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C H A P T E R 01: P A R T 02
When a minute has gone by in impasse and realizing that his captive either won’t answer or show any indication that he even understands, the blindfolded man speaks a quiet simplified spell that undoes the binding magic –allowing the Elkinphyr to free the rope tying the carrot-red haired figure’s injured hand. Teeth grit beneath tightly pursed lips and Roin suddenly attempts to jerk his hand away as his captor then reaches for the crimson stained bandage wrapping his palm, the disgust at even the possibility of being touched again so clear in his features that it’s almost palatable, causing a hard frown to soon form.
Undaunted despite the reaction and with the remaining ropes making it impossible for the Hunter to actually pull away, Arch continues on with his task and begins to unwind the stained bandage before setting it neatly down onto the hardwood floor below. Helpless to do anything but allow himself to be tended to, Roin watches in silence as the Elkinphyr lifts the lid to the salve and slips his fingers in only to flinch in the slightest when the cooling mixture contacts with his broken skin. The haze that surrounds his mind does little to ease the throbbing ache that has sprung up and yet despite it, his focus remains elsewhere. Orange rimmed silver stay trained on the other man’s features as he tends to the damage done, not a single indication given that he even feels the pain at all.
This creature… he is touching him as if he is a healer, yet he carries weapons and speaks in threats.
How very typical of his kind.
He’s learned through hard earned lessons since his capture that they are all this way. They play at being gentle when it suits them, touch with kindness one moment only to strike out and bring pain in another. They have only ever shown him violence, binding him helpless just as he is now and forcing him into obedience through magical means.
It’s this one’s kind that took he and his mate, enslaved them as he found others of his people to be enslaved before separating them cruelly. Given the opportunity, he’ll kill every last one of them for it-
The sudden realization intrudes, putting a halt to his thoughts so abruptly that the break in his unyielding barrage of hate brings Arch’s movements to a slow stop. With fingers frozen around a length of new bandage, blindfolded eyes slide up to find the bound Hunter staring down with an odd look of determination painted on his tattooed face.
Give him back to me. Roin demands so forcefully that the emotion behind it alone causes the tall Elkinphyr to flinch and while a part of the bound man knows that the other won’t understand his words anymore than any of the others of his kind have understood them, he continues to speak anyway. Tell me where you’ve taken him or I swear that I will rip your throat out.
Arch: The Elkinphyr’s head snaps up as the foreign words are forced into his mind. The outward flinch at the rapid shift and force of emotion is only a tiny reflection of the reeling confusion happening inside. Telepathy… he’d not been spoken to in this way since the war and it shoves open internal doors long covered over with rust, dragging Arch’s own emotions and memories out from within those dark spaces. Once he’d often communicated this way, much as most anyone did, those with the gift in various measures commonplace among the people of Eden. Some even preferred it over regular speech, like Olinnd, one of the royals to which he’d been assigned. Olinnd, the ginger-haired teenager who had died on the night of Arch’s escape… But that was before, and those times are long dead.
The second wave of stunning shock hits the Elkinphyr as the demand is made, the tone leaving little room for misunderstanding that there’s something the Hunter wants. What all but stops Arch cold, however, is the cadence of the words, the intonation, and the familiar root sounds of several—they’re mirrors of his own language. The words and syllables themselves are of unknown meaning, different enough to remain foreign, but still similar enough that the very basic commonalities are undeniable. A chill rips through him with a brilliant snap, sharp and intense, and his heart seems to slow dangerously. Fear streaks a bright path through his slender frame to seize the breath in his lungs and clamp down on toned muscle, and behind the blindfold, pale blue eyes are locked on their carrot-ringed counterparts. It’s not possible. There’s so few of them and they’ve all been briefed, all been careful with the shifting. Only twice since leaving the Valley of Brhynn has he allowed himself to take his full natural form. Only twice and each time he was safe, secured by lock and magic ward. If word of their return had leaked he would have heard some whisper, some rumor in the city, but there hadn’t been even a single suspicious word. He hadn’t even seen another of his kind for two months. So it’s not possible. It’s not.
We’re already ghosts.
The statement, whisper-quiet but solid, has the effectiveness of a backhanded slap, stilling the fear and chaos in Arch’s head between one heartbeat and the next. With a deep breath, he slowly pulls his eyes away from the burning glare of his captive, heart lurching hard in his chest as he rises to his feet. [If you’re going to force words into my head, at least be polite,] he finally responds in the common speech, turning away toward the wide table in the kitchen area. The rope that had secured the Hunter’s hand to the chair remains untied, but the reinforcing magic should prove strong enough to seriously delay any attempts to saw through it, so he’s not overly worried about escape.
Opening the heavy leather satchel he’d carried in from the city, the Elkinphyr pulls out several neatly wrapped packages and pieces of fruit, lining them up on the table. Despite the piercing stare directed from his captive and the return of the pervading anger, Arch forces all his focus and attention toward preparing two small meals, taking time to deliberately place each item on the tin plates he retrieves from a nearby cabinet. He pauses only to walk around the great room to touch the crystals that will activate the shaded lamps, tiny pools of soft, dim light filling the cabin as the glow is reflected from several well-placed mirrors.
Setting a heel of bread on each plate beside fresh radishes, slices of green apple, marinated olives, and chunks of blue veined cheese, Arch approaches the Hunter with slow steps. Something flickers deep in carrot-rimmed eyes when they finally shift down to the food, but he doesn’t quite catch the meaning before the baleful gaze once again levels on the tall Elkinphyr. With a sigh he holds out the plate, the edges of his patience beginning to fray, and is once again ignored. Not overly interested in a physical confrontation with his captive at the moment, he finally sets it on top of the medical box and slides it toward the slave with his foot. Continuing on toward the open doorway, Arch leans against the frame, backlit by the last vestiges of the sunset as he studies the Hunter once again. Orange-red hair shifts over leather and velvet clad shoulders when the hateful glare is drawn again to the food, but the blunt words that slip quietly from the Elkinphyr’s mouth a moment later snap the sharp gaze right back up. “Are you being followed?” Breaking off a bit of the cheese, Arch holds it between long fingers, waiting only a moment before continuing. “Look, I’d rather not have anyone else sauntering around the woods outside my house, so if you’re being tailed tell me now so I can deal with it.”
Roin: the tall Hunter’s anger falters momentarily as he stares up at Arch, confusion sweeping through his slender frame like a tidal wave as he works to process the other man’s words though the haze that continuously surrounds his mind.
When he was able, that is, when his face was not masked in a way that kept his mind so far beneath the surface that he could barely see straight, let alone think, he’s attempted to speak to his captors many times before. He’s shouted at them. Cursed at them. All but screamed to be heard and at times, even pleaded with them in his attempts to make them understand. Not once has any one of them shown any recognition that they were capable of hearing him on any level, not once before this day.
Not a single one.
Yet his one has not only heard him, he’s spoken back and while the reply he gave was in his people’s common tongue, the fact that he heard him at all is what’s taking him by complete surprise.
If he is capable of understanding then why does he not answer as he should? This is what he doesn’t understand…
Slowly, carrot rimmed silver pulls away from his captor’s backlit frame and falls down onto the plate of food set on the medical box at his feet, the frown on his lips reforming anew. His injured hand is free, yet his arm remains bound just as his other is bound and while the presence of food reminds him of the terrible hunger he feels, he also realizes his satiation has been set teasingly just out of his capable reach.
This one seems to be playing games similar to the games the one he killed enjoyed and it pains him to find that he’s somehow managed to find himself at the mercy of them again. That one before, the one who forced himself on him for all those long months, the one whose name he’d learned was “Master ”… that foul creature taunted him in this exact same way, teased him often with the promise of food only to anchor him in place and keep him from attaining the nourishment he’d laid out before him.
What he did was cruel and he grew quickly to hate him for it just as he grew to hate everything his games represented. When he did this, he made it clear that he wanted something from him in return; whether he meant for him to beg, to crawl or simply because he seemed to relish in the resulting pain it caused him, in the end -it was always something.
So what is the reason for this one’s cruelty then? What does this particular game represent? Why does he simply not say what is it that he wants him to do like the other always did, instead of leaving him to guess?
Confusion over it continues to swim in impure eyes even as they slip away from the food and travel up to meet the tired, yet expectant look painting the blindfolded man’s features. A moment later his gaze shifts down to the small piece of cheese he holds and understanding slowly begins to dawn. This must be his game. He must be attempting to force him into speaking his foul language in reply only to starve him as the other did should he not comply…
Disgust crosses the Hunter’s tattooed features at the thought. His hatred of these creatures knows no bounds and it only continues to grow with every new terrible thing they do.
I will not play your game. He replies flatly to the Elkinphyr in his own language, purposefully avoiding the actual question that has been asked. I have had enough of your kind’s cruelty… either untie me so that I may eat or take the food from my sight. Realizing that his eyes have been locked on the food that his captor holds, he finally forces his gaze away, concentrating instead on one of the shaded crystal lit lamps off to his side as the tone of his voice falls quiet and low. Taunting me with it will not force my compliance and I will never speak in your tongue to gain it.
Arch: A slow frown slips over the Elkinphyr’s mouth when his offering is snubbed and more eerily similar, but foreign words flood his mind. This game grows tiresome and it’s quickly becoming obvious that any overture he attempts with this Hunter will be pointless. Conversation has been ignored, his bandaging and medicine met with contempt, and now the food dismissed. Perhaps he should have left his blade to find its mark and killed the slave this morning. He knows his stance on trespassing and why it must be upheld, but the curiosity had been too alluring and now he’s saddled with an angry, loudly emoting captive he really didn’t want in the first place.
And therein lies the real problem, Arch muses as the cheese slips between full lips. What is he going to do with the Hunter now? Simply opening the door and pushing him out is too dangerous, the chance of the other man either leading others back here or the owner catching up is too risky. Nor does he have a true desire to kill him, so where does that leave them? If he knew there was a following party he could simply dispose of them and cart the slave deeper into the Wildes and leave him, but until that group either shows up or the Hunter actually gives some kind of an answer to his questions, he’s stuck.
The frown deepens and the Elkinphyr starts in on the olives, noticing as his gaze shifts back to his captive that carrot-ringed eyes have once again drifted down to the plate next to the chair. It’s then that Arch realizes his error in the placement of the food. Even with hand and wrist freed, the box doesn’t lift the food high enough to come within the Hunter’s limited range. In his efforts to avoid another physical confrontation, Arch had unwittingly made his offering inaccessible.
A quick gathering of air and force lift the plate to hover just over leather clad thighs before setting gently down, the quiet, spoken word only given for show as the magic is drawn from within the Elkinphyr’s tall frame. Without meeting the other’s gaze, he crosses to the back of the room, an empty wooden chair scraping lightly at the floor as he pulls it out and settles at the table behind the Hunter. Leaving his plate for a moment, Arch slips the wide brimmed hat from his head, leaving it beside his plate as fingers thread through the long front sections of milk brown hair and pale blue eyes close behind the blindfold. [Look,] he sends the thought through the telepathic link the other man has created between them, his tone revealing only the very hint of the frayed edges of his patience with the stranger. [If this is how you prefer to talk, that’s fine.] Although it’s been several thousand years, the communication is still easy and takes no more effort than normal speaking. [But I don’t understand a word you’re saying.] He’s not about to reveal how alarming the similarities are between their languages, not when it will draw any further attention to just how different he is from the normal citizen of Eden. He’s already given up more than is reasonably careful.
And yet… he’s already opened the door, literally and figuratively, hasn’t he? From the very moment he stepped around that tree in the fog, he’s been far from careful. First the fight with a sword style and technique no one has used since his people went to sleep, then bringing the Hunter here, using the homemade, rare herb salve on his injuries, the blindfold, the dim lighting in spite of the falling darkness outside—all of it, every single preternaturally graceful movement his body makes is practically screaming that he is noticeably different. In short, ten hours ago when their paths crossed, Arch had partially blown his cover in a way that’s done nothing but fall further apart as its plummeted downhill. He’s not sure at this point if he can salvage anything that would keep the slave from beginning to piece all the odd bits together. The Hunter won’t know what he is exactly unless he’s particularly versed in ancient history and magic, but he will know he’s different and that’s enough for people on Eden to start looking at him with fascination and vested interest.
He has to make one more overture, one last attempt before he chooses between two options: kill the orange-haired man outright or set him free and leave the Western Province in order to negate even the possibility of the Hunter sending others back to this cabin, and ultimately his home in the city as well, to investigate.
We’re myth already, what does it matter? …But he has to at least try because as of yet, his body hasn’t caught up with his spirit’s ghost status and it still leaves footprints when he walks.
Pale blue eyes open to glance up between long bangs, catching a glimpse of the Hunter’s red-rimmed silver eyes looking back over a shoulder at him through the dim shadows of the room. [I know you understand what I’m saying, so just answer my question because hunting a bunch of people at night in a forest takes a little planning and I’d rather know if I have to do it or not before I lose the surprise advantage.]