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September 13, 2018

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Raven, Part One

Friday, September 14, 2018

Sliding another bolt into his crossbow, Igor used the butt of his weapon to bust out the shutters of the church he was trapped in, ducking back as an arrow whizzed by to sink into the rotting wood behind him. The entire structure had been abandoned for years and was barely held together by the brick and mortar from nearly a century beforehand. Floors gave way, stairs broke through and windows, if they weren’t broken already, were easy to open with a hasty strike from an elbow.

Darting out into the slim window’s opening, Igor looked down at the grounds of the cemetery that the church faced; the pitch of the night made it difficult to tell how many there were, but he could see at least eight glittering points in the darkness. He ducked out of the way as two more arrows flew into the window, joining their friend embedded in the rotten wood of the hallway. Igor made a cross over himself, muttering a prayer to Elohim for strength, before stalking down the darkened hall and towards the stairs that would lead to the front of the church, where the dead would be trying to enter.

He’d come to this village on the hint that a Witch was operating out of it. The quaint Spanish hamlet had charmed him immediately, with the friendly people and a simple winter, bringing in a cold ocean breeze. The town was built right along the coastline, allowing the fisherman ease of labor when bringing in the days catch. The town lacked a Priest, but made due with a mortician who knew the basics of preparing the human body for burial, going through the motions of purifying the corpse before wrapping it in its burial shroud and interring it in the soft ground around the old church.

Igor gave a wry smile; that hadn’t been enough. The Witch here was a real threat, one that was bringing the dead back to a semblance of life just long enough to attack villagers and livestock. While hardly a threat alone, they were all possessed by dark spirits and giggled madly as they ran around the building, peppering it with makeshift arrows from crude bows. The Witch himself (or herself) hadn’t made their presence known yet, leaving a host of undead to treat Igor to a night of adventure.

Fortunately, the hallowed ground of the church was enough to keep the lost souls at bay, forcing them to resort to hit and run tactics.

“I can deal with that,” Igor grunted, lugging his crossbow up to brace against his shoulder. “Won’t be pretty, but I can deal with it.”

The Cossack kicked open the front doors, allowing the scent of salty ocean air to waft over him, along with the whip of three arrows flying past him into the darker recesses of the church. Lost souls were hardly suited for using complex tools such as bows though they made ideal archers if you had enough of them; they never tired and enjoyed inflicting pain on the living.

Fortunately for Igor, he could see the pallid complexions of three just outside the fence some ten yards away, their bodies swathed in rotten sheets and pieced-together bits of clothing sewn together with what Igor knew to be human hair. One, a woman with milky eyes that seemed to glow in the darkness, howled as she pulled back the drawstring of her bow, an arrow nocked and ready to fly.

She never got a chance as Igor released his bolt, the silver-tipped arrow zipping through the air to pierce through her chest, shattering her sternum in one fell crunch. She crumpled forward, firing the arrow into the ground as she let out a wheezy bellow. One of her compatriots, an older man that had obviously fed recently if the gore-spattered down his mouth and chest were any indication, raised his bow and let loose a shot.

The arrow went wide, hitting the frame of the broken doorway some two feet from Igor’s head. Igor quickly ducked behind the bannister surrounding the walkway attached to the ancient church. Lining up another bolt, Igor gritted his teeth at the sound of the airy cackles dancing on the breeze.

“Just surrender Raven!” One voice called out, reedy and high-pitched. “We have you surrounded!”

“Yeah, just come on out and we’ll make it quick!” Another called out from the veil of darkness. This was followed by a shrill chorus of laughter, as Igor knew they would do anything but that.

Spinning up to a kneeling position, crossbow propped up on the bannister, Igor fired another bolt at the three he saw standing at the line surrounding the graveyard. The fat man took it in the shoulder, which blasted apart in a shower of grey tissue and rotting flesh, grave dirt spilling from his wounds as if it were blood. The man let out a girlish cry of pain as he spun and fell to the snowy ground, where the woman was busy trying to piece herself back together, pulling ribs into place without the aid of her sternum. Their remaining ally ducked down and began checking over the other two, granting Igor a chance to reload his crossbow in relative peace.

Thunk!

Igor let out a cry of pain as an arrow sank into his side, piercing his boiled leather armor just enough to draw blood. A series of giggles echoed from the woods to the right, telling Igor that he’d been foolish to think that he was in a safe position. Reaching over to the arrow sticking out of his side, he tugged on it once, sliding it slowly out of his body. The sharpened ash arrow bore no metal tip and seemed to have splintered off inside Igor’s body or armor. He could feel warm blood bubbling beneath his leather, staining his underclothes. Cursing himself for ignoring his flank, Igor turned and fired blindly into the woods, smiling as he heard a cry of surprise come from the area, a snowy bush shaking as a lost soul cried out.

Holding a hand over his wound, Igor retreated into the church before pressing his back against a wall and sliding down. Reaching to his vest, he took inventory of what he had left at his disposal: three smoke sticks, five vials of holy water and another seven bolts. He always had his hand-axe, a silver weapon that cut through cursed flesh like a sickle through the fresh grain, but that would mean getting close to the lost souls… which is where they excelled.

The lost souls would swarm him if he gave them the chance, all of them no doubt armed with something sharp. Igor had never met one that didn’t have a penchant for something to cut or stab a living being.

“Oh, Raven!” A shrill voice called out, this one not as hollow as the others. This perked his ears, causing Igor to peek around the corner, amazed to see a robed figure, tall and regal, holding a lantern in one hand and a wicked looking knife in the other. Five lost souls, all in differing states of decay, stood around the grim man, holding a woman who was thrashing about. The man, bald with black symbols tattooed over his scalp, held the lantern over the girl to reveal it to be one of the barmaids from the town tavern.

“Look what we have!” The Witch called out, a smile evident in his voice. He raised his dagger carefully as if examining the iron intently. “A suitable sacrifice, wouldn’t you agree?”

Igor cursed, hand still pressed over his bleeding wound. The girl wouldn’t last long with the ever-hungry lost souls grappling her, her life likely about to become forfeit to the Witch in a ritual sacrifice. Such an event near the hallowed ground would be enough to weaken the blessings to allow the undead minions to enter the church grounds.

Igor couldn’t allow that.

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