She woke in pain that wasn’t pain. Pain was a shout, a scream, bright light in your eyes. It demanded attention. This was not. This pain was more like someone tugging at your sleeve. Excuse me ma’am, you dropped something. No urgency, no cause for alarm. Just a thing.
Nevertheless, she was in pain. Her arm hurt, her leg, a hundred other places. She should be screaming in agony. She was calm. No, not quite. Perhaps… Vexed. Nice little word. Crisp, cold, clean. An objective measure of displeasure. The buzz of the vee, the sharpness of the ex, rounded out with a nice little dee. She said it out loud. “Vehcf.”
Mmm. She didn’t like that. In fact, it left her… Perturbed. Also, whatever she had been laying on- chilly, sticky, and bumpy- had begun to move. It was rather uncomfortable, though all the sensations were as disconnected as the pain. Also moving meant alive, thus possibly dangerous. She rolled off it and kept rolling as she went down a small slope. A chorus of moans trailed her.
Mysteriouser and mysteriouser. It seems she’d have to open her eyes. A shame, it was kind of nice to just lay there and rest. The first thing she saw was a body falling. It landed somewhere to her right with an odd splorch. She turned her head and saw a mountain of corpses. Many of them were wiggling and moaning, despite being in no condition where they should be wiggling.
Zombies. She hated zombies. Horrible things, they were ugly, smelly, and almost useless. They evolved into ghouls if you gave them enough negative energy, but then you had a ghoul and nobody wants that. Zombies were naturally horrible. Ghouls had refined their grossness.
One plus one equals…
She had woken up with a strange sense of pain. She could not pronounce vexed. She was on a pile of zombies. Therefor…
The zombie raised her hands and inspected them. Yep. Grey skin, black veins. No rot as yet, but that was only a matter of time. Or preservatives. She sighed. It came out as a gurgling moan. Horrible.
The ex-living lass propped her self up on an elbow and looked around. She was in an ancient crypt that was seeing new use. Aside from the large pile of dead there were a number of other zombies wandering around with the aimless shuffle of someone who has forgotten why they entered a room. Whenever one bumped into another they’d get into a comical little shoving match, then lose interest as soon as they lost contact.
In the center of the room was a sword laid atop an altar. A flamberge. It looked like an enlarged sacrificial dagger, complete with all the little embellishments. The hilt was carved with two snakes twined around each other, heads bent to bite at each other’s necks. Rather tasteless. It just screamed evil, and probably a betrayal fetish as well. The pommel was a skull, of course. The blade was made of bone and had a deep web of cracks.
Every few moments the eyesockets would flare and shoot out little darklight balls that sped into the pile of corpses and animated one of them. Whenever one of the zombies wandered too close they would screech and expel a cloud of darklight mist. Some would collapse into dust, others would stagger away visibly weaker.
So, an Artifact- she could tell by the way she could see every detail of it in dim light from thirty feet away- which created undead. The undead would grow stronger as their remaining lifeforce was converted into negative energy, then the blade would harvest that negative energy in order to heal itself and continue the cycle, so long as it had a ready supply of corpses. Which it did. Splorch.
Now that she understood what was happening, more or less, the undeadess flipped over to her front and crawled back to the pile. A moment of searching found a leg more or less severed and with a bit of elbow work and, unfortunately, a bit of gnawing, she managed to severe it entirely. Luckily for her, her sense of taste was as distant as her sense of pain. The zombie who had previously owned the limb tried to kick at her, but his other leg was broken as well. She ignored his weak flailings.
Using the leg as a crutch she tried to get to her feet and failed. Severed legs make poor crutches, she noted, due to the knee. Another gurgling sigh.
She rolled a few body lengths away from the pile into a place where she was unlikely to encounter any shamblers for a bit and then laboriously sat up. From the weakness all of her life-force hadn’t been converted yet. She didn’t have time to wait. The more negative energy in her body the faster she’d heal and she had to fix a few things first. She felt her leg with her good arm. Greenstick fracture. Good. She pulled it back into place. It’d be better to split it, but she had none.
The unliving lass checked her arm next. Complex compound fracture. Not good. It’d probably be better in the short term to lop the whole thing off and find an arm in better condition, but she was a bit attached. She giggled at the pun. Or gurgled. Horrible. She’d have to drain her lungs. Or maybe remove them entirely.
Pros and cons, professionals and conmen. Professional conmen, on occasion. Cons: (Un)dead weight, rottables, horrible noises. Pros: Could potentially breathe clouds of diseased air in the future, she was emotionally and physically attached to her body, very small chance of potentially being able to speak in the future. Vehcf didn’t count. Speak INTELLIGABLY, thank you.
She did not want to breathe clouds of diseased air, she’d get over it, and more undead could speak without lungs than with lungs. Out they went. Eventually. She imagined it was difficult to reach into your own ribcage. The angles didn’t work.
What she could do right now was pop back into place everything that could be popped into place. She wasn’t entirely successful. She’d have to rebreak and reattach a dozen things once she got some proper tools.
The living dead girl scooched her way back to the pile of zombies and looked for the most helpless one. A snapping head with the arms pinned below it, check. She used the leg to bash its skull in. A wisp of darklight floated out and began to flow towards the sword. A soul, emptied by death and filled with negative energy. She grabbed it and popped it into her mouth. Tingly.
Undead could absorb negative energy with every part of their body but most preferred the pretense of eating. She found another helpless one and this time she tried to snort it. This was also tingly, but in her head instead of her belly. Why the head? She tried to sniff. Ah. Nose clogged. Horrible. She decided that she’d get rid of her flesh entirely. Well…
Third redeaded undead. This time she pressed the negative energy against a breast. Entirely disappointing. The tingle was the same, just in a different spot. Bother. Undead had no sexuality- except vampires, but they were barely undead- plus some ghosts- and… Most undead had no sexuality, but hope sprang eternal. Alas, alas.
The fourth she applied directly to her broken leg because she was tired of shuffling around on her ass trying not to jostle it. Then the fifth and the sixth. Finally she was able to stand. She celebrated by kicking a zombie in the head until it fell off. It was fun. Then she got down to the drudgework of sorting through bodies to find one with a knife. It was somewhat difficult, most of them were naked, but then she spotted one wearing a robe. Like the robe SHE was wearing. He had a knife! Two of them. One in his hand and one in his back.
She patted her own back and after a moment found a wound. Hmm. Betrayed. Literally backstabbed. She glanced at the sword and its twin snakes. Who the hell would join a cult based around betrayal? Her, apparently. That seemed unlike her. She tried to remember why.
Post-mortem amnesia. Not unusual. Most never recovered. Name? Nothing. She patted her body. She found her own knife, of fucking course, and a belt-pouch. Bunch of coins and some knucklebones. She cast them. One and a three. Eh. She felt she cast them wrong. She picked them up and tried again, rolling them in her palm and tossing at just the right moment. Three and a four. That was better!
She liked to play dice and she liked to cheat. And had shitty taste in cults. And knew a whole lot about undead. Good enough.
Her name was Knucklebones now. Kb for short.
Kb put her dice away and then took her robes off, tossing them aside. As they fell to the ground she noted the symbol on the back- five stars forming a crown above a skull. Hmm. Anyways, her body was short and somewhat squat, trim all over and with nice skin, despite the grey and black. She had a surgeon's fingers, long and delicate, and neatly trimmed nails. She touched her head- her hair was short and unruly.
Her belly did have a bit of a pudge. Kb thought it was kinda cute, but that didn’t stop her from slitting it open. She put the knife back in her belt and began rooting around inside herself, tearing out everything she could grab. Once she had enough room she shoved the knife in her chest cavity and began cutting around until she got the bronchus, then let her lungs fall out. No more horrible gurgles! Her unlife was looking up already.
By the time she was done her fellow cultist had begun to stir. She seemed to be the only intelligent one around here, but if any of them had retained a functional soul it’d probably be another cultist. She crouched down in front of him and waved. He stared through her. Kb pointed at him. No response. She poked him in the eye. He flailed around but then calmed down soon after. Urgh. She tried to sigh and failed, then stood again. She’d leave him alone for now. It’d be a waste to rekill him before he converted all his life force.
Kb turned around and immediately bumped into another zombie which tried to shove her away. She decked him. Hit him so hard he spun before falling! Nice! She kneeled on the wretches back and grabbed him by the hair, lifting his head and slamming it into the ground until the negative essence imbued soul spilled out. She took it and swallowed it again. She lacked a tummy this time so it didn’t tingle there- instead it spread through her entire body. Her heart gave a single lazy thump, making gouts of blood spatter from her stomach.
No good. Not the blood, that was no big deal, the heart. A working heart was a good tool and a worse weakness for an undead. Look at vampires! Stakes, running water, sunlight was a common weakness for the undead but the heart just made it worse. Ghouls too. Half-dead corpse nibblers. She’d keep her blood on the outside like Hades intended, thank you. She cut out her heart. Splorch.
That was another corpse landing on the pile.
...It sounded really dramatic, but the heart just pumped blood. It didn’t affect the soul. Now removing the brain of a sentient undead- that made them one-note. The last emotion they felt was the only emotion they felt, forever. Or until someone poofed them before they were constantly crying or on a permanent vengeful kick or just really grumpy and obnoxious the entire always.
Brain, keeper. Skin, eh, keeper. Muscles? Keeper. You could go without, but skeletons were vulnerable to disruption. Tongue, keeper. She could taste things if she poured enough power into it. Groin? Keeper. Unless it turned unruly on her. Nothing that gave birth while dead was something she wanted to be. Eyes? Eh, sure. Those who saw only spiritually were blind to things without mana.
She squeezed the heart dry and then tucked it in her pouch. Could be useful. Metaphorically potent. Good for phylacteries and crap. She wouldn’t make one of those, she’d prefer to live her unlife with a relatively full emotional range and that didn’t happen if you let your body- and thus brain, the first time- get blown up constantly, but there were plenty of bound items that could be made that represented you without holding your mortality.
Important decisions made she decided to clean up the chamber as she pulled her robe back on. All the wandering undead first, both for their negative energy and to spite the sword. She’d been killed to empower it, fuck that thing. She walked up behind a clueless zombie and severed its spine with a single strike.
Boring. Cracking the skull open with the pommel was kinda satisfying, though. Still… She considered as she ate the soul.
Next one she snuck up on- not like it’d notice either way, but it was the spirit of the thing- and grabbed it by the face before slicing its neck. Difficult, her right arm was stiff as hell from the badly healed fracture. Then stabbed it in the ribs a few times for good measure. Also the heart and lungs when she got through the ribs. It was hard, that’s literally what the ribs are there to prevent.
Nothing. It clawed at her arm and she let the thing go, bleeding all over but unharmed. By zombie standards. She’d done it just like she was killing a living person and didn’t get a kick out of it. Ugh. By now it had turned to face her so she sheathed her knife back in her belt and walked up to snap its neck. This didn’t kill it either, but it brought a smile to her face and made it stop moving.
Hmm. She stomped on its head. Crunch. Nice. She stomped on the soul too, making her foot tingle as it was strengthened. Next. Kick him in the knee, punch him in the face, grab his head and brace her foot on his shoulders and TEAR the damn thing off. NICE. She was getting into it.
Also annoying the sword. It was radiating waves of sleepy antipathy at her. ‘Stop that, you foul thing.’ Oooh, telepathy. She blew a raspberry at it, then pulled the skull apart- fingers through the eyesockets!- and crushed a soul with her bare hand. She threw the remains of the skull at the sword, knocking it back a little before the skull dissolved into dust.
‘DESIST’ the sword Commanded her. Kb flipped it off, then ran off and hit a zombie with a jump-kick. Sweet as hell, even if she landed on her ass. The leg she healed had more negative energy it in so she used that one to try and kick the head off. Not quite- broke the neck tho. Stomp and try a new thing- she inhaled with lungs she no longer had. The soul wavered toward her, but ultimately floated towards the sword. She’d have to try it again when he was out of the picture. She popped it in her mouth manually.
The sword was getting angrier. The snakes writhed in pain and the eyesockets flared with darklight, darker and darker as it prepared something. She cut off the head of the zombie with her knife and tossed it at the sword. Missed. Hand, miss, hand, hit, foot, hit, foot, miss. Dick? Nah. Nahhh. She liked those sometimes. She liked hands too, but once a lady started chopping off dicks… The eyes were still gathering energy.
She beheaded the next zombie without playing around and toss it at the sword. This hit and was finally enough to push it off the alter. ‘PROFANE THING!’ Darklight beams burst upward and carved a huge hole in the ceiling. Kb laughed. ‘HOW DARE YOU MOCK ME? I am the Blade of Betrayal, I-’’ It whined. Kb went back to grab the zombie cultist. It was still weak and could barely struggle against her grip as she pointed out the dagger in his hand and the dagger in his back.
‘Betrayers get betrayed, fool. If you’re so great why are you down here with a broken ass blade?’ She thought at BB as loud as she could. He screeched in rage and a ripple of darklight energy spread through the chamber, doing nothing but shaking the dust off the walls. Kb laughed silently, disposing of the cultist zombie as she did.
After that little tantrum the voice in her head was barely a whisper as she took out the rest of the undead in increasingly creative ways. She suplexed a few, picked one up by the feet and tossed her into the wall, hit one with a running lariat. All good fun! The souls barely even floated towards BB anymore.
Had one of them evolved into a ghoul they could have crushed her, but had one evolved into a ghoul she’d have been eaten before she woke up.
She ran out all too soon and had to turn to the pile. That was just drudgery. She went from the bottom, dragging zombies out, harvesting them, then dumping them in a second pile. By the time she was done her skin had darkened from gainsboro to a light grey. Her hands and feet were a dull silver from the souls she had crushed instead of eaten. The last few, the ones who hadn’t had a chance to get raised by BB, had much tastier souls but they gave me no immediate increase in strength, nurturing my own soul instead. They also had life force which she tried to suck out, largely unsuccessfully.
Tastes like water, but congealed like fat. If she’d kept her digestive system she could have just eaten them, but she wasn’t about that life. Corpsemunchers had no friends.
‘Later, BB! Try not to waste any more neg before they start feeding you again-your glorious shaft might just shatter! Here’s a tip- betraying people is easier if you don’t tell them your fucking title. Name. Bitch.’ His screaming was like the whine of a mosquito in her ear. Beautiful. Well, irritating but also satisfying.
She smiled as she began to climb the walls of the pit. Kb was already slightly superhuman, her fingers dug into the dirt like wet clay, but held her weight as she hauled her way up. She could explore the crypt, but smart people didn’t explore ancient crypts. Besides, revenge was up there. Maybe.