--Here we go. I've finally begun the long process of truly revising this story. I would like to extend a huge thank you to my beta, Andrea Tiefling L. She's really been a great help, and I think this story is going to be a lot better than it was. Feel free to leave a comment if you want, even to those of you who have already reviewed. I'd like to know what you all think, because I like this revision so very much :) This is the only revised chapter right now, but more will surely come in the near future.--
Alright, here we go. I hope you enjoy my story :)
When Sarah, a young thief, steals money from a traveler, she finds out that he's not quite what he seems. His name is Matt Celentis, a demon hunter and a powerful sorcerer, not to mention the fact that he's rich. Money is one thing Sarah can't ignore, so she decides to follow him with the hopes of earning some fast cash. However, Matt's journey is anything but easy, riddled with countless obstacles. He's searching for the Sepfeer talismans, the only things in the world that can rival the power of God. However, the talismans are only good for two things. One is the ability to resurrect. The other…is annihilation.
The bell tolled for what seemed like the hundredth time that day as yet another entered the small bar. From the looks of it, he was just one more stereotypical, muscle-bound bounty hunter. Everyone there was basically the same and had probably gathered for a similar reason. There was a rumor going around, one that both frightened and intrigued the masses. By now everyone within a fifty mile radius had heard it. The renowned sorcerer, Atticus, had been sighted.
"Did you hear?" whispered one man to another. "He was seen just outside the town."
"Was it really him though?" questioned a woman sitting nearby.
"No doubt," said the boy next to her. "It was the Devil's Advocate himself."
As the bounty hunters all chatted away, Sarah found that her glass held more interest. She was rotating it a bit with her fingers, watching the liquid slide around inside. This particular drink was one of her favorites—a special, light wine that was rather common and far less expensive than most drinks. Today, however, it seemed to have an almost bitter taste as her serenity was interrupted by the constant chatter that filled the tavern.
A sigh escaped her lips as she began unconsciously twirling a strand of her light, reddish brown hair that had fallen from her rather messy ponytail. Such a repetitive act could only keep her entertained for so long though, and before she knew it, she was once again listening in on the conversations of the bar dwellers. There was just nothing better to do. After all, she couldn't possibly tune them all out. Their annoying banter carried even from the far end of the room. She would simply observe them while remaining hidden away at her small table in the corner.
For some reason, everyone seemed to be talking about Atticus. Sarah wasn't sure just what the big deal was. He was just another sorcerer—a person born with the gift of magic. It was as simple as that. He just happened to be a sorcerer that was a bit stronger than most. He was also a wanted man. No one knew just what kind of crime he had committed, but his bounty was great, so no questions were asked. In some ways, she was surprised that he was in their town. It had nothing to offer, as far as she knew. What would bring such a powerful man to a remote little place like this? It was about the only question that contained any interest for her.
The door once again let off a chime as yet another bounty hunter joined the gathering. She couldn't take too much more of this. These people were really starting to bother her, and their constant, repetitive banter was starting to give her a headache. This was one of the few places she liked to frequent, because the atmosphere was usually comforting. Now it was being overrun by outsiders. Out of everyone in the bar, only three people weren't bounty hunters. She just happened to be one of them. She had a very different profession, but it paid just as nicely. Many people nowadays were willing to hire thieves.
She took one last sip of her drink before setting it down for good. There wasn't much left anyway, and she just didn't seem to care for the taste today. She had only needed something to take her mind off of her most recently failed job. She hadn't been able to steal what her employers had needed, and as a result, she hadn't been paid. Most of the money she had received from her previous job had been spent yesterday on food, a bath, a bed, and then breakfast in the morning. I need to come up with something and fast. I'm almost out of money.
The door chimed as she opened it, and she swore that if she heard that sound one more time, she was going to snap. That had to be at least the one hundredth time! It was a sound that was getting on her last nerve. Then again, everything was currently irritating. Nothing seemed to be going her way. First I fail a job, and now I can't get one. Even if I did, with all these bounty hunters around, I'd get caught for sure!
Sarah heaved an exasperated sigh before plopping down on a nearby bench outside the bar. She needed to figure out what to do next. She had to find a way to get a little cash, and without an employer, she was going to have to do it the only way she knew how. She wasn't very fond of the technique, and she often used it only as a last resort, but now was one of those times. If she didn't get some money and fast, she wouldn't have enough to eat after today. Pick pocketing was her only option.
This task was going to be a little hard for her. She much rather preferred professional thieving. Her conscience wasn't quite big enough to feel bad about that. The people she stole from often deserved it, and her employers always seemed kind, even though they were willing to hire a thief. It wasn't a very decent job, in fact it was quite the opposite, but she could deal with it. She required money. Need had the ability to drive people. Guilt wasn't much of a problem if it meant getting to eat a decent meal later.
Sometimes she really wished she had been able to find a different profession or get to a different town. Nothing she had tried had worked out, and so thieving had been the only other way to get money. Perhaps if she had been able to reach one of the cities, she could have found a decent job, but people had to make due with what they were given. She had been lucky to make it even this far. Traveling was dangerous for those who didn't know how to defend themselves. All grasslands and forests were the hunting grounds for demons. If she left without an escort, she would surely be killed, and demon hunters were expensive. Seeing as how she intended to pay only with money and had nowhere near enough of it, it would be hard to hire one. Therefore, she was stuck right where she was.
Slouching forward a bit, she lazily watched the people passing by, trying to decide on what to do or who to rob. If she was going to steal from someone, she had to be careful. Anybody could be a bounty hunter, and they would undoubtedly catch her if she tried. All of these outsiders were really making her job difficult. A wave of irritation washed over her as she clenched her fists, pursing her lips. Damn Atticus. Drawing all this attention to such a little town…
With her current dilemma in mind, she stood up and began walking briskly down the street, hands tucked in her pockets. Hopefully she'd find a way to get some money soon. She needed another job…or someone who was too stupid to notice a pickpocket. The latter was probably more likely, and as luck would have it, she came across just the person.
Standing near one of the many street venders that littered the area was a young man, one who seemed to be a traveler. His outfit enough was proof of that. He was decked in slightly baggy tan pants that came down over his black boots, and the long-sleeved, brown shirt he wore greatly resembled a tunic, but it was far shorter, extending just past his waist. The most defining feature was probably the dark brown cloak. It was something only seen on a traveler or a sorcerer, and this man looked nothing like a sorcerer. If he were, the pockets of his cloak would have most likely been full of talismans and a few spell books. His looked nearly empty.
However, there was something a little out of place about him as far as travelers went. He was far too clean to have just walked right out of the wilderness. His clothing was nearly spotless. Either he was a fledgling traveler who had come from a nearby town or he had the money to afford luxuries and had shown up here just as he was running out of supplies. She could only hope it was the latter.
Sarah smiled a bit as she began to head through the crowd, keeping focused on her prey. He seemed like a rather distracted person, and the smile plastered on his face gave the impression that he was dense and a bit naïve. That just makes it easier. She couldn't suppress the light, bubbling feeling in her stomach, causing the corner of her lips to rise further. This was just the type of person she had been waiting for.
It didn't take her long to reach the street stand that the young traveler was stationed at. He appeared to be looking over a few items, most likely debating on what he was going to buy. Soon he wouldn't have to decide. When she was done with him, he wouldn't be buying anything.
Making it look like a complete accident, she bumped right into him. He was shoved back a bit, and while she quickly reached into his cloak pocket to take his money, his hands came up to rest on her shoulders. She instantly tensed, fearing the worst. Had he already figured her out? Did he know what she was trying to do?
"Are you alright?" he asked, causing her to look up at him. His voice had been so light but in no way was it high. It had a sort of regal, clear tone to it.
As Sarah just stared at him for a moment, a smile crossed his face, his jade eyes meeting her sapphire ones. It was almost as if he could see right through her. His eyes were incredibly lucid, and it was hard to look away.
"You should be more careful," he told her softly, his smile slowly starting to resemble a smirk. "I'm sure there are others in this town who are far less forgiving."
"O-okay." She pulled away a bit, and to her surprise, he released her shoulders, allowing her to leave in peace. Her mission had been a success. However, as she walked away, she could feel her hands trembling. She took a few deep breaths to try and calm herself, but she just couldn't shake off the feeling that there had been an underlying meaning to his words. It sounded like he knew I took his money…but if that's true, then why didn't he stop me?
As Sarah walked away, the young man just smiled and brushed a hand through his ear length, golden-blond hair. It was a little wild in some places, but the navy colored headband on his forehead at least kept it out of his eyes, which were still watching the young woman who had so "innocently" bumped into him. She wasn't running into anyone else as she made her way down the street. Every obstacle she avoided effortlessly, almost instinctively. There was a slight sense of grace and pride emanating from her…mixed with a bit of anxiety. She was walking straight but with her head down, and such a position seemed natural for her. It was an interesting combination.
It wasn't long before she disappeared completely within the crowd, but he kept watching anyway, taking note of all the others making their way through the streets. For such a small town, he was kind of surprised to see so many people walking around. Certainly it was a nice day, but all those people couldn't possibly be locals. Even all the travelers passing through on their way to the city of Darik couldn't have created this much clutter. Apparently something had drawn a lot of attention to this little town.
"Excuse me, sir," began the woman at the small street stand before him. "About the item you wanted…"
"Aw, yes," he said brightly, giving her his attention. "I'm sorry, but it seems I won't be buying anything at this point in time."
"But why?" she questioned, her expression falling.
His smile only brightened.
"Because I don't seem to have any money, but if you hold onto it for me, I'm sure I can get enough by the end of the day." He was very relieved to see that his suggestion made her a bit happier. It was obvious that she didn't get a lot of regular customers. This was a shop for talismans, and only sorcerers were able to use such things. On a good day, she most likely made a lot of money considering the town's location, her clean and neat clothing helping to back up that fact. This place was right between some of the larger cities, and a lot of people, including sorcerers, probably passed through on their way. However, not many magic folk seemed to be just wandering through the town today.
"Very well," she told him, taking a nearby piece of parchment and a quill. "May I have your name, sir?"
"Matt," he responded. "Just Matt. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some business to take care of." He bowed slightly to the woman before turning around and promptly leaving. There was a rather smug look on his face. He would have no problem getting some money by the end of the day, but he wouldn't do it by going after the one who had stolen his. That would only be a waste of time. After all, what were the odds of running into her again? Besides, she probably needs it more than I do.
He looked around as he walked, hoping to find a place where they offered bounties—not for humans but for demons. If he could kill a few, he'd have enough money in no time. However, this town was fairly small. There was always the possibility that they wouldn't have any demon bounties for him. Hopefully that wouldn't be the case, or he would have to come up with a different plan.
As he made his way down the crowded and busy street, he unfortunately didn't get very far. A crash from behind caught his attention. He could see that quite a few people had stopped what they were doing to watch the developing scene play out, taking place at a juncture to one of the wider streets. However, because of them, he couldn't see just what was going on. Curiosity quickly got the best of him. Better take a look, I guess.
As he approached the crowd, he caught a few glimpses of the people who were causing all this trouble. It seemed to be two rather large, overly-built men, most likely a pair of street thugs that had nothing better to do with their time than build their bodies. They stood tall and proud, looking smug with themselves as if they owned the very streets they were disturbing. These men were truly arrogant, he noted before taking in the rest of the scene. They seemed to be picking on a girl. However, she wasn't just any girl. Her light brown hair and dark blue eyes were rather unforgettable. Ah, the little thief.
Matt just stood there and watched as she slowly got up, rubbing her head a bit. From the looks of it, she had been thrown into a food stand but thankfully hadn't collided with anything too hard, although that was probably luck on her part. These two men weren't playing around. They wanted something from her, and force was the easiest way to get it. One bent down and snatched her up by the front of her cloak.
"Well, well," he began with a smirk. "If it isn't little Sarah. Have any money for us today?"
"No," she lied meekly, struggling to get out of his grasp. She was failing miserably. This man was much stronger than she was. He looked practically three times her build and stood almost two heads taller.
"You're not a very good liar," he stated, smirking widely. "Now give us what you have and I'll let you go."
"…Fine, you can have it," she sighed. However, she didn't reach to her pocket. Instead she undid the tie to her cloak. She dropped to the ground, leaving the man with nothing but her garment. She was about to make a break for it, but the second man grabbed her by the arm, lifting her off the street. No matter how much she struggled against him, she couldn't escape.
"Stupid girl," he scolded. "We'll have to teach you a lesson." He raised her higher, grabbing hold of her leg while releasing her arm. She was a somewhat thin girl for her height, and so he had no problem lifting her, being over twice her build. Without warning, he pulled back a bit and threw her towards a nearby rock wall. The people in the crowd all looked horrified, some turning away. Sarah would break her neck if she hit at that angle, and all of them were painstakingly aware of it.
Just as she was about to crash into the wall, she found that her trip had come to a complete stop. She slowly opened her eyes, wondering just what was going on. It's not like she had collided with anything. She had just stopped dead in her tracks. From what she could see, her attackers and the crowd were just as baffled. After all, she was floating a good three feet off the ground.
"What the hell…?" said the man who had thrown her, staring with wide eyes.
"H-hey Jack," began his partner. There was a rather scared tone to his voice, so Jack turned around, his sights landing on the now parting crowd. His eyes widened a bit when he saw what his friend was looking at.
Matt gave a small sigh as he stepped forward, his left arm currently raised. His palm was slightly flexed, aimed at Sarah, who was still levitating. He scratched the back of his head a bit, wishing that everyone would just stop staring at him so awkwardly. It's not like he could really blame them though. Even though magic was somewhat common and everyone at least knew something about it, very few sorcerers had a reason to publicly display it. These people were watching in awe but also with suspicion, and it was making him a little nervous. Why are they staring like that? Do they hate sorcerers or something? Maybe that's why I haven't seen any here…
"Just who the hell do you think you are?" asked Jack, his initial shock finally wearing off. "You shouldn't mess with others' affairs. This is none of your damn business!"
Pathetic. Matt just ignored Jack as he kept talking. The man was either far too arrogant or a complete idiot. His partner at least had some sense. He was staying far away from the little fray that had begun…although such a small encounter could hardly be considered a fray. Matt had yet to say or do anything to the two brigands, mainly because he didn't want to have to hurt them if it wasn't necessary. All he wanted was for them to take their leave in peace. Something told him it wouldn't happen though. They had yet to even hint at retreating, and Jack's constant yelling was starting to get louder until it began to grate on his nerves, giving rise to a headache. He had to do something about this before the situation escalated. With magic, he could handle them. Physically, he wasn't so sure. Doesn't this man know how to be quiet? Maybe a lightning spell will knock some sense into him.
Matt wasted no time in preparing another spell. In his right hand formed a small sphere that crackled with electricity. It was white in color, and anyone who knew even the smallest bit about magic would be able to tell what it was. Any novice sorcerer could probably cast it. The intensity wasn't enough to kill anyone. A simple spell, really, but it should be enough to get him to leave.
Without giving any form of a warning, he tossed the ball into the air. It disappeared not long after, and a strike of lightning instantly streaked down from the sky, striking the ground just before the two men, causing them both to jump back, startled. The crowd acted in a similar fashion, although most of them seemed almost pleased with this turn of events. They were whispering amongst themselves, switching their focus from Matt to the two thugs and then back again. Even though Jack and his friend were members of their city, they all believed the two of them deserved whatever fate this sorcerer brought upon them since most of the officials didn't care enough to break up street fights, especially amongst thieves. The two egotistical men really needed to be taught a lesson. They couldn't just do as they pleased.
"Leave," demanded Matt, his eyes narrowing just a bit. "I'm not known for my patience."
Jack was furious by now and looked about ready to charge for him. Arrogance and challenged pride could truly be blinding forces, and so he quickly conjured up another lightning spell. He held it out at arms length, aiming it right at the larger man. In no time at all, the thief had backed down, his overconfidence finally dwindling as he was faced with the sphere of crackling energy. Magic was a powerful force when it was intended to be, and sorcerers weren't to be trifled with, especially when they were irritated. Matt didn't seem to be the type to pull his punches.
"I said leave, or this time I won't miss."
Deciding that it was better not to get electrocuted, Jack began to back away. He wasn't in any way happy about it, but he and his friend both left, retreating quietly into the dispersing crowd. Most of the observers had lost interest by now and had gone back to their original business. Certainly magic was interesting, and the appearance of a sorcerer at a time like this was a bit odd, but they weren't a rare breed. Even though the citizens couldn't use magic, they at least knew the basics. He had stuck to a small and somewhat harmless spell. Certainly it had had the potential to stun someone, but it hadn't been enough to do any real damage, the proof lying in the fact that it had taken him no time at all to create it.
Since they all lived in a world where magic was more or less common, even those who couldn't use it had been educated on the topic. It was a requirement. Even normal, lower-class folk knew the difference between a practical spell and a destructive one if they simply took the time to consider it. Jack and his friend hadn't been quite so observant.
After he made sure the two men were really gone, Matt returned his attention to the reason he had interfered. Sarah was still hanging in midair, her eyes locked on her savior, her entire body trembling. She was watching him warily, as if she had something to hide. That was only natural though. He had a pretty good idea about what she was worrying over.
Not wanting to make her too uncomfortable, Matt slowly lowered his arm which lowered her. Soon enough she was sitting on the ground, his small levitation spell finally coming to an end. She didn't move at first, seeing as how she was too busy staring at him. Her joints had all locked up and she was shaking like a leaf, but her bright eyes were wide and full of astonishment. What she had just witnessed was truly amazing. He had just chased away two of the most dangerous men in town, and he had done it with nothing but a simple lightning spell. If Jack and his friend had been a little smarter and had just taken note of the spell instead of focusing on the caster, they probably would have realized that it wasn't lethal. In the end, that had been her saving grace, as well as his. There was no way he could have taken the two of them on physically.
Sarah slowly got to her feet after calming down a little, still focusing on the man who had just saved her. She already recognized him. They hadn't met that long ago, and a traveler as poised as him was hard to forget. Her stomach began to hurt as something twisted inside. She had started trembling again. Oh man…it's the guy I robbed. She swallowed hard, feeling an unfamiliar sense of guilt as anxiety and fear started to build. I had no idea he was a sorcerer! What have I gotten myself into? If he finds out I ripped him off…
"Miss?" Matt questioned gently, instantly snapping Sarah out of her small trance. She hadn't realized that he was standing in front of her. "Are you alright?"
"F-fine," she answered, avoiding his eyes. The more she looked at him, the guiltier she felt.
"That's good," he sighed, a smile crossing his face. He didn't say anything else as he turned around and began to leave.
He glanced back, catching her eyes. He made no motion to move; he simply stood there, staring. It almost seemed like he was waiting for her to continue. Now she really needed to say something. She felt somewhat ashamed about the situation. This man had just saved her from who knew what fate, and he had done so without expecting anything in return. Very few were willing to risk their wellbeing for a stranger, especially for a poverty-stricken thief like herself. Guilt was not normally a problem, but she practically owed him her life. If she could pay him back, even just a little, then that feeling of guilt—as unfamiliar as it was—would eventually subside.
Besides, this man was a sorcerer. Magic was a powerful force, depending on the will of the caster. Being in the presence of someone powerful had her feeling a little uneasy. She continuously shifted her weight from one foot to the other, biting at the corner of her lip. Breaking eye contact, she changed her focus to the ground, hoping it would help her calm down, but it didn't. The fact that he was still watching her didn't make it any easier.
Despite the earlier display of power, she knew she probably had no reason to fear him. If he were to actually harm a citizen of the town without a decent reason, the bounty hunters would be on him in a second. Taking that into consideration, there wasn't really much to worry about concerning his power. Since that was the case, she would just go about treating him normally for now—as normal as she could treat someone she owed a favor. No matter who or what he was, the fact that he had saved her wouldn't change. Debts needed to be paid, no matter what kind they were.
"If there's anything I can do for you, just tell me," she said.
Matt smiled as he turned around and began walking over. With every step he could see her becoming increasingly nervous, shying away from him and crossing her arms over her stomach. He hesitated just slightly before continuing, wondering why she was behaving like that. It almost seemed like she was afraid of him. He had no intention of harming her though. He just wanted back what she was hiding.
"There is one thing," he told her as he extended his hand. She calmed a bit and looked down at it, confused. "You could return the money you stole."
Sarah gasped before clamping her mouth shut. She wasn't sure just what to say to that. A part of her was surprised, but at the same time she felt a little irritated. So he knew all along! Her eyes narrowed as she processed his request. Maybe her initial impression of him hadn't been so far off after all. Idiot. If he knew, he shoulda stopped me.
Without a word, she reached into her pocket and withdrew the small leather pouch she had taken from him. She dropped it into his outstretched hand, waiting to see what he was going to say or do next. However, all he did was open the bag and pull something from it. Sarah's eyes widened when she saw what he was holding between two fingers.
Matt's money pouch didn't exactly contain common, stereotypical money. What he had taken out was a small ruby. It was no bigger than a pebble, but it was worth more than a hundred gold pieces. If she remembered right, the exchange price was four hundred. If that's the kind of currency he was carrying, then he was packing an incredible amount of wealth. With just that little pouch, he could probably buy the entire town.
There were very few truly wealthy travelers nowadays. Most only carried what was needed to get them from one place to another. More people would probably prefer to carry around rubies instead of gold and silver pieces simply because they took up less space and weren't quite as heavy, but it was pointless to carry around only rubies. Most practical things didn't cost even the worth of one of the red gems. A lot of food products were sold in amounts of silver and gold pieces. Five silver coins were equivalent to one gold coin. That meant that one ruby was worth two thousand silver pieces! It was the largest form of currency as far as amount went. There had once been the idea to establish a gem that would reign even higher than a ruby, but the idea had been shot down. It just hadn't been practical enough.
"Let's see…" he said out loud as he withdrew a few more and then some gold pieces. "This should be enough. Here." He effortlessly tossed the bag back to Sarah, who barely reacted in time to catch it.
"W-what?" she asked, obviously confused. Was he just going to give her all of that money? Was this man generous or just plain foolish? To give away money like that…he had to be insane!
"This is all I need. You can have the rest."
"But…" She wasn't sure what else to do or say. Was it really alright to accept this after what had just happened? Part of her was screaming to just take the money and go, but she did have a conscience. This was not equivalent payment for what he had done for her. Despite how much she loved money and how desperately she needed it, this man had saved her life. He deserved more of a reward than some of his own money.
Matt began walking away, so Sarah quickly made up her mind and followed after him, grabbing her discarded cloak in the process. She fell into his slow pace, and he either hadn't noticed or didn't care. He was just going about his business, completely ignoring her.
"Hey," she called out. "Are you absolutely sure you don't need any more?"
"Then at least let me buy you a drink or something."
She watched as a smirk crossed his face.
"That sounds good. There's just something I need to take care of first."
It wasn't long before he stopped walking and turned to face a small street stand. A lone woman was working there, reorganizing and dusting off some of her merchandise. She eventually glanced up, receiving a smile from Matt.
"I'm back," he announced as he set his money out. "I assume this is enough?"
The woman leaned down to get a better look at what he was handing over to her, and her eyes widened. He was paying her in rubies and gold pieces! Not many possessed currency like that. It wasn't technically rare but it wasn't common either. A person would have to save up gold pieces for quite awhile in order to make an exchange for a ruby. One of the fine red stones would be plenty to pay for what he wanted, so it was beyond her as to why he had put down three plus some gold pieces.
"Sir, one ruby is enough," she told him, but he didn't pick up the remaining money.
"I think you deserve what I laid out," he said, keeping his voice low. "After all, you were so patient with me. Besides, I have more than enough, and I know not many of my kind have passed through here today."
The woman—her hands trembling in surprise and pure delight—took what he had given her and gave him a bright smile in return, whispering a "thank you" before picking up the talisman on the shelf behind her and handing it to him. He just smiled, marveling at the object. It was beautiful and in the perfect shape of a cross. The entire body was made of a special stone that was white in color, gleaming with a radiance that resembled the moon. Embedded in it were a few blue and white gems, all centered around a brilliant translucent crystal. The talisman was flawlessly crafted, having an ethereal appearance. Something so wraithlike was definitely worth more than a single ruby.
"Thank you," said Matt, offering her a slight bow. "If I'm ever passing through again, I'll make sure to stop by."
"Please do," she responded with gratitude, sighing in content as she squeezed the money in her hands. "You take care now."
Matt nodded in recognition, turned, and started walking down the street again with Sarah in tow. She was a bit surprised to say the least. It was easy to tell that he was a nice guy and all, but what he had just done was considered strange by most. Not many people just gave away money like that. He was either incredibly wealthy or a complete idiot…or maybe both. There had to be a reason behind his behavior, and she found herself wanting to know why he acted that way. Why was he so nonchalant about his money?
As they walked down the street in silence, Sarah couldn't help but stare at Matt inquiringly. He was just so much of an oddity, and his behavior had managed to pique her interest. There was a lot you could tell about a person just by watching them. The way he carried himself implied that he was confident or perhaps proud. Was it possible that he came from a noble family? The qualities certainly fit. Nobles were also rich, and this man definitely had wealth. That was one thing she couldn't ignore. Perhaps if she managed to "befriend" him, she'd be able to get even more money. Even though she had managed to acquire a great deal from him already, it just wasn't enough. It would probably last her for an entire year, but it couldn't get her to where she wanted to be, both physically and financially. She needed more, and this man was possibly her ticket to just that. The wheels in her head started turning as a plan began to take shape.
"…Is this it?" Matt asked as he stopped walking, interrupting her thoughts. They had paused in front of a building with a bar sign above it.
"Yeah," she answered as she opened the door, shuddering slightly as the bell chimed. She had the sudden urge to reach up and rip it off the door, but she managed to suppress the desire and instead continued forward. "Come on."
The two of them walked into the dark and dank room, and they instantly received quite a few strange glances from the bar dwellers. It was no surprise. Matt wasn't dressed like a citizen or a bounty hunter, and with all the rumors going around about Atticus, it was dangerous for someone who looked even remotely like a sorcerer to be in this town. It was crawling with bounty hunters.
"Over here," Sarah said as she sat down at her usual table. She was happy to see that no one had confiscated it during her absence. She enjoyed being secluded at the far end of the bar. It was much quieter than sitting amidst the chaos that converged in the middle.
Matt hesitantly took his seat across from her, feeling just the smallest pinch of unease as he took note of the stares that followed his every move. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair, slouching forward as if the eyes upon him were weighing him down. Anyone would be a little on edge if over fifty people were staring so suspiciously at them. As far as he was concerned, there was no reason for them to be so apprehensive. It's not like he posed much of a threat…at least not now.
They look like vultures, he noted, trying to lighten his own mood by laughing inwardly at the bounty hunters. It worked to some extent. They were expressing an animalistic, almost voracious behavior, as if he were nothing more than a form of prey.
"Ignore them," said Sarah. "They're all just a little edgy right now."
"Why?" asked Matt.
"They say Atticus was spotted in town."
He looked contemplative for a moment, but in the end he just smiled, relaxing in his chair. All the earlier tension just flowed right out. That one name explained everything. Bounty hunters flocked to Atticus like moths to a flame. It was unfortunate that both wound up getting burned. I guess this explains the unusual amount of bounty hunters I've seen today.
Matt took a quick survey of the room, making note of how many people there were. Bounty hunters truly came in all shapes and sizes. Some obviously relied on brute strength while others focused more on speed. They all had one thing in common though. Every single one lacked magic. There wasn't a sorcerer amongst them. That would surely be their downfall if they ever encountered Atticus. A sorcerer as powerful as him was best countered with magic. What a pitiful bunch. They all look second-rate. I bet not one of them has ever fought a real sorcerer.
After a few more moments of surveying, he returned his attention to Sarah just as she finished speaking to a waiter. She had already ordered both of their drinks. That fact made him a little nervous. He could only hope that she hadn't picked something too strong. He wasn't incredibly fond of alcohol, but some drinks did have a rather delightful, underlying flavor.
"So," began Sarah as she propped her arms up on the table, "what's your story?"
"What do you mean?" he asked with a smile, although he was pretty sure he knew what she was asking about.
"I wanna know why you're here. As you can see, most sorcerers have been avoiding this town ever since Atticus showed up. The only people here are residents and bounty hunters."
"I'm only passing through on my way to Darik. Just a traveler—nothing more, nothing less."
Sarah gave him a small, knowledgeable glare, and his smile twisted into a nervous grin. He wasn't sure he liked the way she was staring at him. Apparently she didn't like being lied to. It was as if she were trying to dissect him with just her mind, and if he was reading her right, she was easily figuring him out.
"You're no traveler," she stated at last, smirking a bit. "Most talismans act as magic amplifiers and are used solely by sorcerers that go demon hunting. Everyone who knows anything about magic knows that, which happens to be almost the entire population. So what are you…really?"
She waited patiently for him to respond, but all he did was sigh. His arms came up to rest on the table before he fixed her with a very hard stare. Her smirk fell quite a bit as a lump rose in her throat. Whatever he was about to say was serious. This just fueled her curiosity. He was an interesting person, and since her new goal was to try and "befriend" him, it was good to know whatever she could about this odd sorcerer. In the end, if he refused to tell her, she was just going to keep bothering him until he spilled his story. Even if it was none of her business, she couldn't let this go. Curiosity was a powerful and demanding force.
"If I tell you, you have to promise not to mention anything," he told her in a low, threatening voice. "If word gets out, I could be in trouble."
"Okay," she responded, her voice shaking just slightly. She wouldn't tell, at least not intentionally. This was a man who could kill someone in an instant if he so pleased, and despite his earlier demeanor, she knew he wouldn't hesitate to erase her if she broke her promise. His eyes were just as hard as their color implied. He meant business. She would simply have to behave and listen.
"…I'm hunting Reivin."
Sarah nearly fell out of her chair, the shock hitting her full force. Had she heard right? Did that really just come out of his mouth? Reivin—that was another name that just about everyone on the planet knew. Few had the courage to speak it so bluntly, but he had said it as if he were ordering a drink.
"You're hunting him?!" she exclaimed, earning the two of them quite a few stares from the surrounding men. If they hadn't been watching suspiciously before, they certainly were now. She began scolding herself the second she yelled. Usually she was more reserved than that, but his answer had not been the kind she had expected. Thankfully most of the men in the bar were from outside the town. Drawing that much attention to herself could have easily gotten her in trouble in other cases.
Matt sighed a bit and rubbed his forehead to try and fight back an impending headache. He watched as Sarah slowly sank down in her chair, a soft blush on her face after making such a scene. Luckily most of the bounty hunters went back to talking amongst themselves, leaving the two of them alone for the time being. He prayed they would just leave him alone entirely. Thankfully it was illegal to apprehend someone on assumed charges, so as long as he behaved, he would be safe. Only those with a bounty on their head could be condemned to a life in prison.
"It's nothing to get so excited about," Matt assured her, trying to lighten the situation, even though he doubted he could. That claim was so blatantly a lie. "He's merely another demon."
"He's not just a demon," she responded, sitting up straight again. "You know the rumors. They say he can use magic and that he looks human. How are you even gonna find him?"
"I have my ways."
Sarah was about to ask another question when a woman came over with their drinks. She plopped them down on the table, giving a smile to Matt and then shooting a glare at Sarah, causing the younger woman to shrink back in her chair. She had a pretty good guess as to why she was being glared at. She came into the bar often enough to know about the people who worked there.
This particular girl liked bringing drinks to men…men who were easy on the eyes and alone. The sorcerer in her company was handsome; there was no question about it. He was probably the best looking man in the bar, whether he realized it or not, and it had to just be killing her that he was currently with someone. In some ways, Sarah found herself feeling pleased about that. Even though they barely knew each other, she could still get satisfaction out of being seen with a guy as handsome as him. It prevented this flirtatious wench from getting what she wanted, and for some reason, the thief felt a sense of pride about that.
Seeing as how there was nothing the woman could do about the situation, she really had no choice but to leave them in peace. With one last glare, she stomped off to go and bring drinks to someone worth her time.
Matt, unaware of the small exchange between the two women, was happy to see that Sarah had at least made a good choice with her order. This was a drink he could easily enjoy, one with a strong flavor that contained very little alcohol. Rarely did he have the time to enjoy something so simple. He was suddenly very happy that he had taken the thief up on her offer, and she wasn't even that bad of company. He could certainly do without the questions though.
"So, do you hunt for money?" Sarah asked after a while, finally regaining her composure.
"Sometimes," he said, taking a sip of his drink. "If the bounty's high enough, I'll take the job."
"Then why not be a real bounty hunter? If you want money, go after Atticus. He's worth more than any demon."
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
He raised his glass, gulping down about half of the drink. He hadn't been that thirsty, but he really didn't want to answer anymore questions. The sooner he finished drinking, the sooner he could leave.
"Why?" she asked.
"Because I refuse to hunt an innocent man."
"Innocent?!" she exclaimed in mild shock, drawing a few eyes to herself yet again before quieting her voice a bit. "How can you say someone like him is innocent?! Have you seen his bounty?"
"I'm well aware of it."
Once again, he calmly raised his glass, not seeming too bothered by the way Sarah was screaming at him. He really didn't care that much for this particular topic. No matter what he said to her about Atticus, she wouldn't change her mind, so any effort to fully explain his reason would surely be wasted. Everyone knew the man's reputation. Atticus was a fiend, or at least that's what everyone made him out to be. In all honesty, there probably wasn't a soul alive that knew of his actual charges. He was a wanted man and worth a lot of money. That was all anyone needed to know.
"Then how can you say he's innocent?" Sarah asked, not grasping this concept. She received a look from Matt that instantly silenced her.
"Tell me, what crime has he committed?" he asked. "What act earned him that bounty?"
He received no answer other than silence.
"That's what I thought. It's pointless to hunt a man when no one even knows what he's done. If someone can tell me why he deserves to be killed, then I'll hunt him."
Sarah said nothing as Matt finished his drink. She had nothing left to add to this conversation. She couldn't defend her point after an attack like that. True, she didn't know what Atticus had done to earn himself so much attention. One day there had just been a bounty on his head, issued by the same people who posted all bounties for corrupt human beings, and with it had come plenty of rumors, so no one had questioned it. The money was incredibly tempting to all of the ravaging bounty hunters that were running out of criminals to apprehend.
However, there was only one problem with hunting the renowned Atticus, a rather big one: no one knew exactly what he looked like. Most of the sightings turned out to be empty rumors, and those who started them were never really identified, but people flocked to the locations nonetheless, just in case it turned out to be true. The only things known about Atticus were that he was a man somewhere in his thirties or twenties and that he was an extremely powerful sorcerer. No one else had managed to gather anything more than that.
"Thanks for the drink," said Matt, snapping Sarah out of her reverie. She hadn't even noticed that he had gotten up. "I'd like to stay and chat more, but I really do need to get going. I have to reach Darik by nightfall." He gave her a small bow, and without offering a word of departure, he began to leave the bar.
Sarah watched in contemplation, tracing Matt's every move. She had to make a decision and fast, or he would be gone before she could do anything. She quickly went through her options. The first was to stay in town and risk being beaten again by street thugs, not to mention she would have to try and find an employer. Her other option was to follow Matt for a while. He sort of has a regal quality to him, and he obviously has a lot of money. If I could get in good with him, maybe…
She smiled as the thought of more money flew through her mind. She needed a get rich quick scheme, and what better way was there than getting in good with an obviously rich sorcerer? He would even be able to provide her with protection. He obviously had a fair hand with magic. The decision was made. She quickly got up and started following her fleeing quarry.
Just as Matt walked through the door, Sarah ran through after him. He wasn't even able to take three more steps before she called out.
"Wait!" she shouted. He turned to look back at her. She suddenly felt a bit nervous about asking to go with him. Still, she continued relentlessly. "If it's not too much trouble, I'd like to go with you."
Well, this is new, Matt thought to himself as he just stood there and watched her for a moment. She looked a little anxious, obviously hoping that he wouldn't reject her request. He had to admit that he wasn't used to traveling with someone, so the idea was both intriguing and a little bothersome. He had always been alone. Some serious thought would definitely have to be given to this.
"Why?" he asked her. She had to have some kind of reason, at least one that was somewhat logical. This wasn't a decision to be made lightly on her part. What did she possibly hope to gain by traveling with him? She already had his money. There had to be another factor.
"Well…" she began, racking her mind for a good answer. She couldn't really think of a convincing lie. It was probably best just to tell him the truth. She would keep out the part about getting more of his money though. He would turn her down right where she stood if she gave him that reason. "I've been living here for a long time now, and I haven't been able to leave because of all the demons between here and the other towns. I wanna get out of here, but I need someone to accompany me, preferably a sorcerer, and you just happen to be one."
"…I don't know…"
"Please?" She reached into her pocket and withdrew the small bag of money she had liberated from him. "I'm willing to pay you."
"But that's my money…"
"Please? I don't wanna stay in this town anymore. I won't get in your way. Please take me with you."
Matt sighed, running his hand through his hair. This was a tough decision to make. He really wasn't used to having a companion. He rarely ever, if at all, traveled with someone. However, he had to admit that he could use the conversation. Journeying alone often became incredibly lonely. Maybe I should just give in. It could be fun. She's not that bad of company—better than most of the women I've met. He shuddered slightly at that thought. More often than not, he would end up talking to a woman who was more interested in getting a room at an inn than actually having a conversation. This girl didn't seem as shallow. Besides, he kind of liked the idea of having someone to talk to. There was only so much he could say to himself.
"I suppose it's alright," he told her, smiling at the way she reacted. She probably would have jumped for joy if there hadn't been so many people watching right now. Matt was easily aware of every set of eyes trained on the two of them as well as the looks he was receiving. Is this whole town full of bounty hunters? I should probably leave before I draw any more attention.
"Thanks," Sarah said cheerfully. "I promise I won't slow you down."
"Hold on. There's something you have to do first."
"…What?" she asked, taking a step back. What could he possibly want her to do? She felt her stomach churn at the thought of what some hunters would ask for in a situation like this. She prayed he wasn't one of them.
Matt held out his hand, giving her a smirk.
"My money, please. I don't plan to act as your paid escort or anything, but since we'll be traveling together, I'll manage it."
Sarah frowned a bit as she stared at his outstretched hand. She really didn't want to return the money, but the thought of eventually earning more than that got her to concur. Besides, compared to what he could have asked for, this was nothing. She handed it over a bit hesitantly and then watched as he tucked the bag into one of his cloak pockets. Apparently he trusted her not to steal it again since he wasn't making an effort to keep her from seeing. She really had no intention of taking it. Now that they were traveling together, she needed to behave. He was her only way out of this place.
Without another word, Matt turned away and began walking. Sarah was quick to follow.
"By the way," he began, glancing back at her. "I never did get your name."
"It's Sarah. Yours?"
"Just call me Matt."
"So…what're you gonna do in Darik?" she asked.
A slightly cruel smirk spread across Matt's face.
"…I have to see a man about some demons."
"Demons? You're gonna hunt?"
"Of course. The more I kill, the more money I get." And the more I kill…the closer I get to finding Reivin.
Sarah didn't say anything more to him as they reached the city limits. By his posture and expression, it was obvious that Matt was thinking about something. Despite how carefree and naïve he appeared, he was apparently pretty serious-minded when it came to hunting. However, that was only natural. Demons were tricksters by nature, using the dark to hide and attack when one least expected it. Without focus, facing a herd was like suicide. Hopefully he was as good as he appeared, or they would be in serious trouble. After all, only a gifted sorcerer could slay a demon.