Amidst the snow-capped peaks of the Giant Mountains on the border, between what is now South-East Germany and the Czech Republic, lies the small town of Shrecken. Perched half way up a mountain, it is home to just a few thousand residents. It is mostly rural, miles from the nearest large city, and electricity cannot often be relied upon. In fact, the only reason anybody comes to Shrecken is for a fascinating archaeological find just a few years ago.
The origins of Shrecken are not well documented. Built alongside a narrow, snaking path through the mountains in the early 10th Century, it was a resting spot for weary traders and travellers making there way from between market and homestead. Consisting of just a small cluster of wooden buildings and a single stone church, the cold and harsh winds have preserved the architecture like nowhere else in Europe, with many of the buildings dating back to the era of the Crusades. The Church, dedicated to Saint Christopher, contains numerous relics of antiquity, including several original tapestries, a stained glass window and, of significant interest, the Shrecken Chronicle. The original book has been long lost to time, but the present Chronicle, maintained since the 17th Century, has many notes copied from the original medieval text. It was in one of these dusty, scrawled pages that a visiting antiquarian found a story that... unsettled him.
Apart from Saint Christopher's, the main building in Shrecken is its largest inn, the Goblin's Cave. Much of the original timber structure has survived, but centuries of repairs mean that the inside has become a squashed labyrinth of small, forgotten rooms; lost annexes and twisting corridors. Many visitors to the town have made remarkable finds in the dusty corners of the inn, from pre-unification coins to medieval pipes, that just seem to have been dropped and never found again.
The Goblin's Cave features heavily in this story. It was December 2nd, 1283, and a particularly bad snow storm had cut Shrecken off for another winter. As the hundred or so inhabitants and traders huddled in the Inn for warmth, they were joined by the last few stragglers, including a tall, broad man in a large winter coat. The man, in a rough translation from the original medieval German, was described as 'dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a pointed beard and a feather-peaked hat'. Clearly this individual seemed to be a man of great wealth. What occurred next is unclear. The Chronicle makes mention of the man being 'revealed as a fiend'. This could have meant anything, from attempting to rob the inn to making advances on the local women, or even trying to start a gambling game. The events of that night will forever be mired in the fog of time. Whatever occurred, by the next day, the storm had passed and the Chronicle says that 'by God's grace, the fiend was smote, and resided in Shrecken no more'. The man had vanished in the night, leaving no trace, apart from the feather that had poked from his hat. Said feather was taken by Saint Christopher's, and resided there over eight centuries later when the antiquarian first pored over the ancient tome. The antiquarian was unconvinced of the story's validity- relics purported to be that of saints frequently turned out to be anything but- and in any case, why would the village choose to commemorate a single, drunken trader who had graced their town for a single night over a hundred thousand sunsets ago?
The Chronicle says that the 'fiend' booked out the largest room in the Goblin's Cave, a large chamber atop the inn with a window looking down onto the snow-covered square. It is strange that the Chronicle would make record of so many real-life locations in Shrecken, but feature a rather staggering error in that the Goblin's Cave has no large chamber as described in the story. At least, that's what was presumed.
A collector of medieval apocrypha, the antiquarian came to the Inn to take in its history. Aside from the comically large aerial, the town's sole connection to the wider world, bolted to the crumbling chimney, the thatched-roof and vaulted wooden beams were pretty much identical to what they would have looked like in the fiend's time. Entering and ascending the narrow wooden steps, the antiquarian came to the topper most floor. Tapping against the wooden ceiling, he was surprised to find that it sounded... hollow. As if there was another room.
Returning weeks later with an archaeological team, the mayor of the town reluctantly granted permission for them to investigate the Goblin's Cave. Carefully, trying to cause as little damage as possible, they cut a small hole in the ceiling, just big enough for a single person to crawl through. The antiquarian went first. They had been expecting pitch darkness, but it was in fact as well lit as the rest of the Inn. As their eyes adjusted, they soon realised just what they were seeing, and they almost toppled off the ladder they were standing on in shock.
The team had found a large chamber, built into the thatched roof of inn. Dust lay strewn everywhere, a detritus of mummified rats and insects scattered across the floor and onto a bed covered in ancient, moth-eaten blankets. The centrepiece of the room was a large window, looking down onto the square, just as the Chronicle had said. But there was one difference. What appeared to be a pile of old furs lay slumped against the window. As the archaeologists approached, they quickly realised this was no pile of rags.
It was... a body. Shrunken, ancient, paper-like skin pulled taught over bone, swallowed up by the furs, the ghost of a beard still adorning the jaw. A peaked cap sloping over the brow.
The discovery was in papers the world over, and within days the world's media had descended upon the small town, much to the gumption of the residents. The discovery of not only a genuine medieval room, undisturbed for centuries, but such a well-preserved body, promised to provide a wealth of information. The Inn became a visitor's centre, with people from Germany and beyond flocking to see the room, now sealed behind glass.
Before the visitor's centre opened, the delicate remains had been examined by a team of forensic experts for posterity. What they found was... unsettling, to say the least. The body was that of a tall, well-built man in his mid to late thirties, who was well fed and presumably from a wealthy background. He had in his possession several coins dating back to the 13th Century, the remains of some bound letters and a blade in it's scabbard. But what was unsettling was the apparent cause of death. The man had two broken legs, shattered as if by some great weight, such as a rock or a hammer. But he had not died of the broken legs.
He had died of starvation. It seems the room had been sealed up with him still inside.
If this unfortunate was indeed the fiend that the Chronicle recorded, it seems that once he had retired to his room, probably drunk and unconscious, someone, or a group of someones, had crept up the stairs, entered his room, and shattered his legs, before sealing up the door for good. Scratch marks around the floor attest to the unpleasant reality that the man must have been crawling around, in agony and helplessness, for days or even weeks, before he finally crawled to the window and died.
What was truly disturbing, however, was not his gruesome demise, or the mystery of his origins. He had died by the window, a window that looks down on Shrecken's town square from a steep angle atop its snaking turret, clearly visible to all who pass it. And yet the body had never once been seen, the missing window never once questioned. The sightless sockets of the fiend had watched the seasons pass for years, and then decades, long after his murderers had returned to there homes, drunk there lives away just floors beneath his body, and been buried in the cemetery of Saint Christopher's. The dead eyes had watched the centuries fly past, watched the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution, German Unification, and two World Wars unfold from his unseeing vantage point, as the dust fossilised around his corpse. Shrecken had kept the feather as a reminder of its unknown watcher, an anchor to its past.
The Fiend of Shrecken watches still.