1 Relentless pursuit

A panting figure hid within the lush crown of the tall trees. The windy rustling of leaves drowned out his heavy breaths. The pears of sweat covering his body sparkled under the few sun rays. A damp, haggard cloak sticking to his skin veiled most of his youthful figure. 'Dammit, who are they?!' Orion cursed within his thoughts as he darted his view around.

He scoured the surroundings, seeming to look for something. The pupils of his starry, bright emerald eyes were restless. The inability to spot the thing he sought to find increased his peril. 'I need to get away.' The boy, just shy of sixteen, leaped from tree to tree, his wet brown hair leaving behind a trail of tiny droplets.

After stepping foot on a new branch, a wave of elemental particles coursed through his body. Every hair of his stood up at once. 'They found me.' Two figures clad in black emerged from the tree he had left behind, breezing in his direction. A heart-wrenching aura, reeking of blood and murder, radiated from them. Their bloodlust sent chills down Orion's spine.

Since the start of their chase ten minutes ago, one thing was obvious. No matter his pace, they kept continued to catch up. Against a group of honed assassins, his skills were like a drop of water in a glass of it. What did I even do? Orion begged the important question. He had done no one bad, as far as he was aware. Since he hadn't done so, somebody must have had malicious intent. Who that certain someone was and why they sent them after him was unclear.

Focusing on the path ahead of him, a third figure consumed his vision. Surprised, Orion evaded the hand reaching at him by flipping himself back full force. His bent knees latched onto the branch beneath his feet. Now upside down, he was facing the two nearing menaces, who now had the added support of a third one.

Orion released his legs, letting himself fall, and shielded his torso with his left arm. 'This will hurt so bad.' Closing his eyes, bracing for a heavy impact, Orion cast a spell. After gathering energy and invoking his earth-elemental root, a fist-size rock manifested in front of his chest. Its sudden appearance alerted the assassins, causing them to raise defensive spells. But instead of targeting them, it hit him.

Krck. A very unhealthy sound resounded from the insides of his arm and trunk, followed by excruciating pain. Upon contact, it sent him flying at ridiculous speeds. Along the way, his back broke several branches. 'Oh, it's bad.' The blunt force had blurred his vision for an instant, but he returned to his senses shortly after. 'It's broken, no doubt.'

Although he had gained some distance from his self-sacrificing act, he was still far from safe. The three killers were out for him and wouldn't stop until they had performed their task. Every second, they came closer to him, leaving him no time to collect himself. Unable to use his left hand anymore, his mobility had suffered. Through clenched teeth, he erected a massive wall of earth behind him, obstructing his opponents' lines of sight.

As its material didn't carry any significant strength, one of his pursuers used a water bolt to shatter it to pieces. A cloud of mist, dust, and debris filled the air. Another had summoned a gust of wind to clear the vision, leaving the assassins at a momentary loss. Orion disappeared. 'Did we lose that damn brat again?' The third of the bunch used their final search artifact to locate their target.

The compass-like token within her hand pointed in a direction behind them before it broke into pieces. Surprised by this, their heads turned faster than ever, only to see the same empty scenery. "He can't be far, split." She said, her tone leaving no room for discussion. They divided the area into three equal arcs and began investigating their prey's disappearance.

Orion, who had once more felt the elemental particles, breathed a sigh of relief. Before they burst through the wall, he took a position at its base, lest any parts of it flew in his direction. During the destruction, he constructed a replica of its remains on top of him and erased the old one. Thanks to both the loud noises and dust created by their rash action, his plan went unnoticed. Glad that his little trick had worked out, Orion had a moment's rest. But lying beneath a heavy mound of rock and dirt with at least two broken bones wasn't what most understood as comforting.

The magic in his body was almost drained. The earlier exchange had taken his last little bits, leaving him with the only option of waiting until they left. Nobody knew for sure if he would ever be out of danger. All he could do was hope for salvation to be granted.

Close to his hiding spot, the culprits of his situation had gathered once more. Without a word, they knew that their search didn't bear any fruit. As if swallowed by the ground, Orion was nowhere to be found. "Let's move. We need new locators." Decided the feminine figure, causing the other two to nod in agreement. Together, they left the scene.

Orion didn't take any of what they said at face value and refused to reveal himself. Although the pain was terrible, leaving him unable to catch his breath, he hung onto his life more than his comfort. So he waited. Seconds turned into minutes and hours until it had been an exhausting six hours. Stuck in the same position for so long, most of his limbs had gone numb. The pain, however, persevered.

Unlike what they said, the liars from earlier were hiding just like him. "The sun will set soon. The town should search for him." Said one of them in a stoic tone. The prospect of someone discovering them left them with no choice but to retreat. The female leader clicked her tongue in annoyance. She refused to accept that a boy bested her team of field-experienced assassins. "We need to erase our traces at once." Eying the still-present structure Orion had made, she said to the others.

Blood rushed through his pale body as an electric shock woke every part. What now? He was so close to escaping their grasp, only to fail in the last seconds. Trapped beneath the crushing weight of his creation, he hadn't much left for him to do. His heart was pumping out of his chest as idea after idea came to a single conclusion. Certain death.

'Something! There has to be something!' He subconsciously laced a hint of self-deprecation in his thoughts, mocking his own weakness. But he refused to give up on his life without a fight. There were still people waiting for him to return home. It would pain him to make them sad.

Steeling his resolve, he waited for his enemies. Tap, tap, tap. As the vibrations of their footsteps grew stronger, his pain vanished. His anticipation had occupied his mind to where he no longer felt anything. The world had turned silent. Besides the footsteps, nothing existed anymore. Like a clock, they ticked down his last few seconds, which seemed to last an eternity.

Tick, Tick, Tick. Deathly silence. In an instant, the structure above him had broken into pieces. The culprits noticed Orion at once. Using the particles of dirt they flung into the air, he imitated a gust of wind, pushing himself away from their clutches.

"You did that once." A freezing bitter voice, akin to the god of death, resounded behind him. A hand wrapped around his neck, preventing any form of escape. Its icy touch froze him to his bones. Orion kicked and punched at the figure behind him, but nothing bothered it. "Remember?" Had there been no barely audible high notes in between, the gender of the haunting voice would have remained unknown.

"The little rat we've been looking to catch was right beneath our feet this entire time." The leader sneered. She turned Orion to face her, intending to make their prey pay for his little tricks. A look at his face, however, caused a sharp sting to appear in her heart. That expression of his was all too familiar to her. Within Orion's eyes, both determination and desperation were dancing beautifully with each other. It painted an image of an undying resolve no matter the struggle.

She unsheathed the dagger buckled into her belt, carrying an emblem of a green eagle. "But struggle can't overcome disparity." She said before stabbing through his heart in one swift motion. Releasing her grip, the dying body in her hand fell down to the grass. 'I know that all too well.' Her thoughts were unknown to the others.

As scarlet liquid seeped out of the gaping hole in his chest, only a single thought rang in Orion's head. 'It isn't fair.' Why should he die, and not those who committed a crime? Why was he the one treated like dirt? He vowed to take revenge in his next life. Beneath the eyes of his murderers, the light in his eyes faded.

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