There are makeup tutorials online

Being undead was actually fine. It would have been better if people didn’t point and scream every time they saw her. Kind of a downer. She didn’t look that great, sure, but it was a bit insulting.

She used to think she didn’t mind what people thought of her, but because this was such a drastic reaction, she knew she would have to do something about it. With a sigh, she went to the department store to buy makeup.

It wasn’t something she knew much about, never having worn much in life. She tried to get the staff to help her, but they were too busy doing that point and scream thing, so she did research on her phone instead. Makeup was a lot more complicated than she remembered it being.

In the end, she figured out what she might try to make her face look normal enough that people wouldn’t break out screaming. She went through the self checkout, because the camera watching her to make sure she didn’t steal anything didn’t actually care what she looked like as long as she paid.

Then she went home to try it out.

The world away

Apparently, Fletcher hadn’t always lived in Castlehaven. He couldn’t imagine that, because he felt as though Fletcher had been here forever. Perhaps there were moments he remembered of his infancy where Fletcher was not, but the Baron’s heir had assumed that was because it was hard to remember being that young.

“Where did you live?” he asked the undead man one day. They were looking over maps, Fletcher teaching him about different places. Sometimes his mother sat in when they talked about this. Apparently she used to live somewhere else too.

Fletcher smiled. “Many different places. I can’t say settling down ever occurred to me until arriving here.” His finger trailed across the map. It might have seemed random, but he could tell Fletcher was being deliberate. The path he had taken to Castlehaven.

He stopped Fletcher’s finger on a particular spot. His finger was cool, not cold, but not warm, not like his mother. He didn’t mind. That was simply how Fletcher was. “Tell me about here!”

Fletcher began to speak. With the colours of his magic, the heir of Castlehaven could see a place half a world away.

To what can be closer

For someone whose body should have been considered deceased, Nemissa couldn’t decide what was dead about it. Perhaps it was odd, the lack of a heartbeat. Fletcher took her hand and placed it against his chest, allowing her to decide how she felt about it.

What she felt was his ribcage. Then again, there were plenty of people, well alive, who looked more skeletal than Fletcher felt. Or maybe those people had been undead too and Nemissa simply couldn’t tell the difference.

He wasn’t cold. From the magic, it seemed.

“Did you ever have a heartbeat?” she asked him.

Fletcher shook his head. “The spectrum of my kind is wide. For some, becoming undead is a process where they lose the aspects people consider as their humanity. For others, they simply are like this.”

Nemissa pulled her hand back, reaching for his instead and placing it against her chest. “Then feeling one must be very strange to you.”

Fletcher looked thoughtful, staring at his hand’s placement. The thoughtfulness dissolved into something else as he turned his gaze to her eyes instead. “Perhaps, but it is a very comforting type of strange.”

He pulled his hand away then, but some of Nemissa’s composure had already vanished. She turned her head away for a moment, feeling the warmth in her cheeks which didn’t show well through her dark skin. Then she faced him again with a smile.

Fletcher smiled back.

Stay anyways

For once, Fletcher looked uncertain. “I shouldn’t be here.”

Nemissa watched her son down in the courtyard, playing with the group of orphans. She didn’t respond to Fletcher fast, because she was too busy trying to understand what he meant. “You are always welcome in Castlehaven. You know this. Is there a problem?”

“A problem?” Fletcher pulled his ever-present cloak around himself. “You have been too kind. Your people even kinder. You know that the rest of the world would see me as a monster.”

“Maybe you are,” Nemissa said. “But what does monster even mean?”

“If only other peoples questioned the same concepts.” He walked away from the window, into the shadow. She recognized this tendency in him, something he did when he was even more aware of his separation from the living.

“Don’t worry about what they think. You are here. One of us, for as long as you remain.”

She turned from the window to look at him. He did not return her gaze. “You have no idea how I’ve longed to hear those words.” Nemissa could not restrain a growing smile, which faded at his next words. “Yet it changes nothing. I should go.”

Something twisted inside of her, something she hadn’t realized was there. At least, was still there. “At least tell me why. I’ve grown so fond of your company.”

“And I yours.” His shoulders slumped. “Perhaps too fond. If I stay, I will wish to overstep my bounds.”

Confusion overcame her, until he finally looked at her. A look she hadn’t seen in so long. A look she never thought to see again. It eased the scarring in her soul that she had thought she must endure forever.

Nemissa smiled. “Stay anyway.”

Perhaps Fletcher understood her then, because he no longer spoke of leaving.

The color of magic

She had thought a member of the undead might be more dour than this.

Fletcher laughed. “You don’t keep anything back, do you?”

Nemissa paused for a moment. “What do you mean?” Some understanding dawned on her. “I am quite tactful.”

“One can be forward without being blunt.” Fletcher showed her son his magic again, taking up drops of paint in a rainbow between his fingers, mixing the colors together and pulling them apart. She was as fascinated by this as the child was. However, Nemissa could still keep up conversation, while her son was content to keep silent and watch the show.

“Am I overstepping a boundary?” she asked.

He shook his head. “Not at all. I simply wasn’t expecting a question like that. I’ve found that many are. They start out that way and if they haven’t, they grow into it. I’ll admit at first I was in the former camp. But dourness truly is a choice in this manner. I much prefer a positive outlook.”

“Then we have a shared perspective. Even when things go badly, continuing to look at further ill can’t make it better.”

“Sometimes nothing can make something better.” Fletcher smiled up at her. “Yet trying to, regardless, can create something else good where there might not have been any.”

With conversations like this, Nemissa couldn’t determine for the life of her, if the rest of the humanoid undead were in anyway similar to Fletcher, why people might fear the undead.

Twenty one

The Baroness of Castlehaven’s birthday was a grand event, whether she wanted it to be or not. Not that she minded too much, giving the people another excuse to celebrate was always welcome.

Their conversation was interrupted every other minute, from those who wished Nemissa well on her birthday, to those who wished to say hello to her son, or to Fletcher. Those who beckoned them to their stalls, for food, games, trinkets. There was barely a moment to speak, but when there was Fletcher tended to get to the point.

“You are twenty one?”

Fletcher sounded surprised, for a reason Nemissa could only attempt to guess at. “Yes. Do I seem younger?”

He laughed. “What a trap of a question!”

Schooling her face, Nemissa made sure not to smile as she continued. “Then I seem older.”

“You look like a young woman, where time stands still as to make one immortal. I guessed at a different age because of a different culture, not because of your appearances, my lady.”

“I accept that explanation,” Nemissa said. “What part of your culture does mine differ from?”

Fletcher stopped to look at the glass fish, colors reflecting off his eyes in a way which fascinated her. “Your son was born when you were seventeen. You seem older by way of mental maturity which isn’t apparent in the youth of other cultures.”

Nemissa reached out, plucking a blue fish from the selection as her son gestured at it. “That is the case here as well. My own youth was something I brought with me when I came here, I suppose.” A thought struck her and she gave a sidelong glance at the undead before beginning to pay for a large assortment of fish for her son’s friends who would be around somewhere. “How old are you?”

Fletcher laughed again. “Another trap? I should be embarrassed to answer.”

He didn’t seem embarrassed, but he also didn’t answer. She had the feeling it wasn’t something dramatic, but that would seem odd in comparison to the age of the living. Nemissa didn’t ask again.

What is still close

“You have done well by your people, my lady.”

Nemissa nodded, watching as Fletcher picked up his cup. He ate, drank, much like any other being. Other than the oddities of his appearance, she wouldn’t have called him undead. “I have been left with the best of tools to do well by.”

“No one has answered me about what happened to the Baron of Castlehaven.”

In an instant, Nemissa felt her breath leave her. A subject she had never thought to speak of again, brought up by this stranger. He appeared to notice how his lack of decorum affected her.

“I apologize. That was improper of me, nor any of my business.”

“I suppose it is curious, a baroness without her baron.” Her reply was nearly breathless. She should have had more control then that, but for some reason she didn’t. For some reason it hurt all over again, right when she couldn’t afford for it to. Not with anyone around.

Fletcher hesitated. “More that your son has no father. My apologies. Again, it is none of my business. And it certainly has had no outwardly ill affect on your heir. He is a delightful child.”

Nemissa could breathe again. “That he is. I almost don’t deserve him.”

The undead chuckled. “Almost?”

“I am the Baroness of Castlehaven.”

“Ah. Good point.”

When she first heard of him

Nemissa first heard of him from her trusted chamberlain. He spoke of the newcomer in a rather absent manner during his morning report, occupied as she was with brushing her son’s hair.

“It appears as though a member of the undead has arrived in town.”

Nemissa settled her son in his chair, smoothing his black curls back. “Undead?” she asked Tumelo. “In what way? I thought revival was impossible.”

“That is simply the umbrella term for the creatures who should be, by all rights, dead, but are alive. Other societies shun them for this difference. Your people have also had little experience with such things, but haven’t found themselves worried about him. He has been in town for a week and has been warmly welcomed.”

Nemissa thought about that for a few moments. “That’s interesting. I would like to meet a member of the undead.”

“That would be wise, my lady. While he has not come to introduce himself as a representative, he most certainly is to your people, no matter his true status. It would be quite strategic to learn who he is, why he is here, and make certain that terms remain positive for both he and Castlehaven.”

Nemissa smiled, pressing her lips against her son’s head for a moment before letting him toddle off the chair and try to make his way around the room. “Those are all important, Tumelo, but I also have another reason: pure curiosity. As you must have guessed from my question, there are no such concepts where I came from.”

“Where come from, Ma’mer?”

“A place far away from here, my flower.” She watched as he interested himself in a cabinet. “Is he staying at the Eternal Drink, Tumelo?”

“Yes, my lady.”

Nemissa tore her eyes away from her son long enough to look out the window. “Then I might go and see him there.” She ignored the very mild protests of her chamberlain, who suggested that he be invited up here to meet her. He was used to her doing this.

Everyone was.

Maybe magic missile

The paladin had been separated from his team for an hour now. Knowing that he likely wandered now in an entirely different string of catacombs than the ones the group had began in didn’t instill him with much confidence. Finally though, he was allowed to see what would happen next.

“Without the rogue, it’s up to me to make certain I don’t walk into a trap,” he said to himself and his God. He studied the left way and the right and decided to go right. Nothing terrible happened, so he assumed he had guessed right. Which made sense, since he went right. And who knew? Maybe left was just as clear. He would find out if he walked into a dead end.

The room at the end of the hall was not filled with dust as everything else had been. The smell of damp permeated the room, the smell of rotted flesh.

“But the bodies here have been dead for too long. The undead! I search for signs of them!”

“Too late,” said the DM. “Roll for initiative.”