The echo of a guttural, bloodcurdling roar flies across the land, spreading terror and madness in its wake. A beast haunts the Forest once more and the call for heroes has been carried to the nearest towns and settlements. It is a desperate cry for help, one that only the most foolish would answer.
Amidst the raging storm, a crack of jagged lightning splits the night and reveals three men entering through the mold-covered entrance of the village.
Athenaos the General. Behind the moustachioed, battle-scarred face lay myths and rumors. Nobody knows who he is, but everyone has heard something. Some say he is a Greek smuggler who sold opium along the Turkish coast. Others say he was the glorious battle commander of a faraway kingdom waging war on savage barbarians and prosperous empires alike. All that is certain is what one can see. An old man built like an ox with a short fuse and a sharp tongue.
Darmian the Soldier. His long unkempt hair and scruffy beard hide a once most devote crusader. When the call for zealous men came to go East and reclaim the Holy Cross from the hands of the defilers, a young Darmian jumped at the opportunity to shine bright for God. The horrors of war change even the most pious of men, though, and Darmian is no exception.
Wissant the Priest. His face riddled with disease, his hair a greasy moat around the bald center of his head and his smile a rotten collection of crooked teeth and chaffed lips. His ugly excuse of a face a perfect mirror of his soul. He was in the crusades. His camp scorched to the ground, and he the sole survivor. Forever branded a traitor and a renegade, it is a wonder why God keeps answering his prayers.
The village seems deserted, for men and women are huddled together in their homes, the warmth of their loved ones fending off the fear of natural and unnatural terrors.
The group enters the tavern, the thick smell of alcohol and the drunken laughter a welcome change to the merciless downpour outside. The tavern owner, a tall and lean man, briefs them on the bounty. A werewolf roams the Forest. "The moonlight has claimed him!"
They will go after the beast with the first break of dawn, when the elements rambling outside have subsided.
The night is long though, and the vices plenty. Wissant downs drink after drink until his head slams against the bar. Athenaos gambles his soul away. Darmian has a time most lavish and decadent at the hands of ladies who only come at night.
Morning arrives, but nature still hasn't ceased.
"The rain will mask our scent. Or maybe not. Who cares? Let's get this over with!" Athenaos quips and the group reluctantly agrees.
The rain falls heavy on the leaf-covered ground and a thin veil of mist dances around the companions' feet as they make their way to the heart of the Forest. They do not flinch when a cackling laughter echoes in the woods, they do not break when visages of long lost loved ones cry for them. They carry on, their watchful gaze shining with resolution and confidence.
The closer they get to the center of the cursed forest, the clearer the path of carnage the beast carved becomes. The ghosts of slaughtered victims roam these grounds, their faces still bearing the mark of fear and suffering as they dart and float around the companionship. A skeleton of ages past is scattered at the roots of a towering tree, bone and wood melting into one macabre exhibit of the perverse.
Suddenly, a hulking shadow flashes towards the group. In a flurry of fur and claw, the werewolf is upon Darmian, tearing at him with teeth dripping of death! The soldier fights through the shock and impales the beast in its shoulder, forcing it to retreat behind the trees. But Darmian is already slipping into oblivion.
"I will hold it back, be quick!" Athenaos yells as he strides towards the beast.
Wissant rushes to Darmian and kneels beside him. He takes some powders and dusts out of a pouch and blows them at the soldier's face. In a hushed and trembling voice, he recites a prayer for his fallen comrade.
The werewolf snaps its jaws at Athenaos, but is met with the cold steel of a buckler and then the harsh metal of a mace. It lets out a cry of pain, and steps back to recover. Athenaos though is hot on its tail and keeps the pressure on. With a quick jab it forces the beast out of balance and follows up with a blow to the side of its head. Then, he connects the mace with its shoulder and then its hind leg, forcing the werewolf to its knees. Athenaos winds up for the killing blow, but before he can end the foul creature, the slippery ground claims him and he plummets head first into the mud.
The beast spares no moment. It pounces to its feet and strikes Athenaos across the chest. His armor opens up like a nightflower in the morning sunlight, revealing the gory mess of his chest. He tries to breathe, but inhales nothing but blood. With iron resolution the man pushes on, pushing away the mind-numbing pain and the certain death that awaits. In one last hurrah, he swings his mace and parries the beast's deadly blow.
Time seems to stop. The droplets of rain and sweat off the man's brow and the beast's fur collide and hang in the air. A streak of sanguine floats towards the skies, where the moon presides over the unruly aether from its opening in the black clouds. Athenaos stares into the werewolf's gaping mouth, where animalistic hatred and obsidian abyss stare back at him.
The beast plunges its teeth into Athenaos' neck and jerks its muzzle from side to side, ripping the man's throat apart. With a final swing, it sends the grisly corpse flying. The werewolf stands up and howls, blood, gore and saliva flying in the air.
Wissant now stands alone. Witness to this horrible sight, the old man is shaken. But not broken.
He valiantly steps forward and raises his eyes to meet the gaze of the beast. Two orbs of black malice and hunger stare back at him. Wissant's eyes in response flare with bright vengeance. He grabs his robe and swiftly yanks it away from his body. A flash of light burns the growing darkness. Gone is the dirty old man. In his place stands the regal figure of a fierce warrior of God's Will draped in shining silver chainmail. For Wissant is not a mere priest. He is the Battle Ecclesiarch, the First Crusader, Leader of the Blessed, the Flame that holds Darkness at bay! With a confident swoop he unsheathes his sword, a sliver of light cutting up the lurking shadows.
The blasphemous monstrosity recoils in terror. Even in its beastly and wretched form it knows. It knows of the blood the sword has drank, the souls it separated from body, the screams of horror no man's mouth should shout. Images of the Paladin cutting down hordes of infidels blaze into the creature's hollow mind. It howls, trying to assert dominance once more, but nothing escapes its mouth but a pup's weak whimper!
Without skipping a beat, Wissant calmly steps forward and draws a jewel-adorned cross from his belt. The rays of light reflecting off the holy symbol scorch and burn the beast and bind it to its knees. The trees bend and tremble in response to its wild growls. The beast madly flails and thrashes, its muscles bulging and its limbs twisting, but it is stricken to its place by the weight of the cross.
The Paladin is now upon it, staring down the foaming and frothing abomination. His sword, humming of silver and holy fervor, connects with the beast again and again. The vile creature is no match for the divine avenger as it crumbles motionless to the ground.
Silence as cold as winter's cradle falls upon the Forest.
His footsteps are heavy, and long-buried memories sneak their way to the surface on his way back to the village. "Infidels", they called them. The blood of man in his hands. Women and children raped and strangled. In the name of the Holy Father. A city scorched to the ground. He had to burn them, it was the only way.
Wissant drapes himself in his ragged robe and continues down the muddy path, the pouring rain crashing down on his shoulders.
The villagers greet him with gasps of shock, disbelief etched on their faces. Gazes and hushed whispers follow Wissant into the tavern.
He sits at the bar and motions for a drink. The bartender collects himself and pours him a thick sanguine liquid.
"S-so, is it over?"
"The beast is dead." Wissant downs his drink and motions for another.
Wissant gives him a stinging look and again downs his drink. Then another, and another, and another.
"So, you are the only one left... I have to admit, we didn't expect you to kill Pete. We underestimated you."
Wissant looks at him over his glass. The bartender's head violently snaps back and his hands shoot towards the bar. His nails start growing sharp, and thick, black patches of hair start forming on his arms. Wissant jumps from his stool and goes for his sword, but he loses his balance and stumbles back. His vision goes blurry as the alcohol courses through his veins.
The bartender's back arches upward, his shoulders widen and his torso pushes out of his clothes. He lets out a cry of pain. "My brethren, tonight we dine in blood!" he yells.
Wissant unsheathes his sword. Screams of agony can be heard from outside.
The bartender's mouth opens up wider and wider until his jaw dislodges. Dense and foul blood oozes out of his mouth as his neck grows and locks forward. When the blood stops, a gruesome muzzle crawls its way out of his mouth. His face is now just a wrinkled piece of bloody cloth, his eyes turn red before they explode into a grimy mess and the top of his skull cracks open, mushed brain and gore spilling out.
Wissant tries to steady himself. "Dies iræ, dies illa..."
The door to the tavern busts open and two more grotesque monstrosities stumble inside. One is a woman coughing a wolf's head out of her throat and the other is a man, his eyes bulging and bleeding, walking on wolf's hind legs. Wissant forces his way to him and stabs him in the throat. "Nil inultum remanebit..."
The bartender's body cracks and groans as the beast takes form. The wolf's head is now fully free. It opens its eyes and howls. It howls a bloody call that is met by more howls. The beast shakes off the last remnants of human skin and jumps on the counter, its claws digging deep into the wood which splinters under the immense weight.
Wissant swings his sword and takes out another beast. But he is surrounded and the circle is closing in fast. "Ingemisco, tamquam reus..."
A beast strikes him across the back. He falls to his knees, his sword flying out of reach. "Ne perenni cremer igne..."
The beasts dive onto the man, taking him apart piece by piece, the ravenous blows landing one after the other and all together. They bathe in his blood and revel in his flesh as his screams die out.
It is an orgy of blood and gore.
Written by MrDupin