Featuring Meridith

As the light of day began to fade, a young woman wandered the woods near the village of Deathknell. Like the others in that town she was undead, killed and reanimated by a plague and eventually returned to free will. She herself had only been properly awakened to this new life a few days before, and seeing the world with new eyes, she felt driven to explore her surroundings. Her name was Meridith, and though in life she had been the stifled daughter of a noble family, in unlife she had already chosen a new path as a mage. She wore the robes customary of a magic-user, though in a dark hue that this evening helped her blend in to the cursed forest. She had only worn them since shortly after awakening, but already the jagged edges of her exposed bones had worn it away in spots. The arcane forces that animated her had shifted her formerly plain hair to an unnatural teal hue, and it was short and messy as though she had more interesting things concerning her. Her yellow eyes glowed bright in the growing gloom of the forest, and what red light of sunset made it in through the trees made her milk-white skin look almost alive.

She was headed back to Deathknell when a glimpse of bright red between the trees caught her eye. Moving ghostlike through the forest, she turned and crept toward it. As she drew near she realized it was the clothing of a human who lay sprawled on the ground. It was the bright crimson garb of the Scarlet Crusade, and though it was hard to tell from a distance, up close it was apparent that he had been dead for most of the day. The congealed blood that bathed him was camoflaged against his tunic, but his chest was opened by a gash that must have been caused by the sword of a warrior or a rogue.

Meridith crouched next to the body, examining it curiously. She had certainly become well enough acquainted with death, but this was the first corpse she had seen that was so fresh and so whole. In life she would have been revolted, but death had freed a morbid curiosity inside her. She stroked his bloody cheek, feeling soft skin as cold as her own. He looked about her age, maybe slightly older, with strong features and long blond hair that was gathered into a leather thong at the back. His blue eyes were open, and she reached out to close them, but then she decided she liked them better that way.

As she knelt beside him in the hush of the forest, she thought about how he might have felt in those last moments. He had been part of that cursed Crusade, that group of zealots that denied the right of her new people to exist, that sought to destroy them even as they fought a common enemy in the still-mindless Scourge. Had death made him rethink his position? As he felt his life slip away, had he envied them their certainty of what came after? Had he finally realized the beauty of their continuing lives as he faced death himself? Had he finally come to understand the Forsaken in his last moments? Or had his view of the Light been unwavering, had he been certain that it would accept him and keep him safe from the plague of undeath that cursed that land? Had it been strong enough to protect him from the fear that overwhelmed her as she faced death? Or had he died suddenly, with no chance to consider what was ahead of him? His face had been calmed by death, and she hadn't the training to judge by his injuries. It seemed a shame if he had. She felt she was much better for having known and faced that fear, and if there was enough power left in this land to raise him he would be better for the experience. And if that power had finally drained from the land, then a slow, lingering death was the least he deserved for the persecution he and his kind had brought to the Forsaken.

Seized by a strange new impulse, she leaned her face next to his. She gently licked his cheek, the salty taste of his skin the most vivid thing she had known since waking. Her teeth sunk into the flesh with surprising ease, and without thinking she tore off a piece and swallowed it. As she looked up, wiping a trace of thick, dark blood from her lips, she heard the sharp snap of a stick breaking underfoot in the distance. Torn from her thoughts, she turned to see two more red-clad humans approaching through the trees. From their casual gait she knew they had not yet seen her, but she knew they would soon. She wanted to fight them, to kill them, to make them leave her people alone, but she knew her magic was not strong enough yet. Instead she slowly rose to her feet, careful not to draw their attention. With the light step of one wasted by death, she silently backed away from him. As soon as she was far enough away she turned and bolted toward the safety of Deathknell, abandoning him to his allies even as the sweet taste of raw meat lingered in her mouth. If her new human friend did rise again, as Forsaken or Scourge, he would be the Scarlet Crusade's problem.

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