"This is the place, noble lord." Elder Gunther's voice quavered as he pointed towards the old winehouse. "It began shortly after my workers destroyed a nest of some sort of bird to make room for the new extension..."
"I see." Jacun Samdal smiled reassuringly, patting the honoured elder of Bramblewine River as he surveyed the area. The town had once been a prosperous one, raising the ripe grapes that supplied the town's namesake produce. However, the vinery had been overwhelmed by a horrific monster recently.
Enter the Bloodhunters.
Samdal looked back at his compatriots. Jana, the scholar and thaumaturge that the group had come to rely on, was swaying on her feet, and her companion, Peregrine, was carefully watching her. The larger man, although normally shy around women, had clearly taken a fancy to the studious demonologist, and whenever danger threatened, he began to hover around her like a mother hen. The only thing more amazing that his behaviour was that Jana didn't seem to have noticed yet, and Samdal privately decided to take her aside and talk to her about it before she did something foolish. And speaking of foolish...
Reaching out, Samdal grabbed a scruffy leather collar, reining in his youngest companion. "Hold it, Lii." Lii Quickhand's eyes sparkled as she looked backwards with an embarrassed smile, sliding the knife she had half-drawn back into its sheath. "And where exactly were you going, little girl?"
"Just scouting. You know. Stuff." Lia scratched the back of her head and smiled impishly. "See if the beast is inside."
"No." Samdal didn't smile. "This is serious business, Lia. We have to do it properly. Jana." The demonologist walked forwards. Heavy bags were under her eyes, and her hair was less primly pulled back than was usual. Not for the first time, Samdal noted the gray hairs starting to appear, and matched them to those in him. If he was planning on retiring young, he was running out of time. "Do we have everything?"
Jana nodded, reaching back and handing each of the others their favorite weapons, which they had given to her the night before - a sword of Samdal, Peregrine's spear, and a pair of daggers to Lii. "Everything is prepared. This won't work well, but it will work. This sort of monster only dematerializes if the battle truly goes against it - if it does, only these weapons can hurt it, and even then only for a handful of blows; stick with your other weapon until that moment comes."
"Right." Peregrine nodded grimly, and Samdal carefully sheathed his sword, with a quirk of a smile at the etchings in the blade; he would have to get it repaired afterwards, but it wouldn't be the first time. Lii took the daggers more cautiously, as the elder watched the four. "Alright, people. The monster inside is a dangerous beast. It's already killed two guardsmen and four villagers, and ruined half the harvest. We're just lucky it's sleeping at the moment. Fortunately, they're also confrontational."
"Fortunately?" Lii's voice was wry, and Samdal chuckled.
"In this case." He looked around at the four. "Jana, I know how much those rituals take out of you. Stay here; we can handle the rest of things. Now, about finding it if it runs..."
After a moment, Jana nodded. "Alright." Reaching into one pocket of her volumnuous robe, she drew forth a small vial, which she unstoppered. Lii made a face as Jana walked up to her. "Close your right eye, dear." Lii did, and Jana poured a few drops of her potion onto one finger and smeared it across Lii's closed eyelid. "You'll feel some vertigo; your right eye is seeing the world through demonic eyes."
"Ew." Lii made a face as Jana reached up to Peregrine's face; he blushed very faintly but did not otherwise react. "What is this stuff?"
"Blood. Don't touch it. Sparrow and mine." The village elder blanched, and even Lii looked faintly nauseous, but Samdal and Peregrine just nodded. Jana finished her preparations, and stepped back with a nod. "If you rub it off, you'll break the magic, so don't. Good luck."
"Right." Samdal started creeping forwards. "We have a monster to slay, folks. Let's go. Lii, left flank. Peregrine, right behind me." The two fell in quickly and Samdal smiled grimly. Lii might be new, but she was efficient, and that should be enough.
Hopefully. He'd fought beasts like this before, and they were deadly.
The inside of winery was dark; it was midday outside, but the windows were heaped high with broken barrels and ruined tables, and the door, though hanging loosely in its hinges, was still attached. Even from outside, Samdal could smell the putrid stench of blood and guts, and he clenched his sword tightly as he gestured towards the door.
The door creaked slowly as it opened, leeching light into the ruined building. Samdal took the lead, with Lii slipping in behind him and taking up position. A moment later, the floor creaked as Peregrine stepped inwards, and he winced as it echoed through the room.
Samdal's right eye was tinted red, and the room seemed blood-tainted as he looked around it. Even from here, he could see the half-knawed body in one corner. Lii gagged soundlessly, one hand slipping up to her mouth, as she stared around the room.
The only warning of its approach was a small cloud of dust falling from above, but that was enough to draw Lii's attention. She let out a surprised screech as she threw a knife upwards. The demon dropping downwards batted it out of the air, sending the dagger slamming into a wall as it fell towards Samdal. The soldier dove forwards, rolling as black, bloodstained claws slammed into the floor, sending wooden splinters flying everywhere.
"Lii, stay right! Peregrine, behind it!" Samdal raised his sword defensively as the monster advanced. Claws pushed off the ground as it raised to its full height of seven feet, and the spikes along its back extended as it let out a bloodcurdling roar.
"You will die here, mortals!" The ape's breath smelled of death, and it grinned savagely as it loped forwards, a sudden explosion of movement that nearly caught Samdal off-guard, and he raised his weapon defensively in front of him. The first claw deflected off his sword, the second grasped the sword, and then the first came back around to snap it in half. Throwing the two pieces aside, the monster roared triumphantly, bringing both of its fists up to drive them down, claws extended towards Samdal's head. Diving to one side, he felt the searing pain in his back as one claw raked him, and he could hear his metal armour tear from the blow. Grabbing up Lii's dropped knife, he saw Peregrine and Lii charging in from behind, and he yelled out.
"Die? Only one beast's dying here tonight, butcher!" The erymanthoi turned its attention back to him with a laugh as he threw the dagger wide, only to roar in surprise as a spearpoint stabbed into its side. A moment later, a knife bounced off its temple, leaving a long, shallow cut, and it roared again.
"Hah!" Samdal leapt to his feet, kicking the broken sword into the air, catching it, and stabbing outwards - although he hit the demon, the blow failed to damage it. "We've got it going, folks, just don't let him stab you. Lii, watch out for..." A flailing claw caught the girl along the arm as she somersaulted backwards, and the blood ape laughed again, raising a claw to its lips to taste her blood.
"No!" Lii gasped as she landed, clutching her arm, and the blood ape surged forwards again, a blur of claws and teeth that stormed towards her. As Lii's eyes widened, Peregrine shoved her to one side, his spear raised to defend her. The spear shattered into a dozen pieces, and Peregrine fell with a gasp of pain.
The red tint over one eye shifted as the world went red. Grabbing the shattered remains of his sword, Samdal let out a wordless cry of rage and frustration, stabbing forwards with all of his might. The blood ape started to laugh as it turned, just as the sword stabbed directly into the wound left by the spear before. It gasped in surprise and pain, staggering backwards, and instantly faded from sight.
"Now! Before it runs!" Samdal drew his proper sword, running towards the faint humanoid cloud he could still see. Caught off-guard, the creature raised its claws to defend itself, but it was too late. The sword drove deep into its head, and it let out an unearthly scream as it died, its body taking form once again as the magic empowering it faded.
"Ohno, ohno..." Lii was crouched in front of Peregrine, desperately trying to staunch the blood flowing freely from him. Letting the sword fall, still embedded in the monster's flesh, Samdal rushed forwards, reaching into his pockets for the herbs and bandages he had brought.
"Come on, don't die on me..." Working furiously, Samdal pressed compresses and herbs. "Bad wounds. You can't die, Peregrine. What will Jana say?"
Peregrine laughed faintly, his eyes focusing for a moment, and then they closed. Lii gasped, but Samdal kept working. A moment later, Peregrine coughed, turning sideways and sending a spray of blood over the floor. Sitting back, Samdal nodded slowly. "That's all I can do."
"He'll live. We'll have to keep an eye on him, though." Samdal stood slowly, with a faint smile, as the tension began to fade. "You did good work, girl. Go get Jana, and let's get out of here." Lii nodded slowly, and stood with an equally weak smile of her own. Samdal looked around the devastated room, and sighed quietly.
He was getting too old for this.