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The Grisly Path

When Olve Preston, a paladin of Odin’s Order, investigates a missing person’s case in a small village, his heart breaks for the desperate creature responsible, and he must now redefine himself and his future or continue a cycle of misery.

A WIP prequel novella for The Lost Ones trilogy.

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Olve stopped his horse with a gentle pull of its reigns. He reached out for a fresher half-eaten apple, and he examined the bite more closely. If the claim was true that this demon had “teeth like needles,” then the bites could not have been from the demon, but he had cleansed enough such creatures to know that humans tended to spin fantastical tales and tout them as reality. His gut told him this demon had teeth like a human’s, and he was more inclined to believe Odin’s insight than a mere mortal’s.

Olve tossed the apple aside, allowing it to become part of nature again, and he nudged his mount’s ribs with the heels of his boots to encourage it forward again. They came across fruit bushes that looked half-picked clean of ripe berries. A few rotting corpses of rodents and squirrels littered the ground, and the bellies had been ripped off them and their heads severed. If the fruit had not been a sign of the demon, then he would bet the carcasses were.

Olve’s horse stepped over the dead creatures without much of a reaction to them, the main reason to take a creature descended from divinity with him. There was no way he could do his important work if his horse was too skittish to take him where he needed to go.

The paladin would guess that he had been travelling for an hour by the time the beaten path of the villagers ended. They went out farther than he had expected them to go, but with the plentiful food this far into the forest, he knew they must have found the journey more than worth it. A few minutes away from the path was when he noticed a shift in the atmosphere.

The most gruesome thing he had come across along the path had been the decaying bodies of small animals, a clear staple in the demon’s diet, but as he drew further away, the trees became more rust-colored than they were naturally. On some gray trees, he noticed the rust color in splotches, like how a painting might look if they had thrown a saturated paint brush at the canvas.

Olve’s horse became more anxious as they walked forward. The horse slowed his pacing, and the paladin noticed the black eyes rolling more as he watched their environment. That was when Olve knew it was best to take the rest of the journey on foot. He stopped his mount, and he climbed out of the saddle.

“Thank you, old friend,” he said to the horse, and he rubbed its long snout. “I’ll take things from here. Don’t take any chances with your life, all right? Be sure to run off and get help if you need to.”

Olve tied the reins onto the saddle to keep them out of the way. It would do his horse little good if they got snagged on a tree and held him in a place of danger. Then no one would be able to run off and get help if he required it.

The horse followed him as he walked along the trail of blood. It was a small comfort to have him around, especially as he noticed odd things as he walked along. Being closer to the ground allowed him to notice the odd chunks of human that got left behind. He found rotting human fingers in the dirt as well as the occasional tooth.

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