This might be strange.

Eiríkur - Iceland

Sigurd - Norway

Mikkel - Denmark

Timo - Finland

Berwald - Sweden

It was a small place, one that was perhaps once white or pale marble pink but long since had been dyed with the city's grimy colour, hidden between the cracks of an old, abandoned building's back alley wall. Sigurd called it a 'hidey-hole', there were hundreds, perhaps thousands littered around the city if you knew where to look, and he made sure that Eiríkur knew every one of them off by heart, going round and round the city for days just to make sure they didn't miss a single one. Eiríkur knew this hidey-hole better than most, having spent much of his short life cooped up in it, listening to the familiar sound of deadly drops of acid rain pitter-pattering outside while praying for his big brother's safe return.

Within the smoky, grey-stained city where the acidic rain never seemed to stop, there were little things that could catch a child's attention: small shops of tea and sweets, with crystal spun tea cups and delicate petaled chrysanthemums floating within the warm orange nectar, flora and fauna made of glass-sugar, the sweet delicacy usually reserved for the highest class now selling for a penny a piece and lining the smudged window sills, and all manners of small eccentricities, a dragon made of rose petals, a troll with pupils of spun moonlight, Huginn and Muninn on their daily flight, blown glass wings spread wide. Seven-year-old Eiríkur passed these things by, but not without a second, longing glance despite his silence, not seeing Sigurd´s eyes following the same path. In this sort of place, this sort of city so far from the capital, even a penny could earn you the status of a king or a painful night passed out on the street. A penny could be your salvation, and a penny could be your demise.

Eiríkur curled up as tightly as he could, doing as his big brother said, and even so, he could only just fit in the hidey-hole. He was getting too big. Sigurd's thin white hands were cold as he pushed Eiríkur into the place, his words pouring out his a whispering rush.

"Remember, keep quiet, and tuck your tunic in, don't make a noise, and don't come out until I come get you." His expression softened as he ran his fingers through Eiríkur's tangled silver hair, a familiar gesture, and Sigurd leaned forward to press his grimy lips to an equally grimy forehead, putting on a smile as he spoke.

"We'll be fine, I'll be fine, and no one else can find you here.

Eiríkur stared up at him with, wide, violet eyes, fear swimming in the glazed over orbs, watching as Sigurd tucked a stray bit of ribbon from the tunic into the cracks of the hidey-hole and stood, his smile dropping as he turned from the place. Sigurd was strength, survival, and as his figure faded into the distance, Eiríkur's small shreds of courage faded with him. He wasn't unused to curling up in hidey-holes for days at a time, he was too small for Sigurd to take on raids, but couldn't defend himself alone, but the lingering fear always stayed. What if Sigurd didn't return, didn't come back, and left him all alone?

Eiríkur didn´t know how long he spent in that hole, curled up, eyes squeezed shut just to stop the tears from leaking out. His hair was in his eyes and the liquid dripping from his nose made his lips sticky and crusty and his back hurt as much as it itched, but he held himself back from moving by only squeezing harder, as if it would make him smaller, smaller, smaller until he was nothing at all. There were voices outside, some raspy and low, some high and melodic, all muffled by his small hands pressed tightly to the sides of his head. The sound of footsteps were soft and sparse, not many people came to this part of the city, and the shoes he caught sight of from the small cracks in the stone were nothing but worn and dirty scraps of cloth, barely covering their owners' feet. The rain was ever falling, so familiar it had become background noise, and his own pale feet, wrapped in muddy rags of red, were soaked in the liquid, as always. At this point, Eiríkur couldn't even remember a time without the constant wet, even his eyes, which had swelled at the dirty city air when he had first come to the orphanage, no longer shone red around the edges.

Eiríkur kept as still was possible, ignoring the cramps shooting up his legs. He trusted Sigurd, who had promised to get them somewhere safe. Sigurd acted as if nothing was wrong, as if this was just another scavenging trip, but Eiríkur knew they couldn't live like this. Sigurd pretended, but neither of them could fend off the vicious older boys, they would die if they continued to pretend. Sigurd never said anything, but Eiríkur had heard enough about children who refused to enter alliances to know. Even for the past year, they were just hanging on by a single thread, slowly unraveling with their weight until it threatened to snap.

The dark approached quickly, and the footsteps, the shoes, the voices, slowly dwindled and gave way to a quieter, albeit more sinister atmosphere. It was nearly midnight, probably, and Eiríkur's heartbeat quickened. It had been too long, far longer than Sigurd's usual trips, and if the older boys came before Sigurd, it was all over. A worse fate fell to those street children who stayed behind after midnight though, because after midnight was when the monsters came out. The footsteps started up again, this time soft and padded, children's feet wrapped in rags against the hard, wet stone. His breathing calmed as footsteps neared the hidey-hole, Sigurd, before starting up again in quick, harsh, gasps as he caught glimpse of a set of feet too big to be Sigurd's approach his hiding place. Panic knotted in his stomach before rushing into his head, and he swallowed the resulting metallic taste as his vision swam with dots of black and red. His bladder felt strangely full, and he clenched his stomach as warm liquid threatened to leak out, muffling a sob into his elbow. Sigurd told him to stay, and Sigurd never lied, but the feet were too big, the shoes were too stiff and dirty, like the shoes of the older kids who sometimes came to do raids, and the footsteps were getting louder, and Eiríkur couldn't move, couldn't breathe as the voices grew louder as well, rising into an obtrusive buzzing the nearly deafened him, and fingers to thick and too bare to be his brothers thin, gloved ones came into view, just as bile filled Eiríkur's mouth, dribbling down his chin.

The hand jerked away as Eiríkur's mouth opened, the chunky substance spilling down his front and onto the hand, soiling his tunic. The smell was potent enough to make him gag, and when thin, gloved hands reached in to lift him up and out of the hole, his brother was greeted by tears and snot dribbling down his pale face. Eiríkur hiccupped as he pressed close to Sigurd, both of them ignoring the bile. His brother's voice was soft, calm and slightly raspy, as the voices of all children who lived too long in the smoky city ended up to be, and even though Sigurd was small, smaller than most children in the city, to Eiríkur, then and now and always, he was the world.

Behind Sigurd, someone else stood, brilliant blue eyes and spiky blonde hair a stark contrast to the grimy back alley street behind him. His coat was black, and in such well condition it could have been found in a trading post, but that was the only part of him that was in anything other than a state of disrepair, rivaled only by his sunny smile. Eiríkur hid his face in his brother's arm, only lifting his head to glare viciously at the imposter, the older boy with the strange red goggles and a neat black coat. The boy´s smile didn't falter, but neither did Eiríkur's glare. He hated this boy with his shiny hair and wide smile, he hated his blank blue eyes and his acid soaked feet that were so much like Eiríkur's own, and as Sigurd gently set him down and pushed him forward, Eiríkur spat the rest of his bile traced saliva onto the older boy, violet eyes set in a harsh glare.

"Eirí!" Sigurd's voice was reprimanding, and Eiríkur stared up defiantly at the older boy as he mumbled out a soft 'Halló', his eyes as harsh as ever.

"This is Mikkel, he is from the capital." Sigurd's explanation was concise, spoken in a soft voice that Eiríkur knew from experience could and would turn harsh in a split second. Mikkel smiled even wider than what Eiríkur thought possible and cheerfully shook the smaller boy's hand. Eiríkur started at the feeling, the hand was just as thin and dirty as his own, and just as cold as the ice inside him and his brother, the same ice that had gotten them labeled as demons and thrown onto the rainy city streets. Maybe, under the nice black coat and red glass goggles, this boy was kin. Maybe, but ever since he could remember, it had been just the two of them. Just Eiríkur and his stóri bróðir against the rest of the world, and Eiríkur wasn't about to let that ever change.

He followed his big brother as the two older boys walked in front, leading the way to Mikkel´s hideout where two other boys reportedly were, and watched as his big brother elbowed the other boy, hard enough to bruise. Eiríkur felt a surge of pride, his big brother was strong, and that strength would get them through everything, he was sure.

The walk itself was nothing special, and it was punctuated by several breathless moments of hiding between buildings and carts, waiting for the older boys to pass. It was dark outside, even darker than the dreary daytime, but sundown to midnight was the only time shadow children could roam without fear of government monsters or regular denizens. The acidic water sloshed on the streets, soaking their small feet, wrapped in the dirty cloth to declare their status as a street child, a shadow-lurking demon, seen by no one but feared by all.

The hideout came to view before long, it was one of the bigger hidey-holes hidden between the market stalls and a iron trade post, reportedly abandoned months ago. Mikkel surged forward in relief as a small head of tousled blonde hair and curious blue eyes poked out of the cleverly hidden entrance, a thin strip of stone-covered cloth disguised as part of the trading post wall. The relief in Mikkel's voice shone out like a beacon, even as he scolded the smaller one in hushed tones, reminding the other boy that they were no longer in an orphanage and this sort of thing could very well get you killed on the unforgiving city streets.

The boy, who was amazingly small, even smaller than Sigurd, was Timo. He introduced himself with a shy smile and let them in on Mikkel's word, revealing a stone interior coated with tarp to block out the acid rain. Another boy, tall, with a pair of filthy, cracked glasses that were nonetheless a luxury even in their fractured state sat on a cot, which was fashioned out of leftover tarp and old wood from a broken cart, as Mikkel was quick to proudly introduce. The tall boy's hands moved smoothly over a sizable chunk of leftover wood, a small carving knife fashioned out of some sort of shiny material clutched loosely in his deft hands.

"This is Berwald, he made everything you see here!" Timo smiled as he led them over to the cot, settling down on the tarp-covered floor and gesturing for them to do the same on the small space left beside Berwald. Sigurd calmly settled down on the side of the cot, obviously used to the atmosphere. Eiríkur stood, not trusting any of the other boys for a second, and Mikkel crouched by the door, glancing every few seconds as if scared something would appear through the tarp, revealing their hideout to all.

Eiríkur's shreds of patients were nearly at their limit when Mikkel stood up and let the doorway fall back in place, making his way to the space beside Sigurd and sitting down with a wide, sunny smile.

"Sigurd's decided he's going to join us for a while, " Mikkel announced with a wide smile. "And the white haired brat is is younger brother."

"...Eiríkur. Not brat." The white haired boy mumbled, directing his vicious gaze around. Aside from Sigurd, who was absorbed in fiddling with two shiny pieces of thin metal, taken from Mikkel's coat sleeves, the rest of the group were complete strangers to Eiríkur, whose trust in them didn't reach nearly as far as he could push them. Sigurd made a soft 'oh' sound as the two metal rods clicked into place, forming a small, golden cross, and turned the cross around in his hand, a glint in his eye. He had always liked things like that, little trinkets that they couldn't afford. The room was silent for a few short, blessed seconds, Sigurd fiddling with his cross, Mikkel staring into space, Berwald hard at work and Timo watching Berwald. Unfortunately, Sigurd chose that moment to snap Mikkel out of his daze with a kick that made Timo wince and Eiríkur smile widely. As the two began to bicker, Eiríkur sighed and kicked the dirt ground. Like it or not, this was his new 'family'.