“Hey, look, you’re outside and there doesn’t seem to be any trouble in sight,” Niselt grinned cheekily as he skirted in front of Auron’s field of view. The other man just shook his head and continued on in the heat that beat down on the group. For most people, it was almost unbearable unless they were in the shade, but for the Fire Pillars, the glow of the sun just seemed to energise them, Niselt in particular.
“Calm down, Niselt, we don’t want to attract too much attention, remember?” Harken remanded him, and to the Fire Pillar’s credit he did slow down a little. Unfortunately, he kept the same annoyingly cheerful look that set the others’ teeth on edge.
“Ready to get outfitted?” Niselt asked, his attention turned to the younger now. Harken glanced over at him, his face blank. Niselt couldn’t tell whether he was happy about this or annoyed.
“I don’t really have much of a choice, do I?” he asked, to which the other grinned and shook his head. He, Niselt, Eran and Auron were all standing outside in the uncomfortable warmth of the day looking at a shack that radiated a heat even greater than the bakeries that were only able to run in the mornings. It didn’t need to be said that half of them weren’t too happy about it.
“Now, a few ground rules before we go inside,” Niselt told the group, his face turning serious. “Harken, make sure you don’t antagonise her, she doesn’t take sarcasm well. Eran, act cute, it might make her feel all maternal and shit. Auron… just don’t talk.”
There was a complete and utter silence between them as Eran and Auron looked at him incredulously, anger coming quickly to their faces. Harken just shrugged before he pulled the door to the shack open. a blast of radiant heat rushed out, blowing his hair back and almost blistering the skin. Auron winced, and it seemed that his retort to Niselt faltered on his lips. Eran was only distracted by the realisation that Niselt wasn’t even being antagonistic at this point. As he looked into the soft glow within, the look on his face was steady.
“How many times have I told you to knock first!” a voice called out from inside. Niselt patted Harken on the back as he pushed past the young man, basking in the extreme temperature. As a Fire Pillar, he was naturally attuned to all things hot, and this place was as hot as it got. Eran looked to be of a similar nature, the heat doing much more for her than the sun. In the shadows of her clothes, a gentle, red glow emanated.
As they walked inside, Harken traced his hand along the solid steel walls that hid the true nature of the shack. Behind the scrap metal cover was a soot covered steel forge littered with tools and devices. In one corner of the shelter was the source of the heat. A furnace crackled, ores melted down above the coals.
In the centre of the room stood a woman with hammer in hand, bringing it down on a piece of metal. Seeing that Niselt had entered, she turned her attention to him, laying the hammer to rest on a table at her side. Her expression was bothered, and as soon as the tool had left her hand, the look changed to regret.
“Niselt, of course it would be… you,” she trailed off when she saw the others enter as well. “And you’ve brought guests. And here I was thinking that you would have needed me to repair your chains again.” Harken and Auron were visibly uncomfortable, a sheen already on their foreheads as they tried to put some sort of barrier between them and the furnace.
“Not just any guests,” Niselt told her, a triumphant look coming to his face. Before Harken could move too far away, he hooked his hand around the young man’s coat and yanked him forwards. “Did you finish the armour that I asked you to make?”
“Of course I did,” she said. She pointed her thumb towards a sack that lay in the corner of the room. “Is that the boy?” Niselt nodded, and pushed him forwards lightly. Harken stumbled slightly, but managed to catch himself on the edge of the anvil. He winced as he felt the full blast of the furnace hit him, and glanced back to look Auron, who just shrugged apologetically and hid himself a little further from the heat.
The woman grabbed Harken’s chin and turned his face up, gazing into his deep, violet eyes. As she stared at them, the corners of her mouth tugged into a slight grin.
“Well would you look at that, you weren’t bullshitting,” she murmured. She walked over to the sack in the corner and hauled it up effortlessly. She took only a moment to steady herself before she tossed it over to the young man. Harken grunted as he caught the full brunt of the heavy package. It was almost enough to send him to a knee.
After he laid the sack on the anvil in front of him, Harken opened it to reveal a set of armour contained inside. His eyes widened as he looked over the pieces, and Niselt smirked, sure that the young man had seen nothing like it. A gleaming, pearly white plate helmet lay on top of a heap of other pieces of the suit.
“Niselt, just how long have you been intending on me taking the lead on your endeavour?” Harken asked, turning back to face the man that was looking at him innocently. With the quality of the armour, there was no possibility that it could have been designed and created overnight while he had been sleeping.
“Well, truth be told, for you to take the lead was not so long, but I knew that you would take part from the very beginning,” he replied with a cheeky grin. “But if you’re asking about the armour, it really isn’t that big of a deal, is it, Hadain?”
“Are you really going to make me do this?” the woman sighed as she picked up the white-hot piece of metal that she had been working with before. Holding it in her bare hands, the tell-tale symbols of their kind began to spread on her fingers, glowing a soft metallic red.
As she traced her hands along the metal, it bent to her pressure, thinned when she pressed down on it. Only a few minutes later and the metal already started to take the shape of an ornate dagger blade. Once she was satisfied with it, she tossed it down into a bucket of water that lay next to the bench. It hissed loudly as it cooled in the water.
“You’re from the Smithing Branch,” Auron murmured, stepping forwards with the others. The woman glanced up at him and nodded, reaching down to pick the blade back up and began to work at fitting it to a handle. “I thought that they had all been captured.”
“What did I say about staying quiet,” Niselt hissed to him. His eyes flashed angrily as he rounded on the Water Pillar, but Hadain held up her hand to silence the young man. She turned her attention to Auron, who was only just realising that he had possibly stepped over a line.
“Not all of us,” she told Auron. Her voice lowered, and she seemed to be losing herself in her memories. The symbols on her hands began to glow brighter as her energy raised with her emotions. She roused herself from the memory and looked back at the rest of the group. “There are still a few of us around the place in hiding. Just like there are still some Water Pillars, proved by your presence.”
“Do you want to stay here?” Harken asked her suddenly. Everyone looked over to him, surprised to see the young man take the initiative. As he suddenly felt all their attention on him, Harken began to hesitate. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked back to see Niselt smiling at him softly. Just realising that his fingers had been tapping against his side rapidly, he paused for a moment then turned back to Hadain. “If I had a place where you could work freely, without worrying about the militia or the Hunters knocking on your door, would you be interested in coming with us?”
“I would be very surprised that you owned any place at all,” Hadain smiled as she turned to Niselt. “I’ve told the Fire Pillar many times that I’m not interested in moving with them. I may make blades and armour, but I have no interest in being a machine in war, my sisters have already suffered that fate at the hands of the Hunters.”
“I’m not representing the Fire Pillar anymore,” Niselt told her. Hadain’s eyes widened in confusion as she looked at him, stunned for once. “This is purely Harken talking here. Honestly I’d pretty much given up on trying to get you to help us, I didn’t even think that you would help make the armour. He made a deal with Elgen, it went sort of sideways and he ended up getting the better part of the deal which included a safe place for him and some others, including us.”
“Elgen doesn’t let anyone get the better of a deal with him.”
“The situation was unavoidable,” Harken cut in, stifling Niselt’s response. “One of his warehouses was compromised, so he was forced to abandon it. I’ve taken up residence there in his stead. Somehow that ended up giving people the idea that they should stay as well. There’s a lot of people that would want to protect you there as well.”
“So you’re extending the offer to me as well?” Hadain asked. Harken nodded. “It is very gracious of you, but I’m sorry, I can’t think of you as being different from the Fire Pillar, and I still maintain my position on not taking any sides in this affair.”
The group exchanged a few more pleasantries before the woman led them out, giving one last look at Harken, she closed the door behind her. As soon as it was shut, all evidence of the inside vanished, as if it never even existed.
“Are you alright?” Niselt asked Harken quietly. The violet looked back at the scarlet in slight confusion. “If I’m not wrong, that was the first time that you had extended your hand out to someone, so I just wanted to say that the Fire Pillar had been trying to get her on their side for a long time, I didn’t think you would have been able to after meeting her for the first time.”
“No, I was just asking because her place is being watched by the Hunters,” Harken told him, shifting the weight of the sack on his back as he began to head off. Before he could get too far, Niselt grasped his shoulder firmly and held him in place.
“Where are they?” he asked tersely. “Tell me without looking at them.”
“There’s one in the building opposite, has some plants sitting outside the window,” Harken replied after a short pause. “Another pretending to be a desolate, he has some Hunter armour underneath his rags. Last one is on the wall, acting as part of the militia that’s patrolling, he keeps on hanging back and joining the next group though.”
“How sure are you about this?”
“As sure as if I’d seen it with my own eyes,” Harken replied. Niselt thought for a moment, biting his lip anxiously.
“Fuck it, they saw us leave her place anyway,” he muttered. “Harken, find some place to get changed, we’re going to announce our intentions here and now. Auron, are you ready to fight?” He turned back to see the man of the Water Pillar tug at the collar of his coat. Underneath was the familiar armour that he had worn the previous night.
Auron pulled his mask out from underneath his hood and slid it over his face as he turned to face Harken. His friend was standing, looking at the armour that had been given to him with a cryptic look on his face. It was bone white with a violet trim, almost the same colour as his eyes. While Niselt’s had appeared makeshift, scrabbled together from basic materials, Harken’s looked exactly the opposite with the smooth plates fitting perfectly along his body.
While the abilities of the Smithing Branch were extremely particular, they were the best at what they did. Even the regular humans were unable to deny their skill, one of the reasons that they had been the target of capture rather than extermination. Most of the Hunters’ armour was made by the Smithing Branch. Most of it was inferior to their other works, a consequence of trying to force strong willed desolates to work against their will.
Harken paused as he looked down at the helmet, though. It had been crafted to look similar to Igrein’s form had during his primal state. He set it to the side before he continued to pull the rest of the armour on. The action didn’t go unnoticed.
“You aren’t going to wear the helmet?” Niselt asked, freeing his rags from his armour and setting them aside so that they wouldn’t inhibit the chains that he used for fighting. His eyes were narrowed as he looked over at Harken, who shrugged.
“It’s not right,” Harken told him, much to the other’s confusion. “It’d be wrong of me to wear it.”
“It’s the image of a primal shape,” Niselt insisted. “It’s a connection to the Pillar Beasts that share our powers. It’s a symbol of power.”
“I think Harken means that it doesn’t look like his primal shape, or whatever primal shape his Pillar is,” Auron told him, to which Niselt frowned in confusion. “I’m not sure if it’s common knowledge to the Fire Pillar, but there’s more than one Pillar Beast. And by that I mean there is a different type of Beast for each Pillar. I’m unsure of what your connection is, but the Water Pillar is connected to the Leviathan, a creature that resides in the Great Oasis, our primal shape is nothing like your Igrein’s from last night. Even though Harken doesn’t know what Pillar he descend from, he still might be able to feel some sort of connection, or lack thereof of one that might not be right.”
“Fine, don’t take the helmet,” Niselt sighed “Are you sure you don’t mind your face being seen, though? I’ve already been targeted because of my position in the Fire Pillar, but doing this will mean that you probably won’t be able to leave the warehouse without some others who are stronger.”
“I’ll be fine,” Harken replied. “Let’s do this.”
“Hang on a second,” Auron told them. He looked over at Eran, and she scowled. She knew what was coming next. “Eran, you can’t come with us on this.”
“Why not?” she demanded defiantly. “I held my own last night.” The symbols across her body began to light up.
“Because they’re going to be using rifles,” Auron replied. “Fine, you’d be able to take them on in hand to hand combat, but have you ever been shot at before?”
“Have you?” she retorted. The look that Auron gave her silenced the girl immediately. He was not going to discuss it further, and he definitely wasn’t going to respond to her retort.
“I’ll see you guys back at the warehouse,” she muttered as she left. Auron sighed and placed his head in his hands.
“I must be too used to the shade,” he muttered. “Doing anything out in this heat is just exhausting.” He heard a laugh from behind him. Niselt’s hand slammed down on his shoulder and drew him back towards Harken.
“Come on, Aur.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“If you thought that was exhausting, just wait until the fight starts when the Sun’s at its highest point,” he continued on without missing a beat. “Just gonna say, you’re really going to be jealous of that guy who’s sitting inside the room. At first.”