All who live in these valleys live in fear of the Winter Solstice. After the cool of autumn has long faded into callous winter and the countless snowstorms have blanketed all the paths and roads with mattress thick snow, the mist in all of its mystic horror rolls over the villages for its yearly tribute.
The wolves, the harbingers of this mysterious event, are unknown as to their origins. One of the few myths we are told when we are younger is that once the Elves used to roam the mountainsides between the robust pines, their caravans carrying wares and crafts most exotic. One winter, during the solstice a terrible snowstorm fell upon them and they lost sight of their trail, being forced to take up shelter amidst the caves. As many became frostbitten and exposed they began to chant wild prayers to their Gods. Strange as the Elven pantheon is, Evit-tirrian the Night-wolf, transformed the caravan into the horrible, twisted beasts so as to brave the winter and they have remained just as that since.
Yet I’ve never seen a wolf nor Elf around here outside of the solstice.
Another popular tale is that they were born of the mountains themselves. The dwarves in one of their many excursions along the borderlands cut deep into the rock and uncovered an ancient crypt of which the beasts had been trapped in by the divine for millennia.
Yet never has there been a dwarf nor sign of the expeditions.
Yet regardless of their origins, the fact was the same, the wolves, mist, and fear that they brought rattled our village into a frenzy and made us fear the high gray peaks. Few men dare to walk in the mountains, for fear of the wolves. Hunters, forced to travel the crooked paths will only do so after receiving extensive blessing from Father Brelzac and even then they never stray too deep so as to avoid the caves and ruins scattered amidst the crags.
This standard of weary agony had become normal over generations, traditional for our folk and as a result, we adapted to it in what little ways we could.
Once during one such event, I was acting as local constable and had the responsibility of assembling a band of watchmen for when the time came. It would not be my first time with such a hefty responsibility, but it would be my last for greater purpose was granted to me on that evening.
It began as it always had, the week leading up until the yearly culling was filled with hurried carpenters boarding up homes at nominal costs, all the while storefronts became armories selling old firearms from a half a century prior. What little silverware we had and what few valuable heirlooms remained where melted down and turned into bullets, the one thing that could smite the wild monsters.
During this panicked time, I had chosen for the greater part the huntsmen of the village for their experience both in marksmanship and dealing with wily beasts. One exception was poor Gregor, the village blacksmith. He was a stout, burly man with a leathery, tired face. He’d lost his wife to the wolves six years ago and raised his dear son Aston on his own all the while still providing for the entire village. In fact, I had not chosen him myself, intentionally so I’m afraid for this reason, but rather he insisted for weeks to come until I mournfully folded into his request. The day of, he locked Aston in his cellar and joined us in arms.
Our militia, a ruddy ensemble of firearms, mostly old flintlocks and muskets with a few newer rifles as well as my revolver which I’d traded my horse last summer for to a traveling caravan from Lorigav. We then proceeded to procure wood from the surrounding forests and made a square palisade in the village center and fixed a pole from which we strung a rusty old lantern so as to draw the beasts unto us.
The mob of moth-eaten coats watched on as the sky glowed orange and the village grew steadily silent. Father Brezlac came down from his hill and blessed us with incense and prayers before retreating home. Families clung to the darkest corners and cellars of their drafty homesteads, huddling close with whatever weapons they managed to afford or inherit. I only wish that in these times we’d have enough silver to provide to them, for lead disruptive as it is, would only stammer the unholy wolf.
Once the last tinges of the sun’s holy rays departed and the shining snow-drifts faded to gray, we looked to the crown of the mountains high above. Then, as if produced by a volcano, the opaque, grey cloud began to take shape, rising fast and swallowing the horizon. Like a crashing wave, it rolled over the forests, smothering their conical tips in danger and lament, until finally it cascaded into the cobbled streets, between the humble stone cottages and covered us in its cold embrace.
We clung to our weapons and seized our battlements, waiting silently filtering out our own breaths from the void like fog. Gregor quickly lit the lantern, bathing us in a citrine glow which flickered as the metal body swayed on its hook. Moments, agonizing and ceaseless passed much akin to stripping the trunk of a tree, layer by layer.
Suddenly the silence was broken by an uncanny source, the bubbly high-pitched jingle of a child’s laughter reverberated through the street.
“Damn! I thought everyone was locked away!” I said to my watchmen.
“That sounded close” muttered Gregor who stared with a wide expression about him.
In the distance, we saw a small figure shift, prancing and playing without fear. It had golden hair and a fair frame which blended nearly into the veil and I immediately recognized it. “Bloody Hell, is that Aston?” I gasped.
The blacksmith, revolted by the thought lurched forward in terror. “Devos! It is, I have to-“
He started to speak but I cut him off “-I will go after him Gregor, you stay here.” I said, wishing for neither a father to foolishly lose his son nor a son to foolishly lose his father.
“Please! Bring him back safe!” he yelped.
“I will return with him, you have my word,” I said before vaulting the barricade my body rigid with determination. How in the name of Devos and all the Angels he escaped from a locked cellar I may never know. Aston never had a reputation as a troublesome kid, he was quiet, shy, did as he was asked, yet to see him in such a jovial state was unnerving.
I ranged the mist silently not wishing to attract the attention of the hounds relying on little more than my own dilated eyes to see the shifting blankets around me. I seemed to stay just in sight of Aston. “Aston!” I cried out in a hushed tone “Aston, your father is scared for you, come back here!” He appeared deaf to my request and carried on in a sort of wondrous stupor, leading me towards the perimeter of the woods scaling up the side of a snowbank.
As he entered I doubled pace, I would drag the insolent child back home if I had to, for poor Gregor’s sake. My boots crunched and squeaked and I chased after, I made great stride and clasped the boy on the shoulders. At first, he seemed to resist me, trying to carry on as if I weren’t a present force, until I finally turned him around, forcing his pale blue eyes unto me. “Aston! How did you get out of the cellar? Come on do you wish death upon yourself?” I asked him hurriedly starting to tow him back.
“The Stone man has something to show me!” he replied in a loud, cheerful chirp. I was puzzled at his expression, and then noticed the drooping, listless expression of his face.
“This is no game, come and I’ll return you to your father.”
As I enticed him forcefully, the forest erupted with a scattered and wild rhythm. The underbrush bristled and rattled forcing me to seize up and guard over the boy with him in my shadow as I peered the woods watching for the beasts.
Several more agonizing moments passed then from amidst its obscurity a set of gold-stained teeth, sharp and malicious opened wide, lunging for me. With a quick twitch of my revolver’s trigger, I slew the creature with silver and thunder as its beastly mouth bucked skyward and its gnarled, matted fur cradled itself in a pillow of snow at my feet.
I went to resume my quest, but as I turned the boy was absent. I cursed to myself and looked about the ground for any human disturbance. Thankfully the boy’s feet left small impressions and I trod along them kicking aside clumps of ice as I did so. The trunks of the trees seemed to hover as I passed them, their sharp needles extending like the wings of bats.
I was eventually led a sandstone awning presenting itself to me as a sort of square navel in the rock face, from its darkened halls billowed forth the wind’s ghastly echo which moaned in a sort of depraved wail. Steeled only by my promise I entered despite better judgments and I found myself in a large empty chamber with only black fog.
As I moved swiftly whispering out the boy’s name, I heard a tell-tale patter amidst the stone tiles. They scurried about me like rocks thrown against the wall. Readying my weapon I narrowed my sight, catching swift shadows dart about me. I waited, and as soon as one changed its path towards me I discharged a silver bullet straight unto its heart, that is if such grotesque canines could have such a thing. In the flash of the muzzle I could see just beyond a low threshold, the still miraculously unscathed Aston standing indifferent in the presence of a stone statuette perched upon a pedestal.
Another hound charged and under the grace of fire and smoke, he was smitten soon followed by his peers. I trod to the statue’s chamber standing within feet of Aston and found we were flanked by several more of the grey, gnarled wolves. They stood breathing heavily, their barrel-like chests rising and falling as they rested upon peaked shoulders.
Then Aston became alight under a pale energy which seemed to seep forth from its very etching. As it brightened I could see its details in greater magnitude. It was simple, almost cylindrical in its crafting and much reflected the statuettes I had seen in the chapel. Its sharply carved face stared judgmentally at the boy. About the sides of its studded gown were indents that appeared the shape of a crooked knife in one hand and a long branch in the other.
Soon its energy reached its peak and before the boy, a spectral figure appeared. It stood tall over him wearing an ivory tunic casting doubtful eyes upon him. From its back stretched broad snowy wings which simultaneously brought me ease and terror.
Its eyes slithered up to me, their dark pupils sending an icy sensation through my being. “Did you come for the boy?” its voice boomed, vibrating the stones so as to shakes loose dust.
I remained frozen, awed by the angel’s majestic and powerful voice.
“How tragic, but fear not for he has been marked! His purpose is both holy and necessary!”
“What are you doing with him!” I was finally able to shout, wavering in tone.
“He is the price of our protection!”
“What are you-“ before I could finish he became impatient and made one quick spinning motion with his torso, striking the boy. He toppled back with a waterfall of blood pouring from his throat. His eyes were like an insect’s as he choked to death on his own fluids.
“Feast my children! Feast!” It commanded, fading back into the statue. The wolves pounced upon his body, which still desperately clung to life. Their twisted golden teeth ripped at his flesh, severing tendon and sinew. They gnawed on his bones and lapped up pools of blood from around him. Their white fur dyed pink as they gluttonously indulged in their meal.
“No!” I shouted. I quickly executed the creatures and in despondency fell to my knees silently weeping over the torn remains of Aston. With my promise as broken as his body, I could not imagine facing Gregor, especially after such a simple failing. If I had not been so enamored by the divine creature and resorted to acting rather than parlaying perhaps I would have been able to save him, but then what terrible fate could defying such a creature have brought?
I stood up and grabbed at it, trying to pry it intent on throwing it to the ground in anger. Yet, strong as I may be it was cemented to its pedestal and I soon gave up my fury.
I took up the child’s torn body and crept home in shame unmolested by any further creature. As day broke, I lingered on the outskirts, staring at the product of my failure. Lightning struck in my chest and the visage of that statue heckled my very being. Eventually, I marched off and snuck into Gregor’s shop, stealing away his hammer from amidst his tools.
Then, retracing my footsteps I returned to that damned shrine. The bodies of the wolves had vanished, as they often did with the mist. It was then that I noticed in the main chamber, rotted and torn piles of wood and fibers. Amidst them was a banner, bearing two entwined rings upon its surface. Its broken and dirty fabric was strewn over the remains of a humanoid skeleton harboring a tarnished set of plated armor which sheltered the bones a clamshell of metal. Indeed the inquisitor’s remains must have been centuries old, perhaps to the point of the organization’s founding to bear a uniform such as that. Its skull was broad and thick, like that of man’s, while its torso was tall and sturdy
In his hands was an old leather journal, eaten by time. I picked it up, most of the pages had been reduced to pulp and rot, yet a few legible lines remained. From what I could make out was the following:
“Carved a…the angel found us…must save…so cold…Devos save them…betrayed” I could glean little else from it so I carried on with my mission.
I looked the statue in the eyes with a mean expression and with Gregor’s tool in hand I smote it, splitting it into two halves. Not satisfied I gathered the two pieces of the holy relic together and ground it into chunks, then granules and still further into dust. I do not know what good it did, all I know is that I cannot return home. I am unable to face Gregor’s weeping once again, especially in light of my failings. I instead chose to leave his son’s remains in the town center and then I will be away in exile.
However, weep not for me, for this tragedy has gifted me a new, holy purpose. My faith in the angels, now disturbed, is about to perish. Yes, this is the start of a new journey for me, a new war from which I may never return.
I’ve heard legend that one can kill an Angel, the academics in the Republic will tell me how. I must travel to the universities of Lorigav to investigate why an angel would do such a cruel and brutal thing to an innocent, traumatized youth.