Midday sun did little to brighten the foggy hillocks between Thrallen and Cledford. Dark clouds still roiled overhead to the distant rumbles of thunder. They cast a pall over the land, where everything seemed a dismal shade of gray. More mud than grass, the ground looked as if it had been trampled by countless boots at one time. Scattered and broken palisades were spread across what remained of earthen ramparts lost to weather. Whatever battle had taken place between men and the undead, it left marks upon the land like the notes of a chilling story.
The field continued far to the east into heavy mist and a tall, crenelated stone wall. Knights patrolled on horse along the outskirts, blue livery over their armor, lances held high. Pikemen in leather stood watch at either side of an iron portcullis, while archers leaned on their longbows behind the parapet above. Even at this distance, Eric could see and feel the glow of each of their essences, more orange than red and shot through with charges of silver-blue.
Hunger clawed him from within.
“Their cemetery,” Griz said and pointed southeast to a copse of leafless trees, “is over there, master. Perhaps it would be best if we remained unseen for the time being.” He relied heavily upon his staff as they walked along the road. “At least until we’ve buried the girl and are rejoined by the others.”
Eric could’ve walked up to the gate, delivered the girl to her father’s men, but he felt obligated to bury her himself. Besides, he doubted they’d listen to what he had to say. He didn’t want to fight them, had no intention of killing humans. Given his appearance, though, he had little doubt they’d attack. He left the road and headed toward the cemetery, careful not to be seen – well, as careful as a fifteen foot metal monster could be. While he was still somewhat distraught over Ella’s death, another pestering thought kept needling its way to the front.
“I had two transformations,” he told Griz, “after I… after Tragona died.”
“Excellent, master,” the shaman said. He gauged the golem body with his good eye. “What did you choose?”
Eric was quiet for a moment, his feet making sucking noises in the mud. Rain began to fall as the iron fence around the cemetery came into view off in the distance. It was south of the walled keep, away from patrols.
“I wanted to be human.”
“Ahh,” Griz said. “I see. And what happened?”
“That’s just it. Nothing happened!” Eric replied in anger. He wanted to make a fist but held Ella in both hands. “I spent two transformations on nothing.”
The shaman considered. “Perhaps not, master. When your glyph evolves, it grows larger to compensate. You grow larger. You say you underwent two transformations, but I see no change in size.”
“So I got screwed. I wished for the impossible, and now I’m shit outta luck. For fuck’s sake!” Eric fumed. “I could’ve used those changes, to be faster, metal claws, rocket boots… Literally anything would’ve been better than nothing.”
“The golem is bound to your spirit,” Griz explained. “Nothing is impossible, master. Highly improbable, yes, but not beyond the realm of possibility. I think what you desired couldn’t be done in so short a time. I can no longer see your runes, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say they were reduced in size to make room for future changes.”
Eric wasn’t convinced. He certainly still wasn’t happy about it. It did make him slightly less pissed off to think the transformations hadn’t been wasted.
They entered the cemetery through a stone archway with carved statues of robed figures on either side. Eric was forced to duck as he passed through or smash the stonework with his head. There were dozens of graves, with each headstone done in marble or granite and inscribed with delicate artistry. One among them was larger, at the center, with a fresh white flower across its top. It belonged to Marjory Sebran and had unclaimed plots on either side.
Eric knelt beside the blank headstone on its right and began clawing a deep enough space for Ella with one hand. He refused to put her down in the mud. Griz did what he could to help, digging with one end of his staff. His time might’ve been better spent keeping watch.
A guard came upon them from the north. He was carrying a handkerchief full of cornbread and little slices of cheese and apple. Head down, stuffing his face with stolen food from the pantry, he didn’t see either until he was nearly upon them. He yelped and dropped his food, fumbled for the sword at his belt. Eric looked back over a shoulder but continued to dig.
Dude comes face to face with a giant robot, and his first thought is to stick his dick in its face?
Griz moved behind the headstone, used it as a shield and held his staff out toward the guard.
“Be gone,” the man shouted, crumbs falling from his mouth, “evil spirit!” He did finally manage to pull free the sword, though.
Eric sighed and stood, faced the guard still holding Ella. The man’s eyes were wild with fear beneath the hood of a wet cloak. He wore a leather vest over a white shirt and knee-high black boots with frayed soles. There were so many laces, up the vest, along each bracer, even the shirt, that it looked like he’d spent half an hour getting dressed.
“Look, Ren Faire,” Eric warned, “I don’t have time for your shit. Unclench, turn around and walk the fuck away.” The guard stared back, his blade shaking. Eric added, “Or I’ll make you eat that sword.”
The man wiped rain from his eyes and looked closer at Ella. “Is that the lady –”
Griz fired a bolt of lightning at his chest.
The guard let out a short shriek, frozen in place, and fell over onto his back like a board.
“Aww, wut!” Eric looked back at the deadly muppet. “Did you kill him?”
Griz shrugged. “I thought he might alert the others to our presence.”
The guard groaned. Smoke rose from off his chest into the rain.
“Oh. Good,” Eric said. “Leave him for now. Let’s just finish this and go.”
They finished digging a decent enough hole, just a few feet deep, and placed Ella inside. He didn’t cover her with dirt, because he figured her father would just dig her right back up. Whether to verify it was her or to see his daughter one last time, the result would be the same. Eric didn’t want her to be disrespected like that.
“Let’s go,” he said and started back toward Thrallen. “You should get everyone ready to deal with Sebran. He’s going to show up sooner or later looking for answers. My guess is sooner.”
The shaman was quiet with his own thoughts for a short while as they walked.
“Master,” he asked hesitantly, “is there a reason you didn’t want to kill the guard?”
“Yeah. The fantasy’s been fun, but I don’t want to kill people. I’m not a murderer. I don’t need shit like that in my head, playing over and over like a not safe for life video.”
“I see.” From his tone it was clear he didn’t. “What about dwarves? Or elves? Gnomes? Avoiding the humans won’t be easy, but there are many other races –”
“Those are people, too.”
“Are we people, master? Goblins, I mean.” He added, “I don’t mean to sound sensitive. I’m just looking for clarity.”
“Where I come from, you’re monsters,” Eric replied, gave it some thought, “but after talking to you and some of the others, I’m not so sure. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still pissed at what you did to me, and most of you are beyond the short bus. Looks aside, though” he said and made a noise as if weighing the idea in imaginary hands, “I guess you’re people, too.”
“It will be difficult, master, to conquer the world,” the shaman said, “without killing those you consider people. Defeating monsters will help you grow strong, but in the end, it helps neither of us reach our goals.”
“Probably should’ve thought of that before you stuck me in your killer robot. You would’ve been better off with a sociopath. Ya know, someone who doesn’t give a shit about anyone but themselves.”
“We did, master,” Griz said, “and we chose carefully. There may have been a mistake in the casting, but the soul we settled on derived great pleasure in tormenting others. He stalked the weak, attacked from stealth, took countless lives without a thought.”
Eric laughed. Sounds me playing my rogue – He stopped and faced the shaman.
“Dude! I am not my Warbones character. That’s just a game! It isn’t real.” Eric fumed. “Un-fucking-believable! You ruined my life because I like pvp? That’s just great. I guess I should be thankful I wasn’t on a roleplay server. Who knows what fucked up rules you would’ve put on this thing,” Eric said and banged his hollow chest. He began to mimic people LARPing like lords and ladies with excessive bowing and a terrible British accent. “Oh no, after you, milord. Right this way, milady.” He kicked and punched at nothing like a child mid-tantrum. “Fuck!”
“I can see you’re upset, master.” Griz did his best to stay clear while also trying to calm him. “It may not have been real, as you say, but the lives you affected, the misery you inflicted, the sense of purpose and joy you garnered from it all… that was very real. We could sense it across realms. I can understand your hesitance to take the life of another human, or anyone you see as people, but master, they will not look upon you the same way or give you the same consideration. They will see you as they see us, as monsters to be destroyed.”
Eric was slowly settling down, his growls more like heavy breathing than the outburst of murderous anger. It’s just a game. The thought repeated itself in his mind, as he recalled how many times he’d ganked new players for the fun of it. It doesn’t make me a bad person.
One thing was clear. He looked like a monster. If he didn’t plan on finding all the ingredients and doing all it took to be human again, what was the point of going on? What was he supposed to do now? He could kill more monsters in the hope that the golem could become human – or some magical approximation of it. Would that be good enough for him? Could he live in this shitty world? How long would that take? Could they send him back home if he had a magical body?
“Fuck,” Eric said, defeated before he even started.