Chapter 1- A Night in a Forest

The sky was dark. The streets were devoid of life- but that was not to say that there were no occupants of the street. An army of undead were roving about, searching. Everything they found was thrown out into the street- be it food, a valuable of some sort, or freshly killed person. The street was littered with bodies, and their blood was flowing down toward a man at the other end. His eyes were glowing an ominous black, but the rest of his features were hidden by a black cloak. A wordless gesture moved the scavenging horde forward, trampling over the bodies and other objects in the street.

I ducked back around the corner I had been peering around. I knew what they wanted. I knew what they were trying to prevent. I knew that they were coming, and I had to get away. Otherwise I would end up dead too…

There was a sudden sharp pain in my chest. I hadn't noticed the skeletons roaming up behind me, and one had ran its bone blade through my chest. I saw my own blood gush from around the lethal blow, and knew that I had failed…

I sat up with a start, sweating cold sweat. The image of my own death was still burned deep into my mind, and it scared me. I stood up and looked around the bank of tress I had hidden in for the night. There was no sound at all, besides the sounds of insects and nocturnal birds. The small fire I had ignited earlier to cook up some of the things I had taken from the village was completely out, with not a single ember still burning.

I drew the cloak I was sleeping in tighter around myself, against the cold wind that had started blowing, and began to stuff the few things I had set down around my modest little campsite. A wind like that could only mean one thing- the undead soldiers had found me at last, and they were coming.

My name is Matt, and I am an orphaned wanderer. I was barely six years old when the raid had occurred, and I'm still not sure how I managed to get away as everyone was cut to pieces by the undead behind me. It is a memory that still haunts me, and likely will haunt me forever.

I had been constantly moving for the past ten years, stealing from those who didn't need it and buying from those who did to survive. And wherever I went, the undead minions were there, always searching, always for me, and I still don't know why. I am not particularly special by any means, a tall, skinny boy with little physical or magical talent. Granted, I wasn't an idiot by any means, but why did he need to eliminate one person who could possibly think a little? At least, why would he bother trying to eliminate one with such intensity?

He being the necromantic king of the land, his name being Troy. The land… well, it's really long and I can neither pronounce nor spell it. Let it be said that it is a dead land. It's ruled by Troy, an undead master of untold age and power. He took over years ago and hasn't relinquished power since. He is dictatorial and hardly fair; he rules to make himself better, and cares little for whatever happens to the people. Heck, the only ones he cares about are those he slaughters to fill the ranks of his undead legions, which constantly grow as he commands raids on various cities and villagers. Like the one that all but destroyed my home village.

The general feeling is that he needs to be taken out, but heck, I'm not the one to do it. I can hardly keep myself alive as I bounce from city to city, constantly wary of Troy's ever-present armies. Besides, I couldn't rally the support it would require. I couldn't get close enough to people to enlist their help. And I'm not charismatic enough to convince them to throw away their lives to try something so hopeless. So I just roam, and I stay as far away from most people as I can. Because I am cursed to always be far from people.

Because everyone I get close to dies.

First was the old mage who taught me the rudiments of magic. Not a week had gone by when the house burned to the ground, killing him and everyone else inside, except for me. Second were the kind young newlywed women who took turns keeping me at their houses so I could rest from the trials of my life. They provided me with shelter and food for about four days before their entire families were brought out into the streets and publicly tortured, maimed, and subsequently killed for no adequate reason other than that Troy felt like instilling some fear into the public. I was somehow overlooked. Then came the honest young troubadour who had accompanied me for some time along my journey. A lion had eaten him as I was off stealing some food for us. And the list could go on and on, but that could take quite some time to explain.

So I had stopped coming into contact with other people if I could help it. I accepted kind words with silence, and ignored those who offered me a stay. I couldn't endanger them. My path was too littered with bodies of those who had shown me kindness to let anymore scatter themselves there.

My bag was packed (not that I had much to put in it), so I kicked the ash remaining from my fire and quickly scaled a tree. When you spend most of your life dodging undead, you quickly learn that they're not too bright. And they can't learn, either, save a couple species. But if it was just skeletons, I would be okay. Undead never look up, because if they do oftentimes their heads will fall off. And headless undead are easy targets. At least they seem to know that.

A whole platoon of skeletons bearing boneswords crashed into the clearing, scanning as quickly as their muscleless necks would permit (I'll never understand how skeletons move without muscles, but then again, I don't want to know anything even closely associated with the fell magic of necromancy).

"He'ssssss… neeeeeear." one of them rasped. "Very neeeeeear… that one…"

"But wheeeeeere?" rasped another. "I feeeeeel him… but I don't seeeeee him."

"Heeeeee iiiiiis hiiiiiiding." said a third.

"Theeeeeen weeeeee will waaaaaaaaaaaait." said the first. And they sat down in the clearing and waited.

This was the best tactic the undead had for finding the living beings who were outside their flat field of vision. Being dead, undead need no sustenance- and they can wait for literally an eternity. So they will blanket an area where they sense their quarry and simply wait. Eventually the hiding being will either die of starvation or attempt an escape and be subsequently found and killed.

So I had my predicament. There was no way I could fight my way past the horde of undead that had moved in. There were only three I could see, but every undead search party consists of hundreds, possibly thousands of undead. I was no warrior, and all I had was a four-inch long knife and a basic knowledge of magical arts, so there went one of my options. I was hardly stealthy enough to sneak past them on the ground, so there went another option.

I reached into my bag and began to leaf through the spell book that I had retrieved from the wreck of the old mage's house. It was a dusty old volume, containing lore that most mages had since forgotten. I doubted there would be a spell potent enough that I could perform, but it was worth a shot to look. After several minutes of scanning the various routines and spells, I came across a useful looking one.

"Inferno…" I muttered, scanning the passage. "Sounds devastating… but I think I'd rather not level the entire forest… not that I have the power to do so." I chuckled a little, then continued to peruse the book. As I had suspected, most of the spells were far too complicated for someone of my magical prowess to even contemplate performing, so I slid the book back into my bag and thought some more.

A sudden wind blew through the trees around me, rustling the leaves and nearly causing me to fall from my perch. The wind carried an eerie sound that was the last thing I wanted to hear. It sound like a mix between a high-pitched scraping and a tormented soul.

You have got to be kidding me. I thought. Why the hell would those things be coming after me…? He must be getting impatient if he's starting to send Lurans after me… Lurans are kind of like ghosts, in so much as they float around all the time and are the soul of a departed person. However, Lurans are not around of their own accord, they are the pure malice of any one person that has been forcefully pulled back into this world by some necromantic sorcery. That essence then takes the form of the person it had once belonged to, and will proceed to exact harsh punishment on whoever or whatever the summoner directs it to. They also have a tendency to explode all over the target, and the residue is just like an acid- it will eat through everything and anything that it touches. Then they come back and do it again, just to make sure.

Lurans were probably one of the only species of undead I was afraid of at the moment, because they could get to my position since they could float. I had to get moving, but to where and how, I had no idea.

There was a rush of wind to my right, and I made my decision at that moment. With a Luran so close at hand, I simply jumped to another tree, momentarily exposed above the heads of the skeletons below. I misjudged the distance but managed to catch the branch, and for a moment I dangled with my feet only a few inches over the skeleton's line of sight. Another gust of cold air over my head told me that my miss turned out to be a good thing, as another Luran passed over my head, not even thinking to look down.

So they left a blind spot where I'm hanging, I thought. But even if I could hang here all night- A sudden crack interrupted my thoughts and I looked up. The branch I was hanging from was relatively thin and had begun to snap holding up my weight.

"Oh, son of a-" I began, and the branch snapped. The ground rushed up to meet my, and I probably would have broken both my legs if I hadn't clumsily rolled out of the fall. By that time, the skeletons had noticed me.

"Weeeeeell, whaaaaaat do we have heeeeeere." said the leader, looking at me. If skeletons could have facial expressions, he probably would have been grinning in a sinister manner right about then. My shoulders sagged.

"Just my luck…" I said, shrugged, and stood up. I reached for the knife concealed in the folds of my cloak palmed it. If worst came to worst, and it would, then having a knife in my hand was better than nothing. It made me feel better, at least.

"Yoooooou will coooooome with uuuuuuus." said the lead skeleton, pointing its bonesword at me. "Oooooor you wiiiiiill diiiiiie."

"And why on earth would I want to come with boneheads like you? You'll have to take me first." I felt a strange calm, as if I was in control of this situation despite the fact that I was likely surrounded by an army. I suppose once you encounter the thing you fear, you either break down or confront it.

Something pressed a sharp-edged bone to my throat. "Noooooow you wiiiiiill coooooome." A voice behind me said. As I had suspected, there were more undead in the area than just the three skeletons I had seen and the Lurans I had barely avoided in the trees. I glanced slowly over my shoulder to see about eight more skeletons and a zombieman standing behind me.

These undead may be only fodder in full-scale battles, I thought. But there's no way I can take all of them on by myself. Let's see… My fingers tightened around the handle of the knife. There isn't another way. Not that I can see.

The bonesword was replaced with skeletal fingers around my throat that clamped down hard enough that it was hard for me to breath. The bony arm, devoid of normal muscles, lifted me effortlessly from the ground and pulled me up to face the skeleton. "Soooooon, you wiiiiiill know your plaaaaaace."

"I don't… think so." I gasped. The knife flashed out, cutting clean through the skeleton's wrist and dismembering its hand. I fell to the ground and ran, ran like the coward I had been for the past ten years. The undead let out a shout of fury as I vanished into the underbrush, trying to put as much distance between them as me as possible. Naturally, and unfortunately, this drew the attention of all the other undead within a mile of my position.

Well, that went great! said the sardonic voice in my head. Now you've got about four thousand more problems to deal with!

Shut the hell up. I told it, and kept running. And running. Various undead kept appearing from behind trees and out of bushes, attempting to ambush me, but undead aren't quick enough to ambush almost anything, so I managed to avoid them. But it didn't matter. There was no where for me to go and I knew it. I was running a hopeless race- undead may be slow, but they don't get tired. I would be doomed the moment I collapsed from exhaustion.

I broke a low tree limb and found myself outside the forest, near the base of a hill. I stopped running for a moment and walked to the top of the hill. There were a few lights on down in the valley below. A town, I mused. Is it worth the risk of getting near people to lose this pack of boneheads? There were some rustling noises, somewhat distant but rapidly closing. I closed my eyes and sighed. "You guys don't give me much of a choice, do you?" I said, and ran down the hill.