Grabbing his back as he stands, the man grimaces his way to upright. Squinting against darkness, his eyes dart from one tattered thing to another. Yanking his back to try and pop that stubborn knot out, he realizes that hes terribly cold. The dank and dim room seems to be pulling the life out of him. Pulling his arms around him, he notices for the first time the blue color of his leathery skin.
He was holding someone. Someone he loved. It was a woman and she was very sick. Very sick.
A shiver runs down his spine. He spins around frantically, trying to find something familiar in this cave of a room. Empty. Totally devoid of life. His eyes land on a flight of stairs. Fleeing, he scrambles up the stairs. Turning, running, up and finally out.
Looking down on a devastated town, all that can be seen are abominations walking. The living dead. Looking back down at his insect infested skin, his eyes glaze with tears. Then shock. He can feel. Holding his tattered hands in front of his face, his feet refuse to move for ages. Slowly his mind connects.
Holding his dead wife to his chest, he gently rocked back and forth upon the dirt. Tears flowed freely. His son, already sick, and his daughter, nearly dead already, cried with their father. His health had been steadfast as he watched his wife slowly wither and die in agony. Eyes red with pain and endless tears, he looked into the eyes of his daughter and then his son. Life had cursed him. A man should never outlive his own children. Love should not end in death before life had fully blossomed.
Stumbling down the hill leading into the barely standing town, a dead man spoke to him. The voice was hollow and deep. It was both masculine and empty at the same time. It he advised to seek counsel at the old chapel at the bottom of the hill. There, the never dieing, Forsaken they called themselves, will receive and counsel the newly risen. Moments later he found his feet in front of those that would teach him of this new world.
I see your heart, newly risen, a hollow voice spoke over the bowed head of the undead once-man. You are full of hate and pain. Your desire is to slay the living for their betrayal to humankind. There was a long pause punctuated by the absence of breathing. You will be known from now on as Kopfjagger; Head Hunter. Your mission is to slay the enemies of the Forsaken. All of them. A wicked sneer split the pale blue face of the undead. His brows knit together in a sharp glee and his teeth were bared as he rose to accept a dagger and other gear from the mentor before him.
Several long hours of labor wore on before him. He had to learn how to use a weapon, how to kill. Seemingly without end, he ripped Scourge apart. Often with his bare hands. He learned how to consume the flesh of his enemies to restore strength to his limbs. He did not question how he came to be. At least not in the front of his mind. All that burned there was a desire to kill.
She stood at the edge of the pond, hunkered over doing the wash. Her silken hair shone in the light of the mid-afternoon sun. The children were being tutored, the chores were done and he had come to find her in the hopes of stealing a kiss from his bride. He always called her his bride, even after nine years of marriage. She must have sensed he was behind her for she stood and pulled her hair out of her face. He couldnt help but smile. She was so beautiful and never seemed to see it herself. Pulling a bottle of chilled wine out from behind his back, he laughed as she threw the laundry onto the bank and leapt into his arms.
Gore covered his face and his tiny dagger. Although he had already met the minimum training requirements, he continued to slaughter the Scourge around him. He was learning quickly and they began to fall faster and faster around him. There always seemed to be more, however. His smile spread as he cut through them.
A shimmer of golden hair caught his attention. It was up on a hill by one of the many broken buildings. He ran up the hill, ignoring the Scourge that begged to die simply because they stood upright. Turning this way and that, he quickly found the golden hair shining in the mid-afternoon sun. It could not be. If his heart had a rhythm, it would have been thrown off completely. He reached the form and put his hand on its shoulder, hoping beyond hope that it was his hearts only love.
What turned around had the same face, hair and general figure of his former wife, but the eyes were gone. A groan of mindless yearning escaped from its throat as it tried to bite his arm. As he backed up, it ponderously tried to catch him. Arms half working helplessly flailed at him. He continued to back away, his mind trying to deny what his eyes were seeing.
The fire was dwindling as he lay wrapped in her arms. Her head was on his chest while her fingers twirled playfully on his chest. They both sighed together. Surely she would be with child soon. The cool spring breeze drifted through the shuttered window and made goose bumps spread over their exposed skin. He pulled her hair back over her ear so that he could see her face more clearly. Blessed beyond belief, he confessed his undying love to her. His chest told him that she smiled back and they drifted off to sleep together.
There was only one thing he could do, now. Still stumbling towards him, the thing in front of him was no longer his wife. Tears formed somehow and began to force their way out of his eyes. His tiny dagger thrust into the thing before him. Over and over it thrust as his tears flew from his glowing eyes. It took a lifetime to remove the animation from the Scourge he battled. It took an entire lifetime.
Finally, however, it stopped moving and lay still once more. He knelt beside the fallen form, eyes still clouded with tears when a rustling in the bushes caused him to turn. Scurrying out from the bushes came two small forms, one male and one female. They came from hiding to feast upon the fallen. Surely, his screaming mind numbly told him, surely they do not know that this was once their mother.
His dagger was forced back to work despite the tears and the pain beyond expression.
She was radiant. Absolutely radiant. The gown her mother had made flattered her slender form as she stood straight backed and proud. The bouquet of flowers nestled under her full bosom as the Priest rambled on. He knew the words already; they practiced it a few times before. Right now, the words didnt matter. It was the woman standing in front of him that mattered. His heart made flesh. His soul complete. She stood there before the Light and the World shining with the hope and joy of a life together. Do you have the ring? Snapping back to the task at hand, he reached into the chest pocket of his jacket and pulled out a simple golden ring. He could not afford any jewels, but he was getting a diamond in return for his simple band of gold. Smiling and nearly crying, he slid the thin ring onto her finger. She did the same and soon they had a matching pair of rings. Moments later, he kissed his bride for the first time. It was indeed their first kiss. He was old fashioned that way.
Shifting through the carnage at his feet, he found her right hand. There it was; a small tarnished golden ring. He pulled it easily off of the bony finger and placed it in a pocket under his chest armor. He patted the ring once and vowed not to forget how she was, nor what she became.
He set off at a run for the Undercity. There was much to learn now that he fully accepted his mission. He was to become a feared assassin for the Dark Lady herself. That was a long row to hoe, but he was not unfamiliar with hard work.
He jogged from the broken town, aptly named Death Knell until the road led him to another small town. Brill sprawled out along one main road but did not have the look of complete abandonment like Death Knell. Here his fellow Forsaken continued in un-life as they had in life. Tasks needed doing, peddlers plied their wares out of small wagons and there were even stable hands lounging near the horses. The horses
She could not get on a horse to save her life, he mused to himself. After several attempts to get her on Roselean, she finally managed to get her legs around the horse and sit upright. There was no way he was going to attempt teaching her riding side-saddle. He was not *that* patient. She held the pommel like it was her salvation but her beaming smile melted any frustration he had like ice in mid-summer. It was that look that reminded him that love does, indeed, conquer all.
I need a horse, his hollow voice told the stable master. His eyes lingered on the huge warhorses, all bones, armor and that somehow exuded a polluting purple smoke. Knowing that there was no way he could afford such a mighty warhorse, he pointed at a smaller creature of all bone. He was unsure of what magic held the creature together, but he did not let his mind travel down that path. There madness truly lied.
Do you have your writ? was the terse reply. The stable master looked Kopfjagger over once and then dismissed him out of hand.
What writ? came the hollow reply. He knew that the fact he had to ask that question was evidence enough that he did not have one, but he also knew that if he was going to be about his business, this running from place to place was the least efficient way of progressing. He wanted to kill the living with a passion borne of passion.
A long, mourning sigh escaped from the hole in the stable masters face. The writ granted by your mentor, newly risen. These steeds are hard to come by and are not given to every newly risen apprentice. Be gone and embrace the darkness, death eater. Kopfjagger walked away with a determined expression on his face.
He wandered all over Brill, seeking something but not knowing exactly what. He had to improve upon his feeble talents. In order to become a master assassin, he would have work very hard and the best way to do that was to sell his services as a killer. In short order, he had more contracts then he could have imagined. It seems that a killer for hire is more sought after then he ever thought possible. Perhaps it was a condition of being Forsaken. Perhaps, he was now witnessing a part of the world that simply did not exist for him before.
Bounce me higher daddy! His loving daughter was giggling so loudly he was sure that their milk cows would begin to complain soon. But that didnt matter right now. It was late spring, the smell of the herb garden immediately behind them was strong and sweet. His daughter bounced on his knee with reckless abandon, her thick hair flying in all directions as she called on him to giddy-yap! His deep laugh boomed through the warm air as his leg continue to try and buck his daughter.
Flipping through his contracts, the Forsaken killing machine was about to head into the killing fields when a familiar scent grabbed his attention. Turning his head, he found himself staring towards the stables. As his feet led him towards the stables, he realized that there was indeed an herbalists shop next to the stables. The wind and his mind must have closed it off to him before. As he began speaking to the Forsaken outside the shop, the scents over powered him and forced him to raise his hand to make the woman he spoke to cease mid sentence.
Late spring brought showers often enough, but this afternoon the sky was a crisp blue. The air hung thick and sweetly as birds sang to one another while flitting from green bough to branch. His heart tended their herb garden while her two little helpers tried to help. Mostly they just carried around the sprigs of new plantings while his heart guided their tiny feet between the delicate plantings. Today there were searching for something to place in tonights dinner. The rosemary was his favorite, but whatever she made she made for him and that made it wonder, even if it often wasnt edible.
Looking back up at the Forsaken woman he asked her what gain could possibly come from gathering these herbs she had hanging around her. He expected some frilly excuse for wasting time and was prepared to blast her with his seething anger. Instead her glowing eyes looked directly into his. Power, she said, gold and magical abilities the likes of you could only dream of one day, she bit off.
Teach me, was his hollow reply.
I can only teach how to tend the herbs, how to find them and how to select them without totally destroying the entire plant. You will have to see the brewer in the Undercity to learn how to make the potions and flasks that will yield the magics from these stems, she added gesturing upwards to the hanging sprigs.
Teach me all you know and I will pay you what you ask.
In his heart he knew that he was about to turn his love into a weapon. It soothed him and enraged him at the same time. He was a simple man in life. His death had complicated him, twisted him. He wasnt sure if it was a good or bad thing, but it was undeniable no matter how it was categorized.
Once the first of what he assumed would be many lessons was completed, he set off at a run for the Undercity. He would find this brewer and he would learn everything possible. Magic was not something that he was good at. If he had been, he was certain that his love would not be well, he didnt need to think about that right now.
As he made his way up the long ramp leading into the city, he noticed bones and bodies strewn along the road and nearby hills. He lowered his body and tried to stealth himself as best he could. He may be named Head Hunter, but battles were something he was just now becoming even vaguely aware of. He did not want to test his strength yet; he knew it was lacking.
Slinking his way up the ramp to his capital, he watched as titans of the Alliance came and went at their leisure into his city. Dwarven paladins, human mages, elven priests, gnome rogues it seemed never ending. Any Horde fighters that stood to oppose them were quickly cut down. Many just ran by with their weapons sheathed and eyes low. Soon, the Alliance marauders set up a camp fire and chatted idly while the Horde tried to gather more forces. His blood was boiling with rage and frustration. There was absolutely nothing he could do with his puny dagger and rags for clothes. But he tried anyway.
And that is how he found himself standing before an angel. She hovered over the ground and was as white as pure snow. Her cowl covered much of her face and her tattered robes swayed in a breeze that he could not feel. His form was a ghostly match for his broken fleshed body but he felt nothing. No pain, no aches he just simply, was. Sound was strange as well. It was as if he could hear a thousand different voices, but none of them clearly and all of them whispering. It was unnerving to say the least.
It took him a moment to recover from being killed to being not killed. His body was immortal, or so he had been told and believed, yet he was not completely without his body. He could not die, yet he was already dead and now he was dead-er?
The tumbling whispers seemed to merge into one voice, Do you seek healing, Forsaken?
That was a strange question, he thought to himself. How can one heal dead? He asked as much as he tried to understand what all this meant.
The whispers again congealed into a single eerie voice, You are not to pass beyond yet. Do you seek healing by me or do you prefer to regain your flesh where your spirit was removed? Her slow, eerie voice carried no emotion except the chill of death.
Ghostly eyebrows knit together as the newly risen Forsaken tried to understand what she was talking about. Long and slow he pondered what she was saying. Finally he raised his head to her and demanded in his minds voice, Where are my wife and my children?
The bodiless voices sighed a hundred separate sighs and it was a sound that nearly rent his soul with their sadness. I am the gatekeeper, not counsel or friend. Your wife and children have their own destiny as you have yours. Do you seek healing?
Now he was angry. I seek neither, witch, his minds voice spat. Death is what I seek. Real death. No more of these games and riddles. Take my soul and lay it asunder so that I may find peace. He ghost stomped back and forth as he spoke. His anger was plain on his countenance and his fists clenched and released as he paced.
Her funeral was not worthy of her. There were many dieing now and few had the strength to bury the dead anymore. It took him hours to gently remove each herb from the small garden. Tenderly he removed each one and laid them on their sides. Each plant was well watered after it was set down upon the freshly turned earth. Then he carefully dug as deeply as his muscles would allow. Each shovel of earth placed carefully to one side as to not disturb the plants. It was well after midnight before the last herb was so very tenderly put back in its place. He cried himself to sleep but not before he started to cough.
Release me! Wrath covered his soul. Why should he be imprisoned in this hellish body where there is obviously another option. Why should he be tormented by the memories of having killed his Scourged family when others never have to live through that pain.
That was it. Kopfjagger, the newly risen Forsaken rogue, completely lost his composure. He launched on a tirade against the spirit healer with a vengeance he never knew in life. All his hate and malice raged from him as he demanded to know where his wife and children were. He threatened and begged to be allowed to die. He wailed and wept for at his destiny. All the while, the angel of death floated over him, mockingly silent; maliciously uncaring.
Finally the whispers met again in one voice. He was sure that their softness and tenderness was his mind playing tricks for the words were the same. Do you seek healing?
Through ghostly tears, he replied that he did.
Light flashed. Colors swirled and a sensation of life and pain flooded through him with such intensity it took all his will to remain standing. For a brief moment, at the exact time that his flesh was made new by the will of his spirit and the powers of the witch, he felt alive again. Truly alive. He swore that in that moment, he felt his heart beat again, for the first time. And then the veil of black and white descended. Shades of grey defined his existence now. The colors drained, the feeling of truly being alive ebbed out of him like an inevitable tide in retreat.
Terribly sick and the only member of his family left to fight off this horrendous disease, a young man stumbled out of a humble house. The moon was high and glorious and followed the stumbles of this man around the side of the house. His sole desire was to die atop the freshly turned earthen grave of his love. Hands fell heavily on the sides of the house as he pulled and dragged his cough-wracked body along the incredibly long wall. As he turned the corner to look on his loves garden his heart suddenly exploded in horror. He fell dead next to an open grave and the shattered remnants of once loved plants.
He visited the spirit healer a few more times before he was allowed by the Alliance to seek out the master brewer in his capital. Each time he visited the wench he said not a word but merely nodded his ascent to her healing question. He had no words for her that would not end poorly. All arguing with her would accomplish would be him being held back on his missions. And right now, he burned to speak with this brew master.
The twisting and cavernous hallways and small elevator quickly gave way to an enormous open chamber deep underground. Gargantuan Abominations stood guard over the entry into the heart of his capital and, he was thankful to see, stood there still. He stood long at the entrance to the Undercity, soaking it up. This was his new home. The décor of death and pain, war and woe, suited him just fine, thank-you-very-much.
The Forsaken rogue took his time finding the master brewer. His eyes wandered over his new capital with a combination of awe and mystery. He was a part of something wonderful and large, not apart from it, distant and unknown. This was his new home and it fit him like a glove. A wicked smile crept over his face and split his countenance like a wedge cracking dried wood.
It seemed to take ages to get her here. She kept stumbling and giggling and asking what is it every step or two. He knew that she liked surprises and this was going to be his best one yet. They had only been married a few days but what he was about to show her had been his for several months now. He hated keeping it a surprise just because he was so bad at it. Finally, she was in just the right spot. He told her to stand still and while he beamed with joy he removed his hands from her eyes. Her gasp of shock at seeing their small house and tiny farm turned into a shout of joy as she turned and leapt into his arms. The fact that he was knocked flat on his back didnt matter much as her kisses and tears trivialized anything his back felt.
Books were everywhere on every subject imaginable. The Head Hunter took his time and idly followed the directions the citizens gave him to the master brewer. His urgency at finding him was overtaken by the sheer knowledge that awaited him in his Undercity. He talked to the herbalists and picked up a few tricks. He wandered over to the Rogue trainers and discovered that, although he was fairly ignorant, he actually managed to master a few new techniques. His meager purse actually afforded him the opportunity to purchase a sword to replace the tableware he was first given. Yes, this indeed was his home.
Finally his steps took him down a wandering path. It led even deeper and lower into his newly beloved city and opened into a large room that had as many books as the rest of the city combined it seemed. That alone was worth the journey here. Eyes squinting with rapture of powers to come and a grin borne from its thirst twisted his face into a look of such malevolence that a fellow Forsaken turned quickly away from his gaze.
Stepping down onto a landing and then entering the room proper, the Head Hunter strode over to a Forsaken dressed in regal robes. Greetings, Master. I am the Head Hunter, came his hollow yet eager voice. I have been instructed to see you to learn from you all that is possible about turning mere plants into weapons and herbs into magical elixirs.
Looking up from an ancient book, the robed Forsaken pulled his spectacles low on his nose and peered over their rim. A heavy sigh escaped before a mere nod and gesture dismissed the Head Hunter towards the direction of a hunched Forsaken, bent over dozens of vials and tubes. Kopfjagger merely bowed low, still smiling, and walked to the referenced death eater.
He was gone much longer then expected so when he finally came home, she came to him with worry on her face. Their youngest was suckling at her breast, the oldest putting away dinner and Daddy was in no mood for questions. It was apparent on his face that their answer had been no. Why a common man could not buy land was beyond him. It seemed that his money was no good because his name was not written in some asinine book. He sat heavily on a stool and sighed into his hands. Someday, perhaps, he would amount to something other than the tender of dirt and the milker of cows. Someday, he sighed to himself, but not someday soon.
The conversation with the brewer was short. Yes, he intended to pursuit the art of Alchemy. Yes, he was already aware of how to gather remedial herbs and had some collected already. Fine, here is your coin for your time and the basic beginning recipes. It was not until he sat at the table and began to memorize the recipes that the true power of what he was undertaking struck him. A single potion could immediately close wounds. Others could speed your feet, make you stronger; make you taller and more powerful. Still others, he read on, could actually turn you invisible for several seconds at a time. The options seemed limitless. His smile grew and grew as he read. Eventually the symbols and scratchings were indecipherable, but their potential was not lost on him.
The scream from the yard curdled his blood. One of his young ones, it sounded like his son, had just been hurt something fierce. His mind told him that since he could hear the wailing, it could not be that bad. Racing through the pasture he leapt over the split rail fence and landed still running. In moments he scooped up his son and looked him over. Somehow the boy had managed to break his arm quite dramatically. Hurrying into town, still cradling the boy, he went from house to house; from the Abbey to the church. No one was there to heal the boy. No one knew how. They were all at some war or some such nonesense. It broke his heart to have to set the bone himself with hands made crude from hard labor. The splint was nothing more than tree bark. Both of them knew that his arm would never work right again after today. It was the best he could do, but it was not good enough. He never forgave himself for that ignorance. Neither had his son, really.
End of Kopf's Story Book 1