“Monsters are attracted to the noise. Be quiet.”
“OOOOhhhhhhhh!” said Charl laughing as he wiped his hands, having finished filling in the hole. Leona, on the other hand, shuddered as her face turned white.
“You guys get funnier and funnier” chuckled Charl. The three had decided to spend the night at Ard Point. Charl plopped himself on the floor. Zin was just as unwilling as the other two to set out in the middle of the night.
Zin rounded up some kindling and started a fire. The small group used one of Ard Point’s
abandoned buildings as shelter from the night.
“It was definitely a bit creepy just now” said Leona. The scary feeling emanating from Ard Point may have been because all the people were gone. Or maybe it was due to the sudden appearance of the hidden vagabond. Zin stared out the window in response to Leona’s comment.
“Still looks bleak to me” said Zin.
“Sure does” added Charl.
An eerie vibe resonated around Ard Point, despite the fact that the ghost was gone. Charl could sense an uneasiness coming from both Leona and Zin. The two weren’t talking about the deaths that had occurred at Ard Point, but he could sense that there was something they didn’t want to talk about.
“Makes me feel like something’s up between you two, seeing as nobody’s talking” said Charl. Zin refrained from answering, and Leona only managed a bitter smile.
“I wanted to settle down here” said Leona finally. Charl understand what she meant without further explanation. The slaughters attacked, and Leona fired and exploded a chip box in vengeful wrath. She must have been the only survivor. Yet that alone didn’t explain why Zin feels like he has to take her to a safe place. Zin stared at Charl.
“Are you naturally this curious?” asked Zin.
“I won’t deny that. I’m of the belief that it’s always good to learn things. I also get curious about useless things” explained Charl.
Hearing Charl’s answer immediately reminded Zin of Beck Gu. Zin didn’t like that he was so easily reminded of his face. You either have to kill your curiosity or deal with it in another way. It’s one or the other.
Zin also had a lot of good memories regarding that 1600 chip job.
“You’re curious why I’m travelling with the kid?”
“Yep. It’s not so common.” Zin wasn’t the type to shoulder around a kid. You could tell just by looking at him. Yet here he was, together with Leona. Charl couldn’t contain his curiosity about how they met.
Just as he had thought, the two didn’t have a hunter-apprentice relationship. The two also didn’t fit the bill as mere friends - Leona was too rough, Zin too old.
“I agreed to take her to a safe place. You can think of it as a job.”
“I didn’t know hunters took those kinds of jobs.”
“We even help Wargrave recover lost weapons. As long as we’re paid, us hunters will take on any kind of job.”
“Haha, that’s true. How did you two meet?”
Zin stared at Charl, amazed at his never-ending curiosity. Charl’s eyes sparkled like those of a child, eager to hear the end of a story. Zin judged that Charl was at best 20 years old.
“I got a job from the leader of Ard Point” Zin began. He went on to explain how he met Leona. Zin roasted some potatoes in the fire. The story was long enough to ensure that the potatoes were well cooked.
While Zin wasn’t an exceptional storyteller, he spoke patiently and explained everything neatly. Leona was also listening intently, curious how Zin would describe her.
The free city of Jado had been destroyed, and Zin was tasked with finding out why. There he met Leona, trapped in the vault. Then came the maneater; then the return to Ard Point, and then more destruction. The potatoes were perfectly cooked when the not-too-long, not-too-short story was finished. Zin handed out the potatoes to each of his companions.
“You really must be thick. How could you forget the payment?” said Leona, chuckling as she made fun of Zin.
“Silly child. The fact that I can still be forgetful is proof of the little humanity that remains inside me.”
“If that was meant to be funny, you really nailed it! That’s hilarious” said Leona, exploding into laughter. Leona looked at Charl, finally realizing that the other two weren’t laughing. Charl looked down at his potato sternly. His expression was cold enough to cool the steaming potato.
“What’s wrong, mister?” asked Leona.
“Thanks for telling me” answered Charl. There wasn’t an ounce of humor in his expression.
“I just want to check one more time. Was that all true?”
“I’ve got no reason to lie.”
“We weren’t joking.”
Picking up on Charl’s sudden change of expression, Zin asked Charl a question while he chewed his potato.
“Just which part of my story were you asking about?”
“The part about Jado being attacked by giant wolves. Didn’t you say that wolves never travel in packs?”
“Yeah. That part is true. I saw the bodies. The wolves killed each other fighting right in the middle of the city. Then the maneater showed up for their bodies.”
Charl’s eyes were darting back and forth.
“I’m sorry to keep pushing back on this, but why do you think they did that? Was there some special reason?”
“I couldn’t figure that out. That wasn’t part of my job.”
Zin hadn’t lied. Leona, finding Charl’s sudden attitude change odd, asked,
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“I can’t say. But...but...I have to know. I’ve got to be sure. Hunter, can I ask again?”
“Go ahead....if it’s something I can answer.”
“You said that Jado city was destroyed by a group of giant wolves. You also said that adults only move around in their own territories, and never form packs. Maybe as pups, but never as adults. Yet you’re saying that after these animals formed a pack to attack and destroy Jado, they fought and killed each other. Right?”
What lieutenant Charl had just outlined was a nearly impossible scenario. But Zin’s judgment told him that it was so. It was hard for him to be 100% sure, but Zin nodded his head in assent without hesitation.
“I know that you’ve got no reason to believe me, but that’s what I saw. There were no other possibilities.”
Zin trusted his judgment wholeheartedly. Zin had lived long enough as a hunter trusting his judgment, that he was able to say, and believe, that the impossible had happened.
“Is that right…” said Charl, nodding his head. His expression had become even more grim. Zin couldn’t care less what kind of shock and confusion was rolling around in Charl’s head. Charl was a curious man, but Zin was well aware that nothing good came from curiosity. Once a job was finished, a hunter has no reason or obligation to care about what the client is thinking. Leona was curious, however.
“Why did they do that? Tell me so we can think about it.”
“I’m sorry Leona. I can’t tell you” answered Charl, standing up, leaving his potato untouched. Zin had no intention of stopping him, but he asked anyway,
“Are you leaving?”
“Sorry for standing up so suddenly. I’ve got to check something.”
“Nothing to be sorry about.”
“And I’d appreciate if you kept this matter a secret.” Zin was aware that he was referring to what happened in Jado.
“Hunters don’t do favors” said Zin, making a circle with his thumb and index finger. It was a gesture everyone understood. Zin sensed that Jado’s destruction may have something to do with a Wargrave secret. ‘If you want me to keep Wargrave’s secret, you’d better pay me.’ Charl frowned. Charl had no intention of grappling with the hunter.
“How much do you want?”
“I’ll give you a special deal. One chip.”
“...Ha. you’re too kind.”
Charl took out one chip and handed it to Zin, who nodded as he deposited it somewhere inside his coat.
“Hunters never do anything for free.”
‘Hunters truly are cut from a different cloth’ thought Charl as he laughed to himself. Leona stared at Zin for a moment in disbelief.
‘Hunters never do anything for free.’ Those words buried themselves in Leona’s head.
“Are you going to Jado?”
“It’s four days from here due west. I could do it in two, no, one day.”
Charl nodded his head and started to leave the run-down building. He turned before leaving and said,
“It was fun meeting you two. Hunter, Leona.”
“Ah, yeah.” Leona stood up and made towards Charl, who put his hand softly on her head. Leona thought his hands were somehow warm and soft.
“I hope you find the place you’re looking for” said Charl.
“Uh-huh. You too, mister. I’m not sure what you’re looking for, but be careful.”
Charl busted out of Ard Point without looking back a second time. It seemed to Leona that he was running faster than a person should be able to. She stared in the direction he was running as he disappeared from view. She wasn’t exactly sad; Charl had just come and gone a little too quickly for he.
“What the heck? Why did he leave so suddenly?” mumbled Leona as she nibbled her potato, having returned to the campfire.
“Was Wargrave responsible for destroying Jado?”
“Who knows. It does seem like something is up thought” answered Zin.
While it was suddenly just the two of them, neither Zin nor Leona were the type to lament for people who’d gone. Leona tore Charl’s potato down the middle, extending half to the hunter. Zin stared at the potato for a second before shoving it in his mouth.
“Why did Charl pretend to be a man?” asked Leona. Zin just shrugged his shoulders. Leona was naturally good at picking up things, and she hadn’t missed what Charl was trying to hide. Zin, thanks to his keen power of observation, also knew from the minute he met Charl. While they were both aware, this was the first time they were talking about it.
“If you’re so curious you should’ve asked Charl, not me.”
“I couldn’t really ask...that would’ve been….rude or something.” Charl was clearly a woman posing as a man. Both Leona and Zin knew this, but said nothing. Zin sat silently locked in thought, as if he were trying to solve a tough quiz.
“If she called herself Charl, her real name must’ve come from Charles, or Charlotte, or something like that.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s hard to explain.”
“Then why did you bring it up?”
“I can do what I want, kid.”
“Ah, seriously?!?” said Leona, slowly shaking her head side to side. Zin sat silently, staring at the fire.
The destruction of Jado seemed to be a kind of thorn in Wargrave’s side. Zin had no intention of getting a fundamental understanding of its fall. He regarded it as one of the many tragedies that occur daily in this world. There were of course explanations for such strange coincidences, however.
There can only be an effect because there is a cause. What was that cause? He didn’t need to think about it before, but now it was different.
It certainly was a strange incident. Normally he wouldn’t pay it any mind, but if a Wargrave higher up reacted so sensitively to the incident, the story gets a bit more complex.
‘It’s possible that Wargrave had something to do with Jado’s destruction. If they are in fact connected, how did Charl not know? Putting the fact that he didn’t know, what would cause him (or her, we should say) to react to strangely?’
This incident couldn’t be reasoned through with thought. What was important was what Charl did as a lieutenant at Wargrave. Most soldiers at Wargrave stay inside the compound and deal with the monsters at the MCP. They aren’t interested in the wild that lingers outside their walls.
If someone from Wargrave was found outside the compound, they were usually on a weapons transport team or some kind of guard. There weren’t many incidents of soldiers moving freely like Charl.
Rank - lieutenant. Affiliation - unknown. Weapon - laser pistol.
Laser pistols were high-powered weapons, despite their size. That being said, it didn’t seem appropriate for a Wargrave lieutenant to be carrying one. It was a bit too weak. Zin could solve this puzzle if he knew who Charl was, and what she was trying to do.
Charl wasn’t responsible for the transport team that got attacked. She pursued the slaughters who attacked a Wargrave unit, alone at that. She had also told Zin that she wouldn’t need the hunter to fight for her - she could take care of that herself.
That could only mean that she had more weapons in addition to the laser pistol. She was travelling alone, with a boatload of chips to use at discretion. She was in charge of Wargrave’s retribution missions. One thing instantly came to Zin’s mind:
‘She’s an Executor.’
There are executors at every fortress around the world. Their job is to inspect the fortresses and take care of any problems.
In other words, Charl was a hunter sent by Wargrave.