It was a dark and dreary morning. Dark clouds covered the sky, and thunder could be heard in the distance. Outside, everyone was preparing for the coming storm, seeking shelter and bringing cattle into barns; barring doors and windows shut and hiding inside. Storms were the worst.
"Thom, go help your father, please.",
"Don't forget your cap and goggles, in case it begins to rain before you're done."
Thom simply nodded to his mother as she handed him his gear. When the rain fell, the Dimble Forest would spread spores that could turn any living thing insane. He wonder what the forest'd looked like before the Undead Purge ran amock, long before he was born.
Thom got a kiss on his cheeck from his mother, turning him red as a beet. He quickly scurried outside to help his father, who was struggling to get their mule inside the barn. Thom found it funny how the saying 'As stubborn as a mule' was so fit for the situation.
"Let me help you, Da.", Thom happily said as he walked towards his father.
"Thanks, Sprout.", his father said as he ruffled his son's hair, "This 'ere beasty's quite the fighter. She don't want to go back into the barn.",
"I noticed, Pa. You just have to scratch her behind the ear, like so."
Thom scratched the mule behind her ear, and received a lick as a form of affection. Thom laughed and helped his father get her into the barn. When they closed the windows and door of the barn, rain began to slowly fall.
"We'd best hurry, Sprout. Soon it'll be worse."
Thom nodded, and they both ran back home where a warm cup of tea was waiting for them. Taking off their coats and accesories and taking their seats, they waited for the storm to worsen. Outside, the footsteps of Defenders patrolling the town could be heard.
"I don't envy them.", Pa said with a sullen look on his face, "Storms like this is when I fear for them the most. If their gear has only the smallest of defect." Pa cut off, his voice hanging and tears welling up in his eyes. His wife gave him a hug.
"We know, hun. Your brother was a great man, and his death unfortunate."
Thom could not bear to see his father like this, and decided to go to his room to get his mind off his uncle's death. He was four years old, but it's almost as if it was yesterday.
"Thirteen years ago, uncle. The day before my fifth.. It's not fair.". He could not fight back the tears, and broke down on his bed.
Thom woke up to a lot of ruckus outside; shouting, screaming and yelling echoed through the streets. His father came storming through the door, clothed in his Defender attire.
"The Undead, Sprout! They've come! Get dressed, quickly! I'll get a bag for your belongings."
Thom shook his head in confusion. The Undead are here?, he thought as he processed what his father said to him. His mother came into the room next, pale as the moon, her eyes struck with fear, hands shaking. She walked towards Thom, but collapsed halfway, her body twitching uncontrollably and then suddenly stopping.
"Mom..?", Thom said as he slowly and carefully walked towards his mother's still body. He bent down on one knee, softly touching his mother's shoulder, but there was no reaction. He next went for the neck, trying to feel if there was a pulse, but there was none.
Out of nowhere, a rasp for breath escaped from her body. Thom jumped back and grabbed the candle-stand from the small table next to his bed. Slowly, his mother's body started rising.
"No. Mother, NO!", Thom screamed and begged as he looked into the eyes of what was once his mother. Empty, white husks where there were once beautiful sky-blue eyes. She looked at him, no emotion, only small grunts and rasps, as if she tried to breathe.
She lunged, Thom screamed and jumped to the side, his now Undead mother crashing into the wall, bones audibly breaking from the impact. Thom's father came storming into the room, an empty bag in his one hand, a small dirk in the other.
"What's going on?!" he asked as he looked around the room franticaly. His eyes first fell upon his son, who was shaking, fear in his eyes and wielding the candle-stand. His eyes fell upon his wife. His facial expression changed into one of fear, then sadness, and then anger.
He sheathed his dirk, dropped the bag, and unsheathed his sword and pulled a shield from his back.
"I'm sorry, Eleanor, my love. I'm sorry this happened to you, but I will set you free!"
He charged, and so did his wife. Undead clashed against shield, sword cut air; a deadly dance had begun. Thom sneaked towards to doorway of his room to escape the fight but was brought down by his mother landing on top of him. He lay with his back on the floor, staring directly at his mother's face. She screamed, and briefly had a look of pain upon her face, but instead of focussing on the sword that was thrust through her abdomen, she was still fixated on her son.
Another thrust, and another scream followed. "Get off of him!", Thom's father shouted. But his mother did not budge. Instead, she raised her hand, now more like a claw, and lashed out. Thom's father quickly pulled her away, but too late. She left scratches on Thom's face, three narrow ones across his right eye.
Thom screamed out of pain, jolting upright, covering the wound with his hands. He briefly looked at the struggle before him: His mother was thrown on the ground, her feet swept from under her by a swift movement from his father. Then came the sword, plunging through his mother's face, finished with an upward cut through the skull. The body twitched for a second, and then stilled. Thom's father had won, but at a price.
Where there was once chainmail, was now a bitemark. Thom's father looked at it and chuckled. "So, this is how it ends?"
Thom quickly rushed to his father's aid, only to be stopped by the gesture of a held up hand. "It's alright, my boy. The wound is not fatal. Not immediately, at least. If the old stories are true, I will turn into one of them. I won't let that happen, of course.", Thom's father sighed. "Sprout, you must be brave. You must escape the woods. I have prepared some things for you. They are on the living-room table. A map of the local area, a book containing the medicinal secrets of this village. You know them, right? How we extract material from the Undead to create the most potent medicine the world has ever seen?"
Thom nodded, still in disbelief of what had just happened. He glanced at his mother's still and mutilated corpse, tears welling up in his eyes. Thom's father walked over to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Your mother had a weak heart, Sprout. She probably died of a heart-failure."
Thom hugged his father, no longer able to fight back the tears and sadness. "I don't want you to go too, Da! I can't lose you both! I don't want to lose you both!"
"Thomas Daem Denter, my boy, my pride, my Sprout." His father said with a pained rasp and a soft crackle in his voice, "You must live. Others have gathered at the west-gate, it is still safe there. Gather your belongings, and the items on the living-room table, and take these." His father held out his sword and shield. "These are for you, to keep you extra safe. I know I have not trained you in their use, and I regret that now, but I know you've been practicing with sticks for some time now. Watch, decide, swing. Now go, before it's too late."
Thom took the sword and shield, equiped them properly and quickly gathered his belongings from the room. Before leaving, he glanced at his father, who gave him one last smile before pulling his dirk. "I love you, my boy.", he said before embedding the dirk in his skull.
Thom ran, crying; crawling through the streets, avoiding conflict wherever he could. When the west gate was in sight, he picked up speed. Guards quickly opened their makeshift barricade to let him in. Once inside, he reported to the guard-commander present.
"Thomas! It's good to see you alive. But, where are your parents?", Tears still fresh in his eyes made it clear to the guard-commander. "I see. I'm sorry, boy."
Thom shook his head. "It's not your fault, Ser. My mother died from a heart-failure, and rose back. Father was just in time to save me, but.. he got bit."
"He will forever be remembered. Your father is -was, a great man, like his brother before him."
Thom nodded, and a small smile creeped up on his face. "Is there somewhere I can rest, Ser? I'm very tired."
The guard-commander nodded. "I can guess that. There, in the stables, is where other survivors are holed up. You can go and join them. There's water and bread, so get your strength back"
No sooner had the guard-commander spoken those words when one of the Defenders came flying over them. Both the guard-commander and Thom looked in awe as the screaming man came to a halt, and an end, crashing into the city-wall. His body landing with a loud thump, grossly twisted and broken. A rumbling sound in the distance became present.
"We've got a Horde incoming! Evacuate, NOW!", the guard-commander bellowed the command and joined his men at the barricades. "Jonner, Esther, Marck and Tonn, get the civilians out of here, get them to the outpost! As long as they haven't fired a flare, it's safer there than here. Go, quickly!"
Horses were readied, villagers were led in a neat line with the four appointed guards keeping them in check; almost like driving cattle. The gates opened and everyone moved. Once outside, a headcount was done.
"How many we got, Marck?",
"Twenty-seven, including babes and excluding us, Jonner",
"Good. Get them neatly in line and join me on the front. Esther, Tonn, I want you in the back. Shout out if any of the Undead come sneaking up on us."
Jonner rode to the front of the group, everyone eyed him nervously. "Those of you who know how to fight, be it stabbing things with a pitchfork, grab a weapon for your own safety. But never forget we are a group. We are the remainder of Rottet, probably both the bravest and stupidest village in the Kingdom of Saluta.
"We have all been through much, but the end is not yet in sight. Stick together, watch out for eachother, and most important of all: Don't die. We march!"
The march was a long one. The path winding through humongous mushrooms, once trees; Things that looked like sea-anemones, once bushes. Other things were unrecognisable, like some of the mutated wildlife. You couldn't tell what used to be a deer, a bear or a rabbit. There were disgusting, half-rotten, six-legged creatures with the face of an eagle but the ears of a fox, that fed off the 'bushes'. Other creaturs were large, near two meters tall. Even the insects seemed to have mutated. They all had one thing in common: They were docile creatures, fearing the group more than the group did them, as if their animal-instincts had never left them.
Suddenly the group halted, eyes raised towards the sky. "I could sweat I saw something of a flare.", Esther said, doubt in her voice. "Should we march on, or would you have one of us scout ahead, Jonner?"
Jonner crossed his arms and furrowed his brow, thinking. "Marck, ride ahead. We will march on, but carefully." Marck rode off and the group continued on.
What seemed like hours had passed. Marck still had not returned, and the other Defenders had not expected him to come back so soon at all. The group became weary, but was not granted a moment of rest. Some undead were encountered, but dispatched with ease, without casualties.
"Mama!", the shout came from the centre of the group and a crowd gather quickly, dissipating almost as fast. There, where the crowd had gathered lay a woman, a gaze Thom knew too good. She was dead, and turning.
Without hesitation, Thom walked towards the woman and unsheathed his sword. He knew what must be done, but was stopped in his tracks by Esther.
"Don't, boy. This is not for you to do." Thom stared at her, looked at the woman, dead on the ground, then at the small girl, crying and shouting for her mother to come back. The girl was being held by a man, fear and sadness in his eyes, while trying to soothe at the same time.
Jorren stepped off his horse and walked towards the man. "Turn her away. She will not want to see this.", he then brandished his sword and walked towards the woman, who was now slowly stirring, in the process of being turned into an Undead.
"I'm sorry.", Jorren said. "I hope you find peace, wherever the souls of the dead may go."
One swift strike was all it took. The head went rolling down the shallow hill as Jorren picked up the corpse, placing it behind a 'tree', so the little girl could not see it. He said a small prayer and re-aligned some small stones in a circular pattern before heading back to the group.
"We must press on.", he exclaimed. "We are as safe here as anywhere else in this damnable forest. Once we reach the outpost we'll be safe."
Thom could swear he saw Jorren mutter, I hope, under his breath, but he was not sure. Nonetheless they moved on, and he got back in line.
It wasn't long before Marck returned, his face stern and serious. "Jorren! The outpost is safe, though barely. Undead nearly overtook it, hence the flare."
"What made them win?", Jorren asked with a look of wonder on his face. Marck shrugged. "I don't know. I came back here as quickly as I could that it was safe."
"Then we press on, it is close now."
It was close indeed, hardly a kilometer away, but the group took ages. More people were lost, dying from exhaustion, left by the road because they could no longer move or by abandoning everything and taking fate into their own hands. They were with only sixteen now when they arrived at the outpost. The captain present greeted them all with warmth and offered them food and drink and beds to sleep in.
Many immediately went to eat in the cantina-building, others sought out a bed and took a nap in the barracks. Thom was neither hungry nor tired, the thought of his parents on his mind, keeping him restless. He instead sat in a corner, reading the book his father gave him, flipping through the pages to learn anything valuable.
Vextongue Potion, it said on the first page after the contents, A poison classified as a potion. It can turn a living creature mute, but makes the Undead scream even louder. Adminstering the potion is tricky, but achievable with the right determination and strategy.
Duration: two hours
"Interesting", Thom muttered as he continued reading.
Ingredients: Rotgrass, 1 Decaybloom, Ounce of Chalk, 250ml of water
Preparation: Pour the water into a container, such as a vial, and add the Decaybloom. Let the water take up the flower, giving it an orange colour. Add the chalk and some Rotgrass. The more Rotgrass, the more potent the potion. Be aware though: An overdose can kill the living, and mutate the Undead.
"But how do I know if it's an overdose or not?", Thom cussed under his breath.
Someone sat besides him. It was Esther. "Nice looking book you got there. What's it about?"
Thom doubted if it was wise to tell Esther what the book was about. He had no idea who did know of the medicinal secrets and who didn't. Smiling, he said. "Oh, nothing important. Just research from my father."
"What's the research about?", Esther asked while bending over to look into the book.
Thom quickly closed the book and put it back in his bag. Esther scowled at him with a look that said You're hidding something. She stood up and walked off.
"You know, ", she suddenly said. "If you're trying to hide the Medi Formu, or as we Defenders call it, The Medicinal Handbook for Dummies, be my guest. Everyone of age knows what it is."
"I'm sorry." Thom said, rising to his feet. "I had no idea you knew what the book was. I was just being cautios."
"Oh, I know, boy. Just let me tell you this: Hide that book really good. If it falls into the wrong hands, bad things can happen." And she walked away, into the cantina-building. Thom sat down again, grabbed the book and resumed his reading.