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C H A P T E R 01: P A R T 04
For a moment the two sit quietly, the Hunter’s last words hanging between them, almost as if they were visible in the air. Arch’s pale eyes study the slave carefully from behind the blindfold, trying to judge whether he can be trusted in any capacity. He doesn’t know him at all, but from what he can see the psychological damage suffered from however long was spent in slavery has etched itself deep on the Hunter. Truthfully the Elkinphyr doesn’t see how losing one’s control over their body and freewill wouldn’t leave such a harsh and lasting effect. Yet in spite of all that, in order to track down the ones responsible for the magical binding, there must be an extension of trust and he gets the distinct feeling it will not be gained if he doesn’t take the first steps himself. The risks are so great that he only wishes he had more time to learn what he can about the one sitting just across, both in terms of his stability and the vow that the Hunter recalls his captives enough to hunt them. Also slightly troubling is that unless he’s translating incorrectly, Arch distinctly heard him say “us.” As in plural. As in he is not dealing with one person, bound and enslaved, but two. That certainly complicates matters.
But his offer cannot be rescinded, not at the cost of the secrets he carries, so there’s nothing to do but move forward. [A promise…?] The Elkinphyr slowly nods. [I guess it is.] They’ll have to see where it carries them and to what extent it holds. Is this Hunter one to keep his word? Apparently Arch will find out.
Leaning forward, he lightly touches the tips of his fingers against the nearest rope binding the slave to the maimed chair. The Hunter recoils immediately, a bare flicker of fear beneath the wariness that passes over his face, but his gaze holds the Elkinphyr’s with the same defiance when their eyes meet. Both men stay that way for a moment, frozen, waiting, until he speaks the word needed to deactivate the spell and the magic reinforcing the ropes and holding the knots tight evaporates. The bindings fall slack, freeing the slave even as Arch rises to his feet.
[My name is Arch,] he quietly tells the other man, lifting his own chair and carrying it back to the table. [There’s a bath upstairs, should you wish to clean yourself.] Setting it down, the Elkinphyr proceeds to gather the discarded plate from the floor and his own from the tabletop before turning to the small sink. Turning the knob, a small spigot pulls water up from the well outside and long fingers slide over the surface of the crystal set at the bottom of the basin to activate it and warm the water. Without turning his gaze to the Hunter, he begins to collect the leftovers as he waits for the sink, rewrapping them in the papers they came in from the market. This house doesn’t have wards or barriers set around it like so many in the city, there is nothing preventing anyone from coming or going off the grounds. He can hear the slave rise to his own feet, the chair scraping slightly against the wooden flooring, nothing between him and the opened door to the porch, the night beyond cloaking the cabin in darkness…
Roin: the ropes that bind him fall slack and he slips his lean body free, the chair’s legs that he’d been bound to scraping lightly against the splinter strewn floor as he stands. Red ringed metallic eyes stare at the open doorway as silver clawed fingers rise up to rub at his uninjured hand’s wrist, contemplating the options now set before him for a few long moments in silence.
With the other man’s back turned to him as it currently is he’s sure that even with the magic that slows his movements, he would be able to kill him and simply walk away.
It would be so easy…
But if he were to do this, there would be no one to help him as he needs. The Elkinphyr is the first of his kind that he has found to act so differently, the first to apologize, the first to offer to remove the very binding his people have put on. If he kills him he may in fact retake his freedom, but then he will be alone again, practically helpless in a world that is not his own.
It is his captor’s kind that captured him, it is his captor’s kind who have enslaved him, and it his captor’s kind that knows where his mate is. Alone, he may not be able to successfully find Katryl, especially when he still wears a collar that clouds his mind and marks him in the very eyes of a kind that is not his own as nothing more than a pet or a slave.
So with this in mind, he will stay his hands for now. He may not trust the Elkinphyr fully but he is, at least for now, willing to give him a chance to fulfill the promise he has made and he will continue to stay his hands so long as he keeps to that word.
Sliding long fingers away from his wrist, he turns away from the open doorway, his carrot red gaze traveling over Arch’s frame as he continues on with his task of cleaning before settling on the stairwell that will lead him to the level above. A bath has been offered and he will take it, he has been on his feet for days, he has barely eaten and he has had little time to clean himself. He wishes to amend at least one of those things now… Bare feet tread lightly over hard wood floors as his graceful steps carry him further into the dimly lit cabin, the heavily embroidered coat he wears slipping free of tattooed shoulders and sliding down toned arms to land at his feet as he goes. The discarded garment halts the blindfolded man’s movements and pulls his attentions to it as he moves past, Arch’s pale eyes lingering for only a moment before shifting to watch the Hunter begin up his stairs.
[My name… is Roin.] The orange-red haired figure says quietly as his tall frame disappears into the shadows of the stairwell, no more words offered as he moves onto the landing up above ...
Arch: Pale blue eyes follow from behind the enchanted blindfold tied around the Elkinphyr’s head, shifting from the puddle of black on the floor to the retreating figure ascending the stairs. His gaze sweeps over the newly revealed red interlocking symbols running from fingertip over forearm and up to the shoulder, the patterning an intricate mix of half circles, dots, and lines. Beneath the muscle is toned and lean, the strength just below the surface obvious to anyone trained in battle. Orange-red tinted hair shifts as the Hunter moves, the fall of long locks interspersed with braids and thin lengths of dreads just brushes the small of Roin’s back, bright against the black clothing until the shadows of the stairwell encompass all.
Gathering the plates, Arch turns again to the sink, hot water soaking into his hands as he slips the plates under. Eyes falling closed, the tall Elkinphyr simply stands there, thoughts still working to process all that had occurred since he’d stepped over that ridge this morning. He… is not sure about any of this—bringing the Hunter into his home, let alone making an alliance—and as the minutes tick by, the depth of the risk he’s taking grows uneasily. It’s not his own safety he worries for, the training he’d been given from a very young age had taught him to value others over himself, but it’s his people and their secrets. This version of Eden is still so new to them, so changed from all they’d known and to be exposed before they can learn as much as possible would be devastating. The Elkinphyr as a race may have passed into a myth status, but a sudden return before they’re prepared, before they fully understand what that would mean in terms of their survival is not an option. Spreading out from the Valley of Brhynn far to the north and into the Provinces is extremely risky and he’d known that full well when given this assignment to interact on a daily basis with the people here, but he never thought he’d find himself in such a precarious position.
He should have finished that sword stroke.
The first sound from upstairs tugs Arch from his thoughts and back to the sink, hands stirring into motion to clean the plates. The second noise comes only a moment later, the faint sound of splintering wood accompanied by an anger that flares bright to Arch’s senses. The tall Elkinphyr sighs and steps away, leaning down to scoop up the discarded black jacket and wipe his wet hands with it before dropping it again once he reaches the stairs.
The second floor of the cabin is one large chamber, the peaked roof rising high above and exposed rafters spanning the width. There are windows set along all four walls, the curtains pushed aside to display the dark night in the forest beyond. Light trickles in a wan glow from a crystal-powered shuttered lamp on a ledge beside the door, its darkened twins set on wide, specially built-in shelves across the room. The furnishings are sparse, containing only a large bed, an ironbound trunk, and a tall, wide mirror in the main section. Beneath the bed is a thick woven rug, but otherwise the floor is bare and a little creaky underfoot. One corner of the bedroom is partitioned off with high, slatted wood screens to make a semi-private bathing area and it’s from that corner that the sounds of destruction trickle out.
There’s no sound as Arch approaches, his feet knowing which boards will give him away and which will not, and he crosses the floor to the screens in the span of a few heartbeats. Settling against the wall, long arms fold casually over his chest and he merely watches as the Hunter bends his anger against the small area’s few furnishings. The long, wide tub sits just beneath a window, the barrel slats bound in copper and the bottom set just off the floor to allow for the oversized heating crystals to lie beneath. Just below the window frame are twin spigots, each a square in the wall with a wooden chute attached to allow the water to flow from a well outside up through the piping and into the tub. Currently one spigot is missing part of its chute and the wall and window frame above bear deep gouges that match the abuse currently being heaped on the barrel slats, splinters littering the floor in the wake of silver claws.
Attention focused, Roin doesn’t notice the Elkinphyr’s arrival, too intent on slashing away at the tub and so he simply watches and does his best to ignore the emotion streaming from the other man, enough to be noticeable, but not enough to force the change in color he’d witnessed before. A thin layer of sweat forms on pale skin, slicking down pieces of long hair to the toned, muscular expanse of the Hunter’s back, exposed to the sweep of pale eyes now that his shirt lies amidst the wood shards on the floor. [It works better when you turn the knob,] Arch finally says, his deadpan delivery perfected after years spent with his siblings. The Hunter spins around, actions still slowed and a little fuzzy from the influence of the collar, his claws glinting in the dim light. [The one beside the spigots,] the Elkinphyr clarifies, gesturing in the general direction only to be given a scowl in return.
When Roin doesn’t move, the Elkinphyr straightens and slips past him to turn the knob himself, the water beginning to flow immediately. The glare shot in his directive on is dagger-sharp, but the amusement Arch feels at the entire situation deflects it with ease. He could tell the other man about his own learning experiences with all the foreign items in the Western Province, but that would be far less entertaining and it’s been a long time since he’s been able to feel this way. [I also suggest activating the crystals beneath, unless you enjoy a cold bath.] He points to the area under the tub, where the large, milky white crystals are nestled by a wooden cradle. When Roin doesn’t move, Arch sighs and leans down to run his fingers over the surface, the crystals shifting color to a warm, glowing rosy orange in the span of a few seconds.
The scowl only deepens when pale eyes meet orange-rimmed silver, the humor of the situation not reaching the slave in the slightest and the Elkinphyr finally relents. [All the crystals activate by touch,] he explains quietly, turning away as long strides carry him through the opening in the screens. [And generally all the sinks have knobs.] Turning back into the bedroom, he leaves Roin standing in the mess of splinters. [There will be a change of clothes on the bed, if you care to wear something different ...]
Roin: the tall Hunter’s carrot ringed silver gaze stares down at the clothing laid neatly on the bedroom’s only bed, long strands of lightly tangled wet hair, intertwining braids and silver decorated dreads clinging to the tattooed skin of his toned body. Droplets slip from the ends of locks plastered to the small of his bare back and drip down, streaming in light rivulets over tight leather pants sitting low on well structured hips before falling and sinking into the plush rug below. A soft frown paints his pale features as he continues to study the garments in silence, his statuesque stance interrupted occasionally when long silver claws travel up absently to scratch at the silver inlaid leather collar that encircles his neck. Unseen at his back and hidden behind screens remains his black shirt, crumpled in a pile of wooden splinters he’d previously made and the heated water that still sits in the tub growing colder with every second that passes.
The clothing left for him is a simple pair of two toned brown leather pants with small brass rivets lining each leg’s side and a cream colored shirt with muted brass fastenings. They are similar to what the Elkinphyr himself currently wears and are obviously more of his own dress; left for him as previously said.
He is confused as to why this is what the other man has chosen to give him as it is nothing like what he’s been forced to wear since his enslavement. His people, the rare few he can remember crossing paths with while subdued by mask and collar wore similar styles to what he wears now–as if his kind’s status as pet slaves were not only marked by the bindings forced on them, but by the make of the clothing they are made to wear as well. And while not once did the idea of it sit well with him the entire time he endured enslavement, the logic of this clothing escapes him completely. The material appears to be in more abundance that is necessary –loosely fitting and meant to billow when worn to give it an effect that seems more cumbersome than practical.
He doesn’t entirely enjoy the idea of continuing to wear clothing the one he killed provided him with, but it is at the very least something he can work with on many more levels than he would be able to with this. When he hunts, it is only the magic of the collar that hinders him at the moment, not his clothing and if he were to don these garments he knows they will become a hindrance as well.
He is already impaired, he does not need to deal with yet another thing that will ultimately slow him down…
With a small snort thrown in the clothing’s direction, he turns away from it and begins moving with near silent steps across creaky floorboards towards the darkened stairwell beyond. Droplets of water mark his path as long legs carry him down the stairs and onto the main floor landing, his eyes narrowing as he scans the cabin briefly for the only other occupant that resides within. Soft light peaks out from an open doorway off to his side and he simply turns and moves towards it, his lithe frame coming to a halt just past the threshold of the room itself.
The light that illuminates the area is sparse, softly shining on floor to ceiling bookshelves that line nearly every wall and dully highlighting each leather bound occupant that graces each tier. A soft ember flickers in the humble fireplace set opposite to where he stands, the light splashing teasingly on both stone mantle and the immediate flooring set before it. Seated with his back facing to the doorway in which he stands, Arch is bent over an aged and decrepit book that rests on an immaculate length of leather, set on a large tool strewn desk. The blindfold that has obscured his eyes since the very moment they met rests folded neatly beneath a single crystal powered lamp, the dim light it provides aiding him as he works on his delicate task. Across from the Elkinphyr rests two empty cushioned chairs, facing the desk in which he sits as if there is an invisible audience there to watch his every small move.
Locked deep in concentration, he doesn’t bother to acknowledge the tall Hunter’s presence, content instead to continue on as if he is not even there. Roin waits expectantly for a minute in silence while his color tainted gaze studies the milk-brown haired figure much the same as he’d studied the clothing left for him above but when the seconds begin to tick further on without notice, annoyance begins to take hold.
[I am still hungry and I require food.] The orange tinged haired man states to break the silence, the impatience in his tone finally working to pull Arch’s attentions up. His movements come to a slow halt and he glances back over his shoulder, his pale eyes traveling upwards past low set leather pants and water slickened skin, the imprint of red tattooed lines that cover hands, arms, shoulders and chest to the silver inlaid collar wrapping the Hunter’s long neck to seek out his color ringed silver counterparts. [I will return once I have found it.] Without waiting for a reply, Roin simply turns away, drops of water that weighs his hair down falling behind him as he moves towards the cabin’s main room. Moments later, the soft creaking of the front door resonating back towards the office where the Elkinphyr remains indicates he has stepped into the sounding darkness and is no longer inside …
Arch: He’s well aware of Roin’s presence long before the Hunter speaks, his emotions making him so bright to the Elkinphyr’s senses that it would be easier not to notice the sun on a summer day. But he’s busy and not particularly inclined to tending to the slave’s every wish and so he doesn’t bother to rise or even give any indication whatsoever that he notices someone else in the room. Instead he continues to concentrate on the book spread open on the work table, a very old volume he’d come across in a waterlogged corner of a an old man’s house at an estate sale when he’d first come to the Western Province. It dates back to a few hundred years ago, the folklore written in flowing script sprinkled with both hand drawn sketches and tinted full-page etchings. Today he’s painstakingly removing the prior bindings at the back of the book, attempting to keep as much of the margin allowances as possible in order to reset the stitching once the restoration is complete. At the same time he needs to maintain what’s left of the worn, aged leather jacket, which requires the bulk of his attention as he snips slowly at the bindings.
It’s finally the sound of the Hunter’s voice in his head that pulls pale blue eyes over his shoulder to find Roin standing just inside the door, a growing puddle of water at his feet. He’s unsurprised to find that the clothing he’d offered had been rejected, the layered pieces and lighter colors preferred in this Province not seeming suited to the slave in the slightest. Of course he would have said that about himself a year ago, but he’s slowly grown used to the fashion since it was required to maintain his cover. The Elkinphyr’s gaze travels up the shirtless Hunter, taking in what he’d glimpsed earlier on the stairs and in the bath. Shifting over the low-slung pants and the defined ridge of Roin’s hips up to the flat, toned plane of his stomach and along the defining, intricate red tattoos, he slowly lifts his eyes to meet orange-ringed silver.
For a moment they hold, the air in the room slightly uncertain before the announcement concerning food is given and the slave is turning away with a dripping trail of water droplets in his wake. Arch sits quietly as footsteps cross the main room and the door hinges creak, but he’s already returned to the book when Roin’s presence fades from his senses and into the surrounding forest.
Time slips by and the night lengthens, the fireplace embers burning down to glowing ashes before Arch stands, arms stretched over his head as he crosses the room toward the door. The work on the book had served as the distraction he needed from the chaos of the day, the hours spent in concentration giving him time to process what had occurred. Choosing one task and bending his mind to it always had this effect on him, something he’d discovered during his training as a protector of the royal family. It didn’t particularly matter what he chose to do, physical or mental, as long as it held his focus. The downside was the loss of several hours, but he always walked away feeling calmed and this is no exception.
His footsteps lead him outside to the porch, tall frame folding into one of the battered wooden straight-backed chairs, another remnant of the previous owner. There are several tasks he should be completing if he’s going to close the cabin up for a while, but he still has a few hours before it’s worth attempting to sleep with any seriousness. Closing his eyes, the Elkinphyr listens to the surrounding forest, the sounds more than familiar after a childhood spent in a wood just like this one. He can pick out the stream slipping softly over rock as it winds into the valley below, the movements of raccoons and opossums in the trees, and the distinct sounds of two male owls, each warning the other to back off from a potential mate. The near-silent tread of footsteps comes on the last rumbling hoot, pale eyes opening just as Roin rounds the corner of the cabin.
The Hunter doesn’t seem surprised in the least to find Arch on the porch and he settles onto the low stairs, dropping the small, dead rabbit to the weathered floorboards. [There are knives in the kitchen…] the Elkinphyr’s words drop off as a silver claw expertly slices into the rabbit’s fur and begins peeling it away. A quiet sigh slips from between full lips. He really should have expected no less. [As you will, then.]
Both men are quiet as Roin continues to prepare his meal, his claws dismantling the animal with continued skill. Leaning back, Arch tilts his chair onto its back legs, the top bumping against the wall with perfect balance. [These people who captured you,] he breaks the silence, gaze settled out on the night-enshrouded forest beyond, but still taking note of the sharp way the slave’s eyes narrow at the mention. [These people we’re about to hunt, how do you plan to find them?]