The bells chimed eleven times, the sound echoed into the deep, misty forests.
A fox, knowing that these chimes brought sleeping humans, and thus, unguarded chickens, moved towards the sound. It winded through the underbrush, ignoring the globs of water falling from the dense array of pine branches.
The branches thinned, and the trees gave way to paths. But the fox remained away from the town, as there was movement where there was none.
Mist swirled over the old rooftops, and as the defenders milled about in the square a familiar feeling hung in the air:
The streetlamps were lit, and the defenders sat around the statue of the revered one. His sword perpetually held high in a victorious stance. A sea of candles at the base.
Some had muskets, others had swords, but one man had nothing.
This one was old. As old as any of the others could imagine. He was calm, coughing into a rag every so often. His clothes were immaculate; a full suit, recently pressed. His beard was trimmed, and he had just polished his cane.
“What did it look like, old man?” one of the nervous men broke the silence.
He wore old battle gear. Even though he was young, he had been a veteran. A conquistador helmet, with brown clothes that aided movement rather than looks.
“You do not talk to your elders like that Ivan!” another spoke up.
This one was in his work clothes, obviously a butcher. Various herbs and relics were tied to his belt. A crossbow rested with the butt on the cobbled stone. He held to the top with his right hand, pointing at Ivan.
“The old man has given us nothing to work with! How do we know what to do when the beast arrives! Huh, Cillian?” Ivan shot back.
“Half the town is here with weapons, it does not stand a chance! Whatever it may be,” Cillian responded.
The old man cleared his throat. All the defenders grew quiet.
“Do you all wonder why I have lived this long?” his voice was rough and wet.
“You live well, Darion. Everyone knows this,” Cillian patted the old man’s shoulder.
“The beast chose me. It told me,” he told them.
“What is this?” Ivan demanded.
“Do you wonder why I have no weapon?” Darion ignored the young man.
“Because you are senile, as old as dirt,” Ivan spat.
“Ivan!” Cillian shouted.
“What!” the young man defended, “He speaks in riddles! Why does he not tell us how to defend ourselves!?”
“Because you cannot,” Darion coughed.
The defenders all exchanged glances. Cillian approached the old man.
“Surely you saw someone hurt it?”
“I did, but it did not matter,” Darion continued.
“No. There must be some way to hurt it. I have every spice, everything that anyone would need to combat a monster,” Cillian dismissed.
“I was there. I saw it feed.”
The square went quiet save for Ivan’s foot tapping against the stone.
“Do you wonder why I am dressed this way?”
“Why are you dressed well, Darion?” Ivan spoke with restraint.
“Because I will die when the bell strikes the twelfth,” he gestured towards the clock tower.
“Why?” Ivan asked.
“I told you, it chose me.”
The bell began to chime.
“What did it choose you for?”
“What is the monster?”
“Is it a ghost?”
“Is it a werewolf?”
“Does it fly?”
The old man simply laughed, coughing into his rag. Something moved under his skin. Only the men closest to him saw it, and they thought it a tendon.
“Should I use the garlic? The nightshade?” Cillian pointed and scrambled around his belt.
“We should leave!”
Darion grunted in pain, and a sudden movement of something inside him, against his skin caused Ivan to raise his musket at the old man. He simply raised his free hand to him.
“It will do nothing, Ivan,” Darion dismissed.
“You are the beast!” the young man cried out.
“This time, I suppose. But it will find a more suitable host. I have gotten too old.”
“Darion, what are you talking about?” Cillian asked.
He stepped away from the old man, aligning himself with Ivan.
Darion’s limbs twisted and tensed with pain. An intense writhing of what looked like tentacles, agitated with the sound of the bell.
Cillian raised his crossbow, and rubbed garlic on the tip of the bolt. Holy water, then nightshade.
“We take no chances,” he told the men.
The defenders readied themselves, watching Darion’s every move.
“Why have I been a hermit? Alone for so long?” he mocked the others.
“Shut up, old man!” Ivan shouted.
Now the writhing became intense and did not stop between bell strikes.
The men’s breathing could be seen as becoming more erratic. They tightened their grips on their weapons.
Three men dropped their weapons and ran.
“Cowards!” Ivan called after them.
The old man stood up, straighter than any of them had seen. All the age seemed to disappear from his stance.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Darion’s skin tore as a hideous mass of tentacles erupted from everywhere. It hissed, throwing the old man’s head away like a discarded piece of clothing.
The head was eyeless, a mouth at the end of a large fleshy tube. Rows of teeth revealed themselves as it screamed at the circle of armed men.
There were two legs, and two arms, but tentacles flickered and twisted over one another on every surface.
The men stared for only a moment. Cillian let the bolt loose into the monster’s chest.
It lashed out at him, grabbing him with one arm. Tentacles constricted all over his body. It lashed the man’s body to his side and forgot about him. Only a moment of a scream was cut short by the beast’s ferocity.
“Kill it!” Ivan shouted over the growling.
He shot the musket, and it reacted. But no more than an itch on its side. Defenders charged it, swords and hammers in hand. It cast them away like unwanted beggars.
The fight took only a minute. Thirteen bodies surrounded the statue in the square, and three were lashed to the monster.
Ivan stood, frozen in fear. He was halfway through loading the second ball into his musket.
The monster approached him slowly. Each step sounded like a man stepping into mud.
Ivan could see the bodies lashed to it, their skin shone a much paler white. Cillian’s ribs could be seen. It was draining them.
A tentacle arm reached out to Ivan, touching his head. Its voice entered the man’s mind.
“Youthful. Energetic. Your body will do just fine”