Chapter 1: Awakening

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Skeletal hands reached into the darkness to take firm hold of my trembling arms and, with surprising strength, they pulled me free of the ruins of my casket.  Still dressed in the dark suit I had been buried in, my dress shoe-equipped feet kicked at the dirt to try to find purchase as those hands pulled me around to stand on the naked dirt heaped on the bottom of my still partially buried coffin.

Finally settled, I looked at my two saviours.  And gave a start when I found myself looking at two skeletons, dried pieces of skin and hair clinging to the odd bone, tattered clothing drapped haphazardly over what could only be their bodies, though they didn't resemble any living creature I knew.

"Zombies??"  I whispered hoarsely, feeling the panic begin to rise again even as the two creatures aimed rotted tooth leers at me, their empty eye sockets dancing with strange blue-green light.  That same light danced over the dirty, yellowed bones of their empty ribcages and spines, giving them a strange sort of substance.

"Ghouls, actually."  The voice corrected from its place on the edge of the partially dug out grave, the claw marks in the fresh dirt easy to match with the bone creatures' dirty, skeletal paws.

The voice's return was enough to pull my attention around.

The creature that was perched on the edge of the ragged hole in the ground that once was my grave was different than the raggedy things that had pulled me from my casket.  But not by much; with skin dry and stretched parchment thin over fleshless bone, a rictus grin and empty sockets, the voice's owner didn't appear to have much more substance than the ghouls.  Yet I could feel its greater strength and power, as if it somehow had more existence.

As if acknowledging that, the mummified thing was actually dressed in real clothes, albeit dusty and worn, a burial suit almost exactly like the one I was still wearing.  It flashed me that grin with a dry laugh as it caught me looking at its clothes.

"Aren't we fashionable, Max."  It deadpanned before reaching behind it to grab what looked like a backpack which it smoothly tossed to me.

"But outside the graveyard, it also calls attention.  So if you would be so kind as to change into the clothing there, in the backpack, I would certainly appreciate it."

Trying to calm my pounding heart, I dragged my eyes off the mummified creature to pull open the bag to find an all too familiar set of military fatigues inside.

"You remember how to put those on, don't you, soldier?"  The grinning creature said with a quiet laugh, the two ghouls beside me chittering along with him in undisguised amusement.  Which I would've thought impossible, as they didn't have anything beyond their jaw bones with which to make a voice with, little yet laughter.

"Stop tormenting the man, lich."  A deep, sonorous voice boomed and immediately the creature in the dusty suit cowered, fear emanating from it in waves.

"And get him out of that hole!"

"At once, Tate."  The creature said with a hasty bow before turning back to me and my ghoulish escort.  "You heard him.  Get Max out of that hole, boys."

Taking hold of me with those nothing but bone hands, which, when they brushed against unprotecting skin, bore a strange warmth, the ghouls quickly frog marched me out of the ragged hole my grave had become.  And once out and precariously balanced on the edge of my former location, I clutched the backpack to my chest and looked around with me with not a little fear and apprehension.

As the lich had commented, I indeed stood in a graveyard.  But, beyond the odd weathered stone marker, it didn't resemble the graveyard I had been buried in.  Which immediately brought my attention to the matter at hand.

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