Charl steadied her breath as she downloaded all the information she would use for evidence. No matter what the facts were, both Zin and Charl had decisions to make. In order for Charl to ask Zin for help, she had to tell him everything.
“You are going to go after the prototype, aren’t you?” asked Charl.
“Man-made or not, a devil is a devil. No choice but to hunt,” replied Zin. Neither he nor Charl brought up the subject Leona.
“Are you confident you can kill it?” questioned Charl. Her merciless defeat at the hands of the devil was still fresh in her mind. She was doubtful that Zin would fare much better.
“I’m not sure. It’s been so long since I’ve hunted a devil. I won’t know until I try.”
“I’d like to help, but I’ve gotta return to Moscow. My main priority right now is reporting this to HQ and carrying out necessary actions against the Asia faction. Once they learn that Busan fortress has fallen, Asia is going to start moving as well,” explained Charl. A devil is certainly a huge concern, but in the end it’s only one devil. More important is giving HQ a chance to prepare themselves before the Asia faction finishes their preparations for war. Lieutenant Charl had more important duties to tend to than the prototype’s escape.
“Kill the prototype for me,” entreated Charl.
“You know I’m going to hunt the devil anyway...why are you going out of your way to ask me to kill it?”
“I need physical evidence. The information I downloaded should be enough, but you never know. And I’m not just asking you to catch it. I’m asking you to ‘kill it as soon as possible.’ We don’t want a blemish on Wargrave’s resume roaming the earth unchecked.”
“And what’s in it for me?” asked Zin.
“I’ll give you enough chips to build a fortress and have a small fortune left over,” answered Charl boldly.
“I’ll assume that would be around 50,000?”
“More,” returned Charl.
“I know you’ve got a nice title over there at Wargrave, but I doubt you’re in a position to make that promise.”
“Charl is the undercover name I’ve been using. My real name is Charlotte De Kaltz. Do you know the significance of this name, devil hunter?” said Charl confidently.
“Yeah, it definitely rings a bell…” said Zin laughing.
“Are you a Kaltz descendant?” asked Zin. It had been so long since he’d spoken that name. Saying it aloud felt strange. Charlotte didn’t expect Zin to recognize the name. She was once again shocked by Zin.
“...you keep surprising me, devil hunter.”
“If the client is the direct descendent of the commander of Wargrave, I don’t think I’ll need a guarantee.”
Going undercover in such a dangerous role is evidence enough of Charlotte’s desperate need of experience. Becoming a Wargrave commander isn’t only about pedigree and your family tree.
Both Charlotte and Zin had been given their roles.
Zin would head out to hunt the devil; Charlotte would make her way to HQ in Moscow.
“All the other devil hunters...are they as old as you?” asked Charlotte, before finally parting from Zin.
“You’re already behind. Seems to me like half of SMCP’s forces will be headed this way soon, looking for you and the prototype. Even if you run your ass off, I don’t know if you’re going to make it,” said Zin.
That was enough to bring Charlotte fully back to reality. She didn’t have any spare seconds to small talk. BMCP had fallen. If word of the situation were to reach Seoul fortress in the north, forces would soon be heading her way...to apprehend Charl and the prototype.
“I’m off. Here’s to seeing you in Moscow!” said Charlotte. She said it to wish both Zin and herself luck and safety. Charlotte quickly ran out of the fortress. Zin would soon also have to vacate the empty fortress.
One clear fact continued to assault his conscious, however.
Devils had returned.
A familiar feeling began to wash over Zin. It felt like his heart - long since dormant - had woken and was nervously skipping once again.
“Where was the electrical room…” muttered Zin. He began wandering around the bunker, looking for the room that would contain the blue chips that ran the fortress.
By this time in his life, Zin had lived as long as a scavenger as he had as a devil hunter.
‘There’s an expression that goes something like, ‘even if you’re dragged through a pile of dog crap, life is good.’’
‘Just being alive is a blessing.’
‘Mothers can withstand a whole lot to stay alive. There are things in this world far more horrible, far more frightening, and far more brutal. This is actually nothing at all.’
‘There’s nothing in this world more valuable than staying alive.’
‘We don’t have to be thankful every day we wake up to the sun and go to sleep with the moon. But we should at least be relieved.’
That’s what the mom said, when her little girl asked her why she chose to live like that. Why she didn’t leave her husband. Why she stayed and chose to take a beating, like an invalid. She had never once in her life defied the injustice or absurdity in the world.
Most people were in turn suspicious that she was a witch. The nights were she took a beating and was kicked out by her husband were almost as frequent as the nights she wasn’t. There were many reasons for the beatings. She was too sick to entertain any johns that night. She spoke back to him. He lost all his chips gambling. Most of her beatings started with little things like that.
On those nights, she would wander the city aimlessly. Not until it was near dawn and
her husband had fallen into a deep sleep would she return home.
People grew more and mores suspicious as those nights increased in frequency. How come all the monsters out there don’t dare touch her? How could she roam around the most dangerous ruins of the city, and return home without a scratch?
Nobody knew how any of that was possible. All they could do was speculate. ‘Maybe she’s a witch,’ they began to whisper. Nobody even knew what a witch was. But they had no problem or hesitation slapping that label on the woman.
That burden and reputation of her mother also fell on Leona. The situation was a bit more subtle with Leona, however.
She wasn’t especially close with the other kids, but she did have a few friends. She went on treasure hunts with them, just like the other kids. Sometimes they headed to the roads they knew, sometimes to the runs they were familiar with.
One day, she left with four other children. She was the only one to return. She told everyone that the others had suddenly fallen into a sinkhole. This kind of thing happened in their town a lot. The adults didn’t even bother to go out and look for the bodies.
Leona is a liar, however. Those kids didn’t die in a sinkhole.
Leona and her friends were attacked by a group of monster rats. They were in the sewers in the ruins. The other children were attacked by at least a hundred rats. They were ripped to shreds in a matter of moments. Not a trace of them was left behind.
Not one of the rats went after Leona. They seemed to fear her. To respect her. To revere her.
The rats didn’t touch a hair on her body. Leona had no idea what made her different from her friends - so different that they were devoured, leaving not even a drop of blood, and she was left completely unharmed. She knew she must be different, somehow. She decided to keep that a secret. If she told, she would be excluded from others. Being excluded meant a slow march towards death.
So she lied. And she thought she must be the same as her mom. She’d lost all her friends. The only children that remained were the ones she hated. The other kids began saying that she was a witch, just like her mom. They said that she had eaten her friends’ hearts and left them for dead somewhere. Leona was completely alone.
Lucky or unlucky, Leona’s mom died right as those rumors started to take off. That very day, she killed her father and left her hometown of Motgol.
‘I’m a devil hunter.’ Zin’s words rang through Leona’s head as she plunged forward, running for her life.
“Catch her! Get that little bitch!!”
Leona was being chased.
If she wasn’t human, if she was something other than human, if she was a devil...Zin would have to kill her. He was a devil hunter. Leona didn’t understand why Zin told her that.
Zin had headed to the BMCP to get proof.
It was really a warning. Maybe he was saying ‘run away, before I get proof.’ If that were the case, Leona couldn’t understand why a devil hunter would give a devil time to run away.
Leona didn’t run away. Ironically, it was because she didn’t run away then that she was running away now.
Flies naturally swarm to a weak target like a small child. Her guardian, the hunter, had disappeared somewhere. The thieves came soon after to the now unprotected Leona to relieve her of her possessions. They were also the survivors of Motgol. Unable to find a place to settle, they had no choice but to resort to these means for survival.
They were surprised at first. They were surprised that the little girl who had killed her father and fled was alive and well, several years later.
Then they remembered the rumors of her being a witch. Motgol was attacked and destroyed by a monster, frighteningly soon after Leona had left. When they found Leona, they resolved to kill her on the spot, reasoning that she and Zin had come with violent intentions in mind. Leona managed to stab one of the thieves before setting off at a dead sprint.
“Catch that girl! She’s a witch!! That’s Leona from Motgol!!”
People who didn’t know the whole story chose to stay out of it. Those who recognized Leona as she ran by, however, joined in on the chase.
Leona didn’t even bother to say what she wanted to - that she wasn’t a witch, that she didn’t know what to do.
They wouldn’t listen anyway. There would be no chance to explain herself or try to convince them.
‘Mother fucker...I guess I shouldn’t have stayed inside the city,’ thought Leona.
The distance between Leona and her chasers was narrowing. Adults of course naturally have longer strides. Characteristic of a free city, this chase scene didn’t draw much attention from other people. Survivors from Motgol, however, were joining in on the chase one by one, and the number of people following Leona was steadily increasing.
To them, Leona was a witch. A witch who had taken their home, killing their families and friends. Whether that was actually true or not wasn’t important. What was important was that they believed it to be true.
“You’re not going anywhere, bitch!” There was a large man standing in front of her. When she entered the narrow alley, he stood in front of her, blocking her way.
She had to make a decision.
“Why the fuck are you assholes doing this to me!”
Leona reached quickly into her coat and pulled out the silver revolver. She had yet to fire it even once, but she asked Zin how to do it enough times to make him sick.
‘Point the barrel at your enemy. Pull the trigger.’ Leona did just that - she aimed the barrel at the men and pulled the trigger, not bothering to slow down.
‘Even a kid can do it.’
Sparks flew from the barrel as Leona yanked on the trigger.
“AHHH!!!” shouted Leona.
“What the...what the heck…”
The noise of the revolver had surprised and frightened the men. Leona, meanwhile, hadn’t prepared herself for the kick of the revolver as it shocked her wrist. The kick of the low-caliber revolver wasn’t that bad compared to other guns, but it was enough to surprise someone who wasn’t prepared for it.
‘The hunter didn’t tell me about that!’ complained Leona, trying to shake away and forget the pain in her wrist. She nimbly hopped over the man in front of her, who lay on prone on the ground, clutching his bleeding stomach. She was relieved she’d actually landed the shot. Shooting the gun at a full run proved more difficult to aim than she’d imagined.
“What the fuck is that?!?” shouted one of the men.
“The witch’s got herself a devil’s weapon!” The men chasing Leona had no idea what the metal object in her hand was. It was spouting sparks, and they were scared. They stopped in their tracks. They didn’t know the first thing about guns.
Given that fact, they also wouldn’t know that revolvers have a limited amount of ammo. The men didn’t know what to do. They were scared and had stopped running. That being said, they weren’t willing to give up the chase. Leona used this moment of hesitation to her advantage, scurrying into a nearby plaza.
‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ thought Leona. Her first instinct was to escape the city. Then she would have to hold out hope that Zin would find her.
But what if Zin does find her? Would he kill her? She couldn’t be sure. The thought of waiting for Zin, unsure of his intentions towards her, made her uncomfortable.
‘Whatever! Just run!’ chided Leona to herself.
Leona ran as hard as she could, suppressing the vomit. She was too small to scale the trash wall, so she had no choice but to head towards the main gate. She passed person after person and finally arrived at Hyuljin’s entrance.
“STOP!!” shouted an unknown voice. Leona found herself tighten up when she heard the voice.
“God damn...mother fucker.” Five guards had their bows and arrows pointed directly at Leona. Their commander stood atop the trash wall, looking down at Leona.
“I’m the sheriff of this here Hyuljin,” said the man as he descended the wall and headed towards Leona. He was wearing a brimmed hat.
“I don’t know what happened in Motgol, and frankly I don’t care. We’re in Hyuljin, and what goes on in Motgol ain’t important here,” explained the sheriff.
“They why are you in my way?” asked Leona.
“That thing you’re holding there...that’s a ‘gun,’ right?”
“Yeah. What about it?”
“Like I said. I’m the sheriff in this here parts. I can’t let no kid roam these parts with that kind of weapon, now can I?”
“I’m leaving. So get out of the goddamn way. I won’t be coming back,” said Leona. She had the revolver pointed at the sheriff’s head.
“Looks like you’re not understanding me…” said the sheriff, frowning.
“Dangerous weapons could also go a long way in protecting this here town,” quipped the sheriff. Leona scoffed at the slick sheriff. She took action without hesitation.
Leona was more prepared this time, and was able to take proper aim. She was still new to guns, however, managing to hit the sheriff in his shoulder.
“Fucking asshole. If you want the gun, just come out and say it. Stop spouting nonsense,” erupted the incensed Leona, as she spit on the sheriff.
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