Prologue

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1780:                                      

            The plan was simple enough. Get his pursuer up past the tree line; then ambush him.

When he looked back at the events of the last couple months, he still had a hard time imagining this is how it would turn out. The forced alliance he found himself in was strange enough, but the fact that this person, if you could call him that, was stronger than himself was what really scared him. For the first time in his life, he was faced with someone he couldn’t physically defeat, but he was faster; and he hoped smarter. So he ran. The small trail he was following up the mountainside was narrow. Branches slapped at his face and arms and tore his shirt. The nighttime dew soaked through his clothes as he pushed through the thickets; he didn’t notice. Up ahead, he knew help was waiting and it was his job to lure his pursuer into the trap.

He paused for a moment to get his bearings; he couldn’t be that far from the tree line. How far has he been running? Five miles, ten? It didn’t matter, as long as the man chasing him was still far enough behind to be safe but close enough not to lose him in the thick forest. He stopped for a moment and hid behind a large tree on the side of the trail. Listening closely for the sounds of approaching footsteps, or even the minute snapping of twigs and crunching leaves, he thought about how this all began. He reflected on the people waiting for him just beyond the tree line and the misunderstandings that started the foolish rivalry with them. Mistakes on both sides had drawn the attention of the monster they now had to destroy.

Slowly he risked moving closer to the path, the rough bark of the tree caught a frayed piece of his shirt and started to tear a strip off. Wincing at the sound he stopped and carefully pulled the fabric off the tree. He got lucky. The only sounds in the forest were leaves rustling in the breeze and an occasional hoot from an owl or some other animal making their nighttime rounds. Then he heard soft footsteps running through trees and brittle pine spills and getting closer. Knowing he should run before the man got too close for him to get away he risked another peek around the tree. A shadowy figure appeared around a bend in the path and slowed down to a jog just below his hiding spot next to the trail, then stopped. The figure bent down and looked carefully at the ground, then slowly looked up and held still, listening for any sounds. Knowing he was risking being caught by letting the figure get this close he watched and wondered how the man could see so well in the dark, or even how the man knew what to look for while tracking him.

 He knew who the shadowy figure was and where he came from, a man from the towns far south of here who shouldn’t know a thing about the country or forests. The man had fled Connecticut when the British burned his town, probably hoping to avoid the war. When the man arrived, he was new to this part of the country and to the way of life required to live here. The man had to hire help to so much as plant a seed in the ground, and he had certainly never been seen stepping into the woods. Yet here he was, tracking someone who had spent years living in the woods hunting and the fields farming, honing his own skills to avoid detection, blending into what was the way of life for most people who lived in the forests and farmlands of New England.

Watching the shadowy figure look around he snapped out of his daze and remembered he was too close for comfort. He could hear the man breathing deeply and could almost make out his features in the dark, not good. To run with his pursuer so close would almost certainly lead to getting caught before he could get to the tree line. The man stood up and started slowly walking towards his hiding spot as if he knew exactly where he was watching from behind the tree, and for a moment it looked as if the chase was over. Twenty feet, fifteen, the man moved with such purpose that he felt for sure he was spotted. He gripped the tree harder and felt his fingernails dig into the bark as he silently cursed himself for his mistake. Then a stroke of luck!

For a few agonizing moments the only sound was the wind blowing gently through the trees and the slow approaching footsteps of the figure; then suddenly an animal took off running just beside the trail above them. The man quickly looked to the sound and at that moment he took his chance to get away. It was only half a second before the man’s head swung back to see him running away but it was half a second enough. Running as fast as he ever had, ducking branches and jumping rocks and roots, hoping against hope he was putting enough distance between himself and his pursuer to get him into the open, into the trap.

Suddenly there it was, the trees around him were starting to thin and he could see it, the break in the tree line! A feeling of relief washed over him as he realized he was going to make it. The sounds of his pursuer were still behind him and getting closer, but not close enough to catch him. All he needed was just a few more seconds and he would be…

All thoughts were cut off instantly when a white hot pain erupted in his leg sending him crashing to the ground. The world around him became nothing but a blurred and spinning mess of dirt and rocks until he came to a sudden stop, crashing into one of the last large trees just a few yards before the sky opened up to stars. Wincing with pain he looked down to see an arrow sticking through his leg, the shaft was some sort of metal and warm to the touch when he grabbed it. Giving the shaft a painful tug he tried to pull it out of his leg but the arrowhead held it in place. It had shot right into the bone and lodged in place. Cursing he tried to force himself onto his good leg when the sudden impact of another arrow slammed through his shoulder, pinning him painfully to the tree.

A second later the man was standing over him as calmly as a man who was out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. With only the light from the moon and stars as help he couldn’t make out the man’s features clearly, only the shape of him as he leaned in and the slight gleam off his teeth as he smiled at him pinned helplessly to the tree. Then the man’s hand clamped around his neck, cold and impossibly strong. The man lifted him off the ground, the arrow in his shoulder sending more pain through his body as it held firm in the tree and he was pulled along its shaft.

“What… are…?”

His words were cut off by a searing pain in his chest. Using all the strength he had left he managed to look down enough to see the gleam off a long blade as it sunk into his chest and through his heart. The world around him started to fade and all he knew at that moment was darkness and pain. The last thing he saw before the world faded away forever was the blade being pulled out so fast it seemed to vanish from his chest and disappear in the dark; then two bright yellow spots of light appearing in the center of the man’s eyes just before the quick flash of metal as his blade swung down for the final time.

Then silence.

The Last of the Twenty: The Setting of the BoardWhere stories live. Discover now