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PostPosted: Wed Apr 4, '12, 1:51 am
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Anna woke up early the following day. She wanted to make most of her hunting time in order to finish that mission as soon as possible. In fact, it was not really a mission and she had no obligations with the central agency, the government or the village itself. But she had the moral obligation of protect the helpless villagers from the Armorant menace, so she wanted to finish her task before any reckless or foolish villager exposed himself or herself to an attack. As she predicted, the number of ants was far higher than when she left the fields the night before because she knew the ants had laid many eggs on the previous days that generated new ants. If not eliminated quickly, they would keep on breeding.

To her lucky, though, the young Armorants were more fragile and clumsy than the olders, often packed in groups. It was the perfect scenario for Anna. She attacked groups steadly with both slashers and didn't have much trouble eliminating most of the visible ants before noon. After a light lunch and a brief rest, the blonde hunter resumed her hunt, looking for hidden monsters and nests near the village. After an extensive search, Anna decided her hunt was over and returned to the village one hour before the sunset. She had to stay on guard for one extra day, waiting for new ants that could surface from hidden nests or buried eggs. But the hunt was mostly over and the next day was reserved for leisure. Obviously, for the loner teenage, a leisure day didn't mean much, as she had almost no interest in the common leisure activities.

While returning to the inn, Anna didn't know that she was returning from the last hunting mission of her life. Although she would fight many biomonsters in the future, the monster killings would be only a minor part of most important missions, a way to clear the monster-infested paths that lead her to her destinations. Her life was about to change again, exactly like in the past, through an unexpected event. The difference was that Anna was so used to it that she didn't bother anymore making plans for the future, so the psychological impact of this change would be minimal.

Unaware of what was about to happen, Anna arrived at the inn, took a shower, and dressed in a fashionable manner. She planned to fulfill her promise to the young waiter of the restaurant where she dinned the day before. As it was still early, Anna opted to spend some time at the inn hall, reading the news of the day in the datapad. As a coincidence, there was an article where one of the directors of the Motavian Defence Ministry member criticized the hunters, arguing that they were mostly ineffective in eliminating the biomonster threat, as both the number of hunter and the number of biomonster attacks kept rising. The man also criticized the lack of control over the activity, denouncing that, not only hunters turned into criminals, but also criminals turned into hunters to hide their illegal activities from scrutiny, as the government had almost given carte-blanche for the hunters to operate. Though the article was inflammatory, the accusation should have its legs. Anna herself had never been formally questioned about her actions; not even about the murder of the evil hunters. She knew she would be acquitted of the charges, but they didn't even start an investigation about it when the family of the attacked boy told the police that it was a hunter who saved the life of their child.

Dismissing the thoughts about violence, Anna left for the restaurant, not knowing that she would remember a lot about that article in the days to come. She wanted to have a peaceful evening. Arriving there, it was no surprise for her to see the eyes of the young waiter shine when they met hers. It felt like reenacting the previous day. The blonde hunter ordered some food and accepted the young waiter's flirtation during her stay, which lasted much longer than her dinner. She had a pleasant evening, chatting with the young man, sharing a good company, and even laughing a bit. She was very satisfied in having a night like any other regular girl would like to have, for a change.

Only at that moment, Anna realized that she had lost her adolescence between tragedies and military training. If sometime in the future Anna had the opportunity to have a regular life and become friends with other women, she was certain she would be the only one to not have any exciting story to tell; any dreamy relationship to account for; any passionate retelling of a run-of-the-mill story loaded with nostalgia. What would she have to tell? How striking was the experience of hearing and seeing her parents and siblings being murdered in front of her eyes? How arousing was to suffer a rape and murder attempt by the same rogues who murdered her family, and barely escaping? How delightful it was to kill the man who was trying to assault her friend? How enriching was the experience of surviving in the slums, alone, when she was just 13 years old, dealing with the dredges of the society? How heroically she successfully ambushed a crime lord and fatally stabbed him? How pleasurable it was to kill bandits during military missions? How thrilling it was to see her best friends being murdered in front of her eyes? How unique was the experience of being bitten by scorpions and left to die? How exhilarating was the experience of fighting and killing four rogues? No, she would not have any story to tell. She would not have any prom party to talk about, any forbidden adventure with a teenage boyfriend to tell, any complex girlish plot with her teenage friends to achieve a very important thing, like throwing a big unauthorized party or helping one of the girls to get along with the high-school hottie. She would be an outsider in the girls' talk, like an introspective teenage boy, listening to it and regretting not being able to take part in those apparently silly activities, which made all the difference between a happy and a sad adolescence.

And that was the crucial point for Anna. Arguably, her teenage days, which were almost over, had been much richer and more important than the average girl's adolescence. Her stories were certainly deeper and helped shaping her character much more than any common teenager story; she was obviously more mature and wiser than most of the girls of her age. But, while most of the adults remembered their teenage days with joy, Anna would always remember her adolescence with sorrow, anger and regret. Everything she had ever had was lost. Everyone she had ever loved was murdered. Behind the cool and strong woman, there was a sad girl, whose cycle of ordeals, frustrations and depression seemed unending.

These thoughts ruined Anna's pleasant night. Fortunately, for her, the boy never realized she had lost interest in the conversation, so excited he was with the prospects of having the attention of a pretty and attractive woman as she was. At least she would not hurt him on purpose; she had already told him she would leave the city in the following day and the boy, despite showing a bit of frustration, seemed to be resigned. And it was better, she thought. She didn't want to hurt him. Of course, it is always good for a person's ego to learn someone is falling for him or her, but Anna was not the kind of girl who would encourage the boys flirting just to massage her ego, not caring about the consequences of her act. She knew it hurt to be used, to be driven to act like a fool. Her empathy worked very well when she allowed it.

After entertaining the waiter and letting him entertain her, Anna left the restaurant and went back to the inn. She had always been an introspective person and her mood was more introspective than the usual, thinking a bit about her future. She was trying to make up her mind and change a bit her ways with people in general. The hardened shell encasing her heart was somewhat effective in protecting her from external sources of sorrow, but it also hindered her from pleasures and happiness. Besides, it was completely useless against the sorrows that came from inside. She could not give a damn about the others, but she could not hide from herself, she could not shun her desires, hopes, wishes and dreams forever. Something surely had to change. Gradually, because she was wise enough to know that radical changes usually don't survive the test of time, and often lead the person to failures and deception. Her life had everything to be long; she had time enough to cautiously steer her ship, trying to find her way out of the mist, into the light. There was no need to hurry and act recklessly, crashing her ship on the first dangerous obstacle and sinking into the oblivion. But she had to steer her course, for she realized she was sailing directly to the edge of the plain world, to the point of no return. And she knew she would have to do it on her own; there would be no lighthouse guiding her to safety. Well, there was someone who always guided her to safety, but she ignored Him. Most of the time, Anna was blind to the light her God shone on her path, and she was aware of that. However, she considered herself beyond salvation, for all the wrongdoings and crimes she had committed, so religion stopped playing an important role in her life.

It took her quite a while to finally let her thoughts fade into dreams, but she felt relieved when it happened. She was a strong woman and had proven to herself that she could change, she could still be saved. Not for her God anymore, but for herself, whose main goal was to leave a honest and ordinary life. It is what gave her strength to wake up on the following day and return to her duties as a hunter. She spent most of the day in an extensive search for Armorants, but she could find none. So, she considered her personal mission accomplished, returned to the inn, packed her things and returned to Zema, satisfied with the outcome of her hunt.

After an eventless night, dedicated to resting, Anna used the morning of the following day to common activities, such as paying a visit to the grocery store and to the bank. After cooking her lunch and eating it, the blonde hunter put on her hunter attire and left to pay a visit to the central agency. Anna was not looking for a mission, for she had more money than it was needed. She was not planning to take a mission like the last one either, as she wanted some days off, in order to set her mind straight for the next challenge. However, there was no better place to gather information about the biomonster activity in Motavia. Moreover, though willingly to rest, she would always promptly overlook her own needs if there was a dangerous situation where her presence was needed.

Nonetheless, that was not the case, and, after a brief chatting, Anna left the central agency. Something, though, had made her feel uneasy. She noticed two or three unknown hunters staring angrily at her. She didn't remember very well, but she had the impression that they were the same hunters she had caught staring angrily at her before. She was completely at loss about why those men were looking at her; probably they had mistaken her for someone else, although she had never seen or heard about another teenage blue-eyed blonde hunter. And she was sure that, if such a hunter existed, she would have heard about her, as Anna was famous among the hunters for her attractiveness. Had not she been so strong-minded and cold, to the point of being antisocial and even impolite to her fellow hunters, they would not give her any rest with their constant flirtation.

Trying to not think about the last incident, Anna was walking back home, with her mind absorbed in other thoughts. She was walking on the sidewalk of a large park in the resort town, but the high steel walls didn't let her enjoy the beautiful scenery. There were few people passing by. Suddenly, something unexpected happened. Anna felt a strong impact in her left shoulder and rolled on the floor, in order to regain balance. As she looked back, there was a group of three men looking at her, one of them with a rifle pointed at her. The other man yelled at him.

"Damn, you fool! I've told you to aim at the head! What are you waiting for? Shoot again! Kill her!"

The blonde hunter, still a bit stunned, didn't have time to stop and try to figure out what was happening. Her life was in danger, so she let her survival instinct dictate her next movements. Had not her carbon vest deflected the shot, preventing the bullet from perforating her body, she would have a mortal wound. Before the man who had shot her fired a second round, she was already climbing the wall beside her, making the second shot miss her completely.

As Anna broke into the park, hiding herself behind the steel wall, she heard some people screaming; probably the passersby, frightened. She also heard the same man yell at his companion. "Idiot! You ruined everything! Surely she had recognized us! Now we are screwed!"

"What should we do?" Anna heard another distressed male voice yelling. The voice seemed to come straight from the position Anna was, except it came from the other side of the wall.

"Let's track her down and kill her! We can't let her escape again!"

The words of the man, who seemed to be the leader of the group, shocked Anna. She sat on the grass and started musing about what had just been said. If he said they couldn't let her escape again, it meant that those men knew her very well. However, she had no idea of who those people could be. She knew they were the men who stared at her angrily at the agency, but she didn't remember seeing them before. Why would they want to see her dead? She didn't have any sworn enemies. If she had not been friendly towards her fellow hunters, she never been mean to them. In fact, once she had, but she eliminated the whole group that attacked an innocent boy. Could it be that these men were part of the group, and were seeking vengeance over the deaths of the other members of the gang? It was a possibility, but it didn't satisfy the condition that she was escaping them again. She had never been chased or threatened after killing those men. Even if they were chasing her secretly, it would make no sense for them to attack her inside the city, with lots of passersby as witnesses, when they could have attacked her during her solitary journeys to the countryside. No, it made no sense. Who else could it be?

Anna heard the cries of men cursing that they were not able to climb up the wall, like Anna had done with ease. It broke the trance she was in. The girl shook her head. There was no time to lose wondering who could be trying to kill her because, if they succeeded, there would not be any difference for her dead corpse. She had to protect herself from the threat, and, to the courageous hunter, it meant fighting the ones who were posing a threat to her life. She was confident that she could win, and she didn't hesitate anymore.

The thrill of the chase made her take reckless decisions, and she climbed the wall back, not considering that she would be vulnerable for some crucial seconds before she could recover her balance over the wall and draw her slashers to attack the rogues who were trying to kill her. As Anna climbed the wall, she was some yards away from the place the rogues were trying to climb, so she had the time she needed to throw one of her slashers, wounding the arm of one of the rogues, and retrieve it, before jumping back inside the park.

"Damned girl!" The leader of the group yelled while his companion complained about pain. "We must catch her and make her suffer unimaginable pains!"

"Leave her! Soon the police will arrive here and I don't want to be arrested!" The other uninjured man yelled back, defying the leader.

"Coward! If we let her go, she will denounce us and we will be arrested anyway! We must kill that little brat, otherwise she will open her mouth and we will be condemned for all those murders. Is it what you want?" The leader answered assured that his argument would end the discussion.

"I'm dying." The wounded man moaned.

"Shut up, it is just a deep cut. Wrap your arm with your shirt and let's chase the little devil!"

The leader had just started giving orders, when they heard a loud scream. Anna climbed up the wall once again, madly, and before they could react, she jumped to the other side, throwing a slasher towards the leader of the group. The slasher spun in an insane speed, hitting the gang leader in his back, and drilling a hole through his torso, exiting from his chest. The man staggered and fell on the floor, over the pool of blood his wound was already forming through the severed arteries and heart. The other two men hesitated before discharging their guns on the hunter. Anna, though, was very experienced and ran like mad, circling the two rogues while occasionally throwing one slasher towards them.

Her quick movements were maddening, making the two rogues more and more furious each moment. Not only all their shots missed, but also her occasional blows hurt, making them more and more desperate. They had nothing to do; the blonde ghost avoided every bullet. The shock and the loss of blood made both rogues minds wander; Anna had become a supernatural entity, immortal, impossible to harm, determined to kill them. Both men regretted following the suggestion of their leader, who was blessed with a quick death. Though they tried different timing and aim positions, every bullet missed the blonde ghost, who dodged each one of them as if she could see their trajectory or if her body was involved in a magnetic field that naturally repelled the lead bullets. After a few minutes, when Anna was starting to feel tired, she decided to aim at vital spots of both rogues. Given her skill, death came swiftly for them.

As soon as the fight was finished, Anna crouched on the floor, gasping for breath. She was exhausted from the frenetic rhythm she had imposed to the battle, but she was safe. She had been cowardly shot in the back, but recovered and managed to overcome the three mysterious rogues. Despite of her tiredness, Anna decided to flee the shootout scene; she did not want to be seen there. Although the hunter knew she acted in legitimate self-defense, she wanted to avoid being associated with the murders of the hunters. The first reason was that she was never comfortable with the idea of killing people, even if her body count was above ten and some of her actions were deliberate, like aiming at non-vital spots of the two rogues she had just killed in order to make them suffer. In the heat of the moment, Anna took some decisions she considered wrong, and later she questioned herself a lot, grieving her mistakes. The other reason was that she would attract unwanted attention; she didn't want rewards, she didn't want more enemies.

Talking about enemies, as she left for her room in the inn, she could not stop thinking about the words the rogues have said after attacking her. They surely knew her from before, but she had no idea of who they were. Thinking about the hints they had given, it lead Anna to some possibilities. The first was the possibility she had dismissed moments ago. Though it still seemed unlikely, there was always the possibility that the men of the group thought she knew about other murders they may have eventually committed. But this alternative had much ifs to Anna's rational mind.

The other possible murderers she had met before were the murderers of her family; the members of the gang whose leader she had murdered or someone she had arrested while in military. She discarded the other possibility that came to her mind, Lizzie murderers, because she was certain she had not been seen, otherwise she would share the same fate of her best friend. But, as much as Anna thought, she was not able to come to a conclusion, and probably she would never know who were those guys. Moreover, she didn't care too much.

Anna had another thing about the incident in her mind. Something that would change her life. That would be the first time, however, that Anna would take the decision intentionally, after much thinking. She had been sent to an orphanage after her family was murdered. She had been thrown in the streets after killing the man that was assaulting her friend, who was also the orphanage owner's lover. She had enrolled the military academy to hide from the police and from the criminals seeking vengeance against her after she murdered the gang lord. She had left the academy after the traumatic experience of having everyone she loved murdered in an ambush. Now, she had decided her days as a hunter were over, but her decision was not taken in the heat of the moment. The murder attempt she suffered was just the last straw that prompted Anna to her ultimate decision of quitting the hunter job. Monsters kept bursting out, but there were many skilled hunters in charge of eliminating them and protecting the population. What about the crime spree? No one was doing anything about it. As if it was not enough to have the common criminals using the mess created by the monsters to commit more crimes and go unpunished, now Motavia had hunters turned into criminals and criminals turned into hunters. Something was very wrong in Motavian society and Anna was tired of being just a passive spectator. She had to do something and she would do something.

After a few days of the incident with the hunters, Anna left her room early in the morning to look for a new job. By that time, her shoulder injury had healed completely and her incident had became old news, so she was safe to go out. Her fight against the hunters had witnesses and, for a few days, many people had kept a wary eye for any suspect that matched the description given by the witnesses. Then, new incidents and the sensationalist press' hunger for shocking news made the whole affair become a cold case, and most people in Zema didn't even remember about the incident after a week. Anna had become just a nameless and faceless member of the crowd, exactly the way she wanted to be.

The ex-hunter still fiddled with the idea of becoming the mysterious heroine, who would protect every Motavian citizen by coming out of the shadows, dealing with the criminals quickly, and returning back to the shadows with her mission accomplished. But it was just a foolish dream and she knew it. In all those months as a hunter, she had had just one opportunity to be the heroine she dreamed to be. Meanwhile, a thousand of new gangs had surfaced, so her effectiveness had been null. Besides, if she wanted to become a bounty hunter, she'd act illegally; bounty hunting was outlawed in Motavia.

There was only one way. She had to return to the military. But the prospects were bad. Although she was certain she would be readmitted, as her military record was still impressive, especially considering she was not yet 18, the minimum age for an officer, she didn't want to have her actions constrained by the strict military rules. Besides, returning there brought back memories she tried very hard to suppress from her mind. She loved the freedom she obtained by being a hunter. The perfect job for her would be being a freelancer criminal hunter, but she knew that such a thing would not exist.

After spending the whole day researching, and doing something she disliked, which was inquiring people, Anna obtained some useful information. One soldier at one of the military posts that protected the city entrances mentioned a special operations group branded as guardians. During her times at the military academy, Anna had never heard about them. The soldier failed to provide additional details. Even so, any superficial information was better than nothing, and Anna returned home with this new piece of information.

The next morning was dedicated to library research about guardians. Though most of the information was classified, Anna had learned that the guardians were a secret operations group, led by the civilian government, in a joint venture with the military, whose members acted under the shadow of secrecy in order to perform the most critical missions. When Anna found an e-book attributed to a retired guardian, which shed some light on their modus operandi, she was so pleased that she accidentally let out a loud scream. A scream that lead her to be expelled from the library.

On another occasion, the shy teenager would be so taken aback by that unwanted shameful spotlight that she would never visit the library again, but she was so absorbed in the idea of becoming a hunter that she did not care. The job was perfect for her. They sent the guardians to the missions with no debriefing. Arriving there, some agent, disguised, would debrief them. Then, the guardians would act in secrecy, in order to accomplish the main goal. No questions would be asked; no doubts would be answered; their actions would not be constrained, as long as they accomplished their mission. She paid a visit to the military academy, in order to obtain an official digital record of her military activity, then she left went to the central agency and asked for an official digital record of her hunter activity. Both were spotless and impressive for a young woman.

Then, she prepared her next step: a trip to Paseo. In order to become a guardian, the candidate had to be appointed by, at least, three other guardians, high-rank officers or the commander himself. As Anna was sure she had no means of obtaining any recommendation, she opted to try a different approach. She would take her records and try to personally convince the commander she was fit for the job. Yes, it was a forlorn hope, but what else could she do? Life had always been unkind to her. She tried to be the good girl in the orphanage, and ended fighting for her life. She tried to be an exemplary officer, but ended being discharged, with a big trauma to carry for the rest of her life. She tried to be a good hunter, but ended barely escaping a murder attempt. Why not take some risks, expose herself? The worst outcome would be to be rejected, she had nothing left to lose. She only needed to find a way to have an appointment with the commander.

What Anna didn't know was that it was impossible for a citizen randomly have an appointment with him. Commander O'Conner was the Motavian governor. Although he was a very kind and considerate of the population's needs, it was simply impracticable to accept appointments by random citizens. Mayors of small cities had tried it before, and the results were disastrous, with city halls crowded with people with nothing better to do pretending they were important by having an appointment with the mayor.

But Anna would try anyway. She wrote a big letter, using very polite words, explaining why she wanted to become a guardian and begged the governor to give her the chance. She included her records from both her military and her hunter days, wrapped them in an envelope, addressed it to the governor, crossed her fingers, and sent it by teleport mail. Most probably it would end in the desks of subordinates, who would discard it without giving the proper attention, but it would not be so terrible, as it cost her only 20 meseta.

The next days were days of veiled anxiety for Anna. She tried to occupy her mind in leisure activities. For the first time since she had moved to Zema, she decided to go sightseeing and take part on the activities provided by the amusement parks and resorts of the touristic city. Though they were not so amusing to the cold woman, she forced herself into them, for they managed to drive her mind out of her main concern, at least momentarily. The main problem was that, as she would never be sure her letter has ever been read, her anxiety didn't even had a deadline.

Much to her surprise, though, she received a letter from the government, four days after sending her letter. When she returned from a relaxing walk by the lake, the inn manager handed her a letter. He was surprised by the girl's reaction, as he had never seen her so excited before. Anna, whose heart was racing like mad inside her chest, couldn't hide her anxiety. She sprinted to her room, letting the letter fall twice, as her hands were shaking. When she finally reached her room, she opened the polymer envelope and turned on the electronic letter. The first words were enough to make her smile like she didn't in years: Destroy after reading. Her eyes raced through the letter. Dear 1st Lieutenant Anna Zirski. We appreciate your interest... The key for her future was in that letter, Anna was sure of it. Many thoughts crossed her mind as she read it. Upon your unusual request, it was given a careful consideration... Could it be that fate was smiling upon her for the first time? Or it was just a deception. ...blablabla... the responsibilities as a guardian are greater than most of the honored citizens could take... blablabla... Why was the letter so long? ...the contents of this letter must remain in secrecy... Oh my God... Oh my God! … and, in an unprecedented decision, I, commander O'Connor, ACCEPTED your request, based on your experience and dedication to the planet...

"Yay!" Anna screamed very loud, giving vent to all the repressed anxiety and joy in her heart. She couldn't believe her eyes. But it was not needed to lay her eyes on the letter again. It would also be impossible, as she threw the electronic letter to the air, and it broke as it crashed on the floor. It couldn't be true! A guardian! Anna would be a guardian! She had just been accepted for the job of her dreams! Now she would be able to bring justice to all the criminals; she would be able to save the Motavians from that big threat; she would be able to be the silent heroine. Moreover, she had a new reason for keep on trying. A new meaning for her life.
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