I awoke early and performed my meditations alone for the first time. Taking up my breathing and drawing in the energies of the world around me I placed my awareness where I felt the weight of the soul stone on my chest, and within moments I sat in the calm early morning mists on the banks of the river Nar. The dawn sun gave my surroundings a warm and comforting glow. I breathed a sigh at the calm beauty of my little safe haven. So long have I spent in this place now that the sensation of the grass underneath me and the touch of the mist on my skin as I watch my fishing line curve into the water is all very real. I feel as though I could reach down and feel the cold water running through my fingers. It was during my morning meditations that something odd happened. I sat by the river as usual but I was made aware of something lying on the grass beside me. However, every time I turned to look at it, it would disappear from view as if made of smoke drifting away on the breeze. The most I could make of the object as I viewed it from the corner of my eye was that it was some kind of knife, yet not. It had a long wooden handle, long enough to be grasped in both hands, with brass details that resembled both a sword hilt and a flintlock rifle. In fact it seemed to have a trigger, and bore several different coloured stones. The blade on the other hand was short and broad, only a few inches long and made of clear crystal. I got the distinct impression that the blade was not intended to cut but served some other purpose. For all it’s strange facets in appearance this did not seem to be a weapon at all, but rather an instrument of some other strange and as yet unknown function. I decided not to chase the vision, instead I finished my meditations, dressed and made my way downstairs.
Jennings was at table when I entered the main bar. It was still early but our patron was up and about preparing things for his day. He had supplied us with a hearty breakfast of boiled sausage that Jennings was tucking into with relish. As he saw me enter he gave me a warm welcome and bid me good morning. He seemed extremely bright for someone who had consumed such a large amount of alcohol the previous evening.
As we ate I told him of the strange vision I had experienced whilst performing my meditations. He listened with interest and only commented at the end when he assured me that I had been right not to chase it. He went on to say that this is very common whilst performing such intense visualisations and that I should continue to do just as I had done. When it is ready to be seen, I will see it.
The conversation then moved to our activities for the day and I was informed that the first of our tasks involved viewing a corpse. Not something I relished after the meal I had just eaten as it is often hard for me to escape the fact that boiled sausage looks uncomfortably similar to intestines at the best of times. Still, we pressed on and I found myself asking why we would need to do such a thing. Surely we knew why we were here. The candle was out and the Werewolf was loose, our mandate was to make sure it was safely locked away.
Again a look of incredulous surprise struck Jennings’ face as he sat across the table from me. At first he thanked me for placing my trust in him and the tale he had told, but I was foolish to take it at face value. Trust and the quest for truth and answers are two completely different things, I should be careful not to confuse one with the other. After everything I had witnessed since Egypt, he agreed, this was more than understandable and that I was not being berated for it. However, not every supposedly magical mystery has a magical answer. We are first and foremost, investigators. He assured me that the tale he had told was true. There is a local legend that speaks of a beast and the man Schwytzer had indeed existed and committed all the heinous acts he spoke of, but he may have been just a man. The beast may be little more than the culmination of fear and superstition. When under the grip of terror and subject to the powerful form of suggestion induced by belief in a world of gods and spirits the human mind can see demons in every shadow and monsters in every corner. The perpetrator of these crimes may be no more magical than a bear or wolf. This is why we must investigate everything impartially and without preconceived ideas of the task at hand.
My second mistake, he went on, was assuming it to be a werewolf. Yes the tale spoke of a curse under the full moon and an enormous wolf that walked upright like a man but this, if it exists at all, is no werewolf. As you may yet come to realise, a werewolf is a completely different entity. This is a beast, an ancient curse and construct of people’s thoughts, beliefs and superstitions. The fear of many made real.
It was at that moment the door opened and our gargantuan guide, whom I have since found out is named Horst, entered looking a little worse for wear. Jennings gave him a cheery halloo as he wiped his mouth and set about what was quite obviously a rousing and hearty welcome. I of course didn’t understand a word of it but I understood all too well the pained expression on the man’s face when Jennings clapped him enthusiastically on the shoulder. The force of the jocular blow being transmitted directly to the man’s pounding head.
Before long we were making our way through the streets to a house that lay on the outskirts of town. Jennings informed me, as he was informed by our guide, that the house belonged to the closest thing the village has to a physician, although my associate looked less than certain with his translation. The custom of the deceased laying in wake at the family home before burial had been forgone on this occasion due to the nature of his wounds. This little snippet of information did not fill me with joy at what lay in store. The man had been a farmer, a well known and respected member of the village. A man much missed by his friends and family. He had been found dead in one of his fields that bordered the sinister forest on the night before we arrived and had been laid to rest in the cellar of the house for which we were now bound. Apparently our guide found the whole affair rather tiresome. He was born and raised in this village and had heard the legend of the Beast of Morbach many times. After spending a great deal of his life working the land and hunting in the forest he had seen nothing scarier than the occasional boar protecting her young and certainly nothing otherworldly. He had always considered it an old wives tale, nothing more. Having seen the remains of this man, a man that he knew well, he was convinced that it was nothing more than the work of a hungry bear.
The houses began to grow fewer and we drew closer to the edge of town, but still our guide walked on and the rolling countryside stretched out in front of us as the valley sloped away. Our road rounded a banked corner until we were out of site of the village. It was here, nestled in the corner of the bank and looking out into the valley that we found the house we sought.
Horst knocked loudly on the door, far louder than his head would let him appreciate. The look on his face was a clear indication of his immediate regret. It seemed to be some time before any signs of life came from beyond. There were shuffling footsteps and muttered German curses as the occupant drew nearer and with a clack the heavy latch lifted and the door swung inwards. Framed against the gloom was the shape of a small, squat woman who was almost as broad as she was tall. Her hair, showing many different shades of grey, hung in a thick shabby plait down to her waist. The white blouse and long skirt she wore made her look almost perfectly square, the apron that completed the ensemble was stained with so many mystery substances that it would have taken an age to identify them all. She stood in the small aperture and looked accusingly at the three faces that greeted her. When her eyes finally fell on Horst a look of contempt flashed across her face. She stepped forward reaching up for the scarf around his neck with her left hand and pulling the man almost double until his face was the same height as her own. With her right hand she reached for his face and thumbed his eyes open, gave a sharp disapproving exclamation before grabbing his chin and indicated that he should stick out his tongue. He did so and she issued another loud tut before beckoning us all inside.
The dingy little house was filled with a thousand smells, each one as impossible to identify as the next. Bunches of herbs hung drying from the low rafters, pots bubbled over the fire, labelled jars lined shelves and tables and an incontinent parrot squawked German insults at us while she busied herself filling a small earthen cup with all manner of ingredients. She turned on her heels and marched the container over to Horst. She didn’t so much offer it to him as threaten him with it. He held up his hands in a weak attempt to assure her that it was not necessary at which point she stamped on his toe and, as his ear came down to her level, she gave him a hefty clip that sounded a resounding crack across the room. Fearing another slap to his already pounding head more than he feared the concoction waving under his nose, he gingerly accepted her kind offer. He drank it down in one go and visibly shuddered as he swallowed the last drop. Bringing his hand to his mouth in an attempt to stop it coming back up he pointed a shaky finger towards Jennings and I, informing her of something with a very weak and troubled mouth.
She turned to us with an inquiring yet judgemental look in her eye and shuffled across the room to stand in front of Jennings. Looking up into his face for a moment, as if trying to see something past what was in front of her, she raised a hand and held her palm in front of his chest. I knew this to be the spot where his soul stone lay but she did not touch him. After a few seconds she dropped her hand and gave him an approving look before turning to face me. She waddled across the floor once more and her eyes met mine. There was nothing odd or intimidating about the way she looked at me but I found it hard to look away. I cannot say whether this was just through a sense of common decency or fear at the way she had dispensed discipline to our brutish bondsman, but I held her gaze as she stood before me. Her hand rose to my chest and stopped at the point where my own soul stone sat. She did not touch me either, but as her hand hung inches from me I felt the strangest sensation of something being gently drawn through my chest.
She slowly lowered her hand once more and gave Jennings an inquisitive look, before turning back to me and flashing one last sideways glance through squinted eyes as if searching for something unseen. Naturally such interest raised my curiosity but before I was given the chance to voice my concern she turned away. I looked to Jennings in the hope that he might shed some light on this but he only gave a knowing smile before falling in behind her, both of them leaving me none the wiser as they made their way across the room.
Perplexed, and a little sullen at being left out of my own concerns, I followed them both as they made for a little door in the corner. Horst, still reeling from either his self inflicted misery or the concoction that had been forced upon him, stumbled along behind me upon realising he was soon to be left alone. The door lay open and beyond it, two shallow steps lead down into a small room with bare stone walls and floor. The temperature drop between the two rooms was instantly noticeable and the food laden shelves indicated that this was obviously the woman’s pantry. In one wall, half hidden behind a deep red curtain stood a door that was instantly foreboding in its stature. Its dark, worn timbers partly concealed behind the tatty crimson cloth. Two large iron hinges spanned the width of its front and a thick latch held it closed. It was as the woman pulled the curtain aside however, that the feeling of unease grew in the pit of my stomach. There on the wood, drawn hastily in white chalk, was a great arcane symbol the relevance of which I cannot say. It was the manner of its execution that chilled me the most. It had certainly been made by someone with the full knowledge of its meaning but had been rendered in such a hurry as to denote an extreme urgency in its inscription. Whoever placed this symbol obviously believed that something lay beyond this door that must either be kept there at all costs or be protected from whatever may come to claim it.
As I stood transfixed by my attempts to make sense of these symbols the loud clack of the latch brought me back to my surroundings and the small woman who now stood with one hand holding the door ajar and staring intently at me. The look in her eye was still one of judgement and I could not shake the feeling that she was in some way trying to get the measure of me. She pulled the door open and stepped through with Jennings following soon after. The look on his face was that of someone thoroughly enjoying themselves. I often wonder about my companion’s state of mind in situations such as this. He seems to enjoy every aspect of the task set before him, even when it means stepping into the unknown. Just as he was about to pass through into the darkness beyond he turned, catching my eye he placed his hand on his own stomach and took a deep, slow and steady breath thus signifying that I should do the same. Immediately my mind, and the flavour of the room, changed. I knew full well our reason for being there but until now it had been clouded, obscured by my own latent fears and the theatrics of this strange little woman.
Had Jennings not brought me to task on this I may have been severely compromised by what followed. The room beyond the runic symbol and its door was colder still. The hooks that hung menacingly from the ceiling made it obvious that this was the woman’s meat store, though no meat hung here now. Whether her stocks were low or she had cleared everything for fear of it being tainted I could not say but the room was empty save for a table which stood in the middle of the floor. The only light came from a small window near the ceiling and the torch she bore aloft. As my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom the nature of my surroundings became clearer in a most unwelcome fashion.
The table that stood in the centre of the room bore something which was unmistakably a reclining figure. This was not the cause for my concern for I knew this was our business. The cloth that covered the figure however, was far from reassuring. Although originally white it now showed many dark stains of an unsavoury nature which it had obviously obtained from its occupant. Yet this paled into insignificance against what was visible upon the floor. More symbols had been drawn in chalks of several different colours within a circle that encompassed the table and its grisly cargo. These symbols were numerous and of such intricate design that it must have taken their author quite some time to lay down. Around all of this stood another circle of white powder which had clearly been poured in abundance.
Jennings stood by the head of the table and I drew up next to him. My concern was obviously visible in my face for, as he turned to me he said.
“Remember, it is nothing but fear and superstition. Do not let it cloud your judgment”
These words did offer some comfort but, more comforting still was the manner in which Jennings carried himself. I made to move closer but suddenly his hand was at my arm and holding me fast.
“That said however, do not break the line of salt. Or step through it”
With a smile he released his grip and left me wondering just how much he believed his own advice.
Our host barked something German at my counterpart and, from the corner of his mouth he warned me to steel myself. She reached across the prostrate mass on the slab and, taking a corner in either hand, pulled back the sheet that covered it. Had I been awarded a week to ready myself for the sight I beheld it would not have been time enough. I have seen men meet their end in some of the most gruesome ways on the plains of the Sudan but this tested me more than anything I have ever seen.
One wide eye stared up at the ceiling, the other was gone along with most of the flesh that covered the right of his skull. What was left of the poor wretches face was twisted in an expression of pure terror. His mouth hanging wider than was physically possible due to his jaw being only half attached and his tongue lolled sickeningly from the gap. Large rends had opened him at the rib cage and I was thankful that the dull light of the room did not shed its glow on what may lay inside. His right arm was gone and the skin that remained had started to yellow and take on a mottled and bilious pallor.
Horst spoke and pulled me from my torpor, Jennings answered with what sounded like little more than a grunt. As both men spoke in German I was none the wiser to their meaning until Jennings turned to me.
“He is convinced a Bear did this. What do you think?”
I could offer no Illumination to this investigation and informed my friend that I had never even seen a Bear let alone witnessed one’s handy work.
“Then you must learn to see past what is in front of you” he said.
Reaching into his coat he took out a small object and handed it to me. It was a small crystal ball encased in brass and copper rings, one smaller than the other and on opposite sides of the sphere. I confess I was a little confused as to its purpose until Jennings instructed with a gesture that I should bring it to my eye and look through it. I was in the process of raising it to my face as he had indicated when it was snatched from my hand by the mad little woman and she brought it quickly to her own eye. There was a sharp intake of breath as she took in whatever sight greeted her, followed by muttered exclamations of a wholly religious nature. She took the thing from her eye and turned it over in her hands, inspecting it quickly before handing it back to me.
Slightly disconcerted by her reaction I was somewhat hesitant to raise it to my own eye but a morbid curiosity drove me on. The small sphere behaved as any other lens of its kind would and turned the world upside down. In this way it was wholly normal, what I saw through it however, was not. The body of this poor soul lay still and unchanged as it had done this entire time we observed it, the only difference were the nature of the wounds.
I struggle even now to describe what I saw save only to say that the tears in his flesh were glowing black. Perhaps glowing would be the wrong word but I struggle to put better words to it. Blackness emanated from the enormous claw marks in the same way sunlight would shine through a gap in the curtain. The aura undulated as it showed forth giving it the feel of a living thing that crawled under his skin like a dark serpent wrapping itself around his heart.
Lowering the thing from my eye slowly, I turned to Jennings for an explanation. He simply said.
“Now we know it was not a Bear. Now we know there is a little more credibility to the fears and superstitions of this town. So we are in search of a beast after all”
This last comment he made to himself more than anyone else in the room.
I made to give the crystal ball back to him but he held up his hand and said that I should keep it. He no longer needed it and soon, neither would I. I tucked it away in a pocket as my associate smiled pleasantly and offered something that I assume was a ‘thank you’ to our host. She replaced the blood stained cover and we all followed her as she left the room, waiting until the last of us had passed through the chalk marked door before shutting it firmly behind us and covering it once again with its curtain.
Having performed our duties there, Jennings made a show of preparing himself to leave and step out into the cold once more, even though the room from which we had just come was not much warmer than the winter outside. Again I followed suit with pleasure. I was eager to leave the place and take some fresh air whether it was freezing cold or otherwise.
There was no ceremony to our departure. Clearly our host wanted us gone as much as we wanted to leave. For the last few moments that we remained in her presence she would not take her eye from me. I felt that she held me in great suspicion until the second the door closed behind us and we found ourselves on the road once more.
I found myself curious as to what our next task might be but I did not have to wait long. It was Jennings opinion that we should take a look at the candle shrine. Horst, it seemed, knew all too well where it was and was more than willing to show us. I have no idea what that odd little woman had forced upon him but her potion seemed to have worked wonders. He stood before us the very picture of health and vigour with not a sign of the shadow that had hung over him previously that morning. After a short discussion we followed him to his house which was again, on the outskirts of town. This time however, it was on the other side and closer to the forest.
We arrived at a small hut with a giant wood store on one side and large lean to hut on the other. Horst pushed open the front door which he obviously saw no need to lock and Jennings followed without bothering to wait for an invitation, I saw no reason not to do likewise. Inside was the home of a committed bachelor who obviously enjoyed the freedoms of life as a single man, a single man with a lot to learn about the mysteries of the dishcloth, mop and duster.
Horst left us briefly to collect the few things he felt essential before setting off into the woods. As I took in the astonishing wonders of such a place my eyes eventually fell on Jennings who was standing stock still in the middle of the room like a statue, his hands held firmly at his sides and staring off into the middle distance. His stance was most peculiar and prompted me to ask if he was ok. He simply replied,
“I’m trying not to make a mess!” and a sly smirk creased his face.
We were both still laughing when Horst came back into the room now sporting a longer, thicker coat and a rather large shotgun. The mirth immediately fell from Jennings face when he saw the weapon but he chose not to voice his obvious distain for it. His manner in this surprised me. Horst did not notice, he simply made for the door and expected us both to follow, which of course we did. Turning left out of the door we were not lead back down the path we had followed to his house but instead to the small hut that leaned against its side.
The door of the hut was in such a state of disrepair that it had to be lifted with both hands before it could be pulled open. This was a simple task for our giant friend but would have taken a lot more effort had Jennings or I tried our hand at it, so we simply stood back and watched. Motioning that we should follow him, Horst made his way inside. He picked a path around various large pieces of farming machinery and hunting traps, ducking under low hanging tools that were arranged on hooks in the rafters until we reached the very back wall where sat a long deep chest that had seen many a better day. Its wood was thick and its straps broad but they were all showing signs of wear now. The big man rested his gun against the wall and lifted the lid with both hands. The collection of weapons that lay inside gave me serious concern for Horst’s mental state but I have to say I was pleased to see them. All manner of edged weapons were collected here, swords, knives, axes. Some in much better condition than others but most of them were serviceable. One caught my eye immediately and I reached in to take it up. It was a short straight sword in a leather sheath and I drew it to inspect the blade. It was well balanced and the fittings were securely mounted, there were some dark patches to the steel but no rust to speak of and the blade was keen and relatively free of chips. This blade was shorter than the one I had grown accustomed to in Africa and straight too, in fact the blade only stretched from my shoulder to my wrist, but it sat nicely in the hand and was comfortable to wield. Horst had been watching me as I inspected the weapon and as I re-sheathed it he nodded and added a grunt of approval before turning to look at Jennings. I took this as an indication that I was to keep hold of it, something I was all too happy to do.
My companion stood with his hands clasped behind his back with his customary content smile as he took all this in. Horst said something inquisitive in German and Jennings raised his hand in polite refusal. Our friendly giant asked again but my pacifist friend only confirmed his decision. Horst shrugged and let the heavy lid fall with a thump as he picked up his weapon and lead us out of his armoury, heaving the door closed behind us.
As we walked I picked my moment to ask Jennings why he had not chosen to take a weapon. Surely having something by his side would give him some comfort, even if our quarry was not of this world. I know it certainly made me feel better to have a keen blade to rely on. His answer was something I did not expect.
“I do not want a weapon, because it is a weapon. Weapons are born of fear and they breed nothing but anger and misery. That way madness lies. The true blade of the warrior is in the mind and that is the only one you should worry about training with. Carry one if you must but I promise it will do you no good, especially against what waits for us in those woods. A Weapon of any kind always does far too much damage to all concerned, surely you must know this better than most with all the things you were witness to in The Sudan. Besides, the beast is not the quarry, we are. He is the hunter, never forget that”
I listened to his words and suddenly the thing in my hand became alien to me. As I looked at it I saw all the horrors I had witnessed at the hands of scared and angry men armed with instruments such as these. I knew what the thing was capable of and I knew I had a certain amount of skill in the martial arts, but I was now loath to use it should I be called to do so.
We walked in silence for what must have been hours. The midday sun had long since passed over head by the time the forest started to grow thick around our road. The winter air was cold and crisp under the canopy of trees as we reached the crossroads where the shrine sat. The first thing I noticed was the yawning silence that only comes in the total absence of all noise. No birds sang here, no creatures rustled in the shrub, even the wind seemed afraid to move the branches. The cloudless sky gave the sun room to shine down on the world but its rays found no entrance here, it was blocked at every turn and the dark sense of foreboding shrank in around us. This place was scarred by darkness and evil, every shadow had eyes that made the skin crawl up my back.
I fancied for a moment that I may be the only one who felt this. Perhaps I was letting this place and my imagination run away with me, but when I chanced to look at Jennings I saw a perceptible shiver run down his spine and he looked most unsettled. It was his suggestion that we were quick about our task here, and hasten our return to the village that confirmed my suspicions.
He passed these sentiments on to Horst in his native tongue as the man nodded his understanding and turned to lead us up the grass embankment to where the shrine stood.
It was a small wooden structure very much like a church alcove where one might find a saintly statue. There was a tall archway and canopy over a low shelf on which lay many charms and offerings of all shapes, sizes and natures. Some appeared very new indeed and were not so much arranged as scattered. Obviously each offering had been brought here by a different member of the village and each one had felt that theirs was the most important on the pile. On the front of the shrine, written over the alcove opening, were the words “Ave Maria” and there in the middle, with pride of place, was a large ornate glass lantern in which sat an unlit candle.
Jennings reached to open the small door in the side of the lantern and instantly froze as his finger tips were mere inches away. I had heard it too. The silence of this place had been momentarily broken by the sound of a snapping twig which had come from behind a tree not six yards away. However, it was not the snap that had startled us both. It was the sound of breathing that accompanied it, a low, rhythmic and guttural breathing. Jennings hand moved again, slowly forward towards the lantern and the sound intensified. The next sound I heard was the soft double click clack of Horst drawing back both hammers on his weapon as he stood stock still. The sound had come from behind him and he stood with his head turned slightly as to better listen for any sudden movement.
My counterpart slowly moved his hand away and spoke to the world at large,
“Well, I think we’ve seen everything we need to see here. Shall we leave?”
He found no disagreement from either of us and we slowly backed away from the shrine until we stood where the roads crossed. Nothing followed us and the breathing slowly died away. Whether it was the beast or not I cannot say, all I know for certain is that none of us wanted to stay and find out. We started to walk slowly at first and as quietly as possibly, listening to see if anything followed us. We heard nothing and our pace quickened with each step until we found ourselves on the open road again. The sun was low by the time the trees gave us room to see it. The forest was still thick on either side and again we walked in silence as we listened.
The sky grew steadily darker as we were driven on by the dread oppression that chased our backs. Horst had waited until he knew we were close enough to home before he lit his one and only lantern for fear of it burning out before we found safety. Its dim light only crept a tiny way into the trees and the shadows it cast made shapes dance in the forest that were somehow even more unsettling than the darkness itself.
The last rays of sunlight had sunk below the horizon a good twenty minutes before we emerged from the forest and saw the lights of the village a little way ahead. I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief but I knew our ordeal was not over yet. Five more minutes and we would be out of the darkness. Now free from the woods the moon lit our path and Horsts lamp was of no further use.
It was as we neared the half way mark that a terrible howl split the air around us and I knew it to be far greater than that of any wolf. I did not draw my conclusion from experience, how could I? I have never encountered a wolf. No, I knew this sound came from no natural animal from the effect it had on Horst. The huge man turned so quickly in the direction the noise had come from and froze solid with a look of wide eyed terror on his face. He did not raise his weapon to take aim but clutched it tight across his chest in both hands as if it would somehow shield him from whatever this thing may be. Jennings had also spun on his heels to see where such a noise had come from but his expression was far from one of fear. He stood in wide eyed wonder with the smile of a man seeing the glory of a dawn for the first time.
The road stretched from our feet back down to the sharp bend it took as it entered the forest to our right, straight ahead of us was a field that had its entrance between the forest and a small copse of trees. It was in this entrance to the field that something sat.
The moonlight behind it gave the impression of a low dark bush against the silver grey of the grass all around it. Had I known no different I would have been convinced that a bush is all it was, but then it stood. It rose up from its crouch on two strong legs that had the unmistakable double angle of a canine, it rose until it was at least eight feet tall. The silhouette was slender with large powerful shoulders and long arms that ended in sharp claws. It was not until the thing turned sideways and ran into the forest that I saw the long wolf like snout and thick hair. The speed at which it moved was astonishing as it cleared the twenty feet back to the forest with ease. The second it moved was like the starting gun to a sprinter and Horst set off at a gallop. I followed very swiftly on his heels and was already several yards away when I turned to see Jennings still standing where we had both left him. I shouted to him but he did not turn. I shouted again, this time at full sprint as I made my way back to him but still he did not turn. It was not until he felt my hand on his arm that he conceded to look at me, the smile on his face even bigger now, and as an excited child he asked,
“Did you see that?”
I did not answer, just looked at him in amazement and dragged him along behind me as I hit my sprint back the village once more.
We did not stop running until we burst through the doors of the bar. Horst made straight for the counter and demanded a stiff drink from the owner. I could do nothing but fall into the nearest vacant seat and battle to get my breath back. Jennings entered at a run seconds after me and stood leaning with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath between bouts of laughter. He looked up at my astonished face and with a smile said,
“Well, that was invigorating”
Now that the danger had passed and the adrenaline started to fade I found his mirth quite infectious and felt a smile creep across my own weary face.
The rest of the evening was spent eating our fill and washing it down with some welcome ale while Jennings spun the tale of our encounter to anyone who cared to listen, which was everybody, whilst apparently making me out to be the hero of the piece for which I received more drink and many a slapped shoulder. Horst took it upon himself to try and teach me the fundamentals of German which, in his opinion, consisted mostly of insults, swear words and sexual suggestions.
As the evening wore on and the revelry wound down to its own, slightly quieter level, Jennings and I found ourselves sitting in a quiet corner as Horst told another tale of monsters to the adoring crowd around him and my associate turned to me asking what I had managed to piece together from our day.
At first I was a little unseated by his question. My day had been mostly horror and revulsion but I was pretty sure this was not what he wanted to hear. Thankfully he ventured his own point of view.
Upon viewing the remains of the poor wretch this morning he had surmised several things. The beast was indeed a reality and, even though it probably was not to be held accountable for every death and disappearance it was certainly guilty of that poor man’s murder. Furthermore the man appeared to be of no consequence so far, he was merely a farmer who happened to be too close to the forest when the beast found itself free of its prison. Also, the people of this town are very superstitious. Our host was indicative of that, not only was she a practitioner of natural magic she was also the trusted physician for the entire town, which also goes to show just how much they are prepared to believe in the beast. After all, it is their belief that gives it the strength it has. The only person we have encountered so far who gave no credit to the myth of the beast was Horst and his opinion on that was changed dramatically by the events of the day.
Which then lead him to his thoughts on the shrine. He asked if I had noticed anything odd there. I had to confess that nothing immediately sprang to mind. He asked if I had actually seen the candle, again I had to confess that I had not. My mind had been on whatever lurked in the trees at the time.
“The candle”, he said “had been snuffed out. It had not burned down naturally and it had certainly not been blown out as it was protected from the wind by the glass lantern. Someone purposefully put the candle out.”
This had not occurred to me. Who on earth would do such a thing and knowingly release such hell upon the town? This was one of the several questions my counterpart assured we had to answer. Who had done this? Why had they done this? Whose job was it to keep the candle lit? But most of all, why was the candle still out?
I retired with those questions bouncing around inside my weary mind. Once in my room I spent a little time next to the river and as I sat fishing on the bank the strange object appeared beside me once more. I did not turn to look at it, and by not doing so I was awarded a further glimpse.

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