“When is a man truly dead?”
These words were repeated by a little girl in a voice that was not hers. Her eyes bathed in a fiery red as she spoke, the embers forever singeing my brain.
Her question echoed in my skull as I relived a lifetime of pain in that one, fragile moment. It was familiar. It was mine.
And though it was just a mere fraction of a second, all my greatest failings had resurrected themselves. Much like the undead that now populated Arcadia, the ghosts that made up my personal hell resurfaced into conscious thought.
There were many. With each one cutting at my psyche a little deeper than the last. The deepest incision however, was her. Towering over the others like a dragon laying an entire citadel to waste in a hellish inferno.
It was her. It was an age ago. Simpler times. She being the most promising of mages, I but a fledgling knight of the Order. But it mattered not. We were happy.
That is of course, until she was summoned by the Witches South. Only the strongest willed of spellcasters were invited by the coven with the purpose of further testing their mettle through the toughest trials of the mind and the soul.
Coming through unscathed granted unimaginable powers on the condition that they be used for the betterment of your people. Failure meant death. Naturally, she was up to the task. In spite of my darkest fears, she emerged victorious. But the relief did not last for long.
She came back a changed being, returning as a newly minted witch. Forsaking her old identity, her staves, her friends and even me.
They say that the trials can break the most resolute, driving them to madness. This seemed unlikely to the wise men that ran this city. My pleas to the council went unheeded. I had no say in their decision to allow her to continue her work. It was for the good of Arcadia after all. Or so they thought. It was a decision we all lived to regret. Well, at least me.
For there was but one single cause of this outpouring of wanton death and pestilence.
It was her.
Using art most maleficent, she summoned a plague that turned my fellow brothers and sisters into walking corpses, devoid of sentience. Her arrival was supposed to herald a new age of prosperity.
All I got was remorse, having to behead many a kith and kin, destroy countless members of my order and be one of the rare few to be cursed with the misfortune of having to live through the oblivion of my people.
I have lost everything.
And it was in this instant that I had my answer for this spirit that faced me. Eking out the last of my strength, I managed to utter what I would be my last words.
” A man is truly dead when he has nothing left to lose.”
No sooner had these words escaped my lips than the ground trembled. The pall of gloom was cracked by the sun’s rays. My vision was filled with a blinding white light.
Was this heaven or another deception?