Okay, here’s my SEVENTH story for the game. (Seven? Really? Wow…)
“Now, next time you think about climbing trees, you be careful, okay? It might be more than just a skinned knee - your mama wouldn’t want you getting hurt.” The beautiful, dark haired woman smiled and kissed the little girl’s knee, before looking up at her mother. “Kids and trees,” she said, “we could move the earth, we couldn’t keep them apart.”
“You were a tomboy once too, Sabina,” the little girl’s mother replied, “I used to watch you up a tree or jumping a brook, same as any child.”
“Well, true enough, Flores,” Sabina relented. She stood up and dusted her skirt off. “Now look at me - potions and bandages and salves - its, my healing is a calling, a need. Do you know?” "
“I do! I’ve seen it in you. It’s your power, girl. And everybody in Merewood Village wants you to be their doctor, Sabina. You have a natural gift for healing. Everyone from sea to sky knows it.” Flores waved her hand to show the extent of Sabina’s reputation.
Sabina blushed and gave a slight nod. "So they say. Me, I just use the gifts I was given. I couldn’t grow a potato if my life depended on it, but I can heal. So I heal."
She gave the girl and her mother a brief hug, then ducked out of the small hut. She paused to admire the view from Merewood - rolling hills and plains down to the sea, Rathwood to the east and the Corellian mountains to the west. She’d lived in Merewood her whole life, and never got tired of it.
A werk later, a regiment of soldiers passing through Merewood turned her mind to greater things than potatoes and skinned knees. She saw men with battle scars, some with magically induced injuries, sword wounds and damaged limbs. There was a war brewing, she was told, between the soldiers and heroes of the Stronghold and forces following a darker purpose.
“Flores…do you think they need a healer?” Sabina wondered. She watched as two men helped another to his feet, using a spear as a walking stick.
"They’re soldiers. Soldiers always need a healer. Kids and trees? Soldiers and healers. Yes, Sabina, you should go. You - Sabina, healing is a magical thing for you. I’ve seen it in your eyes. Merewood has…what, a few farmers, old men. Children with skinned knees. You need more than this, you, you’re too skilled - and too beautiful - for this little nowhere village anyway."
Sabina curtsied and blushed slightly, and went to gather some supplies. And when the regiment left the following morning, Sabina the healer went with them, her eyes on the future.
Three days later, the regiment was camped near a small town, where the ravages of war had left a cemetery larger than the town itself. Sabina gave herself time to offer healing to the locals, with the regiment captain’s consent.
A young man, scarred across the face, had asked if she could heal his father. The older man had been attacked by ghouls, and the necrotic tissue was spreading across his body like a plague.
“Oh, I … this may be beyond my skill,” she said quietly. “Scrapes, broken bones, bad food, those I know. This…” she let the words trail off.
“Please, girl,” the old man gasped, “I don’t have much ti…”
Sabina had worked with living patients, taking their hurts away. She had seen the effect of her magic as wounds closed beneath her touch. And she had seen death, seen the pallid skin and milky white unseeing gaze in a dead man’s eyes. But she had never seen death take hold of a person in mid-sentence, and especially not when they continue talking!
“… time…” His voice had transitioned from a raspy rattle to a leathery, sinister hiss, and his clawlike hand gripped her wrist. “time… time to die, little girl…”
The old man, no longer crippled by illness, clambered slowly to his feet, his unseeing eyes fixed on Sabina’s porcelain-beautiful face. He clawed at the air between them, a broken fingernail snagging her hair. She twisted away from his grasp, gagging at the thought of his now-dead - yet living - touch. Her knee briefly buckled and his necrotic hand caught her shoulder, tearing skin. She felt a brief cold, dark fire at his touch, then spun away.
“I - I’m sorry, I … can’t help you! I just…” she gave up talking and ran blindly, back toward the regiment.
Over the next few days her shoulder felt increasingly numb, and she considered letting the Captain know she had to return home. But she kept her resolve and stuck it out, determined to serve as the company’s prime healer.
On the fourth morning of the second week after the attack, Sabina woke to a group of soldiers gathered around her bed. Her mind thought briefly of the rumors of soldiers taking village girls as playthings, but she pushed the notion aside. She tried to sit up, but felt strangely numb. She tried to speak,but had no air to fill her lungs. Sabina wondered how bad the wound had gotten - her best attempts had been unsuccessful - when the Captain’s words caught her off-guard.
“Poor thing. Fine healer, one of our best. But she’s ghouled. Best left for dead. Dig a grave, and move on. Rathwood, we’ll find another.”
‘Ghouled?’ she wanted to cry out, ‘left for dead?’ No, Captain, please, I just need to…
Men lifted her from her bed - she could not move or speak - and carried her outside. She felt detached, distant, as if she were floating. She saw a long hole dug into the ground, saw herself being lowered into
‘NO!! Oh please no…’
‘I’m not dead!! It’s me, Sabina! I’m not de…’
‘Oh god why can’t you hear me?’
‘Flores? Anyone? Mama? Mama, I’m scared, I’m so cold…’
‘…please just let me die…’
"Here, somewhere. Try over there. Easy digging, don’t want to break her. The Captain said she was h… Aha!"
Strong hands wrapped around Sabina’s arms and lifted her out of the dirt. She felt her consciousness slowly climbing toward light like tar oozing from a deep well. Her body was brushed off, her clothes were removed, and her body turned around and examined by careful hands.
"Yes, this one will do nicely. Tiburtus will be well pleased. Come along little beauty, we have work to do.
Somewhere deep in the oily pit of Sabina’s consciousness, she understood that she should follow. Her legs remembered how to move, and she slowly stumbled as she followed the man.
"Little further - up we go, in the cart."
Sabina slowly, obligingly, climbed onto a rickety wooden cart and felt herself being carried along.
She was vaguely aware of the passage of time, but had no idea what time it was. Her body felt - well, nothing. No heat or cold, no hunger or thirst. She wasn’t tired. She was aware of movement, but could not see.
Hours later the cart stopped and she was helped down. Sabina was led into a building - vague dark fog became vague light fog. Something was placed in her hand, and her fingers instinctively closed around it. Gentle hands moved her arms like a puppet, and she felt the weight shift in her grasp. After a few hours of this, her hand was emptied and she was positioned to stand still.
"More tomorrow, little beauty. Tiburtus needs his army."
The next day and the next, she was led outside, a weapon was placed in her hand, she was moved like a puppet.
Over the next few weeks, she became faster and more accurate as her body learned the motions. Sword, axe, rapier, and spear, she became proficient in various weapon skills - but she was still a mindless animated corpse, going through the motions. Capable, but nothing more than a robot.
While she was training, her vision gradually returned and she could identify targets and battle stances. She developed balance, speed, accuracy, but always her conscious mind was shrouded behind a fog.
A few months later, she was led onto a field of battle. She could see that she was one of a line of undead, armed and battle ready. Something in the back of her mind wanted to protest, but she didn’t know how to express herself. She did as she was told, the line advanced, she swung her sword.
Next to her, a zombie lost an arm and fell in battle. Its ichorous blood smeared against her as it fell, and she vaguely remembered the feeling of blood on the skin, and that she should be doing something about it.
A small, doglike creature lunged at her, thrusting its sword. The blade sliced through flesh and snagged on bone, and the creature looked up at Sabina with a worried expression as it tried to pull its sword loose. She reached out as she had been trained, and watched with disconnected vision as her hands slid down its arm to its shoulder. One hand held the shoulder while the other closed around the creature’s neck, squeezing until something popped. The doglike creature choked on vomited blood, and fell before Sabina’s milky, blank gaze.
‘Dead. Dead. I have killed someone. I have killed.’
‘I should not kill. I do not kill.’
‘I am a healer. This is wrong.’
‘This is WRONG!!’
The thought crashed through her consciousness, erasing the fog in an instant.
Sabina the healer looked down at the broken body before her, dropped her sword and stumbled blindly away from the battle. Someone shouted at her from behind, but the slender undead woman waved a hand to silence them, and ran until she could no longer hear the battle.
She sat against a tree root and tried to remember her life from before the… darkness.
She was a healer, from Merewood.
She was admired and respected.
She had joined a military regiment.
She was - she had been attacked by - she had seen - she was dead.
She was dead.
She was UNdead.
Sabina the healer was everything she ever worked to prevent! She was undead, a walking corpse! She was an abomination!! How could she ever hope to heal again…
She sat down again and tried to blot out the world.
Day became night and night became day, and the healer from Merewood did not move.
"Kailani, look at this."
Sabina heard the voice nearby. A man’s voice. Soft.
"What have you - oh, my. An undead soldier? Where’s her weapon? She looks good - well, but for being dead…"
Sabina slowly opened her eyes. Everything was shrouded in a film of milky white, but she saw a young woman in yellow and flowers leaning over her. Behind the woman, a tall man in blue leathers.
Sabina sat up and tried to speak, but her voice wouldn’t work. She opened and closed her mouth, looked up at the yellow girl.
“Oh, yes, hou probably haven’t had to speak in a while. No, your voice is - can you breathe in? Do you remember breathing? Breathe in, and try to make a sound.” The girl knelt before Sabina, a patient smile on her face. Why was she being so kind, Sabina was a monster!
She tried to feel her lungs, draw breath in. After a couple of tries she had a motion that felt familiar. She opened her mouth and breathed out, making a raspy sound. She tried again, and made a dull squeak.
“It’s okay, you’ll get it. Remembering these things takes time.”
‘You should get away from me,’ Sabina wanted to scream at her, 'I am a monster! I’ve killed people, I am not safe to be around!'
The yellow clad girl looked up at her friend in blue. “Valen, help me stand her up. Moving around may help her remember.” Together they helped Sabina to her feet. She stood, with a little difficulty at first, then her body remembered balance. She stared at them dully, confused.
‘Why are you helping me,’ she wanted to ask, but all that came out was a grunt.
“Tiburtus mentioned that one of his new recruits had gotten away from the troop,” Valen said, “We should ask him if this is her.”
“Good idea! His troops aren’t far away.” The two helped Sabina walk, letting her carefully step over tree roots that might snag and break undead bones.
As they walked, the rhythmic motion brought more vitality into Sabina’s body. Her movements became stronger and more confident, her pace more regular. After two miles she was walking on her own, keeping pace with the humans.
She paused, and waited for the others to realize she had. The small, yellow clad woman, Kailani, watched her patiently.
“I…” Sabina said haltingly. Her voice sounded like sandpaper, and felt worse. "Why … help me? I am… am a monster…“
Kailani took Sabina’s hand and held it between her own for a long moment.
“You are undead, yes. A reanimated corpse. I’m sorry if it’s a shock to hear that so bluntly. Most zombies, ghouls… they cannot think, they only react. Some can be trained, they become soldiers. Very good soldiers, by the way - they follow orders, don’t question a command, do as they’re told, don’t fear death. And some of those - we’re down to one percent of one percent - are undead who can think for themselves, and speak. And have honor, and a moral compass. You, I think, are one of those. Are you a monster? Not to me.”
“Nor me,” Valen said hopefully. Sabina looked at him as if she’d never seen him before.
“I am… " It occurred to Sabina that she hadn’t told anyone her name in a very long time. Would they recognize it? “…Sabina. I am - I was a … healer. From Merewood.”
“Sabina from Merewood,” said another man, approaching, “my little lost flower!” His voice was melodious, but lacked emotion. Kailani stepped aside and Sabina saw a man who may have been considered beautiful, with chiseled features, a tall, robust frame and shoulder-length flowing hair. He was gorgeous except for his eyes, which were as cold and ruthless as those of a shark.
“Tiburtus,” Valen said with a tremor of apprehension in his voice, “is this your missing soldier? We found her near Ra–” his words were cut short by a bark from another man, a bald figure who only came up to Tiburtus’ shoulder.
“Oh, there she is! My midnight jewel. Surely one of the most beautiful corpses I’ve ever revived for you, milord.”
“You have outdone yourself, Erasmus. She is divine…” Tiburtus stepped closer and cupped Sabina’s chin in his gloved hand. She wanted to spit at him and turn away, but something about him made her resist the urge. She stared at him balefully, arms limp at her sides.
”…I may keep this one for myself, Erasmus. My queen…”
“I am nobody’s queen!” Sabina said suddenly, turning away from his grasp. “You do not own me. Nobody does!” She suddenly turned to Kailani, who wrapped comforting arms around the taller, cold figure.
“Not every one I awaken becomes your slave, Tiburtus,” the necromancer said, “some remember their old selves…”
“Then you aren’t doing your job right, are you?!” the tall man snarled. “I pay you to give me an army, not some arrogant bi-”
“The arrogance is yours, Tiburt -” the necromancer’s words went unfinished when Tiburtus placed his open hand on the man’s chest, and flexed. The necromancer flew backwards a dozen feet and collapsed in a heap, his chest and crater of blood and crushed bone.
“Now as I was saying,” Tiburtus said, as casually as if he had just swatted a fly, “Sabina, you shall return to your position. You belong in my army.”
“You can go to the pit,” Sabina said through clenched teeth, still wrapped in Kailani’s arms.
"I don’t think - kill me if you must, sorcerer, but I am not alone - I don’t think Sabina ever belonged in your army. This lady has too much spirit, for one of your summoned zombie legions."
The tall man clad in black and the short woman in yellow glared at each other, while Sabina clung to Kailani and gathered her thoughts.
The company traveled several days through harsh terrain, battling occasional stone golems and giant snakes. Kailani and Tiburtus kept their distance, while Valen and Jahangir did their best to keep the troops’ spirits up. Sabina tagged along, helping with military chores where she could. She tried to stay out of Tiburtus’ way, avoiding contact with the man as much as possible.
A village brought welcome relief - a change of scenery and a chance to resupply. While Jahangir and Kailani went to negotiate with a village elder for supplies, Sabina found herself alone for the first time in days. Away from Kailani - who she considered a friend, although her constantly cheerful attitude did wear thin after a while - Sabina was able to collect her thoughts.
The slender, undead girl wandered alone through a copse of trees near the village, her head lost in thought. Would they remember her if she ever returned to Merewood? Would they accept her? Why was Kailani being so nice? Was Tiburtus really that much of a self centered ■■■? She had been active, if not alive, for several weeks, and never really felt hungry. Did she ever need to eat again? Was love ever going to be a possibility for her again?
A small cry broke her out of her reflective mood. Sabina looked up to see a child, a girl about four, surrounded by three leering winged gargoyle creatures. All three were eyeing the child hungrily, and one had a hand on the girl’s arm.
Without a second thought, Sabina reached for her sword. But she’d given up carrying a weapon after her killing of the dog creature, and had to resort to a stout branch lying nearby. She swung and missed wildly, swung again and knocked one of the creatures down. The other two each grabbed one of the girl’s hands and tried to lift her together. When they were five feet off the ground, Sabina jabbed one through the stomach. It fell with a groan, and another stab left it dead on the ground. The girl fell and landed heavily, screaming in a shrill, high voice. Sabina reached up and plucked the last gargoyle from the air, swung it by the leg and slammed it onto a stone. The third winged creature tried to stumble away but she quickly caught it and tore a wing off, spilling blood onto Sabina’s hands. The creature howled in pain, until a savage kick silenced it.
She immediately turned her attention to the girl, who had curled into a ball screaming for her mother. Sabina gently scooped her up and examined her - one ankle was sprained and she’d suffered a nasty cut, but that was all. Sabina drew upon her healing energy and coaxed the girl’s body to begin fixing itself, while she cooed soothing sounds and worked on the sprained ankle.
“There now,” she said, "give that a day and you’ll be as good as new."
The girl stared at her wide-eyed, but nodded obediently.
“Frannie! Where was you, Fran?” A desperate mother’s voice rang through the trees. Sabina scooped the girl up to return her to her mother. "Fran – oh no, MONSTER! A monster has my little girl! Don’t you touch her! Help!"
Sabina paused, hesitant. She’d fought the gargoyles off the little girl, but now she was accused of harming the child. She started to put the girl down, who reflexively clung to Sabina’s arm, smearing gargoyle blood on her hands.
“She’s bleeding! My little girl is bleeding! Monster!!” The girl’s mother charged frantically at Sabina, pounding with her fists and pulling at her daughter, who started screaming again in the confusion.
“No, really, no, I helped --”
"GIVE ME BACK MY BABY!"
The confusion and noise drew several other villagers out, who had been searching for the lost girl. One raised a threatening axe at Sabina.
“Sabina, what happened?” Kailani asked, running to the scene.
“Gargoyles, had the girl. I killed them and --” Sabina paused as she realized she had killed again, but this time understood why. She was not just following orders to kill without reason, but had to actively defend someone. Kailani carefully took the girl from Sabina’s arms and passed her to the villagers.
"Show me, Sabina."
They went a few feet to where three winged creatures lay broken on the stones, one still clutching a fragment of the girl’s dress.
“See here,” Kailani said, “there’s you girl’s torn dress. My friend was saving her life! And Sabina - three? I wouldn’t take on three…”
“I killed…because I had to…” she answered, nodding.
“Hey, Frannie’s arm has been healed,” someone said, "you’re not going tell me that monster --"
Kailani and Sabina turned to face the crowd.
“This woman,” Kailani said proudly, “is Sabina, healer from Merewood. She knows - and you can tell by looking at her, sorry Sab - more about life and death than anyone else here. And a fierce, capable fighter.”
“That… monster … is a healer?!”
“Is the little girl healed?”
“That… woman … is a healer.”
“But she’s a ghoul! How can she heal?!”
“You know, I was wondering that myself?” Sabina said, "apparently healing magic does not require a living hand to work. Just magical focus?"
Kailani took Sabina’s hand and nodded.
“An undead healer. Well, magic works in mysterious ways…” she turned to face her pale-skinned friend. “the company needs a healer. Will you join us?”
“I tried that once,” Sabina said ruefully, “look where it got me…”
“Yes, outside death’s grasp! You, my friend, are a valuable asset to any company!”
“What about Tiburtus?” Sabina asked as they headed back to camp.
“One fight at a time, Sab. Let’s get you geared up.”