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.
For the next three days he wandered the town and fished at the coast. Being tailed the entire time. He learned the entire layout of the town, the best escape routes and places to hide, if needs must. From his room, he'd watch the locals returning from their jobs and found many were coming and going from the church in day and night shifts. This was confirmed further when he ghosted out one evening to find that construction in the church was still happening in the dead of dark.
On the fourth night he decided to see what was inside the church, so again he slipped out of the tavern and in silence de-materialised into the shadows like a spectre born. He wasn't the best at stealth, but that was because the Hunters standards were so high.
It didn't take long for him to reach the church and he approached the north western corner.
He could sense the dozens of auras bustling about inside. Arken knew the general layout of the churches. Entrance in the south and the priest's quarters and storage rooms to the north. Arken intended to blink into the storage area, hide among the shadows and listen to them talk. Then once his blink had cooled down, blink outside and sneak back to his room and repeat the process the next night. Then he would leave for reinforcement if he deemed it needed. Arken just hoped he had some information to bring back.
After a long exhale, Arken blinked.
The second he phased into reality, Arken fell. He let out a yell, hit mud and slipped onto his side.
In the next split second he was on his feet and had taken in his surroundings. Countless locals stood, watching him with undisguised surprise. The entire church had been gutted. And at its epicentre was a huge, strange cone shaped thing, made from a material Arken had never seen before. It was half built, scaffolding surrounding it, and it crawled with workers. Under it was a hole in the earth, at least twelve metres in diameter with a wooden walk way circling into its depths.
He had finally found the elves and dwarves. They made up the majority of the workers. They were malnourished, and dead eyed with exhaustion. Their stench hit Arken. It made him reel and his eyes water.
'How did you get in here?' demanded a balding middle aged man.
Arken couldn't begin to think of a reply and they started to advance on him, their eclectic tools raised.
He raised his hand to summon his sword, but some instinct stopped him. Something wasn't right, the glazed looks in their eyes, the way they moved. It was almost as though it was against their will.
'My name is Arken,' he said raising his hands in supplication. 'I am a Hunter sent to help you. I am not your enemy.'
They didn't reply, just continued on.
Then they charged.
The first to reach him was a young, big burly human, who swung his shovel at Arken's head. Arken darted under it with ease and his side kick smashed into the man's ribs. The crunch was wince inducing and the man flew into two other locals, sending them to the dirt.
Arken parried the arm of a swinging hammer and his leopard fist upper cut into the soft skin beneath the malnourished elf's jaw. Arken's backfist cracked in the cheekbone of a dwarf and his front kick crashed into the face of a human as she drew back for a hook.
To Arken they seemed to move in slow motion, but it wouldn't take long for them to surround and overwhelm him.
A human threw a wild hay-maker, so telegraphed it was laughable. Arken caught it with both hands, broke the man's elbow, then spun and flung him into the human trying to flank the Hunter then the four other locals behind him.
Arken's round kick sent two attackers crashing to the mud. He followed it with a front kick which broke a man's jaw and sent him flying, writhing back.
A female elf threw a clumsy kick which Arken back-stepped and a dwarf threw himself at Arken with a roar. The dwarf got an elbow in the face for his trouble, then a back fist to the cheek. Arken felt the zygomatic bone shatter.
Arken blocked a punch from the elf, then ducked a humans hay-maker. He kicked the second attacker's legs out from beneath him. Arken's knife hand smashed against the elf's windpipe, then he shoved him away.
Two large humans rushed him, but Arken slipped aside and tripped one. The man stumbled and bashed into the wall with a cry.
Arken would've laughed if he didn't have to tilt aside a shovel thrusting for his face. Arken grabbed it and tore it from his grasp, before sending the attacker to the ground with a side kick to the guts. The flat of Arken's new shovel clanged against the spine of a human who was in the midst of punching, then bashed across the back of a female elf's neck.
None had combat training, few throughout the continent did and even fewer knew how to fight as a group, to utilise their numbers. But they were learning and soon would start attacking in more than just pairs. Not just that, but he couldn't keep this up forever.
Using the shovel like a quarter staff, Arken broke a woman's nose with a jab of the handle and swung it low to take a charging elf off his feet. He parried a man's swinging hammer with the haft then spun the shovel overhead and bashed it on top the local's skull. A female dwarf kicked for Arken's shin, Arken danced away then swept out the shovel, smashing her back.
Arken twisted the shovel, so its edge gouged deep into a man's elbow in mid punch. The human didn't have time to cry out before Arken's hook kick threw him into the crowd, sending many writhing and reeling.
He didn't sense it, but instinct shrieked it and he threw himself to the dirt a split second before the lightning coursed through the crowd, killing countless locals on its way to him.
A millisecond later Arken was on his feet and had located the lightning's source. An old man in plain grey clothes, his raised hand smoking and stood near the hole.
How hadn't he sensed the attack? No priest nor Hunter, nor original vampire could hide their aura when using magic. That wasn't possible.
'What the hell?' breathed Arken and the pause caused the weariness to hit him. Then came the hissing, the hissing which erupted through his ears. Pain coursed through his head. It caused him to stagger and clutch at his skull.
'Surrender, Hunter,' the old man bellowed, his hand still raised.
Arken couldn't reply as he tried to shake it all away. His limbs seemed to leaden and his vision began to blur.
'We do not want any more violence,' said the man as he started to approach. 'I do not wish to kill any more of my people and do not wish to kill you. Your skill is great, you will be a great asset.'
Arken fought to keep his feet, his brain throbbed and blood streamed from his nose.
'What? Who?' Arken managed through teeth clenched so tight he couldn't help fear they'd crack. The crowd began to close on him.
'Are you wondering who I am, Hunter?' said the old man. 'I was once a man who dedicated himself mind and soul to the light of Jaroai. But I and all of us have seen it as the falsehood it is. That it is a lie.'
Arken roared, summoned his sword and exploded into a charge. Despite the pain in his head and his aching limbs, in a split second he was behind the priest, his blade held an inch from the priest's throat.
The priest gasped and froze.
Arken grinned. 'Tell your pawns to step down. Now.'
'This will get you nowhere, fool.'
'If you don't do it, you will never get anywhere, ever again.' Arken emphasised this by edging the sword closer to the priest's neck, causing him to flinch.
The locals were approaching. They didn't show any fear for their leader, just set determination.
'How?' said the priest. 'How are you able to resist?'
'Resist, what?' growled Arken, the buzzing was getting worse. 'Make...them stand down. Or I'll give you another smile."
The priest smiled and said a word in a language Arken had never heard before and as one the advancing mob stopped, their heads drooping forward.
'I suppose it doesn't matter,' said the priest. 'You will give in to it, eventually.'
'What is 'it'? What's down the hole?' Arken snarled, shaking his head again. 'Tell me!'
'Why would I tell you, Hunter?' said the priest. 'When I can show you.'
His blade still near the priest's throat, they began down the walk way. Their footfalls echoed ominously through the blackness, no matter how light Arken tried to tread.
'How were you able to hide your aura?' Arken demanded. Every syllable was a struggle and he wiped the blood flowing from his nose. The hissing had turned into buzzing, his brain was no longer throbbing in his skull, but thundering, so much so he couldn't hear the priest's response.
'I said, there is no point in telling you. You will see for yourself soon enough.'
Arken grimaced as he had to fight the sudden compulsion to let the priest go.
'Ahh yes,' said the priest. 'You need not fear me, I just wish to show you the Truth. I will not hurt you, please let me go. I am not evil like you believe.'
'You killed your own people!' said Arken as his sword arm started to lift away.
The priest shrugged. 'They-'
Arken interrupted him by bashing him over the head with the sword's hilt. The priest collapsed, unconscious.
Straight away, the buzzing and throbbing weakened.
With heavy breaths, Arken wiped the blood from his face, stepped over the priest's spralled form and continued down.
Down into the unknown.