“I will repeat, disperse the group and cease all hostilities immediately, or we will fire on you,” the voice called out over the speaker with its distorted voice. Over the past minute of continual warnings, the militia had managed to gather the attention of every desolate in the area, even those that weren’t a part of the Collective. Niselt stepped out from the ring of his fight’s bystanders with an annoyed look on his face.
“Well, I guess I hadn’t really counted on the militia to be quite this dumb,” he sighed as he glanced over at Veitan. It seemed that he really was disappointed he had to stop the fight. Niselt looked carefully at the weapons that they all carried, or at least as much as he could see from that distance. “What do you think, the Hunters gave them some new type of tech or something?”
“Either that or they got a couple of overconfident ex-hunters to join their ranks,” Harken continued the thought. He shielded his eyes as he tried to get a better look at them too. “Something’s made them more confident, enough that they would break up a fight of this magnitude.”
“And reckless,” Niselt finished. As another warning echoed out across the plaza, he turned to Eran. “Hey, do you think you could fire up your specialty for us, give them a little bit of a warning shot?”
“It’ll take a few moments,” She replied. The young Fire Pillar ducked down behind one of the pieces of debris that had been scattered the previous night and started to concentrate. The warmth around her was vacuumed down into an orb in her hands and left the surrounding area cold. The ball started around the size of an apple, and as she continued it gradually concentrated and decreased in size.
“This is your last warning before we begin firing,” the voice called out. As one, the militia raised their weapons and aimed down their sights at the group
“Do you mind?” Niselt roared suddenly. The whole plaza was still as everyone turned to look at him, even the militia. “We are trying to… what are we trying to do?”
“How am I supposed to know?” Harken shrugged. He looked over at the group and shifted a little to try and get the armour to sit a little better on his body. “Maybe you could tell them that we’re trying to buy time so that we can throw a miniature bomb at them.”
“Somehow I don’t think that would work too well,” Niselt frowned. He put a hand on his chin and stood in thought for a few moments. Apparently, that was what pushed the militia over the edge. One of them fired a shot. The moment the soldier pulled the trigger, Niselt flung his hand forward, and the symbols on his body flashed white. The next moment, his hand flashed, and he caught a dart out of the air.
“Did you really think that they were going to use firearms?” Harken asked. Niselt turned away sheepishly. “You knew that they saw you at the skirmish, and that this was where at least some of the Fire Pillar are holed up, what else would they bring?”
“You know it really sucks,” Niselt complained as he tossed the dart over to Auron. “I really wanted to show off as well. It would be nice if they could accommodate us a little. Hey, mind checking that one out for me, buddy?”
“Don’t call me that,” Auron warned him. He held the dart up to the light. Straight away he let the object slip through his fingers where it landed on the ground and rolled to a stop. “Nightshade.”
“Well, that’s not good,” Niselt growled as he turned back to them. “They’re not aiming to subdue. They’ve been planning a slaughter from the start.” The poison was one of the most effective countermeasures to the desolates’ abilities. It overwhelmed the victim’s senses completely and in the best of cases left them a screaming mess on the ground until the users decided whether they wanted to administer the antidote, or leave them until their heart just stopped from the stress.
“Auron, are you okay?” Harken whispered. The Water Pillar’s eye was still focused on the dart on the ground. His hands shook as he raised them in front of his eyes and rubbed a slight amount of moisture that had formed in the corners of them.
“Yeah, just processing a couple of things,” he replied tersely. Auron closed his hands into fists, and turned to Niselt. “When you’re ready, I’ll start firing.”
“No problem, just waiting for-.”
“All done,” Eran told him. She held the small, glowing orb in her hands. “If I throw it over there myself, though, it might not break, so you’re going to have to take it with you. Be careful, I’m not sure how it might end up for you.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Niselt said as he reached out and grabbed he orb. “Hey, lightning girl, Veitan, are you ready? Consider this the second part of your trial.” The Lightning Branch nodded and wiped some of the blood from her face away to keep it out of her eyes. For some reason the wound on her face hadn’t closed yet. She readied her short swords as the symbols across her body began to light up again.
“Alright, let’s do this,” she sighed. She streaked across the distance between the two groups in a moment. Her bolt slammed into one of the militia and sent him flying back into one of the trucks. Although the armour on the trucks weren’t the same plating as the vehicles that the Hunters employed, they still were able to stand most assaults without too much damage.
It wasn’t without a small sense of pity that Auron winced as the man slid down from the deep dent that his body had made in the truck.
“Hmm, so I guess we’re going now,” Niselt shrugged. He turned back to the other Fire Pillars that had already readied their weapons and prepared for the charge. “They’re poison darts, so make sure you don’t get hit this time.” After a call of assent, he dashed forwards, closely followed by the others. The rest of the Fire Pillar stayed behind with Eran and provided blasts of energy that forced the militia into cover. Harken remained next to Auron, who was busy letting arrows fly as fast as he could form them.
“You seemed a little angry about the Nightshade,” the violet desolate noted as he got himself comfortable on the ground beside the Water Pillar.
“Of course I did,” Auron replied shortly. “It’s a monstrous method, I wouldn’t even wish it on the humans that use it.”
“But you have the strength to overcome them if you want,” Harken pointed out. “If you came up against an opponent that was stronger than you in every way, how far do you think you would go to keep you family and friends safe?”
“Are they protecting anyone?” Auron asked as he turned his attention to Harken. The look in his eyes was dangerous. “They attacked us, they fired the first shot. What’s the meaning of these questions, though?”
“I’m not entirely sure myself,” Harken admitted. His mouth tweaked in a shadow of a bitter smile. “I suppose I’m just curious about the differences between us and them. If I’m trying to bring humans and the desolate to equality, then I need to find some middle ground, something that they will stand side by side for.”
“Let’s continue this when I don’t need to concentrate on hitting people,” Auron grunted. His tone grew annoyed as he found his shots began to miss. “Right now, I don’t want any of them escaping.”
“Speaking of, how’s Niselt going with his little ball of death?”
The Fire Pillar had made his way to the group, and six of his chains were now in the open and whipping around to catch the darts as they were fired at him, and the others that were close behind. Veitan was still in the middle of all of it, her dashes managed to keep her out of harm’ way while she devastated their forces. Niselt still carried Eran’s orb in his hand as he reached the group of militia. He planted his foot on one of their chests and launched off to land on the roof of the truck closest to him.
“Lightning chick, get clear,” he roared out to the open air. Once he heard the familiar boom of her dash, he slammed the orb into the ground in between all three of the trucks. The moment the orb cracked he was sent flying back as an explosion roared throughout the plaza. While the flames didn’t affect him, the force of it still slammed his body and jarred everything.
Niselt landed heavily on his back and rolled onto his feet. It was a clumsy recovery but he managed to retain his balance. His head spun, and he almost felt like throwing up. His ears rung a persistent tone and his whole body felt like jelly.
“Is everyone alright?” he heard a voice call out. Some of the other Fire Pillars called out to affirm their conditions. The battlefield had been destroyed. While it was already damaged from the battle of the previous night, now a brand-new crater had appeared in the dirt and stone. The three trucks were on their side and gouges had been made in the paving where they had slid from their original position.
The people were another story. Many of the militia had been killed by the force alone, others charred by the fire. Some were just still, their condition unclear. A lone few groaned as they struggled to move. The ones that had still been near the trucks had been hurt the worst. A few were pinned underneath and some only had their limbs emerging.
Comparatively, the Fire Pillar escaped the carnage relatively unhurt. While some were almost as off balance as Niselt, he had definitely suffered the worst of the damage. His location at the epicentre of the explosion hadn’t helped.
“I’m alright,” Niselt called out. As soon as he did so, several Fire Pillars appeared at his side to help him continue to walk without much of an issue. “You don’t have to go this far.”
“You need to get to him fast,” one of them told him. He almost dragged Niselt around one of the trucks, where a member of the militia was being held by several Fire Pillars. He strained and struggled to get free, but their grips were absolute.
“Why did you leave him alive?” Niselt asked as he rubbed his sore head. He heard a boom and looked over to see that Veitan had already started to move some of the more worse off Fire Pillars back to the warehouse. The action was appreciated, the sound wasn’t.
“Because they want the antidote from me,” the soldier chuckled malevolently. Niselt calmly reached down and broke one of his ribs. The soldier gasped, and his eyes widened as he started to cough in pain, but the cough quickly turned into a hacking laughter. “Torture, I’m not surprised from animals like you. You will never make me talk.”
“Oh, that wasn’t to get you to talk, I was just annoyed at you. This is going to get you to talk,” Niselt informed the man. He reached down and pulled one of the darts from the soldier’s belt. The Fire Pillar jabbed it into the man’s arm.
As the poison began to spread through the man’s body, he started to go limp. Then he threw his head back and started to scream. Despite the minute amount of strength that he had compared to the Fire Pillars, he started to give them a run for their money as his body began to naturally pump adrenaline through his system.
Niselt walked away, he knew that the soldier wouldn’t talk for a while, but eventually he would be desperate for the antidote himself, and when he did, the Collective would be ready to move on it. Whether they would actually give it to him or not was another story.
Whatever they used to create the poison, the antidote was something that not even the Poison Branch could come up with. They probably could if they had the right equipment, but unfortunately they couldn’t afford anything more than a mortar and pestle, and could only use whatever herbs and plants that they could scavenge, while the Hunters had state of the art laboratories made expressly for finding ways to continually hurt the desolate.
“Who got hit?” Niselt asked with some worry in his voice. He had already started to walk easier on his own. He pushed them away as he saw the victim. It was a young Fire Pillar, someone that had been a little shyer around the rest of their group. He knelt down beside her whimpering body and held her clammy hand. “Damn, Lahair.”
“Did you know her well?” Harken asked quietly. He and Auron had already made their way to the group that grew quickly as the other Fire Pillars recovered and realised what had happened. Niselt’s face darkened, and he exhaled between his teeth.
“The Fire Pillar are… were a family,” Niselt corrected himself. “She’s my sister, Solus and Igrein were my brothers. I’m not sure if they’d still consider me one now.”
“If they truly are family to you, then they wouldn’t hold it against you,” Harken told him.
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“Then you wouldn’t understand,” Niselt replied simply. “Either way, we need to make Lahair as comfortable as possible.” The young woman had been knocked out. Spasms still shook her unconscious form as her body reacted to the pain that was ever present.
“What can we do?” Harken asked.
“Mercy is generally the only act you can do,” Auron stated. As soon as he said the words, the others around him readied themselves for a fight.
“That is not going to happen,” Niselt snarled. Before any of the others could make a move, he had taken a hold of the front of Auron’s armour and dragged him over. “I don’t know what you went through when the people around you got hit with this stuff, but we don’t kill our own, not even out of mercy. We find a way through this. If we give up here, then we’ll find somewhere else to give up, and then somewhere else, and this whole group will fall just like the others.”
“Niselt, calm down, I asked for all possible solutions, not just the favourable ones,” Harken said. He stepped between the two and separated them, then turned to Auron. “I kind of need to agree with that mentality, though. If we can do something, then we need to do it.”
“And we have just the guy to do it,” Niselt said as a grin once again spread across his face. Some other Fire Pillars threw the last soldier down to the ground. His mouth had been stuffed with a cloth to prevent his screaming from annoying everyone present.
“What did you do to him?” Harken frowned.
“I just gave him a taste of his own medicine,” Niselt shrugged, then turned to look the man right in the eye as he pulled the cloth from his mouth. “And when you get tired of it, you can just let us know where or how to get the antidote.”
“F-fuck you,” the soldier spat. His words were slurred from the pain that still burned within his body. He was sweating now, and his eyes were blurred. He wasn’t going to stay conscious for long. “All I have to do is outlast that bitch.”
There was a loud smack as Niselt slapped the man so hard that he almost blacked out. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t going to be let off the hook that easily. Some of the other Fire Pillars had already been inside the warehouse and returned with a canister.
“You might be forgetting that she is one of us,” Niselt chuckled. “She’ll last a week longer than you can.” The Fire Pillar with the canister held it underneath the soldier’s nose and began to warm up the base of it with the heat from his symbols. Several smoke trails lazily wafted out from several holes that had been opened in the top. Immediately the soldier jerked as the haze that the pain had induced cleared from the sharp smell of the burning contents inside. The Fire Pillar hung the canister from a chain and placed it around the soldier’s neck.
“Good, then she’ll be in pain for that much longer,” the soldier chuckled wearily. He was completely limp and didn’t resist as some of the Fire Pillars began to drag him back into the warehouse. Niselt stared at his back, then cursed and stamped on the ground.
“Selfish fuck. To think he’d be happy with dying just to kill one of us,” he snarled. He looked back over to the trucks and tugged at a lock of his hair absently. “Alright, let’s get this going. Start searching the trucks for anything useful, take pieces off of them if you can. And look for other survivors, if we can get someone else, our chance of getting answers doubles.” The Fire Pillars around him nodded and started to spread out.
“Well, I can see you’ve got this under control,” Harken nodded and started to walk off, but Niselt dextrously grabbed him by the back of the coat. The violet desolate let himself get dragged back to look the Fire Pillar in the eye.
“Hang on a second,” he growled as he pulled Harken past him and pushed him towards where the other Fire Pillars had started to move. “Don’t think for a moment that I’m going to let you get away with running off and letting the others do all the work for you.”
“It was worth a shot,” Harken shrugged as he moved forwards to join the others. He gave a few waves and chatted a little bit to the others as he started to help out.
“He looks like he’s starting to get along with them a little,” Auron smiled. He let himself fall to the ground, where he sat with his back against what used to be a wall. The two watched as the Lightning Branch dashed over and almost tackled Harken before she began to help out as well.
“We still might need you in the future,” Niselt noted as he turned to Auron. “You don’t know how much it pains me to say this, but I’m not exactly the best influence on him, and as much as I need him to do this, I still want him to be the person that he’s aiming for.”
“I told you, I’m still working for Elgen,” Auron replied and closed his eyes. Even while he was a Water Pillar, he still enjoyed the sun as much as anyone else on this continent. He sighed as he felt the warmth wash over his skin.
“You could work for both,” Niselt suggested as he sat on top of the chunk of debris and hung his legs next to Auron.