A False Legacy by Benjamin Agar
Year: 2387 AHV (After Holy Victory)
Age: Late Medivale Era
Country: The Kingdom of Everdeen
Everdeen. Arken, like many a Hunter, held a healthy hatred for the realm. Its corrupt aristocracy, its penchant for slavery. But as he rode in that horse drawn carriage he couldn’t help gaze out the window, awed by Everdeen’s brilliant white coast line as it wound with the blue sea, fifty metres below.
The road was smooth, there’d been nary a judder since Arken had left the city of Qarzert, about twenty kilometres ago.
That was what happened when labour was free. Maintaining the roads was cheap and trained their slaves were taught well.
Arken reclined in his seat and watched the sun shimmer across the calm sea.
He could get used to this. Life had been like this all the time for him sixty seven years ago. When he was treated like a king.
Because he was a king.
Arken smiled. He actually didn’t miss it, the stress, the intrigue. Now life was much simpler. Hunting and killing rogue vampires was far less dangerous than dealing with politics. And no, he wasn’t being sarcastic.
Although, he wasn’t sure what he was to deal with on this assignment. The Hunters were hired by Hasteq the lord of Qarzert to look into a town thirty kilometres north. A town named Jazewerth. A town that had stopped all communication with the outside world about two weeks ago.
And a town with a strange name like most places in Everdeen.
Usually, the Hunters wouldn’t take contracts with the Everdeenian nobility, but the price lord Hasteq had offered was just too good.
Arken had to meet the man back at his huge, overly ostentatious place in Qarzert. Arken saw through Hasteq’s jovial demeanour, despite his soft, pink, plump face, the second he saw him.
A slave towelled the lord’s sweat soaked forehead as another filed his toenails. The hot summer sun streamed through the stain glass windows, lighting images representing some long legacy Arken had no interest in. The lord in his gaudy opulent clothes, sat upon his gaudy opulent throne in the large throne room and looked down at Arken with badly hidden disdain.
‘I pay so much and I only get one of you?’ Hasteq had said, by way of greeting.
Arken had bowed, but only to hide the contempt he couldn’t help let to his face. ‘My apologies, my lord. All of my colleagues are busy with other matters at this time.’
‘Matters more important than this?’ said Hasteq.
Arken bit back a retort and said, ‘No, lord. They had just been assigned to other duties before your request came to us.’
Hasteq grimaced. ‘And you do not look like much. Are you sure you are not an elf?’
Arken smiled. He couldn’t blame the lord for thinking that. He was tall and skinny. Pale due to being born and raised beneath mountains. With slicked back long white hair and sharp, almost feminine features. Arken didn’t fit the bulky warrior archetype which Hasteq seemed to think he’d be.
‘I hope I do not sound arrogant, lord. But I am much more than much. That I assure you.’
Hasteq let out a bark of a laugh. ‘You do not sound arrogant. You sound extremely arrogant. I like that. I hope you manage to live up to your confidence, Hunter. I am very worried about the people of Jazewerth, they are my responsibility, after all. I would hate to see them hurt.’
Arken knew that Hasteq was more worried about his lost tax revenue and loss of material than the people. The man was easy to read, which baffled Arken. The nobility of Everdeen were infamous for their plotting and politicking.
A rare bump in the road brought Arken back to reality.
He’d hated bowing and scraping to Hasteq and not just because the man was a pompous arse. It still nagged Arken, he who was once a king, was forced to scrape to someone who’d once been so beneath him.
Arken forced away the thought. Even after all these years his aristocratic arrogance could come to the fore. But Hasteq hadn’t earned his position, he’d been handed it on a platter.
Arken had earned his crown, he’d fought on the front lines in countless battles against the armies of his cruel bastard half-brother and later, the lords rebelling against his rule. Hundreds of men had fallen to Arken’s sword and hundreds of times he’d been a mere millimetre from death.
He grimaced, and what did he get out of it? All those bloody battles, all those deaths lead to nothing but more death and betrayal.
Where Hasteq, an enslaver, would likely live out an easy life of hedonism and excess.
It sickened Arken, but that was the way the world worked.
If the Hunters and the vampires of Valandri had it their way, that would change.
Change for the better.
‘Sar,’ said the gruff voice which brought Arken awake.
The carriage driver, a rather regally dressed dwarf looked at Arken through the front window.
‘We’re about a kilometre from the town, as yeh ordered, sar.’
Arken glanced about. The sun was setting and they were no longer on the coast. The forest now dominated each side of the road.
Arken cleared his throat, struggling to recall the driver’s name. ‘Thank you. I appreciate this, I do.’
The dwarf looked at Arken as if he’d insulted his lineage.
Arken reached into his pocket and pulled out a fist full of gold coins. Around fifteen Angarans worth, half of his allowance given for the assignment.
‘Take this,’ he said. ‘Might help you escape this hell hole of a country.’
Before the dwarf could reply, Arken dropped the coins on the floor, retrieved his bag and slipped out of the carriage.
’Jaroai bless yeh, good sar. Thanking yeh. You’re much nicer than other humans ‘ere,’ the dwarf said when the Hunter was a few metres away.
Arken turned on the balls of his feet, gave the dwarf a wide smile and a wave before turning and continuing onward. Arken just hoped the dwarf wouldn’t be found with the gold.
That he could use the money and escape somewhere, make a better life.
He doubted it, though and it caused Arken a hit of regret, like a punch to the gut.
There were many different Hunters with many different methods. Some Hunters were infiltrators, they stuck to the shadows with religious zeal, only revealing themselves in the most dire of circumstance. Some waltzed into towns waving their sigil, relying on the respect the commoners had for the organisation for their co-operation. It mostly depended on the mission, who had hired them and how the client wanted it handled. But some Hunters were more adaptable than others, they were usually the longer lived, more experienced ones. Despite only being in his late eighties, the Ritual having lengthened his meagre human lifespan, Arken was chief amongst them. He had been taught by the best.
Hasteq had neglected to tell them how he wanted Arken to do it, so Arken elected to do it the way he liked.
He walked right in.
Arken expected the small town to be deserted, or be at least quiet but much to his surprise it was bustling with life. Many of the locals even greeted him on the street. Men were marching back from the mills or other odd jobs. When Arken found the tavern, it was filled with rowdy locals who eyed him with anything but suspicion. It was all smiles and nods. Which disturbed Arken more than if they treated him with hostility.
Before he set out Arken had done his research. There had been many times over the history of Angara when entire towns had gone silent. The most recent was in a country far to the north named Camaria when a large group of vampires moved in and killed or sired most of the locals. They were led by an original vampire named Kalthasin who was one of the most dangerous and powerful mages of the time.
It took twenty Hunters to stop them. Seven Hunters were killed in the battle and most of the town was burned to the ground. But over fifty vampires lay dead and Kalthasin, who had not taken part in the battle, was later tracked down by the legendary human, swordswoman, Malidil and her apprentice. They managed to take down Kalthasin, but Malidil was killed in the process.
Her apprentice was still alive and now active as a Hunter, but Arken couldn't recall his name. He was an elf and-
Arken stopped just shy of the counter as the realisation hit him. Ever since he had started down the main street, something had seemed off and now he knew what it was.
There were no elves or dwarves.
'May I help you there, sir?' said the barkeep.
Arken nodded. 'Yes, please. I would like a room and do you know where the best fishing spots are, by chance?' he said in his best Everdeenian accent.
The people in the tavern were watching him and Arken didn't need the ability to sense magical auras to know it.
Arken stood upon a rock, doing his best to pretend to fish. The cool north-westerly blew through his long white hair. It was more than refreshing as it dispersed the humidity Everdeen was notorious for.
To their credit, the two men tailing him weren't bad. Disturbingly good, actually. But they were no match for his senses.
Despite this Arken couldn't help wear a constant smile. This was the closest he had to a holiday in a long time. With the waves smashing against the coast and the beautiful blue sky, he couldn't help feel relaxed.
The fact the locals had set a tail on him wasn't surprising. It confirmed there was something behind this excommunication and the fact they had some skill announced they'd had training in it, either that or first-hand experience. If Arken had ghosted the town he wouldn't have found this vital information so fast.
Arken's hope was that the town's people were rebelling against their corrupt aristocracy. Perhaps even wishing to free the slaves? If so, it was an admirable ambition, but too lofty. They wouldn't last long against the might of the Everdeenian army. But the fact there were no elves and dwarves around disturbed Arken.
He'd noticed the tail the second he'd left the tavern that morning, the second he'd been here, so had decided to go straight to the beach to fish. That'd been five hours ago. Arken was at now ease while they would grow bored and weary, he could keep this up all day. But that was the problem, as much as he didn't want to he had to stop soon as they may rotate the watch replacing the bored tired locals with fresh ones.
With a curse, Arken packed his gear and began back to the town.
He took a different route back to the tavern, this time past the church. It was one pm, the holy time allotted by the Jaroai for the daily worship of the mindless masses. Arken had always wondered why the Jaroai had dictated that time in the holy book of the avatar. Perhaps it was because it was the time when the sun was at its hottest? That it had something to do with the fact the Jaroai could only use the light and fire magic disciplines? Arken had never encountered a Jaroai but he'd heard stories.
The thought caused a shiver up his spine, then he paused in his tracks.
Was that the sound of construction? And was it coming from inside the church?
Arken carried on and the closer he came to the church the louder the sound became. The constant hammering and banging forced him to remember. He watched while his men built a siege tower, Arken's army had surrounded Hamar's capital, Valtagan. The tower was over twenty metres tall, one of the largest built by mankind. That was one of the many things forgotten from his legacy after the church destroyed most records of the 'cowardly king.'
He turned the corner and the church came into full view. Like most its ilk was gaudy, over ostentatious and well maintained. The churches usually ringed in the locals to work for free, due to it contributing to the 'community spirit' and 'in the of service Jaroai.'
This despite the wealth the churches held due to the donations given by it's parishioners, they could easily pay them. Arken would be more inclined to use the term 'sheep' when in his more bitter moods.
What made him pause was the beautiful stain glass windows were boarded up from the inside.
Two men stood guard at the large double doors. Big bastards trying their best to look intimidating.
This didn't stop Arken from approaching.
'Uhh, excuse me!' Arken said. 'I am visiting from Symbalmark and here for daily worship. What's going on? Is the church closed?'
'It is,' said the man on the left, his beard as thick as his huge arms. 'Church is closed for renovations.'
Arken nodded. 'D-do you have another place for replacement?'
The two guards exchanged glances. 'No, not yet, sorry,' said the one on the right,
Arken wasn't sure how his false persona would react to this. Most of the sheep would lose their minds, being so brainwashed. But his character was faced with two large thugs him and cosmopolitan Everdeenians weren't known for their faith.
'I don't understand,' said Arken.
'There ain't much to it, to understand,' said the right thug. 'Go and pray at the inn.'
'The book of Jaroai says-'
'Yeah it does, but unlike you city folk we don't have a place big enough,' said left thug. 'Everyone is doing it by themselves.'
Arken said nothing, frowned, but nodded then turned and walked away.
What could they be doing inside the church? And the strange thing was, he couldn't sense the aura of the local priest. Could the locals be rebelling? It would make sense they would kill their priest. But the absence of the elves and dwarves put paid to that theory.
This couldn't be good, not at all.