It was a cold, miserable sort of night. A powerful wind blew through the spruce and hemlock treetops as the branches muttered and roared with each other. It was the sort of night that cast a dour mood upon the world, one that could even make vampires want to stay inside.
For the heavily armed young woman wandering down the woodland path it was an evening the same as any other. To an outsider she painted an odd figure; despite an average build she carried a variety of different swords, far more than she had hands. But what was even more peculiar was that she had no armor to match, only wearing a cheap black tunic and trousers with a pair of loose sandals. Despite this she walked with purpose, seemingly oblivious to the cloudy and ominous weather. However, the crow hunched on her shoulder clearly felt quite differently; it shivered and peered into the dark of the forest, seemingly overwhelmed with fear.
It was not like Fena was unaware of the ominous atmosphere. It was simply that she didn’t care. Impending doom was the norm for her, and she wasn’t about to start raising a fuss every time it came knocking. As they crested the top of a small hill, the lights of their destination came into view. A small, rustic forest village, tucked away inside a tiny river valley. The village consisted of about fifteen houses, and ought to have had a population of around forty villagers. At least, that’s what her employer had said. Fena liked to do her research before taking a job. To an inexperienced eye, the village looked like a safe haven on such a rowdy night. But Fena knew better. She had too much experience of making similar mistakes in the past to do so again.
“What do you think?” she whispered to her crow as they approached the village.
“I think this could have waited till morning,” answered the crow in an irate tone. “You’ve lost your sense for danger.”
“Oh hush Ferald,” she answered. “You know I have no use for waiting.”
The crow only grumbled further under its breath, which Fena promptly ignored. She kept a close eye out on the warm and cozy looking houses as they grew near.
“Well, everything seems normal so far,” whispered Fena.
“You are as dense as you are naive,” responded the crow savagely. “If I were you, I would already have a sword out.”
Fena only placed a hand on the hilt of her wakizashi. Her swords were of a wide variety; from a zweihander slung across her back, to a katana and a rapier attached to either side, her armament seemed totally excessive. She even kept her wakizashi and a short sword attached to the back of her waist. Any person watching her would laugh at the absurd amount of weapons she carried, but Fena didn’t care. They hadn’t even seen her hidden weapons yet.
Fena crept up to the side of a log house, pressing herself against the side. She listened very carefully, trying to ignore the sound of the stormy wind rushing through the woods. Nothing. She could hear nothing. No voices, no laughing or arguing. Not even the crackle of a fireplace, despite the fact that smoke came out of the chimney and inviting firelight crept out of the windows.
“Okay, you were right,” Fena admitted. “There’s definitely something up.”
“See? You never listen,” muttered the crow. “Can’t you hurry this up?”
Fena ignored the question.
“Where do you think it is?”
“How should I know? Just stand in the middle of the street and shout, maybe then it’ll come out,” said the crow sarcastically.
“Hey, wait-” Fena didn’t listen further as she strode out into the middle of the path that made up the main street of this village.
“HEY!” She shouted over the wind. “Demon! Monster! Whoever attacked this place! Come out, come out wherever you are!”
The crow flapped his wings, flying away from her to land on one of the roofs. “Are you crazy?!,” it hissed. “I didn’t mean literally!”
Fena gave him an irritated look.
“Why did you suggest it then? I really don’t want to have to search every nook and cranny in this place…”
The crow sighed. “You really are an idiot, aren’t you?”
“Bah. I do my research properly.”
“Half an hour in the city library does not count as research. We don’t even know what happened to the residents!”
Fena paused, surveying her surroundings.
“Hmmm… well, it seems kind of obvious to me. From the scratches on the doors, I imagine some sort of beast monster has been preying on the villagers for a while. Maybe they thought hiding in their houses would help. Regardless the monster has completely wiped them out, or they fled, as no one is actually living here anymore. Despite the illusion magic attempt to make it appear so, it’s totally quiet. I’d say the village has been dead for about…” Fena drew out the word, thinking for a moment. “No more than a week or so… the weeds in the gardens here have yet to grow any further.”
The crow was surprised. Apparently Fena had been paying more attention than it thought.
“What about the chimney smoke and the candle light then?”
Fena looked around again, a mildly annoyed expression on her face.
“Yeah, I wondered about that myself. Normally beast monsters are unable to make illusions, and certainly are not the type to try to lure weary travellers. Unless…”
Suddenly, a low, guttural growl could be heard behind her. It was deeper than any throat should be capable of producing, a gruesome, menacing, desperate sort of growl. Fena spun around, an expression of shock and horror on her face.
“Unless it’s a corrupted spirit beast…” she breathed.
Before her, at the end of the village path stood a towering, nine foot tall silhouette. A pair of rabid, glowing red eyes glared at her as yellowed, rotted teeth gnashed, desperate to rip her body apart. The corrupted Spirit Beast stood on its two hind legs, towering above the low roofs of the village in the shape of an enormous bear. Fena blocked her nose as she smelled its rotted and putrid flesh, loosely held together by matted fur that once could be called white. This spirit beast had died quite a while ago, yet a twisted and foul energy forced it to continue, consuming and destroying everything in its path.
Fena could only stare, amazed and saddened by the sight. Spiritual Beasts were considered a myth by most, the ramblings of the delusional. And yet not only was one standing before her, but it bore the obvious signs of a foreign magic that forced it to continue long after death. It broke what was left of Fena’s heart to see a seemingly impossible creature already long lost.
The former Spirit Beast let out another undead growl, its voice reverberating the very air. This was typically used as an intimidation tactic, one that was usually enough to even make even the bravest quake in their boots. But Fena instead let out a sigh, of both relief and anticipation. The journey was not for nothing. She began to remove her weapons and accessories with practiced ease until she stood with nothing but her Zweihander in hand and a sheathed wakizashi.
She stood, drawn and ready to begin the fight. A strangely nervous energy began to build around her; a tension that had been suppressed but now struggled to break free. Fena’s heart leapt into her mouth, and she suddenly began to pant as her eyes filled with an anxious need. Her hands clenched around the handle of the Zweihander until her knuckles turned white and shook with anxiety. And just as the pressure seemed to come to a head, Fena closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Suddenly her eyes snapped open and she charged towards the monster while her crow hopped and squawked in anxiety.
The beast dropped down onto its fours and charged as well, bellowing in a horrific undead tone. Fena didn’t hesitate; as soon as it was in range, she dropped into a slide and slipped right underneath the creature. Swinging up with a surprising amount of strength, she managed to embed the sword into the creature’s shoulder with a shout. The former bear’s huge paws batted towards her in response, forcing her to roll out from under it. Pulling her sword with her, a spurt of black, brackish blood spat out from the wound and splattered across the ground.
As she leapt to her feet, Fena almost vomited at the smell; like a bloated corpse on a hot day. Far worse however, was the strong burning sensation as small drops of it splattered onto her skin. She quickly wiped off the black blood but the damage was already done; pock marked holes had already burned their way into her skin, giving her the appearance of a skin disease victim.
But the monster didn’t give her time to examine the injury. It leapt towards her with open jaws, aiming to crush her head in it’s teeth. She caught the monster’s attack with her sword, grabbing the flat side of the blade as she held back the massive creature’s weight. As she did so, she noticed that the wound on the former bear’s shoulder had already fully healed, while the black blood that remained on her sword had started to eat into the metal.
“Fuck, this guy is tough!” she said through gritted teeth. “See any weaknesses Fenton?”
“My name’s not- whatever,” rambled the crow anxiously. “No one’s ever gotten close to a spirit beast before, let alone kill it. Who knows how to stop an undead one!?”
With a wrench, Fena managed to push the monster off her for a moment. She assumed a fighter’s stance, pointing the sword at the beast.
“Well, give me something! Nothing I do to it sticks!” she shouted, slashing a cut across its snout that healed almost immediately.
“I dunno, we could wait till it rots to death!”.
“I’m going to pluck your feathers, bird,” growled Fena, launching another useless strike at the creature’s eye.
“Ummm, umm, let me think for a moment!” The crow was panicking as Fena deflected another attack. “Uhh, some higher undead have a dark core near the heart that powers them! Maybe try destroying it?”
“It’s a corrupted Spirit Beast! How do we know if it counts as undead?!”
“I DON’T KNOW, YOU TRY THINKING OF SOMETHING!” exploded the stressed out crow.
“Well, it’s worth a shot,” muttered Fena.
But there was no clear shot to the monster’s heart; its snapping jaws and swiping claws prevented her from getting any closer. Fena tried to find an opening as she danced from left to right, dodging and swiping with her blade. But no such opening appeared.
Fine then. I’ll just have to risk it.
Fena suddenly changed her movement, freezing still for a moment. Seeing a chance, the monster leapt forward with a swipe. Fena waited until the very last moment before dodging forward under the paw; it was so close that she could feel the huge claws tearing off the skin of her shoulder. But it was worth it; her new position forced the bear to rear up and stagger back, exposing its chest. Fena seized the opportunity and leapt forward, skillfully plunging the sword right where the heart ought to be.
The undead monster froze and took a step back. The crow let out a shout of amazement.
“It worked?! It worked! Incredible! I’m a genius!”
Fena stared up at the undead bear as it slowly looked down upon her. She then turned her gaze to what remained of her sword as it bubbled and melted away, the acidic blood leaving nothing but a hilt.
“Oh fu-” It was all she could get out before it’s jaws clamped down onto her skull, crushing it in an instant. Before her body even collapsed, the monster had seized it with its claws, ripping her corpse apart before thoroughly devouring it in a single swallow.
“-ck” finished the crow before suddenly exploded into a pile of feathers, vanishing from existence.
The undead bear sniffed the still hissing Zweihander hilt that was all that was left of Fena.
A clear and gentle voice suddenly rang out, giggling in appreciation. A white woman descended from the sky. That was the only way one could describe her. Snow white hair, sat upon perfectly pale and unblemished white skin. Eyes as white as a frozen tundra. She wore silver and white robes, elegantly designed with various flowing patterns. Her young face creased beautifully as she smiled gently, her cherry lips the only variation of colour on her. It was a strange sight to see as this beautiful and innocent-looking woman giggled at the sight of the corrupted bear below her. Only the broom she sat on and the pointed white hat she wore betrayed her as a witch.
“My oh my, my little boy found himself another meal!” Her voice was clear but held a hint of genuine affection. “Silly adventurers. It’s their own fault for bothering you, my pwecious oogly woogly.” She smiled lovingly despite her teasing tone. “Though I suppose that little illusion I cast on the empty houses helps a little bit.”
The woman drifted lower, and made to pat the monster’s nose. She quickly retreated as the creature snapped at her hand.
“Awww, looks like someone’s a bit temperamental. Did she not taste good? But it’s all for your sake you know. Everything you eat now is going to help you get big and strong!”
The undead turned and started to ignore her, now out of reach. The woman smiled again, a warm loving smile as she stared down upon her creation.
“You’ll be a big strong tool for the Emperor. Now’s not the time to show you off, but once you start behaving a little more, Mom’s going to make you famous...”
Check up completed and with a little wave, she flew away into the night sky once again.