Running home a pudgy little boy, Darren Gilbert, fled from his bullies. He decided to risk taking his shortcut home, sure that they didn’t know about it. As he drew closer, he churned his legs faster even after he turned down the alley. As he ran past a dumpster, he risked a glance behind him. Unfortunately, Darren collided with someone falling to the ground. As Darren Gilbert tried to climb to his feet an all to familiar voice taunted him. “So you thought we didn’t know about this shortcut of yours.”
“Oh, yes,” the bully said as a mean grin appeared.
Darren glanced over his shoulder and saw Dolmen’s cronies walking into view. “Please let me go home, Dolmen.”
“You were trying to escape without paying your taxes.” Dolmen answered as he tapped his open palm, “Mistakes like that bring punishment.”
Darren stepped away from the bully, but he could feel the presence of Dolmen’s toadies. He looked past the bully towards the exit of the alley and decided to risk it. He took a step to his right drawing Dolmen that way. Then Darren bolted towards the opening to his left. Unfortunately, the bully moved faster, grabbing Darren by the collar. The boy tried to squirm out of Dolmen’s grasp, but it was too strong. Within moments Darren started moving backward as Dolmen muttered with glee. “You’re going to regret that, Darren.”
Ignoring the taunt Darren continued to squirm, but Dolmen was too strong. Within moments, Darren saw the bully’s face out of the corner of his eye. Then the bully hurled Darren to the ground. Upon impact, Darren curled up protecting himself from the oncoming onslaught. When nothing happened Darren shifted his head, and searched for the reason. But all he saw was Dolmen’s fist an inch from his face. Before he could return to safety, Darren felt the impact and heard himself screaming out in pain.
He tried to protect himself again, but that moment of curiosity proved to be all too costly. When the strikes started to fade, Darren risked another glance. This time he caught sight of his friend, Randall Orbryn, through a pair of legs. For a moment Darren met his friend’s eyes and saw the tears welling up in Randall’s eye. Then without saying a word, his friend fled. Darren didn’t fault Randall since he wouldn’t have been able to help. And there was no reason for Randall to get beaten up as well.
As the bullies returned to their work, a small piece of Darren’s mind grew; like a spark landing on prepared tinder. As that tiny flame of anger began consuming him, the vice-like grip he used to keep his temper in check began to wane. When his hold vanished, pain radiated from Darren’s spine to every part of his body. The pain was so intense that Darren launched into convulsions. The children stopped their abuse stepping away until Darren’s body went limp.
Dolmen gave a halfhearted chuckle as he approached Darren. When he bent down to examine the boy, he saw his chest rise. Dolmen let out the breath he had been holding. Turning his head to look at his cohorts the bully declared, “He’s alive.” Looking down at Darren, Dolmen noticed a soft glow emanating from Darren’s chest. Reaching down to touch the glow, something hurled Dolmen into the brick wall. The sickening crack of the impact echoed in the alley. The bully slid down the wall crumpling to the ground.
The cronies stared Dolmen’s unconscious body. As one they swiveled their heads at the still limp form of Darren. When he flinched and began to stir, they fled. Sitting up Darren searching for whatever could have frightened the bullies off. Then he noticed Dolmen’s still form. As Darren tried to stand, his legs refused to take his weight, causing him to reunite with the ground.
As Darren lay there, he heard footsteps approaching. He started searching for the source but found nothing. The boy rubbed at his legs, hoping to get them working again. As he tried to get to his feet again, a middle-aged man rounded the corner. Darren’s eyes latched upon this stranger studying him. Only noticing the pointed ears when he reached Dolmen.
Edging towards the far side of the alley, Darren collapsed when the man mumbled something. Darren lifted his head to watch as the man examined the bully. Looking up at Darren he stated, “He’s alive. In case you’re curious.”
“Who are you?” Darren asked with a severe stutter.
“You don’t care about the Dwarf?”
“I don’t care for the bully,” Darren countered.
Nodding the man stood and walked over to Darren saying, “How long has he bullied you?”
“It’s been a while,” Darren answered as his cheeks colored. As the man reached out to touch him, Darren added, “It’s good he’s okay. But I have no idea what happened to him. If you know can you explain it.”
“Look at your chest, it’s still glowing.”
Darren’s eyes fell, and he saw a faint glow escaping from under his shirt, “What’s happening to me?”
“I can answer all your questions, but I need to gauge your commitment first.”
“Yes, the Hunters will be coming for you soon. After all, you put on quite the show for them. Now do you want to serve the government or do you want to be free?”
“I’m a child,” Devin squealed in fear.
“Life isn’t fair. But you have a choice to make.” The man said as he drew Darren close to him. “Do you want to be free or serve the government?”
“Who are you?” Darren asked as he pulled away from the stranger.
“I’m Leodor Sultasar, now choose.”
Looking towards Dolmen, Darren knew he never wanted to become like him. As passion burned behind his eyes, Darren answered, “Freedom.”