Eran jumped off of one of the crates as she watched the four enter the warehouse. She tried to steady her breathing as the others approached, but the effort seemed to catch the attention of Auron, who gave her a knowing look.
“You didn’t come back here straight away, did you?” he asked her, the question more of an accusation. Eran looked at him defiantly for a few moments, then shrugged as she sighed and gave him a rueful smile.
“Would you have stayed behind while your friends fought your battles for you?” she asked and leant back against one of the boxes while the others approached. “Don’t worry, I didn’t stay until the end, I knew that I couldn’t really do much to help when the bullets started flying.”
“Look, I understand. Believe me, I’ve been in the same position as you so many times over,” Auron told her, laying a hand on the young girl’s shoulder. “But I have no clue whether you had even seen a fight before last night, and with that little experience, I can’t let you fight Hunters of all people and keep a good conscience.”
“What about Harken, then?”
“From what I’ve seen, it looks like he’s had some training,” Auron replied. He turned around to look at the young man, curious. “However, that is something I would like to hear about at some point. He does seem to have some interesting movements when he fights.”
“And he will at some point,” Harken replied. “Maybe after Auron talks to me rather than about me.”
“Hang on, it doesn’t matter how much training he’s had if he can’t get close to the Hunters,” Eran objected. She turned to Auron indignantly. “I might not be able to fight up close, but I can still support you guys with my specialty.”
“The other part of it isn’t that I’m any good, but I kind of have to be there for appearance’s sake,” Harken mentioned. “Not saying that I really want to be in the middle of it all or anything, but I kind of have to be in order to convince everyone that I’m at least a major part of everything?”
“I would appreciate it if you didn’t shout that out to the whole world,” Niselt pointed out as he gestured to Hadain pointedly who, for her part, pretended that she couldn’t hear the conversation that they were having.
“It doesn’t really matter too much, though, does it?” Harken shrugged. “She’s not going to be part of the group if she doesn’t want to be, so as long as she doesn’t really spread it around there’s no issue. Is that alright with you?”
“When everything’s said and done, as long as my work isn’t affect, I don’t care,” Hadain told the group. “It’s up to you guys what you do. The question that I have, though, is what to do with myself now. I can’t go back to my shack, and I don’t really want to keep carrying my stuff around much longer. You guys can attest to the weight.”
“Yeah, thanks for that by the way, such an honour to carry around the great works of a Smith,” Niselt said sarcastically. He began to unceremoniously dump the tools and weapons on the ground in front of him and stretched his arms out luxuriously. The moment he did so, Hadain’s eyes narrowed, and her attitude turned hostile.
“You pick that up,” she told him coldly. She took a step towards him, her jaw clenched. “And don’t you dare disrespect my creations ever again, or you can kiss any repairs on your chains goodbye.”
To be fair, Niselt did stand his ground for a moment, but ultimately it seemed as if her threat was too great. He turned his head down, and his expression softened as he started to pick the items back up.
“If you want, we could put you up here,” Harken told her. He noticed her look of disapproval and hastily continued. “We won’t be asking you for gifts or anything, this is just me helping you out, one desolate to another.”
Hadain looked at him suspiciously for a moment, then sighed.
“I suppose this place is as good as any,” she told him. She ran a hand through her hair and looked around at the dusty corners critically. “I need somewhere that I can set up my forge, preferably somewhere that won’t be right out in the open.”
“There are a few rooms downstairs,” Harken replied. “Just have a look around. How did you vent your last place? I didn’t see any smoke from the shack.”
“I just made an underground vent that piped into the markets,” Hadain smirked proudly, but then after a moment her face started to fall. “I thought it wasn’t very conspicuous, but I suppose I was wrong.”
“Do you think that was how the Hunters tracked you?” Niselt asked. He didn’t seem concerned, but there was an edge to his voice. “The Hunters already know that we’re here, but I’m not sure if we’ll get the same treatment if they know that there’s a Smith here.”
“That’s one of my theories,” Hadain admitted. “I’m still trying to figure that out myself, but its more believable than a desolate giving me up.”
“What if we piped the smoke out near the bakeries,” Harken suggested. It drew the attention of all the others. “If there’s a new smoke stack in the market’s they’ll notice, but the bakeries produce so much that we might be able to disguise it a bit better.”
“All this talk of strategies is giving me a headache,” Niselt muttered. “Just do what you need to, the sooner the better.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the one that was coming up with all of the strategies,” Hadain asked, to which Niselt gave a short bark of laughter.
“Aren’t you supposed to be the one that doesn’t care about all of this,” he retorted.
“Eran, Harken, why don’t you show Hadain around, see if you can’t find where to set her up,” Auron interceded in the argument. He was starting to be able to feel out when Niselt was gearing up for an insult war. “We need to talk for a moment, Niselt.”
“Sure thing, if the Smith doesn’t mind these treasures leaving my hands,” the other shrugged. Once Hadain had given her nod of ascent, the woman being a little unsure due to his sarcastic tone, he began to walk away with the Water Pillar. Harken gestured for the other two to follow him as he wandered through the warehouse.
“Well, as you two know, Elgen was the previous owner of the warehouse,” Harken informed them. “And in case you didn’t know, he dealt a lot with illegal goods.” He walked into one of the smaller rooms out back that looked like it had been used for supplies. The dust showed that it hadn’t been unused, but it just looked inconvenient for the merchant to regularly stock. Harken knelt down on the floor and traced his hand over a panel in the centre of the room. He hooked his finger underneath a cranny and pulled up to reveal a small drop into a room below.
“And what warehouse would be complete without a smuggler’s hatch,” he told them and held his hand out to allow the two women to walk down first. Taking the lead, Eran didn’t bother with the ladder that hung from the hatch. She dropped down and landed softly on the dirt floor below.
When she looked around the room, Eran noticed that it was distinctly empty. While she wasn’t surprised that Elgen had cleared such a place out, she couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to know what he had stored down here either.
“Do you think this place will be good enough?” Harken asked as he followed Hadain down the ladder. She looked around at the room and frowned slightly.
“We’ll need to get some ventilation in here,” she said, thinking out loud. “The floor will probably need to be refurbished to allow for washing down easily. I could set up a decent place for my finished works here.” She looked over at Harken and nodded. “It will take some time, but I think this could work.”
“That’s good,” Harken replied with a note of satisfaction entering his voice. He motioning for Eran to follow him. “I’ll get Auron and Niselt to bring their share of the works down here when they can, you should start getting yourself set up, and please, if you need anything, let me know, I would be glad to help out.”
“Thanks, I might take you up on that,” Hadain replied with a smile. As the two were about to leave, she called out again. “Harken, you know, I would never have pegged you to be a part of this group.”
“How do you mean?” he asked her, the sudden question caused him to pause.
“Usually when you think of someone trying to change the world, they seem a lot more… passionate,” she shrugged as she turned to the crate that she had been carrying and began to unload it.
“Well, I’ll be honest, I’m not as invested in the cause as Niselt is,” he told her truthfully. “He seems to think that I’ll make a good poster boy. Apparently if I don’t know my own Branch, then I can’t really favour anyone for being from the same tree as me. I do have a stake in this as well, though. I want to bring down Haven.”
“Why?” Hadain asked suddenly. Harken tilted his head, Eran did as well. As far as she knew, he hadn’t been asked that question before.
“Well because it’s in the way,” Harken shrugged and continued up the stairs. Eran jogged up after him. She stayed silent while they walked, but she had something that was weighing on her mind. It showed, and Harken noticed. He stopped to give her a moment to form the question.
“Were you alright after the fight?” she asked him eventually. He gave her a quizzical look and she hurried on to clarify. “Well after the one last night you seemed a little short, so I was just checking to make sure that you were all good.”
“I’m sorry for worrying you,” Harken apologised. “The only reason why I was like that was because Niselt tried to force the whole revolution group thing on me without my knowledge.”
“But you said yourself that you had something to gain out of all of this.”
“And I do, but by bringing me into the view of the Hunters, he essentially just stripped away the life that I had known for the longest time,” Harken explained. “The worst part about it all was that I couldn’t do anything about it, and then before I knew it, I was getting angry at him for doing it, then I was getting even angrier because he was making me angry and it just kind grew from there.”
“So what’s different now?”
“I’m finding a lot of questions being directed at me suddenly,” Harken observed.
“Sorry, I just started to realise how little I knew about everyone here,” Eran replied shyly, looking down at the ground. “Sorry if I’m being rude.”
“Don’t be, you’re not,” Harken told her, unworried. “I’m still annoyed about it, because I know that I’ll miss my old life. But if I stayed angry, then all that would do would be to put everyone here in danger, and that’s what I want the least of all.”
“Is that all?” Eran asked. For a brief moment Harken’s eyes narrowed at her, quick enough that she wasn’t sure whether it had actually happened or not, but he nodded to give her his answer and turned to walk back towards where the other two were.
“Hmm, that kind of presents a problem to us,” Niselt frowned. Noticing the other two enter the room, he turned towards them, a serious look on his face. It was somewhat uncharacteristic look for him. It made him look older than he really was. “Hey guys, did you get Hadain all sorted out?”
“Yeah, as much as we could, she still wants you to take her works down to the room on the sublevel, I’ll show you later,” Harken replied. He stepped forwards and looked between them. The sudden tension wasn’t too difficult to see. “What did you do?”
“I was just informing Niselt that I unfortunately couldn’t stay here with you guys,” Auron smiled over to the two while the Fire Pillar made strangled noises in the back of his throat at the accusation. “It wasn’t Niselt’s fault that I made this choice.”
“Partially,” Auron shrugged. He looked at the three of them intently. “Don’t think that this is an order from him, or that I’m doing this unwillingly. I’ve told you that he’s not as bad a person as you think he is.”
“You couldn’t bring yourself to say that he was good, either,” Niselt accused, but the others ignored him.
“What is it then?” Eran asked, her was voice filled with concern. It seemed like she didn’t want him to leave just yet, or worse, that he wouldn’t come back. Auron noticed it as well.
“It’s a deal to my employer,” Auron told her. He knelt down on the ground and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I could never stick around, I had to return to him at some point, the question was when.”
“Was it the skirmish that pushed you to this?” Harken asked. Auron nodded.
“I got shot at, which ordinarily is something I can stand, but the problem is what I was getting shot at for,” he sighed, then look over to Harken, who was only slightly taller than Eran. “You know that I would give my life for you and Eran if I could. Right now, though, I owe it to someone else, and until the debt is fulfilled, it takes precedence over all others.”
“Don’t worry, I understand,” Harken told him, a small smile tugging at his cheeks. He extended a hand to the man of the Water Pillar, and pulled him to his feet to stand a head above the Violet desolate. “I’ll see you again soon.”
Auron’s eyes widened slightly, and he withdrew his hand from Harken’s. He looked at it slightly, before he returned Harken’s look with a confident smile, though a small degree of uncertainty still remained.
“Yes, I will,” he replied, then tousled Eran’s hair. While she scowled at him and pulled it back away from her eyes, Niselt took hold of Auron’s shoulder to gather the man’s attention.
“I’m disappointed that you feel like you need to leave, but I won’t stop you,” he told Auron. “Just make sure that you take care of yourself. As highly as you may think of Elgen, I think you should still have some degree of independence, enough at least to call on us when you need help.”
“I’ll be fine,” Auron reassured him, then flashed the Fire Pillar his own cheeky grin. “I think I’m going to be more worried about you guys, you’re losing a big part of your fire power after all.”
Niselt’s face fell into an expression of amused annoyance, but before he could retort with anything another voice interrupted from the entrance to the warehouse.
“Well, you could replace him with me.” The four of them turned to look at what seemed to be a young woman with electric-yellow hair that had been cut short. Her armour was gold and black. the design seemed to be similar to Harkens, and yet at the same time it looked more ornate. If Harken’s could have been said to have been made by one of the Smith branch in a day, it looked like hers had taken a team of them weeks. She looked at them with her rich, yellow eyes, and smiled.