Our Falling Land
For my entire childhood, I was unwanted. I never fit in. I had no family, no friends, and no respect for myself or others. To put it plainly, I was a mistake. Now you must be wondering, how cliche can one person get? Orphaned as a child, raised alone, introverted... Hell, even I agree.
In the end, it wasn't my fault that my parents died, or that every orphanage I've been to kicked me out or that all of the mothers and fathers and shopkeepers and matrons all lectured their children: "Stay away from him", "That boy is evil", "In him lies a demon". I didn't want that; I wouldn't want that to happen to anyone.
So how did I respond? Did I become a hero or a villain, a fire-breathing dragon or a warrior pledged to slay it? Did I cause destruction or did I prevent it? One lesson I can preach now that I've seen throughout my time on this land is that curiosity kills. Do you know why I know? Because I kill, and I am about as curious as they come.
It seems like I've answered at least one of your questions. Poor me, I contradicted myself. I do that every so often. That's something that makes heroes so funny, they swear to protect their damsel in distress from terror, and end up becoming it. I'm sorry, that was poorly said. I'm not a scholar, as you can tell.
My name is Chucala, Chucala Benvul. Quite a funny name, I know. It sounds like it would be perfect for one of those red-skinned cannibals trampling around in the south. Any second, I might make some strange guttural war cry and send my army of imbeciles to rape and slaughter some tiny village. Of course, I'm much more sophisticated than that.
I always wanted to be a knight in shining armor or a king sitting atop a golden throne. I knew I could never become these things; life is far too cruel. Even with all the hardships and uncertainties, I still worked tirelessly to make at least a little part of my dream come true. I was no knight, but I wore shining armor. I was no king yet I sat atop a golden throne. I was no noble but I was a warrior, and nothing can stop a warrior from getting what they want.
I never desired anything as pitiful as revenge or recognition, I desired a better life to live. The only way that life could become possible was through taking from others, a necessary evil in a sense. So, I took and I killed, but I lived. I lived the life I dreamed of ever since I was a boy. I became someone, someone even more powerful than I thought I could become. I surpassed the puny riches of kings, the false honor of knights, and the lavish lifestyles of nobles. I ruled them all, I ruled everything.
At least that was what was going to happen until I got prodded in the buttocks too many times and I admit, I went a bit insane. I proceeded to kill people, innocent people. At this point, I was viewed as one of the most powerful beings in the underground. That quickly changed into the most feared and hated in an instant. Everyone wanted to kill me at this point. Poor me.
All the kingdoms in all the lands sent their noblest, most arrogant, handsome knights to come and defeat me. The thing about nobility that I'm glad I don't have to have is honor. These poor men all dropped their gauntlets and prepared to defeat me but that never happened.
In the game of life, something as "valuable" as honor creates a disadvantage that frankly, is impossible to overcome. One would call me weak or scared. To be honest, I've been scared my whole life. I was alone and young with no one to help or guide me. The only thing that kept me afloat was my strength. So again, another statement is only partially true.
My goal was never to start a war, but I did. But how did I gain an army of men and women so loyal they would fall on their blades for me? I did what no one did for me, help the young who were alone, or sometimes needed to get away from awful lives. I saved them and in return, they fight to save others. It was a simple concept.
I pledge to continue to grant asylum and refuge to the outcasts, the hurt, and the mistakes. I am not a good person, nor will I ever be, but I am an honest one. With me, you will find comfort, a home, and something to live and die for.
You are not alone. Come find us.
Chucala Benvul of Clan Benvul
The boy looked up from the dirty scroll he’d found on the side of the road. What a bunch of nonsense. They should know that most beggars can’t even read their names. Odds are, they’re some pathetic bandit camp hiding out somewhere in the forest. As soon as a gullible person comes along seeking “asylum”, they’d lynch and rob them. What they don’t understand is that the kind of people they’re attracting are the nobodies who probably have never seen a coin in their lives. And how do you expect someone to “come find you”? He skimmed over the scroll again and ultimately slid it into his back pocket, there was something about it he was missing or couldn’t quite comprehend. A sense of courage, maybe. A sense that he lacked.
He walked down the cracked cobblestone street, past the beggars and the brothels, by the sick and the weak. The monotonous pattering of his bare feet echoed off weathered buildings that could be demolished by a single drop of rain. But all this was unseen to him — he’d become numb to it. He continued walking through the slum that was his home ever since he could remember. For some reason, he couldn’t stop thinking about the contents of that dirty old scroll. The words infested him with a feeling of hope he had never felt before. What if these words are true? How could he find them? Where would he go?
He stopped abruptly. He stood in front of an arched bridge that went over a dirty river. On the other side of the bridge was the Market District, which was always bustling this time of day. All those people, nobody would notice a poor boy amongst the crowd. They never noticed. Oh well, it was money-making time. This was a practice he’d been doing for most of his life — thieving that is. He’d been doing it so long that he was pretty good at it, and it honestly was the one thing he felt confident in. Today though, he didn’t know what he wanted.
“Oi lad!” a gruff voice yelled behind him. “Ye mind movin’ yer likens somewhere that’s not in the middle of the road? I’ve got a royal load of fish in this ‘ere cart that’s gotta get to the market before sundown.”
The boy jumped at the words of the stout and balding man, “I do mind, baldy. How about you go around?”
At least that's what the boy wanted to say. In reality, he hurriedly scrambled to the side of the road. As hard as he tried, he could never stand up for himself. He was too weak.
"Stop it," he muttered, hitting his head with his fist. He needed to clear his mind, focus it.
He then walked past the man and to the tail end of the “cart”. It was little more than a wheelbarrow and had so many loose boards that the fish began falling through and hitting the cobblestone below at any moment.
“Many thanks, lad,” the gruff-sounding fisherman said as he continued on stumbling, unknowingly leaving a trail of dirty fish across the bridge.
The man wasn’t wrong though, it was a royal load of fish, probably worth a silver each. Each one was so big he could probably fit his arms inside. He’d never stolen fish that large before, and for some reason, he didn’t lack the confidence to try.
Just as he started walking again, something caught his eye. A shiny object bounced off from the rickety cart. He waited for the fisherman to walk a few more paces before picking it up. It was a gold piece! He’d never held one before, and as he looked at it, he realized that it didn’t have the markings of any coin he’d encountered in Port Durn, it wasn’t even marked at all. As he looked back up at the cart, he noticed more gleaming objects underneath the pile of fish. There wasn’t just fish on that cart, there was money! He quickly put the gold piece in his tattered pocket and scurried closer to the cart, which was now entering the market.
Vendors all around him yelled out prices for their various goods ranging from grandmother’s miracle tea to steel harpoons. While struggling to keep his eyes locked on the cart, he bumped into a strange man in a red-feathered hat.
“Hey fella, watch where you’re going there. Say, would you like to purchase a stylish hat? Only eight copper pieces son and it’ll be yours.”
“N-no thanks,” the boy sputtered as he rushed away in his pursuit of the cart which by now was already divided by the large crowd of vendors and customers.
Suddenly, the fisherman and his cart disappeared down an alley to the right. As the boy reached the entrance to the alley he quickly hid behind a pile of garbage, for he saw that in addition to the fisherman, four other men had been carrying the cart down the steps into a cellar behind one of the buildings. Each man looked thin and wiry and wore clothes not much nicer than his tattered tunic and hole-riddled pants. As soon as the last man descended the steps, the cellar door slammed shut and was locked from the inside.
The boy walked vigilantly to the cellar door. On further inspection, he noticed the door was reinforced somehow and that the original frame was swapped out for a different one. He pressed his ear up to it, but could only hear a faint grumbling of the men inside. He then noticed a grated window about ten paces right of the door. He walked over and laid flat on his belly and looked inside. He couldn’t see much through the laced iron bars, but he could hear pieces of a conversation between the four wiry men and the fisherman. They all stood at the back of the cart unloading the fish onto a stone table beside it.
“Nice fish ‘ere, mate,” one of the wiry men said. “How much they worth around ‘ere?”
“I dunno,” replied the fisherman. “I nicked ‘em off the docks after youse went to take the first batch of pieces to the clan man.”
“Yeah okay, Atem. We’ll roast ‘em back on the boat then.”
The boy began wondering. Who were these men? What were they doing? Who is the “clan man”? Suddenly, all at once, his questions were answered as through a doorway at the far end of the cellar, a slender man in a black cloak walked in.
“Boys, your fifth man has finally come,” he said in a smooth and confident voice. “Can I see the pieces?”
“Sure thing, clan man,” the one called Atem responded as he handed over an open satchel filled with more gold pieces than the boy could even comprehend.
The cloaked man took off his hood and began counting. He couldn’t have been more than twenty. He had black shoulder-length hair to go along with a wispy thin beard. He probably wasn’t much taller than Atem but had on huge boots that increased his height a few hairs.
The man fascinated the boy. His aura commanded the room in a way that he could only dream of. It was like he had no fear. Quickly noticing his thought wandering, the boy struck his head again.
“Exactly fifty. Just like the previous transaction,” the cloaked man said. "To be quite honest I didn’t know if you boys would pull through, you are pirates after all.”
Pirates? the boy's interest piqued even more.
“Well ser, we are Reus Turbas, and we always honor a deal. At least one that benefits us!” After the joke, all five pirates burst out laughing. “Oh, one other thing,” Atem said between laughs. “What is it yer Clan Benvil wants ta do with these pieces, ‘cause I know we ain’t the only Reus Turbas dealin’ with youse.”
“Benvul,” the cloaked man corrected annoyingly. “And that’s none of your concern. You should know that your trusted “Father” doesn’t get involved in politics.”
“I guess yer right, clan man of Clan Benvul. He don’t much like them, but he does like coin, and it seems like he’s investin’ an awful lot of his own to yer clan.”
When Atem was talking, one of the lanky pirates was looking around the room. The boy didn’t think anything of it until when his gaze returned to him, he saw that his eyes were locked on the gated window.
The boy froze with fear. His stomach dropped, and he could feel the gaze quietly strangling him.
“Oi, there’s someone there! Get him, mates!”
The four lanky pirates started up the stairs and out of pure adrenaline, the boy leaped up from his belly in terror. His mind began to clear, he wasn’t about to be caught by a bunch of idiots. He ran back towards the alley entrance and turned the corner into the large crowd. The pirates were surprisingly fast for their frail frames and were almost on his heels. He bumped past shoulders and knocked people to the side as he frantically ran through the Market District towards the docks. People all around him were yelling and screaming as he zoomed by, but for once in his life, he paid no attention. Just as he cleared the large crowd and turned down another small alley, he’d finally lost the pirates.
“It’s not easy escaping Reus Turbas,” a familiar voice sounded from the shadows.
He turned quickly towards the voice. Out stepped the cloaked man from the cellar. How’d he get here so quickly, the boy thought, paralyzed in his dread.
He stared for a second, mustering the courage to say something, anything.
“Who are you?” he finally asked. It resounded as barely a squeak in the dark alleyway.
“I’m a representative of a place where I think you’d fit quite nicely.”
Again, the boy struggled to speak. He knew he had to, his life depended on it. At first, he opened his mouth but no sound came. He tried again.
“Clan Benvul. I’ve seen your scroll.”
“You can read, I wasn’t expecting that. My name is Conor, what’s yours?”
“How else are people gonna find you if they can’t read your message,” the boy squeaked, ignoring his question.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Conor replied, smiling a little.
The boy backed away shaking his head, all the while keeping his eyes trained on the man named Conor.
“I don’t want to; I barely know you.”
Conor sighed. “My name is Conor; I was born in Mindalur to a family of disgrace and dishonor. I lived in shame all my life until a member of the Clan found me begging on the side of the street. The Clan helped me, just as it can help you.”
Before the boy could think of anything to say, Conor spoke again.
"At least that's how they tell us to say it," he chuckled. "It's a bit dramatic for my taste, but there's truth to it."
The boy stopped backing up, suddenly feeling more assured ty Conor's words.
"Honestly, you seem alone," Conor continued. "I know that feels, we all do."
The boy bit his nails. “I still don't trust you.”
“You can have a home, a fam—”
“I don’t need those,” the boy said frantically, cutting Conor off.
Conor’s eyes twinkled and he began to speak softly. “How about wealth, stability? You seemed awfully interested in my transaction with the Reus Turbas. You have skill too, I barely noticed you were there.”
How long did he notice I was there? the boy wondered. He hit his head again.
“The coin’s got me interested but I’m still not gonna go for that ‘family’ baggage,” he said, trying to sound confident.
Conor frowned, “Fine. I have a job for you then. If you do what I ask I’ll give you two silvers. I won't force you into our 'family'.”
The boy anxiously pulled on his lip, this man was either way in over his head or not telling him something. “Upfront,” he responded, still trying to seem brave. “And you’ll have yourself a deal.”
Conor started laughing. “Sorry if I don’t trust you, but you did crash my meeting and you still haven’t told me your name.”
“And yet you’re still willing to hire me,” the boy quickly jabbed.
“I’ll tell you what,” Conor laughed annoyedly. “I’ll give you a silver now and a silver after.”
“After what? What’re you having me do that’s worth two silvers?”
“I need you to be my courier. That means you—”
“Yeah, I know what a courier is,” the boy blurted, his unease fading. “Where am I going?”
“To the docks,” Conor said as he pulled an envelope from inside his cloak.
“Th-the docks!” the boy exclaimed dumbfounded. “Why do you need me to deliver something to a place that isn’t even a ten minutes' walk from here?”
“That isn’t your concern,” Conor responded while handing the envelope over to the boy. It was white with red sealing wax preventing it from opening. “I want you to go to a ship called the Northwind. You can’t miss it, it should be the only ship docked from Vulfland and it most definitely is the largest.”
He paused, looking the boy down from head to toe. “You’re small, so you should be able to get past the dock guards undetected. Once you’re there, I need you to wait for a man in a gray mottled cloak that goes by the name Giran and give him the envelope. After you’ve done all this, meet me back at the alley with the cellar so you can receive your second silver.”
The orders worried the boy. So much so he could feel his pulse rising. He quickly gathered his thoughts up again, thinking of a reply.
“Seems elaborate,” he finally said.
Conor looked up at the sky and back down at the boy in an act of what seemed like a playful annoyance. “If you don’t return or decide to make off on your own with the silver, I won’t hesitate to take you out. And it won’t be because you stole a worthless silver piece from me, it’ll be because I don’t like deal-breakers. Understood?”
“Y-yeah. I'll meet the sketchy guy at the dock and give him the envelope. In and out.”
Conor smiled, “Exactly.”
The boy stayed staring at the mysterious figure. His dark eyes seemed so at ease given the circumstances.
“Get going, boy,” Conor guided. "I wouldn't have told you this if I thought you couldn't do it."
A wave of reassurance passed over the boy. After a time, he headed back to the Main Street of the Market District.
He had a billion questions in his head about this whole ordeal. As he walked towards the docks, the scent of fish and saltwater filled his nose. He took a deep breath of the cool autumn air that had already begun to start feeling bitter on his cheeks.
He remembered when he was younger, he used to chase the seagulls down by the rocks. He never caught them, but every day he’d try. Those stupid seagulls were just about the only friends he had growing up, but it didn’t bother him, he was oblivious to it. Right now, the boy felt the same as he did back then: absent of all worry and at ease with himself. As the boy drifted back to reality, he realized his feet were crossing the rotted wood planks of the docks. He surveyed the port, looking for the Northwind. Then he saw it.
A monstrous longship easily triple the height of a fishing boat and even double the size of a standard Navy ship. It had a huge square sail in its middle that sported the insignia of a red spiked wheel, probably the emblem of Vulfland, the boy thought. At the bow of the boat there looked to be a carving of some strange creature that the boy remembered seeing a sketch of in an old book he'd read before. It had the scales of a fish and yet in some places the fur of a boarbear, which was thick and coarse. In place of limbs, there were carvings of swords. The most peculiar of all, the figure had no head atop narrow pointy shoulders. How people came up with these things, the boy had no idea.
He saw that at the dock in front of the vessel, people were loading various supplies in barrels and crates. As he inched closer and behind the comforting cover of large sandbags, he saw that men and women were stocking the vessel. That’s strange, he thought. In all his time in Port Durn, he’d only ever seen male seamen. But then again, most ships here were from the nations of Skazia and not from the north. The boy snaked his way ever so slowly towards the dock bordering the longship. He then hid behind some empty barrels that he hoped with all his will would not be interacted with.
He waited for what seemed like hours for the man called Giran to show up in his stupid gray mottled cloak. He watched the many seamen and women load barrel after barrel and crate after crate. He laughingly viewed the two Guardsmen get chewed out by their Captain for snoozing on the job. He doubted they’d even know he was there even if they were awake, they seemed so untroubled. It probably didn’t help to have those steel masks on when surveying the docks. He never knew why they did that. They all looked the same, the Guardsmen that is, and he never saw them without their facemasks.
The masks themselves were made of what seemed like regular steel. They covered the entire face except for the eyes and mouth, which were fitted with some sort of black fabric that you could breathe and see through. The masks were eerily expressionless. The black eye slits felt as though they were watching you all the time and the flat mouth slit made you feel like you were constantly being judged. Who came up with the brilliant idea to put masks on soldiers that ought to hinder their senses, again, the boy had no idea. In addition to the expressionless masks, the guards were fitted with scale mail from their shoulders to their knees along with a jade tunic emblazoned with the howling wolf of the Kingdom of Codror. Each held a steel spear except the Captain, who wielded a sword. The only thing different about him that the boy could notice was the white stripes across the chest and back of his tunic, in a way to probably show his superiority.
Just as he was getting over the weird getup of the masked Guardsmen, two different men chatted to the guards and trotted onto the docks atop mounts that were neatly trimmed. He’d never seen anything like it. The two men, like the guards, had masks but they were vastly different. These masks were not the colorless and expressionless masks that the guards wore, they were more intricate. The mounted man farthest away from the boy had on a jade-colored mask that had yellowish eyes and a black mouth formed into a scowl. He was bulky and wore a jade, shoulder-length cloak over heavy steel armor also engraved with the Codran wolf. His mount was black, in contrast to the normal color of white, and its blue eyes shined from under similarly fashioned armor.
The mounted man closer to the boy seemed a bit classier. His mask was made of silver that shone brightly in the sun. Although not expressionless, the mask lacked the emotion of the bulky man, and its eyes and mouth were the common jade color of the kingdom as well. There were some strange markings on the mask that the boy couldn’t make out from behind his cover, but they seemed to deem respect as all the laborers stopped and looked at him. His shawl sparkled with silver and jade and his armor was a similar color to his mask. His mount was the most beautiful thing the boy had ever seen. Its neatly trimmed white hair glistened from below its silver armor. Its lavender eyes were the most vibrant color he’d ever seen. Its claws had been filed to make it appear as though it wasn’t an animal, but a spirit gliding across the docks.
These two men were important, the boy instantly knew, and he hoped Giran would show up soon so he could flee safely from this place. Just as the thought of fleeing popped up in his mind, he saw a man that fit Giran’s description. A stranger in a gray mottled cloak who had a bow strung over his shoulder was in a rather loud yelling match with the Captain of the Guard as he pointed at the backs of the two mounted men. The boy scurried over to Giran’s position on the wharf. Giran had begun fumbling with a satchel attached to his quiver and was not looking when the boy anxiously approached him.
“H-hey, are you Giran?” the boy asked nervously.
“As a matter of fact, I am,” Giran responded without looking up. “Who’s asking?”
The boy swallowed. “Clan Benvul.”
“Well, I know that, lad!” Giran laughed. “But who are you”
“Doesn’t matter,” the boy said hastily as he tossed the envelope at Giran’s feet. He was out of there. He took off running, but before he could go two paces, he tripped over something and fell flat on his face. He tried to get up but someone’s boot was on his back. It was Giran’s.
“Wow, I’d have expected a clan member like yourself to be a little lighter on the feet lad!”
“Let me go!” The boy strained, out of breath.
“Hey, Captain Niklaas!” Giran yelled, ignoring the frightened boy. “I finally found my Ranger’s seal, can ya let me pass now? I’d like to catch up to my stuck-up friends!”
A Ranger? Giran was a Ranger? The boy perked up. He had heard tales of these men. They’re said to be able to be the finest shots in the continent and could take a man out before he could even draw his blade.
“Let me see that, you dolt!” someone said, probably the Captain. “Let’s see here… Ranger T’chuur, the City of Relica, Nation of Codror… My dear! You really are one! Forgive me, Ranger. I’d just never met someone like you and I’d expected they wouldn’t be as… extroverted as you are.”
“I get that a lot,” T’chuur responded. “Now will you and your men be helpful little darlings and escort the boy that is under my boot to the Northwind? We have much to discuss.”
“Yes, right away! Lorrie, Leyton, get your worthless souls over here and bind this boy!”
“On it, Sir, we've got this. Ley, you get the boy’s feet and I'll get his hands.”
The two guards proceeded to bind the boy as T’chuur admired from a distance. The boy shook and winced as the course rope scratched against his grimy skin.
“Sorry lad,” one of the guards said as he lifted the boy to his feet. “But ya gotta come with us now, hear?”
The two guards attached their spears to the backs of their tunics and lifted the boy under his armpits as the Ranger followed, keeping his face pointed towards the dock below. As the boy looked ahead, he got a better look at Northwind and all its glory. Before him stood the massive gangplank that was now almost bare of seamen, as they had almost finished stocking the ship up for a future voyage.
“Where’d ya like us to put him, sir?” the guard on the boy's left asked his Captain, who briskly walked past the slow-moving Ranger.
“Well, Ranger?” Captain Niklaas said from behind the boy.
“If you may, keep him down here in the cargo hold for a few minutes. I need to have a word with the Prince and Commander Crew-piss"
Captain Niklaas and the guards turned towards him, puzzled.
“Sorry, Cruatas,” the Ranger mocked. “I’ll be down in a few minutes; I trust that you’ll keep an eye on him, Captain.”
“I will, Ranger.”
With that, the Ranger started up the stairs to the deck above.
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