Gwendolyn took a moment in the hall to gather herself, as she always did before confronting a crowd. Though the crowd awaiting her was only seven, those were the most important seven - they were the Weathered.
What am I doing? she marveled.
Maybe it had been a mistake, she sometimes thought, putting the wisest and most powerful of her people into a select group of rank just below herself and her twin. In the case of a rebellion, she and Winona would have been wiped out in a flash. Hence she needed to say and do the right things to keep the Weathered happy.
Gwen pushed open the manky old door to the drawing room. A hush descended - a circle of seven sat by the empty fireplace, on a set of old moth-eaten sofas. Seven faces - some marred beyond mortal recognition, some as beautiful as porcelain dolls - tilted in her direction.
By the fireplace stood Winona, her arms held tightly behind her back, her shoulders ever so slightly hunched. Gwen knew then that Winona had lost the attention and interest of the Weathered. It was all on her now.
"Good evening," she said clearly and as cheerfully as she could, stepping around the sofas to join her anxious sister.
The Weathered murmured their replies half-heartedly.
"I suppose Winona has explained to you the purpose of this meeting?"
"Indeed she has," slurred an elderly woman known as Diana the Fierce. Presumably killed in a fire, Diana's head resembled a sphere moulded out of hot wax. She was blinded, but her ears and nose were wickedly sharp. A valuable fighter in Gwendolyn's eyes.
"Would anybody like to share their thoughts?" Gwen asked, already getting a bad feeling about their response.
Billy the Strong waved a two-fingered hand in the air. He sat sideways in his seat, his wooden leg stertched out, peering at Gwen through his one useful eye - the other was encased in a jewel-encrusted eyepatch. Whether or not he'd been a pirate in his past life was unknown, but he seemed to fancy himself one nonetheless.
"Why's this 'ere task relevant, my Great?" he spoke with his heavy Scottish tongue. "Would you not have us seek out the Hunters, rather than send us all after this 'ere wild goose?"
"Oh, but Elliot is not a wild goose, Strong one. On the contrary - he is on to something quite magnificent. Why else would he vanish so?"
"What is this magnificent discovery you speak of, Gwendolyn?" Jane the Sly questioned with her distinct American drawl.
"You will address my sister with her correct title, Jane the Sly," Winona shot at her, stepping forward.
"Hush, Wicked one," Gwen ordered her twin, cutting her short with a flick of her hand, but not looking at her. Winona shied back.
"Jane the Sly, you are of the most vanity and grace in this room. However you are also of least ability. As far as I and my sister the Wicked are concerned, you are just hanging on by the skin of your teeth, and our kind know better than any other that there is not much skin on the teeth of mortals. Is that not accurate, Sly one?"
Jane's eyes were dark and bitter at being put down. Gwen fancied she'd been spoiled and perhaps quite loose in her previous life. Maybe she was even a prostitute that had been killed in the streets.
"If I could have a moment to speak freely, Great one," she continued. "Is the purpose of this mission not to fetch your beloved toy boy from the hideout he has selected from you?"
Winona bolted forward again at the girl's cheek.
"HALT, Winona!" Gwen bellowed, this time turning and driving the side of her left hand into the soft flesh of her sister's throat. Winona gasped and fell away, grasping the fireplace for support.
Gwen turned back to Jane, who was the only guest not staring in concern and fear at Winona's heaving form.
"Jane the Sly, your curtness appeals to me. And indeed, perhaps Elliot the Brave has decided to hide away from his duties, " she said pointedly. Jane rolled her eyes at this. "However, he is still a valuable fighter and hunter and if we don't find him, we'll be at a giant loss."
A silence moved through the Weathered, as though each of them was considering what Jane had said - was Gwen merely seeking the return of her lover, or did their security and wealth of power truly depend upon him?
"Send out my word," Gwen commanded. "Let our people know that Elliot the Brave must be found at the cost of a thousand lives. And if there are no other areas of concern, I announce this conference over."
After a brief pause, Jane the Sly raised her slim hand. "Once again, we the Weathered agree that the topic of your title should be raised."
Panic and horror rose at the back of Gwen's throat.
"Like I said, conference is over. Return to your respective people and spread my message. Thank you."
With that Gwendolyn the Great fled the drawing room, and up three flights of stairs, unwilling to let the Weathered - or her sister at that - see the painful emptiness where there should have been tears.
The Zombies of Todaye cannot cry. They can only feel the wretched pain and torment of time build up in their souls with nowhere to go.