The Elder laughed benignly when he noticed Leona starting up at him with charming eyes.
“And it seems like this little one is going to join our family. Is that right?”
“Can I really live here?” asked Leona.
“We have plenty of empty rooms, untilled land, and not enough hands to go around. It would be our pleasure.”
Leona’s eyes shot open in surprise at having been accepted so easily. Children often proved to be hangers-on in communal societies, so they were often not welcomed. There were many places with powerful leaders who were known to ban childbirth because new mouths ate into the food supply.
Leona had her hands bunched into fists as she nodded her head. She knew what it was like out in the wild. She wouldn’t have to steal anymore; nor would she have to worry every time she saw a pair of sparkling eyes in the darkness.
That was enough to get Leona choked up.
“I’ll do my best, sir.”
“I guess I’ll have to prepare a feast for our new family member.”
The Elder looked at Zin and added,
“Why don’t you stay here as well? We could really use a hunter, and we would gladly welcome a skilled one such as yourself, at any price.”
“Sir, Zin may not be much to look at, but he’s an amazing hunter. I’m proof of that” whispered Leona with a serious look on her face. Zin nodded.
“You know as well as I do, sir, if you really spent time at a Nest” explained Zin.
“Oh, yeah, that’s right. Too bad” said the Elder, with a tinge of regret. He didn’t bring the topic up again.
‘Don’t hold a hunter down.’
A hunter who doesn’t wander isn’t a hunter at all. Hunters don’t stop. They keep moving. They are bound to roam the wilderness toward whatever destination they’re hired to reach.
Hunters have principles and beliefs, even if there’s really no reason to have such things. The Elder nodded his head, as if he had been reminded of something.
When he looked back towards Zin, the look in his eyes had changed. His tone of voice had changed as well.
“A hunter who keeps the commandments. I’m in the presence of a noble man.”
“I’m of the belief that there needs to be at least one fundamentalist in the world” responded Zin as he added a laugh.
“Nevertheless, stay a few days before you strike out. It’s not like we can’t afford to share here.”
“Thank you, but I must get going immediately” replied Zin.
A bitter smile spread across Zin’s face as he added,
“‘Don’t stay too long in a nice place.’”
The reason? You get complacent. It’s hard to get your feet moving again. That’s why hunters pass through nice places all the more quickly. The things that hunters have to look out for the most are good people and good towns, along with comfort and peace. A hunter’s biggest enemy isn’t a monster; rather, it’s the desire to be content and places that make them content. Hunters cannot exist if they cannot walk on.
Leona didn’t exactly understand what they were talking about, but she did manage to extract the main idea from the pair’s conversation.
“Get going. May you never find your way back to this town.”
The farewell to a departing hunter.
“May I never return.”
The farewell from a departing hunter.
I want to stay in a place that doesn’t need hunters.
I want this town to remain as a place that doesn’t need hunters.
Zin left the room with the Elder, having taken his payment and exchanged farewells. The Elder didn’t follow him, but Leona soon caught up with Zin.
“You’re leaving right away?”
“What? That’s kind of messed up.”
“What do you mean ‘messed up?’”
“Nothing, I just mean you can stay a bit then go, can’t you? Why are you in such a rush?”
Leona was just scratching her cheek, overcome by the feeling that she couldn’t bring herself to talk. She’d found a new, safe town with tall walls to live in. All thanks to Zin bringing her here. But ultimately, Zin, as a hunter, had to leave.
“Even if you’re a hunter, you’re still a person. Can’t you rest a bit?”
Leona moved and bit her lips, as if she had something to say but couldn’t bring herself to say it.
Zin looked at this little girl, and several thoughts came across his mind.
They were memories, illusions, recollections and ruminations.
They were all of life’s moments, that turn and turn in your mind and remain as regret.
“If I have placed any weight on the importance of staying somewhere, I wouldn’t have lived as a hunter” said Zin.
“You are a really talented kid.”
“That’s a compliment, right?”
“Yes,” Zin continued, emphasizing the last part,
“The happiest moments in this god-forsaken world are when you don’t have to use a talent at all.”
Ever since arriving in Ard Point and taking the job, Zin had felt emotions he hadn’t experienced in a very long time. He was currently feeling the acute pain of having to depart from those emotions.
“This place is safe. You won’t have to use your talent here, and you won’t be so unlucky, either.”
Leona was in a way a violent person. If she were able to use that violent energy to farm rather than murder and survive in the wilderness, she would enjoy a pretty decent life.
It was only a few days. At best four days - in which time he had fought and returned. Nevertheless, human connection forms all too easily.
Sometimes people end up hating other people. Ultimately, however, people desperately need other people.
Leona was staring at Zin with a stern expression.
“You use way too many hard words, mister.” She added,
“You’re just hard to understand…” she stuttered, but managed to continue,
“Can’t you just stay with me and teach me those words?”
Leona’s mind was a fog. Whatever caused it - some thing, some event - was unknown. But it was a fog. Maybe it was because she was a stray with nothing where her heart should have been, and had finally felt something after connecting with someone for the first time.
As if she finally realized that the thing she had been feeling up to now was loneliness.
As if she was afraid of loneliness, now that she had seen what not being lonely was like.
Zin shook his head.
“Hard words aren’t really necessary to make it in this world.”
Zin added one more thing as he turned to leave,
“Ignore those words and just go on living.”
Leona didn’t cry. They weren’t close enough for that. She just felt it was too bad - too bad that they couldn’t talk a little bit more.
That’s all she was thinking.
Zin raised his hand as he turned and headed for the prison walls. Leona mumbled as she watched Zin disappear,
“What an amateur….”
Hunters always end up showing their backs to people.
They disappear, leaving only that vision of their back.
They never look back.
“Go to hell! I hope you fall and break your leg!” shouted Leona after Zin.
Zin left Ard Point without saying goodbye to Beck Gu. It’s not that he had a pressing urge to leave. It’s just that when a job is over, there’s nothing left for a hunter in a town. Hunters seek jobs. Staying in a town without a job isn’t in the rules.
His mission was to find another place with another problem, solve it, get the chips, and extend his life a little bit further. Zin finally stopped when he was well into the mountains, Ard Point having disappeared from view.
He realized that he was rushing. He could rest for a day then go. Keeping the commandments is only a issue of conviction.
Just like Leona had said - he’s human. It’s okay if he rests.
Zin had passed through a deep, dark valley of time passed. It’s not that he’d never met good, thoughtful people before.
And it’s not that he’d never seen a town of good, thoughtful people, either.
Rather, the reason he was hurrying was because he had met and seen those kinds of people and towns time and time again.
Hunters must live alone. They have no colleagues, no friends. Hunters who don’t live alone die quickly. That isn’t an issue of commandments, that’s an issue of survival.
Beck Gu would go on living as a competent guard. He certainly isn’t erudite, but he’s bright. With that brightness, he’ll be able to maintain the safety of Ard Point as well as anyone else could.
The Elder is magnanimous and values the safety of his people enough to spend 300 chips to protect the town. While he’s a bit old, as long as he’s alive Ard Point will be peaceful, even if it doesn’t prosper.
Leona was one of the most exceptional people Zin had ever met.
‘All I can say about her is that she’s a bit strange.’
He was able to explain Beck Gu and the Elder, but Leona refused to be easily defined. It was enough if her strong points, which may sometimes appear to be weaknesses, could be of use to her in Ard Point. Hunters don’t stick around.
If you provide chips, a hunter will find a home for a homeless man. If you demand revenge, a hunter will slaughter a monster. Once everything is resolved, they move on.
Collect chips, make a weapon, kill a monster, get more chips. Lather, rinse, repeat. Hunters exist within an inexpressible irony, roaming the wilderness in search of their end.
Unless they have finally met their end, hunters keep moving.
Zin was acutely aware of the power of time. The heart is fickle and moves on quickly.
‘Love chips instead.’
Hunters have picked up tons of maxims along the way of their existence. ‘Protecting something is harder than hunting.’ Or, ‘embracing something other than yourself inevitably brings suffering.’
Ultimately however, hunters don’t live by maxims, just like other people.
As the pain of things you can’t protect piles up, hunters realize the only way to live without pain is to close their hearts. Hunters who have been around the longest have hearts harder than rock, that don’t bend to anything.
Zin realized something as he looked around. There was a sign with directions in front of him.
North, south, east west.
Zin had come from the east. He had to choose either to go north, south, east or west. He didn’t know which way he had to go, however. Walk south and you reach the end of the Peninsula; turn around and you would eventually reach the Continent.
“I guess I have to turn around.’
There’s no reason to stay on the Peninsula. It’d been a while since he’d arrived, and the Peninsula was pretty quiet. It seemed clear that Zin wouldn’t find what he was looking for in that quiet.
‘Should I pass through the Continent and head to southeast Asia? Hmmmm, yeah why not.’
The journey would easily last a year, as he stopped here and there to take jobs, get chips, extend his life. A world that’s already collapsed can’t go to shit again, and Zin planned to move leisurely, if not slowly. He had over 400 days left. Death was still far off.
‘I’ll have to visit Ragnarligion. It’s been too long.’
Zin picked up the pace. He walked quickly, thinking what he would do when he arrived at his still far-off destination.
Zin walked for two days straight without sleeping. It’s not like he even had a reason - he just kept walking.
Zin finally realized he was in a quite strange situation.
‘.....I’ve been walking north-west.’
In his effort to focus only on walking and not on useless thoughts, Zin had failed to realize that he was walking in a different direction than his original course, due north. Zin fixed his direction and began walking again. He blamed his misdirection on trying too hard to avoid useless thoughts, although it’s not like he was being bombarded with countless random thoughts.
Was he having this kind of trouble because he had experienced true humanity for the first time in a while?
A bitter smile crawled over Zin’s face as this thought occurred to him. A bit of uneasiness started to rise from a small corner of his heart.
‘I feel like I’m forgetting something…’
The feeling that he’d forgotten something gravely important wouldn’t leave him alone. He couldn’t put his finger on what that something was, however. The feeling had been constantly pestering him ever since he left Ard Point.
Just like when you have an itch you just can’t scratch - it was that kind of frustration. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d forgotten something and come this far. Zin stopped suddenly and muttered gravely,
“Is it dementia?”
Unlike the normal Zin, there was fear in his voice.