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.’