I was born in 1632, four years before the War, on a small farm outside of Five Sails on the Eisen side. My family traced their lineage to nobility of Eisen but the war made them meager farmers. I had ten siblings and eight cousins that all tended the same fields. I hated the boring farm life.
I was four years old when the War of the Cross began. Over the first ten years of the War I lost my father, an older brother, two younger brothers, and my youngest sister. All eight of my cousins died or left for war, and my aunt and uncle abandoned their farm and fled to the Commonwealth. Going from over twenty hands to less than ten made life exceptionally difficult. I don’t think I would have survived if not for Ingrid Bachmeier.
Ingrid was my age and lived on the next farm over. We grew up together and, once old enough, began courting. The love we shared was strong. We married at fifteen and the our families gifted us land for our own farm. We had two very happy years and when Ingrid became with child I thought my life was as perfect as the times could allow. Then all that was to be stripped from me.
Six months into her pregnancy Ingrid grew very ill. The doctor in Five Sails could do nothing for her. She passed and the baby was stillborn. I buried my love in a shallow grave. In a single night I lost my wife, my first born son, and my will to live. I would spend my days drunk in Five Sails and return to the farm only well after the sun had set. I was content to let the farm rot and drink myself to death but you can’t keep a love like ours in the cold dead ground.
A week after her death she appeared. With a voice soft as summer rains she whispered things no man should have to hear. I tried to help her. Then to stop her. Then I fled from her. I moved away from Five sails, deeper into my ancestral homeland of Eisen. I took up odd jobs and continued my drinking. I feared she would follow me but she didn’t. My family, on the other hand… A younger brother tracked me down and demanded I return to help with the farm. I… Regret how I spoke to him. It was the last time we’d speak.
When the beer couldn’t numb my pain anymore I turned to whiskey. When that grew weak I started using opium. To support my habits I took up gambling and found I had a knack for it. I lived like that for a good year before I met Him. He called himself Helmuth Teufel and he had what I wanted. He said he could make things right. I just had to meet him, before midnight, at the crossroads. We all grew up with the stories of meeting the Devil but I didn’t believe.
I should have stayed home, or at least drunk, but I was so desperate. I went to the crossroads. I fell down on my knees. I asked the lord above “Have mercy, save my soul, if you please.” At the stroke of midnight, Helmuth arrived. I didn’t see him approach and only knew he was there when he whispered in my ear, “You haven’t got a woman that loves you.” I wanted to run but Helmuth laughed. “You can run. You can tell your friends of me. But as you stand here now. You’re mine for a year and a day.”
I don’t choose to speak of the next year of my life. I can still feel the sin eating up my bones. Let me assure you, this world is evil. Every night I would pray for deliverance. I begged God to free me from this terrible mess. As my time grew longer I begged for lightning to strike me down. For a fire to burn me to a cinder. I finally found my release the day before my contract would end.
Helmuth and I were traveling, crossing a field by moonlight. When lightning struck and flung us apart. The field went up in a blaze and I felt my soul slip away. From somewhere else, a world not of flesh and dirt, I saw Helmuth standing over my corpse. He cursed my demise. One more day and my soul would have been his. He fled into the flame and left my corpse to burn.
Except I didn’t burn. I woke up a field of ash. Helmuth was gone. My body was weak but my soul was strong. I felt like a dead body moving. I already danced with a demon, looked him dead into the eyes, and been where we go when we die. I knew then that this life won’t last long. My mind was clear for the first time in years. There was no time to mourn, the race to salvation started on the day we are born and I was nineteen years behind.
I packed the few things I owned and moved to Vatican City. I did everything to scrub the sin from my soul and after a year I became an ordained minister of the Church of the Prophets. I took up a parish near the Castille\Eisen border and dedicated my life to service. In those years Then I learned of the Carolingian Order, a group of Esien born exorcist priests working within the Church.
When I was twenty-two years old I was officially sworn into the Carolingian Order. I pledged to see that “What’s down in the dark will be brought to the light.” For five years I spent my time traveling Castille and Esien doing God’s work to eradicate demons like the one that enslaved me. I joined several Vatican groups fighting in the War and helped cleanse the battlefield of rising dead. I kept my ears open for rumors of Helmuth and two years into my service I found him.
I heard that Helmuth had struck a deal with a some bard and set out to find the poor soul. I’ll save you the suspense and tell you right now that this trail went cold before leading to Helmuth. Instead it forced my path across another worthy or writing about. Sandra Calvino was a sort of bounty hunter but instead of people she tracked items. You see, Helmuth had set the poor bard on a course to an ancient cursed relic and all three of us met in it’s resting chamber. Sandra demanded the bard turned the lute over. I demanded the bard tell me where to find the man who led him here. The bard, already ensorcelled by the instrument, refused both.
There we stood. Sandra demanding the relic. Myself demanding the man. The man demanding we let him pass. I don’t know who struck first but both Sandra and I missed our swing yet landed a fatal blow. Mine to the instrument and her’s to the man. Sandra’s mission accomplished she went to leave. My mission stalled I bellowed at the poor woman. I don’t know what to expect but she stood her ground. She apologized for her interference and I for my tone. She promised to help me in the future and would send word should she hear of any similarly cursed items. While I wouldn’t see her in person again for over a decade we keep in correspondence. A long distance acquaintance turned into one of my only long standing friends.
Soon I was twenty-seven and expected to spend whatever time God gave me working with the Carolingians. Like every time I get comfortable in life, I was proven wrong again. Under pressure from the Inquisition, in 1659 the Hierophant disbanded the Carolingian Order. We were to be given a pardon for our heretical work if we returned to Vatican City and spent a year in penance. I prayed to God for direction. He spoke to me and in the voice so sweet said, “Gotthilf, go do My will.” I was left with little choice. I still believed in the Carolingian oath and refused to give up my hunt for Helmuth. Most of the other Carolingians renounced their oath but I declined, was excommunicated, and branded a heretic.
I fled into Esien, closer to Objectionists strongholds, and started working freelance. In my past I’d assisted in efforts to quell the rising dead from the War of the Cross and I the deeper into Eisen I traveled the more my services were needed. I never officially enlisted and plied my trade independently for five years. As the War raged on the problems of the recently fallen returning became more and more dire. Armies became dependant on the Hunters, like myself, keeping the battlefields cleared and started to push for us to enlist.
In 1664 I heard of a battle and arrived to find a decimated Objectionist battalion forced to bivouac near the field. I urged the colonel to move his troops, as the dead would surely rise tonight and I couldn’t protect all of them. My work would be easier if I was the only flesh to draw the attention of the hungry dead. The colonel refused and I stormed out of his tent only to I ran, literally, into the man who convinced me to officially joined the War of the Cross. Baronet Atherton Oakes the Second wasn’t nearly as pompous or arrogant as someone with a name like that would be assumed. As we both stood up from the mud, Atherton laughed. My anger with the colonel abated at this man’s guffaw. He said I looked troubled and grew irritated with his grin as I impressed upon im the danger of the situation.
When I finished Atherton said without hesitation, “If the colonel won’t listen then I suppose it falls to my men and I to assist you.” I wasn’t a leader and told him as much. He said he’d take care of the leading and he would follow my directions. I had little choice. These men would be dead if I was left alone to defend them. That night the undead assaulted our makeshift camp and, true to his boast, Atherton took my direction without question. I worked the field while Atherton and his men protected the camp. When day broke we were covered in gore but hadn’t lost another to the legion. After that battle I signed on with Atherton’s Company and he became my first real friend since leaving the Carolingian Order. Then, like everything I touch, it ended shortly thereafter.
I thought my course in life was set but then, in 1666, the one constant in my life ended as the War of the Cross drew to a close. The War had always been present since I was four years old. Now… I found myself without a cause. My comrades in arms departed, returning to their homes. I found myself with a friend. I was still branded a heretic and couldn’t return to my parish. I found myself without a home. I fell back to drink. Then came the letter. Penned in a familial hand.
Sibylla. My last living sibling, a sister a few years my elder, found me. Her letter told me of how they lost the farm. How mother died of the plague. That of the six siblings I last saw alive, only she remained. That she had turned to… Well, I’d rather not say but she did what she needed to survive. The thing that drew my attention the most was when she wrote of Ingrid. Of how my dead wife had been tormenting my family for almost twenty years.
That was when I realized I couldn’t run any longer. That what I’d left all those years ago, the evil that drove me down every path of my life, was still alive. My knees buckled beneath the weight of doubt. I had the taste in my mouth. The hunger in my gut. I decided then, by the light of the moon, I was going home. I wrote to my sister.
“I miss things that I have done without. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been. Don’t leave the light on. I don’t need you anymore. Put a cross above the door, lay up the boards. I’m on my way.
I’m coming home, but I ain’t coming home for you.”
I returned to Five Sails a few months ago. Barely missing the recent mayoral election. To my great disgust I had to see first hand what Sibylla had done with her life. She wasn’t just married to a politician, she was married to the Mayor of Five Sails. I found my tongue soured with the idea that my family was involved in that kind of corruption. Still, she was my sister and I had an obligation to meet her husband. He turned out to be a better man than I expected but I’m still leary of anyone who chooses to be in power.
I didn’t intend on staying in Five Sails for long. My agenda was to hunt down Ingrid and put an end to the curse I put on my family. Except the day after I arrived I received a letter. Which is strange because who could have possibly known I’d be returning to Five Sails beyond Sibylla. I peeled the letter open and found an invitation to join something called the “Kindred Spirits Social Club.” I scoffed. What an awful pun. I threw the invitation into the fire and went about my work. Two weeks later I was drinking when the inviter sat down next to me.
“Your absence last night wounds me. We were once friends, Hilf. Are we no longer?”, I glanced over, intending to glare at the man, and nearly fell off my chair when I saw Atherton Oakes sitting next to me. He laughed. The same laugh that convinced me to enlist and began telling me of his family’s interest in Five Sails. He insisted I come by and meet his wife, share a meal with them and catch up on the last two years. I agreed and was in for another shock upon my arrival.
Atherton made the introductions. First, his wife Lady Vanessa Oakes, and then his wife’s sister Sandra Calvino. I turned, expecting to see a different Sandra Calvino but was, instead, greeted by the face of my long time correspondent. It was Atherton’s turn to be dumbstruck as Sandra and I embraced and exclaimed how good it was to see each other again. It must have been… What? Twelve years since we last saw each other.
Since then I’ve been a regular at the Kindred Spirits meetings and have come to know the fourth in our little quartet. Carmela Salvaggi is a local entrepreneur of some sort, though she’s elusive on her exact business. I haven’t had many dealings with her outside of the Club but I sense that is all about to change.
A home. Friends. Purpose. I’ve spent my life fleeing from one problem or another. Every time I find myself committed to a course of action I find that route blocked and my labors destroyed. Some nights I lay awake and wonder if I’m cursed. Other men would have stopped by now. Given into to their bad luck but I’ve come to learn there is only one thing in this life that makes us living. It’s not the the muscles or the size of your castle. It’s not the everlasting hope of finding purpose or knowing who we are. It doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad and everything between. If you have a lot of money, if you’re funny or just fifty shades of mean. If you’ve studied in the good book or you couldn’t give a damn that’s fine. There’s always going to be a better high and a lower down. All the bridges in the world won’t lead you back to fix what couldn’t be erased.
This life is a maze with only one way out.