It is the 1500s and it is a time where werwulfs are believed to exist and terrorized the country.
Joseph Steinberg had been executed in front of the whole town of Hemlock. He killed his whole family using evil incantations to form claws as sharp as the guillotine and a majestic and deadly body of a loup-garou. His strong jaw clenched his wife’s neck, snapping it with one clamp of his jaw. His whole mouth was drenched in his daughter’s blood after tasting her heart and liver. There was nothing left of his son’s body, as he swallowed him whole.
“Blood! Blood! Blood!”
“What it wants is blood!”
“Offer this devil’s sinful and hateful blood!” The whole town chanted as they witness Steinberg’s neck spurt with blood as the sharp edge of the blade touched his flesh.
Among all the chaos, a lone figure observed as the people that he once knew turn into blood thirsty creatures screeching and rejoicing for the death of his father.
Klerien Steinberg was a charming and joyful child. Everyone around him acknowledges his lively nature as they can’t help but unconsciously gather around him. With his dark brown hair that compliments the lightness in his bright emerald green eyes, he can capture the hearts of anyone that he encounters. They say that it’s naturally his nature.
He says that he got it from his father, Joseph Steinberg.
The man was trustworthy and reliable. With the same caring hazel green eyes as his son, their family was treated with respect in front of their presence.
However, it all changed when his father started acting differently.
Until it led to a massacre that will remain in everyone’s minds for almost three centuries.
Drowning in the crowd’s rage, Klerien paused keeping an eye on his father’s execution.
All lives crumbled and died, like today. Whether one wanted it or not. A time would certainly come. In a day, when thunderous clouds befell Hemlock, his father bounded with rough and tough ropes. Angels fell from red skies. Demons crept from bedrocks to devour one’s borrowed soul. Anger, tears, cruelty, chaos with a heart engulfed in sorrow. He, too, witnessed his family’s demise. The gentle caresses of his mother, gone. Liezel’s alleviating smiles left and lived in the past.
“This man committed a crime against the divine God. He murdered his family and now, he intends to lie. My people, do not look away from his punishment.” Klerien was standing mere meters away from the platform that held his father. He still held anger in his chest, but at this moment, all he could see was the father that he adored and loved. “Joseph Steinberg, all of us thought that you were an honest man. It was time that you confess your sins so that you could be forgiven in heaven.”
Earth, the world of the living, where both Hell and Heaven coexisted. All sorts of sentiments surged and risen. Klerien, one supposed to be dead, lived and breathed among the living. With nothing to his name, no possessions, and the life he would lived awaited him. He missed his past.
His father sneered at the vicar with pure wrath painted on his face. Klerien clenched his jaw. Tightly gripping his other arm, to draw enough blood, he suppressed the urge to march towards the platform and wreak havoc. “I hadn’t done anything against your God. My sins will always be mine and I refuse to share it to people that had their minds closed. I love my family and the consequence of that love was their deaths.”
“Father.” He mouthed. There, on the platform where men judged and condemned fellow men, Joseph Steinberg becalmed. Strings tugged around his limbs. They roared and glared at the man that created, raised, and hailed him. Anger and sorrow, two unfamiliar sensations, clouded his broken soul. “What did I do to deserve this?”
It was at that exact split second. Joseph lifted his head, identical emerald green eyes joined. Recognition reflected in the older and wiser orbs. He blanched and gritted his teeth, clutching his torso. Stumbled backwards, easing his burden. Eyes faltering, he turned away after seeing something that engraved itself. His father’s eyes pierced his. They conveyed everything.
“I apologize, son.” It was the last of Joseph Steinberg.
A croak broke the silence. Klerien snatched the dagger out of his attacker’s hands. Raising his ankles, he spun, kicking the man’s side. The man curled and held his stomach in pain. He took a deep breath as another four men surrounded him. They leered and pulled similar daggers as his first attacker.
“You’ll come with us.” He noticed that they wore plebian clothing. Sheathing the dagger, he raised both arms to shield his body, spreading his feet apart. They charged. A blonde haired, middle aged man, pointed his dagger, running towards him. Klerien hissed as the blade cut the side of his tunic. He ducked, and another man launched. The brown haired, younger man clasped one of wrist with both hands. A third one wrapped his arms around his torso, catching him.
“The Sire will reward us if we gift him the mole’s head.” With his putrid breathe, the man whispered by his ear. Klerien squirmed but their hold wouldn’t loosen. He grinned, yanking his elbow from the ill-smelling man’s hold. It hit his jaw and he stumbled backwards, freeing Klerien. Using his free hand, he gripped his arm near his wrist. The man sneered, tightening his grip. “You won’t escape my hold.”
“Would I?” Klerien smirked, then tugged. The sneering man looked surprised as the green-eyed man escaped his fingers. In that second, he pulled his fists and punched. Three men laid grunting on the floor. “Come.”
Klerien had a scratch on his left cheek from the blade of a dagger. His arms and torso, sore and throbbing. A fourth man threw his fist. He ducked but another fist jabbed his stomach just below his ribs. He grunted, feeling the pain throughout his body. Shaking his head, he turned and clenched the man’s neck with his arms.
His wrists pressed on the man’s throat as he choked. A few hits on his side after a little struggle, the man dropped to the ground. He panted when a heavy hand gripped his shoulder. Air left his lungs as a fist landed on his jaw. Klerien felt the strength slowly leaving his body, he cursed. Suddenly, growls bounced inside the alley.
“Max.” Klerien gasped. His wolf pounced at his captor’s back. The man screamed at the sight of the large wolf. Its fur gleamed bronze and iris’ shined silver. Maximillian’s canines clamped on its prey’s shoulders. Frantic eyes, blood pouring down his chest, the man collapsed. He slumped, leaning against the soot covered brick wall. “Free him, Maximillian.”
With a stern gaze, his wolf followed. Klerien turned, clutching his sides. He needed to rest. Threading through alleys and a large wolf trudging behind, he staggered in pain. Escaping while skipping towns had been his life for a year. His breathing slowed until Maximillian walked by his side, for him to lean.
“Devil’s… Hemlock.” While he rest between a ledge, his breath hitched after hearing muffled voices. Klerien placed a finger on his mouth and stared at his wolf’s silver eyes. “Trials… sighting… werwulf.”
He took a deep breath before loudly exhaling. He hastened along the tattered linens and ropes dangling in the alley. With determined steps, he clutched the strap of his satchel and urged Maximillian to move. The trekking footsteps of his feet and his wolf resonated alongside his beating heart. Apprehension crept up his chest, but he pushed it down.
“Maximillian, do you want to visit our hometown?”
Forbidding walls shielded the expanse of Hemlock’s land. It towered over two men and built by large bricks covered with a hint of moss. The entrance had a wide arch sitting atop tall and thick locked mahogany gates embellished with iron. Two men guarded the entrance. In most towns, their entrance had lines of visitors, but Hemlock rarely had guests. A desolated path leading at the entrance entered his line of vision.
“Stop right there.” One guard stood in front of the horse. It neighed as the man touched the hilt of his sword. He glanced at the other guard but he merely looked straight ahead. Klerien wore a thick woollen cloak. His small caravan, covered in linen with burgundy and earthy patterns, contained his belongings and his the large Maximillian.
“Guten morgen, sir.” Pulling the hood from his head, he smiled. The guard’s expression of distrust didn’t vanish. His weapon clinked as he trudged towards the caravan. He walked around and inspected. Klerien followed his movements without turning his head. “I heard that merchants hadn’t reach this parts. I thought of selling my goods here. Would you be kind and let me in? I’m tired. It’s been days since I left Luxor.”
“Remove the curtain, let me see your merchandise.” A rough voice came out of the man’s throat. Klerien grinned, nodding. He glanced at the linen that shielded the inside of his caravan before lifting the drapes. His grin widened seeing his wolf’s body buried in white fabrics. It’s ears peeked out along with its silver eyes. “What’s that?”
“As you can see…” Klerien trailed off, setting aside the reigns, and climbed inside. “I have various fabrics from different countries. They’re durable and comfortable. Do you want to purchase one? Oh, this is my dog, Maximus.”
The guard frowned as he ruffled his wolf’s ear after picking a long green fabric. Quickly, he came back on his former sit, shutting the drapes, grabbing the reigns, and pulled his hood. Klerien smirked as the gates split in half. On the other side, murky skies covered the heaven and a sombre mood filled the empty street.
“Why is the street empty? Someone told me that there will be a lot who’ll be interested in my merchandise that roamed the streets of Hemlock.” Klerien poured confusion in his tone. This time, the other guard answered instead. It was the first time that he acknowledged his presence. They looked between each other. “They all gathered in the plaza. You came in a compromising time. There is a trial currently occurring.”
“The Werwulf Trials.” The other guard’s biting and cold tone seeped in his skin. Klerien nodded and spurred the horse. It neighed before it trotted. The cold breeze and familiar earthy scent of Hemlock hugged his body. Behind, the closing gates thudded and signalled the start of his journey. A journey towards the truth.
A faint fog filled the streets. He tightened his grip around the reigns as the familiar brick houses flashed by. Leading the horse towards north, made his palms damp. The nostalgic muddy path and cloudy grey skies soaked in his head. The murky skies was as dark as he remembered.
“Nothing has changed.” He said. Soft fur touched his skin. His wolf nuzzled its head on his neck and pressed against his back. Klerien leaned on the wolf’s head as he pulled on the reigns. The caravan remained hidden in the forest’s natural dark cloak. “Maximillian, I need you to stay hidden inside. It will be dangerous for a wolf to be seen in the execution grounds. Other humans are not as kind as your friend. I’m going to face my nightmares. Wish me luck.”
A surge of untamed courage came from the wolf’s eyes into his. He squeezed the wolf’s fur before pulling away. With a final peck on his wolf’s snout, he jumped. Voices floated and streamed towards his ears. He watched as Maximillian returned inside the caravan. The plaza stood at the centre of the small town. It would only take a sixth of an hour to reach the plaza.
“Expunge the monster from this earth!”
The clear and chilling pleas of the town’s people reached his ears. Klerien proceeded despite the apprehension quickly spreading through his bloodstreams. Deep inside, his mind wanted to break, and his heart wanted to wail in frustration. He sneaked to a place that he swore to never go back to, a place where he last saw his father living, suffering.
“Lord please cleanse our souls from this evil’s influence!”
Each step that he took feels heavier as his feet advances. He dreads the onslaught of memories that would enter his mind.
“How hateful! How frightening!”
“He feasted on my daughter!” The shrill vocalizations of the crowd drowned his thoughts as he stepped in the familiar plaza. Klerien dashed inside the crowd. They did not noticed his arrival; both men and women have their heads raised. They looked like they’re in a trance. Some had their mouth wide open while some had their hands covering the scene occurring in front.
A large platform stood in the middle of the grounds with two pillars on either side. As he wandered towards the middle, Klerien had to take a deep breath to compose his self. A mist condensed from his breath as he exhaled. Cold winds blew through his hair.
Reiner Stumpp strapped onto a Catherine wheel. Only a thin sheet of linen covered his crotch as he struggled. Two women, his wife and daughter, were also strapped on both pillars by his side. The aforementioned man confessed to preying upon a dozen pregnant women. The news furiously spread throughout the nearby towns like wildfire. Just before Klerien reached Hemlock, he gathered that the vicars decided to burn his wife and daughter for having intrafamilial relations with him.
“Mother, what did that man do?” Klerien heard a child’s voice, disturbing the turmoil inside him. His stare wavered to his side. A woman crouched in front of a boy in a frightened and crazed look in her eyes. “I thought we shouldn’t hurt our fellow-”
“That man was a heretic, my child. He disobeyed the commandments and he shall be punished,” the woman whispered. Klerien shivered, animosity in her voice. Could they see the absurdity of what they are doing? When will they realize the cruelness in their doings?
His gaze returned to the platform. The man, Stumpp, frantically looked around his surroundings. With wide eyes he heavily panted like he had run from one town to another. His wrists bounded by a rope above his head and covered in red angry marks. A clergyman wearing black cloak pulled the hood on his head, making him seem like the embodiment of death. As the clergyman stepped towards Stumpp, carrying a flaming-red pincer, the crowd hushed.
“Awaken us, O Lord God!” the clergyman shouted and raised his arms upon the sky. “With your grace; As you forgive our sins, protect and strengthen us from all danger of future sins!”
Ominous air enveloped the atmosphere. How could humans condemn someone of murder and violence when they also commit such acts? The beating of his heart accelerated when the red-hot pincers first touched the man’s skin. A gut-wrenchingly familiar scream tore through the eerie silence.
“So that we may serve you with a clear conscience,” The clergyman continued with indifference. They acted like they weren’t witnessing an execution but a sacred ceremony. “…and joyfully receive our Lord Jesus Christ, when he comes in glory;”
“No!!!!” A woman by his right screamed with a hoarse voice. The little boy turned towards the other direction as his mother protected his innocence from the severe violence. Tears continuously flow on both of their cheeks as Stumpp growled in pain.
“He lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God forever and ever…”
Klerien’s nails dug the skin on his palm as he struggled to watch the start of the trials. One by one, the crowd watched in a trance. Their eyes stared straight ahead on the platform but Klerien knew that they would never truly see the gravity of what they were witnessing. Some vomited while some covered their eyes.
The Werwulf Trials was a brutal affair. It would always be filled with blood.
Reiner Stumpp’s wail for forgiveness, for help, in fear, in pain etched on his mind. Beads of sweat flowed from his temple as the scene pulled buried memories from his head. The familiar screams suddenly sounded like his father’s. The murky sky suddenly seemed like it was the same skies above him a year ago.
The clergyman slowly pulled Stumpp’s skin from different parts of his body. The first was from his arms. Flaming hot pincers pinched the skin lying on his wrist. With a flick of a hand, the skin started to separate from flesh and blood started flowing down his limbs. The skin underneath his feet followed. Klerien almost looked away from the antagonizing screams that reverberated in the air.
No one uttered a single syllable. Hemlock overflowed with screams from the trial. Fire ignited in his chest, it burned and danced. The need for retribution consumed and suffocated him.
Klerien’s throat contracted while his lungs refused to take in his much-needed air. His heart thundered under his ribcage as he saw Stumpp’s skin lying on the platform’s floor. Blood dripped down the wheel and the now, cold but red pincers. Reiner Stumpp didn’t look like a human anymore. His flesh displayed in front of a hundred people. Some of his large veins pulsed and throbbed from his proximity.
He seemed dead; however, a human’s body wasn’t that fragile. A man wearing a robe walked towards the clergyman. His left-hand carried a cross and the other held a club pounded with nails. The vicars weren’t satisfied with just skinning him alive, it seemed. Now, they wanted to show a more severe form of violence to display the consequences of his supposed sins. They would beat him until his bones broke.
“Satan, leave this man’s body! Accept retribution from God’s children and begone!” The man shouted, pointing the cross on Stumpp’s chest. Klerien heard the same sentence a mere year ago. His head pounded while a warm sensation covered his body. It was the hot flames of his wrath.
“I will find the truth about my father.” He hissed under his breath. Klerien thought that mysteries hid the truth behind the trials and he would uncover those. He spent months grieving and he’s done.
“No! Please, I’ve done nothing wrong! It was him e-” It was Reiner Stumpp’s last words. Horrifying and indistinguishable sounds emitted from his mouth. The spiked club would sometimes hit the wheel but most of the time, it pounded Stumpp’s flesh and bones. Sounds of cracking bones and squelching flesh accompanied his screams.
After seemingly a thousand pounding, murmurs resounded from the crowd. Stumpp’s deformed body looked like pounded meat. His limbs twisted in unnatural ways. His flesh, a combination of red, white, and peach. Some areas of his body, mostly on his stomach, had nails that hooked itself underneath his skin. Klerien took a deep breath as another man climbed the platform. His teeth clenched, and his fingers twitched. He knows the man.
It was the same man that beheaded his father.
A sickening sensation crawled on Klerien’s stomach. The man displayed a proud smirk on his hidden and shadowed face. Murmurs settled and once again, he came back at that time. The man carried a large axe. Klerien already knew what would happen next.
He refused to look away. Last time, he did. This time, he wouldn’t.
After fifteen minutes, Reiner Stumpp’s severed head rolled down the platform. At the same time, his wife and daughter burned at the stake. Their wails rivalled Stumpp’s screams. The smell of burning flesh covered the grounds causing some to throw up. It covered the apparent scent of dirt and dust. It smelt like burning hair with traces of burning meat which in turn was unexplainably unpleasant. It filled the air with the smell of burning clothes and an earthy smell.
“Lord, preserve your people!” The crowd started praying with the clergyman. Klerien felt his insides trying to crawl out from his throat by the sight of them. “Lord, preserve your people!”
Their hands rose up in the air, like they’re offering themselves. “Maintain righteous government everywhere, so that all things may take place in an orderly way!”
“And peace may not be destroyed by revolution or secret enmity,” He silently watched as the people pray to their God, feigning innocence like they did not just publicly tortured a fellow human.
“Nor the eternal good order, be corrupted by debased living or disturbed by other offences!” They are mad.
The unforgettable scent clung in the air and his skin. It lodged itself deep in his nasal passage. The awful smell haunted him; however, Klerien stood his place without flinching as the trials ended.
Future plans ran in his head before turning around. “Tomorrow, start gathering information about the latest trials. I am certain that they won’t be able to erase everything from an early date,” Klerien murmured at the smaller figure that approached him while Stumpp was being pounded. Without a word, he pulled a pouch from his satchel and handed it to Carmine.