It’s been some time since I corresponded with the Corbachian War Council. For months I’ve struggled with the secrets I’ve kept from the other Broken Spears. The other Corbachians. Our time traveling together has led to a bond I don’t think can be replicated, not for me anyway. And yet it was all based on a lie. I lied to all of them. To Helkias.
I told Helkias everything prior to his leaving for Black and White, a masquerade ball. Which if I’m honest felt a fitting time to reveal myself for the low traitor I am. I expected cursing. I expected durns. I expected him to pick me up off my feet and toss me over the cliff. He did none of that. On the cliffside where we had so many of our chats, where he filled me in on his adventures alongside Cronin and his friends. Where he opened up about his past, telling me tales of his fights at his father’s side in Corbach, of his mother and how she cared for the sick during the plagues, of lost friends. Where he told me his hopes for the future. This grumpy and often silent dwarf-kin trusted me with all of this, and I betrayed him.
I sat there and told him of it all. The letters. My mentor. The council. And in the end, the fact that would change everything the Spears and Corbachians believed, that the princes yet lived. And he said nothing. Minutes past. He stared over Kenkilit. And when he finally spoke it wasn’t to tear me down. It wasn’t to swear vengeance, to tear me limb from limb. It was a simple question:
“Will you help me find them?” His voice cracked as he asked. But there was a fire in his eyes. One I had never seen before.
I was dumbfounded. But of course, I told him yes. He pulled me close then and in that embrace, I felt him shake. The sturdy dwarf, the stalwart captain of the Spears, this man I’d watch pull himself from rock bottom shuddered as he cried. I tried to comfort him. Until I realized he was beginning to laugh. He wiped his tears and jumped to his feet.
“Durn it girl, they live! Bwahaha! Me boys are out there just waitin’ to be found! Waitin’ on us, girl! Waitin’ for the durned Blackraven to take flight! Ah ha ha!” He shook his fists above his head and danced what I can only describe as a jig. I saw the mask he planned to wear to the feast under his cloak. He caught me looking at it.
“Everything has a story, girl. Let me tell you this one while my own brain percolates this news, bwahaha alive.”
Helkias’ father, Nurem, spent his son’s lifetime as a hunter of sorts. While in the village he worked as a blacksmith and helped where he could. But every few weeks Nurem would venture away from the village for varying amounts of time. When Helkias was old enough to be curious Nurem sat him down and told him of his band of hunters, The Vanguard. They took odd jobs from neighboring villages and occasionally wealthier clientele. They would hunt down bandits or procure artifacts. But their specialty was demons. From imps to greater fiends the Vanguard had trained and learned all they could in the libraries of Corbach to counter and destroy them.
A young Helkias took this as a challenge. He spent the next three years sneaking away to train with his friend Yrolf. The librarian at Corbach City’s library remembered Nurem, and was happy to tell Helk the tales of his father’s band. So it was that one his 17th birthday, Helkias waited on his father’s return. Each year the older dwarf-kin would ask Helkias on his birthday, what one thing the boy wanted. If it was in his power to do so Nurem did not ever turn his son down. So sitting by a cookfire outside their home Nurem returned to find the boy waiting, spear and shield laying against two packs.
“Take me on a hunt.” Helkias said as his father approached. Without hesitation, Nurem nodded.
Together they took to the road. A week they traveled in the early snows. At night they would either find respite in a tavern or camped along the forest paths. They spoke of the years past, Nurem had wondered what brought on his son’s sudden interest in reading and libraries. He expected Helk to take to the sword or spear, but not the boy’s intense desire to learn. He smiled.
On the coldest night of their trip, they sat across their campfire from each other. The sky was dark, clouds had moved in and snow likely. They caught the trail of a lesser demon and tracked it to a secluded area of a forest. The nearby village was plagued by disappearances and mutilated farmstock.
Helkias saw it first. Its golden eyes seemed to appear out of the chill dark over his father’s shoulder. Helk shouted a warning and lept across the flames, singeing his cloak. His father ducked out of the way and Helkias grabbed the demon. It stood two heads taller than he. But it’s wiry frame buckled under the surprisingly nimble form of Helkias. He wrestled it to the ground and held it there.
“Kantador hear my plea,” he shouted raising one hand above his head, “By your hairy ass and all the rest of your nonsense I ask you to bind this thing to my will.”
The flames flashed and died out. Helkias held it’s flame within his hand and without hesitation slammed his palm into the creature’s nose. It struggled and screamed as the flames engulfed its face leaving only bone, with the odd fleshy bit. As the flame engulfed the creature, Nurem took his axe and cleaved the demon’s head from its body, the flames stopped, the body remained whole.
“You looked so easy sitting there. I’ll kill your women and rape your cow.” The demon’s skull spoke without motion.
“You’ll hear its voice for a while yet, boy. “
Helkias nodded and pulled out a large coin. He tore the demon’s facial bone free from the rest of the skull and quickly strapped the coin to it. He tied off the rope.
“Yer mine now demon. The viscerocranium will never leave my person. It will stay wrapped until long after I am gone. Now, a simple matter, I require your name,” Helkias held the skull in front of him.
“My name breaks mountains and dries up rivers. You would melt if you heard it.”
“Yer goin’ ta tell me. Now.” Helkias scratched a divot into the coin with his dagger. The demon let out a screech.
“Fethalrimnar. Stop leave it. Fethalrimnar is my name and I call you steward of my life. Now stop.”
Helkias looked to Nurem who nodded and smiled. The Vanguard would live on. Would live on in his own son. Nurem looked to the sky and could just make out the stars. He told his wife everything she needed to hear.
I looked at the mask held by a small rope at Helk’s belt.
“Does it still speak,” I asked.
“Only occasionally. And only when I wear it. I’m sure with all the turmoil of today he’s going to be quite chatty during the masquerade. Maybe I’ll shut him up by dancing some.”
Helkias smiled and put his hand on my shoulder as he moved to head back to Kenkilit. He didn’t say it was okay. Or that he forgave me. Or that my place here was safe. He didn’t tell me anything. But it felt like I knew. As he made his way back home I saw he moved a little lighter, a bit more jump to his step. At least until he made it to the gate and saw the Spears contingent that would travel to Black and White.
“Durn it. I’m gonna have to leave all this. Bah.”
It has been weeks since that day. And plans are already in motion.
My last letter to the council was succinct. It was perfect. And I wrote it while Helkias paced behind me, drinking that god awful clear liquid he’s been so taken with. Smelt like you could clear paint off of wood. But that’s neither here nor there. The letter was less than I’d ever put to a page for those bastards. It wasn’t much of an ultimatum. It wasn’t even really a threat. It was a statement of fact really. It read simply:
The flames are not out and The Raven flies again.
I warned Helkias to not send them word, to just show up in Corbach one night. To rain Helfire on them. “But now,” he said, “They’ll tremble in their beds for enough time that I get to enjoy it. Then months pass. And nothing. They get comfortable with the idea that I’m not coming. And when they return to their beds one night. I’ll be there. Broken spear in hand. And then I’ll have my vengeance.”
His eyes got dark though the tone of his voice hadn’t shifted into his gloomy voice, he got when he drank too much. He was focused then. More so than I’d seen in a long time.
Alongside the barkeep they call Matthew and my watchful eye, The Blackraven will fly back to Corbach. And there he’ll tear apart the whole country to find you. I stopped writing the letters of betrayal. Now I write for a different reason. These journals are for you, Prince Eric. I will catalog the whole thing. And hope in some way it brings you closer to this man. They are for you to see what Helkias Gotholias Ryunn, son of Nurem and Alis, born of Corbach, Steward of the royal family, Voranian, Demon Hunter, Vanguard and best known as the Blackraven has done out of love for you and your family.