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Still - a short story by Aaron Kite

Still - a short story by Aaron Kite

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Published by Aaron Kite
A very unusual assassin recalls the details of his last assignment.
A very unusual assassin recalls the details of his last assignment.

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Published by: Aaron Kite on Jul 14, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/06/2014

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Still – Aaron Kite July 13, 2010Often, I'm reminded of laying there, on the battlefield.I was face down at the time, the slick mixture of dirt and cold blood pressing wetly againstmy cheek. I'd chosen the spot too hastily, I quickly came to realize. I'd reacted too strongly tothe sharp clanging of swords, surrounded as I was by the furious battle cries and wailingdeath knells. Really, I should have held things together longer, looked for a better spot . . . butin my panic I'd simply found the nearest clump of fallen soldiers, read aloud the small scrapof parchment the magic users had given me. I drank the bitter, dark-green potion I'd beenkeeping safe, draining the phial in a single gulp.And then I fell face down in the mud, and I died.Mostly, anyways.Being face down was important because of the likelihood of carrion crows, and notallowing my eyes to be pecked out of their sockets seemed like a good idea. Still, I foundmyself cursing my lack of foresight, for soon I didn't even have the persistent thrumming myown heartbeat to distract me. My entire world became the sensation of cold, clammy muckseeping into my mouth and nose, trickling slowly down my throat.I only had to put up with it for a while, I told myself . . . a few hours at most. A carnage-strewn battlefield like this was where most of the
Lich fe'shala
– The Withered Hand – didtheir “recruiting”, replenishing their forces with the casualties of our own, the blackest ofmagics enabling them to use our own dead against us. Each battle we fought yielded a freshcrop of potential soldiers for them, dozens of vacant-eyed and lifeless bodies, ripe for thetaking. It was the reason humans had been losing this war.It was the reason I was there in the first place.The mud was trivial enough, actually, considering all the other things I'd been preparedfor. The sensations of body death, paralysis, the rites and rituals used by the undead, theprocess of reanimation . . . all were things I'd had to frantically commit to memory in just afew short days. It was a hasty, reckless plan . . . but feasible enough that several important-looking cowled figures had somehow managed to find time away from the front lines just sothey could drill the precautions and information I'd need into my head, making sure that no
 
matter what happened I was more or less prepared.When the tumultuous noises of battle had receded and the first sounds of corpse lootingcould be heard, I began to wish I'd been better prepared for the undead's morbid sense ofhumor.“That's not a hat, Makhara,” I heard one say.
What's
not a hat?” an amused, gravelly voice asked innocently.“Geeze, if you're gonna keep wearing that thing, I think I'll go stand by the wagon.”“Bah. You're no fun,” Gravel-throat sniffed. A sodden “plop” was heard a moment later.
 
“Oi!” I heard a different rusty voice yell some distance away. “I wonder what
this
one diedfrom, hey?”There was a chorus of crude chuckles. A moment later, I heard the faintest jingling of chainmail, followed by the sound of a throat clearing.
Oh, hello! This is my first battle!”
a raspy falsetto mocked, “
 Am I doing well? Is it over? I can't see too well, on account of my head's wayyy over there, and over there, and-”
Howls of coarse laughter filled the air.“Enough o' that!” a nearby voice growled. “That one's useless, obviously, so stop
 playing
with it and keep looking.”“Aye,
sir 
! No more playing,
sir 
!” the voice said, followed by a quick, ringing jingle and asuccession of sickly thuds. There was renewed laughter, and scattered cheers in addition tosome appreciative clapping.I was torn between wishing I could turn my head to see what was going on, and beingutterly glad I could not.“I said that's enough.” the commanding voice repeated, though this time with the baresttrace of laughter. “Jester tryouts were two nights ago. You, you . . . over that way. You, overhere with me. Rest of you, fan out. Stab
 , then
inspect . . . we don't want a repeat of last week.They say we can do up to thirty tonight, so I wanna see those wagons piled high. Andremember – check thumbs and fingers
 first
! If they can't hold a sword, they ain't much goodto us . . . even if they've still got a head.”And so it went, the ghoulish scavengers combing through what remained of the braveforces which had comprised the King's Sixty-First infantry, the hundreds of lives that hadbeen thrown away in a useless skirmish just so that I might have this opportunity.
 
There was the occasional call for assistance, sometimes followed by the sound of a freshcorpse being loaded onto a waiting wagon. Mostly though, I'd hear chuckles and remarks onvarious expressions on the faces of the dead which they found amusing, or crude theoriesregarding how two or more bodies might have ended up in precisely the position they did.Very occasionally, there was the muted, feeble cry of a survivor being discovered, followed bya gurgle or a retching groan, which was nearly always followed by peels of laughter.Then, it was my turn to be inspected.A sword point was thrust into the small of my back, piercing a kidney in the process, andthe core of my very being shrieked in agony.I'd been warned about this possibility.A crippling pain like I'd never known assaulted my mind despite the cadaver-likecondition of my body, tearing through me like brush fire. Inside, I was screaming as loud as Icould, gibbering and writhing around in tormented agony, flailing uselessly in response tothe white-hot anguish that seemed to come at me from all sides.My body, however, remained perfectly still.Through the red-fringed haze of torment, I felt a pair of bony hands roughly turn mylifeless body over, producing an even greater amount of pain as they did. A moment later oneof my eyes was pried open by a hand with dirty, yellowing fingernails . . . a gobbet of sicklygreen something falling with a moist plop against my cheek and into my eye. The stabbingsting of putrid filth barely even registered next to the excruciating suffering I was stillexperiencing from the wound to my lower back.I wasn't able to control where my eye was pointing or move so much as a muscle, and so Ifound myself staring at the patch of sky right next to the balding, rotting forehead of theghoul who was inspecting me.It peered curiously into my eyes after inspecting my neck and torso, its brows furrowingand causing the skin there to creak like old leather.“Hey Cap'n, come look at this,” the diseased, rotting apparition wheezed.A second, mostly skeletal figure appeared behind his shoulder a moment later, peeringspeculatively at me.“What about it?”“How'd this one die, hey? Not a mark, 'cept for the poke I just gave him.”

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