Please enjoy the opening prologue from Bloodfest.
His name was Cerel Aacheneber, Arch Captain of Alpha Squad.
His title was the highest rank a field soldier could obtain. Arch Captain, leader of the best unit in the ground forces, commander to any and all supporting squadrons during live missions.
Cerel was a man of sheer perfection: handsome, intelligent, and built with a body as strong as steel. His hair gleamed like gold, his eyes flashed like stars. Everybody looked up to him. They all wanted to be like him.
Cerel knew the secrets of the universe. He was born with the rare skill of teleportation – to hold time still and phase through the world on a whim. He flowed with Auralithalain, the magical energy abundant in all things, and could cast the most complex of spells with the ease of an artist.
Deep below the ground, Cerel Aacheneber was about to die.
He raced through an underground maze. His team of experienced, exceptional soldiers were scattered. He heard screams from all sides, trapped in the dark. For the first time in years, Cerel felt afraid. His magical stamina was weakening, and he could not teleport out of danger.
The tight tunnel ahead was filled with darkness and low moans. It seemed to move of its own accord. Shambling, dusty corpses slid from their catacombs along the walls. The undead walked. They staggered and ambled languidly, but they swarmed in countless number, filling the narrow crypts like a rising flood.
The dead kept coming. The very walls bled with them.
Lieutenant Falbrich made contact. A usually stalwart and fearless man, his voice shrieked over the radio.
“Captain Aacheneber! There are too many! What do we do?”
“Keep fighting!” Cerel declared with waning gusto. There was a team of local militia above ground, desperately searching for a way to rescue Alpha Squad. Cerel and his team had toppled into the catacombs, carelessly falling into a simple trap, but their superiors would not leave Alpha Squad down here. They were invaluable. They were the best.
I am the best, Cerel told himself. There had to be some way out. Cerel knew he would get his team to safety, and he would complete his mission.
He almost tripped on a body, one wearing a black flak jacket. Cerel had stumbled over his former colleague Sergeant Hainer, now just a twitching, grey-skinned corpse on the floor. Hainer turned his head with a snap of bone and screamed an inhuman cry, his head had been gouged open. Cerel looked into the man’s clouded, dead eyes and stamped on his face to alleviate the suffering. Despite his power and skill, his years of experience, Cerel’s teammates were dying.
“Colonel Graycon!” Cerel cried over the radio. “Please report your position! Are you still alive?”
His medical officer had not responded for a long while now. Cerel could only pray for her safety.
“Someone, anyone… report your positions,” he demanded, and the radio responded with silence. Even Falbrich was gone.
A rotten husk lunged at Cerel from the shadows – something no longer human. Cerel watched and counted their number as they poured out of the walls and floor and advanced on him in sluggish succession. Cerel readied his weapon of choice – a railgun, laser-guided for impeccable accuracy and propelled by magnetic force. He fired, riddling the area with bullets, scattering the body parts reaching out to grab him. Teeth and limbs flew in every direction. Some were reduced to little more than dust. Powdery, desiccated corpses crumbled under the bullet spray like flimsy statues.
They seemed to feel no pain, but they were fragile and toppled quickly.
“Come on!” Cerel cheered triumphantly. “I’ve got you now!”
Limbs were severed, heads removed with grunted cries, but the things still loomed all around in great number. Their eyes pored over him, cutting through Cerel, his ammunition depleting.
The pile of grasping bodies fell away, but then a new figure emerged before Cerel. A creature of solid mist, like a shadow come to life, reaching out of the dark brick wall at the end of the tunnel. A large being appeared, ten feet tall and as broad as an ox, draped in dark robes. He glided towards Cerel, the fabric of his robes flowing on a silent wind. His face was concealed under a hood. Only gnarled, grey teeth and a pair of unblinking eyes gazed from beneath the dark shroud.
Cerel fired like a man possessed, yelling and plugging at the spectre with magnetic rounds, but the bullets phased through the smoke-like being. The rail gun overheated, inciting a surge of energy to back up and explode over Cerel’s right arm. His skin seared, and the captain released his weapon with a cry of pain.
He had not felt that in years. The sensation was shocking. His arm was deeply torn and weeping with blood.
The tall figure hovered, watching Cerel, waiting for him to stir. Cerel moved quickly, not giving up, and struck the monster with his advanced spells – those of such power that only a select few could use them. Flurries of lightning and vibrant, scorching flame filled the corridor, threatening to destroy the entire space and Cerel himself in his desperation.
But his opponent was quicker, dodging between the arcs of magic with ease. He was resilient too; the spells that did make contact flittered away like snowflakes drifting into a bonfire.
Cerel finally subsided, exhausted and bleeding. He pulled out his handgun and aimed at the hovering monster, knowing it was futile.
“Who… or what are you?” Cerel demanded, staggering and holding his wounded arm to his chest.
“I am the Reaper,” the figure answered. Its voice was like a crumbling mountain, like stone slabs grinding together.
The being reached over his shoulder, and unsheathed a weapon of twisted bone and iron. A scythe.
Cerel fell to his knees. His mind reeled, trying to escape the predicament. Before him stood Death.
“You… are truly…?”
Cerel tried to speak, but his voice was going. Inevitability dawned on him.
He found himself thinking about his parents, both of whom had passed away a long time ago. He thought of Shelley, his one and only. The queen of the prom, the high school sweetheart, never again seen after Cerel took on his military career.
He was the Arch Captain, the highest rank a field soldier could obtain. He was the best in the army. Everybody looked up to him. They all wanted to be him.
Cerel knew it was time to give up.
“Life is fleeting,” the Reaper boomed. “All living things come to an end, and I am that end.”
Cerel Aacheneber was only a man, one of billions. He felt the clasping, decayed hands behind him, dragging him into a surge of gnashing teeth and nails. They sunk into his limbs, at the soft joints between his armour. Dozens of figures surrounded him. They ravenously pulled at his flak jacket; finding his skin and tearing through, parting his muscles and ripping out his organs. Several grabbed his wounded arm, and tugged until they snapped it free like a choice cut of meat.
Cerel only lay still and watched. The undead overwhelmed him, picking him clean. He saw them unravel his intestines. A jaw crunched his neck. Hot blood gushed out, and Cerel’s incredible life was finally over. His twitching hand pulled the trigger of his handgun one last time, pulverising a zombie’s head several feet away.
Continued in the full version, released 28th August 2018.