He awoke to screaming. Which was also the last thing he could remember hearing before he didn’t remember anymore. These were different than those though. Those were the sound of men screaming as their lives slipped away. These sounded more like the terrified screams of those who now wished they were dead.
The thought struck a chord with him, though he couldn't quite place why. His head was foggy, a part of him kept insisting this was just a strange dream. He pushed the the nagging thoughts aside and tried to move. He couldn't. Something was weighing him down, holding back his feeble attempts to stand as well as choking out whatever light there may have been. He laid there listening to the screaming for a long while. Long enough for the screams to blend together into one neverending monotone. Long enough for him to join them. His scream was wet and strangled. He tried to draw in breath but found he couldn't, whatever was on top of him was squeezing his chest. As strange as it was that he hadn't noticed until now, it still sent him into a panicked coughing fit. He started thrashing violently, desperately gasping for air that wouldn't come. He couldn't budge the darkness swelling around him, which only pushed him deeper into a frenzy. Thick spittle flew from his lips, he clawed at the darkness, savagely trying to dig his way out. This went on and on, with no reference of time he quickly lost track of how long he'd been trapped. A muffled voice cut through his hysteria causing him to stop suddenly, the voice was barely audible and coming from above him.
"Ey! Stop thrashing before you break yourself. I'm coming." The voice said, growing closer with each word. It came from above, he could feel the weight shift as someone walked above him.
Something shifted above him, dissipating the pressure enough so he could wiggle slightly in his small cavity. What was the man above him using to dig? what was he buried in? It wasn't dirt, he was sure of that. Another chunk of pressure was moved aside, then another. He was able to squeeze his hands up to touch his face, though something felt odd. His face was stiff. His fingers were numb. In fact, his whole body felt dull. Cold. Like he was somehow disconnected from it. Just then the man above him grunted and something shifted, causing tiny slivers of light to appear. He ravenously took in his surroundings - crumpled faces stared back at him, gnarled hands piled atop skeletons piled atop crinkled flesh. He was buried in bodies.
Trying desperately to make sense of what was going on, he became far more confused than he was scared. He couldn't remember how he'd gotten here, or who these men were, or even who he was. A lance of ice cold shock shot straight through him. Who was he? How could he forget that? He didn't have time to dwell on it, as the man above hoisted the last body off of him. He looked up at a pale grey sky choked with thick overcast. A man stood above him, a darker silhouette outlined in ash colored clouds. He wore a tattered cloak draped over his misshapen body. The man reached up with his single arm and pulled back a hood to reveal a face of stitched pallid flesh. It was almost as if it didn't quite fit, drooping in some spots like a macabre mask. He crouched and smiled, flashing a mouthful of splintered teeth and swollen black gums. "Don'tcha worry don'tcha worry. Keep your eyes on me. Don'tcha look at this corpse heap you've been in, and don'tcha look down..." the voice came out as a harsh whisper, like air being forced through a wet cave. "My name is Sil Miller. Well, guess I ain't a miller no more... Do you remember who you are?"
The half buried man tried to speak but only a strangled gurgle escaped his lipless mouth. He shook his head slowly, a panicked look creeping into his eyes. "That's okay. It'll come to you soon enough." He leaned forward and tapped the rusted gorget worn by the nameless man. "That's the three skulls of Gravenreap... Are you a Reaper?" The half buried man stared intently at the sky for a moment before looking back at Sil with a profound look of worry fused with confusion. Sil patted the man's shoulder and locked eyes with him. "You're about to see some very... unsettling things. Things that won't make sense to you. But you have to remember to remain calm." A sharp clacking noise rang out as Sil tapped a boney finger to his head. "Keep it all together 'else you'll end up dead. Again."
Something in the distance caught Sil's attention. He shambled to the edge of the hole. It was deep enough for him to comfortably hide within it and peer out. "Shit. Disciples. There's a few of them out there, just stay quiet and they should move on." In a moment of distraction the nameless man glanced down, then immediately recoiled in horror when he saw his chest was a bloated mess of putrid flesh. He started clawing at it, acting more on instinct than on thought as he tried to remove the rot from his body. After a moment he found the rusted links of his chainmail shirt beneath the rotted gunk, his flesh having expanded through it. Vision swimming, he realized he'd started screaming again but he didnt know how long he'd been doing so. Sil hopped back down into the pit to try to get him to be quiet, but the nameless man had already found the waistline edge of his chain shirt and started tearing it off up over his head - ripping off most of his chest with it like a grotesque cheese grater. Beneath the chainmail was no improvement. Worms, centipedes, and other parasites fled deeper into the mass of long-putrefied organs that hung limply within his exposed ribcage. He screamed again, spraying flecks of black fluid onto Sil. "Stop screaming before you get us killed!" Sil whispered while moving aside another decomposed corpse. The screaming was cut short by a violent coughing fit. Something was lodged in his windpipe. He reached into his mouth with a mostly-skeletal hand and grasped something at the back of his throat. With another cough he wrenched the obstruction free; It was a congealed knot of... something. Tossing it aside he found himself suddenly able to speak. "Get me out of here." He whispered.
"Oh good. You've found your voice. Now use it to shut the fuck up." Sil grunted while heaving another corpse up out of the pit. That was it, with that last bit of weight removed the nameless man managed to wriggle his hips free and pull himself up into the pit. He stood on shaky legs and peered over the side. They were near the center of a massive swathe of piled corpses. He looked back down at the maggot infested hole that had somehow been both his tomb and womb, marvelling that Sil had even noticed him. As if on cue, he saw movement from the corner of his eye. Three hunched figures clambered over the uneven sprawl in the distance. One of them wore a Reaper's skullplate helm.
"Who are they?" Asked the nameless man.
"Call themselves Disciples. Reapers from the old world. They want nothing more than to see us all dead; I've seen them slaughter men and women alike." Said Sil.
"Show me a man who will slay the innocent and I'll show you a man who truly believes in his cause." Said the nameless man. The words echoed in his head. They had come to him unbidden, yet he spoke them with practiced ease. Were they his words? Words of someone he respected? He couldn't be sure.
The trio of Disciples ducked behind an embankment of twisted skeletons and were lost from sight. A thought struck the nameless man, he turned and dropped back into the hole he'd crawled out of and started digging through the layered decay for anything that may belong to him. He found an severely dilapidated satchel that crumbled apart as he pulled it up. Inside was a tarnished silver medallion about the size of his palm. Embossed onto it was the profile of a Lynx perched atop a banner and brandishing a sword. "What's that?" Asked Sil, now leaning over to eye the medallion. The nameless man shrugged and ran his thumb over the design, revealing words etched into the banner. He wiped the grime away until they were fully uncovered.
By Decree of Sheriff-Protector Maric Callen, Rightful Bryn of Kirrand, Earl of Bryvel and Mernia
Roth Kyervich is granted knighthood for his valour in the Battle of Ceswican 893 ABA
Sheriff-Protector Maric Callen requests and requires in the name of Antou that this person be treated legally and courteously as a noble of the Brynnan of Kirrand and afforded all pleasantries as befitting his title.
Sheriff-Protector Maric Callen, 893 ABA
"Is that your name? Roth?" Asked Sil. The nameless man shook his head slowly, eyes never leaving the silver medal. "I'm not sure... It must be? Why else would I have this." Roth stared at the amulet a long while. Unable to tear his eyes away. Unable to push away the sinking feeling that crept into his thoughts. Sil placed a hand on Roth's shoulder and shook gently. "Not everyone remembers everything from before... Some don't even know their names. Keep your mind sharp and ignore the whispers. You'll be fine."
Roth tucked the medal beneath his gorget. "The Whispers?"
"I know you've heard them. They linger at the edge of your thoughts, always eager to remind you of what you're not. Or of what you lost. Those men-" Sil nodded towards where the Disciples had been. "-started listening. I've seen more than a few of us succumb to it.... It's not pretty Roth. Our minds are all we really have left."
The pair remained quiet for a long moment before Sil broke the silence. "We need to keep moving. Those Disciples have certainly moved on by now. And we have a long way to go." Roth simply nodded and rose unsteadily to his feet. They crawled out of the hole and began picking their way across the flesh middens, too preoccupied with finding their way through the looming corpse piles to notice the trail they left behind... or the ones who followed it.