After Basin pointed at the middle coffin there was a moment of pause before the stall owner opened the little plastic container, revealing... an even smaller skeleton, neatly folded up with its pale white colour standing out amidst the dark plastic of the coffin. While the level of detail and precision was undoubtedly proof of true craftsmanship (or at least more than one might expect for a little stall game) what it wasn't was the candies that they'd been trying to locate.
Leaning forward from her position on top of Basin's back Lily peered at the outcome of her partner's choice, patting zirs head as it became clear that ze hadn't chosen the correct coffin."Huh, I was sure it was the middle one..."
With her affinity to nature the fact that the game made use of plastic instead meant she had no way of knowing which coffin was the real one, and the same went for Basin. Which was only fair, since most people would have the same problem. The stall owner smiled good-naturedly as he closed the coffin again and opened the one on the right to show the candies inside."It was a good try, but you can't be lucky every time! Don't worry, I'm sure you'll have more luck with the other stalls!"
Basin slowly returned zirs arm to zirs side, zirs stony appearance meaning that there was little to read in terms of emotions. Lily could feel what her partner was feeling, but for anyone else it was difficult or impossible to read the earth guardian, especially since, aside from the lack of a normal face, ze didn't emote much either. Patting her partner on the head once more the dryad smiled brightly at the stall owner."We'll keep looking around then! Thanks for having us!"
The earth elemental nodded, then turned around and trudged away from the stall, the owner nodding back before turning towards the next group of hopefuls, a group of children who paused to stare at the massive stone figure walking away before being drawn in by the promise of candy.
Once again trudging down the middle of the road Basin ignored most of the stalls, the dryad on top of zirs head looking around but remaining silent for now as the two of them enjoyed the ambience. The people made sure to remain out of the earth guardian's path, each footstep clear enough that even a deaf person could have tracked the two children of nature through the trembling.
It was only when they found a path leading away from the most populous parts of the festival that Basin came to a halt, turning to face the new path and where it led to. A large wooden arrow, embedded with glowing baubels, pointed towards the road with some kind of message written on it. Basin and Lily both read it together, with the dryad slowly reading it out loud."...Death Tour? What does that mean?"
It sounded rather ominous, but given how the stonedwellers used skulls and the like to decorate these harvest festivals she imagined it was part of the charm. After several seconds she looked down at her partner."Want to check it out?"
The earth guardian nodded, and with the two of them in agreement left the brightest and loudest parts of the festival behind to instead see what the Death Tour was all about.
It didn't take long to find out.
The road would lead straight towards large gates wrought from bars of black iron, with a fence made from the same materials extending in both directions, embedded into big blocks of carved stone at regular intervals to help keep it in place. The gates were attached to thicker iron pillars, and for the occasion grinning pumpkins had been attached to the tips and enchanted fake bats flew circles above, producing a leathery flapping sound together with the occasional soft chirping.
The gates, and the fence, cordoned off a large chunk of land which seemed almost supernaturally lifeless. Instead of large buildings, new and old, instead there were withered trees, pale mausoleums, and weathered gravestones, forming one big monument to the deceased inhabitants of this capital and the heroes they revered. With clear skies the moonlight illuminated most of the capital quite well, but within the confines of the graveyard the light seemed paler, more nebulous, with each gravestone casting a strangely dark shadow.
In front of the gates stood a man who looked as if he himself also belonged in the graveyard: a tattered grey robe covered most of his features, only showing glimpses of equally ragged clothes underneath. The arms that stuck out from the frayed sleeves were dusty and sleek, the fingers long and bony. threads of a necklace escaped the robe through the parting of fabric at the throat, a small amulet glowing a ghostly blue dangling above the man's chest. While the robe's hood obscured most of his face a long, bent stick stuck out of the robe from behind his shoulder, with a traditional lantern dangling from it to cast both a warm light and dancing shadows every time he moved.
The dryad and the elemental weren't the first ones to visit this strange figure: a small group of other festival goers, some clothed for the occasion and others dressed warmly to ward off the season's first winds, turned around to watch as Lily and Basin arrived. The dryad waved cheerfully, but before either she or the others could say anything the man spoke up, his hoarse voice carrying surprisingly well."A strange couple have joined us. I might have waited for more, but... I think we are enough now."
He chuckled, then turned towards the gates."A festival such as this one is not complete without a visit to those who will never leave, I'd say. Be warned though: they may not welcome our intrusion."
Another chuckle. "Thankfully my lantern will keep them at bay, so fear not and stay close. As for those who wander off... well, if you wish to linger among the dead I won't stop you."
Placing one hand against the gate the black iron screeched as it moved on its own, both gates opening wide to allow the tour guide and his guests entrance. After beckoning with one hand the guide began to walk, the others quickly following after and staying close.
Basin waited for all the others to have entered before walking forward as well, barely fitting between the two pillars that guarded the gates. Closing off the tour group the dryad and the elemental tried their best to remain silent, not wishing to disturb the atmosphere that the tour guide had managed to create with his theatrics. Thankfully the unpaved roads between the graves made it easier for Basin to walk carefully enough to not cause any trembling, instead slowly and softly advancing into a realm usually reserved for the deceased.
As they walked they noticed that there was more amiss with the graveyard than just the strange lighting. The trees didn't seem to move at all, but as Lily turned her head to look behind them she could swear that they were close to the path than before, naked branches reaching out. Her senses told her that there was... something... strange going on with the trees, although she couldn't immediately say what.
From her perch she could also take her time reading the gravestones, but some of the things written on them were strange as well. Names, dates, epitaphs..."...Ehm..."
She whispered one word before shaking her head. It wasn't like she kept rack of time that well, and this wasn't the time to ask someone else. She'd just keep it to herself that some of these dates seemed to refer to the future rather than the past, as she probably had just misremembered.
The rest of the group remained largely silent as well, following their guide as he lead them past the gravestones, pausing at the various mausoleums that were spread out across the graveyard. Many of them housed either notable families or well-remembered heroes, granted the honour of a prestigious resting place either through fame or fortune. The guide's lantern seemed to be the only light that was undeterred by the graveyard's deathly calm, pushing back against the unseen but ever-present stillness that made it feel like this place was completely disconnected from the bustling city around it."Orlian was certainly an impressive man, standing up against both armies and lords to defend the people. But as you can see, even he couldn't fight death..."
The guide stopped his speech as a faint groaning was heard, turning his head. "...Who goes there?"
His voice sounded more alert, more direct, dropping at least some of the dramatics at an unforeseen development.
No answer was given other than another groan, louder and closer. A figure shuffled forwards amidst the gravestones, but once it got close enough to be bathed in the guide's lantern light it became apparent this wasn't a visitor but a permanent resident of the graveyard. If the guide's clothes were ragged and frayed then this person's clothes were practically falling apart, and the flesh underneath was in a similar state. A familiar stench slowly filled the air as the trudging corpse slowly approached the group, letting out mindless groans.
The other visitors yelled, the guide shaking his head. "No, no, this isn't part of the tour! Get back!"
Stepping forward he held up his amulet and waved it at the zombie, which did come to a halt... but then a groan came from another direction.
Looking around it quickly became apparent that more than one resident had taken objection to the outsiders trudging through their resting place on this special night. Dirt was pushed aside as decaying fingers sought handholds so their owners could pull themselves out of their own graves, and from further away others who had already freed themselves were slowly but surely surrounding the tour. The visitors bunched together closely, Basin raising both hands before Lily stopped zir."Careful! We might wake up more if we harm their resting places!"
Lily wasn't entirely sure how these zombies worked, but she assumed that if they'd awakened because of their interruption having Basin crush them like ze would usually do would wake up the entire graveyard. While the earth elemental could probably deal with that, Lily didn't think the other people would be happy. Or the city, for that matter.
Basin stopped zirs response to the walking undead, Lily quickly taking over as she pressed her hands together. Water seeped from between her fingers, and within moments a large aquatic sphere had formed, the dryad spreading her hands and calling out another friend of hers."Nepo!"
A chirping sound resounded from the sphere before a small figure burst out, sending droplets everywhere which either fed the moss on Basin's back or were absorbed by the dry soil of the graveyard. Dismissing the sphere Lily held the small hippocamp, nuzzling him before pointing back towards the exit."Can you guide them to the exit? We can't leave them like this."
Another chirping sound and the hippocamp nuzzled Lily back before jumping down, a trail of water following the small figure as it moved towards the other visitors. As one of the zombies got close enough to reach out for one of the living a ball of water suddenly hit it in the face, knocking it backwards into several other zombies and sending them all tumbling."They said this wouldn't happen... Ugh, never mind. All right, everyone, stick close and we'll get out of here. Clearly the dead don't want us here."
The guide didn't seem quite as bothered as the others, although that might also have something to do with the fact that the zombies refused to get close to him. Giving Nepo an odd look he shook his head, then pointed towards where they'd come from. "Come along now, get a move on. I'll never hear the end of it if one of you got hurt."
Nepo chirped once more, and another zombie was blasted with a ball of water that send it flying until it smacked into one of the dead trees. With the hippocamp guarding them the visitors quickly followed after the guide, wasting no time in leaving a graveyard which had quickly become a lot less hospitable. Seeing that neither Lily nor Basin were moving the guide opened his mouth to tell them to follow, but after several seconds he shook his head and left them be. "None of my business."
He muttered under his breath.
It didn't take long before the dryad and the guardian were left by themselves, with only the zombies to accompany them. Given zirs stony form the guardian barely reacted even when the zombies got close enough to touch zir, their half-rotten hands unable to leave even a scratch on Basin's mighty frame. When one of them tried to climb zirs back to reach Lily, however, the guardian quickly grabbed it and threw it into the distance."We've got to somehow return them to their rest... They don't look like they want to return."
With Basin keeping her safe Lily took her time to consider their situation, trusting her partner to prevent any of the zombies from reaching her. The dryad looked at the zombies, what little was visible of their expressions twisted into clear anger and aggression. She didn't understand the process which had reanimated them, but even if they'd been alive she didn't think they'd have been up for negotiations."I'm sorry that we disturbed your rest, but you have to go back to sleep now, so..."
This time her hair grew, more and more leafs descending down her back until it was almost like a cape. "Saku!"
From amidst the leafs a small dragon came forth, its scales like the leafs that formed Lily's hair. Quickly climbing on top of Lily's head the little dragon looked around, taking in the situation before looking down at his summoner, who smiled and reached up to pet him."Can you help us return them to the earth? We're trying not to make too much of a mess."
The easiest answer would have been for Basin to just smash them all, now that the others were no longer in danger, but even so Lily wanted to try and resolve this fairly peacefully.
Saku rolled his eyes before nodding, then raised his head and released his magic. The graveyard, already carrying a deathly calm, was suddenly enveloped in a different stillness, a sense of tranquility rather than lifelessness. The zombies all came to a halt as if frozen in place. For a moment it was as if this were a warm spring evening rather than a chilly autumn night as Saku's magic overwhelmed whatever curse had befallen these unfortunate deceased.
While the stillness only lasted for a moment the effects lingered. From within the dying flesh of each zombie countless little flowers sprouted, their roots digging into their hosts. The zombies, lacking the intelligence to figure out what was going on, kept approaching Basin, but their movements were much weaker than before, and now even if Basin didn't stop them their attempts at climbing the guardian ended in failure, their rotting arms unable to hold their weight as Saku's tranquility stole their strength.
While Saku did his thing in restraining the zombies Lily had been reaching out to the trees that had rooted themselves in the graveyard. While certainly looking dead there was still some life to be found in them, life that she nurtured and bolstered until she could feel their roots clearly underneath everything else. "Let's see... Where did each one come from Basin?"
Not wanting to return the bodies to the wrong graves Lily would wait for Basin's gestures before calling forth the roots from underground, the botanic tendrils extending from the graves to wrap around their respective owners. With their strength sapped the zombies were unable to resist, groaning and clawing at the roots but inevitably getting pulled back to their graves. As unhappy as the dead were with the intruders their graves seemed to welcome them back quite easily, the earth wrapping back around them together with the roots from Lily's magic which bound their limbs so they couldn't climb back up. Once enough space had been made Basin lifted zirs hands and planted them on the ground, helping return the graves to their original state.
One by one each zombie was entombed once more, Lily and Basin together ensuring that this time they would stay down. Saku watched as the other two worked, releasing his magic in waves to ensure that the zombies would remain weak and easily handled for as long as it took for the dryad and the guardian to do their part. The zombies, on their end, didn't seem to have the ability to understand what was happening: even the very last one, completely covered in flowers and easily grappled back into its resting place, had not reacted even once to any of the other zombies getting caught, as if they didn't even exist.
Only once every grave had its occupant returned to it did Saku cancel his magic, the spring dragon letting out a small huff before looking down at Lily, who smiled apologetically. "I know. Thanks for helping out!"
With another small eyeroll the dragon disappeared into the dryad's hair."I don't think the humans will want to return, but let's go tell them that it's safe now."
Basin nodded, then lifted zirs hands and trudged back towards the entrance, where only the guide remained. All the visitors had, quite wisely, decided that they could better spend the rest of the evening elsewhere, in a place without any zombies or other undead to threaten them.
The guide, upon seeing their return, stepped forward and cast his hood back, revealing a face which looked quite a bit fresher than what the rest of his outfit would suggest. Fairly old, but gaunt rather than fully skeletal, and piercing blue eyes. "I'm guessing you've taken care of it?""We did, yes. Where's Nepo?"
Once his name was called the hippocamp quickly dashed forth from behind the guide, sliding up Basin's side to join the dryad and cuddle up against her. The leaf-haired girl patted her little watery companion while the guide shook his head. "I don't know why they got so worked up, but I won't be holding any more tours tonight. Maybe have a priest take a look and see if any of the graves have been disturbed lately."
He scratched his chin, then shrugged. "Thanks for doing that though. They can't leave this place, but the rumours are going to be bad enough without them stumbling around all night groaning.""Do they... do that often?""No, not at all. Well..."
He held up his amulet. "Often enough that this is worth holding onto, but only in case. They only get riled up by graverobbers and desecrators usually. Hence the priest."
He shook his head. "Usually it's deadly quiet. I thought a tour wouldn't hurt as long as everyone stuck close. Lesson learned for next time. As for you, I'd say you go back to the rest of the festival and enjoy it. You've certainly earned it.""We'll do so. Basin worked very hard."
Lily smiled as she praised her partner, the guardian remaining motionless as the dryad conversed with the human. "They've all been wrapped up so they won't get out any more, so maybe you can go and enjoy the festival as well?""It's a nice suggestion, but no, I need to take care of this. Not that I don't trust your work, but... No, can't just leave after the entire bunch of them acted out like that."
Lily tilted her head, but this time Basin was the one who nodded and strode past the guide. Turning around Lily waved at the man even as her partner kept walking back towards where the streets were bright and cheerful. "Good luck!"
- Current Appearance:
Height: 5' (1.52m)
TWC: 4,105/2,000 (Completed)