Plot Seeds/Story: Undead of Purditory

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Mark Grundy

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Jun 12, 1991, 7:58:56 PM6/12/91
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This is another thingy from Purditory, which was a co-operative,
systemless milieuless world that we cooked up a while back in
aus.games.roleplay. Thought you might find it interesting.

In this post I wanted to discuss game ideas about undead -- without
having any explicit magic in the world. So here is a description of
some undead that might live in Purditory. It's presented in a sort-of
story form, but it's supposed to offer ideas for gaming. The writer is
from the Deni culture, which I also posted recently to r.g.frp. Most of
the allusions he makes come from that posting.

Enjoy.
-----8<-----8<-----8<-----

NightThings: Purditory Undead
by Clint the Clanless

Outside Aram, there's a lot of wealth to be had for those Deni who by
choice or by law leave the Seventeen Clans - particularly if you're a
medical man like me. But there is a lot of danger too - especially for the
unwary. After my clan kicked me out for setting a feud-enemy's legbone, I
took off across the grasslands of Sklitz for greener pastures. Sklitz
wasn't so bad, as long as you kept away from the aurochs. (The aurochs
themselves aren't so much trouble - it's the things that _prey_ on them
you've got to watch).

After a couple of weeks heading more East than South, I hit on this
little village of pale, black-haired folks. I didn't have anything to trade
for food and shelter, and I'd been living on wild butterbean stew for the
last week after my catweasel got eaten by a grasswolf, so I was pretty
hungry for meat, I can tell you. Initially, they showed the meanest set of
faces I'd seen since I left home. They didn't talk my language (I've never
yet found anyone who does that wasn't Deni), but I showed them my herbs and
tools, and once I got it clear to them that I was a healer and not a
butcher, they accepted me with open arms. Later, I found that some of them
knew the Skintz nomad tongue, which is still spoken a bit in my old part of
Aram.

It turned out that in three out of the dozen families in that village,
they'd had a terrible sickness. They didn't know what was causing it, and
neither did I at the time, but it was surely taking its toll of the folks
there - they'd already lost two older people a day before, and several
others looked to be heading the same way. Back then, I didn't know just how
different to the Deni some folk can be. Like a fool, I asked them if I
could help butcher the bodies for the feast. It was forward of me I know,
but often a good healer can learn a lot more from a recently dead body than
from a living one - the taste and smell of the tissues and offle can tell
you a lot, and you can't get that from a live patient.

Well, they looked at me funny, like I'd shat in the family pot, and I
apologised in halting Skintz nomad. I found later that they put their
corpses in special clay urns and bury them in ``unclean'' ground, fearing
pestilence. A wasteful and disrespectful thing to do, but I was their
guest, so I kept these thoughts to myself - they can sort out their noisome
habits with Bonekeeper when they meet Him. I went to take a look at some of
the living victims instead. It was a hell of a disease.

It started with neck and upper body sores that looked a bit like
rainburn - but usually they had only two or three of them. About a day
after the sores, the victim got tired and fretful. On the second day, their
mind would begin to go. By the fourth day, the patient would have retreated
into a listless sort of stupor, shunning light and food - shrieking, in
fact, if any light brighter than a fatlamp fell on their faces. Inside a
week, they were dead - or that's what we all thought. The truth was
otherwise.

When the funeral party went to the deathhouse for the older folks (the
morning after I arrived), they were gone. If I hadn't been working my guts
out in plain view of a dozen of them all day and sleeping in one of their
crowded family houses all night, I reckon they would have killed me on the
spot - I almost thought they'd brain me anyway just to be on the safe side.
We hunted high and low for tracks, but it was too dry and well-trodden to
see much. I sweated out the rest of the day making poultices and
herb-gathering, and kept my head down. They had a meeting in the bighouse
but I couldn't understand their gruff speech. Afterwards though, they
politely requested that I bend every effort to my four patients, as if my
foreign medicine should prove inadequate, they would dispatch me as a
propitiation to whatever plague-ghost had beset their village.

Needless to say, that night I slept not at all - staying in the
sickhouse with my four patients. The night was muggy, the reek of their
sweat was opressive and the wide window-holes couldn't relieve the stench.
I walked a little outside in the early hours of the morning. It was then
that I heard a disturbance in the swine-pen and crept between the
laundry-lines to investigate. Hunched over, clutching a wriggling piglet to
her chest, noisily sucking the blood from its neck was an old dam - gaunt,
crooked and pale in the bright starlight. Her naked, death-waxen frame
would have weighed no more than a six-year old child's, and she fled from me
as I approached, the hog's blood still bubbling in her throat. In my haste,
I didn't see her companion until he grabbed me from behind. I struggled
wildly, and we went down in a tangle of tunics and fresh-washed breeches.

I was no weakling then, but this scrawny, babbling old grandsire fought
with a speed and fury that near overwhelmed me. His inch-long fingernails
clawed at my throat and he spat and drooled through his stained yellow
fangs. The only reason I am here to tell this tale today was a humble
laundry-stick that my groping hands found, and with which I stove in his
head. The scuffle (and my yells) brought out the whole village and I
thought to myself ``Well Clint, this is it.'' but they were surprisingly
calm about their grandad that I'd just killed. I blurted out my story, and
asked if I could _please_ inspect his body. In a sort of shocked awe, they
locked me and the cadaver in the deathouse, where I got a chance to look him
over.

In the light of a smoking fatlamp, I saw that his teeth, nails and hair
must have grown tremendously since he died - his front teeth were almost an
inch and a half long, while his blood-matted hair reached his shoulders.
His body was bluish and emaciated, and his blood was a thick, red-purple
ichor that oozed from his broken head. His blood-gorged digestive organs
were in early decomposition but his muscles were intact, if stringy. His
heart was bluish and swollen, and when I cut it open, I found a fat, glossy
black thing like a leech inside the left half of his heart. It was still
glistening and flopping in its purple fluid when I ground it under my heel.

I'd been two whole days without sleep, and walked off my feet when we
found Grandma Barug in the back of an old bear cave. Her eyes were closed
and she had a pulse of sorts, but they killed her anyway. The thing they
found inside her was bigger, and had two little membranes curled around it
like tiny wings. When our grim and subdued party made its way back to the
village, I ran off through a copse of trees and hid beneath a rotting log by
a stream until they gave up looking for me.

It was years later that I met Mir, a spicy Tarian spice-merchant who had
been beyond the yellow mountains. Early one morning, she told me of a race
of fierce demon raiders who live in the valleys beyond. They make pets of
these flying black worms, which by her account are the size of finches full
grown. They lay their eggs in the veins of raid-taken slaves, which are
then fed milk mixed with the blood of oxen to keep them alive. The
blood-mad slaves feel no pain and fight furiously (to which I can attest).

After a month, they cut the growing worm from the heart of the slave and
make a powerful restorative elixir from its body. This is said to keep the
men young and hale beyond their prime, but Mir also said that their skin is
red and they have frequent fits, so I guess that it also makes their blood
too hot and that they die early. Mir said too that the slaves can last a
couple of months with that worm inside them, and that it only emerges after
they truly die. I still have dreams some nights about Grandma Barug.

Being no fool, I never went back to that village, but I have heard since
that they cover their windows with treated linen nowadays. I hope that they
had sense enough to give swift mercy to my four patients, but I do not truly
know.

--

----- ---- ------
ma...@arp.anu.edu.au Mark Grundy

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