, making her whole again. I saved the fatal wound on her neck for last. I wanted to put the most care there, seeing as it would be the most noticeable.
When I had finished, I ordered the zombie to stand up and spread her arms at her side. I stepped back to examine the ‘finished’ product. I’m not a seamstress, nor a doctor or a mortician, so my work was shoddy. I had expected as much. Zig-zag stitches marked her skin like a patchwork doll. She looked war-torn, but it didn’t overshadow the natural beauty her flesh held. If anything, it complemented it. While alive, Kicva held a fair amount of primal beauty as an Amazon warrior. It wasn’t until her corpse was standing in front of me that I had a moment to appreciate it.
She was tall, even taller than her mother had been. Using my own height as a crude point of reference, I could place her at close to seven and a half feet tall. She had a broad, well-defined physique about her form. Her bulging and proud muscles were on display. And yet, her form was still undeniably feminine. Her slim and tight waist turned to wide and shapely hips, which continued into a good pair of strong looking legs. Seen from the back, her muscle-bound buttocks were feminine while still appearing powerful. Although I will admit my appreciation of a large behind affects my opinion. As imposing as her form was, it was also beautiful. All the worst monsters usually are, but I couldn’t help but admire it in that moment. She had the type of face that compels you to cradle it in your palm, but I resisted the urge. Her once tanned skin had become pale and lifeless, giving her an eerie aura about her.
I shook myself out of my candid admiration of her corpse. I realized the zombie was still in the pose I had asked for minutes ago. She kept her arms raised from the sides and her feet shoulder-width apart. She was staring straight ahead. Although I thought I saw her eyes dart around when she thought I wasn’t looking.
“You can lower your arms now,” I said in a light tone.
The zombie blinked at me and twitched her arms a bit, but didn’t move them much more than that. Her eyes blinked a few times. I took that as a sign she was just as surprised as I was at her inability to comply. The panicked blinking of her eyes told me the whole story. She wanted to lower her arms, but she couldn’t.
“Oh fuck,” I huffed, smacking my forehead as I came to a realization. “Rigor mortis, right?”
The zombie blinked and tried to cock her head in confusion. Her stiff neck only moved a fraction of an inch.
“Don’t worry, your muscles just can’t relax because you’re no longer alive,” I said. I wasn’t sure why I was bothering to explain it out loud. “If I massage the limbs, I might be able to relieve it a bit.”
She blinked a few more times, which I hoped meant she understood. I was pretending to be calmer than I actually felt. The stiffness of her limbs reminded me her body had been decomposing since death. Time was now precious. I realized that if I wanted to preserve her body, I would need to see a mortician before she decomposed completely.
I placed my hands on her well-muscled arms and gently massaged the tissue. I felt her stiffness fade away and her arms lowered to their natural position at her side. While massaging her arms, I noticed a deep reddish-purple blotch on her underarms. From my knowledge garnered from medical memoirs, I guessed this was livor mortis. The now stationary blood in the body was pooling due to gravity. Once I massaged the areas, the color faded some, but I knew it was only a temporary fix. I wondered if replacing the blood with embalming solution would be a good idea.
While I sat and pondered, I felt a nudge on my shoulder. Startled, I looked up and saw the zombie looking at me and blinking. I realized other parts of her body were still affected by the rigor mortis and so I went back to work. I massaged the areas around her neck and jaw, so she could look freely. I then worked on the legs and knee areas, since she needed those to walk. I did my best to preserve her modesty. But, I suppose that’s a bit hypocritical of me, after how much I was gawking earlier.
Once I had restored movement to the most important areas, I used the damp cloth to clean her again. I felt her gaze on me the entire time. I fluttered around her, cleansing her skin with the damp cloth. I looked up into her eyes a few times, to make sure there was no objection in her gaze. If she had any problems with what I was doing, she didn’t express it. After I had cleaned her body, I put her clothes back on. It wasn’t much. Just a loincloth and a fur pelt to cover her ample breasts, along with some crude jewelry. Once I had her dressed again, she looked like a tribal warrior once more. Although, she was not as animated as before. I made a mental note to get her a different set of clothing. I knew she would stand out too much if I ever needed to take her somewhere.
“Shit, still raining,” I said.
I held my hand outside the tiny cave the zombie and I had found for us.
As expected, the zombie didn’t reply.
I limped back deep into the cave. I kept my pace slow to avoid aggravating my wounds. I slumped against the cave wall and shut my eyes.
“Keep watch,” I said. My lips moved numbly as I spoke.
I’m not sure if she’d heard me or not. I felt the energy drain from my body as I slid down the cave wall. I was asleep in seconds.
The passage of time while sleeping is never quite clear. I’d like to say mere seconds after I was asleep, I began dreaming. The truth is, I don’t know how fucking long it was. It seemed instant, though.
First, I became aware that I was dreaming. It is usually the case that one does not realize they were dreaming until they’ve woken up. Not that I’d been dreaming often. Usually, my nights passed in darkness. I was grateful for that. It was peaceful. My luck finally ran out on that night in the cave.
As I became aware I was within a dream, the horror of that fact overtook me. Not only that, but I realized I was aware, yet not in control.
The hazy, incorporeal quality of the environment disoriented me as the scene unfurled. I was standing in a familiar place. I was back in Ethnea’s camp, looting her supplies. Only, the scene differed from my memories. A haze of dread hung over me as I went through the motions of my past. I was unable to alter the sequence in any way, forced to relive my own memories.
Much of the scene was ordinary, but that did little to dispel the fear gathering in my gut. I knew the pot was coming. I didn’t want to see the pot again. I tried my hardest to turn away, force my hand to retract itself from the pot’s lid. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop myself from opening the fucking pot.
A familiar set of eyeballs floated to the broth’s surface. The pupils peered into me with pointed accusations and condemnations. But soon the pair of eyes rose out of the water. A full formed, fleshy face rose out with the eyes. Unable to look away, I saw a boy rise out of the pot. He made no noise as he made his ascent. Steam rose off his skin as he met the cooler air. I felt my fingers twitch as I screamed internally. I willed my body to turn away or close my eyes. Unfortunately, dreams can be real sons-of-bitches sometimes. I was forced to watch.
The boy rose out of the water, soon joined by two others. Their skin was grey and bloated, boiled on the bone. They grabbed at me with their slimy hands. Despite the heat of their flesh, spikes of ice pierced at their touch. The boiled boys held my gaze. I felt the power of their hatred tearing at my soul. My strength left me as if being drained. They started to pull me downwards, towards the boiling water. I couldn’t resist, no matter how hard I fucking tried to tell my body to move.
I fell to one knee, hands braced on either side of the large pot. Waterlogged hands gripped my collar, pulling me closer to the murky broth. Somehow, I knew it was over. I knew that was fucking it. It sounds nuts, but I don’t care. I don’t care if it was just a dream. I knew if I touched that fetid water, I was done. The heat of the broth seared my face as I stood inches above it.
“I can save you,” whispered a voice.
As soon as the words came, the scene vanished into smoke. The heat on my face disappeared. I let out a sigh and slumped to my knees in the resulting void.
“Cutting it close I see,” the voice whispered once more. The voice seemed close, but with no direction.
“A friend,” the voice replied. I was able to pick up on the feminine quality this time. “You’re rather lucky I showed up.”
I pondered my reply in a moment, “This is only a dream. This is all in my head.”
“Of course it is,” the voice laughed. “But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. It doesn’t mean it can’t hurt you.”
I couldn’t think of anything witty or intelligent as a response. So, I stayed silent.
“I’ll get right to the point then,” the voice said. “I’m here to offer my help, Kelt.”
“I don’t need your help,” I said on reflex.
“Oh my, are you sure?” she asked. “You can speak for yourself, but what about your undead friend?”
The mention of my zombie companion halted any rebuke I was brewing.
“She’s running out of time. She won’t last the journey to the next town. Her body will fall to ruin and decay. Death is cruel to us all. Would be kind of a shame, really.”
I kept silent, waiting for her to continue.
“I happen to be a powerful being with some influence over Death’s touch. I can help. I can make her flame flicker with undeath. She would neither age nor decay under my care.”
“But that’s not all,” the voice said with a chuckle. “I know what you really want, Kelt. Revenge.”
The word sent a shiver through my body. I reacted to her goading. She was right. I wanted revenge. I wanted it more than anyone has ever wanted anything. I’d dunk my face into that boiling pot if I knew it help me get revenge.
“How?” I demanded. I felt a prick of shame at the desperation in my voice.
“You have the Gift within you, Kelt,” the voice whispered in an eerie tone. “You raised that zombie yourself. Death is a part of you. I will help you harness that power.
“And when the time comes, I will give you a legion of the dead to command. With it, you could strike down any mortal foe, be they man or monster. You can kill the one you hate the most.”
“This isn’t real,” I said, “This is just a vivid dream.”
“Believe what you want, look in the palm of your hand.”
I opened my right palm. A silver ring, set with an onyx gemstone greeted me. I furrowed my brow in confusion.
“Time to wake up.”
“Huh?” I asked.
“Wake up. Wake up. Wake up!”
I opened my eyes.
Light was now streaming in through the save entrance. I was still slumped against that lavish cave wall. I ignored the protests of my back and looked into my right palm. The silver and onyx ring glimmered in my palm, reflecting the sunlight. The ring’s presence in my palm stunned me. Partly in denial, my mouth just hung open as I stared at the ring.
“Quite a beauty isn’t it?” a familiar voice shocked me out of my appraisal.
My head whipped up, locating the source of the voice. I saw the Amazonian zombie leaning over my body, a wicked grin on her deathly face. Her eyes burned with ethereal flame. The zombie’s mouth moved and a familiar chuckle rattled out.
“You…can talk…?” I asked, being cautious.
The zombie’s face twisted into a pout, “Already forgot me? That hurts.”
She paused, waiting for my reaction. Whatever it was, it must have disappointed her. She sighed and continued speaking.
“No, the zombie cannot talk, not yet anyway. I am using her body as a proxy to visit you, since it’s a little more convincing than a dream. I told you I have command over the dead.”
I shrank myself against the cave wall, willing myself to sink through. This was far too deranged for me. My past crimes must have caught up with me, I thought. I figured all the shit I’d seen had made me snap, and this was how I began to crack. The zombie noticed my fear and grinned.
“Now, now, there’s no need for fear,” she said with a light touch. “I can make your wishes come true.”
She offered a pale hand to my slumped form. Against my better judgement, I accepted it. She assisted me in standing up, although it took little effort on her part. Once I was standing, she didn’t release my hand.
I felt my hand begin to tingle, and my shivering began to stop. I looked up at her face in confusion, only to notice that she was shrinking! No, my initial assumption was incorrect. She wasn’t shrinking, I was growing. I looked down at my body and saw the bones shift and lengthen. I saw the muscle rearrange and harden. I smiled with glee as I shed the form of a boy and took on the form of a man, my original form.
I flexed my free arm. I noticed how strong, how supple it felt. I brought my hand to my face. I could feel the features I had thought stolen from me years ago. Stubble, how much I had missed it! My face was strong, masculine. My fingers brushed against my angular features with glee. Even my disfigurement was gone. My fingers brushed away a few stray tears. I was whole again.
And then she released my hand.
And in an instant, I was a child once more. My renewed strength was gone. I looked up to the zombie with a cry of despair, like a child who’s lost his favorite toy.
She shook her head, a sad look in her eyes. “At my current level, all I can offer are comforting illusions, echoes of the past.”
She walked around me slowly. She got behind me, resting her hands on my shoulders. She leaned down and whispered into my ear.
“If you help me, Kelt, I can fix you. I was once very powerful. If you help me regain my dominion, then removing a curse is the least I could do for you.”
Her words sent a pleasant shiver down my spine.
“Tell me what I need to do,” I said. The words spilled from my mouth.
She spent near half an hour explaining the details of what she expected me to do. The tasks seemed simple, gruesome, but incomprehensible to me in their significance. I just nodded when expected to and listened. Her pitch had already sold me; there wasn’t any way I would be backing out now.
“Wait,” I said in a panic, “Before you go, what’s your name?”
She frowned for a bit before laughing, “Names are powerful, Kelt. I’ll tell you when the time comes, if you earn it.”
Having relayed all the relevant information, she left with a chaste kiss on the cheek. Like a puppet with the strings cut, the zombie slumped over onto the ground. Startled, I rushed over to help her up. Once I was over her, she opened her eyes and blinked at me in confusion. I noticed her eyes burned with much less intensity than before. I figured that meant she was no longer being used as a conduit.
I picked her up and dusted her off.
“Come on, you,” I said. “We’ve got some work to do.”
A few hours later, the zombie and I lay in the grass of the hill overlooking the camp below. Those dirty shit-skins were camped right where she had said they’d be. I figured them to be deserters from the main force that had stormed the village. I counted four of them. They were low in number and raucous and loud. The Drow don’t usually tolerate such behavior. I was lucky they were here; the little stray flies are easier to pick off.
We waited until the dark elves had drunk their fill and were most vulnerable. When a few of them started singing along in a drunken chorus, I knew it was time to strike. I whistled to the zombie and she lumbered behind me as I stood up. She wasn’t graceful, but neither was I. Stealth has never been my style.
We strode down the hill into the deserters’ camp. The zombie trampled with loud footsteps behind me. I had given her a sizable log to carry from the ruins of the Amazon village. I didn’t have any other weapon to give her. At any rate, I wasn’t sure she’d be useful in a fight. But I figured an Amazon swinging around a log is always good for intimidation.
I kicked over a pile of luggage as we approached the campfire. I wanted to make our presence known. The four dark elves gathered around the fire jumped in surprise. One of the more intoxicated ones fell over backwards. The most sober one shouted in surprise but reached for her sword. Too late.
I hefted a mighty down-ward swing with both hands. I buried my large sword into the torso of the first dark elf. The blade tore through her should and stopped center mass. Her battle cry died in her throat. I yanked the sword upwards, out of her chest and shoulder area.
Two more were on me right afterwards. They were both armed with daggers. I blocked their blows with the flat side of my enormous weapon. The zombie, not to be forgotten, slammed the two of them with a side-ways slice from the log. I guess she’d proved her usefulness.
The zombie’s attack hit both of them, but only one collapsed immediately. The other managed to stumble away and ready another attack. She rolled to my open side and thrust her dagger my way. If she were completely sober, she might have wounded me. In her current state, her attack was sloppy enough to dodge without trouble. I slammed her with my shoulder, knocking her to the ground. I plunged my sword quickly into her chest, ending her life.
I heard a thump as the zombie smashed what was left of the dark elf she’d wounded before. The only one that remained was the drunken one that had fallen out of her seat as we’d entered camp. I walked around to the opposite side of the campfire. Sure enough, there she was. She was crawling along the ground, desperate to get away. I rolled her over to her back. She looked up at me with tear-soaked eyes.
“Please,” she choked out, “Don’t kill me.”
I sighed and grabbed for the hunting knife at my side. I planned to kill her with a painless cut to the neck. The knife was barely out of its sheath when I froze. I heard the distinct sound of a bow being drawn. That was when I knew I had fucked up. There weren’t just four dark elves in this camp. There were five; four of them were drinking by the fire and the last one, likely the leader, had been sleeping in a tent.
The arrow hit me in the side, eliciting a painful gasp from me. I immediately fell to my knees, hands already clutching at the arrow shaft. Luckily, one of my ribs had stopped the arrow. The stinging pain led me to believe the blow had cracked the rib. I heard the bow being drawn once more. The drunken Drow underneath me wriggled and crawled away.
I looked up at my attacker, a few feet away. She had her notched arrow trained on me. There was no way I’d be able to avoid an arrow this close. I could blame my rotten luck or my incompetence, but I felt that surely this was the end of me.
A blur of flesh blew past me. Both the Drow archer and I turned to look at the source: a lumbering zombie Amazon in a full-on sprint. I wasn’t even aware she could run in her condition. The archer fired off her arrow in a panic. It buried itself in the flesh of the Amazon, who continued her charge unhindered.
There wasn’t enough time to ready another arrow. The archer stumbled backwards a few steps, but it was too late. The zombie was on her in a flash. She flattened the Drow with a single swing. The strength of an Amazon combined with a zombie is something to be feared, I learned. At that moment, I was glad I had brought her along.
I decided then to see to my wound. The arrow wasn’t deep and the rib had indeed stopped it. Still, pulling it out of me was the worst part. The adrenaline from fighting was quickly wearing off and the pain was coming to me. I knew I could handle it, though. I’d had worse, after all. The zombie stared at me with an odd look as I winced and struggled.
I bandaged up my wound as best I could, but I knew I would need stitches. That would have to wait until later, though. I had a task to do. I made the decision to allow the drunken elf to escape and not chase after her. After the archer wounded me, time was a valuable commodity. Besides, I could make do with four corpses, as I the original plan had called for.
I ordered the zombie to drag all the corpses together. I didn’t want to do any heavy lifting with my injury. Once she had gathered the bodies in a haphazard pile, my grim work began.
The instructions on how to kill the deserters were rather vague, open to interpretation. However, I had been given strict details on what to do with the corpses afterwards. The process was ritualistic.
First, I had to drain their blood. The easiest way to do that was to strip them naked, then hang them upside-down from their feet. I used rope I had brought with me and hung them from a nearby tree. All it took was one slit to their necks and gravity did all the work for me. Their blood streamed down from their necks, spilling onto the dirt and soaking the earth. I was grateful that I wasn’t required to collect the blood. I find it unpleasant.
After a period of around fifteen minutes, the exsanguination was complete. The worst part of the ritual was next. Using my borrowed sword, I dismembered the bloodless corpses. I cut off the heads, hands, feet, and all four limbs as close to the joint as I could. Of course, my crude tools and methods made the cuts sloppy. It’s not any easy task. Physically, cutting through sinew and bone can be difficult. Mentally, it was hard to keep going. Even if they aren’t human, that kind of work strips away your humanity. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever done, but I’m still not proud of it.
After I had cut the elves into pieces, then I had to arrange them into a grisly shrine. Luckily, this part was also described to me beforehand. I knew exactly what to construct. The torsos went in the middle. Surrounding them were the sixteen arms and legs, laid out radially from the torsos. On the edge of the circle of body parts were the hands and feet, alternating one then the other. The final design resembled a grotesque flower. The thought made me sick.
The next part of the process gave me some comfort. I was to burn the assortment. I poured lantern oil over the assorted body parts. I took a branch and lit it in the still-burning campfire. The arrangement went up in flames quickly. I felt relieved when the smoke and flames concealed the grisly truth. But, the smell of burnt flesh soon eroded that relief. The fact that it reminds one of cooking meat is quite unpleasant. I was unable to avoid retching.
A few minutes passed. The fire died out slowly, having consumed all its fuel. In its wake, it left the charred remains of the dismembered Drow corpses. I only had one step left to perform. I dung the silver and onyx ring out of my pocket. I flicked it with my thumb towards to the charred, steaming pile.
To my surprise, a skeletal hand burst out of one of the charred torsos. The strange appendage caught the ring mid-air. The ring slid in the bony ring finger as if attracted.
Once the ring was in place, another bony hand burst out of one of the torsos, joining the other. The bony palm reached down and pressed itself against the earth. It heaved, as if dragging the rest of its body from underneath the ground. A whirlwind of flesh obscured my vision. I had a vague impression of tendons and muscle attaching themselves to the skeletal arms. I had to turn away when the wind was too much to handle.
As I looked back towards the arrangement, my jaw dropped open. Standing among the charred remains was a tiny, naked girl. Although on closer inspection, her skin was pale, and her eyes glowed an otherworldly blue. We locked eyes and I shivered. I noticed she was floating a few inches off the ground.
With a smirk, she snapped her fingers and more bones rose up out of the ground. They meshed together to form a crude and gnarled throne. The girl leaned backwards, satisfied. She crossed her legs and rested her cheek on her knuckles.
I instinctively knew what she expected me to do.
I knelt in front of that strange, undead girl. I had just watched her crawl out of the charred bodies of those I had killed and mutilated. I was scared shitless of her. But more than that, I wanted her favor. She had something I wanted. Perhaps that can excuse my decision.
“My name is Makaria, daughter of Hades,” the girl spoke with a smile. I recognized the voice as the one from my dreams.
I lowered my head. I tried to ignore the thumping of my heart. I didn’t recognize either of the names she spoke, but obviously she was powerful.
“Kelt,” she said with a tinkling laugh, “You have done well. But your work is not yet over. Become my champion, my own little Prince of Darkness. ”
“I accept,” I said without hesitation. I had anticipated this outcome and had already made my decision.
She cooed appreciatively and uncrossed her legs. She extended her left hand, her onyx ring glittering. I understood the gesture as an invitation. I edged closer to her form on the throne somewhat hesitantly. She seemed to wait for me patiently. I took her palm in my hand, cringing at how cold it was. Despite the fact that she sat among charred and smoking remains, her touch was ice cold. I brought the back of her hand to my lips. I placed a gentle kiss there, hoping that would satisfy her.
“Good,” I heard her sigh. She crossed her legs again, “Rise, my champion. There’s work to be done.”