Chapter 1: In Which the Author Begins AnewChapter 1
Chapter 1: In Which the Author Begins Anew
I should start by begging your pardon if I go about this in an impractical manner. But as almost nothing of my life’s decisions has been predominantly sensible, I see no reason to step out of character for you here. I had thought once to put the story of my life to print, at the request of those I knew earlier in life, and had even begun to pen a few pages.
Had I continued with my prior attempt at cataloguing my life I would have told you of how I came from a small settlement my siblings and I called Gunk, though its true name was nothing quite so fitting. I would have told you of my brothers, my parents, our little shop, and the antics we younger Finns would ensconce ourselves in to pass the time in such a remote and uninteresting place as Gunk, and how it was that I discovered the aptitudes for the skills I now rely on for my very survival.
I would have told you of the loss of my family and detailed the downward spiral I lived through as a result; complete with many of the trials I placed upon my conscience during that time. Of the licentious women I came to frequent, the affinity for alcohol I developed, and even my experimenting in dealings that were not quite on the up and up. I would have then illustrated for you of how I came to find the right side of the law, if quite by accident; and of Major Swift, the man who reminded me what it was to have honor and something to strive for.
These things would have described to you how it was that I came to be the man I am today.
But you see I cannot truthfully make that claim, for I am no longer the man those events made me.
Instead I will begin my tale at the moment I stepped away from my old life and embraced my new life… if only by accident yet again. Some things will never change, and I see now that such a constant is sometimes for the best.
And so I shall start by telling you that my name is Benjamin Finn and, at the time this story begins, I was quite famously known as The Captain Benjamin Finn. Not just captain, The Captain; in much the same manner a citizen of Albion would refer to The Queen, or The Kingdom. Mention of the title in that singular way anywhere within these borders and even a child would know the speaker was referring to me. As a man who came from such small beginnings it would have no doubt undone my modesty had I not spent the first two years of my newfound fame abroad and thus unaware.
For you see I had not stumbled into iconic status by happenstance as I had so many events in my life. This I had earned when I stood with a small band, lead by the Queen of Albion herself, against a threat so ominous it had, at that point, been impossible to kill; a threat that was fully capable of destroying a kingdom simply by arriving upon our shores. This evil we saviors did defeat only after we’d successfully staged our rebellion against the new queen’s tyrannical brother just one year prior. Yet we few mortal men and women had come out victorious from both trials, and Albion’s people had lived to prosper the next day and every day thereafter despite a great many fears that such an end result would never be.
Thus it was that I came to be The Captain. Albion’s Captain. And true to my less than prudent tendencies, my first official act as Albion’s Captain was to take an indefinite leave of absence from my homeland. To see the world, I’d told myself, as I’d always wanted to.
Though this reason was not entirely truthful. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
So it was two years after the battle that saved a country in which I stepped foot on my native soil once more and came face to face with my popularity. My return was no more intentional than any other monumental event in my life; a misinterpretation on the harbormaster’s part which caused me to board the wrong ship by accident and so rather than traveling to a port of tropical climates and woman who found pale men exotic and thrilling, I found myself standing upon a dock in a land I had not expected to return to any time soon.
Bowerstone Industrial had changed more than I’d given it credit for being capable of. It was far cleaner than I recalled it being to start with; the soot scrubbed from buildings and roads, as well as its denizens’ faces and clothes. And those same people smiled more, though not as much in idle moments as they did when they laid eyes upon me. At first I’d thought that perhaps they were simply respectful of the uniform I still wore, having not the heart to remove myself from my past all together, until I heard mention of myself in their whispers. "Look – it’s The Captain. He’s come back to us!"
My first taste of renown that did not involve a wanted poster; I would be lying if I said it did not set my head spinning. Rooms at fine inns were heavily discounted, rounds at taverns were given out in my honor, and women flocked to me. Ah yes, how they flocked. Most men would give their eye teeth to have offers laid at their feet such as the ones I received. And I would be lying again if I said to you that I accepted none of them. Naturally with such attention laid before me, I found the idea of setting off to the lands of my original intent a far less attractive prospect and chose instead to reacquaint myself with my homeland for a time.
And so it came to be that one particularly fine evening I was enjoying the company of a lovely woman who had until just that evening been think on the advances of a young dockworker, while partaking in the complimentary libations that seemed to be thrust upon me no matter which establishment I entered. I had taken lodging above the same well-to-do tavern where my companion and I enjoyed our drinks and the pretense that we were still debating on whether to continue our festivities privately in my room.
It was there that what I can only describe as the most unpleasant tingle I’d ever experienced took hold of my spine, though not unfamiliarly. I’d had moments such as these in battle; times when I’d ducked just as a bullet sailed over my head, or where my body moved seemingly without reason to find the unknown sword at my back had ruined only my shirt yet not the flesh beneath. Jammy incidents to be sure, and all of them initiated by that terrible tingle that seemed too physical a reaction to be mere instinct. And here it was, sitting in a brightly lit tavern surrounded by laughter and music and revelry, that I could not shed the impending sense of danger until I could focus on nothing but finding the menace I knew beyond reason was present.
While the buxom woman at my side chatted and flirted and began to let hints slip that she was at last willing to discuss our evening’s intended activities, I could do nothing beyond pretend to listen as I searched out the source of my unease. It did not take long.
Two figures at my back, half hidden by a large piano, set the feeling within my spine aflame when I laid eyes on them as I feigned a good stretch in my seat. There was nothing particularly remarkable about them. Their plain clothes, wide hats and mugs of ale before them could have marked them for any of the other patrons in the tavern. Yet their mugs had been warm for some time judging from the lack of sweat on the crockery, and their posture as they leaned over a few sheets of parchment betrayed their hidden tension.
These were not bandits or murders. They were something else – something premeditated and unsavory.
I again became aware of the young woman at my arm, now asking me through a taunting pout and an imprudently loud tone what had stolen my attention from her. One of the conspirators glanced my way. I smiled for the girl.
"I was just wondering what you look like when you’re dancing," I replied in an equally boisterous tone, more for the two at my back than her benefit. "There’s a piano back there. Why don’t you go ask the nice man to play something lively so you can show me?" At this her pursed lips split into a smile and she stood, accepting my coin as she sauntered over to the musician. Her slow pace gave me an excuse to turn once more in my seat and watch the men at their table while pretending I only had eyes for the girl’s hips.
The table was empty.
Quick as I could I scanned the room and found the second of the pair as he vanished outside into the night. Pausing only to retrieve my holster and rifle from the back of my chair I abandoned my mug and pretty companion to follow them into the darkness. If the girl noticed my leaving I’m sure I don’t remember.
The night air along the canals of Bowerstone Industrial was never without a chill, but years of necessity had trained me to tolerate all but the most extreme conditions. After all even the most adept marksman could not be expected to draw their weapon if it was wrapped within a woolen cloak or if he was too heavily padded within his coat. Thus I was able to pay the cold no mind as I followed my quarry through the darkness at a relatively safe distance. Or so I thought.
For it was after a few turns down darkened alleys, down a short stairway that lead to the lower canal walkways, and beneath a bridge I found myself face to blade with the very men I sought out.
"It is a poor scout that wears heavy leather boots while stalking his prey," the man wielding the knife informed me with a foreign accent, to which I could only agree with by a shrug of my shoulders. "Killing you will bring unwanted attention to this place," his high-pitched voice continued, "but we cannot afford to have anyone interfere, and we cannot afford to leave you behind now that you clearly know."
"Ah but there’s the beauty," I smiled cheerfully to my would-be assassin, "I don’t know anything. At least not anything beyond the way the pair of you make my skin crawl."
"Lies will not spare you," the second man hissed in the same dialect. "Kill him quickly, before he can call for help."
The knife at my face flashed dull moonlight and without conscious decision I lifted an arm beneath my attacker’s, rolling his stab wild and grasping his wrist when it met my hand. Though my forte has always been in firearms I am not without skills in other areas of combat; a fact to which I owe Major Swift my eternal thanks for his insistence that his men be trained to fight in any combat situation.
Bones broke between my fingers when I hardened my grip and wrenched his arm as I knew I should, and the man in my hold howled, but only until I was able to plunge his own knife into his throat. When his cohort advanced on me the unfortunate fellow met a similar end with my ill-gotten blade entering his eye before becoming irrevocably lodged in the back of his skull. With two dead conspirators at my feet I was unsettled to notice that the feeling of danger had not abandoned me, and I was now unable to question these men to discover the nature of my unease.
I immediately bent low to search the bodies, retrieving anything I might later be able to use to identify the threat I was certain that they had posed. An old book, letters and an odd assortment of papers, an amulet with a symbol I did not recognize, and the strange tattoo each man bore on his left hand which I committed to memory to the best of my ability in the low light before finally leaving the area behind and returning quietly to my rented room at the tavern, oblivious to the patrons I had reveled with not more than a half an hour prior.
It was behind the safety of my locked door that I spread my plundered evidence upon my bed and began to sift through the items one by one. It was tedious and without much excitement, but I knew better than to ignore my instincts when they told me something was out of place.
The scraps of paper turned out to be a jumble of messages that contained instructions mentioning some such nonsense about what I could only assume to be an urn or vase that the men had been sent out to find; and about their god, whom the writers of the messages believed lived within this vessel. Apparently their religious order had lost this container in which their god lived, and these two had been sent out into the world to find it. At first I began to feel a little sorry for the two blokes I had dispatched, for it seemed I had interrupted them as they sought to complete some religious quest.
Until I opened the book.
For the record I am not now, nor have I ever been what you would consider a scholar, though I did spend my fair share of time in the Brightwall Library. Nor can I claim to be a strategist or any other sort of intellectual type. There was always a very good reason my suggestions were disregarded if not outright ignored. I am not now, nor was I ever, one capable to puzzling out academic matters. I do however possess a reasonable amount of common sense and logic, though I will admit here if nowhere else that at times I fail to utilize either. That moment upon my rented bed, however, was not one of those times.
Though most of the symbols upon the pages were foreign to me, in the margins were words written more recently and in modern text. It was these words that drew my eye and tightened my insides. I knew what I was reading. I knew what it meant.
It meant that my carousing here in Bowerstone Industrial had come to an abrupt end and it was time that I resumed my duties as Albion’s Captain.
It also meant that I owed someone a visit; someone who I was quite certain would have none of the kind words or smiles for me I had been receiving up until now.
The moment I had been unconsciously avoiding since my return to Albion was upon me. And this time I could find no pretense to postpone the reunion in which I was certain would not be a happy affair.