The leader stayed in one of the rooms designated for the officers. As leaders often do, he invariably boasted a room on the highest floor.
“The hunter has arrived.”
“Yes, I can see that.”
The leader was an elderly man whose age was only betrayed by the spots on his skin, as the tone of his voice was crisp and clear, and he showed no other signs of senility. The old man slowly and deliberately studied Zin, as if he were trying to search for traces of life.
He had already met at least five hunters, ultimately refusing to commission any of them. His reason for doing so could have been anything; it could have been trivial. Maybe it was valid.
The old man nodded his head in seeming admiration after his staredown of Zin.
“Ah, yes. Just the man I’ve been looking for. Good job Beck Gu.”
“Yes. Go down and get some rest.”
How could he know anything just by looking? Beck Gu struggled to understand, but as it was an order from the Elder, he had no choice but to obey. Beck Gu headed downstairs, and Zin was left standing, looking down at the old man.
“Such a welcome guest arriving at such an unfortunate time makes me happy.”
Zin shrugged his shoulders in response.
“This territory doesn’t seem that unfortunate to me.”
“The biggest misfortune is always hidden in shadow.”
“Hmmm, I must say I do agree. However, I’d like to know how I am different from the five hunters you already turned away.”
What was the reason the others were unacceptable? Why did he choose Zin? The old man chuckled.
“The five who came before you were fakes. They were just amateurs pretending to be hunters. You’re the real thing.”
“What makes you so sure that I’m real?”
The old man raised his hand and pointed to the trench coat Zin was wearing.
“Real hunters wear clothes that can hide things.”
“That’s an interesting point of view.”
“The sound of metal on metal. Add to that a faint smell of gunpowder - I know well enough that you’re the real deal.”
Zin’s clothes could indeed hide many things, like a well-sharpened blade. Or a gun.
The old man immediately picked up some clues from Zin and correctly assumed he was carrying a gun. This old man was miles apart from the usual clients he dealt with. His ability to smell gunpowder in this day and age only added to the illusion.
“Were you a hunter, sir?” Zin asked.
“I spend a lot of time at the Hunter’s Nest. That’s why my instincts are so good.”
“This is quite an annoying job.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
There is nothing more difficult than a client who has insight into the physiology of being a hunter.
“Let’s talk about the job, shall we?” asked Zin.
As soon as he heard that, the old man’s expression hardened as he began to talk.
“There is a free city about four days from here, in the direction of the setting sun. Do you know the city I am referring to?"
“Hmmm, if my memory serves me right, it’s a city called Jado, right?”
“That’s correct. You are well informed.”
“What business does the leader of Point have in a free city?”
“Jado recently collapsed. Our Trader recently brought that bit of news to our attention.”
Zin raised his eyebrows at the Elder’s words. Free city populations are at least three hundred, sometimes upward of a thousand. They do not collapse easily. There are only two explanations for a city collapsing.
Either at the hands of a monster, or at the hands of man.
“Was there an attack from a big Slaughter house?”
“No. A monster was responsible for the collapse - rumor has it it wasn’t a man,” replied the old man.
“it’s my understanding that there aren’t any monsters in the Old Korea district capable of such destruction.”
“That was my understanding as well.”
A group of monsters, or a top-tier monster capable of destroying an entire city was rare in Old Korea, an outskirt on the outskirts of the Korean Peninsula. From a human’s perspective, Old Korea was quite a hospitable place to live. The old man had a perplexed look on his face.
“It’s not safe here if we are dealing with a monster capable of destroying a free city.”
“That said, you can’t just up and move everyone without knowing what’s out there.”
“Recklessly leaving is also not a wise choice.”
That’s why the Elder had been waiting for a real hunter. The defense force of the town, at the end of the day, was merely a group of guards; their capabilities were fundamentally different from a hunter. Guards just fight. Hunters see, listen, wait, fight and pursue. Hunters are best suited for this kind of work.
“Find out what kind of monster attacked the free town. We need to know if it’s dangerous enough that we need to move. If you could bring some kind of physical evidence from the monster, all the better.”
The Elder wasn’t expecting the hunter to single handedly take down a monster that had destroyed a free city. He was asking for a scouting mission, not eradication. There are, of course, many hunters who would take this kind of job lightly. The Elder was aware of that, and in turn was searching for a real hunter, one he could trust, not an imitation.
If Zin decided that the group of monsters that destroyed Jado were life-threatening, the people of Ard Point would have to leave and find a new place to live.
While the job seemed easy enough, there were plenty of lurking dangers. Nevertheless, Zin felt up to the challenge.
It was simple, yet at the same time seemed a bit off. This kind of work always rewarded Zin with a big return, however. If there was a collapsed city involved, taking the job seemed even more worthwhile.
If the city had indeed collapsed, then all the blue chips in the city would be bereft of their owners. It would be worth going, even if there weren’t a job involved. The job would be the cherry on top.
“Let’s first talk about payment,” said the hunter.
“An advance of 100, 100 upon completion, and an additional 100 for good faith.”
“That seems pretty steep,” replied Zin.
“I am demanding absolute faithfulness from you. The payment is a reflection of that.”
300 blue chips were enough to power all of the Point for a whole month. It’s not the kind of money you can get from a small town leader like the idiot from before. It’s an even bigger amount, considering that the going rate for eliminating monsters was about 1-3 chips per head.
It was a considerably high price to pay for a scouting mission, but the Elder believed it was essential.
“Ok, let’s do it.”
Zin nodded his head cooly, as there was no need to bargain. The Elder immediately handed the advance to Zin, accepting it in turn. It was a known fact that countless people had put on the pretense of being a hunter with eyes set on an advance, only to run away after receiving it. Most jobs, in response, didn’t offer advances.
There were really only two kinds of people capable of giving an advance of 100 blue chips - half wits, or people quick on the uptake.
Zin was sure this old man belonged in the latter group.
“You mentioned you spent some time in the Nest. Which one exactly?”
“It was a nest called ‘Grouse.’”
“Ah, is that right.”
Zin nodded his head and stood up.
“Ok. I will set out tomorrow. You’ll have to wait about a week.”
“It’s clear that it’s a pretty dangerous monsters. Don’t get any ideas about a fight.”
“Leave that kind of decision to the hunter.”
Ha ha ha. Well, I guess you’ve got a point there.”
Zin began sorting through his memories for information about the Grouse as he left the Elder’s room. The outlines of the Elder’s young face from decades ago appeared and receded in Zin’s mind. Try as he might, Zin couldn’t get a clear picture in his mind.
“I’ve come across too many things over the years.”
A bitter smile flashed across Zin’s face.
Beck Gu helped Zin find his way to one of the empty jail-cell turned rooms. It was tight, but finding somewhere as safe was not an easy thing in this world.
“Are potatoes ok for dinner?”
Beck ran off somewhere, returning after a short while with three steamed potatoes.
“It’s usually not easy dealing with you hunters. Some hunters even had the gall to demand some meat.”
Zin figured in his grumbling, that Beck Gu was talking about the five hunters who had come before. Zin let out a laugh.
“You seem to be mistaken.”
“Anyone who comes asking for some meat isn’t a hunter.”
“Psshh, is there anyone who doesn’t appreciate a bit of meat?”
To the residents meat was a food they desired but could never have.
“Hunters despise eating meat. If you spend enough time outside hunting monsters or beasts, rather than eating their meat you’ll become disgusted by the stench of fat.”
Beck Gu slowly nodded his head in realization.
“It makes a lot of sense when you put it that way. So anyone looking for meat is a fake hunter?”
“I’ve learned something useful today. I’ll remember that.”
Beck Gu kept repeating that hunters looking for meat were fakes, as if trying to memorize it. Zin was amused by Beck Gu. There were still people out there trying to learn something and commit it to memory. Beck Gu plopped down next to Zin as he ate his potatoes, seemingly with nothing else to do.
“Oh by the way, about Jado…” began Beck Gu
“Do you have something to say?”
“I think it was the wolves.”
Zin’s expression hardened at the statement.
“The fiercest monsters around here are the giant wolves. I think a group of them attacked Jado. I asked the trader, and he said that the bodies lying around were all bitten and ripped to shreds.”
“I’m sorry to interrupt in the middle of your theorizing, but wolves are solitary creatures. They don’t form packs.”
That was enough to shoot down Beck gu’s theory. Nevertheless, Beck Gu shook his head and added:
“I know that. I’ve hunted giant wolves - although I did kind of use a shortcut.”
Zin suddenly began to look at Beck Gu differently. Giant wolves were over three feet in length. Even though they weren’t the largest monsters, they were still classified as medium-sized. Zin was almost shocked that Beck Gu, a guard from a middle-of-nowhere town, had hunted giant wolves. Zin could tell from his eyes that Beck Gu was not one to puff himself up.
“A shortcut?” asked Zin.
“Ah, right. It’s a hunting method that I came up with. Giant wolves protect their territory from other wolves, correct? If you can lure one wolf into the territory of another, the invaded-upon wolf will attack. The invader and the invaded will proceed to fight to the death. If one wolf dies in the fight, the other is so exhausted you’ll have no trouble killing it. Our food supplies were desperately low in the past. We were resigned to death. We would have died if we didn’t come up with that plan. In the end we managed to get some meat.”
“Zin slowly nodded his head. The fact that that plan was a product of Beck Gu’s mind was nothing short of astonishing. That hunting method is not the work of guards or soldiers.
That’s a hunter’s method. Zin was surprised that Beck Gu was able to come up with that without learning about hunting. The best way of hunting removes the hunter from danger. Beck Gu realized that. That fact alone elevated Zin’s estimation of Beck Gu.
“What I’m about to say is more important than any of that, though.” added Beck Gu.
“This is the work of a devil.”
Beck Gu’s assertion was completely out of the blue, and it stopped Zin in his tracks.