“Nope, not going to happen in a million years,” Niselt called out defiantly. His tirade garnered the attention of the others that had been gathered, and they all looked over at him in confusion. “I refuse to work with one of the Lightning Branch, no matter what.”

“What’s wrong, afraid of something?” the woman grinned. Her form seemed to glow and with a sudden bang that echoed from the walls, she vanished. The sound reverberated around the room as it bounced off of the metal walls and multiplied. It was enough to drive the four others to their knees as they clutched at their ears. All of them kept their eyes closed as the pain in their ears, but in the same instant that the boom had sounded, they saw a streak of light flash past.

Niselt felt a hand on his chin draw his face to look up. He winced as he opened his eyes, and watched as the woman spoke to him with a smirk. Unfortunately for her, the ringing in his ears drowned out any other sounds in the area, including her voice. The woman seemed to notice and let go of him with a frown. She stood back and watched as they all slowly began to recover and get back to their feet. Once she was convinced that they were able to hear her again, she continued.

“As I was saying, whatever could your problem be with us?” she smiled and repeated her previous action. As her hand drew closer, though, Niselt slapped it away and drew himself up to his full height to stand half a head taller than her.

“Your whole Branch disgusts me,” he growled as he looked down at her. The woman flinched as she looked at the emotion in his eyes. “You constantly flirt, bed anyone you please, and then disappear without even a trace, how could we trust someone like that in an organisation like this?”

“Are you sure that this is a problem with the organisation, or just one that you have with me?” the woman asked. She still looked a little shaken, but her grin turned sly as she drew up close to him. “Tell me, how did a night with one of the Lightning Branch feel, did you enjoy it?”

“You shut your damn mouth,” Niselt snarled. His eyes widened in fury as he began to walk forward threateningly. Before he could do anything, though, Auron placed a hand on his chest and moved to place himself between them pointedly.

“Calm yourself, before you two damage this place even further,” he told them as he gestured to the windows that had been shattered by the blast. The woman gave him a slightly guilty look and opened her mouth to say something, but Auron shook his head. “There’s no point apologising to me, I’m not the one that owns the place, he is.”

The woman looked over at Harken. As she did so, her eyes widened and a big smile came to her face. While her form didn’t flash like before, it almost felt like she moved at the same speed as she gathered up Harken into her arms and drew him into a tight embrace.

“I knew you were here,” she exclaimed excitedly as she pulled away to hold him at arms-length. “Ever since I’d felt your aura, I had been so worried about you. Are you ok? Do you hurt anywhere? Is the person that hurt you still here?”

Harken’s expression didn’t change as this all happened around him. If anything, it seemed that he had almost resigned himself to it. It was annoying, but it would be even more bothersome to try and pull away, also he wasn’t sure if he was even strong enough. Harken looked up at Niselt, who had a grin that spread from ear to ear. The whole situation was very amusing to him. It seemed to be very amusing to most of the people that were watching.

“I’m starting to see your point,” he stated with a slight hint of annoyance to the Fire Pillar. As others began to enter the area to see what had caused the boom he tried to extricate himself from her arms, but found that the embrace was too tight for him to even move his arms properly. “Alright, if Niselt is this adamant, then why don’t we make a challenge. Auron wasn’t wrong before when he said that we were going to lose a major part of our fire power once he left, so if she can beat him, then won’t she be just as important to the Collective, even if it is just in the short term?”

“No, I don’t want to give her a chance, I just want her out of here,” Niselt snapped. His amused look immediately fell from his face and he returned to the hostile attitude from before.

“Stop being so petty,” Auron retorted and gestured over to the woman. “My name is Auron, as I think you might have been able to guess, I’d like to know yours as well before we begin.”

“Veitan, from the Lightning Branch,” she replied with a slight smile. She opened her mouth to say something else, but Niselt cut her off.

“Wait, if she’s going to fight anyone, it’s going to be me,” he growled. The Fire Pillar stretched out his arms and a malicious grin lit up his features. “I can’t even remember the last time that I actually had a serious bout with anyone. Oh, and of course since I’ll be the one who has to actually fight alongside you if you pass, I should be the one to see firsthand and all that yada yada.”

“Hang on a second,” Auron began, but Harken stepped forwards and stopped him from interrupting.

“No I think this might be an interesting matchup,” he cut the Water Pillar off. He then gave Auron a look. Even though his expression was still blank, the glint in his eyes was serious. “Besides, I think we’ll want someone who’s serious about this, and won’t think about losing intentionally.”

“Well, if we’ve got everything else sorted out, then let’s get this started,” Veitan grinned. She looked just as eager to start this as Niselt. The symbols on the both of them had lit up almost all of their bodies with a bright colour.

“Outside,” Auron reminded them sharply.




Niselt sat on the ground of the plaza in front of the warehouse leaning back on his hands. Just a few metres away from him stood his opponent, who flourished her short swords. It seemed that their equipment was incomparable. His, scrapped together and scavenged from around the city, while hers were impeccable, like a relic from a bygone era. It almost seemed unfair.

And all the while, he couldn’t stop the feeling that Harken was awfully smug about it all. The young man didn’t show it, but at the same time, he could just feel the emotion radiating from him. Niselt wasn’t sure where the smugness was coming from. He knew that he didn’t like it, though.

“Get up,” Veitan called over to him. As she moved, her armour seemed to stretched and flex with her. It was something that the modern desolates could only dream about. Living armour. Of course, it was just a term to describe a phenomenon, but it truly did look like a symbiotic creature that moved with her.

The armour that Niselt had ordered for Harken was simple plate armour, though it looked noble and had strange properties that were unique to the Smith. Veitan’s, on the other hand, was something that could only be made through years of dedication to the art by co-operation between the two halves of the Smith Branches. The armour was fitted to her body specifically and the material had been changed to become more flexible and keep its strength.

It was a great work that required the advance shaping of the flaming Smiths, while also needing the metallurgic shifting properties of the mineral smiths. If there came a time that Niselt would have ever changed his armour, he would only have exchanged it for something like this.

“You know, I’m pretty curious, we don’t see many of those lying around the place,” he called out to her. He rolled onto his shoulders, then pushed himself back onto his feet. He could feel the energy within him pulsed in time with his heartbeat, the pace increased steadily and started to leave him breathless.

“Most of the others that wear it are buried with it when they pass on,” she replied. “They’re the only ones that can fit into it after all.”

“Ah, of course, but that just makes me so much more curious, who made yours for you?” he asked. His eyes narrowed as he watched her body tense up. This was something that she was not very eager to talk about.

“Some past friends, people that I have since left,” she replied. Once again, her body began to glow, and Niselt grinned wildly as his eyes watched her body begin to prepare for her dash. “You really talk too much.”

Once again, the boom sounded as she streaked forwards. Something was different though. Niselt never took his eyes off of the streak in the instant that it took her to reach him. When she drew close a flash of metal glinted in the sunlight, and the light around her body vanished. Veitan tumbled into a roll. It didn’t look like it was controlled.

As she regained her balance she looked up at Niselt, who looked at her with a smirk. One of his chains hung in the air, held up by his energy that crackled. The Lightning Branch touched a hand to her neck, where a deep cut had been opened up by the chain.

“That was, surprising,” she murmured, half to herself. She hadn’t gotten hurt by the tumble, thanks to the armour, but she still seemed to be in shock from having been hit. Her eyes were fixated on the chain that now twisted and writhed through the air until it eventually settled down on Niselt’s hand. “I didn’t think that you would have been able to keep track of me.”

“I’ll admit that it takes a while to get used to it,” Niselt shrugged. He turned and began to walk forwards to Veitan. A dangerous look began to enter his eye as the smirk dropped. “I’m not sure if you meant it as a joke or not earlier, but you were right, I have met another Lightning Branch.”

“So you’ve seen our dance then,” Veitan smiled, her excitement only growing. “I don’t think I’ve sparred with someone that wasn’t part of the Lightning Branch and could keep up with me!”

“You should wizen up a little bit,” Niselt told her coldly. He only stopped his advance when he saw the visible symbols across her body light up again. “Do you really think that this is still just a sparring match?”

“Well, unless you think you can kill me, I’m pretty sure that this’ll be good practice,” she laughed. Her confidence was inspiring, especially since she was pitted against Niselt. That being said, there was a good reason why her, and most other desolates weren’t too concerned with these strikes that would have been mortal wounds on a regular human. The deep gash that the chain had made on her neck had already started to heal. It no longer bled, and the skin could be seen to start to close. “Don’t worry, I’m not underestimating you, this is just too good of an opportunity to miss.”

“Trust me, you’re still underestimating me,” he growled. Veitan dashed forwards again. Niselt rushed forwards in response. A sickening choke escaped Veitan’s throat as his knee slammed into her stomach. The blow sent her down to the ground and onto her back. “I guess I’m overestimating you as well.”

“Who the hell are you?” she coughed. The Lightning Branch rolled onto her hands and knees. She pushed off against the ground to bounce up to her feet, just in time to avoid another kick from Niselt. She stumbled back slightly. She still seemed to be unsteady from the knee to her stomach.

“Oh, I didn’t introduce myself, did I?” he mused to himself. His chain snapped forward. Veitan ducked back as she deflected the metal with her short sword. “I’m Niselt, formerly one of the leaders of the Fire Pillar in Danarog.”

“I have… no idea who you are,” Veitan replied. She gritted her teeth as she blocked another blow. Niselt was just toying with her. His strikes kept her on the back foot, while he barely raised a finger against her. Just his chain alone kept her suppressed. “I’m not sure if that scares me even more that someone as strong as you is completely off the radar.”

Veitan dashed backwards, the boom accompanying her as she danced out of Niselt’s reach to gather her breath. She took a moment to take stock of the situation, and her excitement seemed to calm slightly.

“What’s wrong?” Niselt asked sardonically, a small amount of his usual attitude beginning to shine through. “Are you finding it hard to change directions. It’s a pretty handy ability to run away, I’ll give you that, but for attacking someone, you need to be versatile instead of just rushing in a straight line.”

“Like this?” Veitan asked as she ran towards him. This time she completely disregarded her ability and dived headfirst into his attack. In what seemed like slow motion, the chain drew ever closer to her face. Just as it reached a centimetre away, it stopped.

The energy that surrounded the last third of the chain had changed colour. It was now an electric yellow that sparked where it met the red energy. The two of them stayed locked in a tight struggle as their energies clashed within the twisting links of the chain. Niselt’s eyes widened as he saw the metal of the chains begin to strain a little. It looked almost like they were about to break.

Veitan gave a cry as she stumbled backwards. She clutched at her face, but she couldn’t stop the blood that seeped between her fingers. A second chain was held up by Niselt’s energy. It pointed straight up in the air as a scarlet liquid dripped down between the chain links. She hadn’t even been able to see it as bit through the side of her face.

“I’ve never met someone else who could manipulate energy like that,” Niselt commented as the second chain settled around his other hand. He didn’t seem to be in the same amount of shock that she had been in before, but he still showed a little concern. “I’ve been wondering for a while, why haven’t you used your specialty yet?”

“You already saw it.”

“No, the dash is a trick, something simple as Fire Pillars controlling the fire inside of a gun,” Niselt denied her claim. “I want to know, for someone who is able to control and influence energy like that, what form do you use it in?”

“Well, I have some things that I would like to keep secret as well,” Veitan managed to grin, even through the pain that would have felt like a fire across the side of her face. As she drew her hand away, crackles of red energy still danced along the skin. She picked up the short sword that she had dropped and looked over to Niselt. “So how many more of those do you have?”

“Only one way to find out.”

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she laughed. It seemed that her earlier enthusiasm had returned. The two dived towards each other. The flashes and rings of their weapons rang throughout the square. As the flurry between them grew fiercer, so did the ringing calls from the desolates that watched. Their cries began to draw attention from others around.

It wasn’t a common thing, for two desolates to fight like this. However even those that had no clue about what their capabilities were knew that it wasn’t a place to be near. From the flashes of steel that scored marks in the ground to the energy in the air that raised hair on the arms for a mile away.

“This is getting nowhere,” Niselt sighed. He skipped back a few steps, then ran forwards again. This time, though, more chains extended from the gaps in his armour. It was now clear to see why his armour was in the misshapen way that it appeared. It wasn’t by a lack of care, but by design to help conceal his weapons within. “Let’s get this over and done with. I’m starting to get hungry.”

“That’s not really the only reason this needs to finish,” Harken called out. He stepped into the ring of desolates and moved to stand between the two. After a moment of confusion, the other two looked over to where a new noise had begun to sound in the plaza. A collection of trucks had begun to congregate and unload their passengers in the far corner of the square. “I suppose you couldn’t really help it, but it appears that we have attracted some unwanted attention.”

“Who would be stupid enough to interrupt this?” Niselt muttered to himself. Then he saw the familiar uniforms prepare themselves for what was most likely going to be the fight of their lives. “Right, of course, who else?”

“This is the militia, we request that you stand down, or we will fire on you,” a voice called out over a megaphone.





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