CHAPTER 1:

Zenith Pitts watched from the shadows of the rafters as the blissfully ignorant shopkeeper packed up her things down below. He was turned practically invisible due to the skin-tight leather suit he wore. It was fashioned by the Weaver King himself and shimmered constantly. The suit had no true color of its own but blended in with whatever background colors were present when the wearer was still enough. This suit had helped Zenith many times on various missions and this aided him in observing his latest target.

The young woman in question shook a cascade of shimmering purple hair free from an old tatty cap with a contended sigh as she closed the rafters and bolted the door. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and stood still for a moment as if meditating. Seconds later, she did something that would shock most normal people had the boy in the rafters not seen it before: Humming softly and eerily, she pinched her nose and her lightly tanned skin rippled.

Seconds later, it flashed thrice before transforming into an intense red color. At the same time, her form grew thinner but decidedly more muscular as opposed to her previously plump girth, a good disguise. Her ears lengthened and twisted until they were three inches long and pointed. Her old shopkeeper outfit, now tattered and dull by comparison to her new form, hung limp around her thinner frame and looked strongly out of place with the rest of her.

Thus transformed, the woman uttered a contented groan and her shoulders sagged as if she was feeling better. Opening her eyes, she straightened her back and grinned cheekily as she flicked her fingers and the mess of her shop that sold various odds and ends vanished. Unfortunately, the shop did not transform into anything unnatural but rather took on a decidedly cleaner nature rather than the rat's nest it looked like only seconds ago. Suddenly, the woman sniffed the air as if sensing a foreign presence in her realm.

Zenith's whole body tensed and he took on a crouching position, ready to spring at a moment's notice. His hands automatically went to the two thin but lethal blades slung in a cross-shape on his back should the need arise. The woman flinched visibly and Zenith's fingers curled around the blade-handles, loosening them from their sheaths.

The woman spun around and her hand shot out wards. A bright beam of dark red energy exploded from her palm and wrapped around Zenith like a tentacle monster ensnaring its unsuspecting prey. The magic was too fast for the Rogue who cursed in annoyance as he slammed down to the table, as the woman yanked him downwards with her beams of energy.

Pre-loosened as they were, his two blades forged by the dwarves in their sacred mountain kingdom, clattered uselessly to the ground. Years of harsh training and brutal experience and painstaking observation were all wasted due to hesitation and staring at the foreign beauty that now had him trapped on her counter. An aggravating smirk spread across her lips and Zenith instantly slipped on his expressionless mask on his face though inside he was seething.

With a quick chant of some foreign Witch-speak, the woman flicked her wrist and the beam fell off her hand and buried firmly into the table. Zenith squirmed fiercely as he struggled to undo the bonds but they held fast and he was stuck. The woman merely crossed her arms and watched him struggle with an amused expression. Not wanting to entertain her any longer, Zenith collapsed onto the counter-top and gave into defeat.

"Well, look how the mighty have fallen," The unusual shopkeeper drawled. "It's not every night I get the honor of snaring a rogue. Pray tell the meaning of your visit before I banish you to the Abyss."

"Am I allowed a final question first before I die?" Zenith tried, attempting to buy some time.

The woman nodded with a bored look on her face.

"Why bother assaulting me now when you must have known I've been in your shop before if you discovered me this time around?" Zenith enquired.

Although it was to put off the inevitable with pointless banter, Zenith was secretly puzzled to bits by this peculiarity since a woman of her standing would definitely be able to tell he was intruding if she could now. It was an oddity, like an itch he couldn't scratch.

An unreadable look flashed in the woman's violet eyes.

"I could sense that you meant me no harm any of those times," She answered softly. "However, this time is different and you mean me ill. Likewise, I am curious as to why you failed to carry out your mission before now."

Zenith's face flushed and he tried not to sound high-pitched though he knew he probably failed.

"I liked your ears," He mumbled.

The woman's mouth fell open in astonishment before she smirked and placed her hands on her hips.

"What was that?" She teased. "I didn't quite hear you."

Zenith glared daggers at her but knew better than to aggravate his captor.

"I thought your ears were cute okay," He said louder though it came out as a squeak. "But now they make you look like an imp."

"Well that sounds like a plausible excuse," The woman chuckled as Zenith squirmed in embarrassment.

"Oh just kill me now," Zenith groaned.

He'd never hear the end of this if his friend or mentor found out.

The woman responded in a peal of musical laughter that sounded like a bird's song or an angel's flute. He might as well can the mission, she had him wrapped around her finger and she knew it.

"Not likely," The woman cooed. "You still haven't explained your presence here. Now tell me."

Zenith gulped as white hot flames kindled in her eyes.

"I need your core," Zenith mumbled hollowly.

"My what?" The woman hissed icily, all pretense of amusement and playfulness vanished.

"Your core," Zenith ground out. "I need your core in order to mask my life signature and pass as a Thunderling."

Instantly, all anger and hatred vanished, much to Zenith's relief, and was replaced by a burning intrigue.

"Why?" The woman asked flatly.

Zenith braced himself for a burst of raucous laughter as he revealed his master plan. The woman's ears perked visibly as he told her and her eyes danced with mischief.

"Now if I couldn't smell your honesty," She said at length after he finished his odd tale. "I wouldn't believe you for one second. But I must say that you have me interested, so much so in fact that I wish to join you on your venture."

"Just like that?" Zenith scoffed. "How am I to believe you're telling the truth and that this isn't some sick joke or a prank?"

"I see the reputation of my kin precedes me," The woman sighed.

"You are of the Fire Skinned," Zenith retorted. "What else would you have me think."

"Well, you should know I am unlike the rest of my kin," The woman shot back harshly.

"Oh?" Zenith scoffed.

"Why else would I be hiding out here?" The woman spat. "Masquerading as one of the Oafs and living in this miserable hovel?"
"To be fair you do trick each and every one of your customers into buying crap," Zenith interjected.

"I know," The woman giggled. "It's such fun. I must do one prank at least or my fiery skin will wither gray and sag. Besides, it's harmless."

"Perhaps," Zenith agreed. "But what about the disappointment a parent, friend, or relative gains when acquiring one of your objects as a gift for a child or loved-one?"

The woman's ears drooped and Zenith had to force himself not to reach out and touch them. Not like he'd be able to anyways. And even if he managed such a feat, the Red Skin would slap him if he did – or worse: They guarded their ears jealously.

"I suppose," The Red Skin muttered sullenly like a corrected child.

But then her face brightened and Zenith cringed, fearing the worse.

"Then you must take me along with you all the more to keep me out of trouble," She chirped. "Besides, I could come in handy along your quest."

"First of all, it's NOT a quest!" Zenith hissed. "Don't you dare insult me by calling it a quest. Secondly, how do I know you don't want to use me to get it or are just tricking me for kicks?"

"Simple," The woman smirked, her glee palpable. "A Soul Bond, I've always wanted to try one. It'll be fun!"

Zenith paled and sucked in a sharp breath.

"You've got to be joking?" He asked dumbly, not believing his ears.

"A Red Skin never lies," The woman said solemnly, crossing her heart.

Zenith groaned, knowing she was telling the truth. While Red Skins were notorious pranksters, jokers, smugglers, and crooks, they never told a lie. Oh there were twists, white lies, and half truths and when there was one of those there were always more, but they never told an honest lie no matter how ironic that truth was.

And truth be told, a live Red Skin was much more useful than just a core. Since he was being completely honest with himself and rethinking his shoddy plan, Zenith realized he wouldn't know what to do if he acquired the Red Skin's core.

He had trained and focused on getting to this point and his plot crashed and burned spectacularly. It was only a matter of time before his captor ran out of patience so he decided to relent and buy into the woman's mad scheme. Besides, no one had ever lived to tell the tale of sharing a freaking Soul Bond with a Red Skin, let alone anyone, or anything else for that matter!

If this far-fetched scheme succeeded, well, it might earn him more glory than his original ambition. It would certainly earn him some free rounds at every single tavern in the kingdom, that's for sure! Not to mention the other…benefits.

"Fine," Zenith drawled, feigning a long-suffering sigh. "Perform the ritual. I agree to your terms if you will help me achieve my mission."

"Agreed," The woman said, licking her lips with savage glee. "This will certainly be an interesting little adventure and I will have such fun gleaning all the gossip that will explode when I leave abruptly and mysteriously. Oh, joy!"

Instantly, Zenith regretted his decision. He didn't even know the Red Skin's name!

TO BE CONTINUED...