Her boots crunched against the gravel trail. A black cloak pinned around her neck. A spaulder strapped to one shoulder. Her cowl up, obscuring her face.
The birch and elm trees hung over the trail like the bars of a cage.
It had been ten days since she left the Buddhist Monastery, Chateau de Jean, in south Franco. Her home for five years since her Exposure. Yesterday she passed through Plygate into the kingdom of NeoAnglia.
A bird whistled.
The trees rustled. In her peripherals she saw the clumsy shadows of lurking Anglo bandits. Thuggish marauders preying on the forested roads and valleys of the Appalachians.
She was told to begin her journey southwards. She was searching for someone.
The Stranger breathed slowly, hardening her heart and relaxing her muscles for the incoming violence.
The bandits stepped out from behind the trees. Wraiths materializing from the shadows of the forest. Calloused hands clutching swords, axes and knives. Ruddy faces with grim expressions and sweat beading their brows.
“Hold it,” hissed one with a two-handed sword, crouching low like a growling wolf.
The Stranger didn’t stop.
“Stop!” he snapped. “We saw you in Plygate. Give us your money, your gold, your weapons and we’ll think about letting you walk away.”
“You think you can? Go ahead.”
The man grit his teeth. “Don’t make us hurt you.”
They surrounded her like wolves around a wounded deer. That was their mistake. She remained motionless. Her face hidden, only a black braid peeking out from her cowl.
The bandit reached forward for her hood, sword in hand.
The gang moved in.
The instant his fingers touched her hood, metal flashed and his entrails spilled onto the ground. He collapsed in puddle of his own blood, screaming as he dead slowly.
In the Stranger’s hand, a longsword with a chalky black blade. Completely unreflective in the dim forest light. The crimson dripping from the blade glistened. The silver crossguard emblazoned with the image of wolves leaping from a tear drop.
The rest of the gang charged. Howling for revenge.
She swung her longsword in a series of brutal arcs, cleaving men left and right. Two charged from behind. She spun on her toes, a bloody arch straight through their necks. Their heads tumbled off into the bushes.
The sword rung between screams. The Stranger swam through their guards and broke them into pieces. Broken bodies fell in the torrent.
The last man reached for a single-shot pistol. She spun around, snapped up a chrome .45 revovler and fired. The man crumpled to the ground with a smoking hole in his head.
The sword dripped red. She flicked off the blood before sheathing her weapon. A trail of blood and bodies amongst the pillars of the forest. The gravel road, a prison for the solitary warrior.
The Stranger continued onwards in her search.