Chapter 1

He lay forgotten in a deep, and seemingly never ending, sleep. Thick moss and tree roots encased his body. The stillness of the cemetery allowed him a quiet rest until a loud noise suddenly disrupted the once placid atmosphere. The abrupt sound sent shockwaves through the ancient crypt where the man lay, causing deep cracks to form in the carefully handcrafted stones. The ground trembled violently as if the Earth itself were about to split open. Disturbed by the commotion, he began to regain his awareness. A once shallow heartbeat transitioned into a more intense rhythm. The increased blood flow beginning to warm a cold body, revitalizing unused joints and muscle tissue. He made a minuscule movement with his right arm which immediately sent shockwaves of intense pain throughout his entire body. With eyes still closed, he opened his mouth and took a deep breath: he coughed. The air was very moist and warm around him, and he began to feel as if he were trapped in an extremely small space. The man opened his eyes to utter darkness, and an acute sense of claustrophobia began to consume him. Willing himself to move, he ignored the pain as he frantically struggled to free himself from whatever it was that enclosed him. As he began to break free, another clamorous boom greeted his ears followed by devastating mayhem that shook the crypt once more. Suddenly, the right side of the chamber was blown away. Debris scattered in all directions, tearing through the moss and tree roots that housed him. With a good portion of the plant growth gone, the man was able to see faint rays of sunlight shining through the heavy blanket of smoke that now filled the tomb. With half of his body now free, he sat himself up and stretched. He pried his legs free from the remaining roots and swung them over the edge of the cool, marble burial chamber. As the warm blood pumped through his body, the man began to feel the strength returning to his muscles and more flexibility in his joints. He knew nothing about his surroundings. He couldn’t remember how he ended up in a dark, dank crypt, but he wanted to find out what was happening now.

Looking around to survey his environment, he noticed the large opening in the crypt where the thick cloud of smoke came flowing through. It filled his lungs, and he struggled to breathe. The man leapt to his feet, but his legs gave way, and he fell onto the dirty, stone flooring. Using the pale, white, marble coffin for stability, he slowly rose to his feet. The smoke was overwhelming, and it stung his eyes and dried out his mouth and throat. Releasing his hold on the tomb, he gradually made his way to the entrance of the crypt. He looked around as he approached the doorway; the chamber was vast, and the walls were covered in moss and vines, but it was still possible to make out the faint shapes of small wolves, each one laying under a different phase of the moon with what he assumed to be the new moon being represented by a large, perfectly circular piece of blue moonstone in the very center of the roof. He gradually approached the worn, slightly rusted, iron door. It, like the rest of the crypt, appeared to have been crafted by hand. Glass flowers of diverse colors with vines made of pure silver outlined the rectangular door, and two large wolves made of black onyx with diamond eyes were in the center—their heads raised, howling at a moon made of mother-of-pearl. He gripped the handle and found that the crypt was locked from the outside. With no strength to force the door open, he looked over to his right and decided that his only way out was through the gaping hole where the billow of smoke was still making its way through. He began to climb over the rubble; his sensitive ears picked up the sporadic chirping of birds and a peculiar popping sound in the distance as he made his way outside. The man pulled himself from the gaping hole and placed his bare feet on the ground, feeling the grass between his toes as the smoke enveloped his face, making it hard to see. He felt the heat of a fire burning a few feet away, and he could see the bright orange of the flames as they licked the ground. The smell of smoke was overpowering, but he could also pick up another strong odor: blood. Instinctively, he knew he was in danger. He moved away from the large, burning crater and cautiously made his way down a narrow dirt path, hoping that it would lead him to an exit. Where he would go, he had no idea; all he knew was that he needed to escape. 

He looked around nervously as he wandered down the narrow path. There were numerous broken and destroyed headstones, some were stained red with blood. As he went farther down the trail, the smell of death grew stronger. His eyes watered from the overpowering stench, and he tried to hold his breath, but his lungs began to feel as if they were on fire. Fresh corpses lay strewn across the once immaculate cemetery—many of them riddled with bullet holes that looked to be several inches wide. The copious amounts of blood that spilled from their bodies had turned the vibrant, green grass a deep, dark crimson. Other bodies were charred coal black, the embers of dying flames glowing and crackling deep within burnt flesh with wafts of smoke exiting the open mouths of the victims—the sight made his heart skip a beat. He knew he was too weak to run if danger suddenly appeared. The air was thick with the smell of burning and rotting flesh. The further down the dirt path he went, the louder the buzzing of flies and various other insects became. A dark shadow moved in a sweeping motion over the ground. He looked up and realized numerous vultures as well as crows had ascended to the area, several of them perched on trees and many more on the ground pecking at bodies and tearing small chunks of red flesh from bones. As he traveled through the area, he felt the eyes of the scavengers watching him, and it made him feel as if he were gradually heading to his death like a lamb to the slaughter; the crows and buzzards hardly moved as he walked among them on the dirt path. More body parts than actual bodies began to turn up as the man went further down the trail, and he started to wonder if he were going in the right direction. He also questioned why he wasn’t more disturbed by the grotesque scenery that seemed to grow more and more ghoulish with each step: had he witnessed something like this before? 

Before he knew it, he was lost in thought and walked down the path without paying much attention to his surroundings or where he was headed until something caught his eye. A lone deer, a large buck, came sauntering out onto the emerald lawn. It stood proudly with magnificent, amber colored antlers showing in the dim light of the evening sun. Its large, brown body suggested that this was an old buck who had lived several seasons in this area, and the confident way in which it appeared implied that this deer was a frequent visitor to the cemetery. Having seen no sign of life for what seemed like hours since he had regained consciousness, the appearance of this creature was a welcomed sight. He felt the need to move closer to this animal to see if it were in fact real and not some illusion that his mind had created to help him retain his sanity amongst all the carnage. The deer began walking around the lawn, finding patches of grass to nibble on. While watching the animal, it was then that he realized he had reached a large clearing, and this appeared to be a part of the cemetery where no bodies had been buried.  He crept a bit closer to the large deer while it slowly moved with its head hung low enjoying the lush, green grass.

Unlike much of what he had seen of the cemetery, this area appeared to be untouched, save for a few old tracks in the grass that looked like they came from a large tractor that led towards the dense woods nearby. The clearing was peaceful with birds chirping in the trees, a slight breeze that carried the smell of the woods and other plant life rather than death and decay, while the sun bathed the area in a burnt orange glow as it began to set. He had stopped without realizing it, and his legs now seemed unwilling to move any further. He didn’t know how long he had been walking, but he was exhausted. Sitting down on the soft grass, the man sighed as he watched the deer while it calmly grazed several feet away from him. The large animal gradually moved farther and farther away, becoming a dark silhouette against a bluish pink sky. He observed the buck as its form began to shrink; his mind began to wander, questioning why and how he had ended up in such an awful situation. For the moment, he hadn’t come across any potential threats, but how long would that last? He was a sitting duck, and there was absolutely nothing he could do to defend himself properly if it came down to a fight. His body was so tired, he felt it would be damn near impossible to run from an attacker. Trying to block out the negativity and anxiety that was slowly building, he returned his attention to the peaceful grazer. He watched from a distance as the placid atmosphere seemed to consume him; the deer made a slight movement with one hoof, moving it forward, and the tranquility of the scenery was abruptly dispelled as a sinister reality was instantly revealed. He saw it before he heard it, and he had no time to react as a rather large explosion ripped through the area with bright flames and bone jarring force, birds feeling to the skies for parts unknown. What was left of the deer rained down in a mix of flesh and fire that seemed to flutter to the ground as if it were some type of meaty confetti. Stunned and disoriented, he lay on his back with his eyes wide; just what kind of hell had he awakened to?  

The ground began to rumble violently once more as the trees in the woods began to sway and fall: something was coming. He struggled to his feet falling several times before successfully standing on very shaky legs. The muscles in his body screamed in pain, and the sudden movement left him dizzy and nauseous, but there was no time to concentrate on these sensations as the rumbling grew stronger and the sound of something very large treading along the ground grew closer.  He knew he had to run, but which way should he go? He was unsure if it was safer going back the way he came, and he certainly didn’t want to risk stepping on an explosive. A mine, he thought, who puts such a thing like that in a cemetery? With no other reasonable option, he decided he would take his chances by heading back to more familiar ground, however, as he tried to turn back, he realized that his next move had already been decided as a large tank came bursting through the trees to his left and speedily moved in front of him, blocking his way back. He almost lost his balance from sheer fright. The tank-like behemoth was larger than anything he had ever seen, and it appeared to be covered in a strange reflective alloy that appeared to serve as a cloaking device; he didn’t need to thoroughly see what he was looking at to know that he was in immediate danger. He swiftly turned towards the horizon, facing the darkening sky as the sun disappeared behind him in the west, casting everything in a faint, pinkish glow that grew increasingly dimmer. The adrenalin pumped through his veins as his heart pounded hard and fast as if it were trying to break through his chest. He ran with all the speed he could muster and prayed that he wouldn’t set off any landmines.

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