This story was partially written by one of my least sucky groups of players ever, in a D&D game. I changed the characters substantially to work better for an audience unfamiliar with that situation, so nothing should be too confusing here. It is a short story about a resurrection, to fit the day in an irreligious way.
The Virile had a rough morning. This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen in the city. You go to a magic demonstration and yawn while the party’s arcanist rubs their chin. You don’t go to see your priest’s head explode. There would be a reckoning over this slight because The Virile had a reputation to maintain – the manliest band of heroes in town – but for now the agenda was resurrection.
Big Arms held Handsome’s body about the upper torso while Pesty Lad held the legs. Brody Ballads led them to the temple. When they first set out from the brick storefront in Market Town, the blood-spattered threesome stuck out badly in a crowd, hauling a dead fourth with tears in their eyes. But by the time they reached the temple district, the smells of blood, death, and waste were normal, and the sight of dead bodies somewhat more common.
People still gave them as wide a berth as possible. Most of the bodies here were more neatly comported, wrapped and waiting on resurrection or disposition. The sun and the lingering had the whole scene dotted with flies and sorrow. But The Virile had an in. The dead man they brought served the Temple of Sass. Waiting wouldn’t be an issue.
Brody was the only one who’d been to the temple. “Here it is, our sacred lady’s place.”
“Speak for yerself,” Pesty grunted.
Big Arms pursed his well groomed moustache. “Sass is the matron of our band, and it is on her mercy we seek the return of… our priest. I do hope you can bite your tongue in her temple.”
“Nyeh nyeh nyeh.”
At the street level the temples were walls of doors in a riot of architectural styles. Above that the less successful religions were crowded out by a canopy of temples to the ones with money. Sass was one such goddess, the wings of her upper levels crushing the temples of Ragin and Mighty Fire beneath.
The band passed the temple guards and scaled the marble steps. In the nave was an open space without pews. On a worship day, the laity would fall about this floor in ecstasy. On days like this, families kneeled solemnly around their sick or dead, waiting to make arrangements.
They were greeted by a temple maiden, her head entirely concealed in a paper globe painted with The Face of Joy, her breasts bare, her arms gesturing excessively to make up for her artificially fixed expression. “Lay here, my dears, with your… Oh my, is that Brother Luke Hand?”
“How can you tell?,” Pesty asked, looking over his headless friend.
“We call him Handsome,” Big Arms said, “Is there a chance we can..?”
She gestured nervously. “I will see. Wait just a moment.” She wheeled theatrically in place, paper head bobbing, and hustled out of sight with her long skirts brushing the floor.
Shortly, she reappeared to beckon them around the corner. In a dim atrium, family representatives negotiated quietly with clergy for the lives of the departed. The priests were also bare to the waist, but the Face of Joy was painted across their shaved chests, allowing them to use their natural faces more freely than the lamp-headed maidens. Two of their number were emotionally engaged with the wrecked family of an old man whose resurrection had failed.
Pesty and Big Arms felt self-conscious, being the only people in this area holding a corpse. A priest came to deal with them.
“Had an accident, did we?”
Pesty said, “Not really, it was a pretty purposeful head explosion.”
“Head explosion. How recent? And how?” He made notes on a scroll.
“A really crappy magic show, total rip off.”
Brody tried to shush Pesty with a gesture. “Perhaps one half-hour ago. At a magic demonstration, some unknown power caused his head to burst.”
“Unknown powers, check. And what is his name?”
“Luke Hand, servant of Sass, which we were hoping would count for something?” Brody flashed a very cheesy smile.
“We call him Handsome,” Big Arms added.
The priest sighed. “Such a promising young man. For him, I believe we can offer a ten percent discount. But remember, these services are not cheap.”
Pesty said, “I think we can knock together a couple of crowns. How much is it? Five, ten?”
“Nay, I am afraid it is much higher, what with the need to restore his head and all.”
“How much do we really like Handsy?,” Pesty asked. “I mean we barely knew him a year.”
“Don’t even speak such things!,” Big Arms said.
Brody stroked his pointed beard. “Perhaps Handsome can pay for it. What money lines his pockets?”
“Ohh,” said Pesty, “Good thinking!”
“Surely,” said the priest, “He is worth all the gold you have.”
Brody said, “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Besides, ten percent? He’s one of your brothers, man.”
Pesty asked, “Is it cheaper if we can find a used head?”
The priest shook his head grimly and Big Arms looked frantic, worried his habitually acerbic friends would blow the deal.
“Hold up,” Brody said. “You should resurrect him now, and negotiate with him when he’s back. After all, if your magic doesn’t work, we should be able to sell his things off to cover the bill. He’s in our band. We have agreements.”
“Yeah,” Pesty said, “He could work it off in your …mines or whatever.”
The priest considered it. “Well, he does owe his soul to Sass. He would be unwise to betray the good will of the temple on waking…”
A sad young woman from the wrecked family took a break from her mourning to glare at the rude adventurers. Pesty glared back. Then the priest clapped his hands, setting the attendants in motion.
In a tall spire of the temple, tall windows admitted sheets of light and the cries of gulls from outside. The Virile struck manly poses as they gazed upon the ceremony. Pesty whispered to Brody, “I still can’t believe you thought going to a head exploding show was a good idea.” Brody stroked his beard and Big Arms strained to look cool with tears sparkling on his eyelashes.
Attendants lay Handsome across the altar, exposing the vile ruin of his head. Big Arms looked away.
Pesty whistled. “What a mess. Maybe they could make him smarter this time?”
Brody couldn’t help but have some soft feelings. He was a balladeer after all. “This is my fault… Er, though not in such a way as to lead to financial responsibility, of course.”
The high priestess stood up from the dais and descended with measured steps. She was the only cleric in the temple allowed to clothe her chest and the only one powerful enough in the grace of their goddess to work this miracle. The Face of Joy peered down from a gold crown atop her coiled silver hair. She held up her arms.
“Sass I pray! If it is your will, return your servant to life! Sa-za-za-za-za-za…” She paced around the body chanting, raising and lowering her arms. A mystical light shrouded the body, but the onlookers could make out a glowing phantom of what was transpiring. Handsome’s head was magically reappearing from nothing.
Brody said quietly, “Ohh. See, I wondered, when a head grows back, does it just pop out of the neck? Now I know.”
Handsome’s head materialized from the light and he sat up with a sharp inhale. The priestess stepped back.
Pesty said, “Handsy, you’re a bit in debt now, so don’t lose your head again.” Big Arms clasped his hands together and took halting steps forward.
Handsome touched his face. It was there, solid and fleshy. “Did you… Abbess Cora, did you save me?”
Brody admired the new head. “Oh can I touch it too? It looks quite realistic.”
The priestess put one old hand on Handsome’s bare shoulder. “I did, but you do owe the temple for this, young priest.”
“Sacred Abbess Cora!” He flopped off the altar stumbling into a deep bow. “Can I embrace all of my friends, before we discuss the grave matters of debt and vengeance?”
Big Arms swept the smaller man into a big embrace, lifting him from the stone floor and deeply kissing his restored face. Handsome eased into the moustached kiss and held the big man about his big neck.
As their lips parted Handsome whispered, “Did you miss me?”
“Don’t you dare do that again.”
As they walked out of the temple, they passed the sad atrium again, and the nave of the waiting, and the street of illness and death. Brody strummed his mandolin and Pesty japed at Handsome affectionately. Big Arms looked away from those with less privilege, those who would spend years in debt to forestall the end of a loved one. He looked away, but he didn’t forget. He was grateful to Sass, but couldn’t bring himself to love her just the same.