Chapter 26: Day of the Living Dead
Rivers of bone
The whole history of a village
Living while dead
No flesh, no soul
Just white bone.
~ Miyara Miwa
We met them at the bridge, and they were being chased by something I would not have believed were they not before my eyes: the skeletons of the dead were attacking from their graves! What terrible thing could the village have recently done, that their ancestors would rise from their graves now? Hosei was carrying an unconscious Res Li away, towards the town. The dead were converging from two directions. Jeisan's position having been overwhelmed, he began to run towards the village as well. I called everyone to make a stand at Gerig's, that being the only fortified position in the village, but the river of dead flowed towards us. The sight of the dead come to life disturbed me greatly, and I simply could not move for several seconds.
I awoke to myself in the Red Bull. The others had acted quickly and had simply picked me up, along with Kyosuke, and ran back to the inn as fast as they could, ahead of the hordes of the dead. I was truly ashamed of myself for freezing in the midst of a battle, or retreat. I resolved to control myself better should I suddenly be confronted with the dead again, but in truth I do not know how I will behave. It is simply too horrifying for words. Kyosuke had been sickened at the sight and lay in the corner for a few long seconds retching violently. Considering my own complete failure, I could hardly fault him.
Caramela was in a daze: she was apparently awake, but would not respond to anything and remained that way for hours. Much to my surprise, I found out that some of the others -- Jeisan, Ravena, Caramela, and Res Li -- had actually battled skeletons risen from their graves before.
I jumped as a scratching sound came from the door. We looked out the window and saw two trying to make their way into the inn. From the other windows, we could see the rest of them had spread through the town, wandering aimlessly.
Res Li grabbed a knife from Caramela and asked the White Faerie to hold the door open just enough so he could reach through and touch them with it. The knife held special properties, because each skeleton dissolved into dust at its merest touch. A powerful weapon, and useful under the circumstances.
Armed with that, we could go hunting skeletons. We told those in the inn to watch after Caramela and lock the doors and the windows, and we warned them not to look outside, lest they be overcome with horror at the sight of the dead in their streets. Hosei closed the shutters tight.
Jeisan wanted to hunt them in a pack, and I agreed: better to stay together where we could form a defensive circle if necessary. We fully prepared ourselves this time, and we took the time to don our armor and ready all our weapons. Hosei said he would stay at the inn, in case it needed to be defended, but Jeisan, the White Faerie, Res Li, Kyosuke (having recovered his wits), and I all went out together.
The skeletons were spread all over the town now, and I dreaded to think what they were doing to the villagers. We saw them everywhere, walking slowly and trying to get into houses.
As soon as any of them saw us, they moved towards us. Since they were so spread out, we were able to kill them easily, mostly one at a time. It was grisly, disturbing work, and it seemed that the entire contents of the graveyard were out here.
We dispatched several of them, and then realized they never actually attacked us unless we attacked them first. If we simply stood still, they walked up to us and stood quietly in front of us. If we ran, they ran after us. So, we stood still and let them come to us. Res Li simply reached out and touched each one with the magical knife, and they dissolved into dust harmlessly.
We walked through the entire town, and into the houses they had entered. In the houses where the villagers had simply frozen in fear, the skeletons were standing quietly, doing nothing. In the houses where the villagers had tried to defend themselves, they attacked back, harming many.
The village leader, the watch captain, Ravena, and Ash returned to town as we were finishing the last of the skeletons. They had expected carnage, rather than the comparative quiet they found. We explained what had happened, and the odd behaviour of the skeletons themselves. Ravena immediately began caring for the injured, after first checking on her sister, who was still indisposed but otherwise healthy.
The last place left was Gerig's house, where the gate was still shut and nobody had emerged yet. No one answered the knock, and Res Li opened the gate. The others entered and spoke with Gerig's faerie, Sutami, while Kyosuke, the White Faerie, and I roamed the village, making sure we had missed nothing. Gerig and his faerie were both home, safe.
Hosei and Ash looked around the cemetery for unskeletal footprints and undisturbed graves. They saw neither. Ash said he caught the scent he had smelled when he was hunting for beastmen, telling us even more clearly that there was some person or persons behind this reign of terror.
We all eventually gathered at the Red Bull again, to discuss everything. Hosei believed there is at least one sorcerer, if not two, acquainted with both necromancy and illusion.
Everywhere, people were packing up and leaving town in a constant stream. A few remained: the village leader, Gerig, the watch captain. Sutami was being unusually friendly and helpful, promising people he would watch after their houses while they were gone. The only sign of the militia captain was his note on the door: "gone for help". The watch captain said he probably ran all the way to Nulun and we would not see him again. So the man whose life it was to guard and protect this village ran from the first signs of real danger, proving himself a weak man with no honour or courage to speak of. Disgraceful. He did not even have the honour to kill himself decently.
Ravena explained where she and Ash had been while the skeletons attacked. The girl who had found the faked vampire attack scene has herself been found dead. At first, it appeared that someone had mistakenly staked her, but actually she had been frightened by something, ran, and tripped and fell onto a stump, thus staking herself.
We called for a town meeting that evening with free drinks and dinner to anyone left. Res Li quickly went back to the graveyard and looked under the earth, then returned to tell us what he found. Mostly, empty graves. Zigi's body was still there, while Bastiyan's held only an empty coffin. It was obvious that no skeleton had burst from it: he had either not been buried there at all, or his body had been removed almost immediately. The likeliest person to know about that was the gravedigger, who lived in Wailuburu. I shuddered at the thought.
We found little in Wailuburu, though. The skeletons had not come this far, but everyone had heard and was leaving. Tasuke was there, and not leaving, and she said she saw the gravedigger leaving before the screaming started.
We went to his house, and Hosei rather delicately said that we would be breaking into his house. I certainly did not care: he was eta anyway.
The door was not locked, and there was nothing of the remotest interest in his rude one-room hut. We walked all around the ten buildings in the area, but found nothing but an old couple, frozen with fear in their hut. Res Li reassured them, and we returned back to the inn in time for dinner.
Although most of the villagers had left, those who had stayed gathered at the Red Bull. Leafglow, the baker and his wife, the doctor, the village leader, watch captain, the old herb-woman, Tasuke, the San Jiovisis, and Yohan. All the employees of both inns had left. Hosei and San Jiovisi-san cooked for us all.