Lyssia (2013)

By David Hoffman

 

She had come to me newly dead with cuts across her stomach. She never told me what killed had her. She had only accepted my contract that bound her to me, for a time.

 

For years, I watched Lyssia through her eyes, minds linked together as master and acolyte. She had skill with the blade and a master’s perception, both of which shaped her into an assassin with few peers. She killed with delicate expedience, without hate or anger, but in the way a stoic reaper would remove people from the living world.

 

As she killed kings and priests to the lowly slumlord, her infamy brought her closer to my side as my personal bodyguard. But as time went on, I could feel her yearn for something else, something she remembered from before her death. At the moment when she became hesitant with her dagger, I finally let her go pursue that which made her pause. But even as she left my presence, I watched her and waited, always just a thought away.

 

She was dressed as a trader from the Many Isles, draped in robes of gold and red that covered every part of her body, protecting her from the sun. Even so, she could still feel the sun’s rays destabilizing the enchantments around her body. The sensation through our link was familiar to me. I knew she would be fine as her mummy wrappings were enchanted with my most powerful magic.

 

She walked for days through the sands, over roads cracked and broken, their clay perpetually baked dry. Hunger and fatigue didn’t stop her, nor did the cold nights filled with cries of coyotes.

 

I watched her walk for time unknown until a morning sun rose above the dunes, making a patch of light shimmer in the distance. Out of the wavering mirage of heated Earth came the sight of a glistening lake, surrounded by palm trees and clay buildings as brown as the Earth around them. Tapestries of purple and red hung between them, shading the streets below as the citizens of Eton Oasis went about their usual morning.

 

The town that had been her home in the living world made her stop and stare. In that moment, painful nostalgia gripped me as much as it did her. It hasn’t changed at all, she thought through the mind link.

 

“You shouldn’t stop here. Go forward,” I said.

 

Nobody took a second glance at her as she entered the town. The robes of the merchant were common enough here, allowing her to hide in plain sight, as she usually did.

 

She had been resurrected so soon enough after her death that she could walk like a normal person, and my enchantments had been applied so quickly that the stench of decay had not been allowed to foster. As long as she stayed covered and showed no skin, she would raise no suspicion.

 

She tried not to stare at the townsfolk she passed, but each familiar face made her pause for a moment. She had seen those men working once, though trying to pinpoint exactly where and when was like remembering the spare fragments of a long faded dream. The women who weaved outside their homes had once talked to her, but Lyssia couldn’t conjure their names. She stopped at the fountain in the middle of the town where children splashed each other in the ever-warming sun. She knew she had once stood there at that same spot and saw the same sight, though with different children. All the while, the familiar scents of spices and yarn hung in the air.

 

She snapped her out of her daze when she heard the shifting of footsteps behind her. The pace was soft, but with purpose. The stride was that of a man, though a young man without a heavy, thudding gait. They slowed when he got near, almost as if he was too shy to get any closer. She waited for him to speak as she reached into her robes and touched the belt of daggers across her chest.

 

“Um, excuse me, sir, or um, ma’am? Do you need some help? A guide, maybe?”

 

Lyssia lowered her guard and stared at the fountain, watching one of the little boys reach down and send a great handful of water towards a little girl. She squealed and shouted back at him with a smile across her face. She’s about Arini’s age… Lyssia thought.

 

“Um…” the young man said.

 

“Yes, you could help me. I’m looking for Johan Sewe. Does he still live… Is he still here?”

 

“Yeah, I could take you there, if you want.”

 

“No thank you, just point me in the right direction.”

 

“Sure,” the young man said.

 

But Lyssia was already walking. All she needed to know was if Johan still lived in the village. Not even in death could she forget where he lived.

 

The houses around her were just as they always had been, ever since they were built up from the shores of the oasis. She glanced at the family glyphs carved into each door she passed and remembered the faces of friends from the recesses of her mind, but none of their names. So little had changed here that she wondered what it would be like to see their house again.

 

I had never felt her worry this much, not when she had snuck past paladins and hunters of the undead. The battles she had fought and almost lost didn’t grip her with the same anxiety that now slowed her pace. I asked her what was wrong, but she only responded with, I’m afraid.

 

When she turned the final corner and saw her old house, she finally stopped. The painted trim along the base of the house was the same shade of turquoise that she remembered. The vines hanging down from the rooftop garden were cut just as they were supposed to, just as she had wanted them. All her assassin’s training faded for a moment as her attention neglected the world around her and focused on every little detail of the house that hadn’t changed since the day she died.

 

“Are you alright?” I asked.

 

I don’t know, she said through the link. I… I guess… I’m glad that it’s the same. I am, really. It’s nice just to see it’s still there. I didn’t want the house to fall apart. I didn’t want… I’m glad they’ve continued on.

 

“So what will you do now?”

 

She ducked into the doorway of one of the neighboring houses as she heard footsteps coming down the street. Her excitement grew when she recognized the rapid footsteps of children and the speech of a little girl.

 

“And Phileep said that I’d get to go outside with him when we finish my paintings,” she said.

 

“Well that’s nice of him,” a man said.

 

Lyssia gripped the doorway. She hadn’t heard his voice in so long.

 

“And next time we’ll go to the dock and throw in sticks.”

 

“That’s always fun,” Johan said.

 

My girls…

 

Johan was returning home with his two girls in tow. Little Arini was walking now, talking, almost as tall as Johan’s waist.

 

Lyssia could only imagine those first steps and those first words. She thought of the things she had wanted to teach the little girl as she grew up, like the tales of her family’s past, just as she had with Jenna.

 

And Jenna… she was almost a young woman now, soon to begin her changes.

 

Lyssia’s hands, the tools of a precise assassin, trembled in a way that I had never seen before. Oh Gods… I’ve missed so much. This isn’t right. This isn’t fair.

 

Lyssia’s sorrow was so strong in my mind. No undead I had communed with had ever felt such regret. Most never got to see the families they left behind, and as I felt Lyssia’s pain at that moment, I didn’t know if that was a blessing or not.

 

I swore then that if I ever found the ones who killed her, that making them a mindless thrall would be far too merciful for such pitiful worms.

 

At least they’re happy, Lyssia thought. I just want… She sighed. I’m sorry.

 

“It’s fine.”

 

It’d be wrong of me to show myself in this form, wouldn’t it?

 

“It would.”

 

I’d give anything to just talk to them again, anything… but I shouldn’t. I know that. They have their lives now. They’re happy on their own.

 

The door of their house opened as her family approached. Out walked a woman, arms wide to receive the babbling Arini. Jenna was next to give the woman a hug before taking her little sister inside. Johan stayed to kiss her, holding her for a moment before they followed the children.

 

Lyssia held onto the wall to keep herself from falling. I get it. I finally get why you don’t go back to see them, she said.

 

Most undead who volunteered for the unlife had taken the path I had chosen and abandoned the living world, thinking nothing more of the life and the people left behind. Sometimes, souls raised from the dead without their consent had hundreds of years separating their life from the unlife, and thus had no more stake in the rest of the world, but plenty of contempt for it. In Lyssia’s case, I understood why she went back. She had been raised mere days after dying, and never had the chance to separate herself from the memories of home and family.

 

After a time, she pushed off the wall and stood again. Part of me hoped it would happen like this. It’s not fair to the girls to not have a mother, and not fair to Johan to be without a wife, but I… I never prepared myself for being replaced. I know it’s foolish to feel this way, but it hurts, a lot.

 

“I’m sure they won’t forget you,” I said.

 

I hope so. Dammit, I really really hope so. I know Johan won’t. Maybe Jenna. Though, my little Arini… She’ll probably just, forget… Dammit, why did this have to happen to me?”

 

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that such was the fate of the dead, even the undead, and she had to know it was true. I had linked with many acolytes throughout the centuries. Most of them saw the world of the living as I did, as an obsolete phase of our eternal lives that was replaced with undeath, which would then too be discarded when the next phase began.

 

The divide, the veil of death, opened a completely different realm of existence. Most of us saw the previous life as a chrysalis for unlife, one in which we lived for a time to experience what we had to until we moved on. Some of us, like Lyssia, held the two worlds too close together. If she wasn’t careful, she could be driven mad by it, though that was not something I could simply explain through words.

 

Lyssia walked away from that house, back through the streets and past the fountain. The children had stopped playing and the workers had all gone home in the late afternoon. The setting sun and the coming cool air brought scents of dinner meals wafting down from open windows.

 

Lyssia went to the inn at the edge of town and bought a room for the night. She went upstairs to be alone while the tavern below began to bustle with patrons of the evening. She closed her door, but didn’t light a lantern. Her undead sight would be enough for her to see.

 

She took off her robes and laid them neatly on the bed, then unclasped the belt of daggers from her chest. They clacked together as Lyssia placed them on the wooden dresser. She went to the bed and sat, staring down at her dry hands bound in enchanted mummy wrappings.

 

If only I could touch them one more time. I can’t believe it’s over, that this is it. This is what I came here for, just, knowing that they’ve moved on.

 

“Is that not enough?” I asked.

 

I know it should be, but it doesn’t feel like it. What scares me most is wondering if I can carry on now, after seeing them.

 

“Do you really wish to end your unlife?”

 

I don’t know, master. Does the pain go away?

 

“I’ve never been in your state, nor have any of my subjects, so I don’t know. But from my experience, yes, the pain does go away. In a hundred years’ time, all connection to the living world will be gone.”

 

Really? A hundred years?

 

“Sometimes more, sometimes less. Just as they have moved on from you, you must move on from them. They have already experienced their pain.”

 

So this is normal?

 

“I expect so.”

 

Lyssia stood from the bed and looked down at the belt of daggers. That means there’s no point in staying here.

 

“Come back and heal.”

 

There’s something I want to do first before I leave. I just want to see them one more time. Will that be alright?

 

“I trust you, Lyssia. Do what you must.”

 

Thank you, master.

 

Lyssia left her traveler’s robe and the belt of daggers, and went to the window. She opened it with the silence of an assassin and jumped up to the roof. The tapestries that hung over the streets hid her from view as she leapt from building to building while the vision of the undead ensured that she would see any living person before they saw her.

 

She landed on the roof of her home without making a sound, but her stance wavered when she saw the flowers around her.

 

The rare plants that Johan had bought for her were still healthy and well cared for. Not one leaf held a brown spot of decay or sickness.

 

Underneath them, through the floor, yellow and blue auras drifted within the house.

 

The vibrant little aura of Arini was quieting down in her bed while Jenna, with an aura older but strikingly similar, tucked her in. Once Arini had tired enough to stay still, Jenna went to the bed next to her and lay down for the night. Lyssia waited as Johan and his wife were soon to follow.

 

The moments of waiting were trivial for the undead assassin. She could kneel there all night while she guarded them from above, keeping them secure with her watch. She would never get tired or hungry.

 

Time passed differently for us.

 

But she didn’t come here to be their bodyguard. Once Lyssia was sure they were all asleep, she moved to Arini and Jenna’s window. The girls didn’t stir as Lyssia slipped inside their room, bringing with her the cool desert breeze.

 

Lyssia crept to the side of Arini’s bed, all the while staring at the little girl, becoming more amazed at how she’d grown.

 

I remember when I could hold her in my hands, Lyssia thought. She looked at her hands wrapped in off-white cloth that covered the grey skin underneath.

 

I don’t know if I should touch her, she thought. The little girl heaved a sigh from the depths of sleep. I’ve come too far to stop now.

 

Lyssia’s long, skeletal fingers brushed back the hair from Arini’s face, then caressed the girl’s warm, pink cheeks.

 

“I’ll take your pain and make it mine, so you won’t shed a tear. I’ll love you till the end of time, even when death draws near,” Lyssia said as she held the little girl’s hand. “I never got to tell you that, my sweet little girl. I’ll… check up on you, from time to time, when I can. I’ll be there, even if you don’t know it. I’ll never forget you, even if you don’t know who I…” She stopped herself and pulled her hand away.

 

“Don’t push yourself,” I said.

 

I know, I’ll finish, she thought to me. She leaned over her daughter and pressed her lips to Arini’s head, and felt the warmth move up into her undead body. The girl shivered as Lyssia pulled away.

 

Lyssia went to the other bed to see her older daughter. She was struck by how much the girl’s face had changed. The new contours of her jaw hinted at the beautiful woman she would become.

 

Johan is going to have his hands full, Lyssia thought, with her, and the boys, and all the other families who want her as their daughter. She tried to hold back her sorrow when she thought of missing her girl’s marriage and wedding. At best, she could don the merchant’s robes again and return to Eton Oasis for Jenna’s ceremony, but even then, at best, she could only look from afar.

 

“I pray that your new mother will be there for you, Jenna, and shape you into a wonderful woman,” Lyssia said. “I’ll be back to check on the family as much as I can. Just know that I love you.” She kissed her daughter’s head.

 

“Do you think it’s wise to return here?” I asked.

 

We’ll see.

 

“I understand.”

 

Wait. Lyssia backed to the wall, trying to cloak herself in shadows. She could sense someone moving in Johan’s room. Their aura glowed like a ghost behind the brown clay walls as they went to another aura still lying in bed. There was the squeak of a door down the hall. Footsteps grew louder as they approached, then quieter as they moved down to the lower floors. Another muffled squeak and the shutting of a door followed, and they were gone. Lyssia could only sense three people in the house now, all still sleeping.

 

She crept into hall and down towards the half-open door. Quick glances around the room revealed nothing suspicious inside – just Johan sleeping alone in bed.

 

Where’d she go? Lyssia thought. She went to Johan’s side and stood over him, gazing down at him as feelings of joy came over her.

 

He looks exactly the same as I remember. I love that chin, and his eyes. Everyone thought I was older than him because of his young face. She noticed the vacant space in the bed beside him and wanted nothing more than to be there, to hold his body against hers. I shouldn’t, she thought. No one wants to sleep with a corpse…

 

She leaned in and kissed his forehead. His scent brought on a surge of memories back from a time before Jenna was born, when they had no obligations but to each other, when, for those few precious months, life was solely about them.

 

As she moved down to his lips, something made her stop: a familiar odor that came with the assassin’s trade. She leaned in closer and smelled Johan’s breath.

 

I smell nightleaf. Why do I smell nightleaf? She went to an empty cup next to the bed, one which once held the scent of tea with the fumes nightleaf. Lyssia had used the plant many times throughout her work to put her targets, or their bodyguards, into a deep sleep. Nothing could wake them until the morning sun washed the effect away, and it was almost undetectable… almost.

 

Something isn’t right. You don’t use nightleaf to fall asleep normally, and I don’t remember Johan having problems sleeping.

 

She went to the window and looked outside. The woman was already too far out of sight. Lyssia was about to jump down and follow her, but she stopped. She returned to Johan’s bedside. Their lips met for one last kiss.

 

“Don’t forget about me, okay?” she said, knowing that he would never hear her through the nightleaf. “I love you. I’ll keep loving you.”

 

Without looking back, she went to the window and dropped to the streets below. There wasn’t anyone out of their home that night. The few glowing specters of living auras had found their resting places behind the walls of the clay buildings, and the woman’s tracks were all too easy to spot for an assassin who had followed far stealthier targets.

 

Lyssia knew there were few places in town to run off to, and with the tracks as her guide, she began to narrow down where the woman could go. It wasn’t the tavern or any house in the residential district. The woman’s steps were spaced too far for a casual walk, yet too close for a run. Wherever she was going, she was in a hurry to get there, but not so much as to wear herself out or call attention to it. Judging from the straightforward path, the woman knew where to go.

 

Lyssia stopped when she saw them leading to the garrison at the edge of the town. Why here? she wondered. Of all the places in town, why go to the fort?

 

The meager forces that stood against her weren’t enough to keep her from finding the answer.

 

One of the night guards guard leaned against the main door of the fort, while another sat lazily in the ramparts above. Neither seemed to be too concerned about keeping an attentive watch.

 

Pathetic, Lyssia thought as she studied the task before her. She had once scaled massive castle walls while whole platoons of elite guards had searched for her, in the middle of the day no less. This little fort in a small desert town would be nothing for her.

 

Once one of them looked away, she sprinted to the wall, and with a quick jump, she made it to the ramparts without making a sound. She went to a door on the far side of the fortifications and found it unlocked.

 

She sensed the interior of the fort before she went in. Half of the guard force was sleeping for the night. Aside from the two outside, the rest were downstairs, but active. Lyssia couldn’t sense exactly what they were doing, but she recognized the effects of alcohol on human auras. As much as she tried to focus, she couldn’t tell which aura was the woman’s, or even if the woman was still there. But Lyssia knew how to find out.

 

She slipped inside and found a spot in the bend of a hallway where she could hide and mediate. Minutes passed as she waited, listening to all the voices that came to her. Finally, the distinct cackle of a woman’s laugh rose above all other sounds.

 

Alright, I think I found her, but why is she here?

 

I decided not to answer.

 

The laughing had come from the dining hall on the bottom floor. Using the echoing voices as a guide, Lyssia navigated the corridors until she found a set of stairs that led to the mess hall below. There was shouting, glasses clacking together, fists pounding on tables.

 

At first, she stayed back, out of sight, but slowly crept lower down the stairs once she was confident that she wouldn’t be noticed.

 

There, sitting at the head of the largest table, with an arm of the guard captain around her shoulder, was Johan’s wife. Her hands were caressing his chest as she looked up at him, face longing with lust and flushed red with drink.

 

Lyssia’s muscles constricted, binding her body in a pain. Her legs almost buckled and fists clenched with fury. She got up from the stairs and sprinted through the halls until she found a darkened spot to hide. She dropped to her knees and reared back, body trembling as she released a quiet scream.

 

Then, she only stared at the ceiling, stuck in a daze.

 

I searched for words, and failed. After living hundreds of years through my eyes and through the countless acolytes that served me, nothing had brought me to my knees the way this had done to Lyssia. And here, I thought empathy had left my heart long ago.

 

“Lyssia,” I said through our link, “is there something I can do?”

 

Don’t. Say. Anything… She collapsed to the ground and held herself. I’ll kill her. She rubbed her face with her twitching hands. I would. I’d cut her chest, rip open her ribs. I’d tear her heart out with my hands while she was still breathing and then shove it right in her face and make her choke on her own blood. I’d do it… She shook her head. Why’d it have to be a woman like her? Of all people, why her? Johan, why?

 

“What are you going to do? Will you actually kill her?”

 

I can’t… As much as I want to, I can’t do it to them. I won’t let my family lose another mother. If it weren’t for that, I’d… kill her. The bones in her hands creaked as she clenched her fists. I’d do it, over and over, until there was nothing left, and you know I would, without a second thought.

 

“What will you do?”

 

I don’t know. She let out a quiet sigh. I can’t just let her do that to Johan. Would you just leave your loved ones to be taken advantage of?

 

“You’re asking the wrong person,” I replied.

 

It’s just not fair. I was a good wife and mother. I always put their needs before mine. I’d give my life for them, no matter what, even if I was mad at them, even if they hurt me. So why did I have to die and why did that woman have to get my family and why did she have to do that to them?

 

I wanted to tell her that she should know that the world is not fair, but I knew I shouldn’t.

 

I don’t know what I’ll do,” she thought, but I’ll do something, dammit. I’ll make sure she knows damn well not to betray Johan again. I’ll kill her lover, right in front of her face.

 

“Are you sure you wish to do that? You’ve never used vengeance as a reason to kill before.”

 

Oh, so now you’re interested in the living world? Of all times, master, why’d it have to be when I make things right for myself? This is not your choice.

 

“I know, but does an assassin ever kill an innocent? Could it be that he is just as beguiled as your Johan?”

 

He has to know.

 

“You’re assuming.”

 

Fine, she thought, I won’t go after him. I’ll give her a just punishment and make sure she doesn’t do it again.

 

“If that suits you.”

 

For her sake, it damn well better. Lyssia stood, regaining the poise of an assassin.

 

She stalked the hallways and hid in nooks, behind boxes and crates, occasionally slipping into rooms as she went through the halls in search of the right door. When she found the room of the guard’s commander, she went to the one adjacent to wait, though this waiting was different. The patience that came with unlife had vanished from her. In those moments, she was like the living, restless and unnerved.

 

Her chest burned with anticipation when she finally heard stumbling footsteps drawing near, but still, she kept her composure.

 

She watched as the guard commander fiddled with keys while trying to keep the woman in his other arm steady. They were too preoccupied with each other, the door, and the drink clouding their minds that they didn’t notice Lyssia slip in behind them.

 

Even the guard commander jumped when Lyssia slammed the door. The commander was quick though, despite the achohol. He went for his sword and tried to draw it from its sheath, but Lyssia kicked the handle back into the scabbard. She ducked low and sent a punch up into the man’s groin. As he collapsed to the ground, Lyssia grabbed his head and sent it crashing into her knee. In only a matter of seconds, he lay on the floor, unconscious.

 

Lyssia stood above his body for a moment and just watched the woman back away from her. “Whore,” Lyssia said.

 

 

 

The woman stared at her for a moment, a look of shock consuming her face. Then, without warning, her expression changed from fear to anger as she pulled a dagger from behind her back and lunged toward Lyssia. Her movements were slow and clumsy, but looking through Lyssia’s eyes I could see purpose in the woman’s form.

 

However Lyssia was faster and far more experienced. She went for the handle and twisted the dagger out of the woman’s hands.

 

The woman then stepped back, stunned at the ease of her disarmament. She looked up to Lyssia as tears fell from her eyes. “I’m sorry, please don’t kill me,” she said. “I’ll do anything you want.”

 

Lyssia stepped forward. “I don’t understand how you could do that to him.”

 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

 

“Don’t play games with someone like me.” Lyssia jumped forward and snatched the woman’s hand. She started stabbing from the woman’s wrist to her forearm, then further up her bicep until the blade sank into her shoulder. Each stab twisted into the muscle and avoided major arteries. Lyssia didn’t want to kill her. She just wanted every strike hurt.

 

The woman tried to scream, but Lyssia’s hand was already across the woman’s face.

 

“Tell me why you were unfaithful to Johan,” Lyssia whispered into her ear, then released her hand for an answer.

 

“Help-”

 

Lyssia drew the dagger’s blade across the woman’s chest, cutting through clothes and skin. Blood began to drip from the wound. It was not serious enough to kill her, but painful enough to make her understand.

 

“Don’t scream. Do it again and I’ll kill you. Just tell me why you did it,” Lyssia said.

 

The woman glared into Lyssia’s eyes. “Fine, if you want to know, it was because he was too easy.”

 

Lyssia went for her throat with the dagger. She tried to keep herself from slicing the woman’s life away. With all her focus and concentration, she stopped herself, and merely dragged the blade across the skin. She watched as the woman’s eyes went wide.

 

Lyssia had never enjoyed seeing that kind of terror before. Her previous victims had found solace and sleep as their life drifted away in minimal pain, but now Lyssia wanted nothing more than to gaze into the woman’s dread and feel rapture in every moment of her agony.

 

“Lyssia,” I said.

 

I could feel the impact going through her arm as she smashed the handle of the dagger down onto the woman’s head.

 

“Don’t kill her. Lyssia, stop it, now!”

 

Lyssia drove the dagger deep into the woman’s chest. In that instant, she knew she had made a mistake. The woman lay unconscious on the floor with the dagger sticking out of her.

 

She stepped back from the body, whispering, “oh God.” We both could see the woman’s aura slipping away. “What do I do?” she said.

 

She wouldn’t make it without healing. Fortunately, Lyssia had left the blade in her body, giving the woman time, some, but not much.

 

“You have to summon me to heal her,” I said.

 

Lyssia shook her head. Where, how?

 

“Take her out of town and draw my rune. I’ll do the rest.”

 

Lyssia carefully lifted the body, cradling it in her arms as she left the room. I could feel Lyssia’s hatred for the woman she held, how she despised having to now save the woman who had betrayed her family. Lyssia wanted to rip out the dagger and let the woman die, but fortunately she was in control now.

 

Never in our years with minds linked had she made such a foolish error. I supposed I should have known better than to let her leave me, to indulge in the journeys that sometimes made the undead go mad. The master assassin doesn’t make mistakes – she never did – and a moral assassin does not take joy in torture or suffering. Unfortunately, I knew now that Lyssia was broken. Even if she returned to me, she would be a lesser assassin for what she did here. At best, her blade would be slow as her mind became consumed with her family, of the things she left undone. At worst, she would enjoy taking lives and inflicting unnecessary pain. In either case, my greatest assassin was now lost.

 

She stopped when she got to the shores of the oasis, where the sand dunes met the water. The rises would be enough to make sure we weren’t spotted as she did the summoning. She placed the woman’s body under a desert palm, then went to the side of a dune to draw a glyph in a sand with her fingers. She spoke the ancient curse that bound me to this world, causing the rune to glow with a sickening green light.

 

I felt myself being pulled from my throne, back into the living world. After I rose from the sands, I saw Lyssia through my eyes, and saw me, an emaciated green and glowing corpse, through hers. It was strange seeing myself after a hundred years, especially through the eyes of another.

 

I went to the body that was waning on the sands. She wouldn’t have much longer without my help. My skeletal hand grasped the hilt of the dagger while the other pressed against the wound under the blade. I began to whisper a spell I hadn’t used in centuries, but one that was still vivid in my memory.

 

Blood spewed from the wound as I lifted the dagger. My words caused my hand over the gash to glow with yellow light, light that began to disintegrate my necrotic skin and preserved muscle, all the way down to the bone. The light closed the wound and stopped the bleeding, but not without destroying my undead hand.

 

“Master, your arm,” Lyssia said.

 

It didn’t matter. I’d find a new one.

 

The woman breathed deep once the light consumed me up to my forearm. Then, I ended my casting.

 

“What’re you doing?” Lyssia asked. “She isn’t done.”

 

True, and if left alone now, the internal bleeding would kill her.

 

“I want to propose something to you,” I said.

 

“Now?”

 

“There is no other time. You said you wanted this woman to die, correct?”

 

“I… I don’t know.”

 

“Clearly, you did, otherwise you would not have stabbed her. You made a mistake.”

 

Lyssia dropped to her knees and bowed before me. “Yes, yes I did, and I’m sorry.”

 

I looked down at the woman who no longer held the stance of an assassin. “Which for you is a sign of defeat.”

 

“I know,” she said.

 

“You also enjoyed hurting this woman, and you wanted to kill her lover.”

 

At that, Lyssia buried her head in her hands. “I know.” If only she could weep.

 

“As an assassin, you’re of little use to me now since I can no longer trust you. You’re contracts with me are finished, whether you agree to my proposition or not. However, I submit that this woman could die this very night, if that is your wish.”

 

Lyssia looked up at me, but knew it was better not to speak.

 

“In her current state, so close to death, I can peel her soul from her body, and in place of her soul, I can put yours. You may live a new life, but only in her body, and only for a short time. The enchantments keeping you there will only last a decade or two, and there will be very little warning when the enchantments do break. It should give you enough time to see your family grow up, but not much longer. When death finally comes, it will be impossible to join the unlife again. With your body gone, your soul will have no choice but to join the nether. However the biggest question is if you would indeed kill this woman to have that.”

 

Lyssia lowered her hands and stared at the woman lying on the ground before me. The link took me through the myriad of thoughts that whirled around her mind. She remembered the look in the woman’s eye when she had lunged with her dagger, and what she’d said, how Johan truly meant to her. Could that be cured by a brush with death, or was the woman set to repeat her actions again?

 

Lyssia remembered the warmth of Arini’s forehead as she bent down to kiss her daughter, Jenna’s face, and finally, the way Johan looked while he was sleeping. She desired nothing more than to have them again, but to do so meant living as a woman she barely knew, and to suffer an untimely death once more.

 

Then, she wondered what was left for her otherwise. Both of us knew she wouldn’t be an assassin, and neither of us knew if she would find a purpose again. She feared that unknown. She regretted her decision at first, then came to accept it, though she was never more unsure of herself.

 

“I… I’ll take her place,” she said.

 

“Understood.”

 

And so, I conjured the powers of the nether, the manna of unlife, to wash over Lyssia. The aura of darkness forced her to the ground and ripped the soul from her undead body.

 

I held her incorporeal form in my hand for a moment, then commanded the power of death to wash over the woman that lay before me and strip the soul from her body. I inserted Lyssia’s soul into the foreign body that tried to reject it, and forced them to integrate. My enchantments separated the soul of unlife and the body still yet alive, but which also held them together. While the pieces opposed each other like heat and cold, they both needed each other to continue their existence.

 

Once the opposites stabilized, I sacrificed the rest of my arm to heal the woman’s body with Lyssia inside, bringing it back to life.

 

Lyssia blinked for a moment before she closed her eyes and let out a scream. “God, it hurts.” She squirmed in the sand. “Why does it hurt?”

 

“It means the enchantments work.”

 

She panted as she tried to push herself off the ground. I gave her my remaining arm to help her up, but she refused. I supposed she’d rather stand on her own.

 

“Thank, you, master,” she gasped as she found balance on trembling legs.

 

“You should be able to return to town,” I said.

 

She placed a hand on her chest and smiled despite the cuts across her arms and neck. “I’m breathing. I’m really breathing.”

 

“Indeed.”

 

“Master, I’m alive again. This is amazing.”

 

“I’m sure. You should return to town soon, before any complications arise.”

 

She looked at me for a moment, eyes glancing around my body. With the mind link gone, I could only wonder what she was thinking, or why she hesitated now.

 

“Goodbye, Lyssia. Enjoy your remaining life,” I said.

 

“Wait.” She reached for my hand. Her fingers touched mine, but I couldn’t feel them. “Thank you,” she said. “I really appreciate what you did for me. I promise I won’t take this for granted.” She let my hand go and climbed the dune. She looked back at me once she reached the top, smiled, then hobbled toward town.

 

I returned to Lyssia’s old, undead body, lying in the sand beside the rune that had summoned me. I grasped her hand and pulled myself close. I whispered a spell, establishing a mind link between us.

 

“So, what was your name?” I asked.

 

“Melina,” she said.

 

“Now do you understand the consequences of your actions?”

 

“Yes. I’m sorry.”

 

“Good,” I said, “now you can work on making things right.”

 

 *

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