Chapter I – Part 1

The world is not as plain as most people see it. Humans trained their soul to close off from parts of the world that they deemed too dangerous, too demanding of them. Over centuries, they became blind to what is around them in plain sight and what little they do encounter is packed up nicely with a ribbon of ‘supernatural’. Ghost, monsters, myths, all fabricated to humans by humans to smooth the edges of the border between them, and us. Under that veil of ignorance is a whole world, they don’t see, bustling with life, hidden away in dark alleys, never ending forests and deep in the mountains. For a long time, humans remained in the dark, deemed anyone that said other than their belief of the world a heretic, a jester or entirely insane. Because even so they evolved to be blind, fate played cruel tricks of some to be born to see. A new breed of human, open to see everything. Many went mad, many lived their life in solitude, but some, just some, the most courageous ones, embraced and learned.

***

Not many people choose to travel by train nowadays, it is either a convenience or time matter that people use plains, committing to a rush, as humans do. Everything became so fast paced, they have no idea what patience is, what it means to sit and listen, to really see and hear the world around them. And there are people who stick to the old-fashioned train rides, the slow rush among rows of trees, spotting animals as a blur and seeing the sun set and the moon rise before reaching destination. It is also more predictable when night falls and dawn comes. You can’t chase the sun with a train. Now of course normal people would not consider this, but Damian Roux was not just any normal people, he wasn’t even sure to consider himself as part of “the people”. Not since the french revolution. Not since his master abruptly turned him in the frenzy of a war. The painful memory urged him to turn to his newspaper; you see, Damian has lived on this earth as a human for 35 years, then people decided to roll heads in France and his life turned up-side down. Memories of seeing his friends loose to a mob still clear as day, as the feeling of sharp fangs and the abrupt stopping of his heart, it was frightening and painful. But he survived, sort of. He only had to loose everything in the process.

The paper he was reading was french, flipping through the news section, cold grey eyes scanning for something. Broad shoulders relaxed when he settled on a page. It was a small news article, really insignificant: A building collapsed, no casualties. Even if he didn’t needed to breath, he let out a relieved sigh. Satisfied with the result of his search he folded the paper and put it in his lap. Looking up he now acknowledged the man sitting in front of him, only two of them occupying the train cabin. The two seemed polar opposites: Damian sitting straight, his hair slicked back into a loose pony-tail, few strand of brown and graying locks coming loose as they were not long enough to tie in with the others. His clothes seemed very tailored and expensive. Dark colors with very subtle patterns. His attire seemed formal in these years but he had no intention the change his looks to society standards.

-Told you it will be fine – Sounded from the opposite side. A younger man, in his twenties. Muscular, Asian features, his lips curled in a ever present smile, undercut dark hair falling in to half of his face. His bright red leather jacket made him stand out like nothing else, maybe he wore it to distract from the two scars on his face: one over his right eye, the other on his lip’s left. They were faded, but still very much there, never to heal fully. He was slouching back into the cushions, one leg propped up on the seat next to Damian. – Nobody saw us, you can quit with the patronizing look. – His tone was nonchalant, like he had no care in the world, like he was afraid of nothing.

If someone would have looked Damian in his eyes, they would have seen the slightest hint of red. It only lasted for a split moment, to the human eye it might have been just the play of the lights but Aiji saw and knew it meant he was threading on thin ice.
-It was still too close of a call to my taste. I know you can do better than that and the reason your concentration lacked is of personal problems. – His voice was low and without emotion. He stated this matter-of-factly and left no room for arguing. – Aiji, you should really talk to him…
There it was, the thorn in his side by the look Aiji gave back. He was referring to a family matter, the matter of his best agent of four years, all the which he refused to talk to his brother, despite the latter trying to contact him tirelessly. Damian didn’t usually insert himself in matter like this, he had his own problems as is, but Aiji was someone he needed not to get distracted, he was a key to a very important mission.

No. – Came the finalized answer without any other explanation to offer. Short and carried so much emotion that it filled the room. Damian knew not to press the matter more now. Maybe with time. They still had time. With a small sigh he continued – So what’s the next one? Ogre under the tower bridge? Or maybe a hoard of zombies planning to open a brain-restaurant? – Aiji was half-joking. In his line of work, he had seen it all in the past few years. And he wished he was kidding about the ogre. Nasty things, lot of mess, but stupid as a brick. Just don’t wear your best clothes for it, it will get ruined.

-Nothing too specific. We are expecting a new recruit, young boy with an exceptional talent – With that he handed over a folder to Aiji that was resting inside his briefcase before. The younger man scanned it with his dark blue eyes, lingering on the portrait photo in the corner a bit. Then he started to read the document, eyes widening a bit.
-He’s a freaking genius?! Like, not just being smart, he has papers saying he’s a genius? – He was taken aback a bit. He thought the boy looked young, now reading over he saw that the 18 year old blonde English kid will be attending a special college course, patron-ed by the Roux fund. The Roux fund that recruited people like him, in the guise of an education or work, Damian set it up to fund his little project, recruiting the best humans for his cause. It was smart, rich people loved to fund each other and a fund to seemingly patron talents never got backlash. The whole thing fed itself, given Mr Roux made his rounds at banquets and other vip events. He even held his own balls for it yearly.
-And a seeker. – Damian added. – I plan on having you work closely together, of course after Mr. Brooks settles in. You will meet him at the station after he departs this train. I requested your car parked, I will see him in my office tomorrow. – It was an order and not a request. But babysitting at his level?
– He’s here? On this train? – Aiji looked up at Damian.
– Yes, but it would be rather strange to meet him here. I don’t want him to freak out. Younglings tend to do that.
– Right.

***

“Joshua Isaac Brooks, don’t you dare get into trouble. And call, as soon as you are there!” Was the motherly concern that rang in the young boy’s head. His mother was sometimes very overprotective of her only son, but he didn’t blame her for it. It was a tough childhood, with only the two of them. As a lucky turn of fate, Isaac had a spectacular brain that helped them in more ways then one. He was always the top of the class, finishing grades before his peers and this is why he was here, alone for the first time in a foreign place. He should be arriving soon to his destination, someone should wait for him there and this was all too new, anxiety slowly creeping up on him. But he could not pass up this opportunity. The Roux fund had been around for many years, to pick talented people, not just students, and guide them through to success. If this goes well, he could be so much more than what a normal college would have provided.
He already had a high-school diploma, a few extra curricular papers too and now he was heading for a specialized diploma in programming. He knew he has what it takes to do it, the only reason for his nerves was the social aspect. Not only would he be studying in a specialized curriculum, but was expected to work. What the work entailed was not mentioned, only that it was defined as paid internship that he hoped meant that he will be expected to do what he already knew how.

The other reason for his nervous demeanor was something that he had been battling every since he was born. Right now, when he looked up from his laptop that was sitting in his lap, he saw something revolting. A human mass that was purple, a hideous big mouth gaping in the middle and several eyes looking at him. Had he not encountered these sights before, he would have surely freaked out. But he knew the creature in front was harmless, but it still made him shiver every time he saw one of them. Probably a poor soul that died and was stuck here, commuting endlessly. The sight was what bothered him, the humanlike forms but in all the wrong spaces and in all the wrong colors, disturbing was the best way to describe it.

He saw them ever since he could remember, since he was a small child, he saw all kind of things, not just monsters, he saw all manor of creatures, from the little town he was, he mainly encountered kobolds and these shapeless human souls. Most of the time he tried to ignore them, that was the best he could do because if they noticed that he saw them, they started to cling to him. Other times it proved hard to act fool, like now. He was distracting himself, going through numerous forums on the train ride, and listening to an older album though his headphones. He was so preoccupied with the screen in front of him, that he never saw the flash of red leather jacket that walked passed his cabin, he only looked up out of instinct after the fact, feeling something strange he never experienced. He was sure it was not another one of the damned monsters, but then what could it be.

***

Surprisingly, the big mouthed creature, as if just commuting like every other human, took to leave a few stops before Isaac’s. It was a dark night with no moon, but ever so many stars here at the outskits of the city. Isaac’s pick-up point was a few blocks to the right, a big car-park with plenty of lights, he was told the licence plate of the car and that it should wait for him there. Aiji even made the point to park to the front so he can see when the blonde kid would show up a few minuted after him as he rushed to the meeting spot. Time ticked away, he looked at his phone checking the time, looked back at the empty street and frowned. – What? The genius took a wrong turn? People have come and gone, the last taxi took off 10 minuted ago. And this was the only time Aiji was not lighting a smoke to wait. If anything happens to that idiot Damian will have his hide. Something in his gut said to move, now.

Isaac did take the wrong turn in fact. He was so over in his head from the day-long train ride and no real food that all logic just failed him. The real problem was that he started to overthink. He found himself in a dark alley, numerous graffiti lining the walls. It was quiet and he was nowhere near where he was supposed to be. What’s worse, he felt like he was being watched.

His fear seemed to be reasonable when he felt a hand grab his, twisting it behind his back and feeling a cold steel pressed against his throat. A small yelp escaped his lips as he looked ahead, his captor was not alone. Holding what looked like a small crossbow, he almost didn’t believe his eyes, seeing a very dark grey skinned man standing in front of him, in robes that jumped out of a fantasy novel and bright red eyes, gleaming in the dark. He had a hood on, but even then Isaac could see the shimmering white hair and the long pointy ears. Drow? He would have been in awe if the knife on his throat weren’t so apparent and the hold of him threatening. Being watched by those red eyes like it was boring into his skin made him want to run, but when he tried to move the strong hold on him got painful and the felt the knife pressing just above his adam’s apple.

The one with the crossbow said something, and he had no idea what. It was not human language and Isaac was not sure who the demanding tone was for. He could have asked for the time for what it’s worth but he doubted that was the case. He was lost on what to do.
Then it all happened so quickly. The only thing all three of them noticed was a soft click of a gun as a tall man in red leather jacket pointed his gun – a very big gun – right at them, aiming for the dark figure behind Isaac who was holding the knife.


-Release the boy and you can go. – He hissed, eyes sharp and demanding leaving no space for doubt that he will use the weapon if need be. The two figure must have understood something, because the crossbow now aimed at the bigger threat, him. A bold move in Aiji’s book.
However, the knife at Isaac’s throat felt looser and he hoped to any god that the stranger who came to his rescue noticed his eyes pointing at the knife, now that it was less threatening and easier to possibly move away from it.
-Do you trust me? – Aiji asked, voice a bit lighter now that he addressed the younger boy, who could only mutter a “No” as an answer. How could he trust this stranger who was essentially pointing a gun in his direction? – Smart boy.
And with that a bullet launched from the gun at the same time that Isaac took his hand and shoved the knife away, not minding the sharp edge cutting his palm as long as he could get free of the hold. The bullet penetrated his captor around his shoulder that sent him back into the wall, a bit of his blood splashing on the graffiti “Black Power”.
As soon as the bullet left for it’s target Aiji launched forward, the silent whoosh of the arrow fired from the crossbow hitting his ear from behind him missing it’s target. He grabbed Isaac’s hand, tossing him on the ground lightly as he smashed in to the tall figure, knife falling from his injured hand, pinning him against the wall, gun pointed under his chin.
-Look down! – Aiji shouted at the very frightened Isaac who was now sitting on the ground below them, looking up at what was happening, honey-brown eyes with wide pupils. As soon as the command reached him, he did just that, holding his head down between his knees, arms above and over his ears.
The drow-like creature looked at his comrade, who was busy reloading his crossbow, hands shaking with the task. He was not used to miss a target. The taller one barked the last order “Run”.

Then a bang.

The figure slipped down the wall, limp. After the gunshot, Isaac dared not to look up anymore. He never in his short life heard anything like this, living in a quiet little town his whole life. He really didn’t want to make any sound but was sure a whimper escaped him.

Aiji spun around to aim at the other one, but the robed figure was now nowhere to be seen. No footprints, no shadows. Aiji lowered his weapon, still scanning the area when he heard the little whimper coming from the ball that was the boy who he was supposed to pick up. Putting away the gun, he keeled down, to be at eye-level, feeling the shiver as he touched the boy’s shoulder.

-It’s okay, it’s over. – He sounded reassuring, witch was strange, considering he just committed murder right in front of him. But something about the tone, and the gentle hand patting him on his head quite down the thumping in his ears. His heart was still racing and when he looked up a few tears have fell down his cheek, mostly out of relief. – Hey, sorry about that – The ever-present smile in the corner of his mouth held a bit of reassurance – I was waiting in the parking lot but you seem to got yourself lost.
Aiji slowly helped him stand up on shaky legs, picked up his suitcase that was tossed to the side from all the commotion. Looking back at Isaac, he noticed blood dripping from his hand. Furrowing his brows, he gently picked up his right hand and saw a gash in the middle, not too deep, but enough to bleed. Rummaging inside his pocket, he found a load of tissues, Isaac noted they were once left in that pocket and washed.
-Hold this onto the cut, I can take care of it in the car. C’mon. – He urged the boy, and he did as he was told. Aiji wanted to make a joke about him not being much of a talker, but he was just almost killed, or kidnapped. He was not sure which.

***

The car was indeed parked just outside of the alley and held the licence plate Isaac was supposed to search for. On the way there, Aiji put his red jacket around the shivering boy. He knew he was not cold, but maybe the weight and warmth of it would calm him down more. He sat the wounded boy in the passenger seat, then put his luggage in the back. Sitting back in to the driver’s side he rummaged under his seat, finding the little first-aid kit. With delicate fingers he held Isaac’s hand in his, while cleaning up the wound as best as he could. – You’re lucky, this is pretty light, so no stitching needed. – He commented like he was talking about a mundane daily task. After he deemed it clean, he put some gauze on there and wrapped up the wound. He seemed to be an expect at this.
-Do you do this often? – Came the quiet voice. Slowly coming to from his shocked state.
Aiji could have asked what part he was referring to, but honestly, the answer would have been the same so he just hummed and nodded. -There, we’ll clean it up more, when we get home. – He seemed pretty proud of his handiwork.

-Home? – Isaac asked, curiously. He was supposed to go to a shared apartment. He was supposed to live with other students, his stuff was delivered there. He can not go to this stranger’s home. Then again, this stranger was sent to guide him, he saved him and for some odd reason, his senses say to trust him.

Aiji started the car, driving away from the dark alley and on to the main road. There were a few other cars around here, more street lights, all seeming to blur to Isaac as he sat in his seat, resting his head to the window, still not sure what to do.
– Can’t I just go to the place you’re supposed to drop me off? – He asked meekly, not sure himself.
– I know it’s not ideal, but if you don’t mind, I would hate to leave you alone after all that. – Aiji claimed. He was right, he didn’t wanted to be alone. – So for now I’ll invite you to my place, and then we go from there. I can keep you safe and you can rest up.
The boy nodded in his his seat. He felt so small. He was always weak in the grand scene of things, but he never felt this small. He always used his brain to make up for what he lacked in physical strength, but even if he didn’t, he would have still felt useless in the situation he was in. He didn’t fight monsters, he avoided them.
-What were those things? I never saw anything like them before. But you didn’t seem fazed. – Isaac was starting feel like maybe his eyes have deceived him. Maybe he just saw dark skinned men. He never met anyone else who could see creatures like him. Maybe the doctors were right and he was delusional. When he was young his mom took him to many specialists because he claimed to see things others didn’t. After a while he stopped saying it, learning that he was the only one who could and he will be better off not talking about it. Before he could reach the end of that spiral Aiji spoke.
-Dark elves is the common term. But these were different. – Aiji looked over for a second, then back to the road. – People call them all kinds of things. They are usually hostile, making a habit of sacrificing humans. Dunno what they wanted with you thou, never saw them come in to cities.
-So you can see them too? – Isaac perked up. Looking at the man sitting next to him, just now taking the time to look him over. He radiated some kind of strength, not just physical. He was not too buff, but he could see from his arms that he was strong and lean. He wore a dark t-shirt now that his jacket was draped over the smaller boy’s frame; and some tight jeans. He noticed a long necklace that had a black cross pendant and a military tag hanging from it. On his neck there was a tattoo, a dashed line around with the words “CUT HERE”. Isaac found that slightly disturbing. His eyes traveled down to his arm, both inked too. One had some geometric lining work, radiating a soothing energy, the other a checkered pattern on his whole lower arm. Finishing his musing on the man’s face, mischievous eyes blinked at him for a second, dark blue as the ocean at night. Now that he looked at him, he seemed strangely familiar. Aiji tapped his finger on the wheel. There were tattoos on the base of some of his fingers too, black nail polish on the finger that had them. Somehow he felt those were not ordinary tattoos, the intricate designs radiating a different energy, darker in nature. He never felt or seen anything like it before.
-Not inherently like you. These help me to see them so I can send them back to where they belong. – He explained holding up his right hand. He had one symbol at the base of his middle finger.
-Or kill them… – it was almost too quiet to catch it coming from Isaac.
-That comes with the territory sometimes. They would have done the same to us.

***

Had Isaac not been so tired after the night, he would have tried to take in all of luxury of the penthouse apartment that seemed to belong to his savior. They were on the top floor so he could see way beyond the other houses, city lights playing under them. The place had a huge open plan on the first floor. Kitchen, dining and living areas separated only by the furniture and some columns that must have been structural. Aiji guided him to the couch that could easily sit six people. The whole apartment held a contrast of light walls, dark hardwood floors and dark toned furniture. He saw a massive tv mounted above a real fireplace, a huge and sturdy dining table with what seemed like designer lights above it. Huge folding glass doors lead to an outside balcony. Everything seemed super expensive and for a moment Isaac wondered who exactly was this man. Because there was no way he was just a chauffeur at this point.
The man that trotted over to the wall of the dining area, standing before what seemed like to be a bar and already pouring a honey colored drink in a glass.

Coming back and sitting down he sipped up half of the glass, clicking his tongue. -I would offer one to calm your nerves, but I have a feeling you’re not a drinker.- Isaac shook hi head in confirmation, looking at the liquid.
– So I do have a spare room, if you’d like you can clean up upstairs in the bathroom and sleep there. I must say it’s a tad bit girly, originally I had my sister stay there last time.
Isaac was looking at his hands in his lap, seemingly deep in thought, playing with the edge of the gauze.
-I’m sorry – he finally looked up a little blush creeping up on his freckled cheeks – I didn’t meant to cause any trouble…
What he saw was something he assumed rarely happened. Aiji’s mouth widened to a warm smile, something so genuine that it made him blush a bit more. He saw a few sarcastic grins so far but this was genuinely warm, reassuring.
-It’s okay Joshua. – He used his first name. Nobody usually did that, that was a name his father wanted before he left them. But somehow now he didn’t mind it. – I was there to escort you and keep you safe, that’s what I did, didn’t I? – With that he downed the second part of his drink, set the glass down and extended his hand to him witch Isaac took hesitantly – I’m Aiji Sato and from what I know, we will be working very closely together, Mr. Joshua Isaac Brooks.