Thorne’s sword whistled through the air and tore into the flesh of the abomination. The beast howled and lashed back at her as she twisted the blade free and juked away. She made space between her and the creature, shifted the long blade up to high guard and quickly brushed back her sweaty blonde bangs with the side of her forearm. This one looked something like a sick melding of vulture and bear into a roughly humanoid thing. Its long, black tongue lolled from its beak as it continued to trundle towards her, oblivious to the gash in its side which seeped a black mist instead of blood.
It lunged and she prepared to dodge, but before she could move a single clear word range out in the Godspeak and silver bands encased the creature’s arms, pulling all three of them back and exposing its chest.
“Strike now, Thorne.” Lukas said. Her priest’s voice carried the same calm tone it always did. He was a teacher to the core: lecturing, even on the battlefield.
But she didn’t need to be told. Her sword was already moving to take advantage of the minor miracle that restrained her foe. The point of the blade speared cleanly through the thick fur of the creature’s chest and sank into layers of fat to skewer whatever organ beat in place of its heart. There was a moment of stillness as it gurgled, transfixed on the orange starmetal. And then it gave a final rattle and liquified on the stones.
Thorne gagged a little and pinched her nose with one hand while she shook her sword free of ichor with the other. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the smell of that,” she said.
Lukas smiled patiently and put a hand on her shoulder. He’d heard the same sentiment from dozens of novices. “Don’t worry. You will. If you’re serious about becoming a paladin.”
She blushed at his touch and straightened up, posture snapping into place as though it were time for morning drills. “Yes, Reverend.” She said, trying so hard to look serious in front of him.
“At ease. You’ve done well. That’s three down so far and you haven’t taken a scratch.”
Thorn nodded, scuffing her boot on the cobblestone to scrape off the gelid remains of the beast. The third one, and the most powerful so far. It seemed like the further they went into the ruin, the stronger these things were getting.
“Where do they all come from, Reverend?”
Lukas let his face slip into what Thorne thought of as his ‘thinking frown’. It was the expression he always had when he was trying to determine the best way to present new information to his pupil. “You will remember from your catechism that evil cannot create, yes?”
“Only the Maker creates. And even many of the things we think of as monstrous are no more than his creation, suited for a specific need, even if we may not understand what that need is. You remember last winter when we helped Little Brook with its hob problem? Can you tell me why that happened?”
“Because something had destroyed the hobs warrens and the dark season was too cold for them. So, they came down from the rusted hills and followed the river to Little Brook.”
“Right. They had a need and a motivation. They drew breath and those we were forced to slay shed blood. They had reason and will. Abominations are different. They’re properly evil. And if you know that evil cannot create, then that leaves only one other option. Tell me what it is.”
Thorne paused a moment. It wasn’t that she seriously thought she had the wrong answer, but she was always afraid of looking like a fool in front of her mentor so she always second guessed herself. Finally she said, “Evil corrupts.”
“Just so,” Lukas said. “And corruption implies a corrupting influence. Moreover, the ruins of this place have been quiet for years. Which means that there is something new afoot. It’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t get any worse than it already is.”
He set his lips in a thin line, trying not to think of the autopsy room of the local sheriff’s office and the young lovers whose bodies had announced that there were new tenants in the old, ruined temple. He hadn’t let Thorne come with him to the forensic procedure. Not this time. There were some things he would shield her from just a little bit longer if he could.
He shook his head, clearing the thoughts. “Are you good to go further? We can rest a little bit longer, if you like.”
Thorne hefted her sword up against her shoulder and flashed him what she hoped was a confident smile. “It’s going to take more than a couple of creatures like that to stop me!”
He smiled back at her bravado and together they moved on further into the shattered labyrinthine courtyards of the ruin. It wasn’t until they had ventured on out of sight that a dark figure detached itself from the shadow of a column and slipped lightly across the broken stones after them.