I.

 

 

 

 

“The settlement that once, was known as Rursus to the west, was the home to a tribe, believed to be comprised of the remnants of a cult originating in the coastal settlement of Asa, on the western coast during its occupation by the imitators. Of the tribe’s people, a few would go on to greatly influence the future of the low country as it was in its day. One of these men, would go on to become legend.”

-From the journal of Alexander III of Moorseland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The sun above shone down upon the back of a young man working diligently in a small garden below. He sported a full head of long, dark-brown locks that fell below his shoulders, and swayed with the occasional gust of wind. The air was brisk, yet the sun shone bright above, drawing sweat from the man’s forehead that dripped below his brow, and stung his eyes. He rested in place for a moment, wiping the sweat from his face with his sleeve, only to leave behind a streak of dirt across his forehead. His eyes glowed a lustrous green in the sun light, as he fixed his gaze at the tree line to the east, beyond which lie the great forest that surrounded the entirety of the village of Rursus. The lad’s name was Jamin.

   Jamin’s mother and father had both fell amidst the dead during the exodus of the old society, Asa, to the west, leaving him orphaned at the age of three. In their stead, a man named Oliver raised Jamin to his current age of nineteen, instilling discipline and literacy to the boy, as well as teach him to work the land, a practice Jamin despised, though he did not complain. In Asa, Oliver was a member of the hunter’s guild, as was Jamin’s father. The two would go on to lead many in the initial escape, as well as make several return trips to help even more leave[AH1] , the lot of which would go on to establish Rursus. Oliver was a stoic man and had grown bitter with age. Though it was obvious he cared for Jamin, Oliver was not warm, and by no means the fatherly type. Still though, he was the closest to a father Jamin had known and had earned his unwavering respect.

   Jamin returned once more to his work, down on one knee, toiling away in the soil as the land bustled around him. On days like this one, when the sun glows hot, and the joints ache, Jamin’s mind would find itself elsewhere, fixated on some extraneous thought, that would inevitably lead to another, and so on. On this day, like many others, Jamin found himself longing for the days of old, before the imitators came, and brought with them their inquisitors. In those days, the hunting men set out in search of game, the women would forage for edibles, and the fishermen would make the walk north to the river. Jamin had always envied the hunting men and dreamed of one day venturing beyond Rursus with them, though Oliver dismissed the idea. “The lands beyond Rursus are far too dangerous.” He would say.” Your father would see me hanged should I let you stray from my reach.”

  Now though, the dangers of the outside tread on their home - lay siege to it; None may leave. Armed outsiders patrol the village, puppets of the cabal that now rule over Asa. They arrived a month prior, crushing those that stood against them with little effort. Some of the fallen were put on crosses throughout the village, a warning to those still alive. The inquisitors spared the rest only so that they may work the land, just for its yield to be carted away to Asa. The reality of life now was quite clear, the men and women of Rursus were slaves.

   Jamin soon found his thoughts interrupted by a distinct noise, quite noticeably coming from the east, beyond the tree line. Jamin could hear leaves being pushed aside, the sound of twigs being snapped under one’s boots. Jamin stood up quickly, taking in hand a spade that lie next to him. “Inquisitors do not travel from the south.” He thought. “Could it be a raiding party?” The noise seemed to be growing louder, or rather closer. Jamin was sure that whatever it was that approached, was no animal. He peered beyond the tree line, looking for the source of the noise. He scanned to the right – nothing; The noise then ceased abruptly. Jamin’s head shot to the left, and the swaying of branches caught his eye. There, just beyond the tree line, stand a man wrapped from head to toe in animal skins. His hair was long, grey, and unkempt, as was his beard. He was looking directly at Jamin.

   Jamin stood frozen in place, staring back at the man. Try as he might, he could not recognize him. His stare pierced Jamin’s soul, even from afar. The man then slowly raised his right arm, extending his index finger as he did so, pressing it against his lips to demand silence. He stepped out from the trees, and slowly made his way towards Jamin. With each step the man took towards him, Jamin’s grip on the spade tightened, and his heart’s rhythm quickened, as it pounded thunderously at his chest. Now that he was no longer obscured by foliage, Jamin could make out that the man had a longbow resting on his right shoulder, though he could not spot any other weapons. The man stopped just a few paces away. His arm dropped to his side, and he spoke: “I mean you no harm; I must speak with Oliver, where can I find him?” His voice was demanding yet hushed. Jamin, weary of the stranger, slowly turned his head towards the small cabin he shared with Oliver behind him, whilst maintaining an alert stance in case he must defend himself. “Oliver!” Jamin shouted. A few moments passed, then the cabin door swung open, and from behind it emerged Oliver. He stood tall, wearing his work rags, stained with layers of dirt, and sweat. His hair had begun to thin some time ago, and his beard was absent of color. He stood there, looking from Jamin to the stranger, and back again. Jamin did his best to read Oliver’s face. “Does he recognize him?” He wondered.                               

   Oliver’s face was grim, as it always was; Jamin could never quite tell what he was thinking. Oliver released the door, allowing it to close behind him as he approached. Jamin returned his attention to the stranger, paying close attention to his hands, watching for any indication of a hidden weapon. Oliver stopped at Jamin’s side, putting his hand on his shoulder as he spoke: “Jamin, you have worked hard on this day, you may retire to the cabin for the evening.” With Jamin’s attention now back on him, Oliver nodded, indicating dismissal. Jamin nodded in return, and glanced at the stranger a final time, before handing Oliver his spade, and retiring to the cabin. Oliver returned his gaze once more to the man before him. “I’d wondered if you’d ever return.” He said. The man returned an anxious look before replying: “I believed it not necessary when we found this place, though it appears time has proven me wrong once again.” Oliver motioned towards the center of the village. “Aye.” He said. They’ve worn their welcome quite thin.”

   Inside the cabin, Jamin had pressed his ear against its wall, trying to make out what was being said outside. It was faint, though Jamin could indeed make out the conversation:

“…and abandon our home once again?”

“Would you rather stay and remain slaves, is that what you desire for our people?”

“I desire for MY people safety, and despite the current conditions, we have a far better chance for that here then out there.”

“My god, what happened to the Oliver I fought with in Asa? Has age blinded you so soon?”

“I still see true. It seems however, age has robbed you of your memory. Hundreds died on that day, your wife included!”

“To hell with you, Oliver! Do you believe I desired to see our home burn behind us as we fled in to the woods like animals?”

“Whether you intend it or not, my people will perish under your command. As I am sure you are quite aware, we have more to fear out there than the elements. I will not allow you to lead these people through hell; They have been through enough.”

“I know these lands well, Oliver. I’ve walked them for years, and I still yet stand. If we can get out of Rursus discretely, freedom will be within our grasp; They will not follow us into Vallis Malterra”

   Jamin stood straight, removing his ear from the cabin wall. “Vallis Malterra?” Jamin had heard talk of Vallis Malterra from John. John was a scribe who had escaped Asa with Oliver and Jamin’s father. He was branded a heretic on the second day of the siege before being crucified in the center of the village. While he still acted as a scribe in Asa,  he had made many trips to the northern mountains to do business with the people there, and as such knew more than most of the area. John described Vallis Malpais as a large valley that run North, cutting through the northern mountain range near its western end.

   The door of the Cabin swung open, and in stepped Oliver. Upon making eye contact with Jamin, he froze. “You were listening, weren’t you?” Jamin, hesitated a moment before nodding. “Aye.” He responded. The corner of Oliver’s mouth raised to a slight grin for just a moment before he responded. “How much did you hear?” “Do you intend us to leave Rursus for Vallis Malpais?” Jamin asked. Oliver did not speak, offering a nod as his only reply. “Gather your things.” He said. “Ready them to be taken at a whim, for we may have little warning.” There, in that instant, Jamin had felt a feeling of dread he had never experienced before. Rursus was all that Jamin knew. Whatever lie beyond, there was sure to be danger. “Do you understand, boy?” Jamin’s eyes met Oliver’s, and he responded: “Aye.” Oliver had raised Jamin for many years, and as such, could see through his feigned calmness. He was scared. Oliver stepped beyond the door before turning to Jamin once more. “It will be alright, lad.” He closed the door behind him.

 

 

II.

“…We have yet time to grieve as we set camp for the first time since the escape. We marched without rest all night and have put considerable distance between us and Asa. It is early morning, and the lot of us are sleeping in shifts. I lie awake, for the faces of those dead and left behind haunt me in my sleep. I can hear women weep for their slain husbands; for their sons.”

-From the codex of Rursus[AH2] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Oliver prided himself in the role he had played in Jamin’s life. He had raised him well, making a man of him capable of prospering in a land with enemies on all sides, though for all Jamin’s life, Oliver had lied to him. Jamin’s father still lived, and Oliver was fully aware. The man that had arrived in Rursus was he. His name was Silvan. Upon their resettling in what would later become Rursus, many of the refugees blamed Silvan for the lives lost in the exodus of Asa. The escape was not the initial plan, with the catalyst of its beginning falling on the failed assassination of the grand inquisitor. The escape was rushed, and as a result chaos very quickly took hold of Asa. Many died, Jamin’s mother included.

  Silvan took the loss of his beloved as one would expect; It changed him. Gone was any semblance of affection. It was as if his capability of empathy had died with his wife. He exiled himself shortly after the settling of Rursus, leaving the care of his son, Jamin to his closest of friends, Oliver. Oliver, had told Jamin that his father had died in the escape to spare him the scar that the abandonment of a father leaves, a scar Oliver possessed himself.

  “I’ve done enough good to last many lifetimes” Oliver thought to himself. “It seems even old age is not enough to warrant a rest.” Oliver had much to do, and little time to do so. He knew that for Silvan’s plan to work, there was one contingency that would need to be addressed; The men will need to be armed. Oliver knew just how unlikely it was to leave Rursus without bloodshed, and found himself speaking with everyone in the village, instructing them to stow away any agricultural tools that may be converted to weapons.  To say that the idea of another bloodbath made the people uneasy, would be an understatement. Oliver was sure that had it of been Silvan suggesting the idea, there would not be one person willing to help. Among the one hundred-sixty-two people living in Rursus, eighty-three were male, of which only seventy were in fighting shape. Should the initial escape be botched in any way, Oliver knew it may cost the lives of his men. Oliver tried his hardest to convince himself that the risk was one that must be taken, though the thought of losing just one of his men was enough to make him sick to his stomach.

  Oliver hurried through the village square, seeking out his most trusted confidants, Jacob, and Gareth Crowicz. The brothers, formerly of the hunter’s guild as Oliver was, had been of monumental help during their many return trips to Asa after the initial days of settlement and were both highly regarded in the community. Oliver intended to put the brothers in charge of converting the village’s tools to weapons and keeping them hidden until they were needed.

  The day was just beginning for most, as groggy men clad in rags emerged from their dwellings, prepared for yet another day of labor. Oliver had a feeling that Jacob and Gareth would be where they usually were at this hour. The two had made themselves a small refectory of sorts in the woods just beyond the tree line behind their dwelling, where they would eat their meals away from the eyes of the enemy at their doorstep. Oliver trudged on, making his way to the brother’s dwelling. He had already passed several of Asa’s inquisitors, as they loomed about the village like vultures amongst a carcass. “Damn these vermin; Had I the virility of my youth, I might be more inclined to challenge these men.” Oliver knew, however, that there was far too much at stake to behave like a cornered animal.

  Oliver checked his surroundings before approaching the brother’s dwelling, hooking to its right to cross into the tree line; From there, Oliver need only follow the smell of tobacco to find them. He maneuvered his way through the forest’s natural defenses of thorns and branches for some time, pushing aside the greenery to force a path further within. The further Oliver ventured beyond the tree line, the more uneasy he felt. Even a seasoned outdoorsman like himself, knew walking these woods alone was foolish, though he pressed on, the smell of tobacco getting stronger as he did. Oliver stopped abruptly, before kneeling to conceal himself. He had spotted movement ahead. He peered through the trees on two oblivious men, sitting on opposing sides of a stump now being used as an altar of sorts, atop which lie a deer skull decorated with wildflowers. They sat there on the ground sharing a pipe amongst the two of them, puffing once or twice before passing it to the other.

   “God-damned fools.” Oliver muttered. “That smell need only attract the attention of one inquisitor, and they’ll both be crucified.” Oliver remained low, and slowly began to make his way through the foliage, inching closer to the brothers with each step. “It will not be difficult to catch these two by surprise.” He thought. “Perhaps I can scare some sense into them.” Oliver moved through the foliage with an undisputable finesse, taking each step with consideration, making as little noise as he could. Oliver was struck with a deep sense of nostalgia, as he was reminded of his days in the hunter’s guild, tracking prey for miles with nothing but a longbow and arrows.

   Oliver’s longing quickly turned to melancholy. The men and women of Rursus would not remain complacent; Oliver knew it well. There would be no room for uncertainty in the coming weeks; all those able would earn their freedom by way of war or die in its pursuit. Oliver had fooled himself into believing that further conflict with the inquisitors could be avoided by simply giving in; He could not bear the idea of any more of his ilk slaughtered like animals. Despite Oliver’s fears however, he knew that there was now room for only two types of individual in Rursus: The inquisitors, and their slaves.

   Oliver took position low, nestled behind a large oak that sit just under five meters from Gareth. His back was facing Oliver, as he puffed on his pipe while Jacob sat across from him, chatting away. Oliver slowly rose to his feet, and then darted out of the tree line. Both Jacob and Gareth nearly jumped out of their trousers, as they staggered to their feet, ready to fight for their lives only to be met with the relief of seeing just Oliver’s face instead. “Oliver, you bastard; I nearly keeled over and died on the spot!” Gareth snapped. Oliver spoke in a bitter tone through clenched teeth. “Damned fools, the both of you!” He exclaimed.[AH3] 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                                              

 

 

III.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Jamin had few possessions and as such, it did not take long to pack. The few possessions he did have were inherited from his father; Clothes – mostly, though two items stood out amongst the rest, his father’s guild dressings; A cloak and an ornate steel dagger. These items were meant to be worn to distinguish rank amongst the guilds of the old society, and as such are distinct amongst each guild. The hunter’s guild cloak was dyed a dark green and featured an insulated interior – a necessity for the winter months. Most importantly though, the pin holding the cloak together, was emblazoned with the sigil of the guild, a set of deer’s antlers.

  The dagger bore the same sigil on its pommel, engraved and inlayed with silver. Its handle was wrapped with brown leather lace in a decorative pattern, and the guard curved gracefully upward at the ends.