He was the third generation of his family to be mayor over the city named for his grandfather, which if he thought about it long enough made his role more like a king or baron than a mayor. Dairon's grandfather had chosen "mayor," though, rather than any title of nobility, probably because he recognized that leadership wasn't an inherent right but just another job. His work as mayor was to coordinate the efforts of the people in building a better life for all, recapturing what had been lost to them in the Great Blank. Really, it was nothing more than expressing the shared will of the citizens.

It was this attitude that had earned Dairon the respect of his people. It was why he'd been able to rally them during Mother Trinity's robot attack, and get a party of hunters to go to the support of the newman resistance on the moon during the climactic battle. In his mid-forties, his hairline receding, the body beneath the salmon-colored coat starting to develop a paunch, he did not look all that impressive at first glance, but he had a certain force of personal charisma when face-to-face with someone, combined with his reputation built upon past successes.

Those factors were all part of why the ruins raider who'd just been dragged before Dairon was looking very nervous indeed.

Ruins raiding was a serious offense. The ancient technology from before the Great Blank was on some level considered the property of everyone. Merchants were allowed to make a profit on its retrieval—that was, after all, their compensation for the hard work they did in exploration—but such merchants were also screened and licensed so that they didn't just turn into looters who'd destroy objects of value or historical importance in their rush to get some quick cash. That didn't stop some people from doing exactly that, though, risking their necks in the name of greed.

This particular raider was like a caricature of his type: greasy, dirty, and ugly as sin, with a unibrow that made him look almost animal-like, and a torso covered in irregular patches of coarse black hair. The parts of his piebald chest not covered in fur were soft and pasty white, suggesting that it wasn't usual for him to run around outside without a shirt. The hunters escorting him had a feeling that shirt was currently snagged on the claws of some hostile.

Dairon leaned forward, palms flat on his desktop.

"Well, young fellow, it looks like you've got some explaining to do."

~X X X~

"This is fun! It's nice getting together with old friends on a job," Sarisa said. The perky redheaded newman had a big grin on her face as she and the other two hunters crossed the lobby from the Hunter's Guild counter to the mayor's office.

"Yeah, I've spent so much time training newbies lately that my hands are getting diaper rash," Kai quipped. He was a tall human, with dark olive skin, black hair in a ponytail, and a thin scar across the bridge of his nose. His trademark duster flapped around his legs as he walked.

"Still, I think that is important work," put in the third member of their group, the tall red-and-white CAST Ogi. "With the influx of new hunters lately, it is important that they come to understand the hunter's creed from an experienced and trusted superior."

"I feel like someone ought to toss in an 'or from you' at the end of that sentence to keep me from getting a swelled head," Kai laughed. "But yeah, there's definitely a lot of new recruits lately. I guess fighting off an invasion of robots from the moon, then defeating Mother Trinity and an evil god would kind of raise the group's profile."

"And a lot of Mother Trinity's former soldiers are joining up, too," Sarisa added. "It helps them experience first-hand the reality of this world, to help break down their indoctrination, and at the same time to use their skills to contribute and feel useful."

"Yeah, the last thing we want is those guys deciding to start a war on their own or something."

Any further ruminations were cut off as they reached the mayor's door, outside of which stood the red female CAST who served as his secretary.

"Ah, good morning."

"Hi, Ms. Lindow!" Sarisa said cheerily.

"A pleasure, as always," Ogi added.

"Thank you. I'm glad to see that you were able to answer my request, although I recall there being four of you in your group."

"Up on the moon with Reve," Kai said. "The newman government is trying to secure as many of Mother Trinity's former facilities as possible to prevent any catastrophic accidents."

"It would be extremely unpleasant if some sort of failsafe were to shut down power to the colony's life support, or unleash another army of security robots," Ogi agreed. The thought made Sarisa shiver—the moon, was, after all, her birthplace and its inhabitants her fellow newmans.

"I see." Ms. Lindow cupped her chin in a gesture that tended to mean she was thinking something over. "Well, that is unfortunate, but the situation is urgent and we must act quickly. Given how busy you all are these days, I should be grateful that as many as three were available."

"What's happening, Ms. Lindow?" Sarisa asked. "Your message only said that the city administration had a critically important job that needed trusted hunters to carry out."

"That is so, and I'm afraid that once again I'm going to have to insist on strict confidentiality."

"Darn, I hate nondisclosure agreements," Kai muttered. "Half the fun of being a hunter is sitting in the bar later and telling stories about the job." No one in particular was listening to him; Sarisa and Ogi were busy signing the proffered forms. Kai shrugged, then signed as well. There were usually good reasons for these requests, so he didn't mind it too much. "All right, so what's it all about?"

"We had better discuss this in private," Ms. Lindow remarked, and ushered the hunters into the mayor's office.

"It seems that his honor is running late today," Ogi remarked.

"Yeah, it's not like him to miss these mission briefings, if it's all that urgent."

"No, I will be giving the briefing," Ms. Lindow corrected. "The mayor's absence is the subject of the job."

"Wait, you mean he's missing?" Kai exclaimed. "What happened? Was he kidnapped, did he just run off, what is it?"

"That is the essence of our dilemma. I don't know; he didn't leave word with me of any intended absence, but there do not appear to be any signs of violence."

"Mayor Dairon is still an excellent fighter," Ogi observed. "It would not be easy to take him against his will."

"But where is he, then?" Sarisa asked. "I can't believe he'd just run off without telling anyone."

"He is getting up there in years. Maybe all the hits to the head he took in his hunting days added up, and he just kind of...wandered off?"

"Kai!" everyone chorused.

He held up his hands defensively.

"Hey, hey, I'm just tossing out ideas here, no offense intended."

"If we may re-focus into a somewhat more useful line of inquiry, are you aware of any clues to his whereabouts, Ms. Lindow?"

"Yes, thank you, Ogi. There is one thing that may be of significance. Yesterday, two hunters brought a captured ruins raider before Mayor Dairon for questioning. I was not present for the interview, but one of the hunters informed me that a very few minutes into the questioning, the mayor requested that the hunters leave so he could speak with the prisoner in private."

"That's pretty unusual," Kai acknowledged.

"Quite so. You will also notice here, the mayor's drinks sideboard." She walked over to the item of furniture noted. "One of my duties as his secretary is to keep the sideboard stocked. This is generally not difficult, as his honor usually only indulges in alcohol when he has a meeting which is more social than business. Upon discovering the mayor's absence, I noted that the brandy decanter had been exhausted, and that the level in the bottle was down as well." She opened the cupboard door beneath the sideboard to show the bottle. "I estimate that four glasses' worth of brandy were consumed in all, but only two tumblers had been used."

"So, you think the mayor and the ruins raider had a couple of drinks together?"

"Yes, Sarisa."

"But why?"

"I would speculate that the raider was able to provide Mayor Dairon with some rather important information," Ogi suggested.

"It's the only thing that makes sense," Kai agreed. "Either he dropped a hint or the mayor figured it out, and he sent the hunters out so word of whatever it was wouldn't get around."

"Then they sat down and had drinks together?" Sarisa was incredulous. "The mayor's policies are almost exactly opposite the kind of things ruins raiders do!"

"It is true that ruins raiders' greedy, self-centered attitude is the antithesis of the spirit of cooperation the mayor tries to foster among different groups. However, if the information possessed by this man was sufficiently important, it would be foolish to allow pride to take over. I believe the human expression is 'cutting off your nose to spite your face'?"

"Not quite, but close enough," Kai told him.

"So if that's what happened, then where's the mayor now?"

"If I may speculate further, Sarisa, if the mayor was given specific information as to something important enough that he would treat a criminal in such a friendly fashion, then he might have decided it needed to be pursued personally."

"You mean he had the raider take him to wherever he found...whatever it was?"

"That would be my supposition."

"Works for me," Kai said. He turned to their client and added, "You had a pretty good suspicion of that already, didn't you, Ms. Lindow?"

She nodded.

"I did indeed, but I wanted to see if your conclusion matched mine. A fresh perspective often makes sense before taking precipitous action."

"And chasing off after the mayor into a den full of hostiles is definitely pretty precipitous," Kai summed it up.

"But wait a minute!" Sarisa exclaimed. "That doesn't make sense."

Everyone turned to look at her.

"You can see a flaw in our logic?" Ogi asked curiously.

Sarisa nodded.

"I don't know quite what's going on, but even if whatever it was the raider had to say was so important that Mayor Dairon thought it demanded his immediate personal attention, he would still tell Ms. Lindow where and why he was going, wouldn't he?" She turned to the magenta CAST and continued, "You're his confidential secretary, after all. You even know about things the administration wants to keep quiet, like on that job you commissioned to retrieve Mags from Paru. I can't think that there'd be any kind of secret that he didn't trust you to hold in confidence, especially since he would know that going off on his own would leave a huge burden for you to deal with."

Kai, Ogi, and Ms. Lindow looked at one another.

"She's got a point," Kai said. "The old man can be a little spacey sometimes, but he wouldn't shut Ms. Lindow out."

"Indeed," Ogi noted. "In fact, the more significant the potential find, the more likely it is he would tell her about it, so that proper follow-up activities could be commenced. For his honor to not trust his trusted right hand on a critical matter would be quite out of character for him."

"Then what happened?" Sarisa asked. "What else explains the facts? I can't believe that he was taken by force."

"Yeah, and if he was there'd have been a ransom demand or something by now...oh." Kai glanced at Ogi. "Are you thinking what I am?"

Ogi nodded.

"That would explain all of the known facts."

Sarisa blinked.

"Wait, you don't mean...?"

"The situation is regrettable," Ms. Lindow concluded.

"And if that's true, then it's more important than ever we find the mayor, because he could be getting into the deep stuff without realizing it."

"That's true," Sarisa said. "Ms. Lindow, where was the ruins raider caught by the hunters?" Please don't say the swamp, she amended mentally.

"I believe that it was a newly discovered ruin adjacent to Gurhacia Valley."

"Oh, good; I'm fine with dragons." Sarisa breathed a sigh of relief.

"So c'mon, pardners, we'd better done be moseyin' on out."

Everyone looked at Ogi in shock.

"I apologize; it seems that particular glitch in my language filter is more persistant than I had believed."

It was well known that CASTs could not transmit data to other CASTs by means of wireless communication; that was the realm of significantly more powerful operations such as Mother Trinity's Photon Noise. Nevertheless, Ms. Lindow took one careful step back from Ogi, just in case.

~X X X~

A/N: It definitely sounds unpleasant to my ear, but the game dialogue is pretty clear: the plural of "newman" is "newmans," not "newmen." *boggle* Similarly, "his honor" is never capitalized, despite "His Honor" being more properly correct, grammatically. Also, as I'm sure everyone noticed, I ducked the whole question of the player's character's race, class, and sex. After all, the whole point is for this story to be able to fit into everyone's game experience, not just in my own!