Waking before sunrise, Mala had her camp broken down and her horse prepped by the first rays of light. She felt a sense of urgency that she hadn’t experienced in years and rode like the gates of hell had opened up behind her. Though she had now ridden into places she’d only heard whisperings about, she knew where she was headed.
Early the next day, Mala guided Dawn at a brisk walk down the sunlit path through the forest. Her armor weighed on her, but it was a short ride to the next town. Once, far to the north and west, she’d fought alongside warriors who’d worn little more than a loincloth into battle. Their offensive strength had impressed her but she preferred the weight of the plate on her chest and the reassurance of the padding that had saved her from the monster’s blade. She’d picked up a few tricks, though, and thinking about that she reached for the haft of her new axe. It hummed under her hand. She would have to be careful. Weapons like these could consume a person if used too much. She’d witnessed that first hand, and it was a bitter memory.
It was the jingling of metal that caught Mala’s attention. It was soft, almost unnoticeable, and accompanied by an uneven set of shuffling footsteps. The knight turned towards the sound as a creature lumbered around an ancient oak tree. Once, it had been a man, but his soul had long ago fled. All that remained was brittle, dry skin and patches of exposed bone. Its eyes glowed eerily green as it focused on her. She drew her sword from her back and clasped the hilt in both hands, steeling herself against the fear that ran up her spine. Lifting her weapon and holding it at her shoulder with the point towards the shambling corpse, she readied herself. The creature rushed forward. One strike and the body collapsed into dust, the head bouncing off and into the murky water along the edge of the bog.