Don’t Touch the Dead [Short Fantasy Story]

Don’t touch the dead.

From the depths of the dwarven strongholds to the peaks where the dragons slumber all follow the rule.

Do not touch dead humans.

You can kill them brutally. You can burn, pillage and destroy.

But NEVER touch the dead.

Everyone follows this rule. The most curious of dwarven physicians does not dare to dissect a human corpse and the hungriest of goblins would rather starve than to bite on a human cadaver.

If you kill or find a dead human you leave the poor bastard there or give them to another human.

If you see a human gravedigger let them be and keep walking.

Bad things happen to those who break the rule.

The first recorded case of someone breaking the rule was during the first elven-human war. An elven general whose name has been long forgotten had just captured a major human port city called Opidaprim.

Yes, the same Opidaprim that is now our capital city, may I continue? Good.

So, the general conquered the city after a gruelling siege and was almost done with only one problem left: what to do with the corpses?

The dead elves were all buried with military honours on the outskirts of the city while the humans were put on one giant pile.

Gravediggers came for the human dead and soon they too joined the pile.

How do the gravediggers know about the dead? They just know. Don’t look into it too much, you won’t like what you find.

What did they do with the pile of corpses?

They burned it.

Hundreds of dead men and women were set on fire and left to burn as the army prepared to continue their campaign.

They burned for the whole night like a small star on the land.

They burned for the whole second night like a small constellation on the black sky.

By the third night the pile burned like a small sun.

By the fourth there was no night for the fire had consumed the darkness just as it had consumed the forest in which it was placed.

The souls of the dead burned and burned like an inferno as they moved and destroyed the land and the army who took their lives.

How did it go out?

Simple: we destroyed a dam and flooded five villages just to put out the flames of the dead.

Yes, that is why Opidaprim has so much barren land around it. It used to be forest.

The second time someone broke the rule was just a decade after the first time. A necromancer whose name is unimportant saw what the human souls did on Opidaprim and decided that they would make great test subjects.

What did they do?

They brought a single human back to the mortal realm.

You might have heard stories of this. A gigantic skeleton with enormous bony wings capable of destroying dozens with a single hand, yes?

Those are lies.

No, they are not lies to scare children, the opposite in fact. They are lies to comfort the adults of the true horror.

It was a normal skeleton.

It was not big or strong or even fast.

But it refused to go back.

The necromancer couldn’t control it and ended up killed the moment the thing came back to our realm, so someone tried to destroy it.

They couldn’t.

It didn’t matter that we shattered its bones or tore it to pieces, it didn’t matter that by all logic it should have come back to the plane of the dead.

It refused to die again.

Armies would be sent to destroy it and come back with half of their men dead and the rest injured. Walls that we set to stop it would be broken or climbed over and in some cases simply dug under.

The skeleton marched on and on refusing to die.

How did we stop it?

We dropped a mountain on it.

No, not a metaphorical mountain but a literal one. Hundreds upon hundreds of mages all lifted a mountain and dropped it on the cursed thing.

Have you ever wondered why the dead king visits the “lonely mountain” every year? The empress may say it is for a “diplomatic meeting“ but the truth is that he is there to check if the thing is finally gone.

It never is.

It digs and waits.

Why? Why are the human dead like this while the others aren’t?

No one knows, not even the gravediggers.

Maybe their dead are vengeful and want to punish those who disturb them? Or maybe they are unable to fully go back to resting once they have been awakened?

Or maybe.

Just maybe.

The reason why humans fight and kill and don’t rest even after death…

Is because for them whatever is on the other side is worse than burning or being crushed for eternity.

Don’t think too much about it.

Just don’t touch the dead.

Republished with permission from the author, Reddit user u/Mercury_the_dealer. Image created with the Nightcafe AI.

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