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“I’m retired now but I worked for the King. I was a paladin who was hired to slay outcroppings of undead within the kingdom. Some of my fellow workers preferred slaying demons but I never liked fighting those hellspawn. They like traps a lot so it's hard to just run in and slice them up for a quick buck.

Malik and I met a couple of years ago when I was purging a local village of a zombie infestation. It was the peak of summer which is when magic is at an all-time high. The king had gotten word from a messenger that the town of Direslav had been invaded by dark forces. At first, the king had brushed the man off as superstitious. It isn’t often that the kingdom is invaded but after watching the man turn into a horrid undead creature the king had no choice but to send men to confirm what the man had said.

After a week with no response, the king became worried. So he gathered his servants to look for people who could purge the undead from his village and end the magic that was causing the dead to rise.

At that time, I worked for the Church. I was a fairly inexperienced paladin who’d only dealt with some small exorcisms. Usually, houses that were haunted by imps. They were annoying little buggers but weren’t particularly dangerous.

When the King’s messengers reached me, they had already contacted all the noteworthy paladin’s within the Church. Most were more interested in keeping their position within the church and fighting demons than helping the King with his undead problem. The messengers had grown desperate since the King was frightened by the undead infection spreading to the capitol. If they didn’t find someone to deal with the threat, their heads would be mounted on spikes in the coming week.

I was tired of exterminating pests. It wasn’t what I’d imagined I’d be doing once I signed up to become a paladin. My paladin recruiter promised I’d be slaughtering demons in the crusade of hell, that I’d earn my spot next to Garth the god of light. It was definitely disappointing to find out after 3 years of arduous training that I’d been assigned to imp hunting. It wasn’t the glamorous job I’d hoped for even if it did come with a nice retirement bonus and afterlife care.

So I jumped on the opportunity to help the King clear out his undead infestation. I figured this was a chance to show my craft.

There were only two other paladins who also had agreed to help the King remove the undead infestation in his territory. The three of us, grouped together, traveled to the village of Direslav to slay the undead infestation. The village was swarming with the dead. We sliced through the horde of zombies and skeletons that charged towards us.

Our blessed blades cut through the undead like butter, causing them to turn into piles of ash. As we were working our way through the village, I noticed a building that was guarded by some bigger brutes. Turns out that they were keeping Malik there as their prisoner. Luckily, I was there to free him.

Since then I’ve encountered a lot of undead through my adventures. It’s as if the light god himself is guiding me to these unholy creatures so I can put them to rest. Malik always comes along with me and helps watch the goods while I do the slaying. He’s a great partner even though he doesn’t say much.” Mark stated.

“Does Malik have any family?” I asked, curious to know more about the strange man.

“Not that I know of. He’s a simple man that only tells me the basics of what I need to know. I need this or that, or we’re headed in the wrong direction. He doesn’t talk much about his past and rightfully so.”

Mark leaned in closer and whispered “I think his family was killed in that small village. It’s a sensitive subject. He gets anxious every time I bring up saving him, so don’t go chattering about it with him.”

I nodded. It certainly was a weird dynamic, but I supposed if it worked it worked.

Progress traveling was slower than what I would’ve liked, even slower than when I was traveling with Darryl. Malik, with his hunched back, was infuriatingly slow when leading the oxen along the wide dusty road. I was surprised that Mark didn’t seem to notice just how slow Malik was. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like traveling with Malik for years. I came to the conclusion that Mark must’ve been some sort of saint.

At least the slow pace gave me time to recharge the mana in my core. It helped that it was a dry and arid day. I always felt more energized when the scalding sun was shining bright, without clouds or tree cover to block its rays.

Days passed and the two days Mark had hoped for became four days. If we continue at this rate, I wasn’t certain I’d make it to the firedrake egg on time. I worried that I would end up empty-handed. I’m not sure what Synthia would do, but her callous and cold exterior told me it wouldn’t end well for me or Darryl.

I shuddered as I saw the Endless Lake, shoot off into the horizon. Even from a distance, I could tell the water raged more like a sea than any lake I’d ever seen. I was never fond of deep water, so I hoped the sea would have been calm. Golems were heavy creatures. Sinking wasn't how I wanted to die.

The seashore village was fairly modest. There were few wooden houses that filled the wide-open area. The docks were the largest thing in the village and it was the village’s pride and joy. Mark said the village dock was large enough to hold two fully armed galleons, whatever that meant.

It was large enough for people to walk up and down the wooden structure without having to bump into any of the people fishing off the dock or selling their catch to the townsfolk. There was a pungent smell that permeated throughout the town that made me wrinkle my nose. It smelled like food, but not the nice kind of food I often saw humans eat.

Street vendors had rows of various types of fish lined up on little make-shift tables. The flies that hopped from fish to fish indicated that they weren’t clean. I wondered how long they’d last in the open sun before the fish turned into mush. The shopkeepers didn’t seem worried. Most sat back in their chairs drinking ale as few people perused their stalls.

The ocean roared below the dock but the dock was sturdy enough where the waves weren’t enough to move the solid wood structure. Occasionally, people walking near the edges of the dock would become soaked by the waves that smashed into the dock much to their dismay. I didn’t mind an occasional washing but that didn’t seem to be the case for humans. Their clothes would become soggy, drooped over their tiny frames. The sun made an effort to dry their clothes but it was a slow and lengthy process.

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