“Mom was beaten to death by a customer. Dad told me to be the next whore. I took care of him then ran.”
Leona summed up her life story neatly in two sentences. The memories didn’t seem to bring up any hatred or anger from Leona. It did seem strange to Zin however, that Leona, who hadn’t expressed any reservations about becoming a whore just now, would kill her father for trying to impose such a fate on her.
Leona shrugged her shoulders, picking up on Zin’s confusion.
“Isn’t it weird that I do all the work, and some other asshole takes all the money? My mom may have been able to live like that, but not me.”
“You could have just run away. Did you really have to resort to murder?”
“I wouldn’t have killed the old man if he hadn’t slapped me when I suggested we split the money 70/30.”
Leona chuckled, and Zin followed in bewilderment. If being precocious were a talent, Leona had the kind of talent that emerged once every hundred years.
While he had suggested she try finding a castle, it occurred to Zin that there may be a good match much closer. Wasn’t the town he just left exactly what Leona was looking for?
“I take back what I said about finding a castle.”
“You remember me saying we were going to Ard Point?”
“That’s a pretty nice place.”
The people of Ard Point were compassionate enough, and in a world where compassion was hard to come by, Ard Point may in fact be paradise to this girl.
“There aren’t many monsters compared to other places, the people there are less crappy than other people, and it’s safer and richer than anywhere else.”
Zin went on, aware that there was probably no need to continue.
“Since it’s a point, there are no lords, and the people live a communal lifestyle. They would probably be able to find a role for a squirt like you.”
Were there any kids there? Zin tried to remember but nothing came to mind. Yet if they were good enough to give three potatoes to a wanderer, they would be good to anyone. Leona was staring shamelessly at Zin, who added with a chuckle,
“There aren’t any whorehouses there. It’s not big enough.”
In order for a seller to exist, there has to be a buyer. Ard Point wasn’t big enough for a red-light district.
Leona nodded her head with enthusiasm. Zin soon began to tire of conversing with the endlessly chatty Leona.
“You better get to bed if you want to get there as soon as possible.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
Leona plopped down onto the ground, grabbing a handful of straw and forming it into a makeshift pillow. Zin stared at Leona, who was soon fast asleep.
Who knows...maybe the only reason she stopped talking was because she was tired.
Zin soon followed suit and closed his eyes.
The pair left the next day, chewing on the lean ghoul meat.
The road ahead was long and dreary. There was no trace of monsters however, thanks to the maneater, which added a bit of pleasantness to the journey. Leona yawned, still half asleep.
“I half expected you to rob me last night,” said Zin.
Leona started cracking up at Zin’s comment, which came out of nowhere.
“I’m a pro, mister.”
“What does being a pro have to do with not robbing me?”
“Pros only steal when they know they can steal.”
“Do I look like I can’t be robbed?”
“You looked like you’d wake up at the drop of a hat.”
Zin seemed to pay attention to his surroundings, even when he slept - so much so that nothing would get by him. Zin turned to Leona, a stern look on his face.
“So you’re saying that you tried to rob me?”
Leona’s face turned white, worrying she had let something slip. She’s quick, but still a child.
“Ah...that...well, you see, I woke up in the middle of the night. You know what I’m saying?”
Zin crossed his arms.
“A stray who never sleeps at night pretended to sleep, then tried to rob a hunter. When she realized she was in over her head, she actually went to sleep. That’s what you’re saying? That’s why you’re still yawning.”
“You’ve got it wrong...really, I swear…”
Zin broke into a cackle once he saw Leona sweating bullets. It was a given that this little girl would try to rob him. They were living in a world where you have to do whatever it takes to survive. Lucky for Leona, her instinct trumped her pressing urge to survival.
Zin was inclined to overlook Leona’s cheekiness for now, seeing as he had to take her to Ard Point anyway.
“Be thankful for your instincts. That’s a pretty valuable asset.”
Leona let out a sigh of relief, realizing that she had been let off the hook. Zin pressed on, however.
“Have you stolen a lot using that trick?”
“This is the first time I’ve travelled with anyone. I always hide if I see someone coming.”
If you’re not able to win in hand-to-hand combat, avoidance is the best strategy.
“You’re instincts really are something if you’re able to grasp...”
Leona cut Zin off, staring at him, head tilted.
“Are you holding a grudge right now?”
“A grudge? Come on.”
“You are! Look, you’re angry right now.”
“I think you’ve misunderstood. I don’t hold gru..”
“Nope, you’re holding a grudge right now. So not cool. Hmmm, do you want to just slap me? Just get it out of you in one shot.”
Leona puffed up her cheek and offered it to Zin. He couldn’t help but chuckle.
“Hahaha, I don’t even know what to say. You made the mistake, now you’re trying to turn the tables on me, saying I’m holding a...”
“See, you’re angry right now” said Leona as she cackled
Zin’s eyes were drawn to the physical status hologram on his screen
[BPM (Beats Per Minute) - 160]
His heartbeat was almost twice the normal rate.
This little girl was good at getting people riled up. Zin took a deep breath and looked at Leona.
“I’m not angry. I’m annoyed.”
Leona let out a sound as if she were dying the second the blow landed.
“Shut up and let’s go, you annoying little girl.”
“That hurts, you silly old man.”
Zin strutted away, and Leona followed in quick pursuit, about to cry.
Leona tried her best to match Zin’s pace. Adults and children have fundamentally different physical strengths. Add to that the fact that Zin’s strength can’t even be compared to a normal adult, and it’s not hard to believe that Leona had a hard time keeping up with him. Nevertheless, Leona stuck with Zin as best she could and didn’t make a fuss. That’s not to say she wasn’t having a hard time, though.
While she succeeded in not complaining, she did stumble every now and then in pursuit of Zin. Zin in turn naturally adjusted his stride so that Leona could follow relatively easily, without straining herself to the point of death.
‘This really is a nice place.’
The pair hadn’t run into any monsters by the time they arrived just outside Ard Point.
Although it was located in the central part of the Korean Peninsula, the only monsters that inhabited the area were corpse hunters and rabid dogs. If you also assume that a large number of the area’s giant wolves were just wiped out, it was an even nicer place to live. The corpse hunters, furthermore, probably fled at least 100 kilometers when their enemy, the maneater, showed up.
Ard Point was becoming nicer and nicer.
“Say, mister. Is farming hard? Even if it’s hard I think I can do it.”
“Hmmmm...I’m not sure.”
As they got closer and closer to Ard Point, Leona’s mind began to race, imagining what type of place it would be.
“Techniques for farming may be controlled by man, but the harvest is dependent on the skies. It’s hard to learn, and even if you do, the harvest is a matter of luck.”
“....Can’t you just give me a simple answer?” asked Leona sassily.
Zin was aware that he had to explain things simply due to Leona’s lack of verbal knowledge, but it still pissed him off at times. Zin tried again, this time explaining to Leona quickly and easily.
“Farming is hard. It’s a bitch.”
“Ah, I see.”
Leona mumbled several times something along the lines of “fucked up world, nothing’s easy.” While it had been a while since Zin was able to enjoy such a peaceful return home after a job, it wasn’t all peaches and cream. Zin still relied on hunting to extend his life.
When they arrived at Ard Point, Zin felt a little flat.
“Wow, those walls are so high!”
Leona had never seen such high walls in her life. She threw her head in the air, admiring the prison. There was no need for the guards to confirm who the visitors were, as Beck Gu stuck his head out from the gate. He had been waving since they were quite a ways away - he must’ve been looking out for Zin’s return. Beck Gu shouted from inside the walls,
“The hunter has returned! Open the gate!”
Leona’s eyes threw themselves open in amazement as she watched the gate being opened, as if it were waiting just for them.
Leona’s hands were shaking, balled into fists. She shouted, unable to control her emotions.
“I want to live here - I must.”
The tall walls looked safe and trustworthy enough to make Leona emotional. Beck Gu laughed as he descended a ladder on the prison wall.
“I waited for you hunter! I thought you died!”
Zin laughed at Beck Gu, who acted like he was greeting a long-lost friend.
“I’m not even late. You worry too much.”
“Yeah well, you could’ve been killed early, no?”
“Seems like your habit of bad-mouthing other people has grown.”
“Everything grows when it comes to me. I mean, look at my height. Didn’t I get taller?”
Beck Gu said this, pointing to his relatively short stature. Zin determinedly shook his head.
“Not at all,” replied Zin.
“Well yeah, I guess you’re right. Whatever - did the job go well?” asked Beck Gu.
“I guess you could say that.”
“Who’s the little one?”
“Survivor from Jado. She’s going to testify about what happened.”
“It must have been difficult to shepherd that tadpole of a small kid. Amazing.Very hunter-esque.”
Leona’s face transformed into a frown when she heard the word ‘tadpole.’
“Tadpole? How about you mister? You’re not much bigger than me!” shouted Leona.
“Ah, is that right? My apologies, hahaha” replied Beck Gu.
Beck Gu merely laughed at Leona’s cutting remark, holstering a retort. Surprised by his reaction, Leona stared at Beck Gu with an unappealing expression that seemed to be saying, ‘does this kind of person really exist?’
“I’m a bit busy at the moment. You know where the Elder is, right? Just go there” said Beck Gu.
“Okay. Get to work.”
“I’ll see you in a bit!” shouted Beck Gu.
Beck Gu was waving his hand as he disappeared behind the prison walls. The other citizens of Ard Point were looking at Zin and Leona as they passed. Everyone had assumed that the hunter had either died or run away; they were happy and relieved he had returned. Leona pouted her lips.
“What’s up with him? Is he your friend?” asked Leona.
“Nothing’s up with him, that’s just human nature” replied Zin.
“I hate that type of person.”
“Hmmmm, I think his personality is ok. Enough not to be hated, at least.”
Leona shook her head vehemently.
“I hate that kind of personality, when they come right in and I’m not ready. Seems like they’re trying to be friends.”
“Your personality isn’t much better, don’t you think?”
Doing whatever they want and coming right in were personality traits shared by both Beck Gu and Leona. There methods were just a bit different, and Zin would admit that Leona was a bit more twisted.
“Hmmm, you don’t know anything, mister,” laughed Leona.
“It’s natural for people to hate other people who are similar to them.”
Zin burst into laughter. Leona was talking so much like someone well into their 60s.
“Setting aside like or dislike, nothing good will come to you if you’re difficult. Especially since you’re going to live here.”
“Ah, that’s right” replied Leona.
Leona covered her mouth and laughed, adding,
“Should I apologize to him later?”
While Leona didn’t look exactly like a child relishing her small dilemma, she did look pretty happy.
The Elder greeted Zin as he had the first time. Zin relayed a summary of what he saw in Jado. Leona also exchanged some words with the Elder. Although it was Zin who brought Leona, the Elder didn’t fully trust her. That was to be expected.
Therefore, the Elder decided to test her.
“Is the head guard in Jado still that bastard with the big nose? With a mole next to it?”
“Hmmmm, I’m not sure. I don’t really remember. His eyes were fierce and he looked real mean. Was his nose big? I don’t know...and I don’t think he had a mole…”
“Hmmm, you really are a survivor” replied the Elder.
“Do you know the head guard in Jado, sir? Even though you live here?”
The Elder let out a strange sound hearing Leona’s question.
“No, of course not.”
“What? Then why ask me about him?”
“I wanted to see if you would take my bait.”
The Elder must have decided to trust Leona, after seeing her sincerely struggle over his question. He started to ask her several questions, and nodded his head gravely at her answers.
“A pack of giant wolves...that can’t be” said the Elder.
“But it really happened” answered Leona.
“A maneater showed up thanks to the huge amount of corpses. Here’s the evidence” added Zin. Zin took out the maneater’s tentacle from his Void Container, as well as a few fangs from the giant wolves he managed to procure before leaving Jado.
“Hmmm….you wouldn’t have had enough time to hunt this many giant wolves...add to that a maneater...don’t tell me you killed the maneater?”
“Ummm, yeah, I did. If you pay me the principle, I won’t ask for the bonus” answered Zin.
“Well, thank you very much. Ha...a maneater...what is going on here?”
Some of the giant wolf fangs were a bit burnt, but with the addition of the maneater’s tentacle - those were some pretty hard things to come by in such a short period of time. The Elder had no choice but to believe Zin.
The Elder slowly nodded his head and placed the reward for completing the job next to Zin, having removed it from the safe.
“Anyway, good job. If the giant wolves were all killed, there’s no need to leave here just yet. Great job.”
Zin opened the pouch to check that the chips were all there. He nodded his head.
“200 chips total. I don’t think there will be a problem here.”
“And since you killed the maneater, this is a separate token of my appreciation. Who knows, if you left it alone, it may have come here too.”
The Elder took out an additional 50 chips and handed them to Zin.
“I’m not the kind to refuse a bonus. I accept. Much thanks” said Zin.
“That’s nothing compared to the effort of finding a new place to live. Thank you, you really did a great job. You certainly are meticulous with your work, bringing that kind of evidence. I didn’t even have the pleasure of meeting a hunter like you in my days at the Nest.”
Now that his biggest anxiety had been removed, the Elder chuckled in bemusement.