[Soundtrack for this installment is...
Zofi was surprised to wake up, alive. Through some miracle she had not bled to death, had not yet contracted an infection, had somehow lived. It didn’t seem possible. Moving with care, she sat up and checked Alfons’ pulse.
She needn’t have bothered.
Even before laying her fingers against his throat, she could see his chest was rising and falling. Alfons still lived too. Another miracle. Maybe Death could hear her after all, or maybe Death was mercifully not listening.
Her stomach contracted, feeling like fingers clawing their way out, and she clutched her abdomen. Food. When was the last time she had had any? Before their capture, certainly. Had it been days, or much longer? Since Nocri—no, that had been months ago. Nocri had been when she had waded through ashes and heard a thousand dead begging for freedom.
The thought startled her because she couldn't quite match it up to a memory. Blood loss, she reasoned. Blood loss does strange things. And that directed her back to the important things: she needed food or all the miracles in the world wouldn't help her.
Zofi used the wall of the underhang to stand, then shuffled out into the ravine. She did not feel any stronger than when she had crawled out to get water, but at least she was standing now. The trickle of water had swollen to a creek. It must have rained again. If it kept up, their shelter might be compromised, but that was a long way off. She had other things to focus on. Like food.
Climbing out of the ravine sapped her strength and she had to stop for a time. Water splashed off of a leaf and dripped on her forehead. Zofi blinked once, then stood again. She kept walking, staggering against trees and stumbling over every dip in the earth. Occasionally she would stoop for nuts that were untouched by squirrels and other creatures, pocketing them and continuing.
She paused for rest leaning against a stripped oak tree. The smoothness pleased her. She spied an acorn and slid to the ground, too tired to stoop. In theory, acorns could be mashed into a sort of paste. She had read about it an age ago. As she reached for it, her eyes drifted past, landing on a dirt covered hand. It took a long moment for her to register that a hand meant a corpse.
Zofi crawled forward on her knees, rounding the tree until she could properly see the body. It had not been buried very well at all, resting in a natural depression in the earth and loosely covered with dirt and leaves that had largely been washed away by the recent rains. Worse, the body had no burial markings, no symbols, nothing to keep it from coming back as a wight. Zofi stared at the corpse, feeling even more tired just seeing it.
It had been a man once upon a time, and had hardly decomposed at all. She would have to bury it. It was her duty as an undertaker for one, but more importantly, if she left it alone and it turned into a wight, it would very likely find and kill her and Alfons. She didn't have the strength to bury it properly, but she would do what she could.
Hefting the corpse onto her back, Zofi headed back toward her refuge. She would do short term rites, like she had for herself and Alfons, and when she had gathered her strength, she would put the body to rest properly.
She kept repeating her plan in her head the entire way, because when she stopped thinking that, the only other thought was that, though she was sure she’d never seen him before, somehow she knew this man.
[And Zofi meets Mangler...sort of. The Nocri incident mentioned is from Part 1 Installment 21, Repelled. We're nearing the end of Part 2, my friends.]