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PostPosted: Wed Apr 4, '12, 1:44 am
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A Disturbing Reality

As the biomonster outbreak didn't stop and, in fact, increased with the time, the hunters became more and more valued inside Motavian society. The outbreak helped making them more powerful too. Anna was hardly worried about power and money that she didn't even notice that the hunter fees skyrocketed in a few months. These changes, though, disturbed the fragile equilibrium of Motavian society. The government was weak and depended on the nameless hunters who volunteered to fight the biomonsters. However, many armed people with economic power and government's approval roaming around was a big problem to everyone. It took Anna some time to be aware of what was happening among part of the hunters, but the peace was not being disturbed only by the biomonsters anymore.

One day, after taking a hunting mission near a country village some miles away from Zema, Anna ended spending more time than she had predicted before. The mission was not a hard one, but she had to deal with hundreds of locustas. The central agency had listed the mission among the missions fit for groups of hunters, but Anna insisted on taking it alone. She was already known for taking group missions alone and her fellow hunters thought it was because she was greedy. In fact, she could not care less about the money; she took those missions to test her agility and ambush skills. The current one was not an exception, and the high number of locustas provided her room to test her skills for a long time.

Arriving there, Anna realized that the group of locustas was far larger than the amount previously reported, but she knew it didn't represent an extra danger for her. She was accustomed to fight that kind of monster. The opportunity was perfect for her to test her agility and train some ambush techniques. Anna was trying to master the ability of attacking before being noticed by her opponents. It was very hard to be able to surprise biomonsters, which usually had sharper senses than humans did, so Anna had to practice very hard to master the stealth skill. It meant for her that, the more locustas, the better. In the end, she was more pleased than worried with the fact that the group of locustas was larger than she expected.

After spending hours trying different approaches to eliminate small parts of the group, Anna realized that the night was already very advanced, so, as soon as she finished the last members of the biomonster group, she directed herself to the village, looking for the inn where she intended spending the night. She was feeling very tired from exhaustive hunting and she could easily afford a simple room to rest her weary bones before going back to Zema. As she entered the village, she noticed that people were behaving in a strange fashion. Some few passersby seemed to avoid her presence. One woman by the window of one of the houses shut the blinds violently as soon as Anna caught a glimpse of her. Another man, who she had never met before, yelled some bad words at her. People in the pub were suspicious about her presence and stared at her with a threatening look as she crossed the sidewalk in front of it.

Anna was completely at loss about what was happening in that village; she had never been there before and she didn't know anyone who lived there. Why would they treat her so harshly? Could it be possible that someone in the village knew her? But, even so, there would make no sense for everybody hate her and treat her harshly out of nowhere. After all, she had just eliminated a large group of locustas that could have posed a threat to the village if it had moved towards it. Not even the people she treated in a cold manner reacted so harshly at her for nothing. Though perplexed, Anna tried to ignore it and headed to the inn.

Arriving at the small building, Anna noticed that, despite the advanced hour, there was a light turned on, so she climbed the doorsteps and rung the bell. She waited patiently for some minutes, but there was no answer, so she tried again. No answer. Thinking the electronic bell could be broken, she knocked at the door, first lightly and then more vigorously. After some minutes, a man opened a small window near the front gate and shouted at Anna. "Go away! We don't admit hunters here!"

Anna was confused and asked. "Why not?"

"Why not?" The man acted as if her question had been an insult. "You must have a very crooked sense of humor. No one wants you here! Get out of this town!"

The man slammed the window, leaving Anna bewildered. Why were they treating her like that? Just because she was a hunter? Anna was not even considering that they were being unfair to her, who had never done anything wrong to them, but just the fact of the people from that village being openly hostile to hunters was something she could not understand. Usually, people treated the hunters fairly; some even considered them government agents and treated them better than a common citizen. With nothing left to do, the blonde hunter had to walk back home in the middle of the night, feeling very tired, and risking being attacked by roaming monsters. It was not a real problem for Anna, who dispatched all the biomonsters she had found on her way home easily. However, this new fact was something to occupy her thoughts in the gaps her scarred mind provided her without any traumatic event scene being randomly repeated just to torture her.

Anna arrived home just a couple of hours before dawn, but despite the weariness, she couldn't sleep for too long. The hunter was not used to sleep a lot, but that night she could only get a couple of hours of sleep, so affected she was by the last time events. The girl couldn't easily explain why she was so touched by something that she would generally ignore, but that should have something to do with her intuition. That hateful feeling Anna could not understand, but which deeply affected her sometimes, compelling her to do things that had not logical sense. Why should she worry about a small village whose inhabitants rejected her presence when she would never return there anymore? Why should she lose her sleep over a group of people who didn't like the hunters? Maybe she had become too proud of her position as a hunter to accept rejection. Maybe she had grown used to the kindness of the strangers, even when she did nothing to deserve it. Maybe she was more emotive than the usual and the harsh treatment had hurt her. Anyway, regardless of the reason, she was so troubled by what happened that she jumped early from bed and, instead of going to the central agency to collect her reward for the accomplished mission, she paid a visit to the library, aiming to find something that would explain what had just happened to her.

Anna arrived at the building she visited often during her free time, but this time she was not looking for any particular book; she went straight to the terminal to search for news that could explain the villagers' aggressive behavior against her. After some minutes browsing the news, Anna had not found anything relevant. Most of the daily electronic news editions had nothing meaningful, and Anna started to wonder whether her search would be useful. Her first impression was that, judging by the news, people from the village was generally vain and stupid, for most of the news consisted of unimportant and frivolous things. The news editor probably was a delusional wannabe-comedian who filled the pages with futilities, curiosities and absurdities just to hide from the plain truth: nothing happened at the village.

When the blonde hunter was about to give up her search, she noticed some recent news about unsolved crimes in that village. The crimes included blackmailing, beatings, rapes and arson. At first, the officers didn't make any connection between the crimes, but when they became recurrent, even the dumbest investigator would realize there was a gang acting in the village. After a couple of months, the gang was eventually arrested, but something about the gang left Anna stupefied; all the gang members were identified as hunters. It was inadmissible; hunters should protect the citizens, not harm them. Moreover, it explained why the people from that village treated her so badly. Although she knew they were being unfair because they were generalizing all the hunters as evil people, she could understand their behavior; the gang had killed five villagers before the military arrested them.

Reality struck in Anna's mind leaving her disconcerted. Her efforts to avoid people, trying to pretend that nothing of her concern would happen if she didn't connect with people, were completely useless. She was utterly mistaken in her theory. There were people suffering, dying, being treated unfairly all around. There were crimes and atrocities being committed. The fact that she was not aware of them at the time they happened didn't mean they were not happening and it didn't mean she would not be aware of them later, making her suffer. It was exactly what was just happening.

No, she was being a failure as a hunter, a protector of people. She had to participate, to pay attention to what was happening outside her shell. She could have prevented those deaths, had she known the situation at that time. Although she was not a military anymore, she still had her oath of protecting people and justice fresh in her mind, and trying to live outside of the society was not helping her in her intent. She had become an egoistic loner, thinking only about her well-being. She had become one of those lazy people she loathed, those people who, since the advent of the Mother Brain, had become parasites of the society, doing nothing, caring about nothing else other than their own interests. One of those hateful people who see the world crumbling outside their window and shrug off, as long as his little own world remains unaffected. One of those cynical people who consider themselves good, but pay no heed to the suffering of the others. A good person will not stay impassive to another's suffering. The world had too many hypocrites who see a hungry homeless on TV and say someone should do something about them, but who yell at the hungry homeless who disturbs their peace to ask for food. Anna didn't want to be another one. It was time for another change. Although she was not willing to become extroverted and friendly to everyone she meet, she would at least keep a wary eye on what was happening outside, ready to act when needed.

After her resolution, her life didn't change considerably in the subsequent days. Anna was still hunting biomonsters and leading a quiet and lonely life. Although she was paying attention to what was happening by reading the news and listening to other people's talking, nothing seemed to be happening apart from the already unusual biomonster outbreak. Occasionally, she would hear some people complaining about some bossy hunters, who started acting like authorities and even committing some misdemeanors, usually related to abuse of power, but she had never seen anything.

However, as the time passed, the complaints started to increase. By following the news, Anna learned that the criminality was widespread in the minor villages and small bands of hunters turned into criminal organizations, committing crimes and spreading the terror in those small villages or poor and isolated neighborhoods of the larger towns. Assaults, batteries, rapes and even murders started popping out on the news with a higher frequency, sometimes associated with hunters turned into rogues. The once relatively peaceful Motavia had become a dangerous place to live. Not only the biomonsters kept spreading, overrunning small villages, and forcing people to gather inside the larger cities, but also the government lost the control over the crime. The blonde hunter was deeply worried with the crime escalation and somewhat regretted leaving the military, but she was very busy hunting biomonsters that she didn't have the time to get involved with this new social problem.

One day, though, the problem came to her. While resting in an inn in the outskirts of Piata after a long hunt, Anna heard some faint cries in the distance. Usually she would dismiss it as a drunken guys brawl, but, as the cries didn't stop, she decided to investigate what was happening. Ignoring the fact that she was wearing a nightgown and ready to sleep, she grabbed her boomerangs and left her room in the inn, walking towards the place from where the cries were coming from.

As she walked through the empty streets, the cries became more distinguished and, although she couldn't make sense of what was being said, she was able to distinguish between the angry yells of some men and the desperate cries of what seemed to be a young teenager, given his voice. Her heart started racing madly on her chest; if the situation demanded her action, it would be the first time in months that she would confront humans, and she couldn't help remembering the last time she had confronted human foes. The memories made her feel fear. Fear that the outcome would be the same as the last time. Fear than she would be paralyzed, unable to prevent the death of an innocent.

Anna knew it was a crucial moment in her life; either she would be able to overcome her fears or she would be destined to a tragic future, always tormented by her own ghosts, filled with regret for what could have been, had she been a bit stronger. Moreover, if she failed, all her life had been a waste. She sought to be a soldier, a protector of people. She knew nothing else in her life. And, if she realized she was unable to perform the activities she struggled so hard to excel, her life would have come to a dead end.

This time, though, she was ready and confident about her skills. Be it a group of two or ten foes, she knew she was able to, at least, confront them. There was no reason for hesitation; if she wanted to be able to save whoever was in danger, she had to run. And she started running through the dark alleys, following the direction of the screams. The faceless heroine, creeping from the shadows, taking down the enemies and disappearing in the shadows again. Oh, that would be perfect. It sounded almost romantic, almost epic, like a cartoon superhero. The only difference is that Anna didn't care about living a common life, disguised in a secret identity, secretly longing for recognition, friendships and romance. Anna would be only Anna Zirski, during the day or during the night, under the scorching sun or torrential showers. A heroine for all seasons. Yet, just a common girl, who returned to the most boring and reclusive life when not in action, because she was just a boring and reclusive girl. Yes, it would be perfect.

So why were her legs faltering? Why was she hesitating? Why were her arms shaking? Why was she almost fainting? Why was her own mind betraying her, bringing back a deafening maniacal laughter to her ears, the gruesome images of her best friend's head exploding to her eyes? Why was she always her greatest enemy? The one who would frustrate any high hopes she had developed. The one who would throw all her plans down the gutter. The one who would lead her straight to the greatest horrors no sane person would like to face. She wasn't a masochist, but yet, her mind would always work against her, robbing her strength when she most needed it, making the always stoic and self-controlled vicious fighter become a weak and fragile girl, paralyzed with fear, crying like a baby, unable to act. Like a damsel in distress, waiting from her might prince to come and save her. Or like the girly wife who makes a scandal over a mere bug that crept inside the kitchen. But there was no fearless husband to kill the bug for her. There was no might prince to save her. Whom she was expecting to save her? God? No, he wouldn't do that. Because she knew God was not a magical entity who would close his eyes to her sins when it was convenient to her and bless her with miracles when she most needed it. There would be no escape, but on herself. God had provided her with skills, natural talent and intelligence enough to face that kind of situation; the rest was up to her. It was up to her and she would have to fight against herself, in a struggle much more dangerous than the struggle she would have against her foes.

Fighting with all her forces against the fear that tried to dominate her, Anna finally reached the end of a dark alley, from where she was able to see the scene she had been hearing before. Although her hesitation cost her some seconds, she arrived while the upheaval was still on course. There were four armed men surrounding a boy, who was not older than 15. The boy was lying on the asphalt and pleading for help, while the men threatened him and occasionally punched him. Anna heard part of the discussion from the spot where she was hiding.

"We trusted you, lent you money and you didn't pay us. Yet, we forgave you. You promised us your cousin as a payment, but we have never seen the girl. Yet, we gave you another chance. Now, you tried to betray us. Who is the villain here? Me? Now you will have to pay!" One of the men yelled at the boy and then kicked him in the ribs.

"Ouch! Please, give me a chance! A discount!" The boy begged, while contorted his body, in pain.

"Shut up!" Another man kicked his head and all the four men started beating the boy, who pleaded for help.

"We have already given you many chances, scoundrel! No more chances for you! Yet, I'm feeling generous today and I'll grant your discount. I'll stop torturing you and will give you a bullet in the head to finish your suffering." The man triggered his rifle and aimed at the center of the boy's head.

Anna, who was analyzing the situation, realized that the men were hunters, acting like a gang. For the first time she was facing the situation she had read and heard about sometimes: hunters who turned into criminals. Hidden in the shadows, the hunter was facing a great dilemma while the tragic scene unfolded before her eyes. She was unsure if she should get involved with the crime spree because she knew she would not stop until she was sure every evil hunter had been brought to justice. Her humanity, however, solved the dilemma for her. Her days as a hunter would not last long.

The man who aimed at the boy's head was ready to pull the trigger. He didn't seem moved by what he was about to do. His companions seemed to be used to killing people, so they didn't even look anxious. Only the boy was in shock, with despair evident in his eyes. However, instead of the expected shot, everybody was surprised with a head rolling on the ground and a headless body collapsing, squirting blood like a fountain. The scene stunned the men and it took them some seconds to understand what had happened. The boy was also shocked to see the man who would execute him miraculously decapitated. It was so unexpected that none of the men saw the slasher flying back.

Before the men completely recovered from the shocking scene, a strange presence shook their emotions again. Someone appeared, coming out of the darkness of a non-illuminated alley. The image of the blonde woman holding two slashers, one of them covered with blood, was something they had never anticipated. As their minds were confused, their instincts screamed louder and, in a few moments, all the three men had taken their guns, but they were surprised again. This time, it was the inhuman agility of the girl, who ran, took sudden twists and turns, crouched and jumped, avoiding all the bullets they shot who made them feel desperate. More impressive than that, at the same time, the girl attacked them with her slashers and retrieved them, sometimes intercepting them on the air in another position of their trajectory. Though her aim was not perfect between all those movements, she managed to score some minor blows that hurt them.

The boy, still lying on the floor, watched the action scene unfold amazed. It didn't look real and he questioned if he was dreaming, but it was real. A horrific scream was heard and then one of the hunters fell on the floor, with both legs severed in the ankles. Anna's extensive training against the biomonsters proved to be fruitful; it would take a master of firearms to target her, and the rogue hunters were no genius in shooting. Soon, another man fell, with his right arm severed. The last one, in despair, had a better luck; a chest wound killed him almost instantly.

Terrorized, the boy cringed when Anna finished dealing with the hunters and turned her attention to him. Leaving the remaining hunters bleeding to death, she crouched beside the boy, worried about his state.

"Are you ok?"

"They… they have broken my leg…" The boy's voice was shaking and he could barely speak.

"Do you live near here?" Anna asked harshly, scaring the boy.

"Ye… yeah…" The boy stuttered.

"Don't worry, I'll take you home." Anna caught the boy in her arms and started carrying him away from the confront scene.

The young boy was impressed by her strength because, judging by her looks, she didn't not seem to be strong enough to carry him in her arms with ease. She was a just a teenager, not much older than him. Yet, she fought like a superhero and, had he been a few years younger, he would have seriously considered that possibility. He thanked Anna and asked her some questions, but she ignored them all, saying she was nobody and ordering him to shut his mouth. The boy, who had just had the privilege of watching the unbelievable fighting skills of the girl, decided it was wise to comply with her request and not make her angry, so the rest of the short trip was made in silence.

As Anna arrived at their destination, she rung the bell and waited. A middle-aged woman appeared in the front door and couldn't hide her surprise and confusion in seeing a stranger carrying her son in her arms. Both had bloodstained clothes. The woman immediately called her husband and started asking Anna questions, but the hunter acted as if they were two ghosts. She went straight to the couch, left the injured boy lying there, commented nonchalantly that he should be taken to the hospital and turned away. The boy's parents were very confused and tried to hold Anna there until she had explained what had happened, but the hunter yelled at them to leave her alone and pushed them out of her way. The couple was left bewildered by the sudden appearance of the blonde teenager, wearing a bloodstained nightgown, carrying their injured son and leaving in the shadows, like a ghost, without saying anything.

The blonde hunter went back to the inn where she had rented a room. Though she was aware she had been unnecessarily rude to the boy's parents, she did so because she wanted to avoid stranger's scrutiny and, above all, being rewarded for her actions. In her mind, she had done nothing else than her duty, which was to protect innocent people from harm. She was certain the boy's parents would not be able to accept her view, so she had to be rude. Besides, she knew that, after an initial shock, the couple would be thankful of having their son alive and they would soon forget her. Moreover, Anna was at ease. For the first time in weeks, she was, in fact, content. She had proven she was still capable of facing great dangers and fighting men. She had proven to herself all her life had not been a waste. As for the hunters, though the thought of leaving the injured ones to die was disturbing, Anna didn't really care, for, in her mind, the outcome was just. They had what they asked for. Had they not turned into crime, they would be alive. In addition, it would also serve as a warning to other criminals that there were people willingly to bring them to justice.

Anna was so satisfied in saving one life that she started feeling instinctively that her days hunting biomonsters were near an end. Although she didn't have made any plans to change jobs, she was certain that hunting criminals and saving people's lives was much more rewarding than hunting biomonsters. Nevertheless, as she had decided not to make any plans for the future, the only plan she had in mind was to wash away the blood from her body and clothes, and get a well-deserved rest for the remainder of the night. She slept happy, assured that, at least for that family, her existence had meant something good. And there was nothing better for her than to know she was still able to live a full life, with professional achievements, personal fulfillment and, as a distant dream, even some happiness.
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