“Well,” Ivan tipped back the last of his ale, bitterly chugging the disgusting drink just to feel the hint of a buzz. “I’m ready to see the scene of the crime. Would you be able to convince someone to take me, or take me there yourself?”
Father Donovan bristled at the comment. “Now? It’s the dead of night dear boy, and if we are to believe you there could be a bloodthirsty monster out there!”
“Look, you’re going to leave soon anyway,” Ivan noted, motioning with his hand towards the nearly empty bowl of stew. “You’ve nearly finished your dinner and have had two drinks since I arrived. I think that should suffice for a man of the cloth, wouldn’t you agree?”
Father Donovan glared at Ivan before lifting a spoonful of stew to his thin lips. “Fine. The house in question is near the center of the village near the church anyway, so I’ll be passing it on my way home.”
“Have there really been no efforts in cleaning up the mess?” Ivan asked, thinking about how long ago the crime had taken place.
“None,” Father Donovan intoned, slapping the table. “The house will lay dormant until I can gather the necessary supplies to bless it, then another family will move into it.”
“You have displaced families here in… what is this township even called? I was directed here by a farmer who claimed that the town was called Teufel, but that can’t be right, can it?"
Father Donovan nodded solemnly. “Yes, our town is indeed named after the devil,” he said. “That is why we don’t appear on maps. The Empire would rather not acknowledge us, assuming that marking their maps with the word ‘devil’ would invite darkness.”
“Well you did just have a grisly mass murder, possibly ritualistic in nature,” Ivan said.
Father Donovan nodded, looking down at his empty bowl. “Yes, that we did.”
“Who named the town? Why haven’t you all just renamed it?” Ivan asked, leaning back in his chair. The ale was allowing his mind to relax, his constant paranoia slowly ebbing away. “I mean, it can’t be that difficult, can it?”
“We have changed our name, several times in fact. Nobody ever pays it any mind, and just knows us as the ‘devil’ hamlet. You wouldn’t believe the number of times we’ve sent a courier to Innsbrook with news our home was to be known as Green Grove, or Verdant Hills. Each courier returned with news that the registrar would refuse to change it, citing we were clearly just trying to fool strangers into visiting a town of Pagans!”
“If the Holy Roman Empire thinks you’re all Pagans, why haven’t you all been executed? No offense, but if my Order knew of a town of Witches or other Occultists we’d burn it to the ground before salting the earth.”
“Oh we’ve had our fair share of Judges come to Teufel before, ready with torches and oil,” Father Donovan chuckled. “But once they’re here they see we’re a rural community of practicing Catholics, not a den of devil-worshipers. I explain this very thing once or twice a year, I assume when someone goes through the archives in Innsbrook to count our taxes and tithes they stumble across our name and look to the map for us. When we can’t be found, they dispatch some inquisitors to ‘solve’ the problem.”
“Sounds like the Church alright,” Ivan muttered leaning back in his chair. “You ready to show me the house where all of this took place?”
“No time like the present, I suppose.” The priest said, rising from his chair. He waved at the barman, who nodded, before weaving through the tables towards the front door. Ivan followed close on his heels, sending a silent prayer to Elohim that the blizzard was dying down. As Father Donovan opened the door to the howl of the frigid wind, Ivan scowled.
That’s what he got for praying.
The priest took an oil lantern hanging from the inside of the doorway and lit it with little trouble, allowing Ivan a chance to see the village as they walked out into the storm. The snow was ankle deep, both men finding it necessary to lift themselves from the snow drifts to plough on. The house wasn’t that far it seemed though even to Ivan’s weak spiritual senses he could tell something was wrong with the hovel.
It was just like all of the other homes in Teufel, a stone base with four support columns and sturdy wooden walls over a thatched sloped roof. Icicles hung from the bannister in front of the porch, where an old rocking chair sat, gently swaying in the wind. Father Donovan began walking up to the building, but Ivan grabbed the man’s shoulder, stopping him. When the old priest turned to look at him with a quizzical eye, Ivan called out above the storm.
“Go back to the Church and fetch some holy water, as well as a Crucifix. If you have one on you now, I’d appreciate borrowing it.”
Father Donovan looked a little surprised by the odd request, before nodding. “I’ll go and fetch the necessary supplies.”
“I’ll be inside,” Ivan called back over the howling winds. Father Donovan began slowly marching through the snow towards a steeple that was barely visible in the swirling snow. Ivan, he drew one of his silver knives and took a step closer to the house. He could hear, above the call of winter’s fury, a low grumbling noise, like rocks grinding against each other. Ivan gave a grim smile as he watched a section of thatched roof peel away, stretching out to reveal a veiny bat-like wing, which was swiftly changing colors from the color and texture of straw to a blinding white and light blue.
Slowly the whole creature came into existence, taking on the appearance of the storm raging around it, save for its deep black eyes set far back in a lupine head. Ears perked up like those of a wolf, the hairless beast rose up onto its hind legs, revealing the heavily muscled torso as well as the long tail swishing back and forth, the serpentine thing ending in a wicked barb. The creature regarded Ivan for a moment, the storm chilling Ivan to the bone as he stood ready with his dagger.
“Hello little Raven,” the creature rumbled, “have they sent you out to play?”