Outside of Jerusalem, 1180
The old woman’s blood seeped into the sandy earth, causing it to congeal in the hot desert about her quivering body. She gasped for breath, her mouth opening and closing as she tried to form words before the last sliver of her life escaped, disappearing into the twisting winds. Confusion muddled the pained expression on her face as she looked at the source of her agony. A false sense of hope entered her thoughts telling her if she could simply remove the sword from her chest, she would live. She clutched at the weapon in a futile attempt to wrench the steel blade free; however, with most of her lifeblood already soaking the ground, she lacked the strength to pull it out. The old woman shuddered once and then lay still.
The weather-beaten knight pulled his sword from the body. Without a word, he cleaned the blade on the dead woman’s cloak and then sheathed the weapon in a practiced move. He stared into the woman’s eyes for a moment, lost in a dull reflection of the moon, before kneeling down to close them with his fingertips.
The woman’s belongings lay beside her body in a tattered knapsack. The man dumped the contents out, sifting through them without care until he found a book. It was a large leather-bound book with no title. Only a simple symbol depicting a mountain adorned the cover. The writing inside was in a strange tongue, one he’d never seen before. Master Stephen, the Master of the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, would want to see the tome.
The body twitched, causing the knight to fall back into a defensive stance, his sword once again free from its scabbard. Watching the corpse intently, he waited to see if it would stir. After several breaths, he moved forward to get a better look, choosing his steps with caution. The old crone sat up, and her eyes snapped open. No longer did the moon reflect from those dead orbs, for they turned dark as a raven with hints of burning embers. Her body unnaturally jerked when she turned to look at the wide-eyed knight.
“Poor Knight of Christ… He watches you all,” croaked the dead woman.
“What blasphemy is this? How dare you speak of God whilst using your black magic!” the knight replied as he circled the creature.
“I speak not of your petty God; I speak of one more powerful! He watches you all; He waits for you all.”
“What demon do you speak of, witch?”
He circled behind her, but the witch’s head followed his movement. Her neck cracked and popped, twisting in such a way that no living person would have been able to endure.
“He is older than time, and He is waiting for you. He will devour your very essence!”
The dead woman’s laugh floated on the wind, her body shaking and contorting with each cackle. The knight stepped forward, swinging his sword in an attempt to finish her off. Before he could, the woman’s body twisted so that her torso faced the wrong direction, and she scurried at him on all fours. He backed away trying to gain an advantageous position.
The crone’s laughter reverberated in the night air as she scuttled about like a demented crab. Her head snapped toward the knight, focused on the kill, and she charged. The knight’s training took over. He shifted out of the way, bringing his sword down in a fluid movement, taking her head off.
He waited for several heartbeats, just in case she decided to move again. Convinced that she was truly dead, he leaned over and snatched the book.
“May God have mercy on your soul,” he whispered.