It wasn’t a rose that started this. Or even a violet. It was a daisy. A purple daisy. Though as I think back on that night, the details are fuzzy and unraveling.
Maybe because time stopped meaning anything after all that has happened.
Or maybe because it happened so long ago.
Or maybe because it was just a dream. A terrible dream I can’t wake up from. A dream the world can’t wake up from.
I was walking, though where I was walking to or leaving from, I’ve forgotten. Not even the dream remembers.
As I walked, a shadowed path veered to my left.
And it was on that path that I saw the most beautiful purple daisy. It almost glowed in its radiance, as if a spotlight were shining on it.
I don’t know why I deviated from my course and walked down that shadowed path. The uncanny silence should have warned me. So should have the sickly sweet smell.
But I walked it anyway.
I have asked myself why I did at least a thousand times, and I still have no answers. If someone had jumped out and killed me, or worse, everyone would have blamed me. Me, a lone female, should have known better than to walk down that path.
A path where things twisted and writhed in the shadows. Shadows I was careful not to examine too closely because I didn’t really want to know what was in them. Because I didn’t want to see what waited for me if I slipped and fell.
But shadows that might have offered a quick death.
Yet, it wasn’t just fear I felt. Yes, I felt that, but that and something more. Something that made me, a scared kid who knew better than to be out alone, much less alone on that path, continue on.
On to the purple flower.
I traveled down that path.
Never stumbling. Never faltering. I never wondered if I should go back.
Because I already knew the answer.
And I kept walking anyway.
When I finally reached the flower, I didn’t hesitate. I foolishly crouched down and touched one of its petals.
I shouldn’t have.
I know I shouldn’t have.
But I did.
For a moment, it was me and the flower.
The smoothness of its petals.
Gentle. Soft. Beautiful.
And I felt loved.
Maybe I died then.
The mist swirled around me, silencing the rest of the world. Leaving me alone with my ruin and my glory.
But the flower was never meant to be mine.
A glimpse of what was. What could be.
I jumped back and dodged a skeletal arm that swiped at me.
And I felt it. Something of great evil had been born that night. And it wanted into my world.
Maybe the flower had given it such an opening.
Or maybe it had given me a warning.
The shadows grew dark and heavy around me as the flower faded, and in the preternatural silence, a strange thing howled.
I fled back down the path.
Ignoring the shadows and chittering things in the darkness.
Never glancing back.
Unlike in a dream, I scrambled over the ground. My lungs ached as I dragged in every breath over the foul, acidic scent that now filled the air. And my legs burned, but they carried me to the end of the path.
I don’t remember how I got home, but I awoke in my bed, uncertain if it had been a dream or if the purple flower had been real.
I still don’t know.
And it doesn’t matter. It was the last night I slept in a bed because that was the day the dead started rising from their graves. The day the things from the shadows stepped onto the path. And the day I learned what a lich was.
It was also the first day I drew a weapon.
Oh, I was clumsy back then. Uncertain. Scared. But necessity does strange things. It turned a kid studying the language of machines into a warrior.
Don’t believe me?
Of course you don’t.
Sometimes I don’t believe me.
None who draw breath today remember those times. A time when we all slept in beds worrying about bills, work, and the latest show to binge on Netflix.
Was it another dream? A different one?
A more pleasant one than this, though I didn’t know it at the time.
After all, no one should watch all they love destroyed in days. Watch their world end around them.
So maybe it wasn’t my world.
Maybe I didn’t start by learning to using a shotgun against the undead. And Molotov cocktails. Later an assault rifle.
But ammunition was difficult to find as the days dragged into years, so I learned to use a sword. It destroyed the creatures more easily. And was faster.
Terrifyingly fast in my right hand.
I stared down at the thick leather glove and leather jacket that encased my right arm despite the warm breeze that carried the scent of death, blood, and roses.
So much had happened in those early days that no one had noticed when the flesh withered and fell away from my right hand and arm. I barely had. I’d figuring something had bitten me. Tainted me. And that I would die the same gruesome death as so many around me had, then rise up to attack those I called friends.
But I never did.
And I’ve lost count of how many undead have fallen before my blade.
I unsheathed the weapon and ran a whetstone over its edge. Before I returned it to its scabbard, I studied the daisy someone had etched into it so long ago I could no longer remember her name. Or how she’d died.
I slipped the blade back into the scabbard and stood.
I could scent them.
The faintest whiff of incense wrapped in rot.
The undead had found us again.
And I would end them.
Any undead severed by my blade did not rise again. And each batch led me a little closer to the lich. To the evil thing that had risen that night so long ago.
He didn’t know I was coming for him.
If he killed me before I reached him, so be it. But I would not run. I would not hide. I was no longer a scared kid, but a warrior whose blade had felled thousands of undead.
I thought again of the purple daisy.
Maybe I had died on the path so long ago, and this was my damnation for having traversed where smart girls didn’t go.
Or maybe I had created the lich and unleashed this apocalypse by touching that flower. The billions of dead were my doing and my fault.
Or maybe the flower had given me the chance to save mankind. To stand as their last chance at salvation.
I hoped it was the third option, but it didn’t really matter.
The undead were coming, and they weren’t getting the people hiding in the stone warehouse. And they were going to lead me another step closer to their master.
I tapped the strange rectangle I still carried in my pocket. It was cracked and battered. I hadn’t charged the battery in longer than the time it took a babe to grow into a man and die fighting the undead. And there hadn’t been a signal in longer than that.
Still, it flashed a purple daisy across its ancient screen.
And I knew I was on the right path.
Picking up my sword, I strode out into the night, ready for battle.
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