September 11, 2003
A Lesson in Death at the School of Educated Arts by Cerelia
Vivannia trudged down the lengthy, serpentine corridor through the
School of Educated Arts, carrying excessive rolls of parchment and
stationery in her overflowing arms. Being a teacher was exhausting on the arms,
and it was not a good thing to be late on the first morning back from a
holiday in the swamps near Lyryanoth. She had lain under the swarthy
canopies of trees that tantalizingly tickled the soles of the night sky,
had the pleasure to absorb the exquisite aroma of the swamps and also
gain a very attractive suntan - fashionable in Medievian society at the
moment. Now that she had returned, the experience of swamp-trekking had
been incarcerated in some obscure area of her brain and replaced with
the rather more demure memories about her current job at the School of
As she swished past classroom after classroom, each one filled with
their own wide-eyed and curious selection of scholars, she came to think
deeply about her current vocation. When she had received her doctorate
at the Academy of Braneri for her sterling work in researching Healing a
long time back, the young cleric had never dreamt of entering into a
job that involved fraternizing with the dead - in an educational way, of
course - and her parents had thought this to be quite, well,
irregular. One instance of their hidden animosity to the work slipped into her
"Wouldn't it be nice to work in a health center, dear? Your cousin
Parfaita works in a clan dedicated to helping the injured and she's already
a Marquise and married to the Duke of Trellor's fifth cousin twice
removed," they had said time after time, continually boring her to...
Yes. It was irregular. But, when you were weighing up looking for a
job and also trying to pay off your overdue rent at the Medievia Hotel,
making an effort to conceal any cracked glass balls that were property
of the Hotel (and these were many), paying daily dragon fees, donating
regularly to the Medievia Paupers' Guild and Orphanage like every good
citizen supposedly did, lending a helping hand to the people who were
uncertain of their surroundings (the young and the drunk), it certainly
came up as a rather tall bill. Money always cropped up as the winner.
Every day for the past ten years, she had passed down this exact same
corridor. The murals on the walls had not been altered a bit, though
perhaps they had a few more layers of acrid dust coating the
already-crumbling surface. She remembered when they were in relatively pristine
condition. She could see when the vibrant ultramarine upon the tip of the
gold-thirsty dragon's left wing was still drying. It recounted the time
when a student with bag-loads of gold decided to go on a visit to the
Great Tree and was found forthwith shacked up in the Medievia Health
Services Center suffering from shock and lack of money. The shimmering
silver scales of the iridescent serpents gleamed out at the onlooker on
the carpet. They had once been enchanted by a clever interior-design mage
to twist and twirl with their beauteous undulating motions, but now
they seemed to just flop about like feeble mosquitoes, waiting to be
squashed. Of course, there were also the portraits of various alumni smiling
counterfeitly out at the beholder. They were well on in their life,
some of them even becoming heroes, though it was likely that Vivannia had
slipped their occupied minds. And her own portrait in the tree of
teachers at the end of the corridor - beaming, young, silly, and exuding
sickly innocence, not knowing what lay in store for her.
Finally, she stopped outside a door and fumbled in a pocket of her
skirt for the key. She could hear a tumultuous rabble on the other side.
Bottles were being smashed, furniture was being thrown across the room.
Yes, this is what she enrolled herself to do ten years ago - to teach a
bunch of dysfunctional youngsters in the world of Medievia about the
annals of death. A peculiar sensation sizzled down her spinal cord, and
Vivannia was reminded of the tranquil sanctuary where she had been for a
fortnight. She scowled, knowing it would be a long time before she
would be allowed to break away from the monotony of school in general.
She found herself looking at her reflection in the brass doorknob, the
only shiny and squeaky-clean object in the general vicinity, and
realized she never locked the door anyway. Turning the knob, she marched in
to the room like a demon lord's hellhound, barging past anything in
sight and giving the impression that she was about to rip everything to
pieces. Everybody immediately went silent and quickly scrabbled to his or
"Master Sliabhin, see the Head Mage after class," she ordered, voice
tingling through everybody like a viper's fangs as she walked to the
blackboard at the front of the classroom. "You can remove the balls of
light you attached to Master Wedderburn. They are potential health hazards,
"Yes, miss," piped up a rather beaten-sounding person with ginger hair
and cheeky blue eyes.
"And Miss Hecatra?"
"Miss?" squeaked a female voice.
"You will see the Head Mage after class as well. School rules state
that you are forbidden to duel fellow students and kill them on school
Hecatra, a bold-looking girl with chestnut-colored hair and a sharp
tongue, shot a sidelong glance at the decapitated corpse sitting next to
her. The head was on top of a cabinet near the window, impaled upon a
long ruler and bleeding effortlessly.
"For now, take Master Planchon to the Altar to the Gods of Medievia.
Tell him to pray after ten minutes have elapsed and then return here
Vivannia kicked open a small trapdoor in the ground, and pointed to it
with a piece of chalk. The girl groaned, taking the corpse by the hand
and the head by another. Half-dragging it, half-walking it, she guided
the unfortunate pupil through the trapdoor and repeated what Vivannia
had told him to do.
When Hecatra had returned to her seat, and all were waiting relatively
patiently to hear the teacher of death weave her words of lore to them.
Five minutes and twenty-five seconds passed by before Vivannia opened
her mouth again.
"For those of you who do not know me," Vivannia replied, observing each
student as spoke, "I am Vivannia, Mistress of the Dark Arts, Third
Demon's Bane in the Fellowship of Demonology, Prime Solstice of the
Clerical Society, and formerly the deliverer of the MUDSlinger to respective
houses in Riverton."
A few students tittered at this, assuming it to be a joke. However,
Vivannia immediately focused her stare upon them, and they shut up. She
was famed for her freezing stare that would shut up any wrongdoer in her
classes. People often tipped her for promotion, but they were generally
found frozen in cataleptic shock at the corner of Manor Lane.
"As this is your first lesson in this school, you will effectively be
learning about the end of your life at the beginning of it. I will be
teaching you today how to handle death," she replied, stroking the chalk
absent-mindedly with one hand. "Anybody here had a death in the family?
A close friend, perhaps?"
A few scattered hands rose about the heads of the students. Vivannia
nodded ponderously. "Then you know a little about the method in which we
treat death." She took the chalk in her left hand and wrote upon the
blackboard, "DEATH IS A WAY OF LIFE".
"But miss," piped up bold Hecatra, "that's an oxymoron!"
"When spoken to, Miss Hecatra," snapped Vivannia. Hecatra immediately
muttered a few words that were not suitable to be spoken to Vivannia's
face, pulled a piece of parchment out of her bag, and began doodling
nonchalantly upon it.
"Here, dying is as common as opal rings. When you get more experienced,
nobody wants them, but they are always there. However, death is not the
end. We are of the life, and life was given to us by the great Gods
above. Therefore, they can choose to give life to us again when we perish.
In fact, they do it so regularly that it is (and she underlined "WAY OF
LIFE" repeatedly) a way of life. Copy this down."
There was a quiet scrabbling of quills as the pupils wrote down
Vivannia's sentence. They were completely absorbed by what this great woman,
presently their messiah of education, was telling them. They had never
been taught about death and dying before. In fact, they were rather
baffled by the Death Classroom when they came in the morning. The walls
were filled with portraits of the ghastly undead, their flesh rotting off
in the most horrible places and also pictures of the ubiquitous
Necromancer who stole souls away from the 'newly-deads'. Above the blackboard,
towering over everybody, was a beautiful fresco depicting somebody
receiving salvation from metaphorical life as an eternal zombie, kneeling
in supplication in front of an altar.
"Now, how to handle it when you are dea..."
The door clicked open, and a pale-looking boy wandered in, looking
rather confused and dazed. As he closed the door behind him, many of the
girls gasped in shock and some the boys began sniggering, causing the boy
in question to become considerably more bewildered than he was before.
"Master Planchon, I think you are in need of something in the *attire*
department?" said Vivannia, indicating at him with her chalk.
Planchon looked down, gave an involuntary squeak and rushed out of the
classroom without a backwards glance.
"That's not somethin' you see ev'ry day," chuckled Sliabhin, winking at
Hecatra as he did so. The girl winked back surreptitiously, but quickly
returned to pretending to pay attention to the class.
Vivannia tapped the worn blackboard with a firmly-clenched fist to get
her students' attention. "So, death. Common forms of death are
mobkills, dragons and tornadoes. But, as we have already discovered by what I
have told you, and Planchon's return, it is not the end. There are two
main ways of regaining your soul from the heinous Necromancer who steals
them. Anybody have any ideas?"
One or two hands waved about in the air. Vivannia pointed at one of
them, and was pleased to hear the words, "Cleric resurrection."
"Excellent," she nodded in agreement. "Clerics who become avatars of
deities have the power to restore life to those who have not yet
succumbed to the machinations of the sinister Necromancer. However, though it
is a very powerful tool in our fight against him, it involves a lot of
physical and magical strength. On the other hand, the other form of
regaining your soul is more common, and perhaps you will use this form on a
regular basis in time to come. Corpsing then praying at an altar."
With a sheepish expression, Planchon slid into the room. Fortunately,
he had managed to find his clothes in a corner of the Altar to the Gods
of Medievia, and returned. This did not stop Hecatra and Sliabhin from
giving wry smiles to one another. Vivannia took no notice of them and
carried on with her teaching.
"What happens here is that the Necromancer steals your soul, and you
become a member of the undead community. What do you do now?" asked
Vivannia. It was a rhetorical question, but as if she was a puppet on a
string, Hecatra immediately blurted out:
"Make an ad in the Mudslinger - decaying, twisted and mangled - and
that's just my mind!"
The class burst into reams of laughter. Vivannia did not. She was
fortunate to have gained a natural immunity to cheap humor. However, when
your studies involved sleeping in a graveyard for a fortnight, one's
humor was bound to wear thin. She cleared her throat loudly, and soon, the
laughter died down.
"When you have reached the undead state - and this is fairly simple to
see," Vivannia declared, "your flesh is hanging off your body; you walk
haphazardly about the place; you only have one finger left; and you may
have some *unusual* eating habits, like ripping the heart of another
undead person out and drinking the blood without any remorse for this
atrocity; or forcing yourself to eat your own decomposing flesh..."
A few of the students began to look rather green. Some were visibly
retching air and holding their mouths in complete revulsion as they made
weak attempts to picture the scene that their teacher was imprinting
"...all that is required of you is to head for the nearest altar and
wait for a minimum of ten minutes for the Gods to grant you salvation
and your soul back."
There was silence. Utter silence. Sliabhin's mouth had dropped open,
looking like the hovel of a wild quadruped, aghast at what Vivannia had
just told them.
"Is that all, miss?" he murmured, struggling to keep his steady
"That is all."
The boy appeared to be rather upset. "Ten minutes? Ten minutes?" he
demanded, thumping his fist upon the table in complete rage.
"Master Sliabhin?" spoke the teacher, wondering why her student was
getting so frustrated that a limit of ten minutes before praying was so
bad. Would he have preferred to have waited until the end of time to get
his soul back? The Gods were terribly busy, and ten minutes was the
minimum they could spare to zap somebody's soul back into their body.
"Me grandpa died five times," sniffled Sliabhin, clasping a
handkerchief to his eyes, "and me family 'ad to fork out a lot o' money to pay for
'is funerals. We're from Karlisna, you see, and the Fount o' Wisdom is
always packed with them hedge witches and tourists coming to draw
pictures o' t'dragon, and so we 'ad to wait ages afore we could get grandpa
a good send-off... and you're telling me that we could've 'ad 'im back
in our garden in the space of ten minutes doing the veg and not sold
our prize cattle to pay for all 'is wakes?"
"Well, yes, Master Sli..."
"And me ma died o' being struck by lightning and we 'ad her walking
around t'house dusting the crockery with 'er toenails for six months afore
she got back to normal!"
Vivannia was bamboozled. For once in her life, her vocal cords were the
ones in cataleptic shock. The little squirt was correct, and she was
very irritated to know that he was indeed right. Death was indeed a waste
of time. Ten minutes - one could make a nice mug of cocoa in the space
of ten solitary minutes. And trying to organize a funeral in ten
minutes would be catastrophic, especially to the corpse. The corpse! Would
the corpse even appreciate wanting to come back to life? Perhaps they
wanted to die. Questions echoed through her cerebral cortex. She had never
given a thought to the mental consequences of death. All you needed to
do was corpse, pray, and return with a smile and less of a stench.
Suddenly, the whole class seemed to be filled with memories of past
fatalities and began addressing her with their tales of the morbid kind.
"When my brother died they told him all he needed was a ten minute
quickie and he ended up wandering the streets of Trellor for two years
before somebody told him that it meant praying at an altar!"
"My cousin got squashed by a large tree and it took more than
forty-eight hours for him to regain his proper shape after he prayed!"
"Miss, what if the deceased intended to stay deceased? What then? Do
they have to die again and fork out more gold for the funeral?"
"Erm, well, Master Sliabhin..."
"Miss, why doesn't the Necromancer pray at an altar to get his souls?
He could work from home or something rather than seek out newly-dead
people and do all the mumbo-jumbo. I'm sure the Gods can fit him into
their ten minute slot."
"You see, Miss Hecatra... erm..."
"Miss, can I go to the toilet?"
A faraway bell began to toll. The rabble immediately was silenced. All
that could be heard was Vivannia breathing a fanciful sigh of relief.
It was the end of her lesson. It was the end of seeing these little
brats for today. The students stuffed their work into their bags and began
to make their way quietly to the door. Vivannia took hold of a rag that
resembled more of the stuff that collected under a talisar's toenail
and mechanically scrubbed the blackboard. As the final student skidded
out of the classroom, she looked thoughtfully at the door, sitting
slightly ajar. If she was feeling metaphorical then perhaps it was an omen.
An omen that suggested a coffin about to be closed. Vivannia closed her
eyes in an exceptionally long blink. She would have a great deal of
things to ponder over tonight.
She had only been timetabled for a single Death lesson today in the
afternoon, which in her opinion had turned out of be more of a complete
failure rather than a period of nurture and education. With her scrolls
and learning objectives gathered up in her arms, the Death teacher
wandered through the Mage Quarter to the Main Courtyard of the City. She
stopped for a moment, and looked up. Curiously enough, Vivannia was
standing on the doorstep of the Medievia City Bank. She did not know how she
had got there. Fate, it had seemed, had lured her there.
"Why...?" she murmured, feeling slightly befuddled. This had to be too
much of a coincidence.
When she returned to her rented accommodation above the Medievia Hotel,
commanding satisfactory views of the meandering curves of the river,
Vivannia slipped on a shimmering bracelet that seemed to glow exquisitely
with the palest of auras. She could feel the hunger evaporate away from
her rumbling stomach. Instead of digging out a filet sandwich, the
cleric pulled out an inkpot and quill and began to plan the next day's
She deliberately arrived early the next day. Everything was set in
Vivannia had spent a considerable amount of time making sure that
everything would work the previous night, and she was not at home to Sir
Mess-Up. For ten years she had taught the squidlings about probably the
most morbid subject upon this planet and now, the milk had metaphorically
gone sour. It was time for a change. And an abrupt one too.
As the students rushed into the classroom, ready to start their deluge
of ink-staining walls and trying to kill each other, suffice to say,
they were rather surprised and miffed to see that the teacher was already
there. They would have to save it for the Wilderness lesson afterwards,
where more weaponry, such as canoe paddles and logs, could be found and
utilized. Each one dumped their belongings next to their usual seat and
threw themselves into a beaten-up looking chair. Upon each one of their
desks was a hefty-looking wad of parchment.
"Erm, miss, there must be some mistake," the boy Sliabhin pointed out
after a speedy skim of the papers. "These sheets 'ave nothing to do with
Vivannia focused her glare upon him, but he stood quite miraculously
"He's right, miss," piped in bold Hecatra, studying the pages a little
"Students," replied Vivannia calmly, "I assure you that the sheets upon
your desks that are desecrated by quill scratching and magic burns have
everything to do with death."
"But miss," Hecatra spoke back, "these sheets are all about... filling
in your tax return?"
"Well done, Miss Hecatra."
Every single one of the students peered up at the statuesque person
that was supposedly their Death teacher. Despite all appearances, they had
actually rather enjoyed yesterday's lesson about how to handle death,
albeit with the gory details, but surely filling in one's tax return was
one for the Trading Initiatives class?
"I think that you may find that death is not as simple as the 'ten
minute pray and wow, you're back to life'," Vivannia told them, taking the
wad of parchment and holding it up. "Therefore, I have decided to show
you the paperwork behind death, so you are prepared not to leave one
stone unturned when you do pass away, especially in your monetary affairs
which many people are prone to forget about. Now, take up your quills
and write this down. You see there is a box at the top. That is where
you write your name..."
The next day, Vivannia was sitting quietly at her desk in the Death
classroom, with a selection of bound scrolls with the label, 'Last Will
and Testament'. She had stayed after the previous day's enthralling
lesson on how to fill one's tax return, and decided to do a spot of
decorating about the place.
When the students arrived, still rather astonished to see their teacher
so early, they were even more shocked when they saw the pictures on the
walls. No longer did the horrors of the undead crawl across the painted
surface. The Necromancer appeared to have taken a holiday from stealing
his painted souls, and above the blackboard, the salvation fresco had
been covered over. Now, there were portraits of plump merchants sitting
at their desks, wading through stock bills and receipts. A
white-toothed grinning bank teller emblazoned the wall where the Necromancer had
been, hand outstretched with a mound of gold coins in a geometrical pile
on the palm. Above the blackboard, religion had been thrown out with a
portrait of avarice. It was the same altar, but instead the undead
zombie was swimming in magically glimmering mountains of gold and jewels.
A banner was splayed above the entrance door, which read, "DID YOU
REMEMBER TO PAY OFF THAT FINAL BILL BEFORE YOU DIED LAST WEEK?"
"Good day, students," smiled Vivannia. The students had no will to
question the frivolity of their Death teacher, and just slumped down into
"My Gods, what in the name of Caeraela's caramel...?" gasped a man who
had unexpectedly walked into the classroom. "Madam Vivannia? What is
The cleric smiled a smoldering, enigmatic smile. "I am teaching the
students about Death, of course, your Magical Magnificence. Is there a
The Head Mage's eyes appeared to be loosening out of their eye sockets
as he scanned the room. When he saw the zombie in avarice above the
blackboard, he almost retched in direst amazement. Pulling himself
together, and straightening his hat, he spluttered:
"Madam Vivannia. My office. Now."
Sweetly smiling at her class and at the Head Mage, Vivannia the Death
teacher strolled coolly out of her Death classroom and down the twisting
corridor through the School of Educated Arts. The supposedly golden
serpents on the carpet flicked their tails feebly as they trod all over
them. When they reached the tree of teachers at the end, the Head Mage
tapped the top three branches. A crack in the tree widened, and soon
there was enough space for a person to enter. As Vivannia stepped through,
the crack closed, and there was no trace of a person entering or
exiting the tree.
Vivannia had only been in the Head Mage's office a few times prior to
this: once when she started her job in the School of Educated Arts, and
a few times when explaining the actions of a few anti-social students
and seeing them get suitably punished. However, in those ten years, it
had not changed a bit. For a start, fashion had certainly moved on - no
other abode in Medievia had seat coverings that resembled something
that had come out of somebody's nose. And the posters were telling as well
- one was labeled 'Evil Dragons Just Want To Be Your Friend'. A foolish
idea, she thought, thinking of all those dragon-lovers who had died in
the jaws of an angry reptilian beast.
"How long have you been employed in this School, Vivannia?" asked the
Head Mage after bidding her to sit down on the disgustingly colored
"Ten years now, your Magical Magnificence," she replied.
"During that time, have you had *any* complaints?"
Left or Right. Up or Down. One was right, one was wrong. Vivannia opted
for the correct answer, as he had them all written down, and as she was
in School, it would not do well for her to fail an examination.
"None, your Magical Magnificence."
"Yesterday, Vivannia, my office was filled with a cataclysmic cluster
of blue smoke and a oceanful of postal imps, all trying to get into here
and deliver a letter. After sending them to my secretary to peruse, he
found that they were all saying the same thing."
"Perhaps they were all written by a person who suffers from a goldfish
memory, your Magical Magnificence."
The Head Mage stood in front of the cleric and leant over close to her
face. "Thirty letters, all complaining about the quality of your lesson
yesterday. Give or take, forty to sixty parents had something to say
about your teaching. Tax return! I am asking, Vivannia, why?"
"As I said before, your Magical Magnificence, I am a Death teacher, and
I teach about death."
"Yes, but you just tell them about the ten minutes and a quick pray!
Not this rubbish about tax returns. And all that gobbledygook all your
walls about money. This is a school of education, to show these
youngsters what life is all about..."
"And," said Vivannia, interrupting suddenly, "you evidently don't tell
them enough. If you can tell me one person who has died who was not in
debt when the final nail hit their coffin, then I shall consider myself
at fault. Sir."
The Head Mage flared his nostrils once. This was not going how he had
planned. When he had tete-a-tetes with other teachers, they were very
repentant and willing to return to the normal school activity and
curriculum. Vivannia was proving to be a slightly more difficult character to
convert than all the others.
"Funerals? Never mind about that, Vivannia. You just do your job and
let them get on with their work."
"And, there are people out there starving on the streets of Medievia.
Look at the Poor Quarter, for example. I warrant that the majority of
people there were driven into the curse of poverty because a close family
member perished, or they failed to fill in their tax return form. And
now they will die, knowing that if they had spent time to fill in that
one scroll, everything would be fine."
The Head Mage exhaled a long breath of air. This screw was getting too
tight to loosen. "Let me put it this way, Vivannia. Either the posters
go, or you do."
"Very well." Vivannia stood up and began moving towards the tree at the
far end of the office.
"W-what are you doing?" stammered the Head Mage. He was not expecting
this to happen.
"Going. Goodbye," answered Vivannia, tapping the branches with her
fingers. "You can get some other sap to lie to these students about what
death is really about. I'm leaving."
The tree opened, and Vivannia mooched through. As the bark crackled and
merged together, she found herself standing at the head of the corridor
of classrooms. Her face, still smiling with a silly look, was still
stuck on the end of a branch. Chanting a few words of the arcane, a
massive flame shot out of the ground and the branch vanished in a stench of
foul smoke. She had no more business here. In her opinion, it didn't
matter whether death was just a part of life. In a corner of her mind, she
remembered the real reason why she did death in school, why she turned
away from her clerical vocation in the first place.
The money. Of course. It was always the money.
She couldn't really give a spider monkey's whether these kids got their
heads ripped off by a rampaging town crier. They were the ones who
would have to pay for it in the end. Not with their lives, but with their
purses. At the end of the day, Vivannia would have picked up her pouch
of gold coins, go to her rented accommodation and put it all into the
waiting jaws of her dragon bank. Nobody cared about dying. It was the
material values that everybody worried about. Your family would end up
scraping the bottom of the barrel to get you a decent coffin, pay your
graveyard fees, cater for the wake - the list went on and on. Death cost
money. Serial death bankrupted you. Perhaps she should have followed in
the footsteps of cousin Parfaita, and married somebody of transparently
noble blood but filthy rich. Then she could afford to die all she
Six months later, as she stood on the doorstep of the Medievia Hotel,
her belongings packed and upon her back, Vivannia breathed a sigh of
relief. Her new lease of life was starting at last. As she trudged down
Windstrider Road and into the Main Courtyard, she imagined that
silly-looking young face as it started its first ever lesson a decade ago. She
pushed that memory out of her head. It was the present that mattered,
the cleric thought as she entered the large marble-pillared building in
the north-western corner.
"My name is Vivannia," she introduced herself to one of the bank
"Ah, yes, Madam Vivannia!" cried the teller with a jovial smile. "Yes,
we've been expecting you. I hear you have much knowledge in sorting out
inheritances and the affairs of the deceased. I hope you will find your
new job as financial adviser at the Medievia City Bank a fruitful and
enjoyable experience! I hear that your first job is in a swamp near our
branch in Lyryanoth. Do you like traveling?"
"Oh, I certainly do," answered the cleric, smiling deviously as the
teller led her into her new office at the far end of the bank. "I
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