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Kerala

Backlash

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The tomb was dusty. It smelled of stale age and, most recently, rot. Every sconce held a torch, and braziers had been moved in as well, plus a few enchanted lights for the worktable. The ceiling was ablaze with light. The pattern of arching stone support resembled the ribs of some great beast.

The sheer amount of illumination was amazing. Where one source of light would have caused Kerala’s form to cast a shadow, there were at least three other sources to banish the possibility. Alcoves held candles, braziers were lit from beneath with them, and every corner was aglow. Kerala had never seen such a thing before. It was absolutely eerie. She’d never before thought that the absence of shadow would be a thing to cause such disquiet within her- after all, wasn’t a fear of the dark instinctual? But the complete lack of it had an opposite effect than putting the druid at ease.

Despite all the illumination, Kerala couldn't help but feel that the place was too... dark. It was the wrong kind of light. There was nowhere to hide. There was no illusion. She was underground, in a crypt meant to contain the dead. Though logically she knew she was safe, there was still almost a tickling in her mind. Phobia beat relentlessly against the wall, but the tiny volcanic rock had been placed with unflinching sureness in her head. The barrier held, and Kerala worked.

Lomani sat on the other side of the large room, at the table. The druid could hear her sister consistently murmuring words in the same tune, over and over. A hymn, or a prayer of some kind. Her table held the pieces of one complete Forsaken. She sat on a tall stool in drab brown and green robes, gray apron overlaid, her hands gloved and her hair braided starkly backwards down her neck. The strands of her mane mixed in with the plait so that the hair had no chance to shift and move, or fall into her grisly project. The severe hairstyle was out of place for her sister’s gentle frame. It left the ruins of her right horn completely in view, and Kerala couldn’t help but look there, whenever she glanced over at her twin, so much the opposite of herself.

Lining the walls of the tomb were alcoves filled with stitched bodies, and others held piles of gore yet to fall under the needle. Kerala was still sorting. She was tired. They had been working for hours already today. The skinny druid didn't bother with the protective clothing. It was her duty to sift through the bits and pieces, and discover who they belonged to. She had to touch them. Time after time, the druid reached for a body part, and released the magic. She'd consider the piece in her hands for a long moment, analyzing, and then she'd take it to the walls, or set it aside. She was getting good enough through repetition to be slightly faster at the sorting than when she started, but with over 2 dozen victims, she still sometimes forgot which alcove she was looking for.

The pile was steadily growing smaller, but it was still a daunting heap. The tiny one in the opposite corner held things that didn’t belong in any alcove. Arms, teeth, eyes, a hip joint and other miscellaneous parts that Kerala cold only guess had been used as replacements for the originals- much like Lupinum used a metal form to replace his own jaw. Another pile held fresher parts- the pieces of those scarlet crusaders that had joined the Brill villagers under Khorvis’ Lash.

"Are you almost done with that seam?" The taurehe words left Kerala's tongue still somewhat tainted with accent. She spoke orcish so much, it was almost strange to switch. It never felt quite natural. But, Lomani always switched when she was alone among only other Shu’halo, and so Kerala spoke taurahe to her.

The humming kept going until the end of the hymn, and then Lomani looked up, blinking owlishly. Her pale eyes glowed, and it wasn't a trick of the lights. The seer was using her own magic to match the bodies together properly, with whatever it was she could See. If there was even a chance that one of them could be saved, the spirit would return to find the vessel mended to the best of the twin's abilities.

So far, they had only two completed Forsaken that Lomani deemed possibly salvageable. Of those, Kerala herself saw no signs of undead life, as it were, but the seer thought there was something, and so she'd carefully stitched as she wove her spells, and Kerala had done her internal work to re-weave torn sinews and ligaments. They returned the bodies to probably better condition than before Khorvis' Lash had done its work.

Even the corpses that Lomani could sense nothing from, received the attention of her needle. Kerala didn’t see the point. Dead was dead, to her, so what was the use of wasting time to reassemble them? Lomani insisted, though. Humans were particular about burial, she said, and Forsaken had once been human. She insisted that even the ones beyond their ability had to be made whole, to be buried properly. They were not mindless undead, to be recycled to abominations. They deserved more.

The seer had cited the extensive funeral rites that their own people went through, and at that, Kerala had fallen silent on the subject. She had no idea what happened to Shu’halo corpses when they died. Konro’s ceremony had been dictated by the members of his old regiment, and Lomani was the one who had directed them in singing his death song.

The song was the only thing Kerala really knew of. Even thinking of it, the silly wandering melody of the song she and Agiga had made up as children flitted through her mind. Such a silly thing, that she could remember that, and yet at times, she failed to call to mind her mother’s face, or other things that she considered more important. She wondered what Lomani’s new song was, for surely she had crafted one. A woman so devoted to the Earthmother and the various duties of a seer to her people would always have her song prepared.

Lomani continued blinking a moment, as if she’d forgotten where she was, or couldn’t focus. Gradually though, her pale eyes moved to find Kerala’s, and then she smiled. She glanced down at her needle, then back up again. “Yes, I can stop here. Are you ready to be done for the day?”

Kerala nodded. She held her hands out slightly from hanging where they could touch her legs. No need to get more of her covered in the black goo and corpse juices than was necessary. She saw Lomani’s eyes glance down the length of her, appraising for a moment. Kerala wondered what it was she saw, with her normal sight. Then her sister nodded again, gently, and set her needle down with its tail of thread. She stood from the stool, stiffly, and carefully removed her gloves. Those she laid on the table, ready to slip right back on tomorrow. The apron draped over the stool. When she was done, Lomani turned to Kerala and started leading the way out of the crypt as they had done for the last week.

Lomani glanced over the alcoves as they left, judging the amount of work still remaining. Maybe half the bodies had been sorted to completion, from what Kerala could guess. The rest would go faster. The seer had stitched up maybe a third of those. At some point, Kerala thought some of the stitching work would fall to her, and she wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

Kerala almost ran right into her sister as the seer abruptly stopped. “What is that?” The seer was pointing into the pile of unsorted parts. Kerala was instantly irritated. She had only narrowly avoided smearing this colossal mess over the back of Lomani’s robes, and she was eager to get to the lake and rinse it all out of her fur. She very much disliked working her magic on the undead, and beside that, she could sense a headache forming. She glared in the direction Lomani pointed.

“What is what?”

“There, right there.” Kerala started around to poke at the pile where Lomani indicated. “To the left. Up. There. What is that green?”

The druid pulled on the piece that she had been directed to. It was a slender forearm, with a tiny hand attached. Beneath the gore, the green that Lomani had seen was a line of small perfect stitching, embellished with the occasional extraneous swirl and curve to make the continuous incision more like an intentional bit of artwork. A Forsaken tattoo, of sorts. The thread was green.

“I know this one.” Lomani’s voice was soft, quiet.

Kerala had not seen any other pieces with this stitching on it yet. “Ok, well I’m still sorting. We’ll find the rest of her.” She paused as her eyes caught sight of something. She inspected the torn flesh as Lomani sighed, her expression sad.

“This tattooed woman, she came to Thunder Bluff often. She said she preferred the workmanship there for cloth, and for the quality of our glassblowers for vials and such. She often stopped by the sewing tents. She never bought anything, but she always greeted the spinsters. She always had a kind word for me.”

Kerala listened, only half her attention on what Lomani was saying. Her magic had been set loose, and she was trying to make sense of the information. Her sister recognized the faraway look in Kerala’s expression, and waited patiently. After a moment, the druid blinked, and thrust the arm toward Lomani.

“Look. Can you see anything, in this one? Do you need the head?” Kerala took a step toward the pile even as she held the piece out toward the seer, looking to see if the undead’s head was within easy reach. She was prepared to look for it right that instant, if needed, that much was clear.

Lomani cocked her head slightly, to the left, at Kerala’s question, and more so the tone of urgency behind the words. “Hold it still.” Kerala froze in her search, and waited. Lomani leaned close to the piece in Kerala’s hand, her nose almost touching. The smell seemed not to bother her at all, but then, they’d been in here for several hours. The first few moments of the day was always rough on her, until the senses acclimated.

The seer inspected the slender arm for several long minutes. This close, Kerala could almost sense her using the magic. Lomani looked at the hand the most, and then she turned her gaze to the pile. Her eyes squinted. Slowly, looking back to the part in Kerala’s fingers, and then up to the druid’s eyes, her own still glazed with the Sight, she nodded.

“She might be one.” Lomani blinked, focusing. She straightened, her hand going up in a habitual gesture to rub at her right temple.

“We’re doing this one next.” Kerala declared.

“She’s not even assembled yet.”

“I’ll find her. She’s next. Do you know her name?”

Lomani blinked. For Kerala to ask for a name was highly unusual. She knew the druid’s terrible memory for names in particular, and that this one should be important was surprising. To her knowledge, Kerala did not know this Forsaken at all. “No, I can’t recall, but I’m sure we can find out. Come, we’ll ask the weavers.” Lomani started to ascend the stairs, her curiosity sated, and her heart heavy. She was ready to rest for the day from this grisly task.

Instead of following, Kerala waved her sister on. “I changed my mind. I’m staying. Go. Rest your eyes.”

Lomani eyed the druid, but Kerala’s attention was no longer on her at all. She was bent at the edge of the pile of body parts, carefully pushing pieces aside, looking for more with the green tattoo of stitches. The thin little hand was still clutched in her fingers, held close almost to her chest like a treasure.

It was strange in the extreme, but she could find nothing wrong with the druid as she looked, and she was actually very tired. Lomani shrugged, and continued up the steps. This was the easy part. Soon enough, she’d have to see if her guess about these souls was correct.

Was there enough of a link still to pull them back from beyond? Could they really save any of these people?

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Lomani was busy all the next day. Brave Featherlight’s baby spent most of the morning being born, then needed blessing. He would be called Cricketsong until he received his first name. Then, she presided over two funerals in the smaller villages, one in the shattered barrens, and one in the deep green forest of Feralas. Four braves came of age, and the seer attended their ceremonies as witness. She officiated over one Anejodi game, in which two rivals had turned serious. The game was blessed, and the outcome witnessed. She left them, silly feud dissolved and friends as Brothers again.

She had not forgotten Kerala and the strange project the two of them had undertaken, but that could wait just a little longer. She prayed each night that kept her away, that the spirits of the departed undead would forgive her.

It was nearly a week later that the seer was able to return to the human-built crypt in Tirisfal Glades that they had claimed temporarily. The door was seemingly sealed closed, covered in vines and forgotten. Lomani checked about her for watching eyes, then pressed through the foliage. Clinging greenery buckled, then parted, as she made her way through the concealing ropey curtain. The door was not sealed. She easily found the opening, and squeezed through. The scent of smoke told her what she already knew- Kerala was down here.

The rustling of the vines had not gone unnoticed. Lomani was still descending the stone steps, her careful progress not just to remain quiet, but also not to slip on the slight algae coating, when the thrust of Kerala’s fuzzy head directly around the corner and into her face made the seer exclaim in surprise.

“Dear spirits, you scared me!” she said, right as Kerala demanded “Where have you been?!”

“I have duties,” Lomani patiently reminded her friend. She was well aware that the druid was not a traditional Shu’halo. She held no occupation, owned little in the way of possessions, or perhaps none. Lomani had not seen the druid return from her time among the Grim with anything carried, nor delivered afterward. For all intends and purposes, Kerala needed little from civilized society, and she participated proportionally. Lomani, however, was quite the opposite. “You know I’ve returned as soon as I was able. Show me the progress you’ve made while I was away.”

The druid’s face was dark, framed from behind in the bright light of the workspace below, but Lomani could almost feel the heat of the glare she received. Kerala hesitated barely a moment, made the decision not to say whatever comment had come to mind, and promptly spun away to let Lomani descend the last few steps.

True to the seer’s instructions, the room was lit to banish any shadows. Kerala had not bothered to clear away the old stubs of candle or torch ashes, but simply added new ones. This mess of wax was what Lomani noted first. Then, she realized that the entire room was bare. There was no longer a pile of Forsaken parts to be sorted. Every alcove held what appeared to be a completed corpse, stitched back together. The few odd human parts that had been gathered had been disposed of. Lomani’s worktable had a small figure on it, but everything else was finished.

Kerala watched Lomani take it all in, her arms folded crossly and a scowl on her face. The burn marks on her nose and cheeks stood out in the harsh light, adding an underscore and reinforcement to the expression. The seer noted hollows beneath those dark eyes, saw the way the lids didn’t quite open all the way up. Telltale signs of fatigue.

“You’ve done all of it?” she asked. She shouldn’t have been away as long as she had been, but she hadn’t realized... She wondered how long Kerala had been working.

The skinny tauren didn’t answer at first. Her gaze went from Lomani, to all of the stone pockets lining the walls. The sweep of her gaze was fast. Unconcerned. Then she looked back at Lomani, nodded, and pointed to the table as she stepped over to it. “This one first.”

Lomani recalled similar words from the druid the last time she had stood in this place. She nodded and followed Kerala to the table, inspecting the figure lying there. It was the woman with the green tattoo stitching. She was delicate and frail-looking. So tiny! Lying there, with only Kerala as a judge for size, the patient on the table looked even smaller than the others Lomani had stitched. She noticed the druid staring at her. Expectant? Watching for a reaction? The scrutiny made her uncomfortable, and Lomani was struck with a sense of irony. How many had felt this way when she regarded them, a seer? She looked back to the patient, stepping closer to inspect Kerala’s stitches.

The druid was no seamstress. Lines where the Forsaken had been rent apart were sewn with the simplest running stitch, zig-zagging back and forth to try and hold the piece together. The moment the woman tried to move, the single-thick thread would tear through the skin and leave her wounds open and slightly shredded, worse off than before. Lomani squinted and bent over the line. Her finger traced the black uneven hashes, then she reached into a pocket, looking for the kit she always carried.

Her sewing pouch came to hand easily, and the tiny razor awl a moment after that. She slipped the point beneath Kerala’s black thread, and ran the awl forward through one of the stitches carefully, so as not to drag the thread and tear undead skin. The sharp edge nestled in the hook of the tool caught and severed the thread. Lomani picked the stitching out for a couple inches and inspected the skin underneath.

It was unbroken, marked only with a thin line, a small scar.

The seer looked up at Kerala. “How did you do this?”

The skinny druid shrugged. “I can’t sew. I suck at it,” she said, as if that answered the question.

“I can see that. But how did you mend her anyway?” Kerala still looked confused, so she continued. “She’s dead. Undead. Her skin shouldn’t just knit back together like this... like a living person. Should it? How did you do this?” Lomani pressed at the thin little scar line, feeling that the muscle beneath was similarly mended seamlessly.

“I just put it back the way it was.” Kerala said. “It only goes one way.”

Lomani waved, realizing that was probably the best answer she’d get. She’d have to ask the druids on elder rise. Kerala never stopped to think about what she was doing, or how, she just DID it.

The druid was still watching, an air of wariness to her stance. She was definitely waiting for something in particular to happen, and Lomani frowned. Razor awl still in hand, a familiar pressure built within Lomani’s head, behind her eyes, as she blinked and refocused. Lomani Saw with the Earthmother’s grace.

The entire world seemed to dim. The blazing illumination of the appropriated crypt suddenly meant little, except that there were no shadows. Nothing could hide, here.

As before, the seer could see a few ghostly outlines. They appeared as dark shaded figures, barely there and yet pricked with points of color that were easier to detect. Red down low, followed by the familiar rainbow up to the highest point of pure white. These specters that haunted the crypt stood quietly, at rest, as if watching them. It was easy to blink and lose them, but they were present The spirits of these departed were dim, wholly in the spirit realm and content to remain there at their eternal rest. Kerala’s rainbow blazed by comparison, bottom heavy and turbulent. She was glowing, rather than shadowy, and every breath, every moment, every thought, was reflected in the wind-like spinning of the seven soul anchors and the flows between them.

Lomani looked past the druid to look at the reconstructed patient laid out on the table. Like the others, this body was dark, without light. There was no spirit anchored here, like there had been with Lupinum. The seer waited, watching. There! Easy to miss, like a breeze barely felt, Lomani thought she Saw it. The darkness shifted, the smallest current. The still and dim anchors might have briefly flared, one by one.

The silver seer was about as knowledgeable of her Gift as Kerala was, but rather than blind instinct, she wholly believed that the Earthmother guided her. It was her theory, insubstantial as it was, that what she Saw was a spirit not at rest, struggling to return to the world of the living. Or, perhaps trying to move on, but still partially tethered to the anchors. Lomani’s eyes flickered to the Forsaken woman’s head. She studied the white anchor for several long moments. She’d begun to think she’d imagined the flicker, as she almost always did. Just as she’d decided she’d been mistaken in thinking this one had any hope, the chakra flared.

The flow of energy was visible for just a moment, and she followed it quickly to find the spirit. The woman’s soul was right there, faint, but real. While the vortex briefly engaged each chakra in turn, the spirit’s rainbow colors were clear and vivid in the brightly lit room. This was no lingering ghost. Her anchors swirled. Slowly, briefly, dimly but they were there. This spirit was not moved on, and was not ready to leave. She was also not what she appeared to be.

Lomani gasped and immediately turned to glare at Kerala. Now she knew what the druid had been waiting for. The Sight faded. She was unable to maintain it in the flare of emotion. The pain of the sudden shift didn’t phase her, and even as her hands raised in the unconscious effort to ease the ache, she was yelling. “No! What are you thinking?! We can’t bring her back, are you Mad?”

“We can, and we must.”

“We don’t know if we can,” Lomani corrected, “but even if it’s possible, we shouldn’t! How can you think this is a good idea?”

“It’s my fault she ended up like this. I have to fix it, if I can.” Kerala tried to rake an errant curl back into the rest of the fuzzy mass of her hair. Her fingers hit the frizzy barrier of her mane, stuck, and she gave up the attempt. The curl flopped back down.

“You did NOT do this. You told me Khorvis attacked them, he was influenced by fel magics. This is not your fault.”

“It is. He did it because of me. Because of what I did.” Kerala sighed, her voice tired and miserable.

The weight of guilt was not something Lomani had expected to see on the druid. The boney woman may not ever pause to think about her actions, but she always had a reason behind them. That she regretted something now... “What did you do?”

Kerala didn’t meet Lomani’s eyes. She looked at the undead on the table. “The Forsaken you reassembled for the Grim. The priest. I did that.”

Lomani stifled her immediate reaction with the swiftness of experienced practice. She remembered the Grim priest. It was why she’d thought she’d been asked to help with these other Forsaken victims. Horror momentarily quelled, the seer refocused mentally. “Why?” her voice came out smooth and even.

Kerala just shook her head, though, unwilling to speak of it further. Lomani succeeded also in not grinding her teeth in frustration. “Khorvis was angry that he could not find out who attacked his guildmate. So, he attacked these to try and force information from them. Or maybe to retaliate...” Kerala glanced to Lomani. “It’s my fault,” she said again.

Lomani didn’t bother continuing to argue. She chose another battle. “Alright. So we’ll try to fix it. As best we can. There were two others I think we can save, I can look at the ones you finished to see if there are more.” Lomani pointed at the tattooed corpse on the table. “Not her.”

“Especially her.” There was the weight of stubborn kodo conviction in the druid’s tone.

This too, would be a fight she could not win, Lomani realized. Kerala’s mind was made. The seer’s thoughts raced. Kerala could not do this alone. She could choose not to help, but then the druid would merely find someone else to do it. More importantly, she’d feel betrayed or abandoned, and that, the seer knew, would be devastating. No, Lomani couldn’t simply refuse to help. She’d have to enlist her own help. Kerala watched Lomani, watched the calculations happening in the span of silence. Despite her fatigue, it was obvious she was ready to fight, if she had to. She had that stillness to her, like a predator’s crouch, or the calmness of a gathering storm. For whatever reason, the resurrection of this little female Forsaken was of paramount importance to the druid.

“Find your priest. Bring him here. If one of their own agrees with what you plan to do, I will help. We’ll try to bring her back.”

Kerala’s eyes narrowed. She sensed a trap, but could not find the shape of it. “Her name is Aziris.”

Lomani nodded. “If he agrees, we will see if we can resurrect Aziris. And the others.” The seer revealed the rest of her terms. “..If he says no, I will respect his decision. I expect you to do the same. I will give her a funeral to send her soul to its rest. Do you understand?”

Kerala glared, but nodded quickly enough. Too quickly? “He won’t say no.”

“He might, Kerala. There is a reason Forsaken like her do not exist. IF he says no, I want your promise that you will let me do what needs to be done.”

The boney druid actually snarled, feeling the trap close neatly around her. She did not want to concede, but the girl was Forsaken. If one of the undead disagreed with Kerala’s intention, she’d have to listen, or force the issue. Lomani’s guess about the character of her former chieftain proved true once more. Kerala nodded, and the seer waited to hear the words.

“I promise. If Lupinum says no, Aziris is dead. I will bury her after you give funerary rites.” The stubbornness was still in her eyes. “If he says no.”

Lomani nodded then, satisfied. It was the best she was going to get. “You look tired, Sister. Go, get some rest. I will douse the lights here, and seal the tomb. You need sleep, and to find your Grim. I’ll need time to pray and prepare. She will be safe here.”

Kerala hesitated, then moved for the stairs. Every few steps, she paused to glance back, both at Lomani, and at the reconstructed body on the table. The silver seer ignored the nervous and sleep-deprived druid, calmly doing exactly as she said she would, snuffing out candles in the alcoves. Darkness grew in the absence of light.

Lomani snuffed out all but the braziers, self-contained and not in any danger of setting anything ablaze. The darkness was eerie, after the brightness that had lit the stone mausoleum. Invisible now, she still knew that spirits long since gone inhabited the tomb. More disturbing yet, was the knowledge that new spirits also lingered here, tethered to their physical shells by anchors incompletely severed during the violent attack that should have ended their link to the material world.

The seer left the tomb, still wondering at the horrible thing she had agreed to do if the Forsaken priest said yes. She went home and prayed to the Earthmother for guidance- for herself, for Kerala, and most of all for the poor Forsaken priest, whose name she could not remember, that had once laid on a table where Aziris was now.

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