KretchSteamclaw's House of Fuckery

This be where the fuckery happens

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In the cremation grounds we waited, watching the bodies of a rich man and a poor child burn side by side. The rich man's body was surrounded by a large group of well-dressed and influential people. The poor child was surrounded by the members of his immediate family. Death comes for everyone, rich and poor, and the cremation grounds near where we live become the home of their ashes. The rich man was allowed to burn all the way to ashes, but the child's body was pushed into the river as soon as his skull popped open in the flames. His body would feed the turtles and the dogs. And us, as well.

The mourners cannot see us. Cannot see when we gather the ashes in bowls made from skulls. Cannot see us picking at the still-burning body of the child. The mourners leave and our feast begins. My brother filled his bowl with the child's brains and tossed the child's charred face into the river into the waiting mouths of the turtles. My mentor drank deep a mix of filthy river water and the rich man's ashes. I collected what bones and ash I could and we shuffled back into the flat wastelands across the river.

We ate in silence, cracking open the child's bones, sucking out the marrow, and swallowing handfuls of ash. Our food always has a hint of sorrow that adds to the flavor. My brother broke the silence.

"Were we to expect visitors soon? I think I recall the crows bringing a message that there we others of us on their way."

"I do not believe them," my mentor said. "The crows often lie. There are not so many of our kind that others would travel to our grounds. Besides, do we really want them to squabble over what little food we have these days? People are being cremated in grounds even farther from here. Why shouldn't travelers go that way instead? There is only enough for us here at our grounds."

I remained silent. If others came, would we have to drive them off? Or would my mentor show mercy and welcome them. Was that not the right thing to do? To show compassion to our brethren?

My mentor continued. "If they must eat, then they may eat the refuse that chokes the river's edge."

The next day five crows returned and perched on our fragile shelter of skin and sticks. They spoke in unison. "From the west they come. Not more than four. Four more of your kind, o ancient beasts of yore. Wanderers walking wide wastes, weary and wanting, wishing to wallow with you in your white wasteland." This the crows spoke.

"Tell them to move along, that we do not want them here," my mentor snarled. "These are our bones, our ashes. This is our home."

"Too late, it is. They are noticeably near now." The crows flew off as we spotted the wanderers on the horizon. My mentor called to them.

"Move along. There is no food here," he shouted. I could feel his anger dripping in foul gobs from his body. It was as though he was no longer the patient mentor I knew and had become a selfish beast. He bared his yellow teeth and snarled at the newcomers.

"Where may we go if not here?" said the leader of the four wanderers. "We have been chased off from our homes by the Shambling Ones. We beg of you to give us shelter, if only for the night."

My mentor paused, considering the proposal, then he sighed. "Very well. One night only will you stay though. In the morning you must be off, or I shall chase you off myself."

"Yes, yes of course. We swear on the night that we shall," said the leader. And so they stayed with us for the night. The four wanderers were thin from hunger. Their leader, though tall, stood slumped and hunched. The others were shorter. Must have been younglings. They cowered behind their leader and stared in fear at my mentor.

My brother and I introduced ourselves while our mentor begrudgingly went to scavenge food for the weary wanderers. After some time he returned with a corpse. It was that of a plump elderly woman. The four guests began to tear at the woman's flesh, eating ravenously. I was worried though. The woman's skull was smashed in, the wound recent. Too recent. I could only hope that our mentor did not murder the woman. It is a sin among our people to kill for food. My mentor looked me in the eyes as if reading my fears from afar, silently demanding me not to say anything.

I knew then it was true. He had killed.

The sun set and the newcomers shared their stories with us. They told us of how they had been starving for weeks, and how they shamefully had to eat one of their own for sustenance. Then their home was attacked by the Shambling Ones late in the night. Their massive feet had crushed the newcomers' homes, devouring whole those of our kind that they were able to capture.

From where the Shambling Ones came, we do not know. Normal humans cannot see them; they do not know of the Shambling Ones' existence just as they do not know of ours. If they did, they would surely kill them, just as they kill all things that threaten them. But we are few, and we cannot fight those gargantuan and alien Shamblers. And deep down, all of our people knew that the Shambling Ones would be our end in due time.

It was after we fell asleep. I was awoken by ominous thunder, even though the skies were clear. Then the ground shook, waking all of us. Our visitors panicked and rushed off into the night before we could even get our bearings. The thunder was louder, pounding, earth-shaking. My mentor, my brother, and I looked up behind our shelter and saw the tremendous form of a Shambling One. We had never seen one of them near our wastes before. Something drew it here. My mentor cursed under his breath as we turned to run.

It was then that I remembered what it is that attracts the Shambling Ones like a beacon in the dark. The thing that tied our visitors actions to our own. Or rather, what tied their pitiable actions to what my mentor had done. The reason why we do not kill.

It was sin.

Sins attract the Shambling Ones. Our sins, and no one else's. Not human sins, not serpent-men sins. Ours' alone. The sin the visitors committed was killing their own to eat it's flesh, even though it was in a desperate effort to survive. And my mentor committed the sin of murder. He had damned us.

We ran swiftly, but the long strides of the Shambling One allowed it to keep up with little effort. I looked back just in time to see my brother swept up in the Shambling One's massive paw and dropped into its mouth—a thin slit that was almost the width of its body. I heard my brother's screams and the crunching of his bones.

It was all my mentor's fault. It was his fault my brother was now dead. It was his fault that our home, our safe haven right near a fine source of food, had been destroyed. He should be punished. He needed to be punished. As we ran, I pushed him as hard as I could while still maintaining my balance. He fell over and I could see the fear in his eyes and the pain in his soul as he was lifted into the air. I heard the Shambling One crunching upon my mentor, and I could not help feeling sorrow, but also satisfaction that justice had been served. Served on the metaphorical silver platter.

I had reached the river. I noticed a small hole in the sudden slope just along the river bank. I ducked inside and waited, my whole body trembling. The ground shook violently and I knew the Shambling One was just above me. It paused, then the ground shook again, though it slowly became distant as the monster lumbered away, apparently having given up chasing me.

I hid in the hole until evening the next day. I fear now though, that my actions in pushing my mentor down might constitute as murder as well. Was I a marked sinner as well, or was I merely acting as an agent of retribution? It has been some time since, and I have only rarely left this hole, but I expect the Shambling Ones to come for me in due time. To punish me for the murder I committed. And even if the Shambling Ones do not come for me, I may seek them out. To seek justice and assuage my own guilt.

A final sin of self-annihilation.

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