A/N: Hey, guys. Sorry for the delay. I knew it would probably be a while, since I've lacked motivation for a long time. Due to medical issues, I have had to quit my job and I have to move out of my apartment since I can't afford it without working, and move back home. I'm supposed to get rid of my kitties but I'm going to see if I can keep them, because they're my babies. I also have to try to apply for disability until they can figure out what's wrong with me and how to help me, but who knows how long that will take. Wish me luck?
I didn't want to give up on this story. It means too much to me. But updates might be kind of slow in coming; sorry. Reviews really do motivate me, so just let me know what you're thinking if you'd like. It might make me update quicker.
Chapter length: 2711
The thought kept winding through Aranon's head as he made his way through the moonlit streets of Brixone Port. Normally, he wouldn't dare to enter a city of any kind, all too aware of what the general public thought of his kind, and would do to him. It wasn't safe for him to be here; his wings were a neon sign, beckoning danger ever closer. However, he was exhausted, and his left wing was injured; there would be no flying until it healed, which left him on foot. If he wanted to go South, he had to travel through Brixone Port. Normally he would try for the woods, but he needed food, and since he was unable to fly, he couldn't catch his own in his injured state. So, the market seemed the best idea, despite the risks. Hunger would do that to a person.
He just needed to keep to the shadows and hide during the day; no one would notice him, and he would make it out of the city easily enough. If he was careful he could steal some food, too. He had little coin. It wasn't like he'd been gifted much as he was exiled, only the clothes on his back. For a year he'd been running, struggling to remain free of the humans, elves, and other creatures who would use him for his blood. He shivered just thinking about it, at the horror stories passed down from ember to ember, keeping them isolated in their mountainous home.
As he was flung from the only life he'd ever known, those horror stories came back to him, again and again – haunting him. Taunting him. You did this, his mind said. And now this is your punishment – to be bled dry by humans eager for your rejuvenating blood.
All it would take was a human seeing his wings, his scales, his clawed hands – and he was done for. He could hold his own in a fight, sure, but he was already so tired and hungry and wounded, from his last encounter with elves. An arrow slice through his left wing, and now it hung off his back limply, trembling occasionally with pain.
He hated the city. He hated being in cramped spaces; with his wings, it made it rather difficult to maneuver, and he trusted no one here. One human, he kept telling himself. That was all it would take. One single human, spotting him, sounding the alarm, and he was dead. A chill inched up his spine, causing him to shiver but not from the slight chill in the air. The chill didn't necessarily bother him; he came from the mountains, after all. Fire mountains, but mountains nevertheless, and the air grew thin and frigid the higher one climbed. It was why they didn't have to worry about humans or elves or other races up in the mountains; it was safe for them, for his kind, for the Embers. Safe because only they could stomach the atmosphere. Those who tried to climb either froze on their way up, choked on the lack of air, or fell to their untimely demises. The few who managed to make it close to their homestead… well, they didn't make it, either.
He missed home. The thought of the warm hot springs left his bones aching, his wings shuddering at the thought of their healing touch. Instead, he was left here, in this human city, surrounded by strangers and shadows. All it took was one. One person spotting him, and he was dead.
He clung to the shadows as best as he could, but the red tint to his scaly skin was always a dead giveaway, not to mention the overhanging shadow of his wings, despite how he tried to enclose them around his body. The sliced wing refused to cooperate, and hung as limply as it could, trembling occasionally. Every time a tremor shot through it, he stifled a gasp as it left his shoulder twinging painfully.
All it takes is one. The thought kept circling through his mind. Just one human, and I'm dead.
He just needed a safe place for the night and day, and he'd sneak out tomorrow night. He'd be on his way, and everything would be okay. Just a safe spot. Just one single safe spot.
Stick to the shadows, and you will be okay, he tried to keep telling himself, but the mantra began to fade as the minutes, hours, ticked by. Dodging humans was exhausting in his current state, and he ached to spread his wings and fly. Sadly, until his wing healed, that was not an option.
Just one human… and I'm dead.
Thankfully, few seemed to be out and about at this hour of the night, though the local guard proved troublesome in avoiding.
One wrong move, one misstep, and you're dead.
The threat of death hanging over his head was always a good motivator. He didn't want to die. Still, a part of him wondered why he was exiled instead of killed outright. Exile was still death, just slower and more cruel. At least if he was sentenced to death it would have been quick. Now… now he was left at the mercy of the other races who wanted his blood, literally. Death would be painful, and not at all fast.
Another shiver slid up his spine.
He rounded a corner, ducking into the darkness waiting for him just out of sight of the patrolling guards. His wings made it difficult for him to duck behind cover, but he managed it in the end. He waited for a moment, wondering if anyone heard, before he poked his head back up to look around. No one was there, and he felt no eyes upon him, so he stepped out of the shadows to cross the narrow alleyway and walk along the next dark street.
"I wouldn't go that way, if I were you."
The voice was sudden, leaving Aranon's spine straightening with a nearly audible snap. He spun to face the intruder, dread coiling tightly in his stomach.
All it takes is one human… and I'm dead.
The human in question stood leaning against a wall, looking perhaps a little too casual. He wore dark clothing and a hood, covering his hair from sight and shielding his face in shadow. He appeared at ease, despite the threat Aranon could post on his life. He held no weapon, nor took a fighting stance as Aranon's gaze locked onto him. Curiosity swirled in Aranon's stomach, but the dread drowned it out rather quickly.
"What do you want?" Aranon asked in the common tongue. His words came out slightly hissed, but that he could not help.
"Nothing," the human replied. "I just wouldn't go that way, unless you want to get caught. They're waiting around the corner. They like to linger there and chat, you see. So I'd go another way."
"Why are you telling me this?" The curiosity was back, with a vengeance.
The human shrugged. "Take my advice, don't take my advice – doesn't matter to me. Do what you want." He pushed off the wall, and brushed past Aranon, back in the direction Aranon came from.
"You're not going to sound the alarm?" Aranon asked, unable to stop himself. It just didn't make sense to him. Humans wanted Embers dead; they wanted their healing blood. So why was this one apparently warning him away from a patrol?
"And have them come running?" the human scoffed, shaking his head. "No thanks. You want them, you go get them."
"I'm just passing through. Just for the night."
The human stopped walking, and turned to partially face him, eyes scanning him over briefly. "I wish you luck, but I'm getting out of town. Can't help you."
With that, the human walked off. Aranon noticed the glimmer of daggers strapped to the man's back, but the human never reached for them to attack. He watched the human leave, and then looked back the way he wanted to go, but the human warned him against.
Sighing, he went another way, curious and grateful all at once.
Maybe it didn't take just one human.
Maybe humans weren't so bad after all.
Maybe the stories were false.
The stories weren't false.
At least, he didn't think so.
Watching the humans surround and capture one of their own was brutal enough; he could only imagine what they would do if they found him.
He heard the sounds of battle before he saw it. It was a few hours after that human left him with that parting warning, and dawn would be arriving shortly. He needed to find a place as soon as he could, but so far he'd found nowhere substantial to stay. He heard shouting first, then the sounds of a scuffle; bodies hitting the ground, metal clanging against metal as weapons were drawn. He slowly peeked around a corner and saw several men surrounding one human, clothed in black. Several others lay on the ground, dead, their vacant stares almost mocking Aranon.
It didn't take long to recognize the human in the middle of the fray – the man in black, from the alleyway earlier. Those daggers which rested upon his back were now unsheathed, dancing in the moonlight as he wielded them deftly, with expert accuracy. One landed cleanly in the gap between the chest and back plates of an armed guard, felling him in a single swoop, while his other easily found purchase across the throat of a second guard.
Then the man looked up. For just an instant, their eyes connected – Aranon's yellow with this man's flashing gold. There was something inhuman in his gaze, something frenzied. It left Aranon ducking back behind cover before anyone else could notice him, but still the image of that gaze haunted him.
The shouting grew louder; these men wanted this human caught, dead or alive. If the human argued, he couldn't make out the words, only a snarled response and something about not running. Aranon pushed away from the wall he'd leaned against to peer around the corner; he needed to get out of here.
A part of him whispered that he could help this human, who had warned him earlier and kept him from walking into an ambush – but a much larger part of him warned that this would only expose him, and this human was surrounded. There would be no helping him. He needed to look after himself, if he wanted to live.
And Aranon Vyrex wanted to live.
He found a place, just prior to sunrise. The sky was already beginning to lighten by the time he found the abandoned building with the boarded windows. He slipped inside and replaced the broken board before walking further into the building. Shadows greeted him, no light seeping through the windows with the low light outside, but he could see fairly well despite the dim lighting. He could make out the shape of the room he was in, and eased around the edge of a forgotten table.
He spent the morning pressed against the corner wall, attempting to drown out the sounds of the city waking beyond these walls. He heard the shouts of people beginning their days, a mother calling out for her children to behave, horses walking just outside. He listened to it all, and remained as silent as possible. He didn't dare allow himself to sleep, only relax and meditate. Sleep could mean his demise in a place like this, if he were to be caught unaware.
As he meditated, he thought back to the glowing eyes of that man the night before.
Those golden eyes haunted him, long after he saw them.
Curiosity vied for dominance in his mind, but he quieted it with thoughts of his own painful demise at the hands of the humans if he were to get himself caught. Self-preservation was, and would always be, an excellent motivator.
So he listened, and waited.
There was an ache deep inside of him, which yearned for the warmth of the springs back home, the chill of the air in the mountains along the Outer Rim, and for the sense of belonging he could never seem to find out here, alone. He would always be alone, because he could not trust anyone.
Just one human. That was all it took to end him.
Except… that one human didn't end me.
It still left his thoughts spiraling, as that haunting image of those eyes flitted through his mind once again, a snake slithering in tall grass waiting to strike.
That human spared him, but not all humans were like that. That human was also likely dead, after the events of last night. He shoved those eyes from his thoughts, and focused on peering out a crack in the wood boards placed in the windows. It seemed to be darkening outside; he could soon leave, and continue on his journey. His stomach twisted, growling; hunger swept through him, a wave drowning all other thought. Food. He hadn't eaten in a while, not since he was wounded. It was partially why he came through here, after all. He could not hunt like this.
He would have to go out and steal something tonight, but all the markets closed up shop before nightfall. Perhaps something would be left behind, some small morsel of food, but he'd likely have to get his stolen meal by other means. Riskier means.
Or he could steal some human weapons and attempt to hunt like them, after fleeing this city. The fields would yield him rabbits, and the woods would give him bigger game. He'd never been very adept with those weapons, though; he could handle himself in a fight, but he'd studied to take a different position in his community. And yet, here he was, alone in a world that would never accept him, that would never be kind to him.
All it takes is just one human… just one…
He pried open a board, and slipped out of the building. Night had fallen, the city streets lit only by moonlight and the occasional lantern.
His stomach growled again. He still didn't quite have a plan, still didn't quite know what he was going to do when he got to the market area.
He'd find out when he got there, he supposed.
He listened carefully, waited until footfalls slipped away before he quietly eased around a corner, keeping to the shadows as best he could. Again, though, the task was rather difficult with his appearance. All it took was the shape of his outline, and the alarm would be sounded. He needed to be careful.
The made it to the market area easily enough. It was rather quiet, this time of night. The patrol had already passed through here; he had some time before they would return. He crept closer to the closed down stands, sniffing the air for the scent of food. He caught a light whiff, and pried open the top hatch to a box. Apples were inside, at the bottom of the box, left behind from hours before. They didn't look particularly appetizing, but his hungry stomach demanded food, so he picked up two and took a bite of one of them. It wasn't ripe at all, and had begun to rot, but food was food and he couldn't be picky right now.
He chewed carefully, thoughtfully, and finished the apple before tossing the core away and beginning on the second. He ate this one quickly, eager to be done and out of this area. Perhaps he could still pilfer some weapons before he fled the city; the night was still young.
Before he could look around for such weapons, though, he was suddenly cast in light. His body stiffened, limbs tightening by a presence not his own, a sudden intrusion in his mind. He couldn't move at all, completely paralyzed. All he could do was switch his eyes off to the side, where shapes lingered in the shadows.
"Well, then," a smooth voice said, smirk evident by the cadence, "what have we here?"
All it takes is one… and you're dead.