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Zhiki D'Vorkk (Planar / Formerly a male half-elf, now a wight / 5 HD / Factor of the Dustmen / CE)
Zhiki's not a blood most cutters'd care to meet in a brightly-lit street, let alone a dark alley. As he haunts mainly the Hive Ward though, it's more than likely he'd be encountered in the latter. Zhiki's a factor of the Dustmen, not that he'd know it. It might seem strange, but with time he's getting more and more detached from his own ideas, yet at the same time he's becoming his ideas. His philosophy's best explained by his life.
Zhiki used to be a toady of the Mercykillers. He worked in the Prison, where he obtained numerous confessions from inmates both innocent and guilty. Often enough, it seemed the Red Death didn't really care whether a sod had done the things he was admitting to; since it was a cert that someone somewhere had and escaped unpunished. Since someone's got to be punished when a crime's committed, the 'Death took it upon themselves to punish the criminals they had apprehended for the crimes of uncaptured knights of the cross trade.
While Zhiki enjoyed his work, he felt there was something missing. He watched the pain of the sods on his rack, felt the anguish of the berks in the iron maiden, and often joined in with their screams; there was something very releasing about sharing their pain. Over the years, Zhiki realised that he was feeling more and more distant from the material world. Sometimes he'd wander round in a daze, his body carrying out the motions while his mind pondered higher things. He became emaciated and gaunt, but it didn't bother him.
All the time he continued his work; branding, gouging, blinding, flaying, impaling. His emotions became muted, and his spark of vitality slowly ebbed away. He saw suffering as a release, and began to understand something deeper about existence. Then one evening, in the middle of a particularly harrowing trial by acid, Zhiki died. Not that he actually noticed; he carried on functioning automatically, like a man possessed.
"Hey! You with the cloak! I'm talking to you!"
- Pik, a clueless from Toril, to a Dustman
"Shouldn't have done that berk..."
- The Dustman, a Wight, after Pik laid a hand on his arm
His last victim, a sharp blood from the Dustmen, noticed his executioner's demeanour had changed. Clearly, half a life of hanging around with the walking dead had rubbed off, because the cutter realised Zhiki'd somehow shuffled into the Dead Book. It didn't help him escape, since he was still strapped into the steel harness, but it did greatly intrigue him. Here was living proof (well, maybe unliving proof) of one of his faction's beliefs!
The unnamed Dustman lectured Zhiki for hours, as the silent corpse continued inflicting the most agonising tortures until, strange smile upon his eyeless face, the Dustman got written into the Dead Book too. What was said we shall never know, but it clearly had the desired effect. The next morning, Zhiki'd left the Prison, and he never returned there again.
At about the same time the Red Death realised their chief torturer'd defected, a shambling man presented himself at the Mortuary. He seemed less interested in talking to the assembled Dustmen (who tried very hard not to show their excitement, since the Dead aren't really supposed to get excited) than staring blankly at the zombies and other undead.
A group of Dustmen scholars was assigned to piece together the strange case, and they finally arrived at a tale similar to this one. The Dustman high-ups appointed Zhiki a factor, though this honour doesn't seemed to have any bearing on his actions. The grey-skinned withered cutter wanders the halls of the Mortuary talking to virtually nobody, paying heed only to things beyond the comprehension of mortals.
He's got quite a following amongst the younger Dustmen, who regard the mouldering Zhiki with a reverent awe, and treat him like a role-model. If the factor cares he doesn't show it, nor even that he's aware of his flock of emulators. The ragtag band call themselves the Scourge.
"You too can achieve True Death," say the members of the Scourge, in their droning, monotone voices. "See, look at Zhiki. He did it."
The Scourge want to be undead, and they've got ways to get there, too. Taking pretty much all the leaves out of Zhiki D'Vorkk's book, they practice torture upon themselves and each other. They flagellate, brand, pierce and mutilate their flesh. Mortification's the word, and the Scourge are the best there are. Half of them look like they should be in the Dead Book, and some whisper the other half already are. It's hard to tell with these cutters, see. They dress in shrouds or rags, never wash, and if they speak at all, it's in whispers.
It's a fine balance, theirs. Many an overzealous member's dropped dead by stopping eating or letting out just that drop too much blood. But the Scourge ain't about suicide, berk! That's one thing you've got to get clear in your brain-box. There's three states you can be in, they say:
A cutter can be alive (sort of), where he feels pain, emotion, desire, and all those other terrible mortal things. Or he can be dead, where he's just a cold stiff corpse, pain and simple. His spirit leaves, gets reborn somewhere else, and has to go through the whole process again; what a waste of time! Or, if he gets the balance just right, he enters into a state of Undeath. Here, a body doesn't feel any of the things mortals worry about, but nor does his soul escape and get reincarnated. That's the state the Scourge seek.
So the Scourge while away their time, becoming more and more distant from the mortal world. They eat only when they're wracked with the pain of hunger, and sleep (in coffins) only when they collapse from exhaustion. All the time they try not to hope they'll become like Zhiki, for emotions show they're clinging to mortality. As their minds become more detached, they begin to look at things in a way mortals can't comprehend.
They see the life-lines of other creatures, and understand how they interact. They learn secrets which have been dead for hundreds of years, as if the secrets themselves were once alive and recognise the Scourge as friends. Above all, they seem content that they've mastered one of the great darks of the multiverse. If only they could be persuaded to share it with the rest of the Dustmen...
It's a grim existence in all, but maybe that's what it takes to ascend. It certainly seems to have paid off for some.
Copyright 1997 by Jon Winter