“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?”
Ivan held his dagger steady as he stared at the shadowy figure on the slanted room. A lupine head stared back with yellow eyes, a pallid figure that blended in with the snow falling in flurries around them. Ivan knew he was in trouble as the tail of the creature was easily fifteen feet in length, and the hand crossbow he had was hanging from his belt, a single opium-and-holy water syringe dart preloaded for situations just like this.
“Nothing to say Raven?” The Beast mocked, letting go of the chimney to slide partially down the slanted roof, clawed feet tearing up the thatched surface. “I’m not surprised; the last encounter I had with your kind it was a full Flight.”
The Beast motioned to a belt that was barely visible against its ivory hide, revealing a series of skulls hanging loosely from a belt of toughened hide. There were at least twelve such skulls, each with a carved sigil on the forehead. The creature ran a clawed finger over three skulls almost lovingly.
“They put up quite the fight, though in the end they were hardly a match for me,” the Beast smiled. It knew it had the upper hand and was enjoying the way it had Ivan on the ropes. If there was one thing that all Demons had in common it was their desire to consume the fear that their prey gave off.
Ivan was fighting the supernatural effects the demon was exuding to make him more afraid. He’d dealt with these before, and had always come out ahead.
The two stared at each other for several moments before bursting into action. The Beast turned, lashing with its barbed club-like tail while Ivan leaped from the snow to roll to the side. The tail smashed with an explosion of snow as the three-inch barbs dug into the flagstone beneath the downy cover the snow had coated the village in.
Ivan during his mid-roll had pulled his hand crossbow, taking careful aim as his back hit the snow. The Beast’s eyes widened as he realized he was caught out of position, its tail extended fully and it standing precariously on a rooftop. Ivan smiled as he fired the bolt at the milky hide of the demon, crowing with excitement as it struck the creature between the ribs.
The Beast howled in agony as the syringe whirred, pumping the payload into the monsters body in a matter of seconds. It yanked the bolt from its side, tossing it off of the roof before placing a hand over the wound, which was bleeding viscous black ooze. His tail lashed back up to coil protectively around him, but the effects of the dangerous cocktail pumping into its system. Black veins began to spread out from the wound, the holy water collapsing muscle tissue as the opium numbed the body and slowed the reflexes. Ivan took the chance to pull another dart and load it into his crossbow, eyes never leaving the burning yellow orbs of the Beast.
The demon snarled before ripping a skull from its belt. “You think you’re clever human? Well here, deal with one of your own!”
And with that he flung the skull down to the soft snow in front of Ivan. Slowly, the rune carved into the forehead began to shine brightly as snow and dust swirled around the skull, which rose from the ground as a body began to form. Slowly but surely packed ice and frost created a humanoid body with which the skull, now alight with an unholy blue flame, sat atop. Letting out a pained screech, it lunged forward, arms outstretched, icicle fingers sharpened like miniature rapiers.
Ivan brought his dagger to his defense, swinging the heavy-handled weapon into the forearm of the snowman. The blow did almost nothing, the blade sinking a few inches only to collide with what felt like bone. The snowman in return latched onto Ivan’s shoulder, piercing fingers digging deep into his clavicle, blood pouring freely from the wound in the frigid night air. Ivan kicked the snowman in the stomach, a mistake as he found his leg to be stuck in the monstrosity’s midsection, the snow pressing down on his leg to prevent it from moving.
Hopping on one foot, Ivan swung his knife into the arm holding onto his shoulder once more, striking the same spot in hopes of breaking whatever bone the creature had formed from the raw materials it had around it. He gave a pained smile as his dagger sank deeper into the arm, lodging in the “bone” of the abomination. The skull let out a wail that made Ivan’s head spin before leaning forward to try and bite at Ivan’s chilled skin.
Leaning back, Ivan forced the snowman to push him to the ground, the fluffy mound of snow breaking his fall. Wriggling his dagger further into the arm, Ivan grabbed the other arm and pushed him back to prevent the head from snapping at his face. Struggling with him, the snowman had little in the way of strength beyond whatever unholy power was fueling it. After a few moments, Ivan’s dagger severed the frozen bone in the arm connected to his shoulder, allowing him the chance to use his dagger on the skull.
One quick jab into the temple of the skull killed the green flames radiating from the calcified bone, proving that even in death certain blows were too much to withstand. Pushing the collapsing snowman off of him, Ivan scrambled to grab his hand crossbow where it had fallen, only to realize the demon had fled during the brief encounter.
Father Donovan came jogging up, pushing snow out of the way with his powerful strides to reach Ivan where he lay in the street. The heavily dressed man called out to him, causing Ivan to wince as he looked to the side to see him.
“I saw it, flying overhead. By God you were right, there is something foul in our midst!” Father Donovan exclaimed.
“Yeah, I got it with a dart full of holy water. I got about twelve of those left, more than enough to take it down,” Ivan said as he got up, one hand going to his clavicle. It wasn’t broken, but the icicles had torn through his armor as if it were paper, leaving bloody holes. Pressing down on the wound to staunch the blood flow, Ivan looked to the Priest with a grimace.
“I hate to ask, but could you help me out here? I need to get stitched up and have some medicine applied to these wounds,” Ivan said, holding out a bloody palm as evidence of his injuries.
“By God you’re injured! Yes, yes of course, let’s get you to the Church where it’s safe!”