As the fight raged on below, Auron and Solas looked at each other calmly from other ends of the rooftop. Both sat cross legged, their hands on their knees. Their looks were soft, almost friendly, but the tension between them was anything but. Eran sat with her legs drawn to her chest next to Auron, looking nervously between them, able to feel the stiff air between them, but unwilling to be the one to break the silence.
“I understand that you are grateful to Elgen for all he has done for you,” Solus began. Auron rolled his eyes, annoyed that he was hearing the rephrased explanation of his employer’s depravity once more, “But like it or not, he is a stain on society, and when the pillars take this city back, he will have to go. I’m not saying that he will be persecuted; we’ve all done regrettable things in order to survive, but he cannot stay in Danarog, or any other pillar controlled city.”
“This is his home as much as yours, you cannot change his heritage,” Auron returned calmly, unnerved by the pressure that the other was outputting in order to reinforce his statement and sense of authority. Solus gritted his teeth. Unlike the fire pillar, Auron wasn’t bothering to veil his explanations behind permutations of the same thought process. He gave the fact true and simple, again and again, which quickly became tiring.
“He’s already taken to tearing other cultures apart, I will not have him doing the same to ours,” Solus snapped, finally admitting what he truly was afraid of. Elgen had already traded in Ancient Estrangian antiques, and the fire pillars made no disguise on the threat that anything they felt belonged to them would be taken by force if not returned.
“Then I shall make sure that he will not delve into our culture,” Auron reasoned. “He doesn’t want to anger those who would be in power unless they prove to be a threat to him. Your temperaments are the only factor inhibiting an amicable relationship with him.”
“How can we trust you though?” Solus asked bluntly. “You’re a…” he trailed off, starting to realise what he was about to accuse Auron of.
“Traitor?” Auron suggested, his eyes narrowing as he crossed his arms. “Oh, please tell me you were going to say traitor.” He bristled at the admittance of what the demi-humans thought of those with his aspirations, his eyes beginning to glow brighter within the mask. The desolate had always been hostile to ones that had risen out of poverty, but the thought that they were traitors to their kind had never truly been acknowledged.
“Well, aren’t you?” Solus snapped in return, the symbols on his own body lighting up as well as he tried to maintain his dignity. “What do you think happened to the rest of your family, and those who you left behind when you decided to follow that human. You abandoned your own kind!”
“They’re all dead!” Auron roared back, his eyes almost glowing white with the intensity that they were putting out light, a haze shimmering around his body as the heat that poured out from the patterns mixed with the cooler air around him. Beneath his armour, he was undoubtedly sporting symbols all over his body as well, equal in colour. “They were all killed because they were doing what you are now. They spoke out against the system and the Hunters slaughtered them all!”
Solus hesitated, his energy dimming as he realised he had stepped over line. He had his own tragedies in the past, and knew that they affected people differently. His had pushed him to stand up and pull his pillar together. Auron’s had caused him to flee from the desolate life and to do whatever he could to rise above it.
“We’re different, we stand a chance in all of this,” Solus said, his voice soft, but firm as he looked at Auron evenly. “Look down there, we have the firepower and manpower to take this city back from those bastards.” At first glance Auron had to agree, but there was something that Solus was glazing over to prove his point.
“The only one doing anything significant is Niselt,” he pointed out. The reason for the young man’s lithe and lean form was quite apparent now that Auron saw how he fought. It looked almost as if he was dancing, the chains whirling around his form and slicing at the enemy as he leapt and bound across the battlefield. “You can’t stage a revolution on the back of one man.”
“It depends on how strong the man is,” Solus defended his point. He sighed as he looked down at the battlefield below, looking over the multitudes of his fallen friends as their chests were slowly rising and falling while they lay unconscious. “But it isn’t just Niselt. Igrein and I have the same capabilities, as long as we’re on the front lines, this can be done.”
“But you two aren’t on the frontlines, are you?” Harken asked as he pulled himself over the side of the building and lay on the ground there for a moment, taking the time to catch his breath. “Phew, next time, can you guys put this meeting a little closer to the ground, I’m honestly exhausted after all this, I’m not used to doing much more than laying on a roof to collect water.”
“What are you doing here?” Solus demanded, rushing back to look over the wall at Niselt fighting almost alone, the Hunters quickly beginning to surround him. His chains were tireless, though, as they continued to thrash through the air and defend him from their darts. “Why aren’t you down there helping him?”
“Well, to answer both questions, I don’t actually care,” Harken told him, making both he and Auron look at him in shock at his bluntness. “Niselt will be fine, after all, I’m sure you two have stated your points multiple times since I left, gotten nowhere, and then just started talking idly.” Solus reluctantly nodded his affirmation that such was the case. “Good, so now you can go down and help out.”
“I can’t defend all of my people on my own,” Solus maintained. “We need all the help we can get, even if that means accepting help from… others.” Auron’s eyes narrowed as he heard the comment, knowing exactly what he meant. He knew that even if Solus understood his reasoning, he still couldn’t accept the fact that someone had abandoned the desolate. That didn’t make him feel any better about it though.
“Well good thing you won’t need to,” Harken replied, pulling the dart from his pocket and handing it to Auron. “Would you mind analysing it?” Auron took the dart and uncapped the needle from it, using his ability to draw the liquid out of the vial and hold it up in front of him.
“I’m not as good as the Poison Branch, but even still, I can tell this is a tranquiliser, no lethal components within it,” Auron reported. “With our physiology, your people should be able to recover soon, and move easily again within ten minutes of now. The Hunters must have been planning a hit and run attack, probably didn’t think that there would be so many of us here. Once Igrein starts rousing, they’ll likely flee.”
“Figured as much, you can see that the Hunters are keeping a constant eye on him to make sure that he hasn’t started to wake up yet,” Harken put in, pointing out the way that the Hunter acolytes were constantly looking over at the man. “I would like to add that they most likely have a trump card, elsewise they would have most likely retreated after heavy losses already. Most likely it’s a captain or some other authoritative figure keeping their moral up.” Solus glanced back at Harken, his look unreadable as he processed the statements that the young man made.
“Who are you?” he asked suddenly, throwing all on the roof off kilter. He backed away from the edge of the roof slightly as he made his way to Harken. “You are from an unknown branch, Niselt seems to have some interest in you, which means that you have some power at the least, and you’re much wiser than your years, no matter what you think otherwise.” Although he didn’t agree with the way that Solus was demanding information from the young man, Auron had to admit that he was curious about these facts as well.
“I’m Harken, honestly that’s all I know,” the young man replied, his response sounding practiced from the many times that he had been asked over the years. “I don’t know my branch, or talent. I don’t even know how old I am.” This made all three of the others on the roof pause. “I would count the seasons, but honestly they’ve all blurred together and I can’t distinguish them. Others tell me I’m young, so I guess I am. I suppose I might just appear younger than I am, but I don’t believe it matters too much in this case.”
“That can’t be your whole explana-,” Solus stopped as he heard a cry from Niselt. It appeared the young man had finally let one of the darts through his guard, though Fate caused it to miss him. The sight of it rushing between his chains was enough to rattle him, though, and he began to fight a lot more defensively, not wanting to take any more risks. “Damn, this will have to wait until another time, but I will get the whole truth from you then.”
Solus planted his foot on the lip of the building and launched himself high into the air, drawing his blade and rushing through the air towards the ground. Landing with a heavy thud, dirt and concrete shards scattered in the air, thrown upwards by his impact. He rolled to a stop near Niselt and dashed forward to cover the man’s flank, his jagged sword catching a hunter in the shoulder and sending a spray of blood outwards as he tore it back out, the wicked edges catching on the man’s flesh.
“Auron, if you could give them covering fire, I’m sure they would appreciate it,” Harken told the water pillar. In response Auron drew his bow from his back and began to gather moisture from the air to form into his arrows. “And finally, Eran.”
“Yeah, we’re pretty useless in this situation, aren’t we?”
“Unbelievably so,” Harken agreed, taking a moment to glance down at the lack of symbols across his body. Auron couldn’t help but think that the two were opposites of each other. Eran was too weak physically due to her young age, but her talent and power were fearsome. Harken on the other hand undoubtedly had physical prowess from his years of living on the streets, and his natural abilities as a demi-human augmented his strength beyond normal standards, but he had no utilities in battle to keep the hunters from overpowering him with sheer numbers.
“So what do we do then?” Eran asked quietly. She wanted to help out, truly she did, but something in Harken’s eyes told her that even if she could, he wouldn’t let her.
“We finish the job,” Harken told her. “I’m going to keep you safe, like Elgen tasked me to.” Eran nodded shakily, glancing over at Auron, who couldn’t help but keep a small smile from his face, relieved that the fire pillars were wrong about his employer.
“We’re going to take cover in the warehouse, so try to direct the fight away from there if you can,” Harken called back to Auron as he helped Eran down off the lip of the roof of the building onto a window ledge below. “I’ll see you soon.”
Once Harken’s face had disappeared from view Auron turned his attention back to where the two fire pillars were fighting back to back, keeping each other safe from any darts fired at them while carving a devastating path through the Hunters that were attempting to obtain the fallen forms of the knocked out demi-humans. Manifesting the gathered moisture into the shape of an arrow, Auron drew it back and took aim at one of the Hunters firing from afar. Letting loose, the arrow held its shape as it struck the man, the speed and force of the projectile making what would ordinarily be liquid to have the same density and force as concrete.
A soft cry sounded out as the arrow shattered bones upon impact, and the hunter dropped his rifle to nurse his injuries. Auron took aim at another, not faltering in his pace to create more projectiles to fire. Even if his arrows did not kill on the first strike, they were devastating enough to debilitate their victims no matter where they landed on the target.
Eran bit her lip as she entered the warehouse with Harken. Tight spaces unnerved her. During her stay with the Hunters, they had experimented many times on how to change her attitude to make her milder, more susceptible to their promises if she served them. It had worked, partially, but it had also left scars that she could never forgive them for.
“I don’t like it in here,” she told Harken, who glanced back at her and nodded, his expression unchanging, it seemed he didn’t intend to remain here too long. A moment later, though, and he paused, eyes widening. Something was wrong. His eyes then narrowed as he concentrated, then quickly pushed her to the side behind a crate, holding a hand over her mouth to keep her quiet at the same time.
Taking the cue, Eran strained her ears to try and hear what Harken could. Footsteps above them on the catwalk of the warehouse as well as they faint sound of radio chatter. Someone was inside. Although she couldn’t be certain who exactly the intruders were, chances wouldn’t be taken.
“They can’t see the entrance where they are, they’re not here for us,” Harken whispered to her, his voice quiet enough that even with her enhanced hearing she could barely hear him. “They must be looking for something, so either the fire pillars believe Elgen has something related to them in here, or the Hunters are looking for evidence to incriminate him.”
There was a brief break in the radio chatter and a gruff voice called out from above, startling the both of them. Eran couldn’t make out what the man had said, and closed her eyes in case they were words to take the both of them prisoner. She was startled when she felt Harken’s grip on her shoulder tighten reassuringly. He glanced down at her for a moment before signalling for her to wait.
The young man disappeared into the shadows without so much as a trace, only the soft glow of his eyes as they looked back at her revealing his presence. Then a second later, even those had disappeared from sight.
Eran sat back against the crate that they had been hiding behind, curling up into a ball as she tried to stop herself from whimpering, the thoughts of those times in the facility flashing back to her. The thoughts were unwarranted, but even still, they plagued her mind, and she was terrified of what would happen if she was taken back.
A footstep coming down the grated stairs nearby broke her out of her tortured reverie, making a small squeak of alarm squeeze from her pursed lips. The footsteps stopped instantly before a loud bang sounded as the two feet hit the ground level with a great force.
“Geran, be serious!” a voice called out from above.
“I am being serious,” the voice that the steps belonged to called out. “It’s just so boring looking through all of the boxes, I mean seriously, what does the captain think we’re going to find here?”
“I don’t know, he said we would know that it would belong to the demi-humans when we found it,” the first voice replied. A slight tapping on metal suggested that they were leaning on the metal railing around the edges of the catwalk above. “I’m guessing whatever it is, it glows, which means it shouldn’t be too difficult to find.”
“Both of you, shut up!” a third voice yelled out from where the radio chatter was occurring. The voice muttered something quietly into the radio amidst a chorus of yes sirs echoed from the two before the footsteps began to approach again.
“Hang on, where’s Simen?” the voice nearby called out to the other two. “Isn’t he supposed to be down here as well?”
“He’s probably slacking off in the backroom’s or something, captain, should I go get him?”
“Slacking off, hey, that’s my job!” Geran shouted back, his tone indignant but joking.
“If you two don’t shut up, I will make sure the both of you are out on the front lines like those acolytes out there,” the captain snarled, his patience clearly running thin. “I swear I’m never taking the both of you on a mission with me ever again.”
“Except you will, you always pick us,” Geran replied, though whether he was complaining or digging at the captain, Eran couldn’t be sure. A deathly silence fell over the group, to which Eran assumed that the captain expressed something silently and the two slowly began to search again. Geran was slowly making his way closer and closer to Eran.
“Calling a check in, Simen, Geran, Duna, Losten,”
“Right here, asshole,” Geran muttered.
“What was that?”
“I said I’m right here, sir,” Geran replied, his voice sarcastically sweet.
“That’s it, I am putting you up for disciple-,” the captain stopped short as he realised something.
“Simen, Duna, Losten, check in now!” he yelled, his voice growing a little more unnerved. Eran hoped that somehow Harken was doing something, though she was nervous in case it was someone else entirely.
“Sir, Duna’s right over… there,” the last part of Geran’s statement was more of a question as he began to realise that his teammate was no longer where he had seen him last. Eran suddenly realised as well that all of his footsteps and searching had fallen silent. Someone was doing something to them after all and taking them out one by one.
“Shit, Geran, group up on me,” the captain ordered. “One of those damned demi-humans must have found us.”
“Don’t need to tell me twice,” Geran muttered as Eran heard his footsteps rushing over to where the captain was. “Damn, all we have are these stupid tranq darts, how the hell are we supposed to take down a demi-human when he’s stalking us.”
“That’s what we were trained to do,” the captain replied grimly. Eran heard the rasp of steel as the both of them drew blades. “Keep your eyes peeled, make sure he doesn’t get too close without spotting him. If it’s a demi-human, he can’t hide in the shadows with his patterns.”
Eran smiled slightly despite the situation. Now she knew why he was able to get away with what he was doing. No matter when clothing a demi-human wore, they still gave off a faint glow, and in a dark room, they were like a beacon in the dark. However, all Harken had to do was close his eyes and he was invisible to those looking for what wasn’t there.
“I can’t see anything, did he just leave, or is he still out there somewhere, watching us?” Geran asked his captain, his nerves showing in his voice. The captain paid him no heed, though, and kept his focus about him, he couldn’t let this get to him.
A soft thump made Eran frown for a moment, unable to determine what it was. It made the soldiers startled though, and she heard the captain exclaim.
“What the-, what are you?” he demanded. There was a notable absence of Geran’s voice. Eran assumed something had happened to him. “Why are you purple?”
“It’s violet,” a soft growl echoed from behind the captain, through which Eran could tell by the sudden scrape of his boots twisting around on the concrete floor. What startled her, however, was that it was not Harken that spoke. Although it was a similar voice, this one was deeper, more guttural, almost animalistic.
“Stay away from me, monster,” the captain shouted as a shot rang out. Eran froze as she heard the thud of a body hitting the crate above her. Looking up, she saw a hand hanging over the edge, a chain wrapped around its wrist, with a bone white amulet hanging down.