On Life, Death, and All Manner of States in Between (Part 3)

Michael O. Varhola

The crawlers were as oblivious to Arabasz’ approach as the strollers were to theirs and, when he was within sword's reach of his prey they were nearly so of theirs. From behind he slowly slid his blade through the weak part of the spinal column, just where it joined the skull. Almost soundlessly, the longsword all but severed head from trunk as he twitched his sword hand at just the right angle to slip the blade sideways. The crawler stopped. Its mate, a particularly astute corpse, rolled its head toward Arabasz and hissed, saw the living man only a few feet from it, and adjusted its course so as to improve its chances of eating something. Arabasz withdrew the longsword and flicked it in the monster’s direction, and the dead white eyeballs burst as the blade removed the top of the rotted skull in an unpleasant shower of what might once have been brains and blood. That worthy foe, too, went still.

But, as is often the case when life, death, and undeath are in the balance, things did not remain static while Arabasz was dispatching the pair of monsters. Firstly, Arabasz noticed that there were other crawlers and shamblers, rather nearby, that also appeared to have noticed his destruction of their kindred. He was not entirely sure, of course, whether "kindred" was the right choice of word for fellow shamblers; presumably, the corpses of some of these might have been family in life, but he really had no way of knowing. He decided it was more proper to use the word "fellows" than "kindred," and resolved to do so in future unless clear familial relation between the shamblers, crawlers, or fast walkers in question could be established. He further resolved to do this after he avoided becoming one of the shamblers’, or crawlers’, or fast walkers’ fellows himself.

While he considered the matter of culture and familial structure in undead society, Arabasz, decided that to stay huddled among the undead was to join them, and so rose - directly before the lovely lady with the shimmering scale headdress. Immediately afterward, the shamblers and crawlers also rose, to the best of their ability, before her as well. The lady, having heard the hiss of the no-longer crawling crawler, drew her sword, thrust her torch forward, and prepared to lay about, perhaps with one, the other, or both. The robed companion