Life. How do you define it? Does it require breath? Does it have to be warm to the touch? When you prick it, should it bleed? I believe not. I was once possessed of such qualities, but no longer.
I was once a woman, skin freckled from the sun, amply endowed, amply fed, too. I spent the large part of my days tending to the needs of my widowed mother, and my nights tending to the sorrows and triumphs of those that frequented the inn I worked at. Plump, rosy cheeked, hair dark as the starless night, I was alive.
New days came, fall leaves were covered by winter snows, and spring sunshine melted the snows, filling rivers and lakes. Summer growing seasons yielded to bountiful fall harvests. That is, until the year of the Scourge. Our grain silos infected with a virulent plague, our villagers, too sick to fight, succumbed to the will of Malganis, and lost their own. I was one of them, conscious only of what my new king wished of me, for more time than I care to remember.
One day, as I dined on yet another of the dead, I looked at the hand in my own, and saw, though mine was withered, that they were the same. Appetite lost, I shambled off after the others, sorting through this revelation. Over the next few weeks, things long forgotten revisited my memory, bringing me a sense of self I hadn’t felt in a long time. I fought to remember more, all the while doing less of my king’s bidding. I grew angry, even bitter. I wanted revenge! I looked to the others, hoping perhaps to find someone else like me, but they all seemed engrossed in their daily rituals. None would notice my departure, it seemed, so blatantly, I walked away from the group, and out into the world.
Half a day away from my oppressor and my kin, I found a small cottage. Needing to see what was left of me, I entered, not caring if anyone was there. I tripped over a floor rug as I walked to the back and what looked like a sleeping area. Over a small chest of drawers there was the mirror I had hoped to find, and I shuffled in front of it, looking up to see who I was. The freckles faded, the rose had fled from my cheeks. In their place was a slightly green face pocked with holes. Hair, once the color of midnight, was now muddy and grey, shorn raggedly to just above the shoulders. Once chubby cheeks were now sunken, and once fat and healthy body was now unhealthily thin. I noted the odd curve of my spine, remembering that I had to look up to see my image in the mirror. The name I used before seemed unfit for me, but there seemed no reason to dig another up. I moved to leave the cottage, but not before someone else decided to enter. They screamed, in words I didn’t understand. I picked a few sounds from their anxious cries, as I slowly left their house.
La Luz proteja!
They didn't follow. I don't think I would have cared if they had. I kept walking. Midday gave way to dusk, dusk surrendered to the night. I felt no hunger, was neither hot or cold, and did not tire, so I kept walking. There was no reason to walk, yet there was no reason to stop. The dawn broke over the horizon, and I found myself walking though a cemetery. I fancied some of my kin might have been lucky enough to be buried in a place such as this, not wandering, consuming their neighbors, clearing the way for Malganis. I thought maybe it might be nice to have a nice patch of grass waving over my head, with some nice saying on my headstone.
"Here lies Bella
she poured a mean mug of ale
and was kind to old women
Light keep her soul"
Shaking my head to clear other bad ideas for headstones out, I continued walking through the graveyard, stopping to look at a stone here, poke my head into a mausoleum there. The place was overgrown with rose vines and wildflowers. I tripped over a broken stone, and noticed that the grave it belonged to had been...vacated? The pine box was there, the lid broken and thrown aside. I walked away, noticing more stones fallen or broken with similar holes under them. I looked up, as my view naturally cast toward the ground, and found I was nearing the edge of the cemetery, and there looked to be a town a little further down the road. I craved company, and though I was sure to get the same reaction as I got from the people in the cottage, I felt I had to see this town. I stepped through a broken patch in the fence and walked on.
The town had an abandoned air about it. It was midday, and there should have been some sort of marketplace operating, children running around the ware traders carts, villagers striking deals and packing up purchases. There was no such thing going on here. I noted that no horses were stabled as I looked to my right at the bit of tack that jingled and caught my ear. To my left was the town hall, usually bustling with the local busybodies, silent on the outside. I decided to walk in, to see if anyone was there. The entry hall was empty, as was the small library alcove that led to the main meeting room. Inside the meeting room, the benches looked to be empty, as was the podium. I watched as a page from a ledger blew over, then returned, blocked by a large quill. I walked down the center aisle toward the podium. Facing the benches, I looked into the ledger on the podium. It was a list of names and towns. Some names had no surname, some had no town, some sounded absurd, even made up. None of the names were familiar to me, and as I wondered silently what this list was for, I looked out onto the audience area. There was a crumpled heap of clothing on the second pew. I looked down at mine, seeing for the first time how little was left of the shift I once wore. I decided to see if the clothing was useful. As I reached for the collar of the shirt, the heap took form and sat upright. This, thing, as I hesitate to use the term person, has a purplish caste to what was left of his skin, and what hair was left was gathered into short spikes. A leather strap held most of his face together, and his elbows and knees had worn through his clothing. The collar I had reached for was his shirt, which was under a crudely stitched leather vest, topping a pair of equally crude leather pants. His feet has lost all of their skin, and were without shoes. He coughed, then made to speak.
"New here, aren't you?" He stood up, as stooped as I was, and walked toward the ledger. "Name, family name, profession, and hometown, please."
I choked. Bella was no more than a happy memory of times past. Andorhal, Stratholme, Hearthglen were all just dots on the map, and made no difference to me anymore. I remembered back to the shouts from the two in the cottage. "Delgada is my name, no surname."
"Alright, then, Delgada, where do you hail from?" His hand poised with the quill waited for her reply.
"I can't remember.", I lied.
"Fair enough, I'm sure they had you filled with enough of that plague to scramble your circuits. What can you do? We're trying to build a community here, and we can use anything you have."
"I have no idea what I used to do. I'm sure if you have someone here that can train me, I can learn about anything.", I hoped aloud as I lied. What good is a bartender to a town full of things that don't need food or drink?
"We have a few who remember their past well enough to train. Here, let me take you to the inn. They're all kind of waiting for a reason to do something, and you look like good enough reason to me."
I followed the roguish character to their inn, and was surprised to see a nice crowd starting. I looked up, but saw none I recognized. Not surprising, really, as I hadn't recognized myself when I saw my own reflection.
"We have a newly risen mage, a warrior, a priest, a warlock, and the rogue, of course." He smiled and bowed at me, grinning a somewhat toothless grin as he straightened. "My name is Umbrage. The others may or may not reveal their names. We have trainers for tailoring, mining, smithing, leatherworking, skinning, and for herbalism, achemy, and cooking, though I honestly have no clue what you'd need to know THAT for." He waved me toward the small crowd at the bar."Some still drink, and for those who have lost the parts to keep it in, some still have to clean. Welcome to Brill."
He was gone too fast for me to protest. I found a seat near the bar, to listen in on the locals banter, and to think about my new path. I could be ANYTHING I wanted to be. No more was I restricted to caring for an elderly widow. I remembered back to the screams of the peasants.
"La luz proteja!"
Proteja sounds like protect. The town I came from, as the Scourge were at our heels, heard many shouts of, "Light save us!" Perhaps that is what dug me out of my mindless servitude. Light! I would serve what lifted me out. I looked around for a priestly looking figure. Who was I kidding? We're all dead here, sort of. I bellied up to the bar.
"What can I getcha, kid?", the bartender asked as I sat down. I thought for a minute, and realized nothing sounded good.
"Just need to be pointed toward the priest trainer, please."
"Father Bartholomew is upstairs in one of the guest rooms. I really doubt he was ever more than a choir boy, but who am I to judge? ". The bartender polished a glass and put it away under the counter.
I headed up the stairs to a new future. Perhaps this sort of life is not so bad, after all...