The man sat atop what could only be called a vain attempt at a mimicry of a throne. The fine wood inlaid with precious metals depicted descriptions of daring escapades as well as a personal history that he had believed worth surrounding himself in. Tracing a hand across an image of figures bowed in front of a grand master, Elgen gave a wide grin, baring his teeth as he looked down at those acting out the carving in front of him.
The room was a series of traps hidden within comforts. A heavy reek of incense hung in the air, a scent that dulled the senses and muddled the minds of those that entered, a pre-emptive attack by the criminal businessman in order to induce mistakes in his opponents and cause them to show weakness. There were lavish pillows strewn about to make his business partners comfortable and lull them into a false sense of security. Food and water was handed out freely within the room, able to be poisoned at any time, a concoction of Elgen’s own discovery that would lay dormant within his victims for hours and was nigh untraceable.
The man would stop at nothing in order to solidify his place in the underworld of the city, Danarog, that lived in the shadow of Haven. Despite being the nation’s capital, the walled city underneath the floating marvel was little more than slums and middle class, presided over by a guard that were little more than bullies while the real soldiers were out fighting on the country’s multiple fronts. The Hunters were just as useful at preventing crime as the army, choosing to stay within their fortress above with only the occasional hunt below to show that they were still the dominating presence.
And that was exactly how Elgen wanted it.
Without the two major forces in the country to actually uphold order, the only legal authority that he had to worry about were the higher ups in the militia, who could all be bought off with mere pocket change. They had no clue how much money was being moved around in the underworld, and the crime bosses preferred it that way. As long as they were underestimated, they had very little to fear. In Elgen’s case, he was viewed as a minor power, however his store house held more value than the treasury of the whole Estrangian kingdom.
But this fact was at the back of his mind while he waited patiently, his eyes occasionally flicking to the entrance to his antechamber, where he was expecting a guest. As the day drew on, he grew more and more impatient, looking over at the others that were enjoying his unstopping party. Noticing one of his aides approaching his throne from the entrance, he shifted his bright and colourful robes so that he could look at the man comfortably.
“Sir, the squad that you bought off earlier has gone missing,” his servant reported his tone soft and refined. The way he spoke told volumes of his attempts to show off his education. The man kept his head downcast, his own robes bright, but devoid of any trinkets that could discern his social status. Dark glasses covered his eyes to protect them from the harsh sun outside. Being able to read was a rare and valuable ability, so those who could did their best to retain their eyesight. Elgen frowned, he had invested a lot into those men’s loyalty, and the fact that they had disappeared without a trace was disconcerting.
“That’s regrettable, how is our soon to be helper coming along?” he asked, to which the aide stepped to one side to reveal Harken, who had managed to stay out of Elgen’s line of sight. This peculiar trait was exactly what made the man grin widely and eagerly, his mood brightening instantly as he straightened up on the throne. “Ah, Harken, my boy, how do you fare?”
This was of course a completely pointless question, the beating that Harken had incurred earlier still clearly marked across his body. Even while his coat covered his back and chest, the sleeves were rolled up because of the heat, and displayed the fist and boot shaped marks clearly to the residents of the room. Overall it had put a slight dampener on the mood, though Elgen knew that it was more because of the presence of a desolate rather than the fact of the damage that had been done to him.
“I’ve been through worse, they’ll disappear over the next few hours,” Harken replied, glossing over the demi-human’s healing abilities as if they were barely worth mentioning. He glancing around at the revellers around him, sinking in to their desires and gossiping amongst themselves. “I was quite surprised that you sought me out however. I didn’t realise that you took such an interest in me.”
“Ordinarily I wouldn’t be, however my contacts have recommended your innate ability to stay out of trouble,” Elgen began, then hesitated slightly as he looked over the state that Harken was in. The irony of the situation was not lost on the young man either.
“You have a brilliant set of contacts.”
“They have their hits and misses.”
“So after all of that, where does this leave us?” Harken asked, crossing his arms. Elgen hesitated for a moment before cursing internally, wishing he’d chosen his words a little better, but he still couldn’t shake a glint that he swore he noticed in the young man’s eyes, as if he was teasing him.
“I still have faith in them, and I trust they made the right choice in you,” Elgen answered. What he couldn’t say was that he had targeted the demi-human in order to push him into needing this meeting as much as Elgen needed him. “In any case, the offer for you to participate in this job is still available if you want it.”
Harken looked at him for a moment, his face nigh unreadable, but if Elgen wasn’t mistaken, he thought he could see the traces of the impish demeanour fading into one of seriousness.
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll do it as long as I get one condition,” Harken offered. “I want to be able to quit the mission at any point.” Elgen paused, looking at Harken carefully. He wasn’t entirely sure, and it would troublesome to him if the young man chose to leave the mission part way through, however on the other hand, the most important part of the mission was getting the target out of the Hunters’ hands.
“Alright, but you should realise that this is a very lucrative deal, if you should do something that would put me in an unfortunate position, I will not hold back in taking my just desserts,” Elgen growled, his face twisting into an annoyed expression for the first time since Harken had arrived. Harken merely nodded and casually glanced to the side towards the luxuries that were on offer.
“Don’t worry, I’m not foolish enough to do something that would cause you to target me,” the desolate called over his shoulder as he walked past the dazed partiers. They seemed to shrink back from him as he drew close, then re-join with those that they had separated from as Harken left a suitable distance.
Making his way to the table, Harken picked up one of the fruits that lay amongst a bushel of other sweet morsels. The shell that surrounded the delicate flesh of the fruit was brown, making it an easy task to mistake it for a nut until it was opened. Turning the shelled fruit in his hands, he cracked it within his hands to reveal the crimson coloured flesh beneath, surprising some of the closer revellers. Crimson juice trickled from the fruit and down his hands to drip on the floor as he invariably squeezed it lightly.
“Is this from Calemo?” the young man asked, glancing up at Elgen, who frowned. It was surprising that a desolate had knowledge of the world outside of their city, even more so that he knew about another continent altogether.
“Yes, I’m surprised that you know of the other continents.”
“You’d be surprised what the elders tell us while we’re still children, we don’t have the need to learn about detailed schooling, so folklore and tales of far off lands often fill our childhood,” Harken replied, taking a piece of the shell and crunching on it, like a dog chewing a bone to clean its teeth. Pulling the rest of the shell from the flesh, Harken dropped the fruit on the ground and stomped down hard on it.
As Elgen jumped up to reprimand him for damaging something that he had taken the time to smuggle from a whole other continent. He stopped suddenly when he heard a shrill screeching from underneath Harken’s boot. As the demi-human lifted his boot, Elgen shuddered as he looked at the crimson insects that were rapidly gorging on the flesh of the fruit and each other to gain mass as quickly as possible, seemingly evolving their bodies in front of the revellers around him. Waiting until the largest had consumed the rest, Harken slammed his boot down on it before it could turn on the next meal. A sudden silence fell on the room as others that had been eating the same fruit looked down on their delicacies in horror.
“When you smuggle something, you should check it for parasites, Calemo’s rife with them since the indigenous population has armour too thick for regular insects to attack exposed flesh,” Harken advised him, referring to the Samnians which populated the continent that counted themselves among the strongest of warriors due to their natural armour and weaponry.
“I’ll make sure to keep that in mind,” Elgen growled, his own mind a little distracted to the times when he had carelessly bitten into such fruits, not bothering to check them beforehand. Harken had a small smile on his face as he turned to leave. “Hey, wait, how did you know that it had those things in there?”
Harken merely maintained his faintly smug expression and placed another piece of the shell between his teeth, continuing to chew. Elgen couldn’t help but feel an irking sensation as his desire to know the young man’s knowledge dug at him. The both of them knew it, and the fact that Harken was smiling over it made the feeling even more irritating.
“I’ll escort him out of the shop,” the aide informed Elgen as he followed Harken past the tapestries that hung in front of the entrance to the lavish room. The other reason that he was following Harken was because he was the attendant who minded the general store that Elgen owned. Making sure that the cloths were place back perfectly, the aide turned back to see that Harken was picking out another clay bucket to collect water with.
“Hey, I’m going to take this, alright?” Harken called back, though the question was more of a statement. Both of them were well aware that when about to undertake a task for Elgen, the helper was allowed to take anything that they believed they needed from the store, though the owner honestly didn’t care at all about the stock that sat there. If he had his way, he would have kept the front of it empty, after all it was merely a front, but for some reason the guards that he paid off preferred that he at least kept up a slight appearance, if only to ease their guilt slightly.
“Of course, will there be anything else that you need?” the attendant asked, glancing around at the rest of the store with boredom. Mostly it was just general supplies, and the occasional artefact whenever Elgen grew bored of it.
“I’ll just take a look at the trinkets, you know, in case I need to bribe someone with one,” Harken told him. The attendant just rolled his eyes behind his dark glasses. It was obvious that the demi-human was taking the opportunity to line his pockets with whatever he could while he could, though it mattered little, Elgen would review all of the items taken and take back all that wasn’t needed for Harken’s job.
Glancing away for a moment to the front of the store, the attendant almost jumped with surprise as Harken seemed to appear at the counter, tapping out an odd rhythm on the polished stone surface. The attendant glanced over the items that were placed there.
Writing down a list he counted off the bucket, some rope and a small knife that would ordinarily be used for meal preparation, though in this case he knew that that wasn’t the application that Harken had in mind. What caught his eye though were the small collection of symbols on chains. They weren’t gold, mere steel pendants with abstract inscriptions, but desolates almost never took them, knowing that they would only draw attention to those that wore them.
He shifted as he continued to mark the items off, feeling Harken’s gaze sweeping over him.
“So, how long has Elgen had a demi-human working for him?” Harken asked suddenly. The attendant dropped the bucket that he had been placing the items into for ease of carrying, forcing Harken to nimbly catch it, almost falling off of his chair to do so. “Hey, careful with my purchases!”
“How did you know?”
“Your spectacles can only hide your eyes so much,” Harken pointed out. While many attendants used the dark eyepieces to care for their vision, the attendant had also used it to shield his glowing eyes from those that were not too eager to be in the presence of demi-humans.
“I performed my duties for Mr. Elgen, and he rewarded me with the opportunity to improve on my position,” the attendant told Harken, who nodded, and gestured for him to elaborate on his story, making himself comfortable on the stool on the other side of the counter. “At first I took books from him as payment so I could teach myself to read and write, then one day he recognised my efforts and gave me this position so that I may improve myself even more.”
“So you’re the flagship for saving the demi-humans from their impoverishment?” Harken asked. The Attendant glanced at him, surprised.
“You speak quite well for one who’s still on the streets,” the attendant observed.
“The shop keepers try to use big words to confuse us uneducated folks, I learnt from them to try and keep up, and don’t think I don’t know that you’re dodging the question.”
“No,” the attendant sighed, slightly disappointed in himself for not trying to help those of his own kind more. “My ideal life is one where I find someone higher than me in status who is sympathetic to demi-humans and marry them, living a long, comfortable life with someone who would keep my secret without worrying about being beaten by the guards again.”
“Well, each to their own,” Harken replied, his tone showing that he wasn’t bothered by the lack of desperation to save the demi-humans from their plight.
“How about you then?” the attendant asked. After a few moments of silence from Harken, he chose to rephrase his question. “what do you want to do with your life, given the chance?”
“That’s a difficult question to answer,” Harken replied finally. “You see, I’m of two minds. On one hand I want to find someone who can cause me to feel something more than I can at the moment. On the other, there is a desire to bring Haven down to the ground.”
The attendant was shocked to say the least. Being the aide of Elgen, he knew as much as the other did, and while he had not necessarily met Harken before, he had known about his peculiar temperament. Even the mere mention of a desire was something that he found odd.
“Well, as long as you don’t bring it down on my future house, I’ll be happy,” the attendant joked. Harken glanced to the side and showed a smile that the attendant knew was fake, but shown because it would be impolite to ignore his comment.
“You’re a nice person,” Harken observed. The attendant blinked in surprise. It wasn’t often that people had shown attention to him, and being told such a thing was rare to say the least. “I might come here some more, it’s good talking to someone who enjoys my company.”
“Your way of talking is quite different, but I would very much appreciate the company if you are intent on coming back here,” the attendant smiled, extending his hand over the counter for Harken to clasp. “My name is Auron Quend, I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”
“And I yours,” Harken replied, taking Auron’s hand awkwardly, attempting to shake it in the way that the shopkeepers used to close deals. Auron hid his smile as he corrected the young man’s grip.
“Hang on, this is how you greet friends, the grip is to show your equality, rather than the other which tries to fight for dominance,” the attendant explained. “Shopkeepers use it to extend their hand down as if they are giving charity to those that they make deals with.”
“Ah, I’m sorry, I was unaware,” Harken mumbled, his purple eyes flicking down to show his shame. Clasping Auron’s hand the attendant was shocked when he felt a surge of heat emanate from Harken’s palm. Glancing up, he saw the young man’s eyes flash an even deeper hue of purple at the same time. Leaving as quickly as it came, the attendant almost passed it off as hallucination or a mistake, but he continued to feel the sensation on his hand even after the surge had passed.
He noticed that Harken had glanced to the side again, his brow furrowed as he looked down at his own hand. Harken quickly looked back up at Auron, his expression calm, as if nothing had happened at all. Auron decided not to press the issue, instead he removed the spectacles from his eyes, placing them on the counter. Smiling at Harken with his glowing blue eyes, he decided to change the topic.
“So, I’ve been curious, what branch are you from?” Auron asked, causing Harken to look up at him suddenly. “I haven’t been able to discern it all this time.”
“In all honesty, I have no clue,” Harken replied, making Auron frown. “I don’t know even know my talent, all I do know is that my represented colour is purple.”
“Call it violet, sounds better,” Auron corrected absently minded. “What about your parents, did they tell you anything about your branch?” He looked on, confused, as Harken actually looked annoyed, frustrated even. He kept a mental note not to mention the topic again.
“I never met them, even the elder that raised me told me that he didn’t even see them when I was found by him,” Harken replied. His sour disposition continued for a few moments before he actively put the thoughts of it behind him. “Sorry that I showed you such an expression, I’d prefer the emotions that I gain to be positive.”
“As do we all,” Auron smiled encouragingly. He had to respect the young man’s perseverance of emotional enlightenment, though he was concerned slightly that certain experiences that he would encounter would tend to bring negative emotions forward easier.
“Well, I should be on my way, the day is getting later, and I want to try and find a spot to catch some dew, rather than having to take a less preferred spot later on,” Harken told him. It was common for desolate to sleep on roofs to reserve them for their own moisture catchers, and there was little else for them to do at this time of day that didn’t result in them spending more water than was comfortable. “I’ll be around tomorrow to catch the finer details of the task Elgen wants me to accomplish.”