Somber knelt beside the body and extended a hand. This one was fresher than the others: last night, maybe just before dawn this morning. The flesh was loose, the muscles were limp, and the blood beneath it was still wet. Somber noted a couple of stab wounds without really looking at them, and sat back with a sigh. The corpse was... clean, for lack of a better word... and that meant he could use it.
He had placed a hand on the body when a voice behind him gasped, "Mother?"
Somber turned his head. The girl in the doorway was still a child, of maybe nine or ten years. Of course, he thought. It shouldn't have surprised him. Everyone who had died must have had friends and family: brothers and sisters, parents and children, spouses and friends, whole constellations of acquaintances... "What's your name?" he asked quietly.
"Saril," she answered, looking at him defiantly.
"This was your mother?"
She nodded once, decisively, still completely focused on his face.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I couldn't help her. Your mother is gone -- dead, you understand?"
She nodded, and Somber continued: "I'm going to do something with her body. You may not want to watch." He turned his head slightly, but she was still watching him intently. "You know that people can get sick from being around dead bodies?"
"You're sitting next to a dead body, and you're not sick."
Her answer startled a chuckle out of him; he hadn't expected her to argue. "You're right. It isn't immediate. It takes time for disease to set in." He paused, swallowed, and continued: "I'm going to use an Art on her body. It will keep the body from making people sick. It will also make the body get up and move around, so I can use it to help clean things up and protect people... but it won't be your mother. It will just be a dead body that looks like her."
There was a long, long pause. Then the girl said, "I don't want you to do that." Then, a long moment later, she continued: "...But Mother would. If it would help people, she would want you to do it, even if it meant doing bad things to her body."
Somber closed his eyes. He was tired -- tired of fighting, tired of finding bodies, tired of hiding out when darkness came and people died or disappeared. "Are you going to watch?" he asked. "If you aren't, step outside. If you are... it won't hurt her. She isn't here."
"Because she's dead."
Somber extended his awareness into the corpse, speaking the guide words almost by reflex. His breath washed over the dead woman's face, and the newly-formed death-spirit inside her stirred. He sat back and then climbed to his feet as she twitched, and a ripple of movement went through her muscles.
She rose to her feet even more slowly than he had.
Somber glanced back at the girl, but she had turned away. Though she remained in the doorway, she didn't look at him, or at the reanimated corpse that had once been her mother. Somber expelled another breath, this one laden with instructions, and the dead body lurched forward and shuffled out the doorway and away down the corridor.
"Saril," he said quietly. "Do you have somewhere to go? Family? Friends?"
Silently, still turned away and facing the wall, she shook her head. The gesture was fierce.
"Then maybe you should come with me," Somber heard himself say.
For a long moment, Saril didn't move. Then, just as Somber concluded that she wasn't going to answer, she asked: "What will happen to my brother?"
Somber frowned. "How old is you brother?"
"He was born this year. He can't even walk yet."
"...Then we'd better bring him, too."