From all we can tell, Wizards isn't putting out a novel for Innistrad block.
I guess that means I'll just have to write one and hope that no one screams at me!
The cold rain lashed at the windows of the Spreading Branches, the wind blowing mournfully through the eaves. The horses in the stable shifted uneasily in their stalls, no happier than the patrons huddled inside the cramped roadside tavern. A dim fire sputtered fitfully in the center of the room, providing little warmth to the men gathered at the tables as they sipped their stale ale, sharing whispered stories of the horrors that lurked along the road, each one muttering curses on whatever desperate business had forced them into the storm.
“’Sh gonna be a bad night,” Karst slurred as he stared at the chipped tankard in his hand as he rested his head on his arm. He tipped the mug this way and that, listening to what was left of his drink slosh this way and that, but he was too tired to lean it into his lips to take another sip.
“They’re all bad nights lately,” Wilfred grunted, wondering for the tenth time in as many hours why he hadn’t cut the poor fool off already. He angrily slapped a wet rag down on the bar and began to scrub away the crumbs and spilled drinks. He knew that he wouldn’t though, not after Karst had returned from the fields one day to find a howler standing over the corpses of his wife and daughter, blood still dripping from its fangs and claws. No one knew why it had chosen to spare Karst, fleeing out the back door instead of killing him on the spot. That, at least, would have been a small mercy. Instead the farmer had been left to drink himself into oblivion.
Wilfred, as well as everyone else in the room, turned and looked up as something heavy began to pound up the front steps. He unconsciously made the sign of the Heron, knowing no sane man could be out in weather so foul. He began to reach for the silvered mace he kept under the bar, wondering if the time had finally come for him to use it. The door opened with a groan, the swollen wood sticking a bit in the frame. Wilfred didn’t even realize he had been holding his breath until he let out a sigh of relief as a shadowy figure stepped into the light of a lantern.
The man was clad in heavy a leather coat, muddy and torn to reveal the chainmail armor he wore beneath it. A pair of swords were belted to his waist, and his opposite hand clutched a burlap sack, still dripping blood onto the straw covered floor. He paused to scan the room for just a moment, before walking over to an empty corner table without a word. He dropped the bag on the table with little care, then draped his coat across the back of an empty chair. Next he removed the swords, laying them down so that they would be close at hand if he needed them.
Wilfred walked over to the table, staring uneasily at the bag. He glanced between it and the stranger before asking, “Is that what I think it is?”
As if in answer the other man reached down and opened the bag, revealing the severed head inside. It looked like a wolf’s head, but wrong. The jaw was too long and narrow, the black and grey fur too short. The forehead was too large, and the teeth too clean. Wilfred sat down heavily, unable to look away from the terrible sight. “I thought they were supposed to shift back after you killed them?”
“They are,” the other man answered as he leaned back in his own chair. “Now they don’t, apparently. Or at least this one didn’t. I don’t know why. Perhaps the Cathars back in Thraben will be able to tell me why.”
“How much do we owe you?” Wilfred asked, licking his lips nervously. Between the bad weather and the recent attacks, the town had been suffering. Even the remote families had been avoiding the market, no matter how badly they needed supplies. That meant that the collection they had taken up was meager at best. But if they stiffed this man, then the next time they needed something hunted there was a good chance that no one would answer their pleas.
“Nothing,” the man answered, shaking his head. He reached into his shirt and pulled out a small silver necklace, depicting Avacyn’s Collar over a pair of crossed swords. It was the mark of a Church Inquisitor, and carrying one falsely was a crime punishable by death, as with any other impersonation of a church official. “The office of the Inquisition has a bounty on werewolves. That should more than cover my costs. I’ll settle for a bowl of stew and some wine if you have it, warm mead if you don’t.”
“Of course,” Wilfred answered as he stared at the head a little why longer. Greed replaced fear in his eyes, and a plan began to take shape in his mind. “I’ll have my daughter come by with your food right away.”
“Thank you,” the Inquisitor accepted with a nod. He watched as the innkeeper walked back through the room, briefly stopping to chat with several men along his route. To anyone else it looked like he was just checking on his patrons, and for some of them perhaps he was. More than a few, however, turned to steal a glance at the Inquisitor. He made a show of not noticing simply smiling his thanks at the young girl who brought his dinner.
Will they move tonight? he wondered, Or will they wait until I leave town, and make it look like the act of bandits? Bandits, most likely. It would be easier both to set and ambush and to get rid of my body that way. Just leave it in the woods somewhere, or pretend that I was attacked by another creature. If they try for me while I sleep then it would make things much more complicated. There would be an investigation, and they would be like to lose to the head in the course of it.
He frowned as he sipped his win. It was one of the unspoken hazards of being an Inquisitor, one that most people never talked about. The church had always posted bounties on the creatures that haunted the night, generally rather large ones. Claiming them wasn’t easy, however, as all too often bringing back proof was near impossible. The ash from a vampire was indistinguishable from the ash from a fire, ghouls just reverted to being corpses, and werewolves had, at least until recently, converted back to their human forms. The easiest to claim were skaabs and geists, but then they were also the most difficult to kill as well. It wasn’t unheard of then for an Inquisitor or Hunter to find themselves being attacked by the same people they had just rescued, all in the name of easy coin.
The Inquisitor’s musings were interrupted as the door opened again. He was just as shocked as the others when a young woman walked in. She was dressed in an elegant, long black cloak over a surprisingly immodest evening gown complimented by elbow length gloves. Her only nod towards sensible travel clothing was a pair well worn boots. She pulled the hood back as she looked over the room, and he felt a small shiver run down his spine as her eyes met his. There was something about her, a sense of danger that made him uneasy. His hand slipped under the table to rest on the hilt of his dagger as she began to walk towards him. He would have preferred his swords, but there was no way to free them without provoking her, and would be too clumsy in his current position besides. None of his wards were reacting to her presence, so she was nether vampire nor werewolf. As she grew closer he breathed deep, but there was no smell of chemicals or rot, so not an alchemist either.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked, motioning to the last empty chair at the table.
“No, it is not,” he answered carefully. He could hear the raw power in her words, touching his mind with seductive pleasure. It wasn’t because of a spell, she was simply that powerful.
“Would you mind if I joined you then?”
“Not at all,” the Inquisitor answered as he examined her more closely, looking for some sign as to her true nature. His eyes widened as he realized her cloak and boots were perfectly clean and dry. A mage then. “It would be ungentlemanly of me to turn down the company of such a vivacious woman such as yourself. I wonder, though, why someone such as yourself would be traveling on a night such as this?”
She smiled as she waved for her own dinner. “Now that is a long story…”
* * *
Wilfred frowned as he watched the woman talk and eat the Inquisitor. Finely dressed as she is, she must be headed for Thraben as well, he decided. This will wreck everything! It would only make sense for them to travel together, for safety at least. And if they don’t, she’ll have seen the head. If he disappears and we turn up with it later, then there will be a witness against us! Damn it all to the Ashmouth!
Reaching under the bar, he pulled the mace out and dropped it on the bar top with a heavy thud. The man at the table closest looked over in surprise, but Wilfred just nodded silently. The other man just touched his hat in acknowledgement before turning to whisper to his compatriots. One by one they got up, drained their mugs, and turned towards him.
* * *
Four of them, the Inquisitor decided as he scraped the last of the stew from his bowl. The other patrons realized there was trouble brewing, and began to head up stairs to get out of the way. He pushed his own chair back a few inches so that he wouldn’t collide with the table when he got to his feet.
“What’s wrong?” the woman asked. She frowned in concern as she turned to follow his gaze. “I take it those gentlemen aren’t acquaintances of yours?”
“I’m afraid not,” he answered as the thugs reached them.
The leader of the small group slammed his fists into the table. He reeked of ale and sweat, and his eyes were wide with drink. “What’s in that bag of yours?”
“That would be between me and the Cathars in Thraben,” the Inquisitor answered coolly. There was still a chance that this might end without anyone getting hurt, and the last thing he wanted to do was provoke these fools.
“And what if we want to make it our business?” the thug sneered, leaning in close enough the Inquisitor could see the madness in his eyes.
“It isn’t, so go away.”
“And I say it is, church boy!”
So much for the peaceful way, the Inquisitor thought as he grabbed the bottom of the table. One good shove was all it took to send the table, sack, swords, and their bowls and mugs smashing into the group of drunks. It caught the leader full on, smashing him backwards into support beam, crushing him messily against the thick timber. That meant there were only three left.
The smallest of the three roared and swung with the mug clutched in his hand. The Inquisitor could hear the woman behind him begin to chant the words to a spell as he ducked, his own fist flicking out to catch his opponent in the gut. The drunk stumbled backwards, clutching his belly as he struggled both to breathe and not to vomit at the same time. It was a lost cause, and he collapsed to his knees as he spilled his dinner all over the floor.
Then it was the Inquisitor’s turn as one of the two remaining thugs smashed a chair across his back. The thin wood shattered into a cloud of splinters as he slammed to the ground, and it would have shattered his spine if it hadn’t been for his armor and thick clothes. He rolled sideways on instinct, not even bothering to look up as a filthy boot smashed down where his head had just been. Time seemed to slow as adrenaline pumped through the Inquisitor’s veins. He snatched his knife from his belt and shoved it through the top of the boot, pinning the foot in place as its owner howled in pain. That gave the Inquisitor enough time to regain his feet, just in time for the mage to finish her spell.
“No, no, stay back!” the last thug wailed as his eyes widened in terror. The others simply screamed as all three turned around and ran for the door, chased by horrors only they could see.
The Inquisitor turned on her then, his eyes narrowing suspiciously as he reached for a sword that wasn’t there. The mage held up her hands. “Illusions only! Just something to frighten them off, and maybe make them think twice before they attack strangers again.”
“Hmph,” he grunted, nodding in acknowledgement before going to collect his weapons. “Thank you. I apologize for not introducing myself earlier. My name is Norin, of Elgaud.”
“You may call me Lily,” the mage answered with a smile. “Would by any chance be heading towards Thraben? If so, I think it might be wise if we traveled together. I hear the roads have grown dangerous, and my only other companion is my coachman. I feel we would be well protected with your blades at our side.”
“I would be honored,” Norin agreed with a small bow. He set about collecting his spilled belongings as he muttered, “At the least I won’t have to worry about this sort of nonsense in Thraben.”
Note: This is as much a writing exercise for myself as it is an actual attempt to create an Innistrad based novel. I don't quite have a schedule worked out on when I'll be able to get to it, so expect random updating. As for quality, I can make no promises other than to try and patch any glaringly obvious problems. As for canon, I'm working of the Savor the Flavor articles and the cards themselves, while adding my own take on less touched on characters. Comments appreciated, critiques even more, and requests will be taken, if not necessarily honored!