Lost Souls and Ravens, Part One
Father Williams knelt before the statue of the Virgin Mary, hands clasped before his wrinkled black shirt, a stain marring the front of it with a deeper shade of black that would be hardly noticeable if not for the good Father’s wrinkled hands. His glasses perched at the end of his nose, he murmured the same prayer over and over by the light of a hundred candles, his rosary beads slowly sliding through his fingers as he prayed to Saint after Saint.
Coughing once to clear the phlegm, he looked up to the statue with eyes streaming tears. “Why Holy Mother? Why have you forsaken me?”
The words bounced along the cavernous walls of the cathedral, the red carpet with it’s golden fringes soft beneath the arthritic knees of the old man. Bald save for a few wisps of hair trailing behind his ears, the man’s long sleeves showed he had another shirt on beneath the black one, all of which was tucked into an ironed and pressed set of black trousers. His cuff links were small silver circles, each holding a small diamond inside of a golden cross. A wooden crucifix hung from the shaking Father’s neck, jerkily dancing like a marionette preparing for a fight.
Within the cathedral a single noise trumped the old man’s soft cries; a lone caw of a black bird, high up in the rafters.
Spinning up to one knee the old man glared at the offending bird, breathing heavily as he sought a way to scare the creature away. A scowl marred the priest’s features, his wrinkles deepening with the foul look. It was only when he was looking behind him did he see what he dreaded most.
Three figures dressed in white coats and leathers, masks with goggles covering their heads, a hood pulled up over their crown and ears. A long beak sprouted from the figures’ faces, like that of a carnivorous bird. All three stood in silence, their sleek frames making it impossible for Father Williams to tell what gender they were. But by the black crests hanging from golden chains, he knew who they were merely by reputation.
“How did you get in here? Begone, you blasphemous cretins before the Lord takes his might out upon you!” Father Williams growled, slowly rising to his feet with the aid of a pew close to him. Standing on shaking legs, he fought back the tears rolling from his green eyes and swallowed the lump in his throat.
One of the men (women?) stepped forward with a bag made from a royal purple cloth. It was loaded down with heavy looking gourds. They threw it across midway to Father Williams, who twitched when the bag made a wet fleshy noise. The bag was tied off at the top with a length of thick rope, but it didn’t take Father Williams long to figure out what was in the bag, a thin line of crimson dribbling from the top.
“What… what have you done?” Father Williams asked, eyes twitching. His hands shivered and grew sweaty as he thought of what, no, who was in that bag.
“Three altar boys and a Nun,” the middle figure said, his voice hollow due to the amplification of his covering. “The altar boys fought bravely, while the Nun did all she could to prevent us from crossing the property lines. She was most… adamant.”
“It’s a shame her resolve fell in the end,” the figure who’d tossed the bag said with a higher tone, clearly a woman. “She fought desperately, but in the end we had to put her down.”
“The altar boys had no will power and were a problem from the get-go. We kept one alive long enough to extract some information from him.” The third said, a bit of humor in his voice. “We’ll be visiting a few homes tonight to wrap up loose ends.”
“Y-you dare to challenge the will of the Lord?” The Father said, taking a step back. His right arm was shaking uncontrollably at this point, his face twisting as he began to lose his temper. “This is His house! It will not be taken from him by some common thugs wearing silly costumes. This
entire land is His to do with as he wishes…”
The woman shrugged slowly, pulling a long-handled dagger from beneath her cloak, a gleam of silver shining from the razor’s edge. “What the people of this valley worship isn’t our problem as of yet. I’m sure we can convince them to convert once we’ve dealt with you.”
The leader pulled a hatched from his belt, a jewel set in the handle that glowed ominously. “It doesn’t have to be this way Father. You know this is wrong, so let us help you. Fight it!”
Father Williams slowed, his arms going lax at his side as he stared forward, his green eyes giving way to a festering darkness rising through the white of his eyes. Fingernails slid out into wicked barbed hooks while the front of his shirt stirred, a writhing beneath the linen that gave all three invading figures pause.
“Katrina! Get him!” The leader cried, dashing down one of the pews while towards the alcove set to the western wall, a series of statues and candles guiding his way.
Katrina rushed forward, leaping over the bag of severed heads to try and reach the priest as quickly as she could. The third member pulled a hand crossbow and began loading a bolt into it, pulling back the bow slowly as he watched everything unfold.
The priest’s eyes focused on Katrina, his skin slowly beginning to peel back like the skin of a stuffed sausage, leaving a split face with glistening brown scales beneath. “He will guide me Ravens, and His guidance is how I knew to take this settlement as my own. With you dead, I’ll lead to the largest sacrifice to my Lord in centuries!”
Katrina lunged over a pew, slashing the priest across his wriggling chest with her blade. The cloth ripped to reveal a growth, two smaller arms pulling out from a carved cavity in the old man’s chest.
“Oh shit!” Katrina cried. “Wendell, he’s reanimated! The priest’s soul must still be bound to keep it from decaying!”
The priest chuckled, reaching up to claw away half it’s face. “Indeed his is little bird. I was allowing him to cover for me with some useless prattle to his puny god before you barged in. I don’t think he liked that…”
Katrina spun the blade in her hand before ramming it into the stomach of the priest, a spurt of congealed blood marking the entry wound. The priest cackled and raked a bladed hand over her hood, ripping the leather cloak to ribbons.
“Silver only helps if you can stab the real me cretin! I would have thought that the Nest would produce something better than a fledgling Hunter,” the priest chuckled, his voice growing dryer and dryer, the sound of old parchment rubbing together. “I’m older than this village little bird, what do you think your puny knife will do to me?”
“I think I’ll shut you up long enough for this!” Katrina said as she dropped into a squat before performing a leg sweep. The priest fell, smacking his head against the wooden pew hard enough to crack the wood. The body fell limp, the other half of the face falling away to reveal the serpentine head tucked beneath the human exterior.
The leader of the trio came in, a wide downward arc from his hatchet aimed at the monster’s head. Black eyes wide, the body deflated as the serpentine demon slithered out of the fleshy cocoon. The hatchet cracked against the tile of the church, which was quickly drowned out by the chittering of thousands of insects.
“Up!” The third Raven cried, pointing his crossbow up to the second level, where the rail thin serpent stood, it’s underbelly resembling that of a centipede with dozens of small arms. Two long arms, each bearing the symbol of an ancient demon deity, were spread wide, the palms opened.
“You’ve gotten me to release the old man’s body! I must say I underestimated you Katrina,” the demon hissed, a patchwork quilt of human tongues slithering out from between a pair of fangs.
“I look forward to adding your souls to my personal collection!”
“Not going to happen!” The crossbow wielding hunter cried, firing a bolt with lightning precision.
The creature slinked to the side, laughing as the bolt missed him. “Poor aim! Maybe you should remove those goggles?”
Katrina laughed. “Nice shot Seb!”
The third Raven, Seb, was quickly reloading while the demon looked down at her, confusion clear on it’s face.
Turning, it looked at the iron bolt embedded in the stone behind him, the glass shaft broken as a fine mist floated through the air. Cursing, the creature dropped to the ground and crawled beneath the cloud, the vapor sizzling his scales wherever it touched. Rising once more ten feet away, the demon howled as he felt an axe strike him in the back. Twisting his serpentine head around to glare, he growled at leader, who was climbing over the railing of the second floor.
“Puny mortal! I won’t stand for this!” The demon hissed, opening it’s mouth wide to spew out three five-foot lengths of slimy chain. The Raven ducked between two of them but caught the third on his left leg, causing him to stumble as he sought purchase while stepping down from the railing.
The leader pulled a dagger similar to what Katrina was wielding, twirling it in his hand expertly before stepping towards the hissing demon. The chain, now wrapped partially around his leg, suddenly sprang to life. Grunting as twin lengths of extended chain began beating at his nether regions, the warrior halted his advance and adopted a defensive stance while one hand traveled down to the animate chain in an attempt to remove it.
The demon took this as a cue to press the attack, darting forward to bite down on the leader’s arm with distended fang. The venomous barbs sank into the forearm of the Raven, the leather bracer yielding to the powerful jaws of the unholy creature. The demon reveled in the sudden pump of fear radiating from the unnamed leader of the trio, pumping painful poison into his arm while he pulled in the emotions to feed.
“Wendell!” Katrina called out. “Seb, take it!”
The demon reached up and grabbed the leader (Wendell, apparently) and spun him around to where he covered most of the demon’s torso and all of it’s head. Between the animate chain and the grip he had on Wendall’s dagger-bearing arm, the demon was confident he’d downed the most dangerous of his adversaries.
His eyes rolled up to peer into the featureless face of the Raven, fear still rolling off of him in waves. The demon winced as he heard a sickening parting of flesh, a flash of pain in his back making him think of the hatchet that’d been thrown into him.
His eyes went wide. The hatchet!
He couldn’t react fast enough, fangs buried in the warrior’s arm, to prevent the hatchet from falling just behind the curve of his skull, severing his spine. Screaming into Wendell’s arm, he felt his body drop from the blow, dragging Wendell to the floor with him. Another fierce strike left the head severed from the rest of the body, blood oozing away from the demon’s headless body.
No! He cheated! The demon thought, drawing upon the dozen souls in his being to provide him with enough sustenance to life through the mortal wound. I need him dead now!
“Katrina… Seb…” Wendell said, flopping his arm over the banister woozily. “He got me…”
“Shit,” Katrina grunted. “How bad?”
“Fatal. You need to follow the protocols.” Wendell said.
Protocols? The demon thought, consuming an altar boy’s soul to sustain himself. There are protocols for this situation?
Seb aimed his crossbow up, both hands on the grip. “Good working with you Wendell.”
“Good working with you too,” Wendell replied, just before a crossbow bolt pierced his right
goggle lens, a splash of blood erupting from the wound.
No… No! They killed him, I don’t have a host! The demon thought, relaxing it’s bite. Allowing another soul to pour into his regenerating abilities, six spidery legs sprouted from his skull. Releasing the dead hunter’s arm, he dropped the fifteen feet top the stone floor, ignoring the cries of the woman. I have to hide, have to recuperate… they’ll move on eventually, they have to!
The demon scuttled through an open hallway before darting down a stairwell leading to the morgue. Unfortunately, there hadn’t been any deaths recently, so no new body to climb in. The demon halted his movements as he felt the tremors of boots on stone passing by the narrow stairwell, voices shouting in a different language than the crude barks the Germanic people seemed devoted to.
I’ll pull up the loose tile, the demon thought with glee. I have several artifacts hidden there, and from there I can emerge in a year or so… long after they’ve left.
The demon skittered into the small morgue, two stone slabs empty of any bodies ready for burial. He crawled over to the corner of the room and pulled on a tile, lifting it up enough to slip into the darkened hole.
I just need patience… the demon thought. I can outlast them…
And with that the demon began to drift off into a state of hibernation.