Zin was already awake when he heard the knocking sound on the door. The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs was enough to rescue Zin from the land of sleep.
“Hey, hunter. It’s me, the owner.”
“I’m listening. Go ahead” said Zin. He stole a glance at Leona, asleep on the floor, then opened the door. The owner was standing there looking at Zin like he had something to say.
“I was going to talk to you when you came down to eat, but you never came. Are you not going to eat?” asked the owner.
“If it were free then I’d have no reason to object. That’s not going to happen though, is it?”
“Yeah, you’re right about that. There’s a job I’m getting a fee for…” said the owner.
“What does your fee have to do with me and my work?” asked Zin.
“You look like a pretty strong hunter. Am I right?”
Every time Zin was asked this question he became a bit embarrassed. He wasn’t one to lie or feign false modesty.
“I’m not really sure what kind of strength you’re looking for, but I’m pretty strong in any regard” answered Zin.
The owner waved his hand dismissively at Zin, who had given a sincere answer, albeit in a playful, joking tone.
“Ugh, I don’t need that kind of strength. I’m not sure what kind of job it is, but I’ve been asked to find a good hunter” said the owner.
Lots of wanderers stay at motels, hunters included. If someone has a job and they need a hunter, they usually go to the motels - at least in free cities. The owners act as agents between the hunter and the client, and they take a commission. Whether it be the past or the present, running a motel is the easiest way to take a slice off the top.
Of course, that also exposes the owners to the violent outbursts of the wanderers.
“It’s a little, um...there’s a reason why I’m hesitating to say…” said the owner.
“Hesitating?” asked Zin.
“Right now there’s a soldier in Shira” explained the owner.
“You mean there’s a wargrave here right now?” asked Zin, shaking his head.
“Normally I wouldn’t want to get involved, but the fee is just too good. All the other owners are nervous that the soldier will lose his shit if they just introduce any old hunter. At the same time, I don’t want to lose this one…” continued the owner.
“Ah, I think I know what you’re getting at” said Zin.
Zin took a minute to collect his thoughts, then continued.
“A wargrave soldier is here in Shira, waiting for a competent hunter, but you don’t know what the job is about? Everyone thinks the soldier may harm them if they introduce a shitty hunter, right?” asked Zin.
“That’s it! What a smart hunter.”
Zin slowly nodded his head. The owner saw with his own two eyes Zin return after heading south, safe and sound. Add to that the kid he had in tow, and the owner was sure he was a good hunter.
Being able to safely wander the wild with a kid meant he was more skilled than most.
The owner was sharp - but this sharpness didn’t just come from a feeling. It came from actual judgment.
‘Normally the soldiers at Wargrave Fortress don’t leave unless it’s something urgent. SMCP is right to the north...and yet…’ thought Zin.
“Looks like there’s some kind of problem” said Zin.
“Uh huh” replied the owner.
Zin nodded his head after hearing the owner’s explanation.
‘I’ve got a basic idea of what’s going on.’
Zin was staring at the owner, whose expression was a bit strained.
‘He does seem to have the same fear that most have towards Wargrave…’
With basically no chance to ever meet the military group, many people feared Wargrave as much as they feared the slaughters.
“Where’s the soldier?”
There’s no harm in just meeting him.
Zin left Leona asleep on the floor and headed to where the soldier was staying - Town Hall.
Town halls are spaces reserved for a city’s powerful to discuss - albeit coarsely - the ongoings of the city. Free cities are bound to have at least one town hall. Here gathered those with lots of chips, lots of men under their control, or respected elders.
Ultimately town halls are places where assholes congregate to whisper to each other.
While town halls weren’t always bustling with people, they were at least a place for people to get together. Now, however, the only people gathered in this town hall were guards.
The guards were in quite a frenzy. The guards instantly recognized that Zin was a hunter as he approached.
“Did you come to see the soldier?” one of the guards asked.
“Second floor. In the center.”
Zin walked past the guard. He was armed with a crude crossbow and a spear - better than the guards at Ard Point, but not by much. Judging by their level of arms, it wasn’t surprising to Zin that they were afraid.
‘One squadron of Wargrave soldiers could take down this city’ thought Zin. Who knows, one soldier might even be enough. They were the only group post collapse to maintain a high level of weaponry and organization.
Of course, they had an infinite arsenal of weapons and strength at their disposal, but nobody knew their intention.
Zin headed to what looked like the center of the second floor - some kind of office. There was a worn-out looking man sitting on a sofa.
He saw that he had a visitor and spoke briefly.
“A hunter?” he asked.
The man was wearing ash-colored fatigues. With his clean-cut outfit and attitude he seemed a universe apart from the normally shabby and ragged world he inhabited.
Clean clothes. Clear skin. He didn’t fit in - it’s like he came from another planet. His hair was blonde and well-parted. His sharp chin and strong eyes informed anyone who was paying attention that he wasn’t an ordinary person.
“Eh-hem, I heard there was a soldier here” started Zin as he sat across the soldier in a metal chair.
“But you’re an officer” continued Zin.
Everyone had called him a soldier, but Zin could tell at once that the man in front of him was an officer. It wasn’t all that hard to tell, really.
He wore insignia on his uniform. Unlike other people, Zin noticed.
“I didn’t really see the need to correct everyone.
Zin silently observed the Wargrave officer opposite him. ‘Blond hair? That’s not too common around here.’
Zin slowly nodded his head, noticing the man’s dirty blond hair. The officer looked back at Zin, a serious expression on his face.
“If you can recognize my insignia, you must be a somewhat trustworthy hunter” said the officer.
Zin shrugged his shoulders. ‘It’s not hard to recognize symbols” said Zin.
“You’re also humble. I’m beginning to trust you more and more” added the officer, who seemed to like Zin’s straightforward attitude. He nodded his head.
“I’d like you to show me some evidence of the most dangerous monster you’ve ever killed. Would that be ok?” asked the officer.
Clients don’t give jobs out to just anyone. There is a kind of verification process to hiring a hunter. The hunter has to prove himself, usually with some kind of hunting spoil. Of course, there is no way to tell if they just stole it.
“It’ll be hard to shock you, but I think this one should be enough” replied Zin.
Zin pulled out a black reed pipe from his coat. It was made from a large hollowed out reed. It looked pretty spooky upon first glance. It was also super strong - it didn’t change it’s shape at all when Zin clutched it.
“What’s that?” asked the soldier.
“Showing you will be faster” replied Zin.
Zin brought the reed to his lips and blew lightly.
A terrifying sound burst into the air. The officer immediately jumped up, his complexion suddenly pale. Zin removed his lips from the reed, putting it back in his coat.
“Tha- that sound? Ho- how did…?”
It was such a terrifying, strange sound. It didn’t resemble a pipe sound at all. Zin had hardly blew into it, however. Hearing that sound was enough for the officer’s hair to stand on end. His eyes were wide open.
“It’s a spirit chaser” said Zin.
“A spirit chaser?” repeated the officer.
“Maybe calling it a charm would be easier to understand.”
Hearing Zin’s explanation, he let out a sigh of relief and sat back down.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that top hunters carry special charms with them…”
The officer realized at length what the terrible, incomprehensible sound that had come out of the pipe meant.
“That should be enough evidence, no? I could blow it again, if you’d like” asked Zin.
“Yea, that’s enough! Enough, I said! Put it away!!” shouted the officer, flailing his hand as Zin motion to remove the pipe once again from his coat. Zin couldn’t help but crack a smile at the suddenly terrified officer, who moments before had maintained such a cool demeanor.
‘He may have a high rank, but he’s short on experience’ though Zin. He still had a while to go before becoming a real soldier. Any hunter qualified enough to carry around a charm needs no other evidence.
“I’ve seen enough in the area of evidence. Can I ask you something out of curiosity?” asked the officer.
“If it’s something I can answer” replied Zin.
“What is that pipe? How can it make such a terrible sound?”
“I told you, it’s a spirit chaser.”
The officer was staring at Zin, clearly still confused. After losing himself to fear, he couldn’t quite keep his composure.
“It’s a pipe that chases away ghosts” explained Zin.
The pipe, made of demon blood, reproduces demon wails. Just like fire masters fire, the pipe uses a stronger spirit’s shout to chase away other spirits. It’s quite a simple concept.
Of course, while it chases away smaller spirits, it may also attract bigger, more powerful ones. Zin didn’t bother to explain this bit to the officer.
“Just when this shitty little town was starting to get boring - the exact kinda person I’ve been looking for shows up” said the officer.
So far none of the usual suspect scam artists had shown their faces, afraid of the name Wargrave, and all the hunters were unwilling to get involved in a potentially sticky situation. Zin was the first one to show up.
“I can’t give you any details yet, but let me introduce myself. My name’s Charl. My rank is first lieutenant. Call me first lieutenant Charl, Charl...whatever.”
“Good. Lieutenant Charl, let’s get to the nitty gritty” said Zin, laughing to himself as he said the lieutenant’s name.
‘An alias…’ thought Zin.
For whatever reason, the lieutenant had come from a long ways away. There was no profit in getting tied up with Wargrave, and they usually took care of their problems themselves. Giving out a job like this was rare.
While they rarely gave out jobs, the compensation was quite good.
“Have you seen a group of slaughters on junkwagons?” asked the lieutenant.
“Lemme hear what you’ve got to say first” replied Zin, realizing that he had probably come for the obvious reason Zin already knew about.
“Our weapons transportation unit about 19 clicks north of here got robbed. The job is simple. I hear hunters are skilled in pursuit. You’ll be my guide. We’ll be chasing those asshold slaughters that robbed us. I’ll take care of the fighting, so that won’t be included in the payment. If the pursuit goes well, I intend to pay you 700 chips when all is said and done” said the lieutenant.
“That’s a pretty generous fee for a pursuit job.”
“We could just make the weapons again, but we’d like people to know that we are very serious when it comes to punishing the assholes who cross us.”
Zin was taken aback by the price of 700 chips for a pursuit job.
“How did y’all at Wargrave fall for a slaughter attack?” asked Zin.
“Don’t you know? Those slaughters use some pretty fucked up tactics. They brought a group of monsters” explained the lieutenant.
“Ah, is that right.”
The slaughters must have used the sound of their junkwagons to attract a bunch of monsters, drawing them to Wargrave. Once the soldiers took care of the first group of monsters, the slaughters brought another. The Wargrave transportation unit ultimately fell after in this war of attrition with the junkwagon-crazed monsters.
Slaughters indeed use unique, crazy ways to fight. They use any means at their disposal. They were even crazy enough to use a group of monsters to attack the Wargrave transportation unit - a group with a fairly notorious reputation.
Lietenant Charl had been charged with carrying out revenge for the fallen transportation unit.
“Let’s say I catch all of those slaughter bastards myself. How will you reward me?” asled Zin.
“.....I don’t expect that to happen, but if under some circumstances I fall in battle and you have to fight, I’ll double your pay. 1400 chips.”
Zin lowered his hand the minute the lieutenant finished speaking.
“Well, I’ll be collecting my 1400 chips then.”
“Are you asking for all of the payment up front? You should know more than anyone how ridiculous that is!”
“That’s not what I mean” said Zin. He added another seemingly ridiculous explanation,
“Were the stolen weapons by any chance infantry panzerfausts, RPG-7 rocket launchers, rockets, that kind of stuff?”
“How, how do you…”
Charl was looking incredulously at Zin as he spoke, unable to continue. Zin laughed leisurely, continuing,
“You asked if I saw a group of slaughters heading south. My answer? Yes, I have.”
“What the…” stammered the lieutenant.
“They’re all dead now.”
The lieutenant was staring at Zin, mouth agape, sure he was pulling his leg.
The job was already finished, before he even had a chance to assign it.