“Cursed?” Ivan repeated the word, his voice low and even.
“Yes,” an older woman seated at a table with three older men piped up, her grey hair hanging around her face in wavy locks. “The very home reeks of a foulness not of this earth!”
“That could just be the smell of rotting blood, but some monsters leave behind… traces of their passing,” Ivan admitted, pocketing the room key. “If we have something like that here then I may need to hire a few strong young men to help me set up traps.”
“I thought you said you wouldn’t need anything of us?” The shaggy blonde slurred, rubbing at his throat where the blade had rested.
“Normally my group operates alone, or with each other. This crime was determined to be something not deserving of multiple hunters, so I would just need the hands to literally set the traps, nothing more. I’d even pay in silver for the aid, assuming I could find a young chap in this burg willing to take on a task from a stranger such as me.”
The people of the bar all began speaking amongst themselves slowly, eyes darting between Ivan and each other. The shaggy blonde man and his friends were still standing by Ivan’s table, preventing him from sitting down and enjoying his meal. They all seemed to want to start something but knew it wouldn’t end well for them.
Ivan praised Elohim that they weren’t too far gone to think they could take him.
The bartender snorted, arms crossed over his rotund belly. “Well then, is that all? Or will there be any more theatrics for us tonight?”
Ivan raised his hands as if in surrender. “I was merely defending myself and making a point; letting you know my job was just icing on the cake, as it were.”
“Right,” the bartender grunted before turning his piggy eyes on the shaggy blonde. “Eric, you boys get home. You’re drunk and likely to pick a fight with this man if you stay here any longer.”
“You’re throwing us out?” Eric demanded, aghast at the idea. “But he’s the one who pulled the knife!”
“And you’re the one that went up and bothered him,” the bartender countered. “He didn’t spill your blood and for that I’m happy. I served in the militia and saw my share of oddities; if this man is really a monster hunter, then I hold no envy for him or the role he’ll be playing in the coming days.”
“You really think a monster killed the Cavey’s?” A man with greying temples asked worry etched onto his face.
“Monster is a broad term for what I hunt, but yes; something that would fall into that category probably killed the Caveys. If I were to guess, they weren’t that wealthy a family, were they?”
“No,” the grey-haired woman replied, the bar now silent. “Old William was the sole provider for the family, and he worked on the local farms for food. His wife was a seamstress of some skill, and many of us would often bring things to her to work on just so we could offer her some money. The daughters were all young, mere children.”
“All young, below the age of ten?” Ivan asked.
“Yes,” a bullfrog of a man said before tipping back his tankard. His round, watery eyes closed as he savored his drink. “How did you know that?”
“Many beasts of mythic lore target children, mostly for their innocence,” Ivan said, causing most of the bar to gasp. “Not their literal innocence, but their spiritual purity of soul that comes with being a child.”
“What kind of horrid beast would do that?” Bullfrog croaked as he set his tankard down.
“Off the top of my head, I’d imagine it was either a witch on the move or a demon. Vampires drink the blood of their prey and werewolves rarely venture into towns, the smell of this many humans’ drives them mad.”
“So it was a witch? Or a demon?” The bartender asked, setting two tankards up for men leaning on the bar.
“Those are the likely suspects, but there are dozens of other creatures that wouldn’t hesitate to kill a family for no other reason than fun and games. At any rate, I would imagine this isn’t the last murder we’ll be seeing in this burg.”
“What?” Chorused several drunken voices.
“Well, what did you suspect? The murderer to move on? You’ve got no militia, barely any men worth shit in a fight and a town full of Christians just waiting to be preyed upon.” Ivan said as if it was all self-evident. “Most of the creatures I hunt prefer Christian blood above all others, as they can deny your soul the ability to ascend to Heaven.”
“No! Nobody but God could do such a thing!” An elderly man with a pointed chin and a long, thin nose said, rising to his feet. “I’ve heard quite enough of your satanic ramblings boy, we don’t need you here. I doubt the church even sent you!”
“And you are?” Ivan asked, already guessing that this man was the town priest.
“I’m Father Donovan,” the man announced proudly. “And while I am here no unholy beasts or witches would dare attack our town!”
“No offense sir but priests aren’t meant to battle physical embodiments of evil; you are meant to bless, baptize and spread the His word,” Ivan said with a smile. “I’m here to actually take care of the things that have crawled from the depths of Hell, or elsewhere, and choose to give humans grief for their own perverted enjoyment.”
“Bah!” Father Donovan said, waving his hand as if dismissing a bad odor. “I know what you are! Why don’t you raise your sleeves to show us your true colors, hmmm?”
“Ah,” Ivan smiled, reaching up to unbuckle his right sleeve. “I see you’re familiar with my Order.”
“Order, hah! You make it sound like it’s part of the Church. Heresy is what it is, using foul rites and dark rituals to make yourself into something beyond human yourself, clawing your way ever closer to the flames of Hell inch by inch!”
Ivan rolled back his coats sleeve to reveal a simple black tattoo on his forearm of a Raven, something that seemed to puzzle the patrons of the bar. The bartender saw it and blanched, his eyes going wide. Ivan smiled at him in hopes of reassuring him he wasn’t going to cause a problem. Reaching into his coat, Ivan pulled a thick vellum envelope, a crimson wax seal of the Vatican stamped over the lip. He held it out to Father Donovan, the envelope held between two fingers carefully.
“I knew I’d have trouble from you,” Ivan said in a matter-of-fact voice. “So I made certain to get the local Church in Innsbrook. I assume your superiors word should suffice that I’m not some plague about to unleash myself upon your town?”
Father Donovan narrowed his eyes before snatching the letter, tearing it open and unfolding the crisp parchment in but a few gestures. His eyes roamed over the page, surprised it was written in Latin. That was hardly done, even amongst the Roman Catholics, as it made their correspondence seem suspicious. To write in a language that somebody not of the Church couldn’t read… the matter had to be dire.
He read the words quickly before looking up at Ivan. “You are indeed a Raven… it says it here in this very script, and your tattoo verifies it. I was unaware that the Church was on… good terms with your Order.”
Ivan shrugged. “It really depends on what the problem of the day is. If there aren’t any witches haunting the woods or lost souls wandering the back roads of the country, then we’re generally ignored. When something like this,” Ivan said, waving around the bar to emphasise his point, “occurs, the Church hires a hunter or three and sends us out here to clean up the mess.”
“I beg your forgiveness sir, I spoke… out of turn,” Father Donovan said, the words obviously difficult for him to choke out.
“Nothing to forgive. Your Bible says members of my Order are doomed to eternal hellfire while my Order’s holy documents state we serve a higher power, just like you do.” Ivan said.
“Elohim,” Father Donovan said slowly as if searching his memory for the right word.
Ivan nodded. “Yes, Elohim. An angel turned Goddess that grants her followers boons for deeds we perform while cleaning the world of the darkness that would consume humanity.”
“Yes, I studied your Order when I was younger.” Father Donovan said, moving back to his table and motioning for Ivan to follow. The rest of the bar began muttering amongst themselves as the two men settled into talk, the same barmaid Ivan had partially grilled bringing his ale and stew over to the Priests table.
“Did you now?” Ivan asked, feigning interest. If he wanted to track down whatever had performed the murders before more occurred then he had to be on good terms with the town’s priest at the very least.