The elderly Paladin and his young apprentice guided their mounts into the unnamed village.  Isolated deep within the dense forest of the main island of Xipan, the settlement consisted of about a dozen homes of rough-hewn logs.  It was just past midday, and the town should have been bustling with activity.  Instead, the two were greeted by an eerie silence.

They followed the lone, packed dirt road to the central square and dismounted in front of the house of healing.  The two approached the door, and the Paladin gently knocked.

“The quarantine is still in force!” a woman’s voice rang from behind the door.  “Unless this is an emergency, please return to your home.”

“I am half a day’s ride from my home, Mistress Hyamah,” the Paladin replied.  “It is I, the Paladin Grand Master Pao, here with my young apprentice, Gondomir.  We received your raven.”

The door opened, and a woman of about sixty years greeted them.  Her face was pale and wan, her eyes bleary.  Her body trembled slightly as she beckoned them to enter.  She led them to a group of chairs before the hearth and offered them food and drink, which they politely declined.

“It gladdens me to see your face, Pao, after lo these many years,” she said quietly, taking his hand.  “Would that the circumstances were better and that we had time to reminisce.”

Much to Gondomir’s surprise, he observed the usually steely eyes of his master soften–and was that the hint of a wistful smile across that notoriously stern face? 

“There has been another death, just last night–the fifth one in about as many days,” Hyamah continued.  “In all my years as the Healer of this village, I have never seen anything like this.”

“Please start at the beginning and tell me everything.”

“It is a most disturbing tale,” Hyamah began.  “The first death, six days past, was our oldest resident, a retired woodsman in his eighth decade.  He died in his sleep, but not peacefully.  His eyes were fixed in a wide-open stare, and his mouth was twisted in a cruel rictus, as though he had died from fright.  His wife died the following morning, and her features were similarly marred, but I thought little of this, as she was elderly and grief stricken besides.”

“So far, I see nothing here that is any cause for alarm,” Master Pao observed.  “People grow old.  People die.”

Hyamah nodded, and then continued, “The third death, the next morning, was our cobbler, a man of middle age who I had been treating for many years for a weak heart.  He too was found dead in his bed and looked to have died from fright.”

“Perhaps something did frighten him and it was too much for his weak heart,” Master Pao offered.

“That is what I thought as well,” Hyamah agreed.  “But the next morning, one of our furriers was found dead, in the same manner as the others.  He was a young and hearty lad that hunted the lions of the mountains for sport.  He feared nothing.  Yet, his face…”

“And it was at that point that you decided to send for me, and rightly so,” Master Pao surmised.  “But in the interim between your raven and my arrival, there was a fifth death?”

“Just this morning, the fletcher’s son was found dead, his face distorted like the others,” Hyamah made answer.  “He was only five and ten years old–about the same age as your apprentice here.  I cannot believe that these deaths are unrelated.  Will you help us?”


At Master Pao’s request, Mistress Hyamah gathered all of the townsfolk into the village Temple’s main sanctuary.  Then Master Pao, Gondomir, and Hyamah made a thorough search of the building and its environs, augmenting their efforts with spells, until they were completely satisfied that the Temple harbored no evil.    

Hyamah summoned one family at a time into the private, inner sanctuary for interviews, a process that took well into nightfall.  Master Pao had Gondomir lay his hands upon and bless each family member.  Afterwards, all were asked to return to the main sanctuary, for their safety, as they were to spend the night together. 

At the conclusion of the interviews, the three remained in the inner sanctuary to discuss their findings and to decide what was to be done next.

“Well, now we know that no one saw, heard, smelled, or felt anything unusual over the past week,” Master Pao began.  “That is not much to go on, but it does lead us in a certain direction.”

“And what direction is that?” Hyamah asked.

“In a moment,” Master Pao responded.  “First, I must ask you–did the victims have anything at all in common?”

“Other than living in this village, no,” Hyamah answered.

“And every death occurred in the night, apparently while the victims slept?” Master Pao continued.

“Yes,” Hyamah confirmed.

Master Pao remained silent for several seconds and then turned to Hyamah, saying, “My apprentice and I shall patrol the village tonight.  I want you to remain here with the others in the sanctuary where it will be safe.”   


“Walk with me, Gondomir,” Master Pao said as they left the Temple to begin their rounds. 

The old man hugged his cloak tighter as the cool night air washed over him. His young apprentice seemed unperturbed by the chill.  The nearby forest was virtually silent, offering only the rare howl of a wolf or hoot of an owl.  A gibbous moon, nearly full, provided enough light by which to see.

“Do you think a plague of some sort has caused these deaths?” Master Pao posited as he adjusted his sword belt upon which hung a long sword at his left hip and a short sword at his right.

“I know of no disease that can strike so many so hard and so suddenly,” Gondomir made answer as he too made minor adjustments to his identical sword belt.

“So, if not a contagion, then what?” Master Pao pressed further.

“A series of attacks by a force or forces unknown, or perhaps mass murder,” Gondomir responded.

“How likely do you suppose murder?” Master Pao asked.

“While possible, unlikely, I think, my Master,” Gondomir replied.  “The fact that the victims seemed to have little in common argues against it.”

“Very good!” Master Pao agreed.  “That leaves us with attacks by a predator or predators–stealthy attacks in the night that leave no clues as to what caused these deaths.  Do you have a theory as to who or what is attacking?”

“A demon of some sort,” Gondomir answered at once.

“Name some possibilities,” Master Pao encouraged.

“Incubi, succubi, wampyrs, maeres, gamchicoths…just off the top of my head,” Gondomir responded.

“Yes, those would be the most common,” Master Pao agreed.  “However, I believe we can eliminate wampyrs and gamchicoths.  Wampyrs would have left telltale fang marks and the victims would have been quite pale–signs that Mistress Hyamah would not have failed to notice.  Gamchicoths tend to set dogs barking, and no one reported that happening.  Also, while gamchicoths are known as soul devourers, they usually devour the bodies of their victims as well.  What else may we likely eliminate as candidates?”

Gondomir thought for several seconds before he made answer, saying, “Incubi only attack women, and succubi only attack men; since our victims are of both sexes, and it is unlikely for the same village to be attacked by more than one demon at one time, we may safely eliminate incubi and succubi.”

“We are left with maeres, then?” Master Pao asked, but the inflection in his voice indicated some doubt.

Gondomir again took time to contemplate before making answer, saying, “Upon further reflection, maeres are most unlikely.  I personally blessed every single villager.  If one of them was possessed by a maere or any other demon, I would know.”

“Would you?” Master Pao challenged.  “A possessing spirit cannot tolerate its host being blessed by a Paladin, true.  But a maere only manifests itself when its vessel is in the twilight state between wakefulness and sleep.”

“Yes, my Master, but a maere still remains in possession of its host at all times, so I would know nevertheless,” Gondomir countered. 

“Just so, my young apprentice,” Master Pao agreed.  “Therefore, we are looking for an uncommon, non-possessing demon.  The children of Lilith are legion and take many forms.  Let us be vigilant!”

“As you command, my Master.”


As watchful as the Paladin and his apprentice were, something broke through their guard that night.  Neither saw the invader, but their failure was abundantly clear as, at the break of dawn, screams and wailing could be heard emanating from the Temple.  Upon entering the sanctuary, the reason for the keening was immediately apparent.  There had been another death.  Mistress Hyamah joined them, lamenting,

“It’s our blacksmith–a strong man in his prime–killed the same as the others.  When will it end?”

The victim had been laid out on one of the benches.  His mouth was open grotesquely wide in a silent scream.  His eyes looked as though they would jump out of his skull.

“Please ask the people to disperse back to their homes, lock their doors, and wait for further instructions,” Master Pao whispered to Mistress Hyamah.  “The three of us will remain here to see what may be learned from a thorough examination of this latest casualty.”

Hyamah made the announcement, and soon the three of them were alone.

Master Pao approached the body for closer inspection.  Hyamah made to join him, when Gondomir’s long sword suddenly rang from its scabbard and barred her path.

“Gondomir!  What is the meaning of this outrage?” Master Pao exclaimed.  “Have you gone mad?”

“Forgive me, my Master, but your feelings for this woman have blinded you to the truth,” came Gondomir’s reply.

“What do you mean?” Master Pao sputtered, his eyes almost as wide as those of the corpse.

Gondomir extended his left hand toward Hyamah and uttered a single word:


Master Pao caught Hyamah and lowered her gently to the floor as the hypnotic spell took effect.

“Do you trust me, Master?” Gondomir asked.

“Up until now, I have had no reason to doubt you.”

“Then doubt me not today,” Gondomir implored.  “I blessed every villager…everyone except for her.  She is possessed,” he continued, drawing his short sword with his left hand.

As Master Pao looked on, a dark mist began to pour out of Hyamah’s sleeping form.  The cloud coalesced into a hideous creature, black as a moonless night with eyes that glowed like embers and row upon row of pointed teeth lining its gruesome maw. 

Master Pao was momentarily dumbfounded but then quickly recovered his senses.  Extending his hands, he commanded, “Be gone, foul maere of the night!  I banish you back to the nether-realm from whence you came!”

The monster raised its arms and extended clawed hands towards its tormentor, and then its form dispersed and was no more.

“You did me no small service here, my young apprentice,” Master Pao acknowledged.  “Thank you.”

Gondomir bowed and then sheathed his swords.  The nightmare was finally over.

Hyamah stirred and opened her eyes.  For a moment, color flooded into her face.  Pao approached her, exclaiming,

“Hyamah!  My darling!  You look as young as when we first met all those years ago!”

“Oh, Pao!  Would that the circumstances were better and that we had time to…”

The mighty Paladin Grand Master Pao threw himself beside the still body of his only love and wept.

Author Note:

According to the APA,
“Sleep paralysis is an inability to perform
voluntary movements during the transition
between wakefulness and sleep. The episodes
are usually associated with anxiety
and in some cases fear of impending death.”

Thus do our modern medical experts describe the phenomenon
upon which the demon in the story is based.  But our rational
way of looking at things does not mean that the maeres of the night
do not exist…