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PostPosted: Thu Jun 21, '12, 10:48 pm
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What must have been at least three hours had now passed as Flynn continued his patrol, walking a perimeter around the cluster of buildings, occasionally checking on each one as requested. All was quiet now, save for the wind. Having endured the cold for more than a week already, one night’s worth of it was hardly a bother.

His eyesight had long since adjusted to the dark, making the land before him take on an inky purple quality dusted with snow blown on the wind. He could make out a range of Dezo's infamous monolithic mountains in one direction as they loomed high above the land, rough and untamed like the weather. It was hard to tell exactly how far away they were. Their sheer size made it impossible to tell as they kept disappearing behind veils of windblown snow.
All around him in other directions was a flat frozen wasteland, the land stretching on into an endless void.

He felt a familiar sense of isolation, of being completely and utterly alone out here. The feeling was hammered home as he walked past the house for the umpteenth time that night, seeing the light pouring out of the sitting room window, giving the snow covered ground before it a warm, welcoming glow. Flynn could only imagine how a wayward traveller would feel happening upon such a sight in the dead of night after days of journeying across the land. The promise of warmth, rest and shelter from the elements would spur anyone on towards it regardless of their condition.

“That's odd. I wonder who's still up at this time of night? All the other lights went out over an hour ago.”

He continued on past the building and out to the edge of the settlement, content to stop for a few minutes and gaze out into the night. He propped his weapon against the building and leaned himself against the wall.

His mind wandered for a while, going back over the past few days and inevitably coming back to Claire as he pondered where to begin looking for her. His only wish was that she wasn't in as dire a situation as he was.

“Maybe someone back home knows something. Surely I'm not the only one who knew her personally.”

His train of thought was interrupted by a sudden gust of wind as it whipped at his clothing and snuck under his shirt. It felt unusually warm to him and seemed almost to pass through him before eventually dying. He wasn't sure, but as he straightened his clothing out he almost thought he heard someone whispering in his ear.

“Looks like I've been on this planet for too long now. Even the wind feels warm.”
He smiled to himself, standing straight and stretching himself. The wind picked up once more and he closed his eyes against it. In the few brief moments he did, he saw the woman of his dreams again, watching him yet never speaking or coming any closer to him. Almost as if bound to watch from afar.

The sound of crunching snow behind him snapped him out of his reverie. For a moment he thought she had found him, but the sound of Vlanna's voice told him otherwise as he saw her stopping beside him.

“How're you doing?”

“All quiet out here. No sign of life at all. Not near here anyway.” He paused as he heard her acknowledge him, then continued. “Can't sleep?”

“No. And since it's my night anyway, I thought I'd come out and see how you were doing.”

“Is it always this quiet out here?”

“Most of the time, but we've had plenty nights when monsters have come by, though they usually don't bother us...usually. But with that mass converging out there in the middle of nowhere, they might just decide to move closer to an inhabited area once they get hungry.”

Flynn grunted in agreement. Looking out the corner of his eye, he could see she was gazing off into the night like he was.

There was a long silence, perhaps a couple of minutes, before Vlanna spoke again.

“So who are they?”

“Hmm?” Flynn turned his head to look at her. She did the same and looked at him, smiling slightly.

“Your friend. The one you're looking for? Must be important to you if you've been looking for years. But who are they?”

“Just that really. She's an old friend of mine. We go way back. She's probably the only true friend I've ever really had.”

“How did she go missing?”

“There was an earthquake. We were 15 at the time. I'd just left her at her house and it happened. Her house was one of the ones that collapsed. But when the rubble was cleared her body was never found. I haven't seen her since.” He sniffed. Vlanna's face showed signs of sadness, pity even.

“Do you love her?”

Flynn looked away for a moment, back into the darkness in front of them. “Well we were close but...” He looked back at her. “...Yeah. Yeah I do. And I don't want to give up searching until I find her. Her and this memento are all I've got.” He removed the crystal from his pocket and looked at it.

“So that's hers is it?” She raised a hand to him, palm up. “Can I see again?”

Flynn carefully placed it in her hand and she picked it up to look at it more closely this time. “It's really nice. Not bad at all.” She offered it back to him. “A gift was it?”

“Not really, no.” He took the crystal in hand and placed it carefully in his pocket. “She just gave it to me one day. Not sure where she got it, though. She never said.”

“Well you're lucky. She sounds like a nice person. I can see why you're so intent on finding her.” She paused, her smile growing bigger. “And she's lucky to have you as well. I hope you find her before long. We should all be so fortunate.”

“Hmmm?” Flynn raised an eyebrow. “Hunter's lifestyle starting to cramp your social life?”

Vlanna scoffed. “Never really had a social life, to be honest. I was an only child. We were pretty well off. My parents ran a trade business of some sort between Palm and Mota so I didn't see a lot of them. They didn't seem too fussed about leaving me alone. And I was never one for really making friends either. I just didn't bother. Guess it's why I'm able to live away out here.”

“So why did you become a Hunter?”

“My parents wanted me to continue running the business when I was old enough, but I could never get used to all the travelling and all the politicking that comes from trading between Palm and Mota.” She sighed.
“So rather than keep me around if I wasn't going to do what they wanted and let them retire early, they send me here to see how I like starting from scratch. What I have isn't much, but I like to think I've done well enough, all things considered.”

“Have you ever gone back to your folks about how you've done?”

Vlanna looked away from him briefly, her face taking on a slightly sombre expression. “They died during the Atrian war. I'd never spoken to them since before then.”

“I'm sorry.”

She looked back at him, smiling weakly. “Don't worry about it. It's not like I'm the only one who lost family during that war. Or the others that followed it.”

There was a pause before Flynn continued.

“So how did you end up with Darwi and Irale?”

“Well from a business point of view...” She cut herself off and laughed grimly. “Yeah, yeah, I know. But really, it made sense. The military were setting up across the planet so Bio-Monsters were proving harder to find without venturing far out into places like this, which is hard to do when you work alone and are based in one of the settlements. So I took some time out and went looking for a couple of people to help out. It was only by a sheer stroke of luck that we then found this place as well. So we set ourselves up right here.”

Flynn smiled. All he had heard so far reassured him somewhat. He was glad to hear life had at least worked out for someone despite Algo's recent hardships. “Maybe I should consider Hunter work if things don't work out.”

“So what about the others, if you don't mind me asking? Are they as tragic as we are?”

“Well...Irale, not so much. When I found him he was a pretty happy-go-lucky guy with a more romantic view on being a Hunter. Thought it would be exciting and all that but didn't have a clue about anything. But at least he knew it, unlike some of them... But, as you know, he's great at fixing things and he really wanted to be a Hunter, so I took him on. While he might not be ready to work alone for a good few years yet, I've done what I can to improve his combat abilities.”

She paused as a gust of wind whipped against both of them, tugging at their clothing and sending their hair into a frenzy as it roared deafeningly past their ears. When it settled down to normal again she continued.

“Darwi's a...very different story. She might call herself a medic, but she's really far more than that. She was a student Doctor from Mota. I think she was due to begin her internship as well. But then the Goragan Crisis came around. Because she was practically ready to go to work as a Doctor, the government called her and her fellow students in to help. She was sent here to Dezo to help with the relief effort.” Vlanna stopped to take in a breath before continuing. Flynn was briefly reminded of his time during the Goragan Crisis, an all too familiar time.

“Back home, her family was due to go for inoculation. While they were waiting at one of the medical centres, a bunch of people, who turned out to be Goragans, pulled weapons and opened fire. It was a bloodbath. There were soldiers there too, but by the time the Goragans had been stopped they'd killed a lot of civilians. Darwi's entire family was among the casualties. They all died.

“I remember when I found her. She was staying at one of the inns in the town. I'd just met Irale a few days before and was searching for someone else when I saw her. She had just gotten the bad news as well. I've never seen someone like that. She really hit rock bottom. And hard. She drove practically everyone out of the place with her grief. I came back later that day and found her drinking herself into oblivion. Poor thing. Even as drunk as she was, and believe me, she was drunk, she was still crying her eyes out. So I got her off the drink and took her back to her room. Next morning I took her out of the inn and tried my best to console her. She couldn't face going back to Mota and she wasn't sure she'd ever be sane enough to go to work as a Doctor. There are no places in Algo for solo Doctors who haven't completed their training, so I offered her a place with me. This way she gets to work her trade and we have a medical expert to back us up. She was going to stay just long enough until she was ready to go back and complete her training, but she seems to have settled in quite well. She's not too bad as a hunter.”
She paused as she chuckled to herself.

“Despite what you heard us say earlier, I don't intend to let her go. She'll only leave when she's ready to. But the banter helps keep us sane.”

Flynn felt a pang of sorrow for Darwi. Hers was a truly terrible loss and one that many others were forced to cope with. While he might have sometimes regretted his own actions during that time, hearing of Darwi's story assured him he had done the right thing, saving all those innocent lives from a pointless death.

His thoughts were interrupted when he felt Vlanna placing a hand on his shoulder. He looked at her and saw her smiling at him, looking at him as an equal. What isolation he had felt earlier was gone. He now knew that, out here in the middle of nowhere on this barren ball of ice, he was in the company of friends, people he could trust. Miscreants, outcasts and people who just didn't seem to fit in anywhere just trying to get by as they weathered the storms that life threw at them one after another.

“So where will you go? Do you have any leads to follow on your friend?”

“None, unfortunately. I figure the best thing for me to do is go home and start from there, see if anyone knows anything.”

“Well I'm sure someone does. You can't be the only one who knew her at all.”

Flynn scoffed. “Believe me, I keep telling myself the same thing. But when I try to think of anyone, I come up with nothing.”

Vlanna shook his shoulder assuringly before removing her hand. “Well if not at home, someone elsewhere's bound to have seen her since then, whether they know her or not. You just haven't found them yet.”

“Yeah, that's true. I'll just be glad if I don't have to ask every living soul in Algo before I find her.”

“Well don't worry, Flynn. We'll get you on your way as soon as we're able. But...” She took on a more apologetic expression. “I hope you'll understand we can't do it just yet. It's just that we can't abandon our post here with all those monsters running unchecked out there. We might work for ourselves, but we have to think of the people nearby as well. It could be a month or two before we next leave for town, perhaps even three.” She idly folded her arms across her chest. “I'm sorry.”

Flynn smiled weakly. “It's ok, really. I know you can't abandon your duty just for the sake of speeding things along for my own benefit. Anyway, I've been at this for the better part of two decades. I think I can wait a few more weeks.”

“Maybe this way I'll be declared dead for sure and manage to disappear from sight completely.”

As much as he wanted to continue his search, he understood the Hunter's plight. Neither of them had asked for him to turn up when he did. In truth, he was thankful they hadn't simply left him there to die. It would certainly have been easier than taking him in and caring for him.

“Besides...” He continued “...I could use the time to gather my wits and get my strength back. And I'd be more than happy to help you out until I leave. I couldn't stay here and do nothing after all you've done for me.”

“Any time.” She paused, looking back into the darkness before them, speaking again after a few long moments. “You know, if things don't work out for you, you'd be more than welcome to stay here.” She cut in before Flynn could answer. “Not that I don't hope you find your friend. But...just know that if you ever need somewhere to go, you'd be more than welcome to join us here.”

“Don't worry, I understand...thanks.”

They continued to stand there for a while, listening, hearing nothing but the low rumbling of the wind as it blew all around them and past the buildings.

Vlanna yawned and stretched. “You know what? Nothing's happening out here. You've done enough for one night, all recent things considered, so why don't you come back inside and get some sleep?” She turned back to the house, looking at Flynn. From the look on her face he could see the late hour was no doubt finally getting to her.
“We'll head out tomorrow and see what's going on further afield. If we run into any trouble, I'd prefer to have someone with your experience wide awake if we do. Besides, there'll be other nights for you to stand watch anyway.”

Flynn was about to insist he stay on watch, despite the sense of her words and the feeling of exhaustion creeping into his muscles, when he heard a gentle whispering in his ear urging him to rest along with the strange feeling of almost being lulled to sleep.

“Go. Give yourself a break and just get some rest... Please.”

He looked back at Vlanna, waiting for him to follow. “Alright then. Sounds like a...” He was cut off as a yawn forced its way out. “...plan.”

Taking a few moments to unstiffen his legs after standing about in the cold for so long, he followed Vlanna back into the house. All was quiet, the others obviously having retired hours before.
Vlanna stepped into the sitting room and placed a guard in front of the fireplace, the fire within still continuing to burn, albeit less brightly than before. She watched as Flynn bolted the door and locked it in place.

“Don't worry if you wake up early. The sooner we set off, the better.” She stopped to tidy away some items left on the tabletop. “Well...good-night anyway.”

Flynn retired to his room and shut the door behind him, resting his shotgun at the foot of the bed before flopping down onto it. He barely heard Vlanna's footsteps moving up the hall and entering her own room before he fell asleep. And when he did, he saw her there again, his guardian angel. Watching, protecting, comforting. He hoped he would one day get to meet his mysterious protector and thank her for all she had done. If she was real...

Little did he know she was the very same woman he had been searching for.

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In another far-flung region of the planet, Claire was watching him from deep within the Esper Mansion's Inner Sanctum. As the day was drawing to a close for her, she prepared to begin another shift within the Mansion's most sacred chambers. The past few days had been terrifying for both her and Flynn, that she knew. But now he had found shelter with the trio of Hunters, he was out of harm's way. She allowed a small smile to creep onto her face.

“With a bit of help from me.”

She was thankful for at least having enough time to see him off, even going so far as to soothe him so he would go and get some sleep for his own sake. She could feel it, his weariness and exhaustion. Utterly unbearable even just for her to feel it. She was just glad he now had a chance to regain his strength before moving on, even if it meant he'd no longer be able to see her for a while.

“One day, when the time's right. Then I'll reveal myself to him.”

And if she was right, that day was now only a matter of months away.
A knock followed by a muffled voice from the other side of her room door brought her out of her thoughts.

“Claire. Your shift is due to begin soon.”

“I'll be right there. Just a moment.” She raised her voice to be heard through the door.

Taking her cloak from its place draped over a nearby chair, she hung it over her shoulders and fixed the clasp in place, taking a moment to smooth her robes out before heading out into the Inner Sanctum proper and begin her shift.

“Flynn...take care. I'll see you again soon.”
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