"Are you sure you want to be relieved from your duties?" Colonel Numar had a tone of disappointment in his voice.
The blond girl simply nodded. Her eyes were ecstatic and, though she seemed cold, her eyes betrayed a tortured existence.
"Well, Anna, sorry to see you go. You were such a promising officer." The officer signed the papers that would discharge Anna from her position on military. "Do you have any plans for the future?"
Anna just shook her head negatively, while taking the papers from the commander hands. "I just want to get out of this hell..." She stood up and left the room, without saying anything else. The loud cracking of the guns was still ringing on her head. The images of the heads of her companions bursting, with blood and brain being splattered on the floor insisted in returning to the poor girl's mind.
"Poor Anna! I wish she could stay, but... I can understand her. She didn't deserve that. Oh, no, she didn't..." The officer shook his head in silence, while returning Anna's record to the file.
Anna returned to her room for the last time. She was there to retrieve her belongings. It was time to restart her life from the scratch again. Those dormitories, which had been her safe haven for the last 2 years were now a place she couldn't face anymore. She could not help looking at the bed on her side; there was always the sweet smile of Lizzie, her best friend, over there. The smile that would be no more. Those lovely buckteeth, that sweet air of innocence. Those shiny honey eyes, either there, in that not particularly pretty, but lovely face; or out of her eye sockets, with her head destroyed, fragments of her skull and brain splattered on the cement, floating in a small pool of blood; they would always be there in her mind. The last image of Lizzie was stuck in her mind. She couldn't stop remembering the despair in her face instants before the scoundrels blew her brains out of her head. Anna had to watch her best friend's death, powerless to stop the scoundrels. Memories of that tragic night would remain forever in her mind, as a recurring nightmare. Lizzie, Richard, Captain Stevens... their heads being blown, their lifeless expressions of horror imprinted in their faces, the fear, the shock, the deafening crack of the shotguns, the laughter afterwards... Anna wished she had been killed that night, together with her three friends.
But fate would not let her give up her tragic life that day, so she was there, again, packing her things to hit the road once more, as if she was doomed to repeat it over and over every time she started loving people and building solid friendships. She couldn't take anymore from the military life. First Lieutenant Anna Zirski, a prodigious fifteen, attained a rank that no one under twenty would ever attain. In fact, she shouldn't be allowed to enroll the academy before her sixteenth birthday, but fate allowed the most talented slasher trainee the military academy has ever seen to be commanding missions very early in her life. The last mission, though, proved to be too much for her, and her brilliant career was cut short before it should have started. Now she was only a homeless girl, with a broken mind, trying to survive by herself, secretly wishing she would die. She left her dormitory and the academy, hoping that someday she would be allowed to live a day free of the terrifying images and sounds that were stuck in her mind. They made her wish for death, though she feared they'd be imprinted in her soul, so she would be seeing the same terrifying images and be listening to the same terrifying sounds for the whole eternity. If her God were merciful, He'd send her to hell instead.
Days before, still in shock, she had been to Lizzie's and Richard's funeral and the experience was so terrible that from that day on, she decided the best thing for her was to shun from people contact. To hear Lizzie's mother desperate cries of sorrow and pain while sobbing over her son and daughter caskets was enough to assure Anna that she should never have children. What was the use of enduring the pains of pregnancy and labor, to sacrifice her hours of sleep, to sacrifice her wills and wishes, to dedicate all her life and love to her sons and having them returned as inanimate masses of flesh, whose existence was terminated by strangers who valued their lives less than a trash?
Everything that woman had now were two cold corpses ready to be buried. Lizzie's corpse was so disfigured by injures that her casket was sealed. Her mother could not even look at her face once more. Anyway, being able to see Richard's face had not practical use, as he was there no more. Anna had seen both the last moment of Lizzie's life and her face after she died, but it only made her suffer more.
Although she was still in shock, Anna noticed an officer who was somewhat familiar to her attending the funeral. The man wore his best suit and tried to keep a dignified pose, though Anna could notice deep sorrow in his green eyes. She stayed staring at the man until he noticed her stare. She saw in his eyes some madness that made her immediately remember who he was. He was the officer who abused Lizzie. Anna was baffled that the man had the audacity of attending the funeral of the girl whose innocence he had stolen. The man started walking towards her with a furious stare, making Anna shiver.
"So you let my love be killed, coward!" His tone was very low, but his voice was filled with anger.
"What?" Anna was shocked by the officer's impertinence. Not only he still referred Lizzie as his love but he also accused Anna of letting Lizzie be murdered. Of course, she blamed herself for being unable to do anything to anything to prevent Lizzie's death, but it hurt to be accused of doing that. "I didn't…"
"Of course you did!" The man interrupted the blonde guardian harshly. "Now you have ruined my life. I'll never have my beloved Lizzie in my arms again. I'll never taste the love of the only woman I'll ever love. There will never be anyone like Lizzie and I'll be condemned to a life of loneliness."
Anna felt insulted by the officer's words, but what made her feel worse was that the man seemed to mean exactly what he was just saying. How could the rascal really believe that what he had done to Lizzie was right? Anna could never forget how Lizzie arrived at her dormitory after the first time she was raped. The girl had her soul crushed, sadness, fear, shame, anger and despair in her eyes, her mind clouded by pain and suffering. Anna didn't know what happened after that and feared her friend's submissive behavior made her accept the rape as part of the courting process, as Lizzie once told Anna that she had to marry the man who had raped her, but the blonde guardian loathed the man and could not see any redeeming qualities on him. She answered loud enough to be heard by the other people present.
"You are disgusting. How do you dare to talk about love when you raped Lizzie, you rascal? I have seen with my eyes the way she arrived at the dormitory after you abused her! I have seen her tears, her fear, her pains, her despair, her sadness, her anger, her disgust, and her shame. I have comforted her, I have dried her tears, I have heard her lament. I stood by her and tried to help her." Anna was so angry that she closed her eyes and clinched her fists. "I have seen her blood stained in her dress!" She stood up and confronted the officer, shouting. "You raped an innocent woman and you still dare to claim you loved her? If I were with my slashers here, now you would be filling one of the caskets!"
The quarrel attracted the attention of people attending the funeral. Lizzie and Richard's father walked towards Anna and the officer, furious, and interrupted the quarrel. "What do you think you are doing? Can't you show a bit of respect for the memory of my sons?"
"This woman is mad." The officer said so keeping an air of superiority.
"Mad?" Anna was baffled. "Mad? This man raped you daughter and dared to show up in her funeral! How can you accept his presence here?" Anna barked back. She was so furious that her mouth was foaming.
Lizzie's father seemed shocked and confused. "What are you saying, girl? This man was Lizzie's fiancé! Why are you saying he raped her? Who are you by the way?"
Anna was stunned by Lizzie's father words. She could not believe that Lizzie was engaged with the officer who had raped her. That would explain why Lizzie was so secretive about the letters she used to receive. That would explain some occasional Lizzie disappearances. However, even knowing the submissive character of her best friend, the blonde guardian never imagined Lizzie would so easily submit to the man that had committed an atrocious crime against her. Before Anna could answer, though, the officer started accusing the girl.
"This girl is crazy. I always loved Lizzie with all my heart and she loved me too. She was jealous of my relationship with Lizzie. I think she had a crush on her."
"What?" Anna was speechless. The officer's suggestion was ridiculous.
"What have you done for her, girl? I've never harmed her. I protected her from dangers, I paid Lizzie and Richard's military training, I had already the money to pay for her University, and I would marry her and give her a comfortable and honorable life. What about you? What have you done for Lizzie? Did you help her when she needed you? Why didn't you protect her? Why did you leave her do die, helpless and hopeless? What were you doing when she was being killed?" The officer's tone was inflammatory and Anna noticed some sarcasm.
"Scoundrel! What about the rapes? I've seen with my own eyes, her tears, her blood, her fear, her pain, her despair! Do you think you could buy her with your money, you devil?"
"What?" Lizzie's father was confused. The conflict was escalating and almost everyone attending the funeral circled the quarreling duo.
"Coward! You let her die! How did you survive? Weren't you associated with the rogues?" The officer had a sarcastic smile on his face.
"Rapist! I'll kill you!" Anna lost the control over her anger and she would jump in the officer's throat, had not the other people intervened and dragged her out of the hall. The officer kept accusing her of things she couldn't be blamed for with scorn and she kept yelling that he was a criminal. When she was out of the hall, Lizzie's father ordered her to go away, for she was insulting her daughter's memory.
Left alone, Anna cried abundantly. Cried for Lizzie, as she could not forget all the suffering and pain the poor girl she had endured. She was sure that Lizzie didn't love the man, but accepted him as part of her submissive behavior and old-fashioned values. A girl as kind as Lizzie didn't deserve to receive love as violence and then be treated like a possession. Anna also cried for the entire human race. What were that people thinking? Did they return to the Stone Age where the marriages consisted in a man clubbing the woman he chose for wife and dragging her home? How could they take the abuser of her daughter as a dignified potential husband for her? How could they ignore Anna's accusation and believe in the lies of that scoundrel? No, since she had seen Lizzie be murdered, the images of the atrocious murder had come back to her mind at least a thousand times. Poor Lizzie, had not she died, she would be doomed to a life of sorrow. Anna lost all her faith in humankind and, from that day on, decided avoid any human contact. It was at that moment that she decided to quit the military academy and try to rebuild her life somewhere else, somewhere where she could live her life on her own, somewhere avoid the cruel reality of life. Somewhere she could forget about all those wasted years. She knew she would never forget the things she most wished to forget, but if she could avoid people that would constantly remind her of how the whole humankind was stupid and disgusting, there was a slight possibility that, in the future, she could be able to live free of her own demons, the demons of her past.
After leaving the military academy for the last time, Anna didn't turn her back to look for the last time to the place she could call home in the last two years. For the third time she had lost everything she had in life; for the third time she would have to take her shattered soul fragments and try to make something out of it. For the third time she had lost all the love she had harvested in her heart. Now she would have to live as a heartless woman or to succumb to her own weakness. Anna wished she were weaker of mind, to go totally crazy or commit suicide. Either way she would erase those terrifying images from her mind. It would be grand to go insane, and then people would point at her and say, "Look at that girl? If you had faced what she had faced, you'd be like her..." But she had no other choice: she was still the same strong woman, with complete control of her own senses and reason. She attributed her resilience to her religion. She still trusted her God. That old God who was forgotten by most Algolians since the Mother Brain's inception. Her God, whose symbol died along with the churches that proudly bore it on its walls in the ancient times all over Palma, Motavia and even Dezoris. The old God that would make her servant carry no cross heavier than she was able to carry. So, in her mind, her life had been that way because she deserved it. And she interpreted the last tragic events as a warning for her to change her life. She only wished that warning had not cost the lives of three innocent and lovely people.
Anna used the money she had got from her work to hire a room in a cheap inn in the outskirts of Zema. She wished to find a calm job in one of the several hotels and touristic attractions in the famous city resort by the lake of the same name. But years of stagnated economy would prove it a hard task. Most of the resorts were lying off their workers, so Anna did not find anything to do besides weekend temporary jobs. She tried to cheer up, despite of all jobs being unexciting things, like cleaning rooms, carrying bags or serving drunk customers on the pubs. She knew that was not a life for a woman like her. She had plans of doing something really useful or interesting of her life, not to waste it entirely working in order to survive and surviving to work.
As the weeks passed, things never got better for her. She started thinking that she was really wasting her life, prolonging her suffering. Maybe starvation would blur the images out of her mind, so she would live in a comfortably numbness. She always thought she had some undiscovered talent that would enable her to help the others, but she had no idea what it could be. Talent for suffering. Talent for keep returning to the same images that terrified her, over and over. She considered her real talent to be torturing herself endlessly. She wanted to try some job that would not put her in situations like the ones the military operations had put her. She didn't want to see more suffering, more deaths. She wanted to have a peaceful life. But not a dull life. She wanted to help. She'd become a teacher if she had not skipped studies since she was orphaned. Though she learned a lot by herself, it was not enough to become a teacher, so she had to study other options. Other options that would be feasible, not just a teenager's dream. Other options that would help her think in other things other than the tragedies of her own life. Other options that would allow her to reborn as a new woman, free from her past woes and traumas.
But her fate was to change again. After the sudden burst of biomonsters all over Motavia, a new job was created to deal with the constant harassing of the biomonsters. Though the cities were generally well protected, the small villages and the countryside were constantly attacked by biomonsters. The villagers and farmers dealt some of them easily; some of them, however, were too dangerous, causing destruction, injures and even deaths. The Motavian government started hiring ex-soldiers, police officers and other courageous citizens as hunters, whose main task was to eliminate the biomonsters and protect the populace.
At first, Anna was uninterested in any job that meant anything to do with her past military experiences. She still tried to find a civil job, though she didn't have any qualifications for any specific job, but for her military training. After hearing stories of hunters being able to raise a considerable amount of money, Anna started considering taking her chances as a hunter. The job would still require her combat skills, but she wouldn't deal with human opponents. She would have a certain freedom to work, she would have many opportunities to work alone, and she would be able to help people. After much thinking, she decided to enroll for a small job as a hunter.
She learned that hunters were free-lancer jobs. She would have to register herself as a hunter and take assignments at the government offices. The Motavian government regulated the activity, fearing that, if not strict controlled, the hunter jobs would end creating mercenary militia to fight the biomonsters. Having bands of armed man roaming around and fighting for money was too dangerous. They would surely degenerate into crime. So the government wanted to have everybody under their control. For Anna, that was not a problem. In fact, she preferred that way, as she could work whenever she wanted and only choose the missions she considered fit. She wanted to work alone. She wanted to be a loner, a hermit, to avoid connecting with other people. She didn't want to depend on anyone else. Just in case she was to see someone else mercilessly killed in front of her, that it be an unknown person. Though it would still be shocking, it would be nothing compared to the others deaths that she had seen before her eyes.
Her first hunter mission was a simple one. One local farm was attacked by a swarm of large scorpions, leaving its inhabitants and workers under siege. Anna was unsure of what she would find in the farm. However, she had already seen scorpions before and she was cold-blooded enough to not panic at the sight of large insects, rumors said that biomonsters were nothing like anything she had ever seen. The girl knew that the civilian reports were largely exaggerated. The stupid and lazy people she knew were a bunch of gossipers and rumormongers that would compete in trying to come up with the biggest lie to tell the others. They'd certainly say that they have found a cockroach large as a dog just to show up. But even her fellow hunters admitted that biomonsters were fairly more dangerous than common insects. Before going to face the scorpions, Anna tried to gather some information at the hunter´s office, chatting with some fellow hunters, but she didn't get useful information, as she harshly demanded the information from the other hunters. She was trying to avoid connecting with other people, for all her past connections ended in tragedy, suffering and trauma. She could never forget the image of her beloved parents, brother and sisters murdered. She could never forget the image of her friends being mercifully executed before her eyes.
By that time, she had already built the hardened shell that would be her most striking trace of personality: she was still a good, compassionate and warm-hearted girl deep inside, but she would not let her emotions be known in any case. Her shell also helped her to not be emotionally abused, as, all in all, she was just a sixteen-year-old teenager, with typical teenage dreams, dangerous hormonal levels and a very attractive look. Her angel face and perfect-shaped body only attracted unwanted attention. Attention she loathed. After losing all her loved ones, she preferred to be left alone. Any relationship she had with the fellow hunters was completely professional. She would cut short any conversation that tried to slip into personal territories. The little information she could gather with that impersonal relationships was very poor. Most of the times, people would not even look at her face. They would ignore her. They made her feel as if she didn't exist. It was an awkward feeling, but deep inside she wished to be dead. To be free from her woes and pains. With no help, she had to face the biomonsters almost clueless.
She bought two cheap boomerangs, the poor-man option for her weapon of choice, the dangerous slashers, and set out for the farm. Arriving there, she found some weird kitten-sized scorpions roaming in the fields surrounding the main house. She was somewhat scared at first because she was dealing with unconventional foes. For a time, she wished she had specialized in fighting with long-range firearms, so she could dispatch easily the scorpions, at safety. Though, after the first successful attack, which sliced perfectly the scorpion in two, the girl became grew more confident. The scorpions, fast as they were, could not match the agility of the girl with her boomerangs. With a cautious approach, the girl managed to dispatch all the visible scorpions that were roaming in the fields, though it took her some hours in the task.
After dispatching the roaming scorpions, she had to hunt the hidden ones. There were some scorpions hidden on the barn and on the basement of the main house. She proceeded carefully to the barn, opened its door, and, with the help of a small pocket flashlight, bravely faced the threat. The noise of the scorpions running over the straws on the floor were maddening, but Anna didn't panic, even frightened as she was. The dark battlefield presented an extra difficulty for the girl, as she had to use one of her hands to hold the flashlight, halving her attack power. Even so, she tried to keep cool and build a strategy. At the sound of the first scorpion running towards her, she didn´t hesitate and managed to score a crippling blow on the scorpion, which was left to die, bleeding of its wounds. The second attack was much more dangerous, as one of the scorpions fell from the second floor right on her face. Anna panicked for some seconds, dropping the flashlight and trying to push the scorpion away from her face. The scorpion tried to sting her with its tail, but, for her luck, she unintentionally grabbed its tail while trying to pull it from her face. The struggle lasted for some seconds, but the girl´s strength was enough to free herself from the dangerous grab. She threw the scorpion full-force on the floor, stunning it. Then, she didn't lose time to use her boomerang to decapitate the scorpion. Her face was bruised by the scorpion claws, but she was not seriously injured and she avoided being poisoned, which would be the worst outcome of a scorpion attack.
Anna changed her approach for a more careful one. She retrieved her flashlight and started searching every corner for other scorpions, but she was starting to panic. She was not afraid of the scorpions anymore. She was afraid of scoundrels, which existed only in her mind. Scoundrels that would ambush and execute all her loved ones. Scoundrels that would kill her loved ones while laughing. She had no loved ones to fear of anymore, but, even so, she feared. She feared so much that she started retreating, embracing her boomerang and flashlight, not paying attention to anything else, but her own terror. While walking backwards, she was startled by hitting something and tumbling over it.
She fell on the floor, losing hold of both her boomerang and her flashlight. She couldn't see anything, but she was sure about what she had tumbled over. It was a scorpion. Panic stricken, she tried to kick the scorpion, but she felt a sharp pain in her right leg. The scorpion had stung her. She kept trying to kick the scorpion, while the scorpion repeatedly stung her legs. Not being able to endure the pain anymore, Anna desperately tried to grab the scorpion, but she only managed to have her arm stung by the scorpion's tail. She pulled her arm violently, pulling the scorpion with her arm. Seeing the opportunity, she grabbed the tail of the scorpion and started hitting its head on the ground. The scorpion grabbed her right breast with its claw, making her immediately release the grab on it. The pain was terrible, the girl was about to lose her senses. Her head swoon; she was passing out and started rolling on her side. It was the end. The stupid girl would be killed by a mere scorpion, a stupid insect smaller than a kitten. Her death would not be tragic as her parents' death or heroic like Lizzie and Richard deaths. She would die in a pathetic way. A fool, wretched woman, who dreamed of helping people while she could not even take care of herself. She had not been able to do anything to help her father, her mother, Ivan, Tatyana, Natasha, Lizzie, Richard, Stevens. She was not able to get rid of a dozen scorpions. She deserved to die a pathetic death and her existence be forgotten...
The involuntary movement made her roll her body over the scorpion, causing it to release its grab on her. Regaining her senses. She grabbed the scorpion's tail once again and started hitting its head on the floor. The scorpion was dead much before she realized it, as she was mad with it and mad with herself at the same time. She only stopped when the force of the blows caused the tail to be split from the rest of the scorpion's body. She stayed holding for a while the scorpion tail and then threw it away. She could feel the warm blood running out of her legs, arm and chest. The pain was too much to endure. The venom was already acting over her brain. She didn't have much time left. She would die, pathetically, in a barn, stung by a scorpion. Her body would be found rotten days later, when the farm owners realized the hired hunter had not accomplished her task and hired another hunter to deal with the remaining scorpions. She would be nothing, but a memory. As no one really cared for her, she would not be a memory for too long. Soon she would be nothing. Images of her family and friends being murdered returned to her mind once more, but this time she laughed aloud, a sadistic laughter. She was hallucinating. "Come! Come once more! Once more! Ha ha ha, I don't care! I don't care for you anymore! You can't scare me anymore! I'm dying! You can keep on coming! I'm dying! In some seconds, you will not be able to scare me anymore! I'll be free! Free! Oh, my God, I'll be free!"