Adrastos hated corpses.
Not the look of them, crumpled at unnatural angles, or the smell, a sickly clinging stench that follows long after you pass. He hated the idea of them. What they represent.
After you die, this is all that’s left.
A bag of bones, for the wilds to have their way with.
He found Kamati’s body right outside the small shack he woke up in. The familiar snow-dusted travelling cloak was all he noticed at first, but as he approached, the sickly sweet red splattered on white snow became obvious. He rolled the cold feline onto its back, observing the black scorch marks across his gi and fur. Kamati had gone out fighting. That was good. His friend deserved a fighter’s death.
It felt wrong to leave him there. Adrastos knew that typically, the dead were buried, but that seemed just as strange as leaving him out in the snow. If you wanted to move a body, there were easier places to put it than under six feet of dirt. Didn’t seem all that respectful either. Here, friend, have a hole. After I throw you down there, I’ll put a rock on top and carve your name into it. Don’t worry, we’re far enough out of anyone’s way for strangers to stumble across your legacy — the only ones who will know you from now on are the ones who knew you before, and soon enough they’ll have far-away holes and stones of their own. The whole concept didn’t sit right with the gladiator.
The dead were never buried in the Fire Pits. There weren’t that many dead to begin with; being a gladiator was a performance just as much as it was a blood sport, and killing half your talent each time you put on a show did not end up making very good performances. The Fire Pits were known as one of the more ruthless fighting pits in the North, but that was only possible because of the Pit Healers. Each serious wound was turned into a matter of cost rather than life or death. But, even in the ameteur pits of Adrastos’ youth, a good gladiator never aimed to permanently or fatally wound their opponent. Of course, among less skilled champions than himself, accidents did happen. At the end of each night, if a fighter had died that day, they built a pyre in the center of the arena and laid the corpse on top of it. The fire would consume the body, and the smoke would serve as a reminder to all that needless death was never to be celebrated.
Sometimes, a death was not an accident. Gladiators were often the aggressive sort, and occasionally feuds would end in shame for the victor, rather than glory. This frowned upon by all involved in the sport, and was punished as any other murder would be, by death. If the culprit has any shred of honour left, they would take their own life right there in the arena. Otherwise, they would be locked in the arena and shot with crossbows until dead. Either way, that night a pyre would be built and both bodies burned upon it. This is where the strongest curse in the Fire Pits came from, one uttered only by fools and madmen: “You’ll burn atop my pyre.”
A corpse had always been a symbol of needless death to the gladiator. But this death wasn’t needless. It was… heroic. The exact sort of thing that Adrastos had left the Fire Pits to find. Yet still, it left a corpse. This troubled him greatly. Heroes were supposed to be celebrated. Statues built in their honour, their story told across the land to inspire all. But Adrastos had never built a statue, or been much for telling stories. All he could really do was honour his corpse, and he didn’t even know how to do that. What do you do with the needed dead?
He knelt there in the stained snow, until eventually the soft crunch of RJ’s footsteps brought him back to reality. Turning to the half-orc, he expected to see tear-filled eyes; the dull discs with pin-prick pupils he found instead seemed even more cruel. The half-orc’s voice was flat, and hollow.
“So Kamati is dead too, then.”
RJ knelt beside Adrastos, shadowed face still focused on their departed mutual friend. “What do we do with his body?”
The question outraged Adrastos for a reason he couldn’t understand. It was the same question he had been asking himself, in much the same way. A matter of logistics rather than… what, exactly? He didn’t know. But in that moment, he did know one thing: He would not let the wilds have their way with this bag of bones. Not this one.
He leaned forward and cradled Kamati’s body in his arms, then stood and carried him into the shack. He had no idea how to build a funeral pyre, and suspected that the grand ones in the Fire Pits were probably overseen by elemental witches. Still, he would make due.
RJ sat and watched as Adrastos set about turning the small flimsy shack into a makeshift funeral pyre. The furniture in the shack was quickly broken down into firewood, which was arranged into four piles, one for each corner. Fallen branches and the like from outside were collected, and made each pile look a little bit more like a campfire. After a while of this, Adrastos came back outside.
“Boy. Do you have flint?”
RJ shook his head. His travelling pack was back in the Hearth, turned to ashes with the rest of his possessions.
Adrastos grunted, then walked off. A minute later, he came back with two packs, tossed one of them to RJ, and went back inside the shack.
The pack in front of RJ wasn’t his own, but it did look familiar. A strung bow and quiver were slung along the back of it, along with a bedroll and rope. Curiosity piqued, he looked inside. There was everything a prepared adventurer would be expected to have: waterskin, torch, tinderbox, mess kit, rations. As he reached deeper into the pack, however, the items became more personal: a pouch containing some sort of glittery dust; a collection of tools and accessories, which could probably create or fix most other items in the pack; a pan flute, obviously old but well taken care of.
A final pouch on the side of the pack that he had missed before caught his eye. Opening it, he was mildly surprised to pull out a book. It was obviously hand-crafted, bound in ragged leather around a spine that appeared to be a large fang. The covers were unmarked, but along the length of the bone spine were six symbols. RJ didn’t recognize them, but somewhere in the back of his head a voice suddenly called out.
“Draconic! It spells out… Apprentice.”
RJ shook away the voice. He was in no mood to speak to the dead.
Unfortunately, opening the book, the dead spoke to him.
Adrastos was attempting to light the first of the fires when RJ called his name. Frustrated, he threw down the flint and dagger and stalked outside. “What, boy? Can’t you see I’m busy?”
RJ wasn’t phased. “Sit,” he said simply.
“Why? The longer it takes to–”
“This book… contains the last will of Kamati.” RJ’s voice was just as flat as it was before, and still sounded hollow, but slowly his eyes began to shine with determination. “Sit and listen.”
Adrastos paused for a moment, then squatted, grunting.
“If this book lies in the hands of a dead man, read it.
It contains information on the one called Ferrod.
Whether alive or dead, hunt down his soul and bind him.
Find whatever kept the Ferrod from returning home.
Make him watch as you take it from him.
If he watches without remorse, destroy him.
If he shows weakness, let him live tormented.
Bear this burden, and may the elements guide your path to come.
My name is Kamati.
This is the price of my teaching.”
Both adventurers sat in silence.
After a time, Adrastos rose and re-entered the shack. He took a moment to adjust Kamati’s body in the center of the shack, then picked up the flint and dagger and struck sparks in the first swing. The fire burst to life quickly, and he lit a torch to ignite the wooden constructs in the other three corners. After placing the torch on top of Kamati’s body, he exited the shack and stood next to RJ. They watched as the shack was quickly consumed by flames from the inside, and Kamati was consumed along with it. Smoke poured out of the front door, rising into the sky above. The shack creaked and shuddered, and the roof collapsed inwards, the walls sure to follow.
RJ spoke softly. “This is what he would’ve wanted. A grave wouldn’t suit him.”
Adrastos shook his head. “What he wanted, we have yet to do.”
RJ nodded. “But we will.”
The pair had made up their mind.
The Ferrod would burn upon Kamati’s pyre.