Silhouettes move around behind the windows of the cabin as the hero-party gathers inside and collects themselves to listen to the sad tale the graveyard-keeper has to tell. It is like a theater of shadow puppets, which we watch through the golden windows from far away out here in the shelter of the cold forest as the graveyard-keeper begins telling their story. We can’t hear it out here this far away, but we all know it well and we watch entranced as the shadow of the old man moves and sways, his arms gesticulating to create the imagery of all manner of horrible creatures of the night. Several times the shadows move on the other side, as if the hero-party was reacting to his tale. One shadow in particular seems to be more afraid than the rest and fidgets uncomfortably.
We wait in lour for our chance, for the escort quest to begin and for the old man to leave his house, the hero-party tightly encircling him to keep him safe from our clawing hands. They don’t know that we are here, but he does. He always knew, he always felt with every creeping night after it had happened; he felt us. Our presence in the forest when the world turned dark, feral spirits floating around him to ask that question. That question that separates him from us. Why aren’t you dead yet? Die. Die. You need to die so that we can sleep. So that it can be quiet. So that it can be right. Why won’t you die?
There is a hunger in my mind, a craving to make it quiet. To kill so that it can be quiet. The graveyard-keeper is a good man, but he needs to be quiet for the sake of us all. For the sake of the dead-light it must be silent now so that we don’t have to remember anymore.
All I hear is another deep sigh ring out next to me. I opt to just ask my question.
“Are we in the wrong here?”
“What?” he asks annoyed.
“You know? Us? Are we being dumb?” I ask my friend.
“What? Why would you think that Miika, you idiot,” asks the rotting man next to me as he shakes his head again. Something snaps in his neck as he does so.
“Well… we’re going to kill them, yes? Tear them apart so that we can go back to sleep?” I ask.
“Yes. So?” responds Piotr dryly.
“Isn’t that dumb?” I ask, repeating my question.
“What? Miika please, I can’t even… ugh.”
“Hear me out Piotr, okay? We want to go back to sleep, yes?”
“Yes. Obviously, Miika. I don’t want to live like this. Look at me!”
“Well… why don’t we just let them pass?” I ask.
“Why don’t we just let them pass,” I repeat. “The old man. If we let him pass, he’ll break the crystal and stop the dead-light, right?”
“Yeah?” says Piotr.
“And then we’ll die and we can sleep, yes?” I expand.
“Yeah?” he repeats.
“So the result will be the same, but we won’t have blood on our hands? Yes?”
“Will you please just finally shut up, you know that isn’t how this works, you know that isn’t even what this is really about,” says the zombie. As if to emphasize this, the dead-light pulls us forward to get ready for the first ambush. Even if I don’t really want to in a sense, the strings that burrow through me, the worms that spasm my muscles; they make me. I have some control, likely more than the others do over their own unbodies. But not full control. I am a marionette that dances to the whistle of the dead winds.
The warm light that streaks through the windows goes out, leaving only the last puff of smoke to rise out of the chimney before dissipating. A door is heard on the other side and then they come into vision.
“Besides Miika, you know why we are here. Why we are here without our families,” says a somber groan from behind us. I turn my head to look at Dmitr who has come from the shadows. I look at the man who is missing an entire segment of his chest, blown out by a hunk of stone that was shot through him by the explosion of a nearby fireball. I remember seeing it happen. Looking at his hollow eyes I then turn my head to scan the forest and then I realize what I see, understanding now for the first time in my new role as this body.
There are no children here, no women, no loved ones. It is just us, just the men. The dungeon doesn’t care for such discriminations, everyone’s blood as is as good as anyone else’s. But the dead-light, the crystal does. It is made of us, after all. Of our hallowed urges and screams to protect our families and keep them safe from the horror of battle and destruction. Even in our dying wishes, even in the nothingness of death, that cry lived on. It twisted and turned and conspired that selfish wish into the thing that it is now. A bundle of wretched whispers hissing of revenge and anguish. This is the gift the dead-light gives us in return for birthing it, it has let us rise once more so that our families may sleep on in peace. A second chance to redeem ourselves for failing the first time.
I stare up at the hill, turning away from my friends. I never got married like they did, I was always too busy goofing off. Back then I said I was just having fun living, but the truth is I think I was always just too scared to commit to anything. So I shielded myself with humor. If I laugh a lot, if I make others laugh, then they won’t question me. Then I won’t question myself. Everything is fine. The irony, I suppose, is that I am here nonetheless. That I am standing here with the rest of them now anyways. I suppose the truth is, I just hate them as much as they do too, I think as I look at the six silhouettes coming around the house.
It’s their fault. It’s their fault none of us got to keep living, their fault we are here as these horrible creations of the darkness. After all of our attempts to build a safe place, a hidden place, a small village where we could live in peace, following our own codex and ways. After all of that, they still came for it, they still came for us and they killed us all.
That’s what heroes do, after all. They kill.
The dead-light pulls us forward as the first wave commences, as we break from the tree-line and charge towards the group of adventurers with hate in our gazes.