The air smelled of brimstone as Joseph stood by the window to his room at the inn. It was the scent of trouble for those in his line of work. Frowning, Joseph stared down at the ground far below, searching for what made the foul odor. His fingers tightened around the hilt of his sword.
He heard the paw steps of his canine companion approaching behind him. The animal rested his head on the windowsill and scanned the nearby area. A moment later, he glanced up at Joseph.
“I don’t see anything out there tonight, master,” he said. “You sure that something’s afoot?”
“I can smell it,” Joseph said. “Whatever it is, it might not be right in front of us, but something’s out there.”
“Perhaps you’re paranoid. I don’t smell anything strange.”
“Perhaps it’s nothing.”
“Anyway, I’m starving. I'd think you would be too, considering that we haven’t had eaten since breakfast. Won’t you join me at the dining area downstairs for a meal?”
Joseph finally turned away from the window. “I better go along with you, Silver. The innkeeper might get a bit antsy if a wolf like you were to stop by the dining hall without me.”
“I suppose.” Silver turned up his nose and stepped out of the room.
Joseph shook his head and walked after him. “Lord, have mercy on his soul.”
They entered the dining hall a moment later. Other guests crowded the room, talking among themselves. Near the wall, a man played relaxing music on a piano while a woman wearing a red dress sang. Joseph and Silver stood at the end of a short line leading to the food counter. His mind ran over what might cause the foul odor.
When they reached the front of the line, Joseph finally saw the lady behind the counter and almost gasped. Her orange hair was fairly short, coming down below her ears. It reminded him of the innkeeper’s hair, but brighter and more colorful. She wore a tired smile on her face, which held as she stared down at Silver.
“Good evening, sir,” she said. “My name is Ruth. And what would you two like for dinner?”
Joseph ordered a bowl of venison stew and a piece of bread for himself, while Silver had a steak. As she prepared their food, he wondered if Ruth had met other familiars before. She didn't seem bothered by a talking wolf ordering dinner. A strong whiff of brimstone interrupted his thoughts, causing him to reach for his sword.
By the time she returned, the scent faded, and Joseph let go of his sword. He took their plates to one of the large tables and set Silver’s steak on the floor. Then he dipped part of his bread into the soup bowl and munched in it. He scanned the surrounding area as he chewed.
At his feet, Silver gnawed at the meat. Others nearby glanced down at the wolf, then up at Joseph and frowned. After a moment, he bent down to Silver and told him to be quiet. Silver frowned at him and went back to eating his food.
Over the chatter, Joseph overheard a faint rustling from outside. He took another large bite of his bread, stood from the table, and walked toward the wall. Silver chased after him, the rest of his steak hanging from his mouth. Joseph focused on a nearby window, where the silhouette of a large animal appeared.
Large red eyes stared back at him through the window. The beast was running toward him. Joseph ducked down below the window. He heard a crash above his head and felt glass shards raining down.
A woman screamed behind him. When he turned back, he saw a canine as large as a grown man. Its fur coat was so black that to gaze upon it was to stare into darkness. The scent of brimstone was so noxious that Joseph had trouble breathing. The two stared each other in the eye, until Joseph had to turn away from the evil gaze.
Then the demon dog ran through the dining area. Everyone around him scrambled to get out of his way. Many fled toward the exits, but a few stayed to try and fight the beast. The demon clawed through one of them, and the other two fled as well. The man who remained collapsed on the floor, blood draining from his chest.
Silver stepped between Joseph and the demon dog, releasing a low growl through his teeth. The beast turned toward them and stared down at Silver from where he stood above him. Joseph drew his sword. The metal hummed against wood.
The dark canine didn’t waiver at the sight of Joseph’s blade, instead shifting his gaze onto the master. Joseph felt as if a knife was against his very soul, though this time he didn’t look away. Then the demon dog bounded at him again, but Silver jumped at him.
The evil canine swatted Silver out of the way, and the wolf slid across a nearby table. Silver rushed through the tables and benches to return to the fight. But the demon dog lunged at Joseph before his companion could return.
Joseph held his sword at a short guard between them. The blade struck demon fangs, and a shower of sparks flew from it. He grunted and pushed back against the overwhelming might of the demon dog. Soon, he managed to shove the demon away from him, though it still stood on its four feet.
Then Silver appeared on a nearby table and leaped at the demon dog. Its eye shifted, and the beast struck Silver in midair with its paw. Flying from the strike, Silver crashed into Joseph. The two went sprawling across the floor.
Paws scraped across the wood across from them. Joseph crawled out from under Silver and stood. But as he looked around, he couldn’t find the beast. It had vanished.
After the demon dog left, all the guests had stayed locked inside their rooms, save for one. Joseph stared at the floor as the workers cleaned up the dining room. He had offered to help clean up, but the staff had graciously refused. Silver had returned to their room to catch some sleep.
His eyes trailed over to the bloodstain on the floorboards. It was all that remained of the man who gave up his life to fight the demon. Joseph folded his hands and said a silent prayer to God for the man. As he finished, he noticed Ruth walking towards him with a mop and pail of soapy water.
She stared down at the spot on the floor, then up at Joseph. “Don’t fret,” she said. “There was nothing you could have done to save him.”
“Perhaps.” Joseph sighed. “Though I could’ve warned everyone. I smelled something foul, but I said nothing.”
“You could smell that thing?” She almost dropped her mop. “Y-You’re a demon slayer?”
Joseph nodded to her.
Ruth made a fist in her palm. “Oh, that explains why you were so close to the window when it broke in.”
“You were watching? Why didn't you flee with everyone else? You should’ve found someplace safe to hide.”
“But nobody saw me behind the counter, and the view was so nice.”
“Even then,” Joseph said. “You should’ve gotten as far away as you could. There’s no telling what the creature would’ve done if he'd gotten his teeth into you.”
She giggled. “I’m not worried, especially with someone as strong as you here.”
“I don’t know why you say that. He fled from the fight right after throwing me against the wall.” Joseph looked back up at her. “Any chance you saw him leave?”
“Can’t say I did. After you crashed, I put my hands over my eyes, and when I finally got the nerve to lower them, it was gone. Have you asked Geta? Maybe she saw something from behind the curtain?”
“Geta? Who’s that?”
“She was the one singing tonight. I saw her hide when the demon burst through the window, so maybe she saw what happened.”
“Okay, I’ll go ask her. Where is she now?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her since the attack.”
Joseph’s eyes widened, and he turned toward the stage. He vaulted up onto the wooden platform and tore the curtains away. Despite his search, he couldn’t find her anywhere. Then he noticed a scrap of red cloth underfoot.
As he picked it up, Ruth approached the stage. "That's from the dress Geta was wearing."
"But why would..." His face grew still as it dawned on him that the demon had left with what it came for. But why did it want her? he wondered.
He turned back to her. “Well, it looks like that demon captured your friend. We can only pray that hasn’t harmed her yet.”
“Maybe there’s still time to save her. What if we organized a search party?”
“Hmm... If it hasn't killed her, then it likely won't for a while. I have a feeling that the beast will be back. Its scent still lingers in the air. I'll wait for its return.”
“I hope you can stop it, sir.”
“Call me Joseph. If I fall in battle, I hope that you will tell others my story.”
“I will, Joseph.”
“Thank you, Ruth.” He nodded to her. “Anyway, I think the demon might target you next, so promise me that you’ll find a safe place to hide.”
“All right, I will.” And then she ran off.
Joseph smiled at her retreating form, then returned to his room. The room was dark, and he heard Silver sleeping on the rug by the wall. He stared down at his friend and companion a moment, before lying down as well.
He lay in bed for some time, examining the ripped cloth in his hand. He still wondered why the demon had for stealing Geta. What need did he have for such a young woman? The only reasons he could think of were rather unpleasant, so he decided not dwell on them.
Soon, he found it harder to keep his eyes open. He let his hand fall onto his chest, the cloth slipping through his fingers. His energy draining, he fell fast asleep.
When Joseph awoke again, he bolted upright and shot open his eyes. The odor of brimstone was so strong that it felt like breathing through a heavy mist.
Joseph bolted up from his chair and opened the window. Beside him, he heard Silver yawn and step toward him from the rug.
“Something happen, master?” he asked.
Without a word, Joseph grabbed the outer edge of the window and vaulted through it. He landed on the grass several feet below with a jolt to his frame. The odor of brimstone was as strong as it had been in the dining hall. A moment later, Silver landed next to him.
Joseph didn’t say a word, instead searching for movement. The night sky provided little light, and the demon dog’s black coat would make it hard to see. Yet he heard leaves rustle to his right, so he went to investigate.
A woman cried out, so he took off in her direction. His fingers tightened around his sword hilt. Silver’s pawsteps struck the ground behind him, but he didn’t slow his pace.
When he arrived at the source of the sound, someone limped toward him through the trees and bushes. Her clothing was torn to shreds, and blood dripped from one of her legs. He stopped in his tracks long enough for Silver to catch up with him. The figure stepped close, and Joseph’s eyes widened.
Geta fell into him and would've collapsed if it not for his strong grip. But when he looked beyond her, the bright red eyes of the demon dog rushed towards him. Silver growled and ran to fight the demon.
As Joseph watched them, he set Geta down against a nearby tree and went to join the battle. He drew his sword and sliced it against the monster rushing toward him. The demon ducked below Joseph’s blade, then rammed headfirst into his chest.
Joseph fell backward onto the grass. When he opened his eyes, the demon stood over him. The two stared each other in the eye, before Silver leaped at the demon dog. It turned to counter, but Silver sunk his teeth into its neck. With a cry, it shook him off.
Silver flew away from the demon, landed on his four feet, and rushed back into the fight. Joseph picked himself back up and held his weapon tight in his hands. The two advanced toward the demon, but when they got close enough to strike, the demon vanished before their eyes.
Joseph and Silver halted in their tracks, blinking, then Silver ran off. But Joseph stayed to ponder the situation for a moment, before turning back to Geta. He called Silver back to him and asked for his help.
“All right, miss, let’s get you back inside,” Joseph said. “It’s lucky you escaped from that horrible creature.”
“Escape?!” she said. “I didn’t escape that awful place. He chased me out!”
Then Silver came up beside him. “What’s wrong, master?”
“Silver, it seems that our foe has another motive.” Then the two of them helped Geta back inside the inn.
Joseph’s eyes were tired as he watched Ruth bandage Geta’s leg. He desperately wanted to return to bed, but the thought of the demon attacking again kept him awake. While he was glad that Geta was safe and sound, her return only brought more questions.
Silver approached and rested his head beside him. “Get some sleep, master,” he said. “Wearing yourself out won’t save anyone.”
Joseph sighed. “I know, Silver, I know...” He patted his companion on the head, scratching Silver behind his ears.
“Come on, let’s go for a walk. Do you really need to sit and watch those two?”
“Oh, you don’t need to supervise me,” Ruth said. “Besides, I’m almost done fixing up her leg. Maybe you can help me walk her back to her room.”
“Well, sure,” Joseph said. “I’d be more than happy to accompany you.”
So the four of them went to the room where Geta was staying. Ruth held Geta against her shoulder as they walked, while Joseph and Silver kept an eye out for trouble. They arrived at the room moments later, where Ruth led Geta inside. As Joseph peered into the room, he saw the pianist slip out from Ruth’s bed so she could lie down. The realization made Joseph look away from the door, down at Silver standing on the floor, who grinned at him.
Ruth closed the door when she returned, then stared up at Joseph, smiling at him. “If you’re tired, Joseph, I could always make you my special sleeping potion.”
“Sure, that sounds pretty good,” he said. “What’s in it?”
Still smiling, Ruth put a single finger over her lips. “It’s a secret.” Then she winked at him. “But don’t worry; there’s nothing harmful in it. It’s a recipe I made myself, and the main ingredient is milk.”
With that, Ruth led the way back to the dining area, with Joseph and Silver following close behind. They arrived moments later, and Ruth went to work preparing Joseph a late night drink. All the while, Joseph could only think of the demon that still lurked out there. How did it disappear right before his eyes? And was Ruth in any danger of being hurt or kidnapped by that monster?
As Joseph pondered, Ruth brought him her special sleeping potion. She placed the cup in his hands where it warmed his fingers, and he smiled. He brought the liquid to his lips and drank, tasting the milky brew and savoring its flavor.
He slammed the wooden cup down onto the table and let out a gasp. Ruth giggled him. “I’m glad you enjoyed my sleeping potion, Joseph.”
“Yeah, that tasted great,” Joseph said. “Why don’t you offer it during the evening meals? I’m sure the guests would love it.”
“I’m afraid that might not be the best idea, Joseph. My potion is so powerful that it would have them falling asleep in their dinner plates. It's a secret item on the menu, just for those having trouble sleeping.”
“Yes, I can understand why you’d want to keep this a closely guarded secret.”
As they continued, Joseph felt the energy in his body seep out of him. He spoke less and allowed Ruth to talk for longer periods. Soon, he even had to lie down on the bench by the dining table. Then Ruth stood and returned his cup to the kitchen.
Silver slept on the floor below him. He heard the faint sound of running water in the kitchen. The soft rhythm helped him to close his eyes as he lay there.
Then his eyes shot open. The foul odor of brimstone had returned. He had help Ruth get to safety.
Joseph tried to stand, but a cloud hung over his head. The dizziness made him collapse on Silver, who woke with a yelp. The two of them scrambled to right themselves. But they stopped moving when they heard the window shatter.
The demon crashed into the dining area, spraying pieces of glass around the room. Joseph bent over Silver to shield the both of their faces from the glass storm. When Joseph pulled his head back up, his face was burning hot as he stared at the demon dog.
He staggered back onto his feet and drew his sword. Growling, his opponent stared back at him. Joseph froze when he felt the demon’s icy stare.
Silver growled. The demon ran at them, its teeth bared, but Joseph deflected its strike. Bone clashed with metal, as he held firm against the demon. Saliva dripped from its mouth and landed on Joseph’s face, the acid burning his skin. He pushed back harder against the demon, shoving him off of him.
The demon never took his eyes off of Joseph as it slid across the floor. Joseph wiped his cheek on his shirt, and the pain dulled a little. When he glanced up, the demon stood near the kitchen door, growling once again.
Ruth! Joseph though. He rushed at the demon and thrust his sword at it. The demon caught the attack in its teeth and ripped the weapon away. Before Joseph could retrieve his blade, the demon rammed him and shoved him into a bench.
As he looked up, the demon darted into the kitchen, and a moment later, Ruth screamed. The sounds of a struggle came from inside the room, with metal pans crashing and glass breaking. The demon burst through the kitchen door and ran out of the inn. Ruth hung limp in his teeth.
Silver chased after them into the darkness, but Joseph couldn't stand. He crawled under benches and chairs, but collapsed by the open doorway. Already, Silver and the demon had gotten several yards away. His world went dark around him all while his mind screamed at him to get up and fight, to bring Ruth back safe and sound.
A wet tongue licked Joseph’s face when he awoke, so he pushed Silver away and sat up. The dining area was quiet, and the guests were still asleep. He was still lying in the open doorway. He shivered as the late autumn air passed over him.
With Silver helping him, Joseph finally managed to step outside. It was brighter than when he had fallen asleep; morning would arrive soon. Joseph hoped the demon had kept Ruth alive all this time.
He walked toward the spot where Geta had appeared earlier that evening.
“Where are you running off to?” Silver asked. He ran in front of Joseph, who stopped in his tracks.
“I’m going to kill that horrible creature and save Ruth,” Joseph said. “And there’s not a thing you can do to stop me.”
“Well, okay. But if you intend to fight that demon, then you’re running the wrong way.”
Joseph raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Would you happen to know something that I don’t?”
“Only the location of the demon’s lair. I followed him there when he took off with Ruth. I scouted the place, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take him by myself, so I came back for you.”
“Good boy! You’re a very good friend.” Joseph bent down to scratch Silver behind the ears. The wolf panted and let his tongue hang out. “Anyway, we need to get going if we’re going arrive before that demon does anything horrible to Ruth. So, lead the way, Silver!”
With a jump, Silver bounded off in the direction of the demon dog’s lair, with Joseph chasing after him. Neither of them said a word as they ran through the forest, and the smell of brimstone only got stronger. Soon, he noticed a small shack up ahead, which he knew had to be the demon’s lair. He could feel an evil aura surrounding it, and dead vines wrapped around it while mold covered the walls.
The doorway was just tall enough for Joseph to walk through. When he peeked inside, he didn’t notice a single soul, though there was little light to see much of anything. Silver stepped toward the center of the room. His white fur coat stood out against the darkness.
“It’s down here, master,” Silver said. “This is where the demon took her.”
Joseph went over to Silver and bent down to the floor. His face was inches away from the black surface, where the odor of brimstone was strongest. He placed his hand flat down on the floor, and a glow formed around it, lighting up the room.
Joseph stepped back as the floor opened up, leading to a long tunnel deep under the ground. He glanced at Silver who stood by his side, staring up at him, then descended the rock stairs. Silver followed after him, and the two of them traveled into the depths of the monster’s den.
Torches lining the tunnel walls lit the way. The only sound were their footsteps, and Joseph began to wonder if his companion had led him the wrong way.
They soon came to a large room, with soot-covered boards along the walls. Ruth lay several feet away, near the opposite wall. Joseph;s jaw dropped and he rushed over to her. When he made sure that she was still breathing, he tried to wake her.
Ruth opened her eyes and let out a gasp. “J-Joseph! How did you find this place?”
“Silver led me here,” Joseph said. “We’ve got to get you out of here, before that horrible creature comes back for you.”
“H-He never left.”
Ruth pointed her finger behind Joseph, who then turned around. He realized that Ruth was far from the only woman the demon had stolen, for there were many like her on the other side of the room. The demon dog was sitting among them, staring at Joseph.
The bright red eyes of the demon made Joseph clutch his chest. Silver started growling, and as if in response, the demon stood and approached them. Joseph let go of Ruth and drew his sword.
But the demon stopped at the center of the room and stood there, barking at them. Joseph saw Silver trembling for a moment, then snarl at the demon. “What’s the matter, Silver?”
“We need to get these women out of here,” Silver said. “He intends to slaughter each and every one of them, sacrifice them to his master for some dark ritual.”
Then Silver barked at the demon, and the two bickered for a time, in a canine language that Joseph could not comprehend. The demon’s words seemed to shake the very foundation under their feet.
“Joseph,” Silver said. “That… thing told me why he bought these women down here…”
“Well?” Joseph asked. “What did he say?”
“These women are all perfect for raising the next generation of demon hunters. With their healthy bodies, caring nature, and high morals, their children could easily grow up to be a slayer much like yourself. It is for that reason why he wants to destroy them. They will never be able to take over while the slayer guild still exists.”
Joseph remembered Geta returning to a male roommate who was clearly not her husband. Of course, Joseph thought. Her children would never have the abilities needed to become a demon slayer.
“You’ll never take the land away from us, demon!” Joseph said. “Even if I perish in these pits, there are still many who will defeat you.”
Then as the demon ran at them, Joseph stood back on his feet. Beside him, Silver crouched down low, bracing for attack. Ruth sat up and backed away from them toward the wall without a word.
This time, Joseph advanced into the demon’s attack and slashed across its face. His blade struck it in the teeth, and bright sparks flew from his sword. Silver ran up beside the demon and bit him on the leg.
The demon paid the wolf no mind, for the bite wasn’t deep enough to even draw blood. Soon, Joseph found the energy to push the demon away, across the floor. He ran after the creature and ran his sword along its face.
The demon howled with pain as a trail of black blood sprayed from the wound between its eyes. The ground below trembled with the sound, and Joseph almost lost his footing. Silver started barking, only adding to the noise.
Finally, the demon quit howling and lunged at Joseph with blood still leaking from its face. He held his sword at a front guard against the demon, but it brushed his weapon away. When Joseph turned to see where his sword had landed, the demon drew its teeth around him. He ducked out of the way of the bite just as its teeth closed.
He scrambled across the floor to retrieve his blade, but behind him the demon still attacked. The piercing gaze of the demon still bored into the back of his head. A large paw stomped on his back, burning like a hot iron against his flesh.
With his sword still out of hand, he could do nothing to stop the demon. He reached for his sword, but his weapon was still several feet away. Silver continued attacking, but the demon didn't pay him any mind.
Then Joseph noticed a figure step towards his sword; it was Ruth! She bent to pick up Joseph’s blade and held it in her hands, careful not to cut herself. Her eyes shifted from the sword to where Joseph lay under the demon’s paw.
Ruth inched toward him and held out the weapon with the hilt facing him. Joseph took the sword and held it firm between his fingers and palm. Above him, the demon held its head high, mouth open, aiming to bite him again.
But Joseph spun and stabbed the demon through the roof of its mouth and into its brain. A slow drip of blood ran over the blade, and the lights in the demon dog’s eyes faded. It soon collapsed on top of Joseph
Ruth went over to Joseph, took him by the hands, and pulled. Silver bit into her skirt to help her drag him out. They soon had him back out from the under the demon and upright on his feet again. Joseph stood there for a time, staring into Ruth’s eyes. Then he studied his fallen opponent who still lay on the floor.
“I must thank you, demon,” Joseph said. “Were not for you, Ruth and I would never have known each other.”
Joseph picked Ruth up and held her. She wrapped her hands around his neck and planted a kiss upon his cheek. He glanced down at his companion, Silver, who grinned at him, then to the large crowd who had watched his battle. He beckoned them to follow and walked out of the dungeon.
When they returned to the surface, Joseph could see that the sun had finally risen above the treetops. As they gazed on the sight, he set Ruth down, but still held onto her hand. He turned and stared at her, her beauty shining in the sunlight despite a little soil from underground.