Sara didn’t bother to ask any questions, merely choosing to hurry up and catch up to Father Dee. He’d taken an unlit torch from a sconce on the wall and was busy lighting it with a silver Zippo. Once he’d achieved a sizable flame, he held it aloft to reveal a hall of stone, lined with ancient carvings in a language that Sara didn’t recognize. She stepped off the last step and moved aside for the Brother’s to make their way down. Stephan was looking at the walls and ceiling with great interest, though he wasn’t speaking.
Father Dee began to stride down the tunnel, his long legs kicking up dust and mildew with each stride. Sara kept close to the Father, afraid of straying to far from the light; if what these men were saying was true, then there might be something dangerous down here.
The walk was short, ending in a room with smooth walls fashioned into a dome, a small fountain with a statue of a bird-like man standing in the middle, flanked by two iron-wrought gates. As Father Dee made his way into the room, he slowly and with obvious pain lowered himself to one knee before the statue, murmuring something beneath his breath while making a series of gestures over his chest. Standing next to him as the old man did this, Sara looked over the statue now that the light was dancing over its facets.
What she’d assumed to be a bird-man was in fact a statue of a man wearing an elongated mask, stone goggles with reflective glass in the eyepieces glinting in the torchlight. The figure stood tall, one arm stretched out where he held an oddly shaped orb. It wasn’t until a flicker of the torch did Sara realize the oblong orb was moving, twisting midair with a quiet clacking of tile-on-tile. The rest of the statue was shrouded in a shapeless cloak and carved leather gloves and boots, with a sword strapped to a ragged leather belt wrapped around the statues waist. Sara watched as Brother Brandon and Brother Stephen mimicked Father Dee’s action before helping the old man up from his kneeling position.
“Thank you Brothers,” Father Dee said with a hint of embarrassment. “Its times like these that I truly feel the years I spent on the road, doing what you do. Why, I don’t think my right arm has ever fully recovered from the incident back in ’68.”
“May we be successful enough in our duties to one day be tasked as a resident Priest,” Brother Brandon said, clapping Father Dee on the shoulder gently. “Now let’s show this child what her grandmother kept hidden from her in the name of the Holy Trinity.”
Father Dee nodded slowly before stepping around the fountain, heading towards the iron gate to the left of the statue. Turning his head slightly to look at Sara, he smiled. “While we house many creatures here, the most important prisoner we hold has been here since the manor was built. In fact, without her presence, we might not have ever had the gall to create a bastion in the New World.”
“What do you mean? Are you saying there’s someone alive down here from sometime before the colonial period?” Sara asked, her voice heavy with sarcasm.
“Alive is a stretch, but in essence, yes. Yes, there is a soul down here that we have house for three centuries, waiting for her energies to deplete enough for her to fade back to Hell,” Father Dee said with a tight smile, the flickering torchlight making his lined face appear even more wrinkled than it actually was. “She was originally brought down by a three Murders, when she was ascending to demonhood.”
“Demonhood?” Sara was confused, but continued to follow the older man as he pushed the rusty gate open with a loud screech of iron on stone. The dancing light revealed a hall of stone, lined with iron doors, each with a small slate that could be slid back to allow someone to peer inside.
“You don’t believe me, do you?” Father Dee sounded amused, the silent footfalls of his soft-soled shoes drowned out by the heavy boots of the two Brothers following close behind. “I can understand that. Let me show you some evidence then, something to prepare you for the being you are going to be charged with looking over for the remainder of your days.”
“Evidence would be nice,” Sara said, ignoring the statement regarding her lifelong commitment to anything.
Father Dee walked on in silence past three doors, stopping at the fourth. Turning, he gave Sara a grim smile before motioning to the slate. “Be careful of what you see, the creature trapped in there is… special.”
“Right,” Sara said, stepping up to the door, her face level with the slate. It was perhaps two inches tall and six inches wide; she gripped the handle of the slate, roughly pulling it to the side so that she could peer into the darkened cell. Some of the torchlight made its way into the cell, revealing a small five foot by five foot room of smooth stone, covered in scratches, as if someone was truly trapped down here and was going mad trying to escape.
A low hiss was all the warning Sara got as something heavy slammed into the iron door, a pair of violet eyes flashing from the other side of the slate opening, the skin around said eyes mottled grey with open sores. Sara jumped back, earning an eerie cackle from whatever was on the other side of the door. It spoke in a harsh tongue, its voice too raspy and dry to determine gender.
Whatever it was saying definitely sounded as if it were said in a mocking fashion. Brother Brandon stepped up to the opened slate and, in one smooth motion, pulled a small pouch from his belt. Tugging the thong holding the leather sack together open, he blew what appeared to be ashes through the opened slate before slamming the opening closed.
The cackling voice, its papery voice so frail and raspy, began to scream in agony. The pounding on the iron door ceased as a scuttling could be heard on the other side of the door, whatever creature lurking in the darkness of the cell retreating to the furthest corner of it’s prison. Sara looked at Brandon, who gave her a crooked grin.
“Goofer Dust,” he said as if explaining what he did. “Mostly a mixture of ashes from a holy man mixed with rattlesnake venom. Unclean spirits and entities can’t stand the presence of the stuff.”
“What in the Hell was in there?” Sara demanded, looking between the three men. Father Dee inclined his head towards Brother Brandon, who merely smiled even wider.
“My first catch as a hunter,” Brother Brandon said with pride. “A foul creature that was once mortal. It’s now what we call a Hag, a creature that grows stronger by eating unbaptized children. When I caught her, she had five children she’d plied from the homes of several villages back in the late 80’s. She’d taken to hiding in the rural woods of Pennsylvania and had prepared each of the children to be a meal. My Murder interrupted her before she could perform the act, though by the time we got to her she’d been eating children for nearly forty years.”
“Oh my God,” Sara said, cupping her mouth.
“Yeah, not pretty to find all those bones hanging from cords fashioned from human skin,” Brother Brandon said with a grimace, his eyes staring off into the distance as if lost in a memory.
“Well we couldn’t kill her, she had too much energy within her.”
“So? Wouldn’t it just go to Hell with her?” Sara asked.
“Her body would fall if we took her head, this is true. But the energy she’d gathered from innocent souls, perverting and twisting it to her own foul designs, would have spilled from her body and polluted the area with her unholy essence. Plants would grow twisted and poisonous, animals would be aggressive and the boundaries between our world and the Ether would be weakened irrevocably. So we subdued her, bound her in blessed chain, and brought her here. She’s slowly using her stored energy to continue her foul existence, and will one day run out. When she does, she’ll revert to her mortal form and will either starve in there, or be pulled out and executed for crimes against humanity.”
“So my grandmother’s house, MY house, is a repository for evil spirits and creatures?” Sara asked, slowly beginning to realize what Father Dee was trying to tell her.
“Yes, as it has been since it was built,” Father Dee nodded. “Your family has served as the wardens for the Ravens, our organization, for three hundred years. In exchange for your service, you are paid a stipend to keep the manor in good condition, as well as a salary that is suitable for a jailor of the damned.”
“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me,” Sara muttered, running her hands through her hair. She looked over at Brother Stephen, who was staring at the door holding the Hag back. “You’ve been quiet, what are you doing in all of this nonsense?”