"Rolf? I thought you said it was dangerous to be out here. But I don't even think it's scary at all anymore."
Agent Rolf Eusis was walking along at a brisk pace through lush green fields of grass and picturesque hills of greener trees. The environment of Motavia was so healthy. Any person living their life on this planet, however, knew that it was all thanks to Mother Brain and her climate control networks.
"We're lucky is what we are, Nei. There are many threats out here. I wasn't just making that stuff up, you know. And it would be so easy to just teleport to Oputa, but that kind of thing would be traceable by Mother Brain unfortunately… so we have to endure the monsters and be careful. Understand?"
Rolf's companion, the mysterious creature/person called Nei was practically skipping about at an even more energetic pace. Occasionally she would go well ahead of him, periodically stopping as she became mystified with her new surroundings. Rolf kept a watchful eye on her, knowing full well that lately, Mother Brain and her systems had been pumping out knew life on the planet capable of mass destruction.
Nei made her way to Rolf's side for the first time in a while. "Yeah… I know," she said, a little disdainfully and in denial of her beautiful new world being so dangerous. "But you are an agent, right? You can just kick the monster's butts!"
Upon finishing this statement, Nei demonstrated a few punches and kicks, causing Rolf to brighten up and chuckle a bit. "Who taught you stuff like that? Nei, you and your TV programs. I think when we get back to Paseo, I should alter the programs you have access to."
Nei tilted her head in confusion. "Uh… actually Rolf. I learned that from you. You said something like just yesterday."
Rolf gazed at her and hesitated for a moment.
"Oh. That actually kinda makes sense," Rolf said with a wry smile. He sometimes forgot how quickly she picked up on things. Just another unbelievable thing about her to go along with her appearance and her amazing growth rate. "Anyway, we're almost at the next security tunnel. Once we get through that one, we're not too far away from Oputa. Which is good because we don't want to get stuck wandering out here at night…" he added, glancing at his surroundings cautiously.
"Yeah… You do not see so good in the dark," Nei added, sullenly. "Actually you do not see so good when it's light, either. Maybe you should get… glasses? That is what they are called, right?"
Rolf laughed again, but only because he knew Nei was simply concerned for him not trying to be offensive. "Yes, they are glasses. No, I would not be caught dead wearing them."
The two were in pretty good spirits and for that, Rolf was glad. He was finally beginning to feel at ease for the first time since he had spoken to the Commander. At this rate, they would arrive in the city of Oputa well before sundown where they could spend the night somewhere before heading for the Bio-Systems Lab. And hopefully, without any encounters from monsters along the way.
Rolf and Nei approached the automated door of the tunnel which would lead them to Oputa. It was a pretty large technologically advanced structure in the middle of a natural landscape which was an interesting sight to see in the middle of nowhere. Most of the landscape of Motavia was like this though, a combination of seemingly pure environments with state of the art buildings and cities here and there.
"OK," Rolf said assumingly. "Now to slide my agent ID card, and we should be good to go!"
The agent proceeded to swipe his card in the designated slot just next to the door opening mechanism. The device responded with a beeping sound, and Rolf reacted to the door as if it were about to open.
Only it didn't.
"Access denied," a female computer generated voice responded.
Nei glanced at Rolf questioningly, as he blinked a few times in confusion. "That's strange," Rolf said to himself. "That usually works."
Rolf tried again, this time sliding his ID card a little slower and more deliberately. "Access denied," the voice responded again in the exact same tone. Rolf experienced a shortness of breath for a moment in his confusion and exasperation of the situation unfolding before him. So he did the only thing he knew might work.
"Computer, this is agent Eusis. I'm running a simple errand for my supervisor in Paseo. Why can't I gain access to this structure?" He asked, while holding down a button designed to speak with the automated computerized help terminal.
"Sorry agent," the computer said in the same monotone feminine voice, completely uncomprehending of the agent's urgency. "This structure has been locked down until the situation in Arima has been resolved. We appreciate your understand-"
"Dammit! I knew that dark cloud was Arima!" Rolf shouted, slamming his fist against the console. Nei flinched in surprise, not at all prepared for this outburst. She moved closer to Rolf in hopes of helping him calm down, all the while, the computerized voice continued to speak. "I am sorry you are frustrated sir. But striking inanimate objects will not help resolve the situation in Arima. I can provide you information on an anger management seminar in Paseo scheduled next Thursday if you…"
"Rolf, what's wrong?" Nei asked, placing her hand on his shoulder.
Rolf sighed and glanced at his partner. "Nothing… Nei. At least nothing we can do anything about. For now. It looks like we're gonna need to make an unexpected detour. That's all."
Nei offered Rolf a smile for comfort. "A detour! That sounds fun!" she offered, warm-heartedly. However, her expression twisted from a smile into blank stare almost immediately. "Wait, what is a detour?"
Rolf smirked. She did have a knack for cheering him up. "It means we have to waste our time going the wrong way. But yeah, good point. This should be real good fun. Well at least we'll get to find out about that dark cloud of yours."
The look of happiness faded from Nei's face a bit when she thought about the dark cloud she had seen earlier. But for Rolf, she remained confident. "Yes. We will go to the dark cloud and learn of the secret behind it. And we will kick butt if we need to."
Rolf shook his head. There she went again. He didn't say anything as he had come to realize that there was little he could do to stop her from talking like that anyway. Once she picked up on something and made it her own, that was that. "OK, ok Nei," he said, putting up his hands defensively. "Let's just get going."
As the two began the long march for Arima, Rolf hesitated for a moment. He gestured at Nei to stop and wait for him, and walked back to the console attached to the entrance of the tunnel. "Computer, this is agent Eusis again… uh, sorry for hitting you earlier. I was just wondering if you could provide me with any surveillance info on this particular structure. Just in case it will help me gain any information on the Arima situation."
"I forgive you, agent Eusis. Just do not do it again. Scanning for relevant data, please be patient this time," the computer lady voice responded.
Rolf waited a brief moment and could hear some beeping and what was presumably scanning sounds coming from the console. "Matches found," she said, only somewhat more cheerfully this time. Images of Arima appeared on a small screen in front of Rolf, showing the rubble of burnt down buildings, a badly singed landscape of roads and structures, and a mass collection of the dead in the streets.
"Woah, that's bad... Damn," Rolf gasped, glad that Nei was out of range of these images. This was way unlike anything HE had even seen.
"Also, this man is currently within this structure agent, and was able to enter just before it was locked down a few hours ago. His motives are currently unknown by the database, however, he is currently being closely monitored by our robot police, the Polezi for criminal behavior. There have already been a couple of close encounters."
Video feed from a surveillance camera within the tunnel replaced the images of Arima on the screen. The image zoomed in on a brown-haired, mustached man dressed as a hunter with a large sword drawn and a sullen look on his face. His eyes were glued to the tunnel entrance as if he was waiting to pounce on anyone who dared enter. Rolf's eyes widened as he knew immediately who this man was.
"It can't be…" he whispered to himself. "It's him!"
A tall blonde hunter trekked through the ruins of fallen structures. Fresh rubble crunched underneath his combat boots. He walked about with an emotionless expression on his face, scanning the ground he covered for clues. He was the same hunter who was attacked in the nightclub just the night before, and was now seeking to understand why the city of Arima became the sight for such a massive terrorist attack. Unfortunately, the hunter had not unearthed many clues. He had found a few happy face masks that the attackers had worn to cover up their identities. He had also seized one of the lackey's radios and learned that the group responsible was called the Scoundrels. And lastly and most importantly, before one of the grunts was killed by his own, he had revealed to the hunter that the group had been targeting someone specifically to take hostage.
Maybe some sort of ransom was involved here? Either way, he didn't have too many leads. The tall hunter took a deep breath, propping one of his legs atop a crumbled piece of building, and leaning forward against his own knee for support. The rubble had elevated him to a point where he had a pretty good view of the surrounding city and even some of the landscape just outside of the safe walls. It was late afternoon and would be sunset soon. He pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. He was pretty much ready to call it quits after this. After all, a hunter's primary incentive is not serving the greater good, but earning meseta.
He took in a big drag before letting out a puff of smoke, finally feeling a little relaxed since the incident in the nightclub. But it was through this puff of smoke, that the hunter spotted his next lead.
A girl… with, horns?
The hunter rubbed his eyes to try to clear up his vision a little. But sure enough, there was an unusual looking young woman walking in the grass towards the city's entrance, accompanied by a blue haired man. Not horns, but long ears! She also had long, purple hair and was wearing… something this hunter would never want to see someone's daughter wear, that's for sure.
He stomped out his cigarette and followed them discreetly, hoping not to catch her attention. Or that of her companion for that matter.
"Dynamite?" Rolf blurted. "How did the Scoundrels get their hands on explosives like that? That stuff was outlawed by Mother Brain about a century ago."
Rolf and Nei had arrived in Arima not too long before they were noticed by the people working to rebuild the city. Not to mention the mayor of Arima himself. The two were exchanging questions and information with the mayor and a few remaining citizens of Arima who had chosen to follow along. Rolf was pretending that he and Nei were activists working for the government to create a plan on how to provide Arima assistance. It was all a ruse though, he was really just determined to get on with his mission. Among the group of followers, Rolf had noticed a few ladies, a couple of kids, a middle-aged man, and a tall kind of menacing looking blonde guy. Rolf thought of disguising Nei to avoid any trouble regarding her looks, and she wore a thick veil over her head to disguise her ears.
"You're absolutely right about that. I've looked into the matter myself already," the old man mayor of Arima agreed. "The Scoundrels must have had it stored away over the years somehow. Or maybe they just made their own explosives."
Rolf noticed that Nei was spacing out looking at something and glared at her to make sure she was following along with their act. She snapped out of her daze and shrugged at Rolf in complete confusion.
"Either way, that's not important," the chubby bearded old man continued. "You work for that O'Connell, the governor of Paseo, don't you? What are you going to do to help us?"
Rolf held up his arms defensively. "Whoa, hey! Slow down. I never said I work for O'Connell," Rolf lied in an effort to maintain the cover that O'Connell himself told him to keep as a priority. "I told you already that I'm just a social activist who was traveling with a recon trooper making his rounds when we noticed the damage! I spoke to my superior and came as quickly as I could. I promise."
The mayor of Arima rubbed his white goatee for a moment, scrutinizing Rolf and Nei and pondering on his story. "Very well, I admit that you don't really look like much of a soldier, agent, or spy anyway. I mean, taking your girlfriend to work seems… a little unprofessional, wouldn't you say?"
Rolf was a bit shocked and taken back by the mayor's remark. He looked at Nei who gave him a blank expression in return. He thought about mentioning that she was not really his girlfriend, but realized that it wasn't really worth arguing and wasting time over. So he smacked himself in the forehead instead, unable to say much more about it and defend himself. "Right…" he simply agreed. "Anyway, there was one more thing I wanted to discuss with you. It seems that someone is blocking the Western Tunnel leading to Oputa. I checked the surveillance data and it looks like a hunter. A big guy, with a moustache and a big sword, too."
The mayor glanced back at the people accompanying them. A few words were muttered, and the townspeople seemed to nod in agreement about something. Rolf also noticed that the big blonde guy who was part of the group was now gone for some reason. "You mean, you ran into Darum?" the mayor spoke, somewhat hesitantly.
"Darum?" Rolf wondered. Was this the name of the man who had tried to kill Nei?
The mayor glanced away from Rolf for a moment, hesitant to speak further on the subject. He let out a sigh before continuing.
"Yes, just hours after the attack, we sent some of our people out to Paseo and Oputa in hopes of gaining some assistance. The convoy to Paseo made it completely unscathed. However, the convoy headed toward Oputa was stopped at the bridge crossing by a hunter named Darum. He robbed them of all of their weapons, equipment, and meseta before sending them back here empty handed. So I had the tunnel locked down with him inside of it for our safety."
I knew it! Rolf thought to himself. That man is definitely evil!
"Why would he be demanding everyone's supplies? Is he a criminal?" Rolf asked, trying to confirm what he already knew to be true.
The mayor of Arima looked Rolf in the eyes. It was a look of conviction and certainty. "No, he is no such thing, and you are a fool for asking such a question," he spoke, never averting his eye-contact with Rolf. "Darum has always been a hero of the people. As a hunter, he has accepted many quests without pay, slaying monsters just for our safety. He is a family man who loves his daughter. You would do well to remember this before you make any more stupid accusations!"
The old man and his entourage left, leaving Rolf and Nei standing alone on the lonely street surrounded by broken buildings. The sun was getting lower on the horizon and shadows were reaching out for them. Rolf shook his head, thinking they were wrong about him. He thought about his encounter with Darum just months before. And how he had raised his sword high in the air, trying to strike down an innocent child.
"Nei," he whispered.
"What is wrong? Why are you so troubled?"
Rolf looked at his companion once again. A concerned expression on her lips. An innocent look in her eyes. A caring heart. No man who could take her away from the world was a good person in his book.
He managed a smile. "It's nothing. Let's go get some rest."
Rolf thanked the clerk at the local inn and walked toward his room with Nei still in tow and wearing her veil. It seemed that many of the Arima survivors had no shelter and sought refuge at this inn. Still, he was fortunate enough that there was just one vacancy left.
"This is good, Nei," he said warmly. "I was worried we wouldn't be sleeping on real beds tonight! But now we can rest before heading out tomorrow morning."
Nei stared at Rolf quizzically as they walked. "Tomorrow? Do you mean we are going to try to stop that man? …Darum is what they called him?"
Rolf grunted his response and gave her a short nod. He was reluctant to share with her the true identity of the man who was blocking their path. He knew that Nei was still afraid of him. There were still times in Paseo when she thought she saw him and didn't know how to handle her emotions. He couldn't even begin to imagine how traumatic the experience was for her.
"Will we… kick his butt?" Nei wondered, a hopeful trace of a smile appearing at the corners of her mouth.
Rolf reached for the card key slot next to the door of their room and swiped it. "I hope so, Nei. I mean, everyone in Arima thinks that he is a good guy. But I don't buy it."
Rolf continued talking as he opened the door and stepped into the dark inn room. "Good guys don't do the kinds of things he has done. So he must be up to something…"
Nei froze in her tracks just as she stepped into the room and gasped. Rolf, unknowing as to why she would react like this walking into a simple hotel room, activated the light switch.
And realized that he was staring down the barrel of a shotgun.
That shotgun was aimed directly at Rolf's head. And behind that shotgun, was a tall, blonde man. A hunter. The shotgun let out a click as the man cocked the weapon threateningly. An air of tension and silence filled the room. Nei's eyes wide in shock and fear. Rolf's mouth wide open in disbelief and helplessness. And the man's eyes, expressionless and full of anger.
Finally, the silence was broken by the hunter.
"Darum isn't up to something… You are."
He spoke softly and in a deep hoarse voice. He then grinned a little bit, realizing he had his victims exactly where he wanted them. Everything had worked out according to plan. The aim of his gun remained fixed on Rolf's skull. The expressions on the faces of Rolf and Nei had hardly changed at all.
"I'm sorry to intrude without introducing myself. Greetings. My name is Rudolf Steiner."