Chapter 1

… your right hand.  The thought hangs for a mere second before fading into nothingness.

A man awakens in the dark.  He feels the pulse in his head throbbing in tempo, like the swaying pendulum of a clock, and he rubs his temples for relief.  A loud deep breath, followed by a measured exhale, relaxes the muscles in his face; and leaves a mild tingling sensation coursing through his fingertips.  At that precise moment, he feels the damp ground against his back.  He starts to sit up, quickly realizing every muscle in his body is stiff and achy like those of an arthritic man.  His eyes dart left to right, confirming he is in complete darkness.  He bolts upright, smacking his forehead against a hard surface.  Falling back stunned, he gently touches the now-open wound discovering a small stream of blood slowly trickling down the side of his face. A thought clamors into his consciousness. Where am I?

Falling back to the ground, he reaches up to discover what his head hit.  A mere hand-length away from his face, he finds a smooth, solid surface.  With both hands, he feels around frantically and finds himself in a small, coffin-like hollow with little room to spare.  He frantically claws at the walls, which seem to be closing in around him before he finds a soft, sponge-like surface just behind the top of his head.

He knifes his hand through the membrane without thinking beyond escaping his immediate fear.  A light breeze brushes against the fingers exposed to the unknown on the other side.  He snaps his hand back, leaving a hole for outside air to rush into his stale, earthly tomb.  As the cool air rushes in, his senses heighten. He contorts his body, craning his neck to look through the hand-sized hole he created.  Seeing a soft green glow coming from the other side creates a sense of peace which washes over him. A slight smile forms as all his muscles gradually relax.

He reaches up again, and grabbing a handful of the permeable substance, cautiously tears the soft covering away.

Using nothing but his arms and every ounce of energy left in his body, he painstakingly manages to pull himself slowly through the fresh opening.

Once on the other side, a vast tunnel stretches out before him, dimly lit by patches of fluorescent green moss.  The walls of his crypt are as smooth as the water on a lake, but transition into a rough textured surface a few footsteps away.  He sees only one way out of this eerie catacomb.

What is this place?

While the aches and pains of his body are subsiding, his head continues to throb with each breath of cool air.  Popping and creaking from his joints seems to echo throughout the narrowing hallway before him. The aching subsides as he leans against the surrounding walls to catch his balance.

How did I get here?

Looking down at his body, he realizes he is completely naked, further adding to his confusion.  He is embarrassed, but unsure why.

Where are my clothes?

He steadily makes his way down the tunnel, maintaining his balance by pressing his hands against the walls.  The tunnel is just tall enough for him to stand upright, and just wide enough that he can touch each wall with arms fully extended.  Thick dust covers the stone floor.

An eerie feeling sends a shiver down his spine, but he pushes it back and continues down the tunnel, brushing cobwebs away from his face.

Where am I?

A thought stops him mid stride.  Who am I?

He has no memory of a time before he awoke in the earthly coffin.  Trepidation washes over him, paralyzing him for a moment.  Then he wills himself forward.

I must keep moving.

After a sharp turn in the tunnel, the man arrives at a steep ledge.  The passage continues both left and right, but only after a leap down and over a bottomless chasm.  Each choice gives room to land safely, but each side drops down as far as the gap itself.  The leap is easy in either direction; however once made, there is no coming back.  On the floor to the left, carved into the stone, is a circular symbol with a triangle etched into the center.  On the right side is a similar circle, but this one is a mirror opposite of the first, the relief, carved from the stone with the triangle raised.  This is the first sign of any intelligent life he has seen, and for some reason it puts his mind at ease.  Looking in both directions, trying to determine which way to go, the man feels a gentle breeze of fresh, cool air coming from the left side of the ledge.  Staring intently in that direction, he decides that the light is slightly stronger in that direction, than to the right.

He takes a step back then hurls himself forward into the air, and his natural instincts take over.  Instead of bracing himself for the impact, he tucks his left arm under his body just before colliding with the ground, and in a controlled roll, springs back to his feet, his balance regained.  Walking back to where he landed, he peers into the dark abyss and then back up to the ledge, seeing that the leap was much further than he thought.

Each step brings him closer to a warmer, heavier air.  The passage ahead is noticeably brighter, and the man slows his walk to make as little noise as possible.  He creeps up to the corner of a sharp right turn, glances around the edge and sees an open cavern with large patches of florescent moss lighting the area.  Near the entrance is a pool of water with wisps of steam rising above its surface before vanishing.  The air is humid with the slightest hint of sweetness filling his lungs as he breathes in.  A gentle and calming flow of water echoes throughout the cavern, it is the first time he has noticed any sounds of nature.  A hint of movement draws his attention to the pool.  He fixates on it, mesmerized by the gentle ripples, created by an unseen source.  Without warning, his body starts to ache again, and he can feel the dirt clinging to his body, almost as if it is weighing him down.  He steps into the warm pool and a sense of calmness sets in.

The water feels soothing on his dry and dirty skin.  He soaks for a few minutes before dipping his head under the water, enjoying a sense of weightlessness, suspended just beneath the surface.  Upon emerging he purges what breath he has left before inhaling deeply, refilling his lungs with fresh oxygen.  As his eyes refocus, some odd shapes lying on the ground grab his attention.  Leaving the pool, he walks over to investigate.

A set of dust-covered clothes, a mix of black plate and chain mail armor, a shield and a sword are lying on the ground.  He shakes the dust from the pants and holds them up to his body, followed by the shirt.  Both are a perfect fit.  The armor, obviously the work of a grand master smith, is remarkably light, but something about the feel of the metal tells him that it is also exceptionally strong.  He puts on each piece of gear, discovering every item fits as if made for him and him alone.

Who am I?

He picks up the shield in his left hand, noting its perfect weight and balance, but lacking any type of crest or emblem.  The shape of the shield is unusual, while mostly round, there are four, evenly spaced cutouts along the edge. Each gap is bracketed by a crescent curve, coming to a point, which serves as a weapon in its own right.

The blade is a long, one-handed sword; its black blade appears to be made of the same materials as the rest of this equipment, but is much lighter than expected.  Lifting the blade in his right hand, he slashes it through the air to determine its balance before smashing it against the front of the shield.  There is a loud clang when the two objects come together, but neither shows a blemish.  The shield appears to be stronger than he originally thought, its craftsmanship second to none.  These pieces would have cost the buyer a fortune, yet they are sitting in the center of this abandoned, dusty cavern.

Once fully equipped, the man spots a cloak on the ground near the exit of the chamber with a small mound of spectacular gem stones and two, elegant yet simple medallions flanking it.  While the gems are valuable, it’s the medallions that capture his attention.  The first is small and polished, half the size of his thumb and attached to a simple, woven string chain.  Each side has the same triangular symbols etched into the metal as the ones he saw carved into the stone back at the ledge.  The other is more intricate, with a swirling black and white symbol painted on the front, and on the back, another triangular engraving.  Uncertain why, he slips both medallions over his head without any further thought before scooping up the gems.  Finally, he shakes the dust from the cloak before placing the black garment over his shoulders.  One final piece of armor lies on the floor, a brightly polished, black metal helmet.  The only distinctive quality of this armor, is the fact that there is nothing distinctive about any individual piece.  Each piece could be worn by anyone without notice, only when used altogether does the armor stand out.

As he places the helmet on his head a thought leaps into his mind.

Marcus. 

He pauses, knowing without a doubt, this is his name.  Nothing else comes to him though, only the name.

A name alone does not matter, nothing else has changed and staying where he is will not help the situation.

Keep moving forward.

A short while later, Marcus exits the tunnel and staggers into a raging blizzard.  The howling storm winds are deafening, the air is sharp and cold, wind-driven snow pellets bounce off his armor. 

He tightens the cloak about his waist, lifts the hood over his head and marches out into the icy wasteland.

RJ Brousseau