Disclaimer: This chapter is currently in development. There are likely typos, errors, omissions, inconsistencies and so forth. Please do not treat this as a polished and completed work!
On the final day of lectures before the children were sent on a religious pilgrimage, Professor Stephens provided them with some context to the existence of the Tower.
He opened up with, “Throughout history there have been stories of things that lurked within the deepest corners of the forest, haunted castles or were thought to exist exclusively in our nightmares.”
“There are fairy tales which describe witches who prey on children. Creatures who grant wishes but exact a heavy toll for their service,” the professor added.
Clara could remember several stories that fit these themes. Hansel and Gretel came immediately to mind whereas Rumpelstiltskin was an obvious choice for the later.
These were children’s stories, told to keep a child’s behaviour in check or used to teach a valuable lesson. It seemed hard to believe that such a revered academic would lend credence to these stories.
“In the past, we discussed how legends are rooted in fact. How these were nothing more than fishing stories that reached legendary proportions. What initially started out as a story of a man catching a six inch trout turns into an epic struggle between man and beast,” he said.
Clara almost giggled but held her composure. She knew they were being observed and had her suspicions as to why.
“Fairy Tales are also rooted in fact. Some argued that Little Red Riding Hood was a tale on how the feminine form and sensuality can soothe the savage beast,” the professor said.
One of the girls giggled and Clara did not dare to look. Had this man really brought up a version of a fairy tale where the big bad wolf was seduced by the girl? She would have loved to hear that particular version. Clara bit the inside of her cheek to keep a straight face.
“The fifty or so variations of this story that I have studied over the years all featured one specific element,” the professor said while he looked at every student on the eye. “They all featured a creature appearing as a wolf and in many cases could take on human form to blend in with the villagers,” he added.
Clara mulled over the matter and connected the dots. Nowhere was such a creature described or defined as such, but certain elements appeared in the story. One might be able to infer the truth from these stories and yet this seemed more like a case of hindsight…
“In fact we are talking about a creature which stands approximately 10 to 18 feet high. Bipedal, is most powerful during the full moon and deadly beyond reckoning,” Professor Stephens said.
Clara leaned forward and opened her eyes as wide as she could. She was not about to miss what this man had to say.
As though on cue the lights blacked out and a large furry wolf-like creature appeared out of thin air. The apparition towered over the professor which made everyone in the room feel small and insignificant.
So this was the creature behind Little Red Riding Hood? What about the boy who cried wolf? In the background Clara heard one of her classmates break out into tears. What would the fire extinguishers do with her?
“Lupinotuum pectinem, a lycantrop or colloquially known as a werewolf,” the professor said nonchalantly. “A pack of these is rumoured to have decimated a battle hardened Roman Legion,” he added.
The werewolf slowly morphed into its human form. This particular specimen it seemed had been a woman. Easily determined, even with her emaciated breasts and wide hips. It was hard to place an age because of the hard life this specimen had lived through made it impossible to determine.
Clara was not surprised, the transformations and associated behaviours were bound to make them social pariahs. Fear and isolation would be sure to follow them and that made getting regular meals or proper hygiene more daunting.
“The males are both larger and more powerful than their female kin,” the professor added. “However these are not the only creatures which feeds our primal fears and haunts our nightmares,” the professor added.
The woman’s image was instantly replaced by something humanoid. It was tall, lanky with ashen skin and a long distinctive nose. Clara was unable to make out any other features, but that was more than enough to send a shiver down her spine. Why did this thing seem so familiar?
“There is something wrong with the eyes,” Clara said and immediately regretted having spoken out of turn.
Professor Stephens stopped cold and observed her for a moment before he asked, “What about the eyes.”
“They should be glowing,” Clara replied although she did not understand why she knew.
“That is only true in low light conditions,” he said. “Although an excellent point to bring up,” he added.
“Homo pallidi or colloquially known as a ghoul,” the professor said. “Most tales surrounding these creatures originate from Arabic mythology. They describe creatures that seek out houses of the dead since they feed on decaying flesh,” he added.
The image changed again showing a different kind of creature. This was a thing of pure beauty, even with elongated fangs. Clara had no need to look at it further, she knew exactly what it was.
The professor began to name the creature, “Homo striga or more commonly known—”
“Vampire or nosferatu and popularised in by Bram Stoker in the last century. Creatures who are perversions of humanity, feast on human blood and whose rapid movements can appear like a blur to our eyes,” Clara said.
“Correct,” the professor said although he looked a bit surprised. “How did you know,” he asked.
“That one killed Father Michael a little over a year ago,” Clara said. “She did so on consecrated ground,” she added.
For a moment the tables had turned. Processor Stephens was now clearly uncomfortable with the information that came to life. How had news of this altercation not reached the confined of the Tower?
Clara felt betrayed, not only had they never spoken to her about the matter. Also, they never cautioned Professor Stephens against the use of that creature’s image? There must have been an ulterior motive to this lecture?
“Of course, you knew that already,” Clara said aloud and to defuse the situation and by this time noticed she was the only student left.
Edith walked in from out of the shadows then joined the professor at his side. Until that point she had rarely seen her outside of school gatherings. Why was she here?
“Of course we did,” the professor said. “We needed to see how you’d react,” he added.
“Your next phase of trading could not begin until we assessed you and that phase begins now,” Edith said with a grin.
So Clara had been correct. How many were initially surprised to hear that there were monsters in the world? Not just innocuous oddities, but things dangerous enough to require significant resources to counter?
Like the old charts she discovered in the Tower’s archives said, “Here be monsters.”