Story I – Chapter V [Part II]
For all previous parts, go here
For Chapter V, Part I, go here.
Uther’s news as they sat face to face on the breakfast table just confirmed Ian’s worst fears. The boy’s family was already in an uproar trying to locate Su Ae and the only reason they hadn’t found her yet was because Ian had redone his spell last night and Uther hadn’t volunteered any information to them. But the fact that they were the best hunters of their generation was not soothing either and sooner or later, they would find something. Coupled with the fact that the town would soon have many new visitors trying to locate Su Ae too, the situation seemed to be heading from bad to worse. As Ian tried to wrap his mind around the scenario and Annie tried to make sense of things by connecting the dots, silence reigned supreme. It was only broken when Annie rose to retrieve the coffee pot and pour Ian more coffee before she sat down next to Uther and voiced her queries.
“Let me get this straight. Your kind didn’t know about Su Ae before?” Annie asked Uther before turning to Ian. “And it’s also news to the demons?”
“There’s always been talk about a Halfling. It first started generations ago!” Uther told her. “But no one ever knew if it was true, not humans or demons so it just remained legend.”
“What will happen now?”
“There are always two sides to a coin.” Ian told her. “Her existence is more of a curse to her because it means she might always be in danger, one way or another. Demons won’t accept her as one of them, and probably nor would the hunters. Though as irony goes, she’d be more powerful than either.”
“But you also said she could-” Annie instinctively began but just as abruptly cut off her question. It was something Ian had told her in confidence so she was unsure of broaching the subject in front of Uther. Uther looked at her questioningly but she simply smiled and shook her head.
“There’s something else.” Uther piped up after a long moment of silence during which all three avoided looking at each other. “It’s just a rumor, but it can’t just be dismissed.”
Ian remained silent and Uther knew he was waiting for him to speak out so did just that.
“This morning, I heard my brothers. Apparently after last night, there have been some unusual sightings. Hunters are making claims of movement regarding a certain someone you might know!”
Whereas Ian’s expression had been bland and nonchalant before, not betraying anything, Annie felt a vague anxiety in his eyes.
“Are you sure it’s not just rumors?” His tone betrayed a tremor of anxiety and worry, and Annie couldn’t help but shudder at his tone and the look in his eyes.
“My father didn’t think so. The facts are too tight to be anything but. It seems he’s been quiet for some time but hunters followed up on him anyway. Last night, he seems to have made a move.”
The silence that followed seemed so fragile Annie felt the air go cold. She thought Ian would ask more, sensing the play of expressions behind his usual carefree face but was surprised when he abruptly rose and dismissed her and Uther by telling them to go about their normal day.
“But Su Ae? When will she wake up?” Annie asked him. Uther was silently receptive of Ian’s suggestion and rose to leave.
“I’ll let you know when she does. Once you’re gone, I’ll take her back. It’s safer there. It should take them longer to track her, if they can at all.” As if an afterthought, he added without turning to look at her. Annie felt like he’d already dismissed her and Uther from his mind. “And thank you, for everything!”
All her senses warning her to leave, Annie lingered for a moment as Uther exited the room and asked Uther.
“Who’s the person Uther was talking about?”
Ian smoothed his features and turned to her with a somewhat calmer expression. “Someone I’d hate to run into. And knowing him, all the demons in the world together won’t amount to the threat he’d be, if he wanted!”
It was past mid day when he and his ward finally encountered something interesting. After their early morning rendezvous out, they’d left their little adobe and wandering life behind and traveled to the nearest city. Once there, instead of going around town as he would have usually done, he’d taken the little girl and they’d both spent the day in one of the city’s run down, but frequently visited bar that was open all day. His words for their choice of destination at her inquiry had been “Some of the most interesting things happen here. If there’s anything we want to know, this is the perfect place, Sweetie!”
The place hadn’t changed much since the last time he’d seen it. While two of the walls had several windows, the interior was as dark as one could expect it to be during the day. The bar counter itself looked as faded and dirty as it could, making him wonder if the place was ever cleaned out. Most of the glasses and mugs that hung there had either long lost their shine or were considerably chipped. The furniture strewn throughout the place wasn’t in much better condition either-most of it seemed as run down as it could, with poorly done repairs outright visible. He’d once known the person who ran the place, but the man behind the bar was one he hadn’t seen before so he mused the ownership must have been passed out to someone else. He’d actually enjoyed the company of that fellow and wondered if his absence really meant he was dead.
“How long are we going to be here?” the little girl asked him suddenly when they’d been sitting for about an hour, watching people drift in and out of the place, but nothing ‘interesting’ had yet happened.
Without changing his relaxed posture-legs crossed at the ankle on the table, chair drawn back n being slightly rocked at leisure, he turned his head to survey her. She still amazed him at times, the ways she’d changed and the ways she hadn’t. It had been years, hell more than a decade, since he’d last see her smile that one time. Life had smiled at her back then, she’d been happy and she’d had faith-all torn away in a single day. He knew that pain of hers better than ever, but he could never fathom how she coped with the way things were for her now-at a standstill. Often, he wondered if his compassion hadn’t given her a greater pain. Yet he was always afraid to ask her that very question, afraid of what her answer would be.
“As long as it takes,” he gave her a smile but she stared at him flatly in return. He chuckled at that, knowing she was annoyed by his choice but they both had something to gain by being here. And however much he knew she hated crowds and crowded places, he wouldn’t have brought her out if he weren’t sure things would work out.
“Relax Sweetie, it’ll be a bit of a wait, but I promise you, it’ll be worth it. Anything you want to know regarding the happenings or people’s motives, this is the place to be; especially if it’s about Mercy.”
Despite his reassurances, she still felt odd and out of place. Crowded places had always given her chills and he knew the reasons better than anyone. But she also knew better than to doubt his words-he was always truthful to her and he always took care of her. But at the moment, even her belief in him was unable to help her relax. She never had such problems when they were amongst their own kind but this bar was one of the places that allowed dual interaction and at the moment, there were more humans there than she would have liked. Although none of them even spared her or him a glance, she still remembered her last interaction with them a little too clearly. It was one of the disadvantages of her condition-she was stuck with the same nightmare again and again. So she did the only thing that kept her nerves under control-she wrapped her arms around herself and kept her eyes on him as he kept his eyes around the room.
“It had better be worth it!” She quietly whispered to herself but by the smile twisting on his lips, she knew he heard her.
After the short visit by Lawrence, Elijah had stayed on the roof until Will had come looking for him. In the meanwhile, he’d spent the time simply lazing around as he looked at the world move around him on the ground below. Although things were progressing exactly as he’d hoped they would, he felt a slight disappointment at the ease by which everything had gone down. For a man of Ian’s repute, he had expected a bit of a challenge and although he couldn’t credit Su Ae with much, she’d still been too easy a target. There was no fun in a fight that was already predetermined. Yet, since Su Ae and Ian were nothing but pawns in the whole game, so he didn’t let his disappointment last. He had half a mind to go down and find Su Ae and rub it in-no doubt she’d be sitting meekly in one of her classes, taking diligent notes. But the easier things were, the sooner he’d get what he wanted; he thought to himself and stayed rooted.
“Any updates on the matter?” He asked Will as they descended the stairs from the roof.
“I’m afraid not much. There is quite a bit of movement, but none of it is that which you were expecting.”
“There’s got to be something soon enough. Keep your ears and eyes open. The minute there’s anything, I want to know.”
Will simply nodded.
“What about the girl? Were you able to see her when it happened?”
“I’m afraid not. Her guardian is being too cautious. If I moved, it wouldn’t have been unnoticed.”
“I doubt there’s much need for such caution.” Elijah said caustically, “The girl has little powers anyway. I’m only curious because of Lawrence’s claims.”
“Perhaps, there must be something worth protecting.” Will shrugged.
“Did you see her around today?”
Before Will could reply, they reached the main corridor which was open on both sides and led towards the gate and Elijah stopped as he caught sight of Annie on the lawn, some distance away. She seemed somewhat anxious and carried a worried expression. He’d have passed by without a second glance ordinarily but he’d also caught sight of the person she stood with-Uther. Both of them seemed engrossed in their talk and barely noticed as people walked past.
“I think it’ll be reasonable to assume our friends there know about the incident.” He heard Will say but his gaze was fixed on Annie’s lips as he tried to read what she was saying.
“-shouldn’t go there. She was so pale last I saw her. I’ll visit her and let you know if she’s up. Ian cleaned-”
With a frown he turned to Will.
“Where is she?” He asked. “Where is Su Ae?”
“She didn’t come in today.”
“Why? Any demon in a trance wakes within minutes, at the worst an hour.” Elijah’s voice had an edge now. “That girl is saying she’s still asleep. Visit the house and find out why, guardian be damned.”
“If you’re afraid Lawrence overstepped his boundaries, you should rest assured. He’s not one to do that!”
Will was right, Elijah knew that but he was also not comfortable with the idea that there was more to the deal than he knew. The girl barely had any powers and yet the signal last night had been massive. Granted, Lawrence had said he’d made sure to use a strong spell but what if there were complications because of it? At this point, he still needed assurance that his plan had worked and until he had what he wanted, he could not let anything-foreseen or unforeseen ruin things.
“Just visit and make sure she’s not dead already! I still have use for her!”
“I can’t. She’s no longer at the girl’s house. I just got back from there. They’re both gone.”
Elijah muttered a loud oath as he swore.
“Send word out. Watch every damn place in this town. What the hell is her guardian hiding?” The last wasn’t a question to Will but rather onto himself. Wise to Elijah’s ways and mannerisms, Will knew as much and gave no response except a nod of his head.
“Let’s go.” Elijah motioned to him as he saw Annie turn and heading towards the gate. “We’ve got a little following to do. She’ll lead us to their place.”
Seeing Elijah’s mood now almost wrecked, Will considered withholding the next bit of information he was going to share but then decided against it almost instantaneously.
“There is something else.” He piped up. “Daniel’s gone out.”
Elijah had already taken a few steps when Will’s words stopped him once again.
“Damn it!” He swore and turned back to Will. “Follow that girl and get me the address today! There’s something else I have to do first.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked away.
Theirs wasn’t that long a wait after all, as the place soon started to be crowded with demons more than an hour before sunset. And like he had expected, they were totally engrossed in seeking gossip and information that it allowed the two unusual guests-him and his companion be totally inconspicuous. Taking advantage of the inattention, he started listening in on their talks while the little girl looked on. While she was finally glad that things seemed to be moving towards an end, she was unable to contain her curiosity at their unusual behavior. She’d never met a pack that was so careless. Across the table, her companion’s expression was almost unreadable-a blank, careless look. And she recognized it as the calm before the storm.
When he first started hearing the gossips running amok, he didn’t hear anything beyond everyone’s theories on the spectacle of the night before. A few of the theories literally made him roll his eyes in frustration. His kind had quite its share of dim ones and they all seemed to be gathered here today, he thought wryly. But it wasn’t long before he caught two things of interest so simultaneously that he had a hard time deciding which one to explore first. The first was a scent he picked in the air-it was still far away, but it was one he would never be mistaken about. The second was a new whispered talk between two men, sitting on the opposite side of the room.
“Are you sure it’s true?” One of them was asking the other. “The last time I heard such a rumor, it was centuries ago! N even then, no one knew it to be true! Ask me, there’s no such thing as a Halfling! It’s got to be a trap! Who knows what the hunters are up to?”
The word ‘halfling’ was the one that brought him to alert. He straightened his chair-‘finally someone makes sense,’ he thought to himself and leaned forward onto the table-his attention now diverted completely to their conversation. The scent was still far, he figured, and he needed to hear those men. Perhaps they’d have something interesting to share after all.
“I only know the hunters are on the move. This isn’t just demons pouring into Mercy. Word from the east is that most of the prominent hunter families are sending out their best.” The other man replied and his tone held a specific resonance-he was definitely human.
“So, you heard from Kent? Will he come?”
“He’s been tasked with something. Galleran seems anxious.”
Turning a bright smile at the little girl, he decided he’d heard enough and decided to take some action. The scent was invariably drawing closer and he wanted to milk the man what it was worth before their expected partner arrived. He rose and kicked his chair back, finally getting the attention of all the inhabitants in the bar.
His smile widened as he saw the people around curiously eyeing him and the girl. Time for a little sport, he thought to himself.
Turning his eyes onto the men in the corner whom he wanted to deal with, he pointed at them but addressed the room. “I want those two. Anyone who doesn’t want to die, out. NOW!” He said the last word as a mere whisper and it hung in the air for several moments before there was a burst of chatter and movement. While some seemed to realize there must be truth to his threat and turned to walk out, others simply chuckled and continued to look at him as if he were mad.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” A voice came from down the room and he turned to see the bar owner. “No one gets to make trouble in here.” He held up a gun. “Out.”
Everyone was startled to see the chuckle emerge on the man’s face as he was held at gunpoint.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you!” Turning back to the little girl, he whispered, “Just a little more sweetie, n then we’ll be gone!”
Before anyone knew what was happening, he was already by the bar counter and shoved the gun out of the man’s hands so that it went flying in the other direction. In the next moment, he’d jumped across the bar and held the man’s neck in a harsh grip who was now gasping for breath as he tried to fight against the control on his neck.
“Stay out of my way if you don’t want to die!” He whispered again, closer to the man’s ear. With a smirk, he loosened his hold and the man fell to the ground, panting hard for breath.
As he turned back to the room, four demons, including the one whom he had overheard were standing warily, ready to fight him off. Some others were quickly pouring out of the place while a handful remained seated but their stance unaggressive, wishing to witness the fight. His grin widened as he jumped back over the counter and stood to face them.
“Nothing like a fight to get you some good exercise!” He announced in a bright cheerful tone. He heard an answering grunt from one of the demons. His own eyes seemed to gleam more as he realized it meant they all had no idea who he was and seemed to think they could easily take him out. With a final look towards the little girl, he advanced.
It was literally just six steps for him to winning the fight. He took two steps towards the first demon, ducked to the left and hit him easily on the back as the demon bent forward to his left to try and take him by surprise. With another step, he kicked the second demon down, threw the silver pocket knife so that it lodged straight into the demon’s throat. The other two demons advanced as he removed his jacket and with another step, reached the vicinity to kick the demon on his right and trapped the one on his left by throwing out his jacket and looping it easily around the demon’s arm extended to punch. The kicked demon-the one with man fell straight into a table while he pulled at the demon captive by his jacket and with one swift move, hit his hand-palm up, straight into the man’s chest. He fell without a sound.
Turning his attention to the demon rising from the now broken table, he grabbed him just as he rose up and shoved him straight against the closest wall, one arm pressed close onto his neck, making it difficult for him to breathe.
“What-what-who are you?!” the demon eked out as he gasped for air against the strong hold on his neck.
He felt the whole room’s silence as those who still had breath left in them waited for his answer. He didn’t keep them waiting. With a wry smile, he told them his name. “The name’s Ronin. So glad to make your acquaintance, whoever you are!”
The silence that followed the declaration was cold as the meaning sank in everyone’s mind. Ronin-the name of a legend that had been long feared. Without a moment to lose, Ronin drew his hands back, giving the demon precious moments to gasp for air before he struck out again, this time, his palm making direct contact with the demon’s chest, right above his heart, once again pinning him against the wall. Within moments, a painful scream escaped the demon’s lips and not long after, his lifeless form fell to the ground.
Ronin clapped his hands together as if dusting them before turning to pin his gaze on the human who was with the demon.
“Now then, we have that out of the way, shall we get down to business?” He asked with a smile, his voice downright pleasant as if asking for tea like he hadn’t just used the worst form of violence on the four demons in the bar. But before the man could reply, or even comprehend his words, footsteps echoed and Ronin watched as a familiar figure came to stand in front of the man. Although the new arrival had yet to dispose of his travelling cloak and therefore had half his face covered, Ronin recognized him straight away.
“Daniel!” Ronin gave a slight nod of his head, his face once again devoid of expression. “Your scent never changes. Still Galleran’s watch dog, I presume?”
Daniel didn’t reply and for several moments, both men stood watching each other. With a slight nod at Ronin, Daniel turned halfway and motioned the human to come forward. He immediately complied. Passing on a rolled paper to the man, Daniel told him, “Sorry about the ruckus. Here’s what I needed you for. Make sure it reaches them, will you?”
Ronin meanwhile walked over to the closest empty chair and casually sat down on it. The man bowed to Daniel and hurried outside.
“You’re such a party spoiler, Daniel.” Ronin said in his deceptive cheerful tone as the man headed towards the exit. “I was looking forward to getting acquainted with your little friend there.”
“I’m afraid right now wasn’t the time for any new friendships.” Daniel replied as he turned back to him. “I’m both surprised and disappointed to see you here.”
“With the show you put up in Mercy, how could I not come?” Ronin chuckled. “I’m most curious to what you’ve kept hiding there, right at the heart of everything!”
“I had thought you had reformed your wandering ways.” Daniel’s voice was bland, without any emotion. Yet his eyes and attention was totally focused on the conversation, he ignored the little shadow he saw approaching Ronin. “Your agreement with Galleran was clear.”
“Circumstances changed.” Ronin replies as he rose again and turned to the little girl approaching him shyly. “It’s okay sweetie. You know Daniel, don’t you?”
The girl, who had kept her head lowered and her cloak covering her had now reached Ronin and taken his hand. As soon as she heard the word Daniel, her head whipped up and she looked past Ronin to the man standing there.
“Daniel?” her voice resonated with a hopeful air and she smiled.
Daniel stood frozen where he was but Ronin found it hard to read any expression on him. The silence lingered for moments until Ronin spoke again.
“Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten Alexis already!” He turned towards Alexis when she tugged at his hands twice. At her questioning gaze, he nodded his head. Releasing his hand, Alexis ran towards Daniel and came to a stop in front of him, the eager childish smile still on her lips.
“So it was true!” The words were uttered as a quiet whisper but Ronin still heard them.
Daniel looked down at Alexis with a warm smile before kneeling down before her, one leg straight and the other bent. One arm loose by his side, he placed the other perpendicular to his straight leg so that the wrist rested on his knee.
“Mistress.” He called her by her formal title as he lowered his head to complete his bow.
Happy to hear the familiar term and overcome with joy at coming face to face with an old loved one, Alexis simply threw her arms around Daniel and gave him an enthusiastic hug. Ronin watched on as Daniel returned the gesture, but not before sending a sharp glance towards Ronin which the latter ignored.
“I’ve missed you!” Alexis whispered and Daniel recognized her teary voice just as his shoulder began to feel slightly damp. She was crying silently.
“Come sweetie, it’s time for us to go!” Ronin spoke up a few minutes later as Daniel and Alexis drew back from the hug.
“But we’ve only just met again.” She smiled at both of them and although she had composed herself, Daniel and Ronin could see the dry trail of her tears on her cheeks.
“Later sweetie! I promise, there’ll be another time, soon!” Ronin told her with a reassuring smile. Slightly pouting, Alexis turned back to Daniel. She felt loath to part so soon but Ronin’s words that they would meet again reassured her and her bright gay smile back, she leaned over and kissed Daniel on his cheek.
“See you around, Kent!” Ronin told him as he took Alexis’s hand and the two headed towards the exit. Daniel remained sitting as he was and did not even turn to watch them leave, his expression slowly turning volatile. This was one encounter he did not relish having to recount to his Master.
To be continued in Chapter 6!