Chapter 1: The Messenger
“This is an outrage! How dare the king of Kalent send Heldon instead of me?!" Erik's indigent shouts echoed off the stone walls of Flay manor.
Heldon couldn't roll his eyes hard enough. He sheathed his saber as he left the training grounds, crossing under the blue sign with the phrase 'Flay Family Jawforcers' painted on it.
He better go see what had his brother's undergarments in such a twist.
“Erik, don't shoot or in this case, spittle, on the messenger." Heldon bantered but regretted it. In venomous anger, his younger brother threw a stool against the wall, splintering it with a c***k.
The crash froze time.
Heldon didn't dare move; he had a scar through his eyebrow from the last time his brother flew into a rage. The messenger hid behind his parchment.
Then Erik strode across the room. He flaunted his height by looking down on Heldon with a frigid blue glare.
“I don't know what you did, but you were chosen to negotiate with the Opalgate vampire coven," Erik said, his usually handsome face twisted in a sneer of disgust. “I'm the one with the natural Jawforcer talent! Father agreed with me on this, and you proved him right."
Heldon shrank in shame despite himself.
His younger brother didn't need a sword to cut someone down.
Despite being the older brother, Heldon's magic ability and his physical nature paled in comparison to Erik's. Heldon's erratic magic once suggested a bull to charge, while Erik's magic negotiated lucrative trade deals. Heldon relentlessly practiced swordplay to compensate for his inferior magic and shorter physique, yet he continued to fall short of Erik's success.
“I don't know anything about this. I was probably chosen only because I'm the eldest son, and we know that vampires are very traditional." Heldon said, mitigating the situation. However, the messenger looked puzzled behind his parchment.
Erik snorted ugly. The diamond-shaped mark on Erik's neck glowed, showing that his anger activated his Jawforcer abilities.
“Werewolves start attacking us, and the Opalgate coven are the only ones with silver to spare. How convenient. If those bloodsuckers weren't the kingdom of Kalent's last hope, I'd suggest we go stake them all!" Erik picked up a broken piece of wooden stool and made a rather shoddy stabbing motion into the air.
Heldon blinked and remembered.
TWO YEARS EARLIER
Blood pooled across a cooling hearth.
His father's clammy body lay motionless on the granite floor, impaled by a sword.
A wooden stake rested next to him.
The silhouette of a vampire in front of a full moon in the window.
The vampire's sinister threat to his dead father, “The Steelpoint coven will fulfill the prophecy."
From the doorway, Heldon wanted to compel the Steelpoint vampire to stay, but his heart-shaped magic marking didn't light up.
The murderer disappeared into the night like an arrow shot.
“While I understand the sentiment, brother, the Opalgate coven hates the Steelpoint coven as much as we do, they've had a blood feud for generations. We can't treat all vampires the same." Heldon tried to get back on track, this was not the time for his brother's dramatics.
“If I may interject," the messenger raised a hand and motioned to Heldon. “Though tradition may have played a part, Opalgate's envoy personally requested for Heldon Flay. He wants you. There's even a note."
Heldon squinted and his jaw dropped in shock.
“The envoy wants me? But I haven't dealt with any vampires since our father's… Who's this envoy?" Heldon was suddenly intrigued, and secretly flattered.
While he tried not to let his younger brother's success and fame get to him, for once he'd like to know what it's like to be capable, to come out on top.
He wanted Erik to clap his hand on his shoulder, and regard him as an equal. He wanted someone special to want him the way most women mooned after Erik.
“The envoy's name is Sir Acera. Rumor has it he is quite strange for a vampire. They say he can withstand daylight, and that he wields a spear." The messenger had regained his courage, sidestepping the broken wood to hand over the note.
Erik grabbed it and crumbled it up.
“A vampire that can withstand sunlight? What's next, a werewolf that eats only carrots? I swear the people in Kalent get dimmer by the day. The last thing we need to deal with is some vampire's mind games." Erik said, throwing the note into the fireplace and getting a bottle of mead. Without hesitating, he uncorked it with a loud pop.
While Heldon was irked he couldn't see the note for himself, his brother had made very valid points.
“They also say envoy Acera is quite dashing." The messenger added, which only made Erik drink straight from the bottle.
Handsome? A vampire?! These rumors were indeed getting out of hand. Heldon couldn't think of anything more repulsive than a vampire's sharp, predatory glare, and their dagger-sharp fangs.
“Tell the king I accept and will set off for Opalgate tomorrow. You're dismissed; thank you for coming." Heldon thanked the messenger, firm and sure as the saber on his hip.
“Of course. Our offerings will be prepped and ready for negotiation. Thank you, Heldon Flay, Erik Flay." The messenger fled the house as if it may collapse any second.
Erik finished his long swig of mead, wiping his lips with the back of his fine leather glove.
“Don't fail this time, Hel. If you do, not only will I have to clean up your mess, but the entire kingdom will suffer for it." Erik's eyes speared him through like a fish, but this time Heldon didn't back down or shrink away.
Finally, someone wanted him for something important.
“Maybe you can start by cleaning up the mess you made in the foyer. Just what got into you?" Heldon gestured to the pieces of broken wood. Erik made a move like he wanted to sock Heldon but stopped short and groaned like a man carrying a heavy sack.
“You surely can't be this dense, Heldon. Every night for weeks, feral werewolves s*******r our people for sport, women, and children! This negotiation is our last chance to get the silver we need to save Kalent." Erik explained, taking another swig of mead as if to punctuate his point.
“I know how serious this is, Erik. Can you cut the condescending attitude?!" Heldon retorted, but Erik ignored him as if he were a dog in the room.
“However, instead of sending me, the best negotiator in Kalent, envoy Acera requests the only Jawforcer who can't even compel a cat to nap. We'll be lucky to get a single bar of silver!" Erik slammed the bottle of mead on the oak table with a bang.
Heldon's stomach soured and hit his knees, finally getting Erik's implication.
“This isn't about your pride or your reputation, is it? You really think that I can't do this. You think I can't save Kalent." Heldon murmured. A dark tide of humiliation rose to neck level and Heldon struggled to breathe.
“Heldon, he chose you because he knows you can't." Erik's voice was as heavy as a stone door sealing over a well.
The walls closed in on Heldon and before he knew it, he bolted from the room back out to the training ground. He knew deep down that his younger brother looked down on him, which was pathetic enough.
Yet, Heldon thought that his brother had at least some faith in him.
“Yep, just flee like you usually do from confrontation. You should've just let me go instead; said you were sick. Now you've doomed us all." Erik's slurred voice called out from the foyer, the mead already hitting him hard. A comically low alcohol tolerance was an inconvenient side effect of their Jawforcer magic.
Heldon's face burned in humiliation as he sat in the middle of the sand, head in his hands. His dark hair tumbled free from its low horsetail.
He was naive for thinking that the king would prefer him over his brother to negotiate the fate of his people. After all, he let his father get killed and allowed the vampire who did it to get away.
Erik was right, he was set up to fail.
And it was all envoy Acera's fault.
He unsheathed his saber, its steel blade intricately inlaid with silver glinted in the moonlight. He got into his stance and went step by meticulous step through his practice katas. He rhythmically thrusted, slashed, and swooped his blade around, his footwork making looping circles in the sand.
His sword work was often the only thing, besides his best friend, that could calm his nerves.
By the time he was done, he had worked up a sweat even in the cool night.
“I can do this. I have to." Heldon gritted out, taking a deep, chest filling breath. He didn't have time to mope like a child. Blaze, their new horse, neighed in agreement.
He'd turn the tables on this handsome envoy. He had a kingdom to save.