An Ulterior Motive by Benjamin Agar
Year: 2379 A.H.V. (After Holy Victory)
Age: The Medivale age
Country: The Kingdom of Camaria
Emilia awoke, back to the pain, back to the bitter cold. Back to the blur of the starry night sky and the branches looming above.
She’d been dreaming, a good dream, a warm dream.
She shivered. The cold, it burned through the thick fur blankets wrapped around her. Her whole being ached, it almost made her forget the agony of the bite, the ragged wound on her shoulder covered in bandages.
Emilia cried out as the agony returned. She writhed, clutched at her shoulder but a strong hand stopped her.
‘Emilia. Emilia. Please.’
Her breaths shuddering, Emilia rolled over to find Anargrin, the handsome, elf leaned over her. His large eyes wide with watering concern.
‘Anargrin?’ she managed. ‘How...long?’
‘About three hours,’ said the Hunter and stood to his slight height, his eyes darting, surveying their surroundings.
‘Can you walk, Emilia?’
‘I don’t know.’
Anargrin sighed. ‘I’d thought so, and I’m sorry to say, it’s only going to get worse.’
Tears welled in Emilia’s eyes. ‘Why? Why did this happen to me?’
Anargrin hissed and turned to her with wide eyed sympathy.
‘In all honesty, I’m sorry, I don’t know. Sometimes life is...well for want of a better word, shit. I could tell you many a myriad story that have contributed to this horrid tragedy. Some fact, some pure conjecture. But we haven’t the time. I’m sorry.’
Emilia tried to blink back the tears and sniffed. Sometimes the Hunter would say words she found too big to understand.
Anargrin turned and began to pack away their makeshift camp. Emilia managed to make out the expensive black leather armour he wore but the sword he’d fought with weeks ago was no where to be seen, she had no idea where he could be hiding it.
‘Why did Jaroai abandon me?’ she cried. ‘Why?’
Anargrin rounded on her. ‘He doesn’t exist, that’s why. And it was all because of your precious Jaroai that this happened in the first place.’
Emilia found she couldn’t say anything. Never had she heard someone speak against Jaroai. Emilia knew what happened to non-believers, she’d seen what happened to non-believers and it was beyond horrible.
No one deserved such a punishment. If Jaroai truly cared and loved her as much as they said, surely with all his power he’d have helped her or her mother and sister, like Anargrin had helped her?
This non-believer had done far more for her than Jaroai ever had.
Maybe he was right, maybe Jaroai didn’t exist, or just didn’t care. She...she always had her doubts, her questions, but had always been too afraid to voice them- if Jaroai was so powerful, why did people need to die for questioning him? Why? If he was loving why did so many of his followers have to be so cruel in his name?
Either way it angered her, saddened her. With a sigh of her own Emilia rolled on her side.
It took Anargrin a minute or so to pack up the camp, then they were moving again. Emila rode on his back as he jumped from branch to branch, tree to tree. Making what must’ve been good two to five metre leaps sure footedly, despite the snow coating everything- he didn’t disturb the branches even with both Emilia and the pack on his back.
Emilia fought for sleep but just couldn’t, the bouncing about and sickness in the pit of her stomach prevented her.
‘Why can’t we just walk on the ground?’ she said.
‘Because it’s no where near as fast,’ Anargrin said. ‘They’re still after us, and if they catch up we’ll have the high ground.’
Emilia’s heart sank. ‘They are?’
‘Of course, it’s in their nature,’ he said. ‘They won’t stop chasing us until they find us and kill us. They were created that way.’
Emilia couldn’t help recall the ancient fable- she’d heard time and time again. ‘They were created by that elf sorceror, during the holy war? Who cursed that town of humans?’
‘That’s propaganda,’ said Anargrin. ‘History says that it was, indeed an elf mage, but he’d cursed an army of humans in vengeance for them invading and slaughtering the people of his city. All in Jaroai’s name.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ said Emilia.
‘You have no need to apologise, Emilia. That was over two thousand years ago, you weren’t even a thought back then. You had nothing to do with it and it’s not fair, not right for you to have to suffer for it now.’
Emilia frowned, unsure what to think of that. She couldn’t make much of the Hunter. She’d known of the Hunters since she was young. The mysterious organisation made up of many different races, they travelled from town to town, slaying vampires, but always for a price. The priest of her village had spoken against them, hated them. He said they were selfish and evil. Doing what they did for the sake of gold, not for what mattered- the people and Jaroai.
Emilia’s priest had never mentioned them to be non-believers, but Anargrin was one and if he was, could other Hunters be the same? They said that non-believers were soulless and cruel, yet Anargrin had saved her. He’d risked himself for her. That didn’t seem to be act of someone soulless and cruel, was it?
‘Although it doesn’t matter whether we leave a trail or not, in all honesty,’ said Anargrin, bringing Emilia back to reality. ‘They’ve your scent, your taste, that’s all they need. Not leaving a trail will only slow them down. Slightly.’
‘Where are we going?’ Emilia slurred.
‘The only place we can go where I know you’ll get the help you need,’ he said.
‘Like a cure?’
Anargrin didn’t answer for a good while, he just continued leaping across gaps no normal person would be capable of.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry, there’s no cure for lycanthropy.’
Emila’s heart sank again. ‘So why are we-?’
‘Because while there isn’t a cure,’ he said. ‘There is a way for you to learn to control it, to save your humanity and personality. Prevent you from becoming like the mindless beasts that slaughtered your people. I can’t save you but I know those that can, we just have to...have to...’
‘Have to what?’ trying and failing to hide her disappointment.
‘Have to cross the border,’ Anargrin said, it sounded like he said it through clenched teeth.
‘Cross the border to where?’
Anargrin sighed, ‘I...I guess you’ll find out eventually. We...we need to cross the border to Valandri.’
Emilia’s insides turned to ice. ‘But-but that’s the vampire nation.’ She gasped and with her hazy vision, looked west, through the trees and to the huge mountain range still miles away- and the pitch black clouds that covered the skies beyond.
‘We can’t go there,’ she stammered.
‘We can and we will,’ said Anargrin.
‘But, how can we get through the mountains?’
‘We have ways,’ said Anargrin. ‘You needn’t worry.’
‘And the vampires?’
Anargrin sighed. ‘They won’t hurt you. They aren’t all evil as the church constantly claims. In fact the majority aren’t.’
Emilia was finding it even harder to breath. The fear gripped her heart and she began to struggle.
‘Please, calm yourself,’ Anargrin snapped. ‘You’ll make me fall.’
‘Please. Please I can’t go to Valandri. Please don’t make me.’
‘I’m sorry, Emilia. But unless you wish to turn into a mindless beast, or for me to cut your throat and leave you for dead, you have no choice.’
She was interrupted as he stopped and leaped off the last branch. They dropped a good six metres straight toward the forest floor. Emilia screamed, her guts dropping. He landed, sliding a metre more, through the snow before stopping. Somehow not destroying his legs.
Emilia slipped off Anargrin’s back and onto her bum, into the wet snow, and covered her face behind crossed arms. Fighting hard to hold back the tears.
‘Listen to me!’ Anargrin said, turning to her. ‘Listen to me. I swear to you, Emilia. You have nothing to fear.’
‘Why,’ she whimpered, her voice muffled by her arms.
Anargrin sighed and fell to one knee so they were face to face. He looked into her gaze with his large hazel eyes and it was then she realised just how very pale he was.
‘Because, Emilia. There aren’t just vampires in Valandri. There are werewolves as well. Werewolves who, for all intents and purposes, are still human. They can help you, they will help you. That’s why.’
‘That’s not what I meant,’ Emilia roared. ‘Why? Why are you helping me?’
Anargrin’s eyes widened then before she could blink he was standing, turning his back to her.
‘Do I really need a reason?’ he sighed. ‘Tell me Emilia, how old are you?’
‘Seventeen,’ she said.
He turned back to her, smiling. ‘Isn’t it enough for me to want to save a young girl from such a fate because she is so young, she hasn’t had the opportunity to truly enjoy her life? Because she truly didn’t deserve such a horrific fate?’
Emilia didn’t answer. She just stared up at him. Her vision blurred with tears.
Anargrin sighed yet again, scratched his head and said. ‘Alright, I can understand your suspicion and I will admit I’m not exactly the typical “squeaky clean” saviour like in the story books, okay?’
He smiled and held out his gloved hand to her. ‘And let’s leave it at that.’
Emilia just glanced at his hand, then to his face and there and back again for what must’ve been a good minute. But Anargrin didn’t seem to mind, he just stood, smiling.
Eventually, his smile proved infectious and she took his hand, allowing him to pull her to her feet.
‘I’m sorry, Anargrin,’ she said, ashamed at her actions and she swore to herself she’d do anything to try and repay him for saving her. ‘And thank you.’
‘No,’ he said, shaking his head but still smiling. ‘No, thank you, Emilia.’