The bustling tavern went deathly quiet as the man in the corner spoke up, "I saw Him in the graveyard. He was sitting on top of the mausoleum just looking out over the stone garden and watching some. . . things digging up bodies."
A dark-haired man at a nearby table piped in, asking, "What, exactly did you see old man?"
The gray haired man in the corner glared at the speaker, thinking, you should know what I'm talking about, you live here too, but he answered without irritation in his voice. "I saw the King of Shades in the cemetery taking His harvest."
A woman, an outlander by her voice, whispered, "Who is this King of Shades? Why is he so special? What is this 'harvest'?"
"He's the patron guardian of our town, miss. We don't need sheriffs here at all because of him. All he asks is control of the cemetery. He takes the bodies away after we bury them. We're not sure why but no one's seen him eat them or anything like that. They just disappear."
The crowd shivered. It was a reflex for the natives of Abashan, even if they knew their God was a benevolent one.
"At least, most do. Most of the people in that area of town swear they've seen corpses walking."
"Tell them what you do, Harry." The dark-haired man spoke again.
"I'm the caretaker of the cemetery. I live near there myself, and I can confirm, the dead do walk around from time to time. Today was my first time seeing the one causing it."
The dark-haired man leaned over. "What was he like?"
Harry closed his eyes and laid his head back against the wall, remembering. "Maybe I had better start at the beginning."
The crowd kept their eyes on Harry, their ears and minds intent on the story he was about to tell. Harry looked at his enrapt audience, and smiled, before beginning. "I woke up before sunrise this morning with a chill feeling in the air. After my usual preparatory routine, I went out to do my day's work. The sun was barely waking up itself, so the walk was in the dark. I like walking in the dark, it lets my mind wander."
"As I was reaching the cemetery gate, the sun was just coming up over the hills, and I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. They're not great for focused vision, but these old eyes can still catch things out of their corners if the light's not in them. I looked over and saw someone walking around. I could tell he wasn't right, so after unlocking the gate I walked closer to him."
"His gait was stiff, and I could smell embalming fluid. Just another hint that the King doesn't eat the dead, I suppose. I can't imagine He'd allow us to embalm the corpses if he was going to ingest them. Now, where was I? Right, he smelled of embalming fluid. So, knowing that magic was about, I just let the man be. He wasn't hurting anything, just walking about. He even noticed me, and just waved. So, I got on the path and walked on. If there was magic about I wasn't going to disturb anything. I'd never gotten a bad feeling being around such people, either, so I figured staying in the cemetery wasn't dangerous. I stayed, and I watched."
An outlander looked about to say something right then, but the intensity of the crowd and his own interest silenced him. Harry picked up on the unasked question anyway. "How can I be comfortable around the undead? I work in a cemetery, and it's been five years since the King took power. After the first year of it happening you tend to calm down as long as nothing feels sinister. The King's work feels far safer than anything men ever do, I can tell you that."
"Now, I walked toward the mausoleum, and just stood there, frozen, when the building came into sight. I saw a youth, couldn't be more than 20, sitting on the roof. His hair was the same black as Dickson over here," Harry's dark-haired interrogator waved, "and his skin was pale. I didn't recognize him, but he felt like he had something to do with all of this."
"As I watched the boy waved, and I regained movement. I was just shocked at seeing someone else about during an undead sighting, especially on the roof of a house of the dead. I walked closer, and he didn't react. I heard a loud rustling, and looked over to see another corpse bent over with a shovel, digging up a grave. Taking my eyes off of it, I realized the mausoleum door was open. The bodies had been pulled from there, and there were more walking out."
At this someone did speak. "Were you frightened?"
Harry chuckled, "Even if he is benevolent, you don't go completely untouched by fear when the King is around." A quiet murmur of agreement ran through the natives in the room, before things went silent again.
"My attention was suddenly drawn up to the boy. This time I knew it was magic, I simply felt compelled to look up. He got to his feet, and stood taller than most men in town. From atop that mausoleum, he looked down at me and smiled, before opening his mouth. A smooth, black stone dropped from it into his hand, and he clapped both hands tight on that rock."
"His hands slid apart, and a flute as dark as the night sky, no, darker than the night sky, formed between them. He put the flute to his lips and began to play. The music was. . . enchanting. Magically and melodically, it just . . . was. All the dead looked at each other and men and women paired off. They began dancing, like something out of the old religious texts from before the war. I couldn't help but watch."
"As the couples danced others kept working, digging up graves. Whenever a new body was uncovered streams of red clouds, red like blood, flowed from the flute. Bodies would be filled by the clouds and just sit up, in their graves, before getting up, stretching, and joining the dance. All the while my foot began tapping, and I couldn't help clapping and dancing a bit like the rest of them. It was incredible."
"I will die a happy man knowing this ritual took place in my very own cemetery. Nay, I'll die a happy man knowing it awaits me. This went on for maybe five minutes, but it felt like hours, it was so much fun I didn't want it to end. I can tell you, this is not a Godless land, no matter what others might say."
"After the dance he kept his eyes on me, and I knew, knew right then, that this was the King of Shades, in person. No intermediary, no corpse, the King Himself. And as I watched he opened his mouth and formed words. No, he didn't speak, he simply mouthed the words, and I heard them in my head. He said, 'it is not your time, My boy, but now you know what it'll be like.' I was filled with an inner peace that hasn't left me yet. "
Harry shrugged. "That's all there is to tell. I watched the King and the undead vanish into thin air, and worked today. Now I am here, telling all of you what I saw."