Elgen once again waited for Harken at the top of the ramp that led from the entrance. His fingers beat out a rhythm on the box on which he leant. This warehouse was his, and everything in it was a product that he would have been selling at some point had everything gone to plan. The fact that it was nearing on empty was the first sign that something had gone awry. He grew restless, deciding that this waiting for one person business was stressful and embarrassing.
“This is so boring,” he moaned to himself, barely stopping himself from banging his head on the wooden box as he began to reconsider the theatrics that he had been planning. Elgen didn’t mind paperwork, at least then when he had to sign it he could think about how it would impact him and those around him, when he was at parties there were always people he could manipulate around, but these theatrics of being there ominously before the other party were quickly losing their prospects. He wasn’t the most patient of men.
“I’m here,” he heard Harken call out from behind him. Snapping back into position, he stood up straight, his hands behind his back and puffed out his chest slightly. Looking down at the young man standing at the bottom of the ramp imperiously, he glanced to the side, then leaned to the right slightly to take a peek behind Harken, before releasing an explosive breath and returning to his usual slouched posture, his look annoyed and his arms crossed.
“Where the hell is she?” he demanded of Harken angrily, who raised an eyebrow. “Don’t you dare try to act coy, where the hell is the test subject. I swear, you had one job, ONE job, and that was to bring her here.”
“He is back with Auron and some members of the fire pillar,” Harken replied, evenly. Elgen froze and looked at Harken with an expression of unbridled fury. “Relax, I’m not here to say that we botched or failed the job, however I am here to ask you want you’re going to do once he’s in your possession, Niselt appears to believe that you intend to sell him off to the highest bidder, Auron defended you quite nicely though.”
“Of course he did, the question is more whether it was out of loyalty or just to spite the fire pillar,” Elgen replied mildly, his confidence in Auron allowing him to make such a statement. “Well in fact, I intended on her being taken care of by some associates of mine who are quite fond of demi-humans.” At Harkens abruptly faint hostility, he rolled his eyes. “Not in that sense. I admit I could have worded it better, but please, Harken, get your head out of the gutter, they just treat demi-humans like people and employ them, apparently they get mistaken as being soft and are underestimated which is one of the main reasons why they do it. Oh, and by the way, Eran is female, while she hasn’t really developed yet, I’ve seen the reports.”
Harken blinked in surprise, and not just from the fact that he had just found out that Eran was a girl. It was clear that he hadn’t heard of anyone that had taken to hiring demi-humans before, and there was nearly no precedent of demi-humans being raised from the status of desolate with the exception of Auron, so the thought of a whole collective of them that were treated so well to be so close admittedly felt infuriating.
There would be no doubt that Harken would have been happy for them, Elgen knew that, but at the same time, they were able to live in luxury while the rest of their race starved out in the cold. It was the same stigma that was associated with those such as Auron, and why the demi-humans that lived as desolate could not bring themselves to trust them. He couldn’t help but be a little curious about whether this could have been a chance to get either him or some others that needed it out of the slums.
“They don’t accept applications for work, they choose who they want, so there’s no point in asking me for help,” Elgen told him. As Harken began to open his mouth again, the crime lord cut him off again. “I didn’t get where I was off of luck you know, I’m just as good at reading people as you are. I just have more experience in manipulating them.”
“I’ve noticed,” Harken replied dryly, before looking at him again with an iota of suspicion on his face, “but you said intended, as in past tense. Something’s changed, hasn’t it?”
“You’re right. I told you before about how the Hunters have been growing in power due to their little project,” Elgen stated, to which Harken nodded his affirmation in remembering the topic. “Well as it turns out, they demanded all of the servants that my compatriot had hired, and so I decided that taking Eran to him would not only be political suicide, but also just give the Hunters reason to raid his home and discover his connections to me.”
“So where does that leave Eran then?” Harken asked. Elgen paused for a moment to consider a response. He could either take her under his wing like he had with Auron, or he could leave her out for the fire pillar to take care of. Looking at Harken, he couldn’t help a smile coming to his face.
“Well I suppose she’s your problem now.”
“Yeah, I figure that the best thing for her would be to stick with you, after all you have quite a few connections in the desolate community despite the charade that you maintain that you’re all alone, and I know that you have enough goodwill with the shop keepers around the city to keep both you and her fed comfortably.”
“Why don’t you take her?” Harken demanded, his eyebrows twitching slightly in an effort to narrow.
“Well, as it turns out there is a very real possibility that my whole operation may be disrupted shortly,” Elgen sighed. “Don’t get me wrong, I trust the contact to keep their silence, I don’t think they’re a traitor, however I cannot speak for their organizational skills. It is inevitable that the Hunters will know exactly where to target in order to hunt me down.”
“You’re just passing your problems off on someone else,” Harken accused, to which Elgen spread his arms in a noncommittal shrug.
“I won’t say you’re wrong, but I also don’t care, I did my part to make the Hunters hurt, now it’s your turn to take care of the newly desolate,” he replied indifferently. “Isn’t that your people’s motto or something, however I’ll even do you a favour if you need that much convincing. How about I give you this warehouse? No strings attached… after tonight of course.”
“Why would you do that?” Harken asked suspiciously, looking around at the large inside of the building sparsely populated with crates. Elgen sighed as he gazed over the meagre amounts of contraband that were still stored inside of the metal structure.
“Well, as I said before, the Hunters are about to take apart everything that my contact knows I own, including this place,” he explained, “I tried to empty it out as much as I could, but unfortunately not all of it, so if you and your friends in the fire pillar defend this place, then feel free to keep it and all of the items inside of it, not like I was going to be able to take it anyway, and I’d feel better about the building not being torn down to search for clues on my other locations.”
“So you’re just passing another responsibility onto me?” Harken asked, the question more of a statement.
“What can I say, I’d fail as a businessman if I didn’t put all of my assets to work,” Elgen grinned. Harken thought for a few moments before walking over to a crate and opening it. Inside was a collection of artefacts smuggled in from other continents, each tagged with a label dictating what culture they came from and a brief history of their purpose.
“Are they all like this?” he asked, taking out one of the items and looking at it curiously. It was a statue of a large, scaled lizard that spread its wings wide and had a gaping maw filled with teeth which were sharpened to a point, even on the figurine.
“Well there are some that are a little more useful, but they should be good for gathering funds to live with,” Elgen reasoned. He really didn’t want to lose all of these items to the Hunters, for them to appear in opulent homes without the people there even paying a cent for all of the blood, sweat and tears that he, or at least the people he employed, had put into collecting all of these pieces. “Look, it’s worth it, trust me, you get a roof over your head and some money without having to sit on a roof all night waiting for that accursed wind.”
“Well, I’ll think about it,” he called back over his shoulder. “We don’t even know if the Hunters will come he-.” The both of them paused as an explosion sounded in the distance. Elgen frowned for a moment as he thought back to where his men had been placed around the area, trying to remember if he had any in the direction that the detonation had sounded from. Harken on the other hand held his head in his hands.
“Five minutes,” he sighed, his tone taking on a hint of exasperation. “All I asked for was five minutes.” Elgen looked at him with no small amount of amusement. He had been in charge of an organisation for years, so seeing someone realising the frustrations that came with the mantle of control was something that he couldn’t help but find funny.
“I think you had better get back to them, and please try to make sure that Eran gets out of there alright, I’ll be honest, I really don’t want her to be caught again or killed so soon after I managed to get her out of that place.”
“Yeah,” Harken sighed again. He turned and walked to the door of the warehouse before pausing and turning back to glance at Elgen. “Thank you, goodbye.” Elgen paused for a moment, the words sinking into him before he smiled softly and began to walk to another door himself.
“Yeah, I’ll see you soon,” he murmured, before starting up a cheerful whistle and exiting the warehouse.
Niselt looked on in boredom as Igrein stood amongst the group of fallen militia, his body wreathed in flames and twisted beyond comprehension. The fire that surrounded his from was shaped into that of a beast, with horns, savage teeth and claws extending over his solid body. The ground around the militia was decorated with deep marks, still glowing a soft red from where Igrein’s claws had sliced through the dirt and stone foundations of the road and buildings near one exit of the crossroads. The energy that surrounded his fingers would be able to cut through most materials.
Speaking from a purely output focus, igrein was clearly the strongest out of the three ringleaders of the fire pillar in Danarog. His talent was to pour out energy from his form to create the image of this monster that could cut through nearly anything. If you were hit by it, you weren’t getting back up, even if you didn’t die. Nobody was that stupid to try and take him on twice.
A shot sounded from behind the large fire pillar and he gave a small grunt of discomfort as the metal slug that had been fired at him melted into molten steel and spattered across his chest. It soon evaporated, such was the heat of the energy around him. Turning to look at the man of the militia who had fired his rifle and was desperately loading it back up, Igrein roared, the inhuman sounded that erupted from his throat causing the militiaman to faint instantly.
Niselt jumped and gave a shriek of surprise as he noticed that Harken had moved to stand next to him. The young man seemed to have been there for a while, his eyes transfixed on Igrein’s changed form.
“He’s just like us.”
“What are you talking about? Of course he is,” Niselt snapped back, holding a hand over his rapidly beating heart as he tried to calm himself. “So, how did the talk with Elgen go?”
“Pleasant, you know, he’s not half bad once you get on his good side, almost like a proud puppy,” Harken reported back. At Niselt’s confused look, he elaborated. “He’s too proud to show it, so he acts indifferent, but all he wants is approval from his peers, so he will do whatever he can to appear favourable in the eyes of those he respects.”
“That’s interesting to know” Niselt commented, taking a quick breath to stabilise his breathing again before looking out at Igrein, who was returning. “Looks like it’s all over here, so tell us what the main points of the discussion were once we’ve regrouped together.”
“That won’t be happening any time soon,” Harken said, nodding over to behind Igrein. The flash of a rifle’s scope danced in Niselt’s eyes for a moment. Knowing instantly what it was, the younger of the three fire pillars dashed forwards, Igrein’s name already on his lips. The larger man hit the ground before he could say it.
“No!” Niselt screamed in primal fury. While before the patterns decorating his body had glowed softly, now his face, arms and the upper part of his torso that was concealed by his clothes brightened to an incandescent level. The light that shone from him was almost enough to blind those that were looking at him. Several chains lifted themselves from beneath his coat and floated in the air as he quickly reached Igrein, arcs of red energy dancing between the links in the chains and their cruelly sharpened ends glowing white hot.
laying a hand on the man’s neck, Niselt checked to see what had happened. He still had a pulse, that much was clear, but It was impossible to tell whether he had been poisoned, paralysed or put to sleep by the liquid inside of the projectile. He was hoping it was the last. Trying to lift the man, he grunted as he just managed to hold his brother’s dead weight high enough to carry him away from the clear view of the gunman back to the cover of the boxes in the centre of the crossroads.
This time he heard the shot as a second dart was fired at him. One of the chains that was floating lazily snapped forward suddenly, intercepting the dart and smashing it into pieces before it could reach Niselt. His attention snapped back at the gunman, and a chain shot forwards. As if a snake in the dust, it streaked through the air, gliding until it disappeared into the shadows, moments later dragging a cloaked Hunter out by his leg. The chain hadn’t wrapped around his limb, instead it had speared straight through it.
This method of acquisition was in no way merely a discomfort to the Hunter, his screams echoing throughout the cool night air. He desperately clawed at the dirt to try and pull himself away from Niselt, but the demi-human was having none of it. A second chain snaked forwards and plunged through the man’s hand, causing his shrieks to escalate to a fevered pitch until a third chain hovered over his mouth, threatening to drip molten metal.
“Much better,” Niselt snarled as the Hunter reached his feet quietly, trying desperately not to open his mouth despite the pain. It was clear that this one was a novice. He still had not yet earned the coat which protected them from most forms of energy based attacks, and his armour was a simple leather rather than the polymer armour that the more experienced veterans of the force wore. If he had had that armour, his leg and arm may not have been so badly damaged, “Now, tell me what this syringe contains.”
“You can’t make me,” the Hunter shot back obstinately. “If you kill me or render me unable to communicate, you’ll never know!” Niselt looked down at the man before crouching so that they’re faces were level.
“Well, since you put it that way, I suppose I’ll just have to amuse myself by toying with you until another Hunter comes along who’s a bit more co-operative,” he smiled, his other chains rearing up to hold threateningly over the Hunter.
“Hurry up, please!” the Hunter wailed, puzzling Niselt for a moment. The next second, his chains went haywire as they cut down multiple other darts that were aimed at him. Other demi-humans among them managed to defend for themselves as well, but almost as many were hit by the darts and fell to the ground. Niselt’s eyes widened as he snapped around to look at Harken. The young man had caught the dart that was aimed at him, and held it in his hands, looking over it curiously.
“Sometimes I forget your reflexes,” Niselt commented, his neutral tone hiding the concern that he had felt as he turned to look at the other Hunters that were emerging from side streets all around the crossroads. There was no need for them to be stealthy anymore. “Looks like they have anti-flame countermeasures.”
It was a common occurrence for fire pillars to make a standard firearm internally combust when they attempted to fire, so the Hunters had modified their rifles to be spring loaded and fire darts that would fire any amount of concoctions they had sadistically thought up to suppress the troublesome fire pillar.
“Where’s Eran,” Harken demanded, glancing around. He noted the significant absence of Auron, Eran and Solas. His eyes widened slightly as he turned to look back at Niselt, an angry glint in his eyes. “Don’t tell me that after all that you still-.”
“No, we did not,” Niselt protested indignantly. He stood back up and drew himself up to his full height, an imposing six feet. Despite his lean build, he was still clear to see in a crowd. Gesturing to one of the rooftops nearby, he continued. “They went off in that direction to discuss the relationship between Elgen and the demi-humans. Auron didn’t want Eran to leave his sight.”
“that’s lucky,” Harken replied, drawing another hurt look from Niselt. “I’m going to go after them, you guys have fun here.” As he turned to leave, Niselt’s hand grasped the back of his coat and dragged him to stand next to the fire pillar.
“No way, you’re going to help us here,” Niselt growled. The fire pillars around them were already going into action, activating their talents and charging into battle.
“Except I can’t help you here,” Harken snapped back, “And besides, my main concern is helping Eran. You’ll do fine without me. You could probably take on all of these Hunters by yourself anyway.”
“That doesn’t mean I want to,” Niselt growled as his chains defended him from another volley of darts. “You need to show the world your power, Harken.”
“And I keep telling you that it’s not my power,” Harken shot back evenly. “Don’t worry, I’ll send Solus back to help you out once I’ve caught up with them, and I’m sure that Auron wouldn’t be averse to helping out either.”
“That’s not the point,” Niselt pressed on. “Look at all of these men, most of them have never fought before, and I don’t think any have seen a Hunter in person. They need something to rally behind.”
“Good, so show them,” Harken replied resolutely. “I’m powerless, no-one would give a second glance at me when I fight. I’m not going to warn you again, Niselt, if you continue to try and push me, I won’t hesitate to push back.”
The fire pillar watched quietly as Harken picked his way through the collection of fallen fire pillars that were laying on the ground amongst the plaza, their chests softly rising and falling. His expression was unreadable, and his body language was tense, as if he was expecting something more.
“You have no idea how many people that are watching and waiting for you to make a move.”