Welp, here goes...


The Balaur commander snarls at the peons, who swing their picks yet faster as they feel his attention upon them. Ancient stone crumbles easily under their combined might, and the tunnel is excavated cobble by cobble, pick by pick, peon by peon.

"Faster, faster!" he roars. "We need to breach the central chamber before the aether cloud engulfs us!" He paces forward and strikes one hard across the back with the pommel of his sword, causing the peon to collapse to the ground in agony.

The tunnel stretches both ways, long and dark: at one end, barely visible, the peons slave with their tools; at the other, a winding, curving passage allows a narrow sliver of light to pass from the dense aether outside. The commander shambles back, passing alcoves—failed attempts at tunneling—and dark crevices where peons still work at clearing out rock. He turns into one of these, widened just enough for him to go through without his spiked armor catching on rock.

"Or do you want the Crimson Lord's wrath upon us?" His words echo down the hollow carved tunnels, and everyone shivers.


Magnus carefully eyes the ranger. He has good reason to do so: she's pointing a bow at him, and though she hasn't loaded an arrow nor drawn yet he knows the skill of Elysean rangers. He's seen them pull arrows out of aether: arrows that always go for the head; arrows that hit with poison or concussive force; arrows that tangle with chains.

A few seconds ago, he'd felt one of those arrows' impact first-hand. Which is why he can't just reach down and pluck his dagger from his belt.

The ranger mutters something to herself, and he perks his ears up. One of the downsides of wearing a hood: noise is muffled. Worth it for protecting his identity, though. Magnus doesn't want to know what would happen if his misadventures caused any more trouble, or worse, if they were tied back to him.

"Who are you?" she shouts. He looks back at her blankly. A faint rumbling buzzes against his ears.

She tries again, in broken Atreian: "What are you?"

Magnus allows himself to chuckle, but winces in pain as the chains wrap tighter. Through the movement he moves his fingers a centimeter closer to his belt, from where his arm is trapped at his side. Almost there.

"I'm not telling you my name," he says. He gasps again as the chains close around his legs, cutting off circulation. Running's going to be hard, but that's a problem for the minute after. But…no spikes. Chains, but no spikes. He frowns. What does the ranger want, if not to kill him?

"What—what location you did hide the book? Where did you hide it?"

Ah. That.

The ranger looks over to the side of the island, off the edge of the cliff and into the Abyss, and frowns before turning back to him. Just a flick of her eyes. It's enough. His fingers touch the handle of his knife.

"Your speech sucks. Who taught you, a shugo who grunts like a kurin?" His fingers catch the leather loop affixed to the hilt, and Magnus has to stop himself from smirking. He's been in bad situations before. He's gotten out of worse ones. This is nothing.

"Final chance." The ranger's eyes turn livid and he can see her fingers tracing a pattern in the air. Sure enough, an arrow materializes in her fingers, already nocked. "Else I drag you to the Sanctum and get answers."

"You don't even know—"

Knife in hand, he dashes forward and the chains fall apart all around him. They clatter on the ground. But they do not discorporate. The ranger draws and shoots. Then draws and shoots again. Magnus dives to the side and lands on his elbow. A second later he's on his knees. He charges towards her barely a blur and his knife at her throat. The arrow strikes the stone where he was standing a moment ago and explodes. The ground rumbles.

"—my face!"

Magnus takes a moment to frown. None of the arrows were killing blows. They were meant to incapacitate. Was she serious about wanting to take him alive? This far out in the Abyss—he couldn't feel an obelisk anchored on his aether, and he'd thought that coming this far out would discourage pursuit.

The ranger is saying something, but a whistling—chiming?—drowns it out. Magnus thrusts with his knife. Best get this over with.

He can see the ranger's eyes widen as she stumbles backward, but the knife nicks the skin between her neck and shoulder anyways, where the armor doesn't protect. He briefly notes her clutching something in her fingers but the assassin's attention is on her eyes, waiting for them to glaze over in pain.

They don't.

The poison should've acted by now. Magnus groans. When was the last time he'd applied it? Long enough for it to have worn off by now. Sloppy, he scolds himself. Even with the lightning reflexes that came with following the Star of Death, the ranger was too fast. Well, he won't be underestimating her again.

Drawing his second knife and holding one in each hand, the assassin lunges at the ranger before she has the chance to raise her bow. Left, right, thrust, step around to cut off escape. Easy, even without poison.

"Dodge all you want. You won't avoid my blades forever," he growls.

The ranger lifts her bow to block his next thrust, and he snorts. No fear in her eyes. He can respect that. What's that in her other hand? She's holding the bow with only one.

Magnus kicks out and she stumbles, then swipes with his left dagger. She steps back to avoid it, eyes wide. Mistake. She falls. The ground rumbles, and the assassin drops to one knee—winces as pain shoots up his leg—bringing down his knife in the same motion. The ranger rolls to avoid it, backing herself against the wall.

Finally.

"Not forever," the ranger replies. The assassin gets up. Or tries to, but his boot catches and he hears cloth tearing and—oh. Magnus looks down. Tripeed seed. Spike trap. Why—

He can hear his teacher shouting at him—why are you still down, fool? Get up!

His vision is distorted with red and green when he looks up and feels the ranger kick his knives out of his hands. He tears at the spikes and growls. An edge rips through the leather on his forearm and he hisses in pain, jerking away. A small nudge on the sole of his boot and in a panic he moves his foot as far away as possible—just in time, as a spike burst upwards to impale the air where he had stood. Thank Triniel he doesn't have nearly as big a mane as some other daevas he's seen. That would be a nightmare.

"What do you want, Elyos?" Magnus spits out, glaring at the ranger. The red haze is brighter around her, almost glowing. Slowly, strength begins to return to Magnus. He just needs to wait for the right moment, when she's distracted. Then he can strike back. It's galling that she—some stupid sunkissed ranger—managed to best him. Managed to take his knives from him. Managed to track him so far.

Managed to drive him into this remote corner of the Abyss.

The ranger rises, eyes wary, and straightens her armor, inspects her bow. Magnus is viciously glad to see it has nicks on it from his daggers.

"I want you tell me where. You hid the prophecies somewhere, or you gave the prophecies away. Where you did hide it?" She regards him coolly, and Magnus wishes he has a third knife.

So he smiles at her. Even from under the dark of his hood he's sure she can see the red gleam of his eyes and the sharpness of his teeth. "No."

Magnus can see that she's taken aback from how her eyes narrow and bow wavers. Novice.

"You have not a choice. You are stuck here. I have weapon at your neck." She pulls a second arrow, this time from her quiver, and holds it at his throat. Magnus idly wonders how quickly she would react if he were to grab it.

He's still smiling. "What will you do if I don't respond? Why don't I have a choice, little daeva? Tell me. What will you do?"

Her answer is quick. "I will hit you unconscious and take you to…Miragent." Magnus frowns as he considers her last word, not in his Atreian dialect nor a term he's encountered before. But…mira. Meaning, special. It clicks. Sanctum's attack daggs.

"There is a vial of poison somewhere in my cloak. If I break it, I die," he snarls. Time to test whether she really meant to capture him alive, then.

He sees the ranger hesitate. "I will find it. Acknowledge the truth. You have no escape. You are trapped and far from a obelisk. If you will live, then you will cooperate with me." As she talks she picks up speed. "Assassin such as you, you will have heard of a ranger's senses. Do not think you can hide from me."

Magnus considers this. What she says about rangers is true, at least, but her words are stumbling. He can't be sure if that's due to a lack of confidence or a lack of proficiency with Atreian.

"And you are trapped here with me. Do you even know where in the Abyss we are? The nearest island is an hour of flight away by now, and someone with your feeble wings would never be able to make it. You talk of getting back, but I think you will die on the way." He looks around the archipelago around them—he'd seen the ruins from the Wings of Siel, and decided that maybe flying away from the core was a good idea.

Not the best in hindsight, but. He knows a few of Lumiel's legionnaires. Some of them would be very interested in the ruins, and would pay well for the information and scouting services. Unstable ruins, though—the ground rumbles. He can use that.

"…I will find the path back." The ranger's steely gaze suddenly turns cold, but her fingers tremble, almost imperceptible. Almost. She glances around, nervous, and pushes her arrow into his throat, drawing blood. "No time. Last chance."

He eyes her tremble. She's in a rush. He can use that. The reds and greens—now blues, too, fading into white—thicken, and Magnus draws the aether into him. He can use this too.

"What are you—don't do that!" she shouts—just as, for a brief moment, the aether cloud obscures her from sight.

Magnus rips free his arm—ignoring the pain—and slashes it down. It dislodges the arrow. First stroke. It would be easier with knives, but no matter.

He feels the arrow stab at his shoulder. He almost laughs. Bad move. Magnus brings the same arm up in a circular arc. He channels aether through it. Second stroke.

Chop down. Third. Sideways. Fourth. A concussive arrow his him in the chest. He reels back. Dizzy. Almost losing his balance. He brings his arms back again. Sideways with a diagonal follow-up. Fifth. Magnus smirks.

The rune explodes.

Magnus has the pleasure of watching the ranger's eyes widen in a comical look of surprise. The rune had blown apart the spikes keeping him trapped, so he stumbles to his feet and hisses in pain. The injuries had taken their toll, and his head feels fuzzy.

The whistling sound is loud, now, drowning out everything else. All the better for him, and all the worse for the ranger with her so-acclaimed enhanced senses. He can't let her insult pass.

A glint of metal tells him where one of his daggers is, and he picks it up. The ranger's white armor would hide her well here, but he's also a scout. Magnus raises his knife and touches the bridge of his nose with the point. His eyes cross at the blurry sight of the sharp blade. Right. The blurriness sharpens, and the aether mist seems to part for his gaze.

Where is she?

The ground shakes, and Magnus drops to one knee to avoid losing balance. A disturbance in the aether cloud. Something moving, fast. He raises his dagger and bats the arrow aside. The soft patter of footsteps to his left. He'll need to time this exactly.

Magnus raises his knife and swipes down, rising unsteadily to his feet in the same motion. The world splits apart for him, for a moment less than a second, but it's enough. He's next to the ranger. He continues the swipe until he draws blood—follows through with an upward stroke—and he's twenty meters away from the ranger when her trap explodes.

The assassin prowls to the right, circling around, and the mist parts—there. The ranger is back at the spikes where she'd trapped him. The stone buckles underneath him. But Magnus is flying forward too fast. The ranger sees him coming. But she's off-balance. Magnus ducks under the arrow and lunges forward. Both hands clasp the knife, outstretched.

He sees the ranger's arrow explode right next to the remains of the spike trap. The afterimage of his rune is etched in the ground. Why is the ground splitting apart—?

A shrill scream rings in his ears.

Magnus drops, and the stone scrapes him through his torn sleeves. The wind's whistling fades, replaced by the crash of tumbling stone. Above him a bright aetheric white sears his eyes, until falling boulders leave him in darkness.


Let's see where this ends up. Might edit it later.

Feedback appreciated.