Tainted Magick

There was a time when magick was considered a child's story; something that existed only in people's imaginations. But for those who wield the power to shape reality, magick does exist. And now through a series of events, the rest of humanity knows too. And as in typical human fashion, they wish to control or destroy that which they do not understand. And so the arcanists are hunted down, branded, and sent to special "camps" where the governments of the world "train" them for special missions. Of course, finding the mages isn't easy, as they only trust their own kind. That's where the Hunters come in. The governments use these "trained" magic-users to find others. Some are well-known for their jobs, and continually hired out. The Hunters know only two things: Victory or defeat. But for one, is there such a thing as redemption?

The Silver Chalice wasn't exactly a well-hidden club. Then again, it had enough wards around it to either block or deter those who couldn't see beyond their own noses. Eric Nyte pulled his black leather trench coat up more around his neck. He felt the wards pass over him like a chill wind, calling up a slight bit of his power to push them back. It was a simple enough test to get into the club. Those who were not trained were turned away as if a brick wall was in front of them, and not even bullets could penetrate it. Quickly grabbing the handle of the wooden door, Eric pulled it open and was blasted with loud music, the smell of people and food, and of course, auras. He could never quite steel himself for the sudden rush of magickal energy he always got whenever he was around more than five of his kind. It wasn't as bad as when he'd first started going to the clubs, but it still caught him off-guard. And in his line of work, even a moment's hesitation could be fatal. "Damn my weak shields," he muttered.
"Blessed be, stranger," a high voice reached his ears. Eric glanced up to see a small girl staring at him. Her blonde hair was in pigtails, and she was wearing what looked like a private school uniform.
"Blessed be," he managed to choke out, still staring at her. He couldn't believe that a mere child had gotten into this place But still, he had a quarry to find. "Say, do you know where I can find someone named Amber?"
"Amber? Never heard of her," the blonde replied, her blue eyes roaming about the room. "Why, what'd you want with her?"
"Heard she runs a group that's attempting to free all our "captive" brethren. Word is she hangs around here, and I figured I'd offer my services to her." He'd been rehearsing that lie ever since he'd gotten the sheet on this Amber. Unfortunately, the government knew very little, except that she was dangerous. Rumored to surround herself with other powerful mages, Amber herself was no slouch in the magickal arts, having destroyed a training compound single-handedly. No one was sure how she had done it, but she was to be observed, caught, and brought in for either "retraining" or execution.
"Look, even if she is here, why would you want to take on suicide missions like that? Whatever happened to living normally?"
"Normal ceased to be part of my vocabulary when friends of mine were gunned down and arrested simply for growing flowers in the space of two minutes." That was partially a lie, which was why it came so easy to Eric. He'd only been thirteen, just coming into his powers, when the agents had broken down the door to the clubhouse and either grabbed or shot him and four friends. A Hunter had been with them, and sensing the children's raw magick from blocks away, they'd left their current quarry for a simple sidetrack. After all was said and done, he and John had been sent to training camps, Amy imprisoned, and Lisa left lying in a pool of her own blood.
"I'm sorry about your friends, but I really think you-"
"Hey Fiona, don't hog the stranger to yourself!" a boyish voice interrupted. Eric glanced over the blonde's shoulder to see a young man standing there. Or perhaps "standing" wasn't the right word, as he was hopping from one foot to another. His dark-red hair fell into his light- green eyes each time he moved, and he kept brushing it out of his face with hands that seemed too delicate to belong to a human.
"Mind your own business, Aden," Fiona whispered. He stuck his tongue out in response.
"Look, if you two children don't mind, I'll find Amber on my own," he told them, attempting to push past them.
"Oh, you're looking for Amber?" the boy called Aden asked almost casually.
"You know where she is?" He grinned then, looking for all the world like a pleased six year-old.
"Sure I do. Is that what you were asking Fiona about?"
"Yes, actually. But she swears she's never heard of her."
"Oh, she's just trying to make sure no one gets in over their heads. Fiona isn't what you call a strong mage."
"I'm strong enough to stand with you," the small blonde said.
"Yeah, but I inherited all the firepower," Aden shot back. He clapped a small arm on Eric's shoulder and led him away from the blonde girl. "Don't mind her. Fiona means well, but she doesn't always agree with what Amber wants to do.
"Wait, she's part of Amber's group?" It seemed odd that a delicate- looking girl like that would've been mixed up in anything even half- dangerous.
"Sort of. Fiona only helps when we really need her. She never liked violence much, so I told her to stay behind, and that we would come to her if we needed it."
"And I still don't like it!" Fiona yelled over her shoulder.
"Anyway," Aden continued, "I'm sure Amber will love another pair of hands. What type of stuff can you do?"
"Whoa, hang on a second, shorty. You're telling me that you are a part of this elite group of freedom fighters?"
"Yes, he is," a deeper male voice said from behind them. Eric spun around and nearly had a defensive electric charge ready before he remembered that he was supposed to look friendly and non-paranoid. He took a deep breath and let the energy sizzle out, watching this new person closely. The man who emerged from the shadows didn't look much older than him, but his aura was darker, more aggressive. Dark-brown hair fell to the base of his neck, and he tossed shaggy bangs out of his eyes. Eric's eyes traveled down the man's body out of habit, noting with a grim smile that he had a knife strapped to his thigh. But worse than the obvious weapon was the undercurrent of power that flowed around the stranger like a storm waiting to be unleashed. "I'm Lotus. You are?"
"Eric Nyte." He was glad his voice came out even, as more than once he'd had it crack when meeting formidable opponents. Lotus stared at him through dark-brown eyes, assessing his aura, no doubt. After a moment he extended a tan hand, and Eric clasped it firmly, though Lotus seemed almost determined to try and break his hand. "Quite a grip you've got there."
"Lotus is one of our resident strong-arms. You'll meet the other one in a little bit," Aden spoke up once more.
"Not so fast, little one," Lotus said. "Did you think you were just going to introduce him to everyone right away?" The small redhead shifted slightly and shrugged. He certainly didn't appear intimidated by Lotus.
"Actually, I was thinking about it."
"And that's why I'm a bodyguard and you're not. You'd let anyone walk right up to Amber without even thinking twice."
"What do we have to worry about?" Aden pouted, crossing his thin arms over his chest and slumping against the wall.
"Agents," Lotus whispered, sounding for all the world like he was swearing. "Unless you've forgotten, we're not exactly the most loved people."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. Death and torment await anyone who gets caught by our wonderful government and its sell-outs."
"Sell-outs?" Eric was betting he knew what the two were talking about, but he hadn't gotten this far in the business by not asking questions.
"Yeah, sell-outs. Hunters to the rest of the population. Anyone who cops out and kills their own people is a sell-out in my book."
"Enough of that. You seem okay, so Aden and I will take you to Amber," Lotus said, stepping through the crowd of tables, people, and bouncers. Eric followed close at his heels, and Aden brought up the rear. There was a small, circular booth in the back, where a man and two women sat watching the rest of the club. The man was powerfully built, with beefy arms and a thick neck that was almost hidden by his shaggy dark-brown beard. The top of his head was cut in a short crewcut, and there might've been some military training in his past as well. His aura was also intense, and Eric had to look away for a moment as his inner sight looked at it. Neither Lotus nor Aden seemed bothered by it, and Eric was guessing this was another of Amber's bodyguards. The two women turned their attention to the men as they walked up, and one immediately caught the Hunter's eye. She was small and young-looking, but the power that ebbed off her was incredible. Her strawberry-blonde hair was in a braid to the middle of her back, and her green eyes were the color of spring leaves. She smiled at him, and it was like he was basking in the glow of a summer sun. The other woman was very unassuming, with dark-brown hair to her shoulders and eyes of the same color with thick glasses. She wore a dress that seemed handmade, and her power was gentle, almost soothing.
"You must be Amber," Eric addressed the first girl, extending his hand. She looked at him with a puzzled face, and her companions all snickered.
"Um, I think you have me confused. I'm Dawn," she replied, sticking out a small hand to shake his.
"But, your power-"
"Dawn is a powerful mage," the large man answered. "But she's definitely not Amber. Who are you?"

"Eric Nyte. I came here looking to join Amber's group in hopes of helping to rescue those taken by the government."
"What makes you think we still do that?" the other woman wondered.
"Like you could stop helping people? C'mon, I know all of you are still involved with that. I want to be a part of it." He knew if he seemed too eager, someone would get suspicious. However, he had to convince them to let him in, or else any hope of bringing Amber and her friends in was wasted.
"He's sincere," Aden said after a moment
"That much I can sense. But you're good at hiding things. Why?" Dawn asked, staring straight at him. The others also looked over, and Eric paled. Could this girl read his thoughts? Would she be able to figure out who he really was? This wasn't good.
"I ran into a Hunter a few years back, and he killed a friend of mine. Since then, I've been running from the feds, so I learned to shield my mind and my aura."
"You escaped a Hunter?" Lotus sounded impressed, and that was good.
"Barely. I got this as a memento." He pulled up the sleeve of his trench coat to show them a crisscrossing scar on his arm that began at his wrist and snaked its way to his elbow. The Hunter he'd encountered as a kid had attacked them with a sword made from water, and he'd attempted to fry the experienced mage with his electric attack. Eric had soon found out how solid the sword was, and how sharp water could be. He'd almost lost the use of his arm, but the Hunter had said to save it, because the feds could use him once he was fully "trained". That had been nearly eight years ago.
"Water blade. Impressive weapons," the unidentified man said. "I'm Jason, by the way. And this is Amelia," he introduced the other woman. "If you want to take a seat, Amber will be out in a few minutes."
"Oh, where is she?"
"Getting ready for the show," Aden told him, scooting up beside Dawn. Lotus sat next to him, keeping a hand down in case he needed to grab his knife.
"This place has what they call a show," Amelia explained. "People use their magick to dance to music, and it's usually a lot of flash and neat effects. Amber dances to relax herself, especially before we head out on a job."
"And she's dancing tonight?" The lights flashed and dimmed again at that point, and everyone took a seat. Jason pulled over an empty chair, and Eric sat down.
"Just enjoy the show," he advised, crossing his large arms and looking at the dance floor. The DJ grabbed a random disc, selected a track, and then the music began. It began fast-paced with a piano setting the beat and a chorus of voices joining in soon after. And then the lights flashed on the dance floor, and the dancers descended on it, weaving magick as they went. Most were teenagers, trying out flashy moves and attempting to keep to the beat. Some were in pairs, and they seemed almost out of place with the song. And then Eric saw her: Standing in the corner of the floor, eyes closed and body swaying to the music. Then she was moving, twirling around the floor and trailing pale-blonde hair and a fiery mist behind her. She didn't use many flashy or bright tricks, so it was a pure dance punctuated by magick. While most of the other dancers were now concentrating on outdoing each other, she still had her eyes closed. And then her eyes snapped open, a blue to rival the brightest sapphires. That was when she stepped off the floor and into the air, and the fiery trail behind her seemed to coalesce beneath her feet, forming a trail of stardust as she kept climbing higher in the air. But her eyes stayed locked on him, and when the song crescendoed, she let loose her power in a display of light and heat that knocked him off his chair. The trail was now a pair of fiery wings, and she seemed to be glowing with a soft light, as if she'd become an angel or other ethereal being. As the music ended and the voices faded, she landed next to him amid applause for all the dancers, and extended a hand.
"Hello, Eric Nyte. I believe you've found what you're looking for."
"So you're Amber," he said, accepting her hand to regain his feet. But the moment he touched her skin, a spark of power jumped between them. He instinctively shielded against an attack, but her aura simply washed over him, bathing him in soft light and heat akin to a campfire. He felt his own aura brush against her, crackling with electricity and making her hair stand on end for a moment. She released his hand, and Eric saw that her group was flanking her, including Fiona.
"So he's in?" Lotus asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.
"He's in. And we leave immediately."
"For where?" Amber grinned at him, but it seemed to be more of a smirk.
"For one of hell's portals. I hope you don't get squeamish easy."
"I don't." Jason and Lotus both looked at each other, then at him.
"Good, because we don't intend for this to be a friendly job," the large man said. Eric nodded that he understood, but meanwhile his mind kept asking if he really could handle all of this, and that maybe he'd gotten in way over his head this time.