Over thirty years since the events of An Ulterior Motive Anargrin and Emilia the werewolf are now partners. But after Emilia is injured during an assignment, Anargrin is forced to go it alone.
To find and stop an incredibly dangerous vampire.
Hamar Noir by Benjamin Agar
Year: 2429 A.H.V (After Holy Victory)
Age: The Early Industra era.
Country: The Kingdom of Hamar.
'How many dead?' said Anargrin.
Sammil watched while Anargrin approached the balcony's edge, the elf swirling a glass of scotch. Anargrin leaned his elbow on the railing; his attention fell to the crowd funnelling through the street below the balcony. It was five thirty in the afternoon in Valtagan, the capital city of Hamar, so the people were commuting home.
'Five,' said Head Hunter Sammil as he followed Anargrin to the handrail. Sammil raised his head to look at the cave ceiling dozens of metres above. One of the vast, ancient lights jutted out overhead, like a large cloud in the sky.
'I haven't vampire hunted in a long time,' said Anargrin, turning to the Head Hunter and taking a sip of his drink. Even for an elf, Anargrin was handsome, high cheekboned, his features as sharp as his darting hazel eyes. But his battered, weary demeanour was evident, even to an untrained eye. His long brown hair was pulled into a ragged ponytail and the purple bags beneath his almond-shaped eyes more distinct than usual.
'Not since your predecessor appointed me as an infiltrator,' said Anargrin. 'Then as a senior agent since I joined forces with Emilia. That was a long time ago, although I can't-'
'That was thirty-three years ago, now,' said Sammil. 'I know you have moved on, but I must ask you to do this assignment.'
The elf nodded, shrugged and drooped his attention again to the crowd again. Sammil knew Anargrin was looking down his nose at them, literally and figuratively. 'The Mindless masses,' 'the sheep' Anargrin and many Hunters called them, and to an extent, it was true. Usually, Anargrin did not allow such cynicism to rule him. But he was in a foul mood, and Sammil could not blame him for it.
'How is she, by the way?' said Sammil. 'Emilia.'
Anargrin's attention snapped back to Sammil, his face darkening for a moment.
'She'll live, just.'
Sammil frowned. Anargrin and his companion, the werewolf, Emilia had a few hours ago came back from an investigation into supposed troll activity in the Hamarian caves east of Valtagan. "Supposed" turned into "confirmed" when the troll and its goblin underlings ambushed Anargrin and Emilia during their investigation. The troll knocked Emilia unconscious before she could transform. But Anargrin still managed to single-handedly kill the troll, escape and carry Emilia for miles back to Valtagan. How he wasn't wearier and battered was beyond Sammil.
Sammil knew the veteran Hunter was smarting, both physically and mentally that Anargrin had taken a hit to his pride and was beating himself up for failing to detect the ambush.
'When did the killings start?' said Anargrin, interrupting Sammil's thoughts.
Sammil opened the dossier and pretended to study it. 'Three days after you and Emilia left for your, mission. He...or she has set up shop in the northeastern slums.'
'The Rule Enforcer reports say they are mostly male. Four male, one female. One elf, he was one of the males. The dwarf was the female and two human males. All in their mid to late twenties.'
'Hmm,' said Anargrin as he took another sip. 'Could be a female vampire or a homosexual male vampire. Wanting to prove themselves superior due to an inferiority complex for their gender or their sexuality. Probably human, doubt it was an elf or dwarf as they'd most likely gone for humans. But you never know, could be an experienced vampire trying to put off our profiling.'
Sammil smiled. 'I had thought of the same conclusion, Anargrin. I see you haven't lost your touch.'
Anargrin shrugged. 'It's basic profiling. Even an apprentice would figure that out.'
'Look, Anargrin. I know what you have been through, but that is no excuse to be so negative.'
'I'm merely stating fact. I know you're trying to make me feel better. But false platitudes just wear on me.'
'It wasn't...' Sammil sighed. 'Never mind. Anyway, I need you to be a ghost on this, Anargrin. If you go in waving your sigil our quarry will-'
'Disappear into the wind,' said Anargrin. 'Yes, got you. Have we been hired by the locals to track this vampire down?'
'No? What? Are we no longer mercenaries and become a charity, now? I would say about bloody time, but we do need to make money somehow. You become sentimental in your old age?'
'No,' Sammil repeated. 'I may as well tell you now. I'm sure you will find out sooner or later. We were hired by the church.'
Anargrin's eyes went as wide as saucers, and Sammil's expensive crystal glass almost slipped from his fingers. 'Well...well that's something different.'
'Something different, indeed,' said Sammil. 'Although, unlike you, I have access to all of our records and can tell you that it has happened. Once or twice, through the centuries.'
'How did that happen?' said Anargrin. The animosity the Church of Jaroai held for the Hunters was legendary the continent over.
'After the third murder, the Rule Enforcers brought it to the church, asked for their help,' said Sammil. 'You know, supposedly the church is meant to hunt vampires, it being their holy duty after all. But the high priest has decided to sit on it, procrastinating over making a decision to "endanger more lives." You know how passive-aggressive they can be. Ever since Arken's smear campaign.'
It sickened Sammil they could stand back and allow innocent people to die because of petty politics.
Anargrin's disgusted grimace indicated he felt the same.
'Yes,' said Sammil. 'So one of the more senior priests came to me in secret and hired us to stop it. He...paid a rather generous sum and don't let this go to your head, Anargrin. I promised him, that, I would get my very best on it.
Anargrin grinned. 'So, that's why I'm here.'
Sammil felt his patience wear thin again. 'It would've been Arken, but he's up in Sartarth, taking part in the fifty days of night.'
The elf glared at Sammil. Every year in the Arctic cold of north Sartarth, the sun was lost to darkness for fifty days, it was a time which drew rogue vampires in droves. So dozens of Hunters and good vampires were sent to protect the people, for a fee, of course.
'That is a joke,' said Sammil.
Anargrin shook his head. 'It's good to hear there are a few Jaroaian priests with a conscience out there. I do hope he or she doesn't get in any trouble for hiring us if the priest's superiors find out.'
'Indeed,' said Sammil, handing Anargrin the dossier. 'Now, I must get back to my other duties, Anargrin. I trust that you are capable of reading this for any more information?'
Anargrin frowned and reached to take the file, but Sammil pulled it back.
'Are you sure you are up to this? If you are not, I can put another Hunter onto it. That would make my promise a lie. But it certainly wouldn't be the first, nor last time I have lied to a priest of Jaroai.'
Before Sammil could react, Anargrin snatched the file from his grasp.
'I'm up to it,' said Anargrin as he started flicking through it. 'Even if you are mostly sending me on this as a distraction from Emilia's condition.'
'Yeah,' said Anargrin, not even looking up. 'I'd thought so.'
Anargrin pushed his way through the crowded streets, ignoring his tail, it wasn't hard as they were no threat to him. And he'd the foresight to prepare just this situation, too. Everywhere around the large stone buildings loomed. The streets of former dwarven cities were built like mazes, designed to be easily defended by only a few soldiers, and built to last. Every building was Spartan and square. In the millennia since the dwarves were conquered, the people of Hamar had tried to force life into the architecture, painting the walls in bright, almost garish colours and hanging streamers overhead. Plants seemed to decorate every window sill. Even dwarves decorated their houses, despite the disrespect it indicated to their ancestors.
The daylight was on the verge of dying, the lights above dimming to simulate the sunset. Even so, the stream of commuters hadn't abated.
Anargrin checked his map. It took him a split second to see the crime scene was another block, east.
The last victim was human, and his body found only a few hours before Anargrin's arrival at the Hunter headquarters.
That made it the first place to investigate over the others. Anargrin just hoped the Rule Enforcers hadn't stripped the crime scene too much, but knowing them... Anargrin couldn't just walk into the Rule Enforcer's precinct. But he needed to look at at least one of the bodies.
Anargrin sighed. So he needed to infiltrate it, this job was just getting more and more complicated.
He found the alleyway and slipped from the mob down into its depths. The darkness endowed him and his eyes adjusted in a second. Even before his enhancement by the Ritual, his natural low light vision would've pierced the dark with ease.
'Okay, Anargrin,' he said. 'Let's just hope you find something that'll quickly and easily lead you to the murderer.'
Again, Anargrin sighed. It was seldom so simple.
He inhaled through his nose and extended his senses. As a Hunter, he could sense the magical auras of others. Even those without magical potential had an aura, due to the radiation the world emitted. That radiation which seeped into every pore of everyone, everywhere. Even the Halflings gave off one despite being devoid of any magical potential. Well, excluding the Halflings that were transformed into original vampires. People with magical potential gave off a stronger aura than ordinary people.
The priests of Jaroai could sense magical auras too. But Hunters and vampires could hide theirs. Both could reduce their auras, so they seemed normal, or disguise them completely. Anargrin's senses were sharper than most. He felt the people who lived in the buildings around him, a good forty or more. Although the aura sense was limited: he couldn't tell emotion or speech, just their rough movement and location.
It'd saved his arse on countless occasions but had failed him in his last.
Stinging coursed through his chest. He should've seen it coming. He should've known.
Anargrin shook it away. Now wasn't the time to dwell on that.
He found the end of the alley and stopped. His gaze wandered over the crime scene.
No sign of a struggle, no hint of blood. The lack of blood wasn't a surprise, the victim having been drained of it. In a typical crime, the absence of blood usually meant the murder took place someplace else. No sign of a struggle didn't mean anything either; even the weakest vampire was stronger than any mortal and most Hunters. No sign of a dragged body, but a vampire could carry a corpse from as far as it wanted with ease.
Anargrin looked up. Both buildings were twelve stories tall. The vampire could've dropped from the roof from either side and land, without injury. If the vampire had killed somewhere else, he could've carried the body from roof to roof. Even without enhanced strength, the close-knit rooftops of Valtagan were easy to traverse.
The Hunter sighed and rechecked the dossier. Nothing was found on the victims but their clothes. At the time of the report, the Rule Enforcers hadn't identified the latest victim. Just male, white, mid-twenties. The others had already been identified and buried, Anargrin even had the details of the families, but that wouldn't help him. If he came to them asking questions and showing his sigil, it might blow his cover.
Anargrin had read through the dossier numerous times now, trying to find anything connecting the victims, but there was nothing. Their only commonalities were their approximate ages, living in the far northeast of the city and coming from poor families. Height and build varied, especially among the humans.
'Hello, there,' said a voice behind Anargrin. He didn't move, having already sensed the five auras entering the alley. He'd known about them the second they'd started tailing him, five blocks ago. They were good for simple street thugs but no match for Anargrin's senses.
'What's a little elfy like you doin' here?'
Anargrin clenched his teeth. Crime was rife all through the slums of Valtagan, but the odds of being accosted was still smaller than most claim.
Anargrin turned to them, hands raised in supplication. There were five thugs total; four were big, brutish humans and one: an intimating looking dwarf. The humans towered over the short, slender Anargrin, their scowls almost apeish in aspect. Their stink hit Anargrin's sensitive nose, and he fought the urge to recoil.
'I-I am not looking for trouble,' he said. 'P-please. I haven't much. You are welcome to take it. Just, please don't hurt me.'
They laughed, then the one in the lead, their leader Anargrin assumed- punched at the elf's face. To Anargrin's enhanced mind the man's fist seemed to arc in slow motion, and he fought the urge to dodge and counter. He had to wait for it to connect for what seemed like seconds before it finally connected his cheek.
Pain blossomed through Anargrin's face, and he stumbled, exaggerating the power of the blow.
'Gah!' cried Anargrin, clutching at his cheek.
The thug then grabbed Anargrin by the shirt and shoved him against the wall. Making more pain erupt through his back.
'Now. We know you ain't local,' said the thug, his spittle hit Anargrin's face, and the stench of his breath made the Hunter's eyes water. 'We don't care who ya are. But we care you know us. We own this place; this is our territory. Ya got that, pretty boy?'
'O-of course, just please don't hurt me again.'
The thug's answer was a fist bashing into Anargrin's stomach. It knocked the wind from his lungs and bent him double forward.
He let go, and Anargrin sagged onto his arse, gasping.
'Take everything,' snarled the thug.
They took all of Anargrin's gold. Luckily he'd the foresight to only take a little from the Hunter funds, just in case this happened.
'Nice doin' business with ya,' said one of the thugs as they turned and walked away. Their laughter echoing through the alley.
Anargrin climbed to his feet and quickly regained his breath.
'The things I do for my job,' he growled through clenched teeth.
Anargrin sighed. At least he got something from this. The vampire seemed to be able to hide his tracks fucking well. That meant it was, at the very least, experienced.
He just hoped the gang didn't hold ties to this vampire, or that word of the strange elf hanging about in an alley that not long ago had contained a corpse, would spread too fast.
It wouldn't spread as fast as news of him taking down a bunch of brigands, though and Anargrin didn't want to kill them. They did what they did in the name of survival.
He wasn't going to find anything here. He didn't have a choice. He had to sneak into the Rule Enforcer precinct.
As he started to leave, a thought occurred to him. What if there was a connection between the victims?
It was a hunch, mere conjecture but Anargrin trusted his instincts.
If he was right, that meant there might be more than one vampire. That meant, after centuries, the Cult had resurfaced.