Viewing the battlefield laid out before him, Elliott Witt realized how screwed he really was. His hologram acted out an exaggerated, dramatic death a few feet away from him; he had sent it out as a decoy after being knocked down by a shooter nearby to avoid immediate elimination. With the double distracting his opponents, Elliott quickly crawled into a group of bushes, hidden from the enemies' eyes. Elliott sweated profusely and attempted to ignore how the scraggly, dead bushes scratched against his face.
He hoped that somehow either Pathfinder or Wraith, his squadmates, would realize that he was downed and needed help, but they were preoccupied by their own gunfight a few houses away against an enemy squad.
Elliott waited for a few minutes, and eventually, the gunshots ceased. He expected his allies to come to his aid any second and save him. He considered calling out for them, but decided against it. If I make any noise, he thought to himself, another squad might hear me. Where were his teammates?
"Allfather, bless me with sight!"
Elliott froze. He knew exactly who those words belonged to. Although he was the newest Legend to join the ranks and to compete in the Games, any wise knew who that voice belonged to. Many of the veteran Legends had warned him of the ruthless hunter, who did not fear death. Elliott passed it off and said something cocky like, "So what? They're probably all bark and no bite," with a reference to their dog-like moniker. Now that he was facing them, Elliott realized that he would have no way to defend himself against his opponent.
He held onto a sliver of hope as he stealthily pulled his holopad from his backpack and checked the stats of his squadmates. In bright red letters, the word "ELIMINATED" flashed next to both Wraith and Pathfinder's names. They were probably already being carted away to the Apex Games medical center. Elliott was completely and utterly alone, and the only thing he could do now was to wait for his own demise.
Elliott recalled that his mother was watching this all unfold back on Solace, since it was his first Game and all. She especially wanted to see how he would utilize the holographic technology he and she had engineered together. Elliott knew it would be incredible, and a bit unrealistic, to win his first Apex Game, but he still felt guilty that he could not impress his mother with his skills and her devices. Besides, being seen at your weakest state is downright embarrassing.
A large, black bird flew past the bushes Elliott was hiding in, its wings blowing a gust of air towards his face. He stayed very, very still. Maybe the hunter would completely pass by him by. Hopefully he’d get lucky and they wouldn’t see him hiding here pitifully. Perhaps they’d be sparing and even make his elimination quick and less embarrassing than it already was.
It was eerily silent. As Elliott held his breath, he could hear shoes running across the sand, gradually making their way closer and closer. It was agonizing to wait this long. Peeking his head out of the bush, Elliott got a glimpse of his worst nightmare in this moment.
The first thing that caught his eye were those piercing red eyes. They seemed to glow, radiating light as they stared in his direction. The hunter was still running, straight towards Elliott’s hiding place.
They were fast. Fast fast fast. Just like Elliott’s own heartbeat. Despite how desperately he hoped and prayed, he knew the hunter could see him hiding pitifully under the dead, bare bushes. Even if they weren’t the one who knocked him down, the adrenaline of eliminating another contestant would probably be enough for them to take the kill. The feeling of blood on their hands, blood from a living, breathing human being was addicting. It was shocking how willingly people signed up for the Apex Games. Although it wasn't legitimate killing, the thrill of scaring another must have been what attracted a lot of adrenaline junkies and maniacs who joined. Elliott didn't have a say in the matter, since he himself was participating, but he did have his own reasons.
Elliott shut his eyes tightly. He figured the fear factor of encountering the merciless hunter would be much lower if he could not see their gleaming eyes. Getting eliminated from the Game didn’t hurt or anything, but it was still terrifying, especially if people had warned you many times over of the person about to eliminate you.
The footsteps were louder now, and so much closer. Any moment now it would be over and he would somehow get transported back to the medical center in case he happened to have accumulated any wounds. His mother would witness his lame defeat.
I’m ready to die now, Elliott thought to himself as he clenched his teeth. Please just hurry up. I’ve got better things to do than sit here and wait for you to take all the glory in making me look pathetic. Like, I could be at home eating pork chops right now… Yummy. It’s been a while since I’ve-
His train of thought was interrupted as he heard footsteps approach right in front of him. Elliott slowly opened his eyes.
Two boots, coated in mud and dust.
Two legs, covered by what appeared to be layers of clothing.
A brown jacket, adorned with various pockets.
Two red eyes.
The hunter the Gods have sent.
Elliott's pursuer was stopped in front of him, looking straight down at him. He wasn’t sure how to react. Were they deciding the most humiliating way to end him? Figuring out where to puncture him with their hunting knife that looked so dreadfully sharp and lethal?
The scarlet glow of their eyes suddenly vanished as quickly as it had appeared, yet the hunter remained standing.
Elliott could not see their eyes behind their mask. He assumed he didn't really want to, either.
What is this person trying to do? Just kill me already. Someone come shoot the fool! They're standing still, looking down at my defenseless body. An easy shot for you. Elliott pleaded silently, knowing full well that no one would be able to help him. The hunter could have eyes on the back of their head, for crying out loud.
A sudden movement from the hunter made Elliott's heart nearly stop. They dug through their backpack, probably looking for a gun!
A med kit was dropped down, creating a dull thud against the dry soil.
The hunter quickly glanced around, then squatted down in front of Elliott. They picked up the med kit and, without warning, stabbed it into Elliott's arm.
"Hey, HEY!" Elliott exclaimed, alarmed. A gloved hand pushed against his mouth to silence him as the piercing needle of the med kit dug deeper into his skin.
Elliott nearly fainted. The shock of the most feared Legend appearing in front of him, then saving him...? Maybe he was imagining this. It couldn’t possibly be real.
Soon, the mysterious hunter pulled away and Elliott could stand up on his own. "Why...?" He questioned, still a bit uneasy. Elliott was on high alert. He didn't know when, or if, the hunter would turn their back and eliminate him.
Elliott stared into his savior's eyes. Or more so, their emotionless, hollow mask eyes.
He could hear them take in a quick breath through the mask.
"I need you alive," they replied bluntly.
Elliott gulped. Their voice was ominous, almost sinister.
"For what," Elliott asked. "To take me out to dinner?"
"I could kill you right here." Their knife was quickly raised very, very close to Elliott’s throat. Way too close for comfort.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. No more teasing or flirting. Serious business now." Elliott held up his hands helplessly until the hunter backed away and began walking off in a seemingly random direction.
"Uh, you never answered my question," Elliott said.
They did not turn back around to answer. "It does not matter right now. Follow me, keep your mouth shut."
"Okay, secretive hunter," Elliott teased. "I'm Mirage." He decided not to let them know his real name. They could be a trained assassin and come kill him later while he slept peacefully, for all he knew. The flirting didn’t exactly help to ensure his safety. He couldn't help it; it was a bit of a defense mechanism.
It took a moment for the "secretive hunter" to respond. It almost looked like they were staring intently at the ground. "I am Bloodhound."
As they said their name, Elliott noticed the heavy accent more clearly.
"So where are you from? Around here? This ghost town seems like a perfect place for a creepy person like y-"
"Footsteps. Approximately thirty seconds ago."
"Huh?" Elliott chuckled nervously. "From Footsteps? That sounds like... a nice place. I guess. You came here thirty seconds ago?"
"No. Can you be quiet? Someone is nearby." Taking out a rather large gun, Bloodhound turned towards a building. "Bless me with sight."
Elliott watched them quickly run into the building. It seemed like they knew exactly what, or who, was in there.
"Buddy?" Elliott took out a pistol and slowly crept after them towards the building.
Suddenly, shots rang out from within. Elliott could hear a death box falling to the ground. People were running about inside the building, and one pair of feet were getting closer to the door he was standing near.
"Mirage! Get her!" Bloodhound's muffled voice yelled from inside.
Panicking a bit, Elliott began to shoot his pistol as soon as the doors opened by him. The sound of footsteps stopped.
Elliott opened his eyes, and realized he had squeezed them shut in the rush of the moment. He felt a hand be placed on his shoulder and he jumped.
"The Gods spoke truthfully." Bloodhound took their hand off Elliott's shoulder, noticing him jump when they touched him.
"The Gods?" Elliott stared down at the death box with a picture of Lifeline on the top of it.
"You are the Apex Champions!" A loud voice boomed from the sky.
Elliott looked around, shocked. "Champions? We're the CHAMPIONS?!" His voice rose an octave near the end.
His first time as a Champion! They were Champions!
Bloodhound did little to celebrate. "It was fate that we won."
Elliott did not hear them, for he was too busy jumping around and yelling. "Mom, Mom! Are you watching! I'm finally a Champion!"
Elliott did not remember much of what happened after that. Everything was happening so fast, and the adrenaline was still gushing through his body. He and Bloodhound got on a large ship and were brought back to the Apex Games HQ, and were met with cheers of applause.
"I have been a pretty good guy lately. Maybe the karma is coming back. All these cute people greeting me... congratulating me." Elliott smiled and waved at the passing people.
Quite opposite of Elliott, Bloodhound kept their head up and eyes forward. They did not look at anyone, and seemed very casual. Winning was not a big deal to them anymore.
After they walked into a more private room with all the contenders of the game, Elliott saw his squadmates Pathfinder and Wraith.
"Hey guys!" He half smiled at them. “I'm sorry I couldn't be there for that last fight… I was knocked down!" Elliott's voice was still loud from the excitement of winning.
Pathfinder glanced at Wraith and then back to Elliott. "Sorry, friend. But you were trailing behind. We couldn't go back to get you."
Elliott shrugged. "Was that it? I'm sorry, I guess?" He pretended that he wasn't hurt by the comment. He was trying his best, it's not his fault he was new to the whole idea of killing each other for fame and riches, even if it was like a glorified game of tag.
"You won somehow anyway, so what does it matter?" Wraith did not make eye contact with Elliott. He could practically feel the hostility radiating off of her. Although they did not speak much with each other before and during the Game, he could tell she was a sore loser.
The conversation trailed off and soon it was Bloodhound and Elliott together again, with everyone else talking to each other, some stealing loathsome glances at the two-person squad and others giving them wholehearted smiles.
Bloodhound stood still, silent, almost like they were uninterested.
"Hey, buddy," Elliott said. "Mind if I ask you some questions?"
The hunter did not turn to face him. "As long as they are not stupid questions."
"I don't think they're stupid," said Elliott. "But first off, how come you don't usually have squadmates?" Many had told Elliott how Bloodhound was a loner, on top of also being the Legend with the most wins and kills. They were never with other people, and that's what made them so amazing and also very, very frightening.
"I prefer to work alone. Others cannot keep up with me."
"Then why did you bring me with you?"
Bloodhound took a moment to answer. They seemed to do that a lot, think over their words before speaking. "I was told to."
Told to? Elliott was a bit suspicious. "By who? Did my mom pay you to save me?"
"The Gods." Bloodhound began to walk towards the exit past the contenders and fans.
Elliott followed and said, "the Gods, huh? Did they say, 'hey, this guy looks pathetic, why don't you save him the embarrassment and help him?'"
"They did not say much. Just to not kill you."
Walking outside, the two Legends were met with a strong wind that kicked up sand, swirling around them. Elliott assumed that Bloodhound wanted to get away from all the people surrounding them inside.
"You're very spooky. I like that. Very mysterious, shady... attractive." Standing next to Bloodhound, Elliott could feel the height difference between them. They were shorter than him by about an inch or two, but they had much wider shoulders than Elliott and that intimidated him much more than if they were taller.
Bloodhound did not respond to the flirty comment.
“Where'd your little bird go?”
“You mean Artur? He knows his way home,” said Bloodhound.
“Can you teach me the way to your home too?” Elliott smirked.
Once again, Bloodhound ignored him.
"How about we get a drink? On me. I work at a bar a few blocks away." Elliott walked farther out of the exit, towards the sand covered and run-down town that surrounded Apex Headquarters.
"I do not drink."
"You don't do a lot of stuff, it seems like. Let's hang out, get to know each other."
"I do not think we have to be together constantly,” said Bloodhound. “And hanging out with others is one of the things I do not do."
“Did the Gods say we can't chill or something?"
Another pause from Bloodhound. "They did not say much. I told you already what they said.”
"Let's have some fun then. We just won, aren't you totally excited?" Elliott still had gooseflesh from the adrenaline of winning, even if he only got one elimination. She was already low anyway from Bloodhound, so it could technically be counted as an assist...
"It is not exciting after you win all the time." Bloodhound said as they began to follow Elliott towards town.
Elliott rolled his eyes. "Haha, are you actually bragging?"
Elliott and Bloodhound sat at the bar. While Elliott observed the people around him, Bloodhound ran their finger around the top of a small shot glass. The glass was still full, despite the pair being there for almost an hour.
Glancing at the tablet showing the news on the table, Elliott saw one of his greatest fantasies.
"Newbie by the Name of Mirage Wins the 21st Apex Games!"
"Bloodhound, Bloodhound, Bloodhound!" Elliott was transfixed. "I'm in the news!"
Bloodhound nodded. They were not about to rain on the "newbie's" parade. They also noticed a subtitle for another article called "Bloodhound and Mirage, a Developing Affair?" Well, people will be people, and assume the most dramatic things. Reluctantly, they held back a scoff in the back of their throat. What a nosy bunch of heimskingjar, they thought. "You're very brave. And honorable," said Bloodhound.
"Well, I don't know about brave, " Elliott chuckled. His cheeks were warm from the alcohol, and he sipped at his third shot. "Tell me what you mean."
"After I saved you and healed you, you very well could have eliminated me then. But you did not. I admire that," said Bloodhound.
Elliott felt his face tingle. "I'm not that kind of person," he said. "Plus, I was scared to death of you. Practically paralyzed."
"But that did not stop you from flirting with me."
The blush formed on Elliott's cheeks. "I, um..." He had no explanation. He did sound extremely desperate in that moment. Maybe he thought flirting would lower the chance of him getting totally murdered right then and there.
Elliott thought he heard a chuckle come from Bloodhound. "You are special," they said.
Were they actually drunk? Elliott did not see them take a single sip of their drink all night. They seemed more light-hearted and talkative now than earlier.
Elliott was a bit speechless from the comment. "Special, huh..."
His heart squeezed a bit. Just earlier, his mother had commented on his brothers, how they were "incredible, special." He idly wiped at the condensation forming around his shot glass.
Bloodhound sensed how the mood changed around Elliott. "Excuse me, bartender. Another one of your richest for my squadmate here."
The bartender slid the glass towards Elliott. He picked it up slowly and tilted it towards Bloodhound. "Cheers, to us. And those Gods of yours that, for some reason, decided to introduce us. Almost like some crazy, angelic mixer."
In his heart, Elliott knew Bloodhound was smiling now, underneath that cold, unemotional mask.
"Cheers, Mirage." Bloodhound tapped their shot glass against his, the noise ringing through the air.
"You can call me Elliott," Elliott said after sipping the drink.
Despite the feeling of a new bond forming between the two Legends, Bloodhound did not tell Elliott their real name in that moment, even though Elliott expected it. They did not drink a single drop of their alcohol that night, because that would require them to take their mask off, Elliott assumed. They remained solemn, with very few responses, even after Elliott drunkenly told stories of his mother's inventions and his childhood.
But somehow, he had a strange feeling, that the two of them were inseparable from that moment on.
"How can I contact you?" Elliott's words slurred at the end.
Bloodhound looked in Elliott's direction. Their masked eyes reflected the moonlight. "Contact me?"
Elliott felt a bit hurt. Maybe they did not want to talk to him, and that their acquaintanceship was only during Apex Games, or even just during that one Game.
"Like... To hang out?" Elliott twiddled with his scarf. "We don't have to, I just was wondering."
"Of course," Bloodhound said. They walked closer to Elliott and pulled out a holopad. Almost everyone had one of these, it had practically everything on it from being able to call and message anyone, to taking amazing pictures. There was even an app to deliver food and items to any desirable location.
Elliott pulled out his own device and they held them close together. This was the way to exchange information to each other's little holopads. Thinking deeper about it, Elliott thought it was a bit romantic. Robots sitting close together and telling about themselves to each other… how many shots did he drink again?
It took a few moments to share info, and Elliott urged the handheld machine to work faster. With Bloodhound only a few inches away, Elliott could smell their musk. Herby. Not dusty and stinging like he thought it would be. Their mask so close to his face intimidated him a bit, but it also made his heart pull against his chest. In his drunken state, Elliott just wanted to see their face, their hair under the natural light of the moon. He wanted to fall into their arms, into anyone's arms, craving the touch of another human. If the holopads took any longer, Elliott thought he would've wrapped his arms around Bloodhound right then and there.
A little ding! emitted from the holopads, signaling that they were done. Bloodhound put theirs back into a pocket and looked at Elliott. Or, Elliott thought they were looking at him. Their head was facing him. But he would never really know as long as they kept that mask on.
“I will see you soon. I have a feeling the Gods will not keep us separated for long,” Bloodhound said.
“Oh, even if the Gods keep us away from each other, I'll find you somehow,” Elliott flirted. It sounded more creepy than flirty, though.
They stood facing each other.
“I would also do the same,” said Bloodhound. “Do you need some help getting home?”
“Would you help me get into bed, too?” When that got no response out of them, Elliott continued. “Nah, no, I think I'll be fine… I'm just a few blocks away.”
“Alright then. Farewell, Elliott.” They waved at him, then walked off down the street.
Elliott watched them until they disappeared, then stood there for a while longer. He was wasted, but he thought for sure that the little reply Bloodhound had made to his creepy comment was some form of flirting. Or maybe they were hinting at their tracking skills and if Elliott said any other comments like that then they would come and kill him with no remorse.
Walking home, Elliott checked the time on his holopad. He squinted at the screen. 1:24 AM. Just looking at the time made Elliott feel sleepy.
Eventually, he got home after a long walk. Actually, it was more like a long stumble home. Slipping off his shoes, he collapsed onto the bed. He had not even changed out of his Apex suit before he was fast asleep.