Light shined over my eyes, my memories up until that moment were a blur. I wasn’t certain as to how long I had been in that wagon. It felt like a little more than a day, perhaps even longer than that. All I could remember was that I was kept tied up, they allowed me to leave the wagon to stretch my legs, but they didn’t remove the cloth over my eyes. During those moments I could feel dry heat, despite it being winter, the nights that came were freezing, yet my body barely shivered. I was aware of the sensations that struck me, but I felt so numb to it all. If I were to guess then I would say that I was taken to a desert.
“You see,” A familiar voice spoke to me. Salus. “I always knew that we’d speak face to face again.” My eyes eventually adjusted, I could see his face behind the intense rays of light in the dark room. At that point it was evident that I was going to be interrogated. “I didn’t expect you to turn yourself in, however.”
“You were killing my friends,” said Anavari.
“Intelligence says they’re no longer your friends, though,” countered Salus. “Some even tried to turn you in themselves.” Memories of fighting Argus returned to me, I thought of how many others wanted me gone, dead even. It wasn’t a secret, and it made something inside me seethe with anger. It was a quiet part of me, but one that was quickly growing in power.
How dare they. HOW DARE THEY!
“There’s still Serenity,” my eyes shifted to the form of Garfas who stood next to Salus. He walked around the room with a casual stride. “Slim, Navai, Simon… and Daniel.” The raging flames within retreated. I remembered why I had decided to come. For him.
“They’re still the closest I have to family,” I said. “You wouldn’t have left them alone if I stayed under their protection.” Salus nodded.
“Family is important,” said Salus with a nod. “Well let’s get to it, tell me everything you know about the Heartless.” I paused, briefly considering how I should answer.
“Nothing you probably don’t know already,” I said. “I was born without a heart for all I know, and I was abandoned in the Citadel.” Salus leaned back on his chair, arms crossed. He smiled.
“I figured as much,” said Salus. “I suppose it was too much wishful thinking to believe you’d have any information that was of any use to us. That’s not really why you’re useful to us, though.” I blinked.
“What do you mean?” I asked. Salus motioned to the guards around him. I was raised off my seat and pushed out of the room. Salus said nothing more to me, he only kept his wide smile as I was taken away. I was dragged deeper into their “base”. An area with cells, most were empty, except for the one across from me. I didn’t heed much attention to it however, my focus was mostly on my own cell. It was different than all the others, intricate designs with power crystals on its exterior. Asura tech. I tested out my magic, tried to manifest any form of energy in my palms, nothing. The cell was made especially for me, to keep me from using my magic. My hand traveled to the center of my chest, feeling the fluctuating energies of my node. Magic was being drained from it as well, which made me worry. If enough was drained then my blood flow would stop. Surely they knew that much. I decided to conserve energy and sit at the back of the cell. It was completely empty save for a bucket, which I figured was for bodily functions. My form slumped down to the corner, and I considered my situation. I was armless, weaponless, and at the moment with no magic.
“One thing after another isn’t it?” I said to no one but myself.
“Does seem to be one of our more tighter spots doesn’t it?” Garfas sat down next to me, usual smile on his face, pointy hat resting on his head.
“I got that for you as a joke,” I said as I looked towards the hat. “Didn’t think you would actually like it.”
“It was the first gift you gave me!” Said Garfas. “Why wouldn’t I like it?” I shrugged.
“Didn’t wear it often,” I pointed out.
“That’s because I didn’t want it to get damaged,” said Garfas as he nuzzled into my neck. I chuckled and pushed him away, but I drew into him once I realized how insubstantial his touch felt. He was cold, as if moving my hand through vapor.
“I miss you,” I said.
“I know you do, cub,” said Garfas. I felt a nonexistent hand drape over my shoulder and pull me in. I breathed in the illusion of his scent, sank into the memory of his warmth. “I miss you too.” We stayed next to each other for a time, trying to forget everything.
“I might die here,” I said.
“Death isn’t so bad, cub,” said Garfas. “I mean I turned out alright. Besides I’ll stay with you until you let me go.”
“Haven’t I let you go already?” I asked softly.
“You forgot me so you wouldn’t have to,” said Garfas. “But it’s okay, cub. I don’t mind.” I looked at him, at the smile under the hollow eyes. Eyes that desired rest, but they endured.
“Anavari?” My gaze shot towards the end of the cell. My eyes widened towards the human, tan skin, white hair. He stood at the door of the cell and twisted something into it. The power crystals turned off, I felt my energy return to me. He ran into the cell and stopped for a moment.
“Go to him, cub,” said Garfas, his form vanished into mist. I glanced back at Daniel, and stood up. I ran towards him. He ran towards me, and just before our arms met I stopped and shoved my fist at his face. The human was thrown to the ground and rolled for a moment before completely stopping.
“Okay!” Said Daniel getting back up. “I deserve that.” He rubbed his nose which was now bleeding.
“You lied to me!” I snapped. “Daniel, Iresh, whatever your name is!”
“Daniel is fine, big guy,” said the human. “I haven’t seen myself as Iresh for years now.” He stumbled back up to me and we were once again face to face. I frowned, but then took him by the chin and ran some healing magic through my fingers. His broken nose stopped bleeding and returned back to its original shape. “Also, technically I never lied about being part of the Fringe, no one really bothered to ask you see.”
“Oh, don’t start with that!” I hissed. “You could have said something, anything!” Daniel smiled.
“You’re not the only one trying to forget, big guy,” Daniel forced out a chuckle. “If it makes you feel better, they misunderstood my intentions when I vanished. I meant to leave, not search for a heartless… Well I did actively search for a heartless but not with the intention of killing them.”
“Then what did you want to do?” I asked. “Was what we had a lie?”
“It wasn’t a lie, big guy,” said Daniel. “I’d never lie about that. I didn’t plan for it, but I’m happy it happened. I just wanted to make sure the Fringe never found you, keep you safe.”
“Then why didn’t you say anything?” I asked. Daniel paced around the room, combing through his hair.
“Well for starters we agreed to never talk about our past,” said Daniel. “I guess I took advantage of that. It was only until recently when the Fringe started taking in recruits, mostly fugitives and mercenaries. It used to be that you were born into it, that was me… You do a lot of things in the name of the Fringe, of the family, I was pretty sure you’d stop traveling with me if I said anything about it.” The thought of me in Fireheart Rise came, all the things I had done, what I had become.
“Let’s spill everything then,” I said. “No more secrets between us.” Daniel’s smile vanished, I could sense that he was nervous. “Please Daniel, so I can trust you again.” The human walked over next to me and leaned against the wall. He took in a deep breath before speaking.
“The Fringe knew that the heartless were charr, all of them. How the story goes is that the Heartless used to be a part of the Fringe. One member had a problem with how things were run, and made a spell so that they could avoid detection.”
“Removing their heart?” I asked.
“Pretty much,” said Daniel. “The Fringe are trained with a mix of magic and other techniques that let us detect heartbeats, it’s really complicated I won’t get into it too much. What you should know is that Heartless have an advantage of Fringe assassins. We can’t predict their movements. After the first Heartless left he took his family with him along with a few other members. There were two factions now. Heartless and the Fringe. After a while it became more about trying to eliminate the other than being a guild of assassins. My generation was trained to kill charr, they brought in a few every so often, had us fight them to the death. One day they brought a bunch of cubs and had us hunt them down.” My eyes widened and Daniel’s voice.
“I had two choices there. I could let my brothers have them, watch them die slowly, or I could do it myself and give them a quick death.” Daniel began to rub his arms as he sank down to the floor. “I still see them when I close my eyes sometimes. They ask me if it’ll hurt. I lie to them, tell them I’ll take them some place safe.” Daniel curled up into a ball, trying to restrain his sobbing. “There wasn’t anything else I could do… they would have tortured them.”
Daniel’s form curled up further, and I felt myself lowering as well, joining his side and drawing him in closely. He released a deep sigh as he gazed towards the ceiling. His eyes were hollow, no tears streamed but they still carried the weight of what he had done.
“I’m a monster,Anavari,” said Daniel. “And I’m trying to make up for what I’ve done. The Fringe can’t find the Heartless, and I won’t let them hurt you.” Daniel stood back up, fatigue obvious in his movements, but he endured. For all this time, he had endured. I joined Daniel and stood at his side.
“When I lived in the citadel,” I said. “I fell in love with a charr named Garfas. We planned to leave, travel the world, settle down somewhere where we didn’t have to fight. My legionnaire, Itan, turned out to be a flame legion spy. He killed Garfas and most of my warband.” Daniel reached for my hand and gently squeezed it, I reciprocated. “I avenged him, but it wasn’t enough for me, I went to the land where the flame legion lived, spent my days killing them, torturing them. I suppose I became a monster too.” I drew in to give Daniel a kiss against his lips. “I love you Daniel.”
“I love you too, Anavari,” Said Daniel. “We should get out of here though, they think I’m torturing you right now and it’s only a matter of time before they check in.” We both walked out of the cell.
“What do they plan to do with me?” I asked .
“I’m not entirely sure,” said Daniel. “You showed up before I could get all the info and my priorities changed. From the sound of it they’re going to use you as bait to draw out the remaining Heartless. There’s also him.” Daniel Gestured to the other prisoner, another charr.
“He’s…” I stared at him, eyes widened, disbelief overwhelming me.
“Hasn’t said anything since they’ve captured him,” said Daniel. “For all accounts he should be dead, but he’s holding on somehow. We think it might be magic.”
“Open the cell!” I said as I ran over to the door. “Let me talk to him.” Daniel wasted no time in using the right key to open the cell door, I took tentative steps towards the figure. It looked lifeless, in fact according to my senses, it didn’t seem alive, but neither did it seem dead. I kneeled next to it, and to my surprise he stirred to life. His eyes widened as he stared at me.
“You are charr,” he said, a quivering and ancient voice spoke.
“Is it true?” I asked. “You’re a heartless like me?” His eyes went wider, he placed a hand on my chest.
“By the threads that bind us, it’s you,” he said. “They’ve captured you…”
“I’m escaping,” I said. “Come with me, we can escape together.” The charr shook his head, his smile widened. He leaped at me holding onto my shoulders.
“I can’t join you,” said the charr. “You need to find your own way out, they will stop at nothing to keep you here, you’re the son of the elder.”
“Elder?” I asked.
“If you manage to escape and want to know more,” said the charr. “Go to the crystal desert, you will find out more there.”
“That still doesn’t explain why you can’t escape with me,” I said. The charr gave a reassuring smile.
“I’m too far away to be of any use to you,” said the charr. “But you’re still alive, that’s enough for our elder. Make it out of here, Anavari, for his sake.”
“How did you…” Suddenly the charr collapsed into hundreds of shards, minuscule crystalline fragments that vanished into dust. Daniel joined my side.
“He was an illusion?” said Daniel in disbelief.
“He was fooling the Fringe this entire time,” I said . Daniel held onto my hand.
“I know a lot is happening, big guy,” said Daniel. “But we’re running out of time. We need to see if we can get your arm back at least. Can you still use your magic?” I nodded. “Great, two guards are just outside, its nothing we can’t handle.” An orb of emerald energies formed around my palm, a flame flickered within it.
“Then let’s go.”