Former Falchioneer, former Imperial Inquisitor, now an agent of the Magi searching to protect the world from the horrors of the Aether.
He now wanders Solgard on a mission known only to a few, under many guises and many names. Vortigen Brand, Herod Jinx, Drusus Ryder, Ivor Oisín, these are but a few. The safety of the Mortal Plane lies on his weary shoulders.
Belkin stood with his hands clasped behind his back, his dark red cloak swirling about him in the soft breeze blowing in through the open window. He looked out upon the grand city of Masagar, its steepled towers reaching up to the heavens as if in defense of the city from Culweh, Lord of the Void. He had only been to the Imperial Capital thrice before, and always as part of one military regiment or another. He had never been to the capital buildings themselves; he had never even thought of visiting them, in truth.
“Lieutenant Belkin Brinx, His lordship will see you now,” a voice called from behind him. Without hesitation Belkin spun on his heel and, his back straight as an arrow, marched inside the grand palace and into the Office of Inquisition.
“Lieutenant Belkin Brinx of His Emperor’s Falchioneers, reporting, sir!” he barked as he snapped a salute.
“At ease, Lieutenant,” replied the man sitting behind the enormous oak desk. He was looked to be in his fifties, though unlike most nobles he did not have the look of a man who had spent a life in comfort. His silver hair was long, tied back in a warrior’s knot behind his head, and his beard neatly trimmed. Former military, obviously.
Belkin stood stiffly at attention, his hands clasped firmly behind his back and his gaze never leaving a point in the air directly in front of him. The man still had not looked up, but instead seemed to be deeply involved in reading a large stack of papers. Finally, he spoke.
“Lieutenant Belkin Brinx, do you know why you have been summoned here today?” he asked, finally setting the papers aside and looking up, clasping his hands in a steeple before him.
“Sir, no sir!” Belkin barked. “I was simply told to report to the Office of Inquisition as soon as I arrived in Masagar, sir!”
“Hm, indeed. Well, as you may have guessed, I am Rannick Banewood, Baron of Inquest,” he said, his voice cool and level. “And as Baron of Inquest, I have the power to ask you any question that pops into my mind, and you are required, by Imperial Law, to answer truthfully. Failing to answer truthfully in any way, through either omission or by telling outright falsehoods is perjury, and as such is punishable immediate court-martial and possible forfeiture of any and all financial holdings of yourself or your family. Do you understand, Lieutenant?”
“Sir! Yes, sir!” Belkin replied, though in truth he didn’t. “Sir? If I may, am I suspected of something…” he began to ask.
“Lieutenant! From this point on, you will not speak unless you have been specifically directed to by myself, and then it will only be in direct answer to my own question,” he exclaimed as he leapt out of his chair, his eyes level with Belkin’s own.
“Sir! Yes, sir!” Belkin stiffened.
“Alright, now, let’s begin from the top, shall we?” the Baron said, suddenly relaxed. He picked up one of the papers and glanced it over. “You were born in Kyr Bannon, I believe?”
“Sir! Yes, sir! A small farm…”
“Belkin! Please, I’m old but you don’t have to shout every answer,” the Baron interrupted. He turned away from Belkin, and looked out a large window out over the city. “Now, although this is official Inquisition business, I’d rather if it were slightly more relaxed than your Falchioneer training. I’m not a drill instructor, after all.” He waved Belkin to continue his answer.
“Er, yes sir. I was born on a small farm a half day’s ride from Benningtowne on Roma the first… er, that is, Masin the first in the year nine-hundred and sixty-eight,” he corrected himself. Fortunately, Banewood didn’t seem to notice the slip of the tongue.
“Indeed. Now, tell me what happened to your family.”
“They died,” Belkin answered, stiffly.
“I know that. How did they die? Leave nothing to the imagination.”
Belkin paused, took a deep breath, and plunged into the tale of his childhood.
“Well, I was only about eight when my father died, Sir, leaving only me and Brette, my older brother, to tend to the farm. My father died in a bar fight, beaten to death by four men who he was playing dice with.
Mom was never quite the same after that. She started talking to herself, and became rather sickly. Me and Brette did our best to take care of her, but there was only so much two kids could do, and besides, we had to keep the three of us fed. So I spent every day, from dawn until well after dusk working the farm, tending to the horses and the herds. Until, o’ course, the famine of ’78. Killed most of our crops, all’a the cattle, and almost all the horses.
Well, as you know your Lordship, bandits became pretty common. Mostly farmers that had lost everythin’ and took to the countryside to steal what others hadn’t lost. That’s where my family came in. It was winter, we were short on food and coin, and Brette and I spent just ‘bout every waking moment in the stables keeping the last of the horses alive. Mum completely withdrew just about all the time now, and would only occassionally scream at us for no reason we could tell. We thought that, er, well being kids an’ all, we thought Culweh had a hold on her. Took her to the priests an’ everything. But nothing helped.
So we spent our time working and doing naught else. Never played with any the other boys, never got into any trouble or anything of the sort. Just work. Then the bandits came, and, well…” he trailed off, deep in thought for a moment. Banewood turned his head a fraction of an inch, not quite looking back over his shoulder at Belkin. He shook himself from his daze and continued.
“Well, needless to say they killed Brette. Ran him down as he tried to wave them off. Never had a chance. And Mum? Well, they weren’t so kind to her, though praise the Four, I don’t think she knew what was going on. I think her mind was completely gone by then, so she didn’t scream or anything. Made the bandits furious, it did.”
“Why didn’t the bandits kill you, Belkin?” Banewood asked, turning to look him in the eye.
“How did you survive when your mother, brother, and four other entire families all perished?”
“I…” Belkin paused, caught off guard momentarily. “Well, my lord, I hid in the stables. Before they killed him, Brette had shoved me in with the horses, and made me promise not to move until they were gone. I… I tried to get him to stay with me, but he said he had to keep them from Mum. But they killed him, then they eventually killed her. And that made them so mad that they didn’t want to wait around to loot the place. So they just burned it. Even the stables with me and one of the horses still inside.
So I got on the horse, bareback, and the two of us ran from them. They gave chase, but we were both so terrified that we rode faster than any of them. And I swear we didn’t stop until well after sundown. That’s when Shay simply died under me, threw me to the ground. Bless her soul,” Belkin said and made a circle with his right finger in the air next to his thigh without even realizing it. “She gave her life to save me, and after that I can’t remember anything until at least a day later. Hit my head, apparently.”
“You were lucky,” Banewood said, softly.
“Aye, sir, though I didn’t think so at the time. When I awoke, I was in a tent with three men looking down at me. Falchioneers they were, and I’ll never forget that first look of them until the day I die.”
“Hm. Do you remember their names?” Banewood asked, his right hand slowly stroking his beard.
“Aye sir, nor will I forget them. It was a Captain Virne Wirsmarch, and Lieutenants Garrin Skrill and Amhurst Ambergin.”
“Interesting, I fought with Virne at Castle Vago. He’s a good man, don’t find them more loyal then he,” he glanced at a Falchion hanging over the fireplace located at one end of the room. “Then what happened?”
“Well, the good Captain told me I’d been sleeping for hours, and when his unit had been passing through they found me and Shay covered in snow. Barely saw us, too. So they set up camp for the night, and got me into warm clothes in his tent. So when I told them what had happened, Lieutenant Skrill suggested that I ride with them until the next town. Virne just laughed and told him that that was a ridiculous idea, and that I’d ride with them until I found a place that I wouldn’t mind living. He asked if I’d like to work for him as a squire, and naturally I jumped at the opportunity. So I spent the next year looking after his horse, Arya, polishing his boots, cleaning his armor, and sharpening his blades. The Falchioneers became like a family to me, and I worked hard to pay them back the debt I owed them.
Then one day Captain Virne didn’t return from a skirmish. Arrow through the eye, they told me. Garrin let me stay on as his squire for a while, until we recieved new orders. The unit was to leave for Maefenia, and they would be seeing heavy combat. All non-essential personnel were to return to their homesteads, or discharged from service. That meant me. So, I headed to the nearest town and became a stablehand for a year, making enough money to keep myself fed. Worked until I was thirteen, and soon as I hit a growthspurt I joined the Imperial army as infantry.”
“Infantry at thirteen? They let you in?”
“Aye, sir, I was tall for my age, so I told them I was fifteen. Recruiter didn’t care much, and once I got a sword in my hand they stopped asking. The Falchioneers had taught me a lot of martial skills, sir, and even when they had put me off I never stopped practicing. So, even at thirteen I could easily best any other private in single combat. They kept me in Infantry for another year, until finally I was able to convince my commanding officer that I was more valuable in the light cavalry, and so I was reassigned and stationed with the 14th Regiment at Garrin’s Landing. Fought several skirmishes there, and when we weren’t fighting bandits and pirates I trained hard. You see, ever since Virne and his men had saved my life I had vowed I would join the Falchioneers, and repay them by adding my steel and my skill to their ranks. So, I stayed with the 14th until ’89, when the War began.”
“Yes, your records say that your unit was one of the first invading units to cross over into Zhurasca.”
“Aye, sir, we were part of the spear head the the Emperor tried to thrust deep into the heart of Zhurasca. Unfortunately, it didn’t work, but our unit and several others were able to make it deep into enemy territory before being cut off and surrounded. Lost a great many friends in those weeks. We retreated into the mountains, resorted to hiding in caves and striking at them when they were unaware of us. Dirty work, but we survived. Finally the 29th and 18th Heavy Infantry divisions reconnected with us and we were able to withdraw. In those weeks I received two battlefield commissions, and I was Captain of the 14th.”
“And this is when you were transferred?”
“Yes sir, I was assigned to the 203rd as a Falchioneer Lieutenant. They didn’t have time to train me, they were so desperate to refill their ranks, but I seemed to have proven myself to them. At the time Ambergin had been promoted to Captain, and somehow he actually remembered me. We were friends, and soon became blade brothers. We watched each other’s backs, and killed many a man between us.
Gods those were bloody days, filled with gore and horrors I’d not like to see again, every single day. Void take that whole bloody country.”
“Yes, well, you somehow made it back in one piece.”
“Not for any help from the enemy, sir. Wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Ambergin and Joyceholly.”
“Wymer Joyceholly?” the Baron asked, surprise creeping into his voice.
“The same, sir. I served with the 41st Mounted for a time, they needed experienced soldiers for the ambush on Teyr in ’92. First time I’d seen so many Magi in one place before, a real sight to behold. One of the Green Hoods had cast some sort of flame upon me, and Captain Joyceholly threw me off my horse and wrapped me in his cloak, smothering the flames. Then, soon as I was up, I fended off two more of the ‘Hoods and gave him time to chase down Teyr. It was a good feeling to see Wymer strike him down, it was.”
“And you were at the Battle of Thunder and Flame?”
“…I wish I hadn’t been, but yes,” Belkin allowed his gaze to drift to the window and the sky outside. “The last of the Zhurascan Green Hoods had gathered atop the Widow’s Veil for some last-ditch attempt at driving us off. They were outnumbered three to one, but weren’t ready to give up. One of our Magi told me after the battle that they were using some deep magic that had been forgotten by civilized peoples, that they were trying to construct some ‘old one’ from flame and thunder. It almost worked, too, but they somehow burned themselves out,” he looked uncomfortable for a moment. “Took half the mountain with them, along with all the troops on it. We lost four thousand, they lost a little over one thousand. But we went home victorious, as hollow as it may have been.”
“You earned the Imperial Star and the Emperor’s Honor commendations. You shouldn’t sell yourself so short, Lieutenant,” the Baron returned his gaze to the papers scattered about the desk. “I think I’ve heard enough to make a judgment.”
“A… judgment, sire?” Belkin asked, a short burst of worry flooding him.
“That’s right, boy. You are here to be judged in a way only I can judge you. And, hearing you speak and looking at your record, I’m happy to say that you are to be given the Oath, if you choose to take it,” he smiled for the first time.