A figure covered under the cloak of darkness gasped for breath as they ran through the twisting alleyways of Danarog, their bare feet quietly slapping against the soft dirt. An occasional small exclamation of pain accentuated their breathlessness as their foot landed on a piece of gravel or rock that pierced the skin. Although their face was obscured, the deep red markings that decorated their skin and emitted a soft glow made it clear exactly what they were, and most likely who they were running from.
The sound of a helicopter overhead made them shrink back into the shadows that did their best to hide the fugitive, despite the light that was being emitted by the glowing patterns and eyes that shone out like a beacon. The roaring of voices from nearby caused the figure to hesitate and second guess their movements.
That was all that their pursuers needed.
Like hounds herding a single sheep, Hunters in their heavy, dark robes turned the corner and shouted commands to a figure that seemed to no longer be there, the lights emanating from an attachment underneath their rifles sweeping around the narrow side street in great arcs. Cursing aloud to each other, they continued searching the alley, looking for a sign of where the demi-human had escaped to.
The figure stumbled as they launched themselves from the wall that they had been scaling desperately, small drops of blood being left behind where they had scarred their fingers in order to scrape even a little higher up the smooth surface. The instant their feet touched the roof, a helicopter light snapped to them, illuminating their short, auburn hair as the figure shielded their eyes. They turned and ran for their life. The chase was back on.
From the opposite rooftop another silhouette watched over the scene, their colours obscured by the distance, but with their legs swinging as they sat on the edge of the building, it was clear that at the very least they were amused by the effort that the Hunters had gone to, only to fail as the figure continually eluded their grasp and frustrated them.
Auran stood once again in front of Elgen, presenting Harken to the audience of his employer and partyers. The young man of violet was as calm as ever, returning Elgen’s intimidating stare with one that showed he was unperturbed by the apparent anger.
“So, I heard you helped yourself to some trinkets in my store yesterday,” Elgen commented. All three of them looked down to the multitude of chains that were entwined with Harken’s hand, the symbols that were connected to them hanging just under his fingertips. At least he wasn’t hiding it.
“I figured I might need something to pay off the militia just in case something went wrong and I was caught,” Harken reasoned, though it was clear that the crime boss wasn’t having any of it.
“All of the people that need to be paid off, have been,” he returned. “Besides, there won’t be anyone trying to arrest you or beat you, if you get caught during this task, you will be shot on sight.”
“Somehow that doesn’t make me feel any better in returning these,” Harken replied dryly, to which Elgen maintained his stance. Harken looked down at the mass of chains that were entangled within one another. Reluctantly he began to pull some of them from his hand.
“That’s better, see, it wasn’t so hard after all, was it,” Elgen smiled patronisingly. Harken continued to remove the trinkets, but hesitated when he came to the last one.
“I can give you all of them,” he said, looping them around his other hand as he removed them to accentuate his point, “I just want this one.” Holding up one of the symbols, Auron saw Elgen’s eyes widen momentarily. Although he didn’t pay much heed to it, he saw that Harken had locked onto this fact, and his interest in the symbol skyrocketed.
It wasn’t anything special, merely a piece of smooth, pale stone that could almost have been mistaken for bone. It had been carved beyond reason to the point where its many branching patterns, not dissimilar to those that would appear on a demi-human, looked so brittle that merely touching it would cause it to shatter. However, this strange attribute was not the reason that Harken was attached to it.
Inlaid among the delicate intricacies was a single layer of pure violet crystal. Crystals were important to the demi-humans, as they held a belief that in some ways the delicate material helped them in developing their powers, however Auron had never seen a stone of that colour before.
“Auron, may I ask why that particular token was left in the storefront?” Elgen asked his aide, the words carrying infinitesimally more weight than they sounded. Auron shivered at the look that Elgen gave him. After looking at the piece a bit more closely, he hesitated, in all honesty, he didn’t even remember that Harken had showed it to him, which meant that the young man originally intended to steal it.
“Sir, I don’t think that actually belongs to our store,” he said slowly, surprising both Harken and Elgen. The two looked at him, Harken with a faint glimmer of triumph while Elgen with a clear look of annoyance. It was the truth though. He had an extensive knowledge of Elgen’s inventory, or at least the main points of it, and he had never even seen or heard of a violet crystal trinket being a part of it. “I think one of our customers must have left it there by accident.”
“Would you care to rethink that statement?” Elgen asked. It was evident that he wanted to claim ownership over the item and place it in his collection, most likely to lord it over Harken at some other point that he held a crystal of his colour.
“I apologise sir, but I cannot in good conscience take that item from Harken,” Auron maintained. Elgen looked at him for a moment in unmasked fury before stealing a glance at Harken, whose smirk was steadily growing on his face.
“What did you do to my attendant?” Elgen demanded angrily. Harken looked back at him evenly, tracing a hand over the artefact delicately without even thinking about it.
“So because he didn’t bully me into giving this to you, automatically I’ve somehow brainwashed him?”
“Please, sir, this has nothing to do with taking sides,” Auron interceded in the impending argument, steering the both of them away from clashing. “Being what I am, I cannot help but have a strong belief in fate, it is what led me to work for you and has given me all the chances I have had in this life, as well as what led to that trinket being left in the store to be found by Harken.”
Elgen looked at the both of them for the moment before relenting, though his eyes remained fixated on the amulet that hung from the metal chain wrapped around Harken’s wrist. It almost seemed as if even if Harken wanted to give it back, he couldn’t with how complicated the knot he had used on the chain was.
“Well if we’re all done with our bickering, why don’t we continue onto the more important topic at hand,” Harken suggested. “What’s the task you want me to complete?”
“Fine, I suppose I should be giving you something to thank you for saving my patrons from those things from yesterday anyway,” Elgen conceded, however his gaze occasionally flicked down greedily to the amulet. “Now, I believe you understand the basics of how the pillars and branches of demi-humans often dictate their personalities in stereotypes.” At Harken’s nod Elgen continued. “Good, sometimes it’s hard to judge what you do and don’t understand. Anyway recently the Knights have begun some experiments to try and break these stereotypes.
“The reason why we don’t want this to occur is because we believe that the Hunters are trying to influence some demi-humans into joining their ranks for some project or become loyal to them for whatever reason, either of which we cannot have. If this project is what tips them to try and wrest complete control from the monarchy, then they might also turn their gaze down to our beloved city of Danarog, to the wealthiest of their citizens, and if they want loyalty, then they might start to send agents among our ranks to take information from us.”
“So you want me to break into the Hunter’s own fort and steal away some of my kind that are probably under heavy guard?” Harken asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. “And you think I can do this without any powers?”
“Naturally not, that’s why I had some of my other contacts do that part for you, all I need you to do now is make sure that the demi-human who we broke out gets to the safe house I organised before too long, so that I may organise their safety away from the Hunters,” Elgen explained. “And for that I don’t need you to use powers, I need you to make sure you get there unnoticed, as per the uncanny skill you seem to have that I mentioned yesterday.”
It was clear that Harken was suspicious of this mission, and Auron didn’t feel much better about it either. The demi-human of the water pillar caught him glancing sideways at him, or at least he thought he did.
“Well, it’s not as if I can really refuse,” Harken muttered, crossing his arms as he turned to inner thought. “And it appears that at least some part of me wants to do this anyway.”
“Good, now we can talk about specifics, or at least what I know anyway, I cannot guarantee that there won’t be any surprises, but I’m sure you can deal with them,” Elgen grinned.
The rest of the briefing passed relatively painlessly, without Elgen or Harken stirring each other up too much. Mostly it just consisted of discussing what Harken wanted as a reward, which was mostly some money and supplies, enough to give him a comfortable life for at least a couple of months. Once it was done, though, Auron gestured for Elgen to follow Himself and Harken out to the front of the shop.
“Sir, I would like to request to help Harken on this mission,” Auron asked, to which Elgen once again whirled to face Harken and pick at him. “I apologise for not asking earlier, but I did not want to reveal that you had one of us in your permanent employ, and I don’t want to let him do this alone, I can’t help but feel guilty letting him do such a thing.”
“Well it does seem like you haven’t abandoned me completely for which I’m grateful for,” Elgen grumbled, tracing a hand along his slim jawline. He debated it for a few moments before ultimately shaking his head. “I understand your reasoning on wanting to accompany him, he seems to have that lost puppy effect on a lot of people, but you are too obvious. Two desolates walking around in the city isn’t uncanny, but when accompanied by an aide, now that’s suspicious, more so if they’re using a weapon.”
“And if I tailed at a respectable distance in different clothes?” Auron asked. Elgen clenched his fist, annoyed that someone that he trusted with the inner details of his business was being so unruly. “Sir, I only wish to be able to help out should something go wrong, this benefits the business as well.”
“Fine, I’ll allow it, but let me make it clear that if you are all caught, I didn’t know that your loyalties laid with the demi-humans,” he sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Dealing with these two were like bashing his head into a brick wall.
Neither gave in and both gave a headache.
“Thank you very much, sir, I won’t forget this,” Auron thanked his employer, bowing his head respectfully. Harken just nodded, a fake smile on his face to show much more appreciation than he truly felt. That wasn’t to say it wasn’t present, and the other two were aware of it.
“I have got to say, though, Harken, please stop with those fake expressions,” Elgen told the young man, who was about to make another exaggeration of what he felt, but then paused. “It might do well with the shopkeepers that you barter with, but I know your situation and what you feel, you won’t offend me by not reacting as grandly as the others around you.”
Harken nodded slightly and left the two of them alone in the shop, both of whom were caught off guard by his abrupt departure. Elgen was the first to recover and sighed as he ran a hand through his hair.
“Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say goodbye.”
A figure coated in deep red markings fell to their knees on the roof of a building. They had been running for so long, and the meagre break from the constant running was enough to make them almost cry with relief. Laying their back against the walled entrance to the staircase that led to the roof, the figure lay their head in their hands, the rest almost instantly consuming them.
They were small, looking to be around ten to twelve years old, wearing a white, baggy bodysuit that appeared to be a few sizes too large. Decorate with sprays of blood, it was clear that the getaway from the facility hadn’t been clean. Their pure red iris glowed bright in the evening light, lighting up their hands as they cupper their face. Their face seemed boyish, though it was still a little unclear as to which gender they truly were.
While their head buzzed from the slow cooldown of adrenaline, they pulled a crudely drawn map from their pocket, unfolding it and examining the scribbles. Although they weren’t able to identify most of the streets that were written down, there were some landmarks that were clear enough to follow in order to reach the location where help was promised.
Murmuring encouragement to themselves, the figure grunted as they got back to their feet, the mental exertion of merely standing almost negating the feeling of the rest that they had just taken. But it was necessary to stop the Hunters from finding them again. No matter what, they could never go back to that place ever again.
Walking to the edge of the roof, they pulled themselves up to the lip that acted as a guard rail to stop people falling off. The symbols on their legs pulsed slowly at first, but quickly gathered pace as the adrenaline began to build again. Launching themselves from the roof, the demi-human easily made it to the next building. Their landing was poor, and threw them into a painful roll, but they were slowly getting used to the movement.
Shouts from below drew their attention, however. The figure knew instinctively that they were Hunters, and that they had been spotted yet again. The chase was going to continue, and they weren’t sure if it was ever going to stop.
Glancing down at the map that was fluttering in the wind as the figure jumped from roof to roof, they were able to tell that they were getting closer, but if the Hunters were able to keep track of them, then they would just lead their captors to the ones that had saved them from Haven.
As if answering their prayers, though, the sound of a different cry echoed out, one of surprise, shock and pain. Glancing back, the figure wasn’t able to tell if they were still being followed, but there was no longer the sound of their pursuers any more.
In front of them was a large building whose original purpose was lost a long time ago. It seemed that it had been recently restored, some of the equipment used in the repairs still remaining on the site. What made it clear that this was the location intended, though, was the symbol painted on the door. Matching the symbol on the map perfectly, the figure didn’t hesitate to slam through the door and shut it behind them, leaning against it as if their minute form would make it any more challenging their pursuers to push past them.
The inside of the building was much more rugged than the outside. At least an attempt had been made to create a sense of progress in the restoration of the place. The inside of the building had been almost completely gutted, with a few scraps of the second and third floors still remaining, but their floors were splintered and fragmented at best, almost as if a god itself had put its fist through the centre of the building.
“Yeah, it’s pretty rough, but then again, you look like you’ve had a hard time as well,” a voice called out. The figure looked up to a piece of the second floor to see an expressionless boy climb down the ladder placed there and land just a few metres to their left. His ragged coat showed his status as a desolate, while his drab clothes hung from his lean form. A small stone charm hung from his right hand, its chain wrapped tightly around the wrist while the amulet hung just below his fingertips. “I’m Harken, and you would be?”
“Eran,” the figure replied, their voice high and soft. They gathered the baggy, white clothes that they were wearing around them. The sun was going down, which meant that soon it would be painfully cold. A large emblem of the Hunters was emblazoned on the back of it, showing clearly whose property they were supposed to be. “Are you here to help me?”
“That depends, are you the one I’m supposed to help?” Harken asked back, causing Eran to open their mouth silently in surprise. “I believe so, but then again, until now you were just a figure in the darkness.”
“I don’t know his name. When I asked the person who broke me out of that room, they just said that he was one of the most powerful people in the city,” Eran replied nervously, then something in Harken’s statement clicked and their tone turned accusatory. “Wait, you were watching me?”
“That’s definitely Elgen you’re talking about, or his ego at the very least, and I was watching through someone else’s eyes.”
Eran shifted uncomfortably as they felt Harken’s stare examining him. There were multiple reasons for it. Harken could have been deciding whether they were lying or not, or why they acted so differently compared to the stereotype of his colour.
“Is something the matter?” Eran asked finally, wanting to break the tension of Harken’s intense gaze. Harken glanced up at him, seeming realising what he was doing.
“Ah, no, not with you at any rate, I’m just waiting for the other one to get back,” he answered, his eyes lingering for a moment, dozens of questions clearly at his lips. Apparently deciding that now wasn’t the time, Harken wandered over to a small crate that had been hidden away underneath a small pile of rubble. Tearing the solid stone from the pile and tossing it to the side as if it was a pebble, the young man’s superior strength was clear.
Opening the wooden box, Harken withdrew a tattered coat, similar to his, though a smaller size. Throwing it over to Eran, who gave a slight yelp as he awkwardly caught it on his arm and almost fell on his back, inevitably entangling himself in the coat.
“What’s this for?” Eran asked, looking over it, but beginning to slip it on nevertheless, grateful that he had something else to wear aside from the bloodstained rags that were a constant reminder of his captivity.
“Your clothes are way too obvious,” Harken called back over his shoulder, continuing to rummage through the chest and pulling out other clothes that were reminiscent of his own. Handing these ones to Eran personally to make sure that the other didn’t somehow drown in these ones. “Feel free to change into them at any time, but you need to be wearing them by the time we leave, it’ll make it less obvious for the Hunters that are looking for you.”
“Alright, just give me a couple of seconds,” Eran said. At Harkens confusion, Eran turned a little red and grew more than a little annoyed. “I mean could you step outside and let me change in private?” Harken nodded in realisation and left for the moment, leaving Eran in peace. Since before on the rooftop, the demi-human hadn’t really had an opportunity to himself.
Looking at the ragged and torn clothes, he couldn’t help but smile, delighted to finally get rid of the bloody cloth which held so many unfortunate memories. Eagerly changing rapidly, Eran looked down at the now discarded clothes that had symbolised his place as a guinea pig. Placing his hands over his mouth, several symbols raised themselves from his skin and pulsed rapidly. A light shone from within his clasped digits as he pulled his hands away from his mouth.
Placing them over the clothes, he slammed his hand down with a cry of fury and a burst of fire exploded outwards, shaking the house and sending flame to all corners of the building. The door slammed open and Harken raced back in, accompanied by another man dressed in body armour with a bandolier of bottles across his chest. The both of them looked around in shock for a moment before the new man pulled the stops out of several bottles, liquid raising from them and racing around the room to smother the fires.
As the flames hissed and went out, the man continued to draw moisture from the steam that was being created, condensing it and leaving the hot air to rise, conserving as much water as possible. When the last of the fires died down and the water that still remained was slowly drifting back into the containers, the man looked over at Eran in fury through his featureless, blue mask while Harken watch impassively.
“What were you thinking?” the man demanded, his voice slightly muffled by the metal that covered his mouth. “If Harken hadn’t guessed that you would do this, then I wouldn’t have been able to stop the fires before the Hunters realised where you were.”
“You knew I was going to do this?” Eran asked, shivering as he held his hands close to his chest, the sudden absence of heat on the cold night causing all of them to feel the chill.
“I guessed,” Harken echoed the man’s words, glancing down at the charred clothes that laid on the floor. Eran on the other hand was completely untouched. Even he wasn’t sure how it happened, whether it was a barrier around himself or if whatever he touched was fireproof, but he was immune to the flames, which he was thankful for at the very least. “Well, why don’t we start with this introduction again, put that small incident behind us.”
“My name is Auron, I’m here to help Harken,” the man introduced himself, still glaring slightly at Eran. The difference between him and Harken was astounding. While Harken wore clothes that were indicative of being a desolate, Auron wore basic body armour with a heavy cloth linking the individual pieces and the only one to carry a weapon between them, which looked to be a bow on his back. “As you may have recognised I originate from the water pillar. Although I have the ability to manipulate water, my talent lies in causing small bodies of liquid to maintain a static state for a short while, usually in the form of arrows. When fired at certain speeds it has the potential to be as hard as stone or steel.”
“I’m Eran, I originate from the flame pillar,” the young teenager said, giving a small, guilty smile as he looked back at the scorched building. “I’m able to condense energy into balls of fire that explode when cracked.” With him finished, he looked over at Harken, who looked surprised at the expectation of following suit with the other two.
“Uh, I’m Harken, I don’t know what branch I originate from and I don’t know what my talent is,” Harken told him, who looked at him in surprise. Now that Eran looked, he was shocked to see that Harken’s eyes were violet, which he had originally taken to mean that the young man was a human, but now that the sun had set, the eyes glowed softly, much the same as Auron’s which shone through his mask.
“Oh, I-I’m sorry for prying too much,” Eran hastily apologised, not wishing to be seen as annoying and dislike by his saviours. Harken merely shrugged.
“Doesn’t matter to me, it’s been like that for a long time, though the topic has been coming up alarmingly often recently. Besides, this is what’s going to help me get you to Elgen,” he replied. Eran looked at him in surprise.
“Wait, you mean this isn’t where I’m supposed to be?” he asked. Harken shook his head.
“Did you think that he would want you to lead the Hunters straight to him?” Harken asked, but held a hand up to stop Eran from saying anything when he opened his mouth to retort. “And besides, this place is useless as a safe house now anyway. Anyway, I’m going to be taking you to him, since I’m not as obvious as you. Auron will be on watch and let me know if we need to take cover or alternate routes at all. You ready?”