Vhindr rested his book down on his lap and looked up at the branches of the trees above him. He was sitting on a stone bench amid the large garden that grew in the middle of the Monastery. Verandas lined the square gardens filled with trees and overgrown beds. Dead leaves littered the grass and stone pavers and Vhindr had had to brush them off the seat before he sat down.
Book in his lap Vhindr looked thoughtfully around to the other occupants in the small but pretty wilderness. Lord Phanish and his family were lounging on some pillows and blankets underneath a canvas covering, eating fine food and drink as they watched a demonstration by a pair of Helwyr, which the priest Jizalpii had organised. Both the fat Lord and his younger wife made joyous exclamations as the two Helwyr performed a mock battle. Lord Phanish’s daughter was not enjoying the spectacle however, and received a scolding from her mother.
With Lord Phanish was also the priest Jizalpii who was fawning over the Grand Priest Jaysis, who looked as if he were about to fall asleep.
Not far from the Lord’s tent the two Helwyr, Rivien and Drizzen stood under a tree and talked in hushed and agitated tones.
“How can you still be sitting here reading?” the question pulled Vhindr from his thoughts and he looked to see Arell walk towards him, with Berron at her side.
“Quiet easily,” Vhindr replied and looked back to his book, “For I know that you will not find any evidence in this monastery.”
“How can you know that?” Berron was quick to ask in a hushed tone.
“People usually do not leave incriminating evidence lying around,” Vhindr replied calmly, not bothering to look up from his book.
“I know these monks are behind Fay’s death,” Berron said determinedly, “And I will find the evidence to prove it. With or without your help.”
With a shake of his head Berron stormed from the gardens.
“That boy is very determined,” Arell sighed and sat down next to Vhindr.
“And blind,” Vhindr replied.
“Why don’t you think we will discover anything?” Arell asked curiously, and Vhindr regarded her curiously.
“Because there is nothing to discover,” Vhindr said as if it were obvious, “Not in relation to Fay’s death anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Coming here was a false lead,” Vhindr explained, “The more a I examine this case the more this Monastery being involved makes no sense. We found Fay in Pentra, washed ashore on the beach. Do you really think she was here?”
“You can’t know for sure,” Arell shook her head, “Maybe she was a prisoner here and escaped.”
“And ran all the way to the Sea of Gornl?” Vhindr shook his head.
Arell sighed heavily, “I do see what you mean, and the lead here was pretty thin. So why are we staying here?”
“Two reasons,” Vhindr smiled slightly, “One: I need to think over Fay’s case more, and here is as good a place as any. And two: we seemed to have stumbled onto a much more interesting mystery.”
Arell gave Vhindr a curious look, “What do you mean?”
Vhindr smiled mysteriously, “Have a look around here, what do you see?”
“This again?” Arell sighed, “Can’t you just tell me?”
“You will never learn if I did that,” Vhindr was quick to say, “Come now, what do you see?”
Arell sighed again and looked around the gardens, at the fat Lord and his family, the two Helwyr under the tree and to Vhal who just came from the building.
“I don’t know,” Arell groaned, “The Artāre Monastery?”
“You are not even trying,” Vhindr said disappointingly, “Fine I shall tell you, but know that I am disappointed with you.”
Arell scratched her ear and gave Vhindr a bored and pouted expression.
Vhindr narrowed his eyes at her before continuing, “You say it is the Artāre Monastery, but it is not really. The actual monastery is hidden in this forest far from prying eyes so they may create Helwyr in secret. This place is an ancient estate barely maintained for the simple purpose of pleasing dignitaries who are investing or donating to the Sect. Jizalpii is the only one who stays here on a permanent basis, when the lords and pilgrims send word of their arrival he sends for aid from the real Monastery. Grand Priest Jaysis journeyed here yesterday evening, arriving just before dinner. Why else would he be so tired today?”
“Vhindr, I’m not really following you,” Arell remarked as Vhindr paused.
“Think,” Vhindr sighed, “If this is just a place to meet noteworthy individuals why are the two Helwyr here? They know where the real monastery is, they would find better food and bedding there, do you not think? They claimed that this was a common stop for Helwyr in the area, but that cannot be right. You saw how sparsely furnished the place is. You also saw the greeting Jizalpii gave to Rivien, he was not expecting her, nor was he happy she was here.”
“Maybe he just doesn’t like her?” Arell shrugged.
“Perhaps, but unlikely,” Vhindr said, “Helwyr are the sword of Artāre, they do his will. Even if the priest did not like her he would have hidden it better than he did.”
“You’re just speculating now,” Arell shook her head.
“Alright, let’s look at it from another angle,” Vhindr said after he took a breath, “Drizzen of The Dale. He said himself he has adopted The Dale as his home, a place which is thousands of miles to the north in Gaianaus. So why is he here? It seems odd, yes?”
“That is a bit odd,” Arell conceded with a nod.
“And what of Vhal,” Vhindr continued, “By all appearances he is a noble and heroic adventurer. But I have never heard of him.”
Arell snorted, “What does that prove? You can’t have heard of everyone who is a noble and heroic adventurer. Essinendeür is a big place, Vhindr.”
“I know of all the ones worthy of being noted,” Vhindr was quick to reply, “So look at Vhal now and tell me: does he seem the type to fade into the background doing un-thanked and unappreciated deeds?”
Arell looked over to the strapping man who was now talking with the two Helwyr.
“I guess not,” Arell said thoughtfully.
“Coincidences do not exist, and yet there are too many of them here,” Vhindr said, “There is something going on here and I intend to find it out.”
“And completely forget about Fay’s death?” Arell suddenly asked seriously.
“Of course not,” Vhindr was quick to reply, “That case needs more thought. So I shall continue to think about it while I discover what is going on here.”
“Alright,” Arell nodded and sighed, “I shall do the same.”
“You should also keep an eye on Berron and see that he does not get himself into trouble,” Vhindr said with concern, “As for me I think I will talk with one of the guests.”
“Sure, leave me to babysit Berron,” Arell huffed as Vhindr stood up and walked over to the two Helwyr and Vhal.
With his book still in hand Vhindr causally strolled up to the trio who stopped talking as he neared.
“Good morning is it not?” Vhindr greeted them all with a smile, holding his book at his chest with one hand.
“Indeed,” Vhal nodded in reply, “Though I think it might rain later.”
“I meant that it is an excellent morning to be good on,” Vhindr clarified.
An awkward silence fell over the group and they glanced to each other as Vhindr subtly tapped his book against his chest.
“Is that a good book?” Drizzen asked hesitantly.
“Yes it is quite good,” Vhindr replied with a smile, “It is in fact written by you Drizzen. ‘Killing Monsters’ it is titled.”
“I remember it,” Drizzen nodded, “Took me a long time to write.”
“I had actually read it once before,” Vhindr continued, “And meeting you last night reminded me of passage in it.”
“Which passage?” Vhal asked curiously.
“The one about who the real monsters are,” Vhindr replied and flipped open his book to the exact page. “I shall paraphrase: ‘There is real evil in this world. Pure unadulterated evil. It is not the fiends in the wilds that are evil, it is us, we are the monsters.’ I am sure you know the part I am referring to, am I right, Rivien?”
“Yes, I do,” Rivien replied cautiously, giving Vhindr a curious expression. “I have also read Drizzen’s book once or twice.”
“What made you think of that section in particular?” Drizzen asked carefully.
“I am not sure, to be honest,” Vhindr shrugged, “My brain works like that. Though it is a rather apt comment on society do you not think?”
Vhal laughed slightly, “A curious insight into how the mind of the famous detective Vhindr works.”
Vhindr smiled, “You seem to know me Vhal, and yet I have never heard of you, which I find very hard to believe.”
“I like my privacy,” Vhal simply replied.
“What brings the famous Varrintine detective to the Artāre Monastery?” Rivien asked curiously, “A murder perhaps?”
“I investigate more than just murders,” Vhindr replied, “I like all manners of mysteries, from your ancient tombs riddled with traps, to the more complex mysteries of love.”
Vhindr winked playfully at Rivien, who seemed suddenly awkward.
“And which brings you to Vhasden?” Vhal asked seriously.
“Neither,” Vhindr dismissed the question, “As I said before: I am here making a donation, like our rather large Lord Phanish over there.”
Just then a commotion sprang up in Lord Phanish’s tent, catching the group’s interest.
“Come now there must be some better than these two,” Lord Phanish grumbled, “You cannot be telling me that they are best a Helwyr can be. Why, my knights could easily best them.”
“Well, they are still in training, my Lord,” priest Jizalpii stammered.
“Grand Priest,” Phanish whinged as he turned to the elderly man, “Sure you have better specimens?”
“What of those two, my dear?” Lady Phanish said and pointed to Rivien and Drizzen. “They are still breathing, so they must be good.”
“Yes indeed,” Lord Phanish exclaimed excitedly, “You two come over here and show us your skills.”
Neither Rivien nor Drizzen looked as if they would comply and gave the fat man a distasteful glare.
“Well?” Lord Phanish looked angrily to both Jizalpii and Grand Priest Jaysis.
The Grand Priest nodded tiredly to Jizalpii.
“Rivien, Drizzen,” Jizalpii called angrily, “Here, now. Your Grand Priest demands you join us.”
Drizzen and Riven exchanged irritable looks, but they both sighed and stiffly walked over to the tent.
“This should be entertaining,” Lord Phanish giggled, “Tell me Jizalpii are the Helwyr still anatomically all there? If you get my meaning.”
“Well, yes,” Jizalpii stammered awkwardly, “But the reproduction function is lost during the process.”
“Talking about them like they are stock being sold,” Vhal remarked darkly, drawing Vhindr’s attention from the scene.
“I am truly stunned by the man’s ignorance,” Vhindr shook his head in bewilderment before turning his attention to Vhal. “Tell me, Vhal, what adventuring brought you passed Vhasden?”
“Why do you ask?”
Vhindr shrugged, “Curiosity. A conversation starter, take your pick.”
“I always intended to come to Vhasden, in fact,” Vhal replied and Vhindr raised an eyebrow curiously. “It may surprise you to learn that I am in fact a devout follower and believer in The Five and particularly Artāre.”
“I am indeed surprised,” Vhindr nodded slowly, “So you are a Helwyr without actually being a Helwyr?”
Vhal smirked, “I suppose you could say that.”
“And it is by mere coincidence that you happen to come to the Monastery at this particular time?” Vhindr asked.
“What do you mean?”
“How long have you been a devotee of Artāre, Vhal?” Vhindr continued.
“Since I was born, why?”
“And you only now come to the Artāre Monastery?”
“I do not see your point.”
A slight smile came to Vhindr’s face, “No point I guess. It just seems an odd time to come here if you have been a believer all your life.”
“Why is now odd, and not any other time?” Vhal asked curiously.
“Well, it is not a holy day, nor a significant time of worship,” Vhindr replied with a shrug.
Vhal laughed softly, “It seems to me that you are constantly looking for mysteries to solve, even if there are not any to find my friend. There is no particular reason why I came here at this time, only that I wanted to.”
Vhindr smiled and sighed, “Perhaps you are right.”
Vhal nodded and smiled, “Learn to relax, Vhindr. Now, if you would excuse me, I am going to see what the cooks are preparing for lunch.”
“Of course,” Vhindr smiled and Vhal left.
Vhindr scratched his chin thoughtfully and slowly walked back to his stone bench where he sat down again and absently watched Rivien and Drizzen spar for the amusement of Lord Phanish. Even though his thoughts were elsewhere the marvelous moves and precision of strikes by the two Helwyr amazed him.
The sparring session eventually ended a draw and the Lord and Lady clapped their hands in applause. As the duel ended several monks came from the mansion carrying with them a large table laden with food for the guests.
“Lunch,” Lord Phanish exclaimed as he dropped the stalks of grapes he had just been eating, “Excellent, I am utterly famished.”
Both Arell and Vhal also came from the building to partake in the meal as he stopped at the table, though Vhindr noticed that Berron was absent.
Filling his plate with a few choice foods Vhindr returned to his stone bench to continue to ponder his thoughts. He did note with more than passing curiosity that Arell had begun talking with Drizzen and the two of them headed off to the other end of the garden.
Vhindr pulled his attention from the pair and back to the main group where Vhal had been dragged into conversation with Lady Phainsh, who was obviously enamored of the handsome man. Lord Phanish was talking to the tired Grand Priest and Jizalpii again, leaving his daughter to pick at her food in boredom and Rivien to look very awkward standing by herself.
Vhindr smiled as the female Helwyr looked in his direction and he motioned for her to join him on the bench.
“Varrintine,” Rivien greeted awkwardly as she took up the seat, sitting rather stiffly.
“Please, call me Vhindr.”
Rivien nodded slightly and looked back to the food.
“I must say, that was a spectacular display of swordsmanship,” Vhindr said casually and looked to the gardens around him.
“Thank you,” Rivien muttered.
“But why did you not decline?” asked Vhindr as he looked back to the Helwyr.
“The Grand Priest asked it of me and Drizzen, we could not have declined,” Rivien replied stiffly.
“What a complete arse, that Lord is,” Vhindr muttered, drawing a surprised look from Rivien.
“You are here for the same reason he is, aren’t you?” Rivien asked curiously.
“Hardly,” Vhindr scoffed and shook his head.
Rivien gave him another puzzled expression but she remained silent and looked back to her food.
“Tell me Rivien,” Vhindr inquired after he finished a mouthful of his meal, “How did you get that scar across your eye?”
Subconsciously Rivien ran a finger over the thin scar that ran vertically over her left eye.
“First time training with a real sword here in Vhasden,” she shrugged, “I was clumsy and I nearly lost me my eye.”
“You were lucky,” Vhindr nodded, “What about that thin one on your lip?”
Rivien smiled slightly, “A bar fight in Issia. This big oaf of a man thought insulting me was a good idea.”
“It must have been a heavy punch?” Vhindr exclaimed, genuinely shocked.
“I lost several teeth,” Rivien nodded, “Thanks for magicks putting them back in place, right?”
“Indeed,” Vhindr laughed, “You lost the fight then?”
“Hardly,” Rivien laughed as well, “His lucky punch knocked me senseless, but I still had enough wits to kick him as hard as I could between the legs.”
“I am sure he did not get up too quickly,” smiled Vhindr, “Did he have any friends who jumped into the fight?”
“They were about to,” Rivien nodded, “Lucky for them the guards showed up and ended it. They arrested the big oaf and I walked away with only this scar.”
“Being a Helwyr has its benefits,” Vhindr chuckled and Rivien nodded. “But tell me do you have any scars from fighting actual monsters? Or are they all from bar room brawls?”
“This one was a Worg,” Rivien replied as she pulled her leather top down from her right shoulder to display a vicious bite mark, “The males usually travel alone but this time there were two, brothers probably. I was focused on one of them when the other jumped me from behind. Barely got out of that one.”
“Looks like it was painful,” Vhindr remarked and shook his head.
“This one was worse,” Rivien smiled and she pulled up her top to show her lean stomach and six stab wounds in a triangle pattern next to both hip bones. “They went right through,” she turned her back to Vhindr to show the exit wounds.
“What did that?” Vhindr asked curious as he leaned over for a closer look.
“An Entrin,” Rivien replied as she lowered her top again and turned a smile to Vhindr.
“A Wood Walker,” clarified Rivien.
“They still exist?”
Rivien nodded, “Very rare though, and usually don’t cause any trouble. This one caused quite a bit of trouble though. It ambushed me, stabbed me with its tentacle like limbs and slowly pulled me towards its crushing arms. I got out of it, obviously, but I nearly died. Their limbs are covered with hundreds of tiny hooks which will rip apart your heart if they get into the veins.”
“How did you survive?” asked Vhindr curiously.
“There are some fights you can go into knowing it will be alright,” Rivien replied, “Others need a lot of preparation. This time I had organised an immediate first aid with a Magi before I went to kill the Entrin. It’s a good policy to do and allows the option to quickly teleport away to safety in case things get ugly.”
“Incredible,” Vhindr shook his head and Rivien grinned, “What is the worst situation you have been in?”
Rivien looked thoughtful for a few seconds before her face brightened and she turned in her seat to face Vhindr more directly.
“On the Morrow Plains was probably the worst, it was over ten years ago” Riven begun, “And you will be interested in this because I met one of your brothers during that time.”
“Really? Which one?” Vhindr asked curiously, “There are quite a few of us. Although, not as many as there once was.”
Sadness came to Vhindr’s face then and he looked away as he absently played with one of many chains and necklaces hanging around his neck.
“What do you mean?” Rivien asked as she regarded him curiously.
“Tell your story first,” Vhindr smiled and tried to dismiss his thoughts.
“It was Vythe I met,” Rivien continued after a brief pause and again a look of pain flashed across Vhindr’s features, “I killed a baby Karaken for a Mōrgul chieftain. But I seriously underestimated the beast, it almost ripped my leg clean off, not to mention drain me of blood. Look here,” Rivien pulled up her top again and edged down her trousers over her hip, “You can see where it had its tentacle wrapped around my leg and where the barbs around their suction pads dug in.”
Vhindr nodded slightly and strained a smile.
“I survived as you can see,” Rivien continued as she sat up straight again, “But I was too weak to teleport, nearly dead by the carcass of a Karaken. Luckily some of the Mōrgul had followed to watch me kill it and helped me back to the clan. There they nursed be back to health as they travelled across the plains. It was during that time I met Vythe, now there is a charmer.”
Vhindr nodded slowly, “That does sound like Vythe.”
“What is he doing these days?” Rivien asked curiously.
Vhindr sighed heavily, “I am sorry to say that he is dead.”
“What?” a look of shock came to Rivien’s face. “How?”
“He was framed for the murder of his wife to be by a former friend,” Vhindr explained sadly, “He was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Gaia Mountains Penitentiary. But he barely served ten days before he took his own life.”
“That’s terrible,” Rivien shook her head, “I’m so sorry.”
“It was a little over ten years ago now,” Vhindr sighed, “But the memory still hurts.”
“He was a remarkable man,” Rivien smiled weakly before she stood up and pulled Vhindr to his feet, “Come on, let’s go for a walk around the grounds before Lord Fatty wants another exploitation.”
Vhindr agreed with a shrug and he and Rivien left the garden and moved through the house. It seemed that Arell and Drizzen had the same idea for they had already left, leaving poor Vhal to suffer the conversation of Lord and Lady Phanish.
For the rest of the afternoon Vhindr and Rivien walked around the overgrown grounds of the Vhashden mansion. They talked a little of Vythe but most of the time Rivien was telling him about the many monsters she had fought.
“Why are you here, Rivien?” Vhindr asked as they walked through a lane-way towards the manor.
“For the exact reason I told you,” Rivien was quick to reply, “I was passing by.”
“So why not stay at the actual Monastery instead of this farcical place?” Vhindr persisted and slight smile came to Rivien’s face.
“I knew that Lord Phanish would be here,” she shrugged, “Believe it or not but this mansion has better beds then the Monastery. Seize the opportunity when it comes. Jizalpii wasn’t too happy about it thought, did you see his face when I showed up with you guys?”
“I did,” Vhindr chuckled, “Why is Drizzen here though? We are a long way from The Dale.”
“He is trying to get another book published,” Rivien shrugged, “The easiest way to do it as a Helwyr is through the Temple.”
“I see,” Vhindr nodded.
“I have a question for you, Vhindr,” Rivien remarked as she ducked under a low hanging tree branch.
“Is Arell truly your wife?”
Vhindr laughed and shook his head, “No, it was a ruse which you saw straight through I am sure. I am sure everyone else did too.”
The two of them stopped at the end of the lane-way and at the base of a few steps which led up to a terrace of the mansion.
“So why the ruse at all?” Rivien asked curiously.
“Why indeed?” Vhindr asked back and smiled knowingly at Rivien. “Come on, we shall be late for dinner.”
Rivien said no more and she followed him through the house and to the dining room where everyone was already seated and the food was just being brought out. Vhindr noted that Arell and Drizzen were seated next to each other and talking easily, and for some reason that annoyed him. Vhindr shook the thoughts from his mind and took up a seat next to Rivien. The food was good this evening, as was the wine and conversation with Rivien. All at the table enjoyed their food and the mood was light, although Vhindr did notice that Grand Priest Jaysis was falling asleep. By the end of the meal Vhindr was feeling unusually light headed from enjoying the drink too much. It seemed he was not the only one and all retired to their beds early. But not all their own beds.
“Stay with me tonight, Vhindr,” Rivien suggested as they stood up from the stable to join the others as they made their way from the dining hall.
“I am married, remember,” Vhindr laughed.
“I don’t think your wife would mind,” Rivien joked and they laughed.
“It seems Lord Phanish wife doesn’t mind either,” Vhindr remarked and pointed to where Lady Phanish was obviously flirting with Vhal who seemed reticent.
Lord Phanish was oblivious to it all as he was passed out on the stone floor, and their daughter was nowhere to be seen.
Glancing about the room Vhindr realised that Arell was not there either, along with Drizzen, Jizalpii and the Grand Priest.
“Do these scars really make me that ugly?” Rivien asked drawing Vhindr’s gaze back to her.
“Of course not,” Vhindr replied, “In fact they give you a strange allure.”
Rivien smiled, “I haven’t shown you all of them, have I? Would you like to see them?”
Vhindr held back his smile and did not resist as Rivien led him by the hand to her bedroom.
The next morning Vhindr woke with a start and slowly sat up on the bed. He was naked and the bed was empty, not to mention he had a throbbing headache. But a smile came to his face as he ran a hand through his black hair, which was starting to become unkempt, and remembered the night he spent with Rivien. With a great stretch and yawn Vhindr crawled out of the bed and gathered his clothes. After the washed his face he gradually made his way down to the dining room where breakfast was already laid out and most were already eating.
“Good morning,” Arell greeted him cheerfully as Vhindr sat down at the table and poured himself a large glass of apple juice.
“Is it?” Vhindr mumbled back and yawned again.
Arell regarded him curiously and was about to say something more but just then Jizalpii burst into the hall a maniacal expression on his face.
“Dead. He’s dead,” Jizalpii wailed hysterically, “The Grand Priest has been murdered.”
Jizalpii collapsed to the ground and began to cry as a shocked gasp erupted throughout the room. Slowly all eyes seemed to fall upon Vhindr who sleepily rubbed his face and calmly drank down his chalice of juice.