Luxfield. A small, lively town surrounded by woodland, Luxfield was somewhat renowned for its craftsmanship, with many city businessmen ready to invest in the town. The humble town square with its marble memorial obelisk had the potential to be a thriving place of industry and luxury.
Suddenly all contact with the town was lost. Soon after, a group of hired mercenaries was sent to investigate. They did not return. From that point onwards, the rumours began to spread, with stories of missing travellers, werewolves and ghosts all lurking in Luxfield.
After one year, Luxfield had become something of a legend amongst the superstitious folk of nearby villages, none daring to go near it. Luxfield was a ghost town.
In the centre of town the memorial began to hum, a glowing fracture opening across its surface, a portal to another realm. Waltzing, West entered Luxfield.
“Oh it is very pretty isn’t it,” said West, basking in the morning sun, “nice little quaint English town, barely looks touched, early morning, forest air!” He took a deep breath, filling his lungs to the maximum; ritual rather than requirement. “I mean you can almost taste the chlorophyll!”
Sorry, I’m just not feeling, very adventurous. I actually feel sleepy, really tired. I’ll just, stay quiet, you know...
West was silent for a moment as the yawning voice in his head gradually faded; he knew that as time went on the voice in his head would dwindle, would eventually die, but until then he was stuck with him. Taking another deep breath, he decided to use this time alone as best he could. The smile returned.
“Best to close this up,” he murmured, raising Travesty to the fracture, watching the gateway shrink to nothing. As he did so, a sharp buzzing pain shot through his head, his body on fire, Travesty blazing white hot in his hand. He staggered, the pain leaving as quickly as it had come. “There’s something here isn’t there,” he whispered, looking at the complex metal in his hand, “there’s something wrong.”
“What are you doing!?” shouted a hoarse, gravelly voice. West turned to see a man, old, wasting away with straggly grey hair. His skin was covered in dirt and grime and in his hand he held a crude hammer. “What are you doing here!? No one can be here!” He started towards West, raising his hammer in apparent anger.
“Well obviously someone can be here, can’t they,” shouted West, resonating calmness. The man stopped in his tracks.
“You’re real? You talked back, you’re real!” His expression had not been anger, but fear.
“That’s me! Real, real, real!” chuckled West, in a vain attempt to make light of the situation. The man did not smile.
“Quickly, we must move. He is watching, always watching.”
Nathan looked up from his tired stupor, glancing with foggy curiosity at his mentor. The grumpy man only looked all the more grumpy with his dull black attire, but when Vinx’s sharp blue eyes touched upon Nathan, the boy could have sworn some tiny shard of ice had been shoved into his own chest. The young slayer was treated again to that familiar sensation as Vinx’s eyes fumed underneath the dark shadow of his hat, immediately shocking the boy from his sleepy lull.
Vinx merely shook his head, frosted eyes turning back to the road. “If you can’t smell it by now, perhaps there isn’t hope. A Slayer’s senses must be sharp at all times—supernatural beings will not ignore you merely because you are not aware of them. We, too, exude the scent of the cursed, and that means competition.”
The boy groaned and stifled a yawn. “Vinx, we’ve been riding for hours. Can I have a little slack, just once?”
“If you’d like a nice bruise on that thick skull, then yes. I’d prefer to leave an unconscious whining lump behind and deal with this myself. But in the case that you’d like to be useful, shut your mouth and focus.” Vinx didn’t bother with the glare this time, focusing instead on the odor in the air. The smell made the unexpressive line of his lips distort ever so slightly with disgust, and his eyes narrowed at the shadow of buildings ahead.
Nathan sulkily kept his head down as he nudged his horse to keep pace with Vinx’s, not quite daring to walk side by side. Slowly, he was starting to get a scent, but it was not quite what he had expected. The place they were approaching reeked of decay, of the dead. But if he wasn’t quite mistaken… was there still live blood here? But it smelled so different from either a human or an animal…
A Slayer’s senses must be sharp at all times—supernatural beings will not ignore you merely because you are not aware of them. The boy’s eyes widened in understanding and perked up on his horse as the words repeated in his mind, starting to search the shadows of the approaching buildings for evidence of what he smelled.
Vinx’s hand was already on the hilt of his blade, but his shoulders and back gave no hint of action. It was a slight trick of the Slayers—appearing entirely still while actually poised for action. Or perhaps that was merely a trait of Vinx’s. Nathan knew only that it had ended in an unexpected bloody nose when he tried once to surprise the man.
Without warning, Vinx drew his horse to a halt. Nathan clumsily followed, momentarily perplexed, but finally understood when he caught a strange, warm scent approaching from the street just ahead.
OoC: Hope this woooorks! If there’s anythin’ wrong, just send me a VM/PM, and I’ll fixit.
As the man gestured towards the left of the square, West walked to the nearest building; a sign depicting a storm at sea suggested some sort of tavern, but the paint had cracked and worn and no name of the establishment remained. He reached for the door and shook it slightly; it refused to budge, locked form the inside. He took a step backwards, gazing at the building. It was well made, and the windows were particularly beautiful.
“That is really, really quite something,” whispered West, gently tapping on the glass. He turned, and to his shock, the man was directly in front of him.
“We must move! My house, we must go to my house!” the man groaned, once again starting towards the left of the square. This time West stayed close as they walked towards the town’s smithy, indicated by a set of anvils outside, as well as copious displays of armour, weapons and tools, all of an astounding quality, if a little worn. The man reached for the door and opened it delicately.
“You’re the town’s blacksmith?” West asked, to which the old man nodded, his dirt encrusted fingers pointing towards the plaque on the door. West looked at it with great curiosity; it was a bronze plaque, its sheen indicating that it was polished recently. In elegant letters, the following words could be seen: “Adam Lux, Master Blacksmith.”
“You must come in,” Adam whispered, “the open is not safe.” West moved to follow Adam and enter the building, but he felt something. A sharp prick at the back of his spine. He stopped dead still. “You must come in!” Adam hissed. West raised his finger to his lips and Adam hushed.
West turned around slowly, making no noise at all, and searched for the disturbance. A little detail, something out of place, anything that was wrong. A patch of shadows at the street corner. He looked hard, but the light was ever so slightly against him.
Seeing the ferocity of West’s gaze, Nathan shivered slightly. Vinx did not move.
“Perhaps you’re right,” said West, stepping into the house, his gaze not lifting from the shadowy spot until the last possible moment.
The building was wrong. West could barely comprehend the sheer incongruence of the building’s nature. The room was destroyed, with books, paper, and furniture ripped to pieces and scattered across the floor. Yet at the same time, some objects appeared untouched. Adam collapsed into the pristine armchair in the centre of the room, moaning as he stretched his joints, accompanied by the occasional unpleasant crack. West hung by the door.
“Adam, I need to ask you some questions. And they are important. Do you understand me? Where are all the people, I mean this is a morning in what appears to be a thriving little village, yet I haven’t seen any other people apart from you. Why does this house appear to be gutted out? What on earth do you think is watching us? And who is in the painting!?”
“You must come from the city, you talk so fast...”
“I’m sorry; I’ve just got a lot to say. Let’s start with the painting,” he said, nodding towards the portrait above the remnants of a fireplace, “is that your family?”
“That’s right,” he murmured, a little tear in the corner of his eye, “My wife, my son, even my favourite dog.” He chuckled a little, causing the tear to run down his face. “It was a bloody nightmare getting him to sit still...” The floodgates had opened, Adam beginning to openly sob, “My Roger, that thing took my Roger! It took him, it has him, I want him back! He is my Roger!”
West looked at the pitiful form of Adam, the old man adopting a creaking foetal position.
“Adam, do you want me to leave you?” West asked, trying to be tender. The man wailed and nodded. As West opened the door he turned back to the crumpled old man. “Adam, I will find your son, I promise you.”
He closed the door gently, so as not to startle the broken man inside. He looked at the shadow from before.
“I know you’re there. I don’t know who you are but I don’t wish you any harm. Just come out and show yourself and we can get this sorted out in a civil manner.” He raised his arms, opening his hands showing his empty palms.
Vinx silently nudged his horse forward with his heel, approaching the man (to Nathan’s surprised) with a steadily neutral expression. From what he could see, young man appeared quite normal, but something was quite off with his scent. It was something that the Slayer, in all his years, had never seen before, but surprises were something he was growing accustomed to. He knew better than to openly trust such a stranger in so strange a town, and… that smell… something was definitely off. Best not to start anything while he still knew so little.
Nathan’s reaction was much more open, his boyish expression revealing naked curiosity and a slight touch of fear. It wasn’t merely the young man that made him nervous, but a duller, lingering scent in the air that made his blood curdle. He, too, had felt the emptiness of the town and wondered why and how, but his thinking process was still leaps and bounds behind Vinx’s.
How much Vinx was thinking of the seemingly empty town and the creature responsible was not visible in his gaze or his gait. He merely looked back at the young man with his frozen eyes as they approached, still never letting his hand rest far from the weaponry on his belt. It was not his intention to offer greeting or pleasantries, yet his posture and the deadpan of his voice spoke no threat.
“They always have to ask that question! Why am I here? I’ll tell you why, because I wandered through a fracture in the universe into this village, and I don’t have a clue what’s going on but I intend to find out!”
The greater of the two figures before him didn’t seem to react at all, despite West raising his voice to almost a yell. The lesser figure seemed to cower somewhat. West smiled, before turning, gazing up at the worn signs of the different shop fronts, occasionally grabbing small items of pottery and masonry from long abandoned stalls.
“No need to tell me who you are, I don’t really care, don’t have time, more important things to do...” continued West, his words becoming a meaningless babble as he ventured about the front, just visible to the two individuals. He turned back to them, smiling. “I have just found an office of commerce, or something, building, quite nice, and importantly it should have records of trade and transactions and other such things. Should help us, me, you, to piece together what happened here. My name is West by the way.”
The greater figure did not move. West’s smile faded slightly.
“Here’s a plan; I’ll distract it while you run.” The slayers did not move until West gave a slight nod.
The beast stood over the greater of the two men, drool dripping from its excessively equipped mouth. Patches of fur were missing, revealing bruised and torn skin beneath; in the centre of its heaving chest a glowing crystal was visible.
“Distraction!” howled West, hurling a heavy vase at the creature; it smashed against its skull, dazing it for a moment, the moment the two men needed to move to safety. The beast roared, West replying with his pilfered ammunition. The moment he threw the last item he turned, sprinting towards the office building. The beast let loose with another roar and began to move towards West, though with a vicious caution.
Grabbing the door, West felt a smile of triumph; another brilliant plan perfectly executed...
The door was locked.
He tried shaking it hastily but it wouldn’t budge. He turned to face the beast, which wasted no time at all in bounding upon him the moment it realized his guard was down.
As the beast was about to land, West felt the door swing open; in a fraction of a second the door was shut, West inside, the creature out. He applied his entire weight against it, sure that the creature would try to enter. Instead he heard another howl of pain and then silence.
“Those fellows must have scared it off; brilliant plan.”
“… So he isn’t the only one.” Vinx’s face showed no emotion as his sword hung limply at his side, stained and still dripping with the blood of the creature. His eyes were fixed towards the direction it had fled in, a hundred thoughts scrawling away in his mind. There was tainted blood here, something abnormal, and it carried the same scent as the eccentric boy they had encountered. It was not merely a beast of brutality—it had fled at the first impact of injury. The evidence of the town did not quite match the creature’s odd behavior, either. There was a great deal of decay, but none of it was outward; either the people had all fled (which, he noted, did not match the accounts of nearby towns who had seen no influx of refugees), or all been killed. But a massacre that would kill everyone at once? Where was the blood, the broken windows, the monstrous paw prints on the streets? There were no visible bodies, and yet he caught the very distinct scent of blood gone very, very bad.
Nathan was still reeling from the sudden attack, eyes wide and heart stuttering as he stared at the street. “V-Vinx?! Why did you let it so close!”
Vinx did not offer even a acknowledging glance, dismounting his horse with silent grace befitting a shadow. “We still have a great deal to learn about what happened here, but we already have a first clue that I intend to investigate.” The Slayer then approached the door where the boy had fled, keeping himself near its edge as he leaned in to speak. “If you intend to keep answers to yourself in there, I will be forced to break in.”
West paused. Despite the near unreadable tone of the man’s voice, his words certainly sounded like a threat; already having one monster to dispose of, he thought it foolish to acquire another adversary; West slowly opened the door.
“See, no need to break the door down, it works perfectly well on its own!”
As the two men entered, he noticed they were both somewhat different, especially the dominant of the two, with the way he carried himself. He closed the door behind him. “West’s the name,” he said as he turned away from them with a slight shudder, “and feel free to tell me yours when you have a chance. And you could also mention why you aren’t quite human, that would be a good start.”
Not even waiting for a response, West turned to one of the numerous wooden cabinets and with a minor groan, pulled it open. Inside, hundreds of papers were neatly arranged, with headings regarding the trade of merchants and travellers. “Right, you two can start looking through there then.”
Neither man moved.
“Alright then, don’t look through them and potentially miss out a vital piece of information: your choice.” Turning to another cabinet, he opened it to see the heading ‘Records of Death’. Grinning, he began to rapidly browse through them, flicking through reams of paper, barely so much as glancing at the majority of pages. Within a few minutes he had found a document of interest.
“Fantastic!” he shouted with a sense of glee, “no deaths for at least three months, only two cases of illness and then BAM! The record stops! I imagine if one of you two at had looked through those trading papers they would stop in exactly the same place. Oh, interesting, that was about a year ago,” he said, ripping out a page and pocketing it.
“Meaning?” asked the lesser man, with some urgency. He turned to the other man; “Vinx?”
“It means that the demon killed the entire village in a single night.”
“Well, I doubt it was a demon,” contested West, “but you’re basically right; which makes it more interesting that anyone survived...”
“There was a survivor?” asked Vinx.
“Adam Lux, blacksmith, nice fellow, apart from the mental scarring. I mean, after a year, anybodies would be just bones by now, give or take. But he would have found them when they were still fresh. Factor in any recent victims who have just wandered in, I imagine he has seen things he wish he could forget. That would damage anybody.”
A door at the back of the room swung open. All three men looked at it in anticipation. A dusty wooden staircase could be seen.
“I didn’t check that door when I came in, I didn’t even notice it!” shouted West, rushing to the front door, grabbing it; locked.
A skulking shadow moved past the window. “It’s locked us in, and it sounds angry. It isn’t going to run away. Take point Vinx!”
Vinx sighed, slightly annoyed at the man's tendency to jump for the nearest exit at the merest hint of danger. The hunter wasn't sure how useful either Nathan or West would be in besting the creature, but its current actions were already giving him a good deal of information. This creature was smart, but cowardly—it wanted to take its victims on the ground of its choice. It might even be trying to spook them into clumsiness, inflict paranoia, perhaps mask its true entrance.
But Vinx was perfectly happy in closed, dark spaces. The fresh blood of the wound he had inflicted made a nice (if only temporary) hole in the creature's stealth, as Vinx was well aware of where it was lurking. With one hand on his sword, the other went to his forehead, opening his mind to his other senses as he prepared to either wait or strike once again.
“You may or may not be aware of this, West, but something about that creature resonates with you. Whether you are directly responsible for this or not doesn't particularly matter to me at the moment, but you can rest assured that I am not letting you out of my sight anytime soon. So stand still and let the creature run its course—monsters of stealth generally like to separate a group and attack when they are vulnerable. I doubt that it will attempt so direct an assault now, but the fewest injuries are likely to happen if we remain calm and together.” Vinx's voice was quiet and harsh at the same time, and while his eyes were closed, the poise of his body indicated that he was ready to strike at the merest sound.
“Ah... right... this monster thing... it knows how to lock doors? Isn't that a bit odd for such a—” The thick thump of Vinx's fist against a skull and following groan indicated that Nathan got an answer to his unfinished question.
Silence for a moment; then a noise, of claws scratching against wood and slate. The creature was moving, and it was obvious it was ascending, scaling the building with ease. Then the sound of an iron catch falling undone sounded through the building. A gently creak as an upstairs window edged open.
“Well, that explains the pristine condition of the windows doesn’t it?” whispered West, drawing Travesty, pointing it towards the stairway. He began to move slowly towards them, Vinx staring intently at him.
“West, stay where you are,” he hissed with a harsh, commanding tone. West stopped and turned to face the slayer. His expression was determined and refused to yield beneath the sternness of the slayer’s gaze. He turned back to the stairs and slowly began to ascend.
Creeping slowly up the steps, West could see the creature huddled in a corner, clawing at various items of furniture, moving silently about the upper floor. It was a large living space, with a ruined bed and various other fittings; amongst the sheets West could spy out at least one human bone entangled with the fabric. He reached the top of the stairs and the beast rose and turned towards him.
It was like a great oversized wolf, saliva dripping from its maw, its nostrils flaring as it took in West’s scent. It took another step forward, not caring for silence, allowing its hefty paw fall heavily upon the floorboards. Its breath was hot and stank of flesh and rot. West did not pay much attention to any of these traits; they all paled in significance compared to pulsating crystal in its chest. It was glowing and humming softly, but not just into the air around it but also into West’s mind and into the Travesty in his hand. This crystal’s energy was what he had felt when he entered the town.
The beats opened its mouth to howl but it stopped when it saw West raise Travesty to its chest. As West activated it, the beast began to scream in pain; the jewel in its chest moved towards West by an inch, tearing through the creature’s skin.
In fear and pain the monster lashed out, desperately clawing at West’s arm. Swiftly evading its attack and falling to the floor, he saw Vinx and Nathan rush up the stairs and land a fierce blow against the beast. With a horrendous crack, a bone within the beast’s left arm snapped and roaring in pain it bounded out of the open window and vanished out of sight.
“It’s scared,” explained West as he picked himself up from the floor, “we need to follow it; it must have a lair or nest nearby.” He wiped the dust from his clothes hastily, looking from the window for any glimpse of the creature.
“And what do you propose we do upon finding it?” asked Vinx coldly, “Fight it alone like you so foolishly attempted?” West drew closer until he was an inch from the slayer’s face. Then he cracked his widest smile.
“Oh please, I’m not going to fight it. I’m going to free it.”
Vinx sighed, raising a brow at the young man. “I appreciate your sudden bravery, but I'd rather your body remain intact so we can remove this source of trouble. You obviously have an idea of what's going on with this beast, and if you're smart, you'll use your resources instead of rushing headfirst into danger.”
“Well, we... we are going to follow that monster, yes?” Nathan spoke softly, but remained a safe distance away from Vinx—or so he thought.
“Naturally. But we will move with caution. A cornered beast is always more vicious.”
West was becoming slightly annoyed. While he could appreciate the slayer’s desire to handle the situation in a methodical, orderly fashion, West couldn’t help but feel is spirit being dampened by the coldness, the lack of excitement, of thrill.
“Of course I have some idea of what is going on, of course I do, why don’t you?” said West, pacing the room, fiddling with his hands, “I mean obviously the crystal in its chest is causing the problem, obviously that thing killed everyone, obviously now that we’ve scared it and injured it, its natural instinct will be to run!” Overcome with frustration he slammed his hand against a wooden dresser, denting its surface. He winced slightly; he didn’t realise he could hit things that hard.
He closed his eyes, and breathed slowly. Even though the same air was just being passed in and out of his lungs, it still carried a calming effect.
“You’re right,” he continued, “We need to be careful, but we need to move quickly. I can remove the crystal as long as you can stop it from attacking me. We don’t need to kill it. Not yet. Now can we please get moving?”
“Sound advice.” Vinx smirked, swiftly turning to make his way back to the first story. Nathan followed quietly as his shadow, casting a second glance back at West. The guy was obviously stronger than he looked, and it made the slayer question if the current monster was their only threat to worry about.
“But Vinx, the door is locked...” As if that would stop the slayer, but Nathan had to point that out.
Vinx didn't answer, his body already having turned from the obvious exit. He stopped at one of the windows, roughly shoving it open. The streets, as far as he could tell, were empty, but he could still catch the strong scent of the wounded monster. How he crawled through the window was difficult to say—even Nathan saw only a ball of black and suddenly Vinx was standing outside.
“I've got a scent, but it won't last forever. Come quickly.”