The press of trees was suffocating, cruel and twisted branches grabbing and ripping cloth as Heinrich stumbled through the woods. Blood marked his passing, staining the leaf litter as he struggled to keep up his frantic pace. An empty scabbard rattled at his side, and rings of chainmail tumbled from the great gashes in his armour.
Blindly he continued his flight, crashing through the low hanging branches with little concern for stealth. It mattered little what ruckus he made, for the reek of gore surely gave him away. The beast’s mark upon his chest seeped sick-smelling blood, and Heinrich could feel the wound fester already. Whatever vile poison the monster oozed had taken root within the knight.
A horrid rumble, as though a great oak had collapsed, boomed from Heinrich’s left, nearly deafening him. He glanced to the side, and his heart skipped a beat.
Corpses. Corpses and vines, bound together into a ghastly form, lumbered towards the knight.
Like a wolf it loped on four long legs, each composed of a half-dozen foetid dead entwined with roots. A plump, festering body narrowed into a gangly neck, vine-bound torsos supporting its bulbous head. Rotten bark covered much of the thing, from which protruded a number of spears and swords.
The monstrosity’s mouth gaped, branches as sharp as daggers filling it’s gruesome maw. Venom laced spit clung to its jagged teeth, coating them with a sickly green foam.
Heinrich stumbled as he tried to turn, soggy leaves slipping under his hobnailed boots. He grasped at a nearby tree, his gauntleted hands digging deep into the decayed bark. He pushed himself off of the dying oak, and with all of his might bolted through the forest.
A wet plodding echoed behind him, a reminder of his imminent death. Heinrich’s heart raced, pumping blood and poison through his veins. The tang of copper filled his mouth and his lungs ached, but terror suppressed any urge to stop. Even as the world became hazy he pressed on, his steps becoming more erratic.
One ill-placed step sent the knight tumbling, his foot caught on a root. Like a bag of sand he dropped, striking the earth hard and twisting his ankle in the process. A vile pop reached him, accompanied by an overwhelming pain in his leg.
Unwilling to stop, Heinrich clawed at the earth, attempting to dislodge himself. Though he pulled with all his might he failed to move, his leg trapped. Panicked, he rolled onto his back, eliciting another wave of torturous agony.
Heinrich gawked at the ruined mess of his leg. His fall had destroyed his ankle, and shattered his shin. Off-white bone, like jagged branches stuck from his sturdy trousers. Sickeningly thick blood poured from the wound, collecting and drying like sap as it oozed.
Heinrich tried to scream, but his mouth remained shut. It was as though his lips had been sealed with wax. He flung a gauntlet from his hand, and scratched at his face.
He felt bark.
Heinrich tore at his mouth in a frenzy, ripping away great chunks of blood-soaked timber. He felt the air on his teeth as the last strip was pulled free. Now released of the binding bark, he screamed.
The thing that had hunted him had not been idle. Now it loomed over him, studying him, before opening its monstrous maw.
A flash of silver caught Heinrich’s eye. A sword had been lodged in the thing’s gullet, imbedded in the flesh and bark that composed its cheek. It was Heinrich’s sword, his crest engraved on the pommel.
It would do Heinrich little good. Before he could react vines poured from the monster’s open jaws, slowly winding their way around the knight. He tried to move, to fight off his assailant, but his strength had left him. Whatever coursed through his veins had taken its toll.
He watched in horror as he was engulfed in vines and roots, secured tightly by the decayed vegetation. Methodically they began to pull him towards the thing’s horrid gullet, the stink of rotten timber and putrefied meat growing stronger as Heinrich’s head was pulled in. His eyes darted about the beast’s cavernous maw, before coming to rest on his sword.
The thing closed its jaws, clamping down onto Heinrich’s torso. Branches pierced the shredded remains of his armour, and dug deep into flesh.
The last thing the knight saw was his family crest, a symbol of a lineage that would now come to an end.