Kevin Feldhern watched the heath anxiously, the wan light of day silhouetting the two figures meeting at the summit of a small hillock. The man on his left was Randell Kirns, in his long flowing black tunic he cut an imposing figure at six feet tall, his skin was as dark as the night and a long pink scar that marked him from his right temple to his left cheekbone gave children nightmares. Kirns' long mane of dark hair swirled in the breeze as their target approached. Feldhern checked his weapons, a crossbow lay loaded beside him and a freshly oiled sword on his hip... he'd survived this long only by Kirns' meticulous planning after all.
"You boys ready?" he asked the other two men that stood behind him.
Like Feldhern they wore the black tunics of the hunters, unlike him they wore armour. When Kirns had first met him, the hunter had asked why he wore it at all.
"What good is mail against a lightning bolt?" Kirns had asked in his stoic, though sarcastic tone.
Feldern had thrown the armour back into storage straight after, the very next hunt three hunters were incinerated by a tunnel of fire... he still smelt the stench of burning flesh now and again, it had taken some time for his appetite for meat to return.
"Yeah, we're good" the first man replied, clutching his crossbow nervously.
They stood downwind of the meeting place, hoping Kirns' voice would carry to where they hid in the forest scrub some sixty yards away. The other man was a mage, his clothing was like that of any civilian, but he carried himself in a certain way. It was hard to describe what that way was, but after three years hunting them Feldhern just... knew.
"Are you here to kill me?" the mage asked, Feldhern squinting his eyes to get a better look at the man's face.
"That, sir, is entirely on you" Kirns replied calmly, though how he could be so collected whilst facing an enemy unarmed was beyond Feldhern.
"I will not return, hunter, I promise you though, I shall not use my magic... all I want is to live in peace," the mage told Kirns, his voice sounding deeply saddened.
Kirns was unmoving though, how many times had others said the same thing? Feldhern could remember at least a dozen. The hunters wouldn't let them go though, rumour had it Kirns had gotten that scar from doing such a thing in his first mission. To others, he may have seemed callous and unfeeling, but Feldhern knew, knew it was just too dangerous to leave them be.
"You will not let me go, will you?" the mage asked, taking several steps back.
Kirns still stood unmovingly, his hair falling as the wind dropped.
"No" he replied flatly.
Feldhern took his cue and quickly scrambled from cover with the two recruits flanking him, crossbows levelled. They all loosed their bolts at once, the mage spinning as if he already knew and uttered a phrase, unleashing a gout of water that sprang forth from his fingertips, Feldhern dropped to the ground as the high pressure swatted aside the bolts, the sweeping arc passing over his head. He cursed loudly as blood spattered his tunic and hair, the two new recruits collapsing in a pile of severed body parts and spurting blood. Feldhern scrambled to his feet and drew his sword, stopping in his tracks as he watched Kirns, his hands around the mage's neck, crushing the life out of him. Feldhern sombrely sheathed his sword and somberly walked over to the scene of a murder. The mage's eyes bulged as he thrashed, Kirns' eyes though, those cold blue eyes never left the mage, not until there came a sickening crack. The man went limp immediately and Kirns dropped him to the ground. Feldhern inspected the man's face, he had been handsome, had he stayed at the imperial capital he would have had a pretty wife, a harem of lovers, all the luxuries he could want. Was dying out here in the mud for freedom really the better choice? As Kirns said a prayer over the mage Feldhern rifled through the dead man's bag and pockets, turning out a diary and a few coins. After a few minutes of reading the diary, Kirns squatted down beside him.
"Anything interesting?" he asked matter o factly as if they hadn't just killed a man in cold blood.
"Yeah, a few names... it should be some leads anyway" he replied, still flicking through the pages.
"Hmmm. Well, I think we're done here" Kirns replied with a curt nod.
"What about, well, this?" Feldhern asked as Kirns rose to leave.
"I'll send a carrier pigeon in the morning, get a cleaning team in" Kirns replied, brushing a strand of hair from his eye.
Feldhern looked up at Kirn, sighing as he stood.
"You ever wonder if we are doing the right thing?" he asked, Feldhern didn't know why he'd asked the question, perhaps it had been the mage's demeanour, maybe it was that they didn't even know his name.
"I did once... but now, I've seen too much to draw that kind of line" Kirn replied, his hands clasped behind his back as he walked back towards the village.
"Yeah, I kind of guessed you might say that" Feldhern replied as he pocketed the notebook and the coins.
The wolves and other nasties of the wilds would eat well tonight he thought, catching up with Kirns.
"So, booze, food and women?" Feldhern asked, trying to muster up some cheer.
"Perhaps, that order seems acceptable to me" Kirns replied with a rare smile.
Life was shit, but at least there were plenty of distractions Feldhern thought.
Feldhern picked at his teeth with his belt knife as he rocked his stool precariously on two legs. They'd been staying in Kent for two weeks now and Kirns seemed adamant a rogue mage was present. He looked up and started to trace the wood grain of the roof beams, he was so fucking bored.
"Do you doubt me?" Kirns asked suddenly, startling Feldhern and nearly causing him to fall backward.
"I do not doubt you, I'd just rather be doing, you know, something" he replied, picking up his mug and finding it empty.
"Besides, what makes you think we can find a single person hiding in a city?" Feldhern continued, putting the mug aside and banging his head down on the table.
"Simply, we can not. They will find us, our mere presence here is dangerous for them. Soon enough, they will try to eliminate us, then the tables will turn and we shall remove the danger from the populous."
Kirns always made things out to be easier than they were, besides, Feldhern didn't fancy the thought of being murdered, he was certainly bound for hell after all.
"Worried about your soul?" Kirns asked, turning to him with a smile that creeped Feldhern out to no end.
"Why would I be?" he replied defensively, kicking back his stool and standing
"Because you are making that face again, when you contemplate God and your place in this world," Kirns told him, staring out of the second story window, down into the bustling streets below.
"Didn't realize I contemplated these things so often?" Feldern said with a stretch, sheathing his knife and rubbing at his stubbly beard.
Before Kirns could speak there was a knock at their door, Feldern looked to Kirns who nodded in response to his wordless question. Feldhern drew his knife once more, keeping it in his left hand behind his back. There was no reason to frighten a member of staff after all. Feldern opened the door a crack, seeing a young girl waiting with a wicker basket in hand. Sheathing the blade once more he opened the door wide, trying his most welcoming smile. The girl still recoiled when she saw him though.
"What can I do for you?" Feldhern asked, squatting down to her eye level.
The girl pulled back the cloth over her basket to reveal a number of baked pastries. Looking at her now she couldn't have been more than ten or eleven, her long blonde hair mostly hidden beneath a red cape and hood.
"W... would you like some mister hunter?" she asked timidly.
Feldhern turned back to Kirns with a smile, what a cute girl. He heard the girl start to mutter and Kirns' face drop... how had she known they were mage hunters? Feldhern threw himself aside, banging his head on the dresser as the hair on his arms singed, a crackle of lightning ripping through the floorboards and splitting the timber wall and out into the street. Screams erupted from outside as wood and glass rained down on them. Quickly jumping to his feet Feldhern saw Kirns on the ground blood, leaking from a number of wounds opened by the shattered glass from the window.
"Don't let her chant again!" Kirns bellowed, trying to get back to his feet.
Feldhern watched as the girl stepped into the room, starting another chant. Feldhern rushed her, pulling back his fist to punch her. The girl sidestepped him, pulling on his sleeve and sticking out a foot to send him sprawling. Feldhern lashed out with his foot in a last-ditch attempt, luckily sweeping her feet and sending her crashing to the ground and breaking the chant. He quickly scrambled on top of her, easily pinning the young girl down.
"Finish her!" Kirns shouted as the girl began another chant.
Feldhern went for his knife, he'd done some reprehensible things before, but killing this kid felt like a line was being crossed. He grabbed her head and slammed it against the floorboards, the girl falling limp as she lost consciousness. Feldern fell back in relief, had the girl been sent to kill them?
Kirns stumbled over, stuffing a cloth from his pocket into her mouth and using a tablecloth to gag her.
"Cleanup will be here shortly," Kirns told him, his breath laboured.
"You going to be okay?" Feldern asked, noting the multitude of wounds.
"Probably, it would be a poor thing to be killed by a little girl" he replied before falling unconscious.
Feldhern bound the girl' hands and legs, a cleanup crew arriving within a few hours of the incident. A troupe of state mages attaching a binding collar to the crying girl and dragging her away to do whatever they did to recovered mages. A single mage in a full body black robe knelt beside Kirns, his face a mass of wrinkles with two glassed white eyes peering at Feldhern's commanding officer.
"When he wakes up, tell him we're even for this," the old mage told him, starting a chant.
A blue light engulfed Kirns, the shards of glass and wood slowly pushing out of his body. As the light faded Kirns' wounds were gone only the blood stains remained.
"You've done well surviving this long," the old man said as he stood.
"At this point, the gallows might have been the better choice" Feldhern replied, using a torn bit of cloth to wipe the blood from his head.
"Hindsight would probably prove your words true" the old man confirmed before leaving the two mage hunters alone in the room.
"I fucking hate this world" Feldhern muttered, grabbing a pastry from the girl's basket.
Feldhern took a pretend sip from his beer before tearing off a strip of chicken and stuffing it in his mouth. He and Kirns had tracked a mage to this large tavern in the heart of London last week. This mage was fiendishly clever, she was clever, very clever. Using the packed tavern as a way to prevent the hunters from engaging her. The other patrons and staff seemed to love her and not once had she used magic, even when patrons groped at her as she passed them by... was it worth bringing her in? he saw Kirns sitting across the room, he was dressed in the easily discernible black garb of the mage hunters and others kept their distance. Feldhern wiped away the chicken grease from his face, quickly snatching a glance at the young woman.
"She's pretty, isn't she?" asked a patron from beside him.
"Yeah, she's a bit young for me though" Feldhern replied, tossing the last chunks of bread into his mouth.
In truth, he'd have probably picked her out of a line up of girls from a brothel, her long brown hair and smile were disarming but mages terrified him, he'd seen their destructive power up front too often. Feldhern stood up and left the busy drinking hall to go to his slightly sound dampened room three floors up. He kicked off his dark boots and tossed his shirt onto the dresser near his bed, the summer heat and packed hall had left great sweat stains on it. Using some of the water from his basin to sponge the sweat away he sat down on the bed. It was nice to have a soft bed for once and he considered lying down to sleep, but he had to wait for Kirns first. An hour passed and still, Kirns didn't appear, what was he doing? as the thought passed through his mind there was a knock on his door.
"Finally," he said sarcastically, getting off the bed and opening the door wide.
But it wasn't Kirns, it was the pretty mage girl. Acting without thought he made to strike her, but the girl had been quietly chanting and a strong wind knocked him from his feet and dropping him several feet from the bed.
"I didn't come here to fight you, I... I want to negotiate my surrender" the girl told him, though her confidence was false and her hands shook.
Feldhern got to his feet slowly, hoping she wouldn't chant again.
"Negotiate?" he asked, sitting on the bed and hoping she'd drop her guard a little.
"Yes, your boss will do so... I hope, my life here is over now, you've found me out and I can never leave this tavern without a lot of unnecessary blood on my hands."
Feldhern threw up his hands, just this once.
"Fine, come and wait here beside me..." he told her, patting the bed.
"I will wait here," she told him, standing in the bathroom doorway to the left side of the room.
"Besides, I think you would try to have your way with me" she continued, shyly looking at the floor.
"Not gonna lie, I'd thought about it" he replied with a wry smile.
"Well, you aren't my type," she told him, her face reddening.
Maybe Kirns was more her type he thought, not really sure how to continue the conversation. It seemed almost immediately after that they heard another knock, the girl quietly starting a chant as he stood. Feldhern opened the door to see the dominating form of Kirns, his eyes fixed on the mage.
"May I come in?" he asked her, looking completely past Feldhern.
Kirns passed him by, going to stand at the opposite side of the room.
"Are you here to surrender to us?" Kirns asked, leaning back on the dresser.
The woman nodded, her hands clenched on her dress. "Yes, but, but I have conditions... I have a lover here if they acquiesce, will you let them come with me?"
Kirns thought for a moment, looking over to him. Feldhern shrugged, let her have her lover if it would let them take a mage without bloodshed.
"Very well, but we shall accompany you,"Kirns told her after a moment.
"Feldhern, get dressed and take your crossbow" he continued, opening the drawer with Feldhern's black tunic in and tossing the garment to him without looking.
He dressed as quickly as possible, knowing why Kirns wanted the crossbow... if her lover didn't know she was a mage already, he was likely to reject her. Things would probably get more... violent at that point. Kirns left the room first, the mage following him and Feldhern following her from a short distance. They arrived at the desired room, the mage indicating that they should stop. She rapped on the door as the two hunters stayed out of sight, Feldhern levelling his crossbow at her. The door opened and a young woman answered, her long black hair swept back behind her ears.
"Anna? what is it?" she asked, kissing the mage on her lips.
"Karen... I have something to confess to you" Anna replied, not meeting the other woman's eyes.
Feldhern's finger moved to the trigger, it was only a matter of time now.
"I am a mage Karen, I ran away two years ago... and these men are here to take me away," she told her lover, tears rolling down her cheeks. Feldhern's heart broke for her, but he couldn't falter no matter the target.
The other woman held Anna's face and tilted it up to meet her eyes. "I already knew, you silly girl. How many times did you blow out the candle without getting out of bed?"
"Then, then will you come with me? I cannot be without you" Anna cried, holding Karen's hands against her face.
"Of course, how would you cope without me?" she replied, pulling her close and embracing her.
Feldhern let out a deep breath, lowering his crossbow and leaning relieved against the wall. Kirns came to stand beside him clapping a hand on his shoulder.
"It feels good, doesn't it. To get a win for once?" Kirns asked with a smile.
"Oh, to get a win? I thought you meant to see two beautiful ladies kissing... should be made the law if you ask me" he replied with a laugh.
Kirns chuckled in response, looking back to the two women. "It may be taboo in polite society, but when you can tear a city apart, who would say anything against them."
"If only everyone were as accepting as we are" Feldhern laughed, turning to leave with Kirns.
The mage retrieval team passed them by, and a moment later the two women were led away, neither with a binding collar. Feldhern wished them all the best as he packed up his few belongings.