Medievia Mudslinger

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 Educated Arts.

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 head.

"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 her seats.

"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, young man."

"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 property."

"Sorry, miss."

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 immediately."

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 upon them.

"...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 composure.

"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?"

"Certainly not!"

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 Death lesson...

She deliberately arrived early the next day. Everything was set in place.

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 death."

Vivannia focused her glare upon him, but he stood quite miraculously unfazed.

"He's right, miss," piped in bold Hecatra, studying the pages a little more carefully.

"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 their seats.

"My Gods, what in the name of Caeraela's caramel...?" gasped a man who had unexpectedly walked into the classroom. "Madam Vivannia? What is going on?"

The cleric smiled a smoldering, enigmatic smile. "I am teaching the students about Death, of course, your Magical Magnificence. Is there a problem?"

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 chair.

"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 wanted.

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 tellers.

"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 certainly do."


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