[ An unplanned somewhat-prequel to one of the geekiest things I have ever written (and that’s saying a lot). ]

She speaks no language that is not of raven or wolf or snow, and so she has no words with which to ask what dark demise has fallen across the land. But certainly some evil lurks at the heart of this foreign realm, leaking its poison out in all directions like an infected wound. The journey from her alpine home takes her down into a wide valley where each night restless spirits roam, giggling and screeching as they seek to lead her off the trail, only to vanish at the first rise of her longbow. In the distance a bleeding mountain disgorges whirlpool clouds of sulfurous black fumes which stain the sunset a sickly red. When the specters fall momentarily silent the thunder of volcanic turmoil can be heard rumbling like a giant’s death rattle.

The ruined city holds no answers. Its people are long fled, the buildings boarded and crumbling. Grotesque monsters populate the abandoned streets; their gaunt, shriveled bodies are almost human but their low moaning bespeaks a demonic hunger. She affords the creatures a wide berth, hacking down any who turn their shuffling gait in her direction. They do not bleed, nor seem to register pain, but a sharp, solid blade cleaves their skulls just the same. The air here reeks of rot and so she does not linger long.

Outside the broken city gates she follows the road west as it climbs into foothills and skirts boulders twice taller than her head. Her destination waits beyond the rising ridges, a legendary desert land of burning sands and blazing sun a northern nomad as she cannot truly comprehend. Bordered by red stone peaks, inaccessible save for one rocky pass carved by some long ago quake, has that isolated world withstood the cancerous taint? Or will she find that the fingers of evil stretch wide indeed, touching even the sacred sandstone temple sheltered at the desert’s heart? Her hands flex in anticipation, one gripping her mount’s reigns while the other rests on her sword’s hilt.

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