The Dead Never Die
rating: +28+x

Over the hill.
Over again.
Touch the jewel.
And live once more.
Fight in the darkness.
Die in the light.
Over the hill.
Over again.

Ashlynn recited the prayer to herself as she clasped her hands together. She drew her sword and laid it out before her, and with one slow motion, cut a straight line across her palms. A prayer to the god of death served one well in the Waste, although not everyone had the clarity of mind to realize that.

Her master, Lord Hubris, looked down at such shameful displays of faith. He hated most gods, but was particularly resentful of Abirt. Ashlynn wasn't sure why, but she knew better than most not to question Lord Hubris. Still, she would never forget the things her mother taught her. And what Lord Hubris didn't know wouldn't hurt him.

The dunes weren't more than two days walk from Portsman, and Ashlynn spent the majority of that time wondering exactly what it was Lord Hubris wanted from this Ceitu. He'd been particularly interested in one of the old Wonders. Something square, made of metal with a face of black and white.

She hoped she had enough room in her satchel.

Somewhere in the distance, the undead shuffled through the sands. Their old home, the Ceitu, lay half-buried. Its white walls were a stark contrast to the beige, desert sand that covered this part of the Waste. If the undead had any decency, they'd do the Waste a favor and go back home.

But the New Men were exceptionally uncouth.

Their behavior was more than enough to drive the most sensible travelers away. And if for some reason one were to think about approaching, the overwhelming amount of them in this part of the Waste would deter almost anyone.


Ashlynn slipped by the hoard, trying her best to move with the sand as the breeze carried it toward the Ceitu. The undead didn't have the best eyesight, and she probably didn't need to take such complicated precautions but one could never be too careful.

She cut open the door to the Ceitu with the circular blade she procured earlier, careful not to make too much noise. The undead were a ways away from her, but sound traveled far on the sandy winds. Once a person-sized hole was cut into the door, Ashlynn descended into the Ceitu.

Ashlynn had been to places before, but this one was different. She could almost hear the ghosts of the old world speaking to one another in the walls. Fear starting to swell in her stomach, and Ashlynn squinted her eyes to see a bit better in the darkness. She explored the Ceitu with her senses on high alert, marking doors so she wouldn't get lost.

The halls reeked of death. Ancient blood spatter stained the metal walls dark red, and the ghosts spoke in great volumes near those spots. Ashlynn's imagination began to wander as she discovered more bodies the further down she went. Surely some of the Old Ones had been killed and risen again as New Men when their world ended, but it seemed not all of them met that fate. Hopefully, there wasn't anything down here that was still roaming the halls.

Ashlynn steeled her nerves. Lord Hubris was not one to be disappointed twice.

A shadow flickered at the end of the hall, and Ashlynn drew her sword. She said the prayer to Abirt under her breath and touched the ring on her finger with his symbol on it, then approached.

Ashlynn tightened her grip, ready to decimate whatever had cast the shadow at the end of the hall. The Ceitu was home only to Monsters and Wonders, a lesson Ashlynn learned when she was a much younger, more naive explorer. She held her sword high above her head as she crept around the corner and braced herself.

The only thing she saw was a small, familiar creature staring back at her with beady eyes. It was about half her height and far too fluffy to be spelunking on its own. The creature barked and smiled back at her. Ashlynn wondered how it got this far down unharmed, and then she spotted the hole in the ceiling that led to the surface. She shook her head.

"Alpine, you foolish beast. You scared me half to death."

Alpine barked, her tail wagging furiously.

"Well, I suppose I couldn't ask for a more loyal companion, could I?" Ashlynn stroked the fur on Alpine's head and looked down the hall she emerged from. Dimly lit as it was, Ashlynn could still make out the markers on the wall she had left on her last visit. There were a few unexplored rooms, and perhaps that meant there were still more Wonders to be had here.

Ashlynn was usually far more cautious than this; she would often abandon a Ceitu the second she heard a noise she couldn't recognize, or see something even remotely frightening. But Alpine's sudden appearance gave her a renewed sense of confidence. The dog could drill holes through solid steel like it was swimming through water.

Between Ashlynn's own skill with the blade and Alpine's ability, most of the creatures in the Waste (and the Ceitu as well) stood no chance against them.

Ashlynn approached a door she hadn't marked. The strange device that hung on the wall to the door's right had a red light above nine strange symbols. The symbols were from the old times, Ashlynn had seen them before in the ancient texts. She did not know what they were, only that pressing down on them in the right order occasionally opened doors in the Ceitu.

She tried pressing on the symbols in a dozen different combinations, and the light remained red still. She tried the combinations of other doors in the Ceitu, and the light remained red. She tried pressing all the buttons at once, and the light remained red.

Alpine barked.

"Ah, you're a genius Alpine!" Ashlynn smiled. She pointed at the door, "Have at it."

The beast beside her barked again and started shaking as if he were trying to dry himself. Soon he picked up speed, and soon after, Alpine's body was little more than a blurry mess of rotating fur, The ground trembled as Alpine stepped forward.

His nose pierced the metal with ease, and soon after the door slid open. The stench of ancient air assaulted Ashlynn's nose. She cringed.

And then she panicked as a deafening noise echoed through the halls.

"Geyre's forge!"

The noise did not stop, nor did it show any signs of getting any quieter. Alpine barked and growled at the ceiling. A voice was saying something in the old tongue, but Ashlynn couldn't recognize what it was saying. If she wasn't in the middle of a heart attack, perhaps she could have raked her memory and figured it out.

But at that moment, Ashlynn was solely focused on getting as far away from the Ceitu as she could.

Ashlynn snatched the object from within the room and stuffed it in her satchel. Luckily whatever lived in the room before she discovered it was small, although in her haste Ashlynn didn't get to look at what she had grabbed. All she knew was that it was a metal cube, and she prayed to Abirt that it was the Wonder Lord Hubris asked her to find.

Alpine was barking up a storm just outside. Soon enough he would start shaking, and Abirt knows how far down he would dig before he stopped. As soon as she left the room, Ashlynn knelt down and stroked Alpine's fur. He was calmer now, soothed down from a raging bark into a constant growl.

"We have to move!" She yelled.

And out into the halls, they ran. Ashlynn followed the path she had marked on her way in, and soon found herself at the entrance to the Ceitu. She looked out into the Waste and noticed a rather large cloud of dust approaching from the west. Were dust clouds supposed to move that way? It wasn't like anything she had ever seen before.

Were those… people?

The hoard of undead turned their heads east as they heard a noise in the distance. They'd wandered far from the hole in the ground they crawled out of, but a thousand years of undeath takes its toll on the brain. After a few years of walking in one direction, they all eventually stopped wandering and started waiting.

They were human once, as all New Men were. The Ceitu was their home, and the last place many of them saw before they perished. A few of them came here for salvation before the old world ended, more migrated just after it happened. Over the years, the old ones corralled here in search of something. Hope maybe? Or redemption.

Either way, they all met the same fate.

And there they all stood. One great collective of what remained of the Old World's inhabitants. The hoard of orange and white shuffled aimlessly in place for the last thousand years. Most everyone with the slightest inkling of common sense avoided them. Most everyone around this part of the Waste kept quiet and to themselves, for they dare not alert the hoard.

But they all heard that familiar sound coming from the east and, one by one, they shuffled east to investigate.

Ashlynn's heart nearly leaped out of her chest as she saw the realized the dust cloud was coming straight for her. She had an easy time sneaking around the New Men the first time; they hadn't been paying any particular attention to anything before. But now they were active, and in far too great in number to evade.

Alpine barked at something down in the Ceitu, then ran back into the red-tinted darkness. Ashlynn swore and ran after him. That stupid beast was her only companion in the Waste, and she would be sent to the afterlife before she let something happen to him.

"Alpine!" She called as she chased the beast through the halls, "You're going the wrong way, foolish beast!"

But Alpine did not relent in his pursuit. Ashlynn tried to peer through the darkness but couldn't see anything clearly aside from Alpine in front of her. The beast barked at nothing. Ashlynn tried to calm him but nothing was working.

Then Alpine flew threw the air into the wall. He let out a whimper as all his breath escaped him at once. Ashlynn's heart skipped a beat. She lowered her sword so that the tip was level with her chin. She couldn't see whatever Alpine could, but that didn't mean it wasn't there.

Ashlynn ran past Alpine and swung, letting out a shriek and connecting with the wall beside her. Sparks erupted from the strike. Vibrations shot through the blade and rocked Ashlynn's fingers. Her arm was trembling, but she didn't pay it any mind. Alpine was breathing heavily on the floor. Ashlynn noticed a wound on the beast, and how his blood was now mixing with the old, ancient blood that was already there.

She swung again. Again, her blade met the wall.

Whatever she couldn't see struck her from behind and sent her face-first into the floor. She rose to her feet on uneasy legs. A trickle of blood leaked out of the crack on her nose. She touched it and winced. Then she felt a hard blow to her side and another to her back. Ashlynn slashed through the air time and time again, meeting nothing.

Alpine's whining was getting quieter. Ashlynn rose to her feet and swung once more, finally connecting to something. She couldn't tell what she hit, only that it screamed like her. Her sword vanished, stuck in whatever it was that she couldn't see.

It said something in the old language, then cursed her in the common tongue.

"God damn it!" The unseen thing said. Her sword appeared out of thin air, clattering on the floor.

Ashlynn, understandably confused, ran to comfort Alpine. The bleeding was mostly superficial, and Ashlynn said a quick prayer to Abirt. She turned to the nothing, grabbed her sword and spoke.


A head emerged, dark-skinned with matted hair. A thick beard sat on its chin, and there was a glistening red line running down the head's face over its left eye. The head stared back at her on an angle. It furrowed its brow as it said something she didn't understand.


The head said something else, this time sounding a bit different from the first language it spoke. Ashlynn still didn't understand.

"I don't understand!"

The head sighed, "It appears I must speak this guttural language of yours. The New Men will be upon us soon. You need a suit."

"You could have killed Alpine!"

"You triggered a breach."

Ashlynn pushed her satchel behind her and backed up against the wall, "I'm just an explorer."

The head blinked twice and sighed, "Of course you are. This way. Leave the dog, he'll only slow us down."

Dog? Ashlynn heard of "dogs" before, but all she knew that they had four legs and fur. Alpine was far too furry. And had far too many legs.

Either way, Ashlynn scooped up Alpine and ran after the head. It led her down further into the bowels of the Ceitu. Down twisting corridors with cracked floors, rusted walls, and splattered blood. The voices of the ghosts rang in her ears even louder than the noise screaming at her overhead. They stopped at a room. The symbols next to it pressed themselves and the door opened.

Inside was a yellow mass of machinery, unlike anything Ashlynn had ever seen before. It looked like a human, only larger and far bulkier than it ought to be. The tangled mess of wires and tubes at the joints frightened her. Just staring at the machine-made her uncomfortable.

"Get in." The head ordered.


The ceiling shook above them. The New Men had come home.

"Get in the damn suit."

Ashlynn looked at Alpine. The beast stared back at her, but it was still weak. She placed him on the floor and steeled her nerves once more. She said a prayer to Abirt, and approached the machine. It stared back at her through a cold, unfeeling helmet. It was alien to her. Another tremor from above drove her to step inside.

The inside of the machine was oddly warm. Ashlynn felt as if she had eaten a feast for kings. All her fatigue disappeared almost instantly. She rose on uneasy feet and looked down at herself. Alpine was on his feet now and started barking.

"Good," The head said before vanishing, "All we've got to do now is wait."

"Why are you helping me?" She asked.

"I'm not."

Before Ashlynn could ask another question, the New Men were upon them. Ashlynn raised the sword to meet them, but they ignored her. The New Men shuffled in the room and sniffed the air, but none of them attacked. Ashlynn let out a breath she didn't know she was holding and walked through the empty halls of the Ceitu. She couldn't see the head anymore, but at least Alpine was following her.

Lord Hubris would not be happy to hear about this.

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