The Pain of Being Dead.
By Walter Attridge
Kaye looked over and saw that her young companion Timothy had begun to rock himself as he sat near a dead tree stump, the wind whipping over a stone outcropping overlooking fertile southern valleys The fifteen year old former farm hand still had the look of a young man with his mop of dirty brown hair and his woolen tunic and breeches, worn and torn with mud and other fluids staining them in large patches. Most telling of all was the scarf he perpetually wore around his neck, a hand made gift from his mother that he worshiped. He would have appeared as just another human teenager but for his face, a mottled green and brown with ulcerated flesh along the forehead and cheeks, his lips were withered and at places torn away exposing yellowed worn teeth. The true horror of him was his eyes, yellowed and inflamed with a feral haunted look that gave away his true nature. He always seemed to fall into the same nervous motion whenever he was left with nothing to do.
While watching him Kaye idly played with her hair. It had always been cut short but it had grown longer now from neglect, it was frayed, split, and filthy with matted clumps of soil and blood. Her face, it had once had a rough mature beauty, was far more intact than timothy's; pale and drawn with black withered flesh at the nose, lips, cheeks, and under her sunken eyes, had a long streak of dried blood and filth from cheek to cheek and it cracked and flaked as her mouth twitched with irritation. Shifting uncomfortably against a stone Kaye's leather armor creaked slightly
It wasn't so much the boys nervous rocking that annoyed her so, she could forgive that. As tragic pasts went, even a hardened city girl like Kaye had been hard pressed to hear a sadder tale. No it was the fact that she was feeling the onset of the hunger as acutely as he was and she did not like seeing her pain reflected so perfectly at her. The woman in her thought to slide over to his side and at least hold him, to try and give him some kind of comfort however hollow it might be but then there was a flash of cramping in her stomach, arms, and legs a horrible tightening and then releasing leaving a dull soreness, followed by extreme nausea. It changed constantly, the hunger that is, coming and going and moving about the body trying to prevent her from growing used to it of focusing through it. In the end, she supposed, the hunger was a living thing and it did not like being ignored.
Kaye hated the feeling of being out of control, of being a slave to something that she could not fight. Even at the worst times in her life, and there had been some horrible ones, she had never felt weak or like a victim but she felt like one now as the wind whipped over the stones and she waited for their other two companions to arrive from the "foraging" and that might take hours more. She looked over at timothy again; he was staring off at nothing and compulsively chewing his scarf. Just then she quietly closed the distance between them she coming up behind him and slipping her arms around his chest and neck wrapping her legs around his waist to still him. He recoiled at first and then began to snuggle back into her. He had been a small skinny boy and she was a grown woman well built and tall and he settled right into her embrace.
Her hand moved up to stroke his hair as her other hand rubbed his chest all the while she whispered "shh" into his ear, her own voice wavering every now and again as sharp pain, rolled through her skeleton and the sound of the wind was dulled by the throb of a terrible migraine. But still Kaye tried to focus on him to work through her own pain.
Idly, she thought, in another world at another time she might have tried to comfort him in another way. He would have almost been a man and they would have both been cold and lonely up here in the wild. But these were just thoughts now, nothing stirred in her as she knew nothing stirred in him. In any event she was old enough to be his mother and thought he needed that more than a lover. Neither of them were cold either, death had been merciful in at least that regard.
"They won't come back Kaye" Timothy whined as he scrunched up a spasm of discomfort rippling through him. "I wouldn't if I was them, and I found someone" he shivered then and just from panic alone tried to wiggle free. Kaye held him tighter and soon he relented. Softly she whispered into his ear trying to not sound as sick as he was.
"You know better than that, if you didn't you would have left a long time ago, Long shanks needs us, and Alice is as true a friend as either of us have ever known." Kaye thought back to her their two companions, two of the most bizarre creatures she had ever encountered and silently she worried that the boy had seen the truth of it but that was useless to worry about now.
Kaye had sent Long shanks and Black Alice with instructions to bring back living food. She had put this group together for a reason and she wanted to see if her faith in her friends would be rewarded. If she was wrong then it meant what she planned next would never be a possibility, and better to know that now than when the chips were well and truly down.
It occurred to Kaye after another hour of this that if anyone broke faith it might just as easily be her that did it. The hunger was starting to gnaw at her badly and the pain was becoming constant. One could preach about self control and the need to trust others of their kind but she knew that there were humans nearby had known ever since seeing those camp fires and it was becoming maddening. So long as she wasn't aware of any humans the pain could be held off for longer periods of time but now with it this close… Her resolve weakened and weakened and finally when she could take no more Kaye pushed timothy away and began to get up.
That was when Black Alice came out of the tree line,
Her name came from her unusual look and sense of humor which considering that their circumstances were nothing short of horrific made it by default black. Alice, Kaye had no idea if that was her real name, was slender and well proportioned the kind of body that men admired. She moved with a swaying sensual walk that was meant to attract attention and show off her hips and waist and she had a loose free way of speaking that suggested she had made her living as a working girl in the cities. She'd confirmed as much during talks with Kaye as well as a brief adventuring career while alive. It was from the slums and back alleys that she developed her unique look. Taking advantage of her new condition as the living dead she had done extensive modifications to her body.
Both forearms had a group of ten inch long nails rammed through them so that they resembled spiked clubs thicker spikes had been implanted at both elbows and her shoulders her right hand had barbed hooks at each finger and the left had a long chain bolted to it with the slack wrapped around her forearm, at the end of the chain was a palm sized spiked ball that could easily crack a skull with only two well placed hits. Her face, she had the least amount of decomposition of the group, had more than a dozen small spikes, drilled and anchored in her skull, arranged along her forehead, chin, and cheeks, along with spikes running in rows along her scalp protruding up from her tangled mass of red hair.
Her clothing was nothing more than torn rags purposely ripped to expose as much skin as possible including her thighs, belly and both breasts all of which had been arrayed with an impressive array of cuts worked into arcane designs she had found in books looted from victims or found on the walls of crypts or dungeons she had explored while adventuring. Whenever she found a new one she would work to find some new bare area of her body to cut the design into making her truly bizarre to look at but strangely beautiful.
Now standing there on the ridge the wind whipping across them both Alice had that same sardonic smile. "I had to hang back a few minutes, I knew you'd get nervous and come 'check on us'. It really makes me feel special knowing we have such a great and loving leader." When Kaye didn't smile back Alice walked over and slapped her on the shoulder. "Just kidding you moody, hungry, bitch you!" Kaye let her self relax a little, but tensed again when she didn't see long shanks nearby.
"were there any problems?" Kaye asked
"Not a one" and with that Alice slapped her hands together twice and stomped her foot. As if materializing from the thicket a nude headless monstrosity bounded out on all fours. It had a human shape but with freakishly distorted proportions. Long arms with huge hands and long thin fingers. Legs with reverse articulated joints so that it could move on all fours. The entire torso was bent and twisted with a bulging curved spine and an abdomen so tiny that the ribs almost protruded through its scared and torn flesh. Where its genitals should have been was a mass of scarred burned tissue the result of a cruel and haphazard castration, probably when the poor creature was still alive. At the top of the torso where a head should have been was a distended neck stump that whipped about and moved at any vibration or movement. Every so often its esophagus would extend from the stump like a tongue to taste the air. Nearly twice the size and length of a grown human male it had tied to its back two tightly bound human women, Dark skinned and brightly dressed in body wraps, natives of these lands. They were gagged and immobile but conscious and terrified at the horrors that were before them.
Alice walked over to the creature they had come to call Long-shanks and taking one of its huge hands in hers ran her fingers along its palm in an intricate series of gestures and signs. Dark elf sign language developed in the light less depths of the under dark, this was a variation that could be transmitted through touch in cases when sight was disabled as well as hearing. Kaye had learned it in her adventuring career and had taught a simplified version to Alice and timothy as a way of communicating with Long Shanks. The creature reached back and feeling along its victims deftly undid the ropes tethering them to its back and they rolled off with a violent thud onto the rocky ground. Kaye and timothy were already moving towards the shuddering terrified women.
"I though about knocking them out for this" Alice said her own eyes filled with hunger "But the last time I tried that I ended up killing one beating it down, so...' no one was listening though Alice and Long shanks had fed earlier so they were still lucid and not wholly gripped with the hunger but for Kaye and timothy they were already foaming at the mouth. Timothy who had already grabbed up a stone was the first move charging the younger woman and screaming
"BRAIINNSSS!!!" Kaye was right after him setting upon the older woman. Both thinkers fed like animals viciously beating and smashing open the humans skulls and stuffing handfuls of red and yellow brains into their slavering gullets. Alice joined in after a few seconds having no more self control setting upon Kaye's victim. Both women bent over the spasming twitching body mouths buried in the ruined skull. The sounds they made were orgasmic and once as their faces came together randomly they began to kiss passing half chewed chunks or tissue between them, more an act of sharing than anything sexual.
Afterward each dealt with the "Afterglow" of feeding in their own way. Timothy hid behind a rock alternating between nervous rocking and relaxed lounging. Alice twirled about holding up the remnants of the victims body wraps seeing if they could be made into a decoration for her body. Long shanks squatted on its haunches and holding both victims corpses in each hand slowly and methodically ran its proboscis like esophagus along the empty skulls slurping up left over brains and spinal fluid finally slurping out the spinal cords like noodles. Kaye took advantage of the clarity afforded by feeding to meditate.
Kneeling on the edge of the ridge, the wind and smells from the valley below washing over her, Kaye allowed her self to calm and turned her perception inward hoping to refresh herself as she had been taught to by the fighting monks of the red horn mountains. They had taught her to live in the moment and seeing the truth around her. This had always been the key to her fighting skills and to surviving in a harsh unforgiving world where death could come from so many sources. Now though it was hard to reach that level of focus, even after feeding and driving the hunger as deeply as she could she could feel its influence in all her thoughts..
Ever since this "sickness' had befallen her she had felt as though some critical aspect of her mind had been broken or co opted by the disease. Even at her most focused and still she felt what could only be describes as an oily cloying film covering her mind. He memories especially had become corrupted by the hunger, she could not remember now, when she did not feel the hunger dominating her every thought. This was the most painful thing the think about, so she instead focused on her new friends and how she had come to meet them.
Kaye and Alice had met under, to say the least, unusual circumstances. For creatures such as them there was no such thing as social structure. Unlike their mindless cousins who herded together in ever increasingly huge hordes, thinker zombies, as the humans called them, shunned all contact with any other thinker. Instinctively they saw each other as competition and the hunger did not understand the concept of sharing. When they did, by chance meet there was no aggressive displays or jockeying for dominance they simply ran from each other often to the benefit of whatever poor fool they were both hunting. Kaye had come upon a small isolated peasant home with only a few inhabitants two parents and a small child. The father stood his ground bravely but was easily overcome and Kaye feasted on his brains, mindful that the other two meals had run out of the house and gone south into a thicket of trees. Feeding alleviated the hunger greatly but the hunger was also gluttonous and if there was more food nearby then the hunger kept driving the zombie on to feed. Kaye took her time though knowing that a housewife burdened with a small child was not the stealthiest of creatures.
Taking up the hunt after her first meal Kaye instead found the woman dead and another thinker devouring her fresh brains, nearby the child was shrieking fear preventing its escape. In that moment both zombies forgot the hunger and were only focused on the other. The second, Black Alice, looked much as she did now as she stopped feeding and rose to face her potential rival. Of all the things that could have happened in that moment Kaye had not expected the other thinker to smile shrug and say: "well this is certainly awkward isn't it?' then Alice looked back at the frightened mewling child and turning back with a raised eyebrow "Halves?" they were friends ever since.
Long-shanks had been found near an entrance to the vast warren of caverns, tunnels and underground cities known as the under dark. There Kaye and Alice had come upon the burned out remnant of a small traveling freak show. What had befallen the carnival was a mystery. More than likely Alice had assumed, it had either been running for the under dark hoping to escape some cheated lord or townsfolk whom they had merely offended with their sideshows and prostitutes. Hoping to find survivors the pair descended the hill and went into the camp. There they found a very familiar sight. Of the hundred dead humans more than eighty of them had had their heads smashed open and the brains sucked out the others had died from trauma inflicted by some terribly strong creature or they had burned in several tent fires. Tracking back the trial of carnage they came upon the most miserable sight either had ever seen.
In a clearing next to a huge bonfire was Long-shanks furiously and nervously clawing at a pile of ash and soot. The confused thing was beating at the pile then leaping about hitting itself clawing at its own dead flesh. The creature ignored the women as they approached and Kaye sensing what the living corpses' problem was sent Alice to search about and find its head hoping to get some explanation and maybe a way to find any survivors. When she returned a little while later empty handed they both saw that they had a problem on their hand.
Decapitation was a touchy subject among the living dead, it readily disabled the shamblers, but had no real effect on thinkers. With thinkers, the head and torso simply became two separate moving entities, sometimes they were able to work out some kind of coordination with the head exerting control over its errant parts. In this case the head had been cut off and burned to a cinder, most likely as a poorly planned way to quickly kill the whole zombie. All that happened was the body went berserk broke out of its cage and decimated the camp then returned trying to somehow reason out what to do next without even the organ used for reason. Perhaps the body had adapted its own motor and muscle memory into a primitive kind of instinct combined with the ever present hunger to give it a focus. Watching the wretched creature Alice came up next to Kaye and motioned to the guttering fire, the look on her face was plain. Kaye had another idea, recognizing the creatures underdark roots she was able to work out how to use under-common and the zombie was soon subdued and became a loyal friend
Kaye was suddenly shaken from her meditation by a clawed spiked hand on her shoulder. Alice slid in close and whispered "we're being watched, a man and he's armed" A flush of irritation crept up Kaye's neck "Were you followed?" she whispered in response.
"We found four humans the women and two kids. We picked off the kids for ourselves and then captured the women for you guys" Alice explained "there weren't any men around"
"I was too hungry and not thinking straight" Kaye said remembering her time in these lands as a human. "The men can take more than one wife the women live communally as sisters caring for the children and the home while the man hunts. He'll know these lands like the back of his hand and he knows what we are. He'll wait out there in the brush hoping to pick us off one at a time." Alice let out a derisive snort.
"Yeah... good luck with that plan" Kaye took the other thinker by the arm.
"Take this seriously. The warriors here are nothing to trifle with and if he was able to get this close then we have a problem"
"I'll send 'Shanks to flush him into us" Alice suggested.
"No He wants that 'Shanks won't be coming back out... follow my lead wait for your chance" Alice's hand went over Kaye's in agreement and they both stood Kaye headed for the discarded bodies of the women while Alice split and started to circle their camp. Kaye grabbed what she remembered was the older woman, the first wife and lifting the headless rag doll form she shouted in the tongue of the grasslands "Here's your whore!!! Next I'll give her body to my beast so she can be further shamed in the afterlife!!" Timothy looked up from his rest shocked completely unaware of what was happening. He was even more shocked when the warrior lept from the brush grief and pride making him take the bait.
He was even darker than the women tall, thin, and muscular, clothed in a loincloth and wide belt with a hooded cloak of tall yellowed grass and fur to better hide among the brush. He was armed with several short throwing spears bound in a bandolier behind his back and a curved knife at his belt Along his arms and legs were colored bands indicating rank and battles fought and Kaye recognized the marks at his face chess and legs as ritual scars gained from enduring pain to prove strength. The look on his worn scarred face was one of rage, pride, and... grief. He had loved this one, his first wife, the others had been taken as a function of his social status. With that in mind Kaye shook the corpse once more and spit. That drove him wild and he charged screaming, one of his spears seeming to appear in his hand. Kaye threw the body aside and screamed opening herself to accept the attack. Just on her periphery she could see see Alice and Long shanks taking up position. He was theirs...
Suddenly the warrior cut left and began to spin an instant before Long-shanks pounced the spindly long limbed zombie overcommitment and went sprawling into the dusty stone. The spin had allowed the warrior to pivot as he threw his spear catching Alice center mass. The spearhead was broad and dull so that it created more impact when they hit as well as penetrating. Alice was taken right off her feet and sent rolling backward.
Long shanks came back up all four limbs close to the ground looking like some insane spider. The warrior drew another spear and squared off with the monstrosity. Long-shanks was taller and stronger and maybe even faster but it fought with only one intent, to wrap up its opponent and crush them hoping to get at his head and the brains therein. When long shanks charged leaping at the armed man the warrior stepped in and catching one of long-shanks' long arms twisted it over the other arm and flipped the huge creature over and to the ground, taking advantage of the surprise the warrior seized the other arm and twisted it around the other using one arm as a fulcrum he popped both out of their sockets at the elbow and shoulder and using the spear like a pin bound both arms to the ground. Shanks was thrashing and kicking but could not figure out how to get itself free
Now Kaye came on trying to salvage some advantage. She threw a short jabbing left kick then a short left punch closing the distance hoping to grapple him. He was taller and had better reach so she had to come in tight and turn that into a disadvantage. He slapped aside the kick and sidestepped the punch now coming in close pushing Kaye's left hand to pull her her off balance he came in with three hard blows to her ribs the last breaking one of them. The injury would have little real effect but the pain of it was excruciating especially with the hunger dulled. Rolling her left away from his hand she corrected her balance spun and delivered a kick to his lower abdomen. The belt soaked up most of the blow but it buckled him and he went to one knee but was still balanced. Now Kaye poured it on
A quick left upper cut caught him in the nose smashing it and a straight right finished it. His sinuses would be filling with blood and his eyes would be tearing uncontrollably. Instead of falling back or losing focus though, the warrior flipped back wards on his right hand and caught Kaye under the shin with a whip fast vertical kick that knocked her off her feet, into the air and landing flat on her back on the stone floor. He was on top her in an instant his third and last spear coming down the point driving for her eye
Kaye caught it just in time with her left hand and redirected the point across her face to slam into the stone. Before she could counter the warrior's blade was in his free hand and already at her throat in an instant he would begin cutting and Kaye would be as headless as 'Shanks.
Instantly, Timothy was in the fight flailing and clawing he set upon the warrior. The sudden unexpected fury caught him off guard for an instant and that was all it took. Timothy clamped his teeth onto one of the warriors exposed nipples and viciously tore it way. The wound was minor in and of itself but the bite carried an infection that was one hundred percent fatal. The warrior savagely kicked the boy aside but he simply stood their staring at his maimed chest trying to come to grips with his own death falling to his knees Quiet settled over the ridge as the defeated warrior looked up into Kaye's eyes. She had already taken his spear and without a word drove it into his throat pinning him to the floor. Then they were on him Timothy and Kaye cracking open his head and feasting on what was inside. Kaye stopped timothy half way though and letting long-shanks free gave him his share.
Alice came up having just finished yanking the spear from her chest. Both of them freed Long-shanks and then took stock of the battle."Looks like you manged to kick his ass, I though he had you for a second there." Alice quipped to Kaye.
"He did" she responded then reached over and tousled timothy's filthy matted hair. "But our young man here managed to get the better of him." timothy managed a smile through his torn withered lips. Alice looked over to him and smiled and said " Well I guess you earned you share. Now come over here and give auntie Alice a kiss and I'll see if I can't get any of those brains you stole from me back." She reached out to try and pull the boy in for a kiss but he pulled away and giving a embarrassed laugh started running about the ridge with Alice chasing and teasing him. Kaye sat back on a rock and considered the fact that the boy had probably saved her .
Timothy was just a miserable vagabond that the group had stumbled upon as they made their way south following Kaye's' dream of maybe finding a way to cure themselves. Coming upon a ruined town they found a dozen shamblers feating and a single thinker in a burned out homestead he was rocking back and forth holding a burned female corpse
His death had bee a common one among his social class, sickness. Working a field dawn to dusk without break trying to help his family eke out a living among barren soil would take a toll on any peasant but timothy's family was small and it fell to him as the oldest son to take on the lion's share of the work. Soon enough he caught pneumonia and deteriorated quickly. Finally when he was coughing up blood and wracked with pain the wise woman gave him a sleeping draught to make the end easier and told the father what he must do to keep his son from rising as a shambling mindless corpse.
Of course the father was loathe to do this and procrastinated waiting until his son rose before doing the deed. But when there was movement and shuffling in timothy's room and the father burst in with his ax drunk and ready he was greeted by a miracle. Timothy was alive he looked up with sickly human eyes and whispered "father"? The drunken fool ran to tell his wife the good news and left his youngest son a toddler in the doorway staring at his older brother. All the parents heard next was the word "brains!!!" and a small shriek. The older larger father managed to subdue timothy and bind him bolting the room closed, but he had been badly bitten in several places in the attempt and by the time the wise woman came again he was already very sick and weak.
Things went from dim to ebon in those last hours. The father died of his wounds and turned, attacking his wife who turned soon enough and timothy escaped his bonds and killed his remaining siblings. The wise woman rallied the town and when the house was set on fire only timothy had the intelligence to escape trying desperately and irrationally to make his parents follow. They tried obeying a thinker zombie's mental control but were still caught in the fire and immolated. Timothy returned soon after pulling a larger groups of shamblers he found in the woods and together they wiped out the small village
It was obvious that Kaye felt sorry for the wretch and that was why she had taken him with her and the rest of the group. But Alice had questioned what, exactly could he provide to earn a share of the brains they would find. "Nothing I imagine" Kaye responded "except that he is another body to share the load. We are all strong, fast, and nearly indestructible, even without any training or mutation, and the hunger has a firm a grip on him as any of us. He'll earn his share for that alone. And besides we aren't in this just for fresh brains we have a goal we have the cure to find." at That Alice raised her eyebrows. But said no more.
Now back on the ridge the sun had set in a majestic horizon and the sky was filled with stars and a bright moon. In that light Kaye sat on a rock commanding a tremendous view of the valley further on she could see the lights of the village the warrior and his women had come from but she harbored no delusions about any more raids. Alice saddled up next to her on the same rock.
"You think they'll send any more?" she asked idly hating silent contemplation.
"No" Kaye responded "This one was probably their best fighter" at least Kaye hoped that he was or her skills had really fallen off When he doesn't come back the elders will get the message and invent some legend about a terrible monster that lives on this ridge and no one will come this way for a decade. Alice laughed and slapped Kaye on the back.
"Well I wouldn't call you terrible, you haven't rotted that badly" they Alice pinched Kaye on her side " Though I don't know how someone who's supposed to be dead has started gaining weight" Kaye looked over and then turned back shaking her head
"Bitch" she said smiling
"Yeah, yeah I know... look I admit I was wrong about the boy he really came through when he could have just gotten a free meal and run on us." Kaye kept looking up at the sky.
"He knows there's more to this than just free meals" Alice groaned knowing what Kaye was getting at " you still don't believe me?"
"There is no 'cure' we are what we are and we should just be happy that we don't have to go through this alone. You've done that much for us and maybe we'll find others and maybe we'll all have that warm fuzzy feeling but why do you insist on there being a cure." Now Kaye turned to Alice
"I was always taught that everything has a dual nature. That every attack has a counter, every weapon a defense, and all sickness has a cure. If this disease we all have exists then it has an opposite. we just have to find it."
"Yeah and the fact that the greatest wizards and necromancers in the world haven't done it doesn't deter you a little." Kaye sometimes forgot that Alice had had her own adventures out in the world before she ... became sick.
"All they want is for us to go back to being their pawns and servants, and besides they didn't create the disease, the Dark lord did"
"And he is dead, give me a little credit even I know that much history" the dark lord had been destroyed almost a century ago in the last alliance of men elves and dwarves. A great war that had expunged evil from the world and then destroyed it when the dark lord caused the cataclysm as a last act of spite.
"Yes but who was the dark Lord before this one... Morgoth, the enemy of the world who taught this last one all he knew."
"No I didn't know that and I suppose you're going somewhere with this" Kaye just shook her head.
"Yes I am" Kaye said trying not to get exasperated "Morgoth ruled this continent once and he ruled it unopposed the other races holding the north and far south as borders to his land. It was here that he built a huge temple and city that even after he fell was left intact and served as a repository of knowledge for others seeking to make themselves the next dark lord."
"We could search this continent for years and never even come close we would need guides and people who have been there"
"I've been there!" Now Alice looked over her eyes confused trying to work out whether her friend was "giving her the business" or not. "Years ago after I left the red horn temple I hooked up with a few other adventurers and an archaeologist and we found the city. It had been abandoned a very long time ago and the jungle had reclaimed it most of its completely destroyed now but the temple wasn't that far away."
"And you found the temple" now Alice was letting herself get sucked into the tale.
"No... things got bad at the city and we cut out and I came up north. But Morgoth's symbol was a hand and eye the symbol of his most powerful weapon the hand and eye of a powerful previous Dark lord called Vecna the source of all Morgoths power and knowledge. While we were in the ruins of the city we learned a lot of how Morgoths people were controlled. The elite of the society were Morgoth's personal guard warriors bred to be the strongest, the most intelligent, and the most vicious. To show the world where they stood in the hierarchy they were branded with a hand and a eye on their belly, where a warriors Ki comes from." When Kaye was finished Alice looked back to where the warrior's body had fallen.
"But that was thousands of years ago right?" she asked finally
"The tradition would have continued long after the fall of the city, as a sign of having reached the highest levels of skill. By now even the men being branded would have no knowledge where it came from only that it was a symbol that they craved to prove themselves." Both already knew that beneath that belt was the very brand that Kaye had mentioned. All the proof anyone would need to start hoping that all this talk of a cure might just be true. When Alice looked back Her face said that she was starting to believe.
"All the Dark Lord's knowledge died with him, but If he created this curse then Morgoth would know how to reverse it and cure us. All his knowledge is in that temple all we have to do is find it."
"huh... and you were holding your own with one of them." Alice said a wry look on her face. Kaye's eyebrows went up at that.
"I beat him" Kaye corrected
."Oh yeah I know after the field hand stepped in and saved your ass" Kaye had no answer to that so she didn't try. "well it's not you fault I mean its been a rough couple of years. I mean all the weight you've been gaining..."
"Hey!" Kaye started looking aghast
"Not to mention you weren't exactly a spring chicken. When you had your... um... 'change of life'"
"I'm only forty" Alice started to laugh
"I was trying not to use numbers" she was said while chuckling
"That's not that old" Now Alice was cracking up
"No... its not if you're fifty but for us girls in our twenties, well..." They both started laughing now. And continued for sometime. When they were finished they both sat for awhile staring up at the stars. Finally Black Alice broke the silence.
"A cure huh..." Kaye thought for a moment
"Yes I hope so"
"Thanks... boss" Alice wasn't joking then