So this’ll be my first post-mortem diary entry. Uh huh, you read that right, true Bealievers: your heroine of yore did not in fact live even to see the twilight of her teens. Barely nubile and bit through the neck by a putrid rotgob, a disgusting, stinking undead ghast. A thing that should not exist at all anywhere – indeed a situation which I may now just have to go out of my way to arrange.
It fucking hurt, if you want to know. For posterity or whatever. I used to think pain and memory were sort of at odds, that you could remember the fact of its intensity but you couldn’t actually recall the sensation, know what I mean? For obvious practical reasons, I figure the knowing of it is enough to encourage one to energetically avoid any such thing in the future. But when I think of that repugnant, slimy, bloated thing bearing down on me, its wretched gases poisoning the air so that I can’t breathe, my throat closes, and there is pain, that horrific tearing comes back…
Well. Death by ghast. I can’t recommend it, neither for even the most morbidly curious nor the curiously moribund. With dear Bertram’s help, I’ve now really begun to double down on protective spells. I’m even working on one that leaves a nice twinge of lemon zest in the air.
And you have the dogged efforts of my beloved, clever companions to thank for my resurrection. Yes, I write not from within the comforting shimmer of the afterlife but abask in the familiar warmth and glow of a terrestrial campfire, once again in the jovial, snorzy company of good ol’ Mildred’s Revengers. This hallowed party of saints embarked upon a quest specifically to rez me, intent on tracking down a certain dwarven monk or hermit or someone, a guy who purportedly knew how to bring folks back from the great beyond. Ervendio charmed up my corpse to keep it from going bad and off they went. The new bug guy even had the presence of mind to sever a choice finger and bring it along for reference. I guess he figured I wouldn’t need it later…
It wasn’t long before things fell apart, as they are wont, something having to do with a hostile genie and the solving of a ridiculous riddle. Right?! I can’t believe I missed a riddle. Something finally happens requiring some actual intellect in this party and I’m too dead to participate. Sigh. They did just fine without me, though. In fact ironically the solving of the riddle almost cost me my metempsychosis, but this being the land of genies, after all, a fresh set of wishes was always in the cards (more on that later!) and proved sufficient to conjure up a perfectly serviceable replacement me, blipping back into existence fully equipped and seemingly none the worse for wear, at least so far.
Where would this party be without those diabolical wishes, you ask? Off the top of my head: Khalid would have wasted away in some dark mystery dungeon instead of becoming a huge mushroom deity, Bertram would have lost all of his stuff including his spellbook, and Jongle would be an entirely different sort of idiot.
I don’t believe I ever actually made it as far as an afterrealm, actually. I remember dying, pain receding, replaced with a black cold solid to the core, then a complete absence of sensation and thought, and then:
It’s a voice I recognize instantly, but having just been violently yanked from the material plane, I place it only after my eyes slowly focus and the following sequence of information reveals itself to me:
1. Nothing hurts anymore.
2. No more death smell. Everything smells like marzipan and soil.
3. I’m in a tree.
4. There’s a frumpy old kobold in this tree, eating flowers and smiling at me.
5. That kobold is none other than our own dearly departed kindly swampwitch,
“Mildred!” I shout, a lot louder than I mean to.
Lips speckled with pollen, treeflower bits tumbling out of her mouth, she climbs over and offers me a great twiggy gray hand. A cozy warmth rushes into my bones at her touch, and she gives me a giant hug that feels just spectacular.
“Deary, weary me,” she says, spitting out some petals, “look what they’ve gone and done to our little honeybee!” She leans me back. “Well, let’s have a look at you. My my, pretty as ever, my my my. Coming along nicely, aren’t you? What a vision. And can’t you just smell the power wafting out of you!”
She helps me down into a surprisingly wide niche at the base of the tree’s crown, and lets me take a second to shake off the shivers. I’m a bit weepy, I mean, apart from the fact that violent death isn’t any fun, I never expected to see poor Mildred the Frowzywig again. She looks amazing, I don’t know, like a goddess of sorts. Frazzled clumps of her hair hover on a light updraft, glowing in patches of the sun that dance over her like little luminous butterflies. Wherever the hell we are, it’s a nice day, at least. Beyond the tree I can’t make out much, just vast folds of wavy plains. Looking down, I can see that this is one big fucking tree, though. The ground can’t be any less than half a mile below, so far I can’t really see where the trunk meets the earth.
I tuck myself a little deeper in my niche and peer up through the canopy of flowers. It seems endless. “This is the world tree, isn’t it. Yggdrasil.” I can’t help but to release a disappointed sigh. There are a lot of old powers in the world. There was always the long chance that someone/thing else intervened on my behalf to bring me here. “Guess I’m really dead.”
“Beyond doubt, dearie. Weren’t you always a bright thing.” She touches the trunk to let a bug crawl onto her finger, peering in close as it races over her knuckles. “The World Ash Tree, upon it an old witch and a neophyte spirit petitioner. Two motes in the eyes of the gods. Bugs on a leaf on a twig on a limb on the trunk of a tree in the deep of the forest…”
I stifle a laugh, though not quite sure why. I had forgotten how musical and wonderfully mad conversing with Mildred was. “It’s blooming,” I say. I grab a closer look at one of the flowers, and a sniff – ah, there’s that marzipan scent. “That must mean…”
She flips up her hands, sending the bug flying off somewhere. “Aha! Life on Urd, on the ascent!” She relaxes, gives a wise old chuckle. “Or it shall be, or was. It’s your paradigm, honeybee. Time is a fickle brook in these here middlebit planes, in between places. Omens of home an’ some portents important to scry away days, fore, mid, aft, port, starboard…”
“I guess,” I say, letting the subject rest. Outerplane logic can really screw with your head. If you’re not careful, you can wind up as batty as Mildred.
She gives me some kind of sweet licoricey root to chill me out and we chat a bit, catching up as if this were all perfectly ordinary. She wants to know what I thought I was doing fighting ghasts, I tell her that’s a good question, and that I seem to be a magnet for them. She asks me about my romantic life and I think about Jongle, and get really sad all of a sudden, but I don’t really know what to tell her, so I don’t say anything. Kind of a messed up thing to ask a dead person, actually. We end up getting into more about what the revengers have been up to. She’s finds it particularly interesting when I tell her that even apart from the actual party deaths, signing on with the revengers, willingly or otherwise, is more or less a prescription for a hideous demise. Here and maybe once or twice more I get an odd feeling from her, I don’t know. Like she has some kind of unspoken agenda.
“Wait,” I say, “if I’m a petitioner, how come I’m still me and not mindwiped and all boring and daft?”
At this she makes a show of shrugging, as if to say, Don’t look at me, I’m just a passenger. “Who can say?” she says. Then she smiles. “Well now I suppose I can.”
She pulls down a branch of the tree, stripping it of all its leaves and blossoms, so that when the naked branch whips away she’s holding what looks like a dense, festive bouquet.
“I’m afraid our time together in this place of waiting is near spent, bumblebee,” she says. “I’ve taken measures. In fact I’ve been waiting for you, dearie lou. The Chaos Storm is calling you.”
As she speaks, the leaves of her bouquet begin to glow, at first as if spotlit by the sun but then clearly with a light their own, bathing us both in brilliant green and sending tiny yellow sparks into the air.
“I don’t… What? The Chaos Storm?”
“Just like you said, precious, there are a lot of old, curious powers across the planes.”
Fairly certain I did not say that aloud…
The leaves separate, floating into the space between us, then whirl into a circle. Mildred opens her hands, releasing the flowers that remained behind to rush inside to fill it. They collect and condense, and then slowly form a word.
The flowers now conform to the shape of a man’s head, the word stamped over his brow. The scene shifts, revealing the head now at the feet of a group of adventurers. I recognize the unmistakeable insectoid silhouette of Teks.
“Dead is as dead does, now isn’t it, dear? I haven’t spent these long months sitting in a tree, I had some shifting through the planes of my own to do, yes. The liar was an adversary, a defeated foe, you could say. He is my creature now, and I have sent him into the material plane, into that desert for your companions to find, and so they have! He’ll take the form of something that within the rules of Urd can set you to rights, and there you will return. And then you will seek out the chaos storm, and remember me!”
Even as she is telling me this, the pinhole is closing around the world. The green glow is soon all I can see before that shifts into blackness as well.
“Goodbye dear. Do say hello to our good friends from me, especially that one!”
“What? Wait, who, wha-?!”
And that was that. As abruptly as I had been snatched by fetid, snarling fate from the material plane, so was I returned, albeit a bit more screamy. The “liar” turned out to be a dao that Teks and Jongle freed from confinement. He granted them three wishes, and they used two of them to bring me back into the fold. I haven’t told the party yet about Mildred and all that stuff about the Chaos Storm. I probably will once I spend a few weeks unpacking it all in my head.
Finally, in my absence: Bertram’s secret past was revealed to him. It was nuts! So nuts he’d arranged to have himself forget it. Ervendio was freed from a geas by the same dao that brought me back. Gluteus (ha) is a weretiger now, which is excellent. Teks eviscerated a harpy with his mouth. He also gifted to me my own mummified old finger. At this moment, all my digits are accounted for, I’m wiggling them right now. I suppose that makes me a clone of some kind? I’ll have to look into it.
Oh and Jongle is a father.