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Being the son of a blacksmith offers unique insight into what’s going on in the world. Throughout the years that I have apprenticed for my father, I’ve seen countless men and women march to war. This time, things are different. The blind optimism of young boys and girls who think they’re heading off to a destiny and glory has been replaced with the look of impending doom. I can’t say I blame them. As one of the last places of refuge before entering the darkness enveloping our lands, we don’t do a lot of repeat business.
Our last customer picked up several bags of metal spikes, more commonly known as caltrops. These little steel gems leave a nasty impression on the feet of anyone who treads on them. The purchase was made by a young hunter who defied the usual marks of a new adventurer. She gave my father the cold shoulder when he tried his usual banter and up-selling. I did however notice a slight grin when he pulled out his latest variation on the tried and true crossbow. Still, she left only carrying the little blue tailored bags, a little lighter from the coin that now rested in my father’s hands.
A few days later, we got word that the posts around the encampment were under siege. Apparently the safety of our little ridge was now in question. The armies of the dead were looking to expand their territory and we were in the way. As we packed up our things into the wagon, I caught myself thinking of that demon hunter, and the likelihood that she lived long enough to use her new tools successfully. I suppose the approaching nightmares offered a suggestion that she did not.
On our way out of camp, following a steep ridge road, we were forced to pass very close to one of our abandoned outposts. The fires were still burning, and the smell of burnt flesh filled the air. We pushed the oxen hard, knowing that we were an easy target for the dead and undead alike. I did my best to focus, even as we came upon the splintered and broken rampart and saw them. Shattered undead, bits and pieces of human beings stitched together into monsters by unspeakable evil, wandered through the site. My father and I hunkered down, hoping that they would not take notice of the wagon as it passed nearby.
Confident that we were passing unnoticed, I peeked over the edge of the wagon, looking back at the outpost. One of the undead caught my eye. What looked like half a woman, most of the flesh from her right side completely removed, stumbled through a campfire. As she kicked over the pile of burning wood, I saw something familiar. Around the monster’s waist, what remained of it, hung a pair of azure bags. Slinking back into the wagon, I sigh slowly and stare at the floorboards. It’s going to be a long journey.
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