The Huntress Chapter 2
Opera stared at him blankly for a few moments without replying. Finally - "What kinda question is that?"
Arvis swallowed. "I beg your pardon, Ms. Opera, but it's just that I don't believe I've _ever_ seen a person with three eyes before..."
A few moments worth of thought percolated through her head before she could properly grasp the situation. She brightened. "Oh yeah, that's right! All you guys here only got two of 'em!"
"I wasn't aware it was _possible_ to have otherwise..."
"Oh, all Tetragenes have three eyes. It's nothing major. But you wouldn't believe the trouble I have buying shades..."
What she said failed to register beyond the first sentence. "Te-tra-genes?"
"I'm a Tetragene," she agreed, before finally clueing in about the problem. "Oh, I guess you've never met any before, huh?"
"I don't believe that anyone ever has before."
"Oh well. Nice to meet you. Now as I was saying, I'm trying to find someone..."
Rummaging through her pack, she produced the photo of Ernest. "This guy here. See, he's got three eyes like I do. He's an archeologist, and he's around here somewhere. You seen him?"
Arvis shook his head. "I can assure that such a person has not passed through this village. An individual with three eyes like yourself would most certainly be noticed..."
"He _has_ to have come through here. There's a big ugly hairball in that forest that was killed with an energy weapon. You guys sure don't have them around here. He's the only other person around who might have 'em."
"Again, no one here has seen anyone resembling him... As for the creature you mention, we _did_ have a traveler come through recently. A young man by the name of Claude. He had a strange weapon that we mistook for a Sword of Light. He rescued a young lady from one of the forest monsters. Perhaps you saw the remains of that battle."
Opera narrowed her eyes. Ernest often had funny ideas about not standing out in undeveloped cultures. She'd never really bought into it herself. Perhaps he had disguised himself? "What did this 'Claude' look like?"
"He seemed rather young. Certainly younger than yourself."
Opera coughed loudly. "Excuse me... are you trying to tell me that I'm OLD?!?"
To his credit, Arvis withstood the triple glare of death she gave him. "Not at all. I think I'm a case study in old age, really. You certainly have many years ahead of you. But he was even younger than you are, I daresay."
"Then it probably wasn't Ernest," she decided, focusing on the situation at hand. Ernest looked young for his age, but his age was thirty-five. And he was a fairly heavily-built individual by most humanoid standards. "Where is he now?"
"He left with a young lady on a quest for the land of El."
"To the far North of here."
"Is there anything else you can tell me about this 'Claude' guy? What did his clothing look like? Did he say where he was from? Who was the lady with him?"
"I cannot compare his clothing to anything in my experience. He seemed to have some hidden motive for not revealing his origins. He only said that he was a traveler. I got the impression that he was rather lost. The young lady's name is Rena. She herself is a unique individual."
Very strange. The young man named Claude might bear some investigating, if he also had an energy weapon. Maybe he also had a spaceship around here. But Ernest was the important issue.
"I'd better get going. I've got to find Ernest. Any good places to check out?"
"Indeed. If you follow the pathway North from here, you will encounter the town of Salva, which is considerably larger than Arlia here. Beyond that lies Cross Castle, which is larger still."
Opera stood up, re-hefting her weapon. "Great. Thanks for the drink. And if Ernest comes by here, pass a message on to him - 'If he leaves, Opera will rip him a new asshole', okay?"
Arvis nodded slowly. "I will convey that... message... to him if he appears. Are you certain you are up for this? There are many dangerous beasts out these days. The dead monster you saw before... there are many others around."
She shrugged. "Well, there's about fifteen less of 'em since I came through. I can take care of myself just fine."
If such a feat were physically possible, Arvis' jaw would have hit the floor at that instant. "_F-fifteen_?!?"
She lovingly kissed the barrel of the field gun. "Nothing _this_ baby can't handle!"
"Is that some sort of... club?"
She smirked. "Club? You can use it like that, I guess. It's a Heraldic Field Cannon. Point, shoot and destroy."
Arvis seemed to have recovered from his surprise. "It is... a Sword of Light, then?"
"No, it's a Heraldic Field Cannon."
"Does it create beams of light?"
"Well... I guess it kinda looks that way."
"Then you may wish to refrain from using it around people. There is a great deal of folklore surrounding a Warrior wearing Alien Rainments, wielding a Sword of Light. If you are not careful, they may take you for such a person. Young Claude already had that problem. He is presently using a sword instead."
"No prob. I've got other weapons I can use around people. Thanks for the tip."
"You are quite welcome. I wish you success on finding him."
She left the village immediately afterwards, reasoning that the less time wasted, the better. It wasn't as though she had any money on her to spend on food (or some decent walking footwear).
It was a sobering thought, really. Give her an electronic cash outlet, and she could probably buy the entire village with plenty left over. Instead, she was completely broke and without transportation.
She'd heard stories about people put into situations like this. If they got lucky and survived it all, they came out with a renewed respect for the comforts they'd always taken for granted. Some of them turned into monks or gave away their possessions to the poor or other stupid things like that. A few rare cases immediately ordered a planetary bombardment of any regions that had caused them particularly nasty amounts of grief.
Neither. This wasn't anything particularly new to her. Her and Ernest both were no strangers to living without modern conveniences. Ernest's countless archeological romps had taken the two of them everywhere imaginable. They'd gone miles underground, scaled giant mountains and found forms of life that had yet to be catalogued in any database in the galaxy. Sometimes it simply wasn't practical to drag everything along with them. But they both knew how to rough it with the best of them.
The problem was, Ernest had always done the cooking. She'd caught the animals, and he'd made them edible. A great system. Until now, that was. No cook, no food for her. And she was no judge on how fit something was to eat on this planet. And she hadn't brought along any sort of poison analyzing equipment. She would have to figure out how to get food to eat...
She sighed. She would worry about that. Maybe she could flame-broil one of the monsters and eat _that_. It wasn't that she couldn't stomach it. She'd eaten worse. Her own cooking, for example. But who knew if her digestive system could even handle it? Tetragene's had digestive tracts that made legends on their own, but she'd still managed to find things that it couldn't handle. The last thing she needed was to get sick. It would be smarter to make due for now. She wouldn't need food for a few days, what with her beer and chocolate bars, after all.
Two days of travel, five bottles of beer and two chocolate bars brought another village into view. The town of Salva, Opera would have guessed, since she'd followed the elder's directions to the letter. It hadn't been very difficult really. She'd seen one or two funny creatures with knives or clubs approach her, clearly bent on malice. Blasting a few five-foot craters in front of them had sent them running faster than their stubby legs should have ever permitted. Kind of funny, really.
The village itself seemed somewhat dirtier than Arlia, but definitely larger. Her knowledge of sub-modern cultures suggested that the somewhat dusty air was on account of some mining or digging operations going on. But a place like this would surely have some traffic going through it?
An elderly lady was near the entrance, and this qualified her to be the first interrogatee.
The lady blinked, looking up at her. "Were you talking to me?"
The photo was thrust in her face.
"And who might that be?"
"I'm looking for this guy. Seen him anywhere?"
"I'm looking for this guy. Seen him anywhere?"
"What d'you take me for? He's got _three_ eyes! Is he some kinda loony... oh... you've got three too... geez, this beer must be stronger than I thought. No, this is the first time I seen three-eyed people..."
Opera sighed as she turned away from the man at the bar's counter. This was hopeless.
"You gonna order anything?" the bartender demanded for the third time.
"Shut up!" she snapped.
"You're distracting the patrons," he retorted, unmoved.
"Like I even care about your stupid drunks. If you want me out, then give me directions to the biggest city around here!"
He eyed her with a strange look. "You want a big city? Go north, then east to the port of Herlie. Take the ship across to Hilton, and head south to Lacour. Biggest city in the world. Now go back to whatever circus you came from, girl."
Opera briefly debated the merits of opening fire on him and turning him into a thin organic paste on the back wall, but eventually decided against it. He wasn't worth the energy. She had more important concerns. And more importantly, she had the location of the biggest city around. That was as good a place as any for asking around.
Disdaining a parting comment, she stalked from the bar, leaving a quiet buzz behind.
"Damn, was she ever hot!"
"D'you think she was all there?"
"Of course not. Who paints an eye on their forehead? And carries around a weird looking club like that? She's completely lost it!"
"Maybe she's from some weird religious cult. They do stuff like that, you know."
"Trust me, man. You don't want to get mixed up with a crazy chick like that!"
Leaving the bar, the first thing Opera did was look for the exit. She could mix with the lowest of the low when necessary, but the stares she seemed to constantly get wherever she went were getting to be too much for her. She had directions, so she was leaving.
"...reward just got upped..."
The conversation was difficult to miss, courtesy of two big men endowed with equally large vocal boxes.
"Stupid monster is gonna own the mines at this rate..."
"Maybe that one guy will be able to do it."
"He didn't look like much..."
"I've heard stuff about him. He's better than he looks. Unlucky as a thirteenth child, but a good swordsman."
A tap on their shoulders got their attention. Turning, they look down at the somewhat more petite form of Opera.
"I couldn't help but overhear you," she began slowly. "But I heard the words 'reward' and 'monster'. Can I have the details?"
They gave her the now-customary incredulous looks before the one on the left answered her question. "There's a two-headed dragon in the mines right now."
The other pointed towards a large cave. "None of the workers even want to go into the mines right now, so that city's in a slump. So there's a big reward for anyone who kills the dragon. You thinkin' of trying?"
They both laughed until they realized she wasn't there anymore. She was headed into the cave.
"She's loony. She has to be."
"No kidding. We saw nothin', got it?"
"Nothing at all."
"No entrance into the mines right now," the man informed her. Judging from the primitive looking sword at his side, he was probably a soldier.
"You want that dragon dead or not?" Opera snapped, not even slowing her pace.
"_You_ want to be dead?"
"Screw you. Don't take me lightly."
"Just turn around and go home, lady-"
The soldier slumped to the ground, now unconscious, courtesy of three punches and a cannon barrel to the head. Opera smirked and continued onwards. The Kaleidoscope was a fantastic weapon in more ways than one. Aside from being a enjoyable piece of personal artillery, the barrel could be electrically charged to pack one hell of a punch when used as a club. The soldier would probably have a splitting headache when he woke up.
"I _said_, don't take me lightly," she growled, advancing into the mines. "Especially when I've had nothing but warm beer to drink for the past few days."
The interior of the mine reminded her of more than a few caverns her and Ernest had explored at one point or another. Except that this one was well-lit by torches along the walls. All the same, she would much rather have done without the light, and simply used the sensors on a properly working headpiece. It was a wonder that the mine hadn't been blown to pieces by a gas explosion, really. There were picks and wheelbarrows scattered throughout, no doubt used by the miners under normal circumstances.
She could still remember back in the older days, when she was just another paid lookout, hired by Ernest to help keep him alive. How she was forever ordering him to watch where he stepped. Him constantly reminding her not to accidentally shoot any structures until he'd gotten a chance to read them.
Well, she could shoot wherever she wanted in a place like this. Provided she didn't accidentally cave in the entire ceiling on herself. And she didn't have to concern herself much with where she stepped.
The obviously deserted state gave everything an eerie tone as she crept forward without a Sound, despite the pin heels she was wearing. This was more her style. She knew more than many professors did when it came to archeology, complements of the constant journeying she did. But that stuff was Ernest's specialty. Her specialty came into play when places were less than secure. Whether from hostile natives, carnivorous lifeforms, unsprung traps, or anything else dangerous, dealing with it was her specialty. An overgrown lizard would be child's play for her. She knew she was smarter than it was, and had the attacking advantage. If she was quiet enough, the only way it would ever know she was coming would be to smell her. And that wouldn't do it a bit of good when it found itself looking down the barrel of a Kaleidoscope assault rifle set at 100% power.
Natural selection could really be a real bitch sometimes. But it was either she got her hands on some of this planet's currency, or she regulated herself to drinking nothing but warm beer for the rest of her stay on this planet. And her mouth was beginning to get a funny taste in it.
It was half an hour later that she finally found signs of life within the caves. Or rather, evidence of past-life. It amounted to a pair of furry little creatures with short swords. They had both been killed recently, judging by the lack of scavenging insects and fresh blood. Whoever had done the killing had used some type of sharp edge. That sounded normal on this technologically-deprived planet.
The sound of footsteps up ahead got her attention.
"WHERE IS THAT STUPID BEAST!?!"
She frowned, peering around the corner at the source of the voice. True to expectations, there was an individual standing in the middle of the cavern up ahead. He had a sword in each hand, and was looking around in irritation.
This wouldn't do at all. He'd alert the dragon before she ever found it.
A warning shot at 10% of full power got his attention _really_ fast.
"For starters," she hissed. "_Shut up_. Are you trying to let every person in that village know where you are?"
"Who are you?" he demanded. His straight dark brown hair hung down in a clean- cut fashion. He might have been considered handsome, but for lack of a smile. And the fact that he was clearly itching for an excuse to attack her.
A second blast into the ground a few feet in front of him discouraged that thought for the time being.
"Who... are you?" he repeated, looking at the small crater in front of him.
"None of your business," she snapped. "I'm here to get myself a dragon. And you're not helping. Get lost and let a professional do the work."
"I will be the judge of what constitutes a professional," he replied. "Who are you?"
"Opera Vectra," she retorted. "You?"
"Ashton Anchors, swordsman for hire," he informed her evenly.
"Well then, Ashton. Let me explain things. I need some money, and I'm in a hurry. The longer you're around, the more dangerous things are going to be. So get lost."
"I am here to slay a dragon. It will take more than your toy to turn me back."
"You're going to die," she informed him. "You're noisy, have nothing but those butter spreaders, and don't move quietly."
He frowned. "What does that matter?"
"First rule of hunting wild beasts is that you try to sneak up on them."
"It is not a wild beast. It is a demon."
"Whatever. It can die. And it'll die faster if it doesn't know I'm coming. Get lost."
He shook his head. "Work has been scarce lately. I need to earn a living."
This was ridiculous. Opera was the furthest things from a pacifist. Actually, it was her tried-and-true opinion that violence solved a lot of problems quite nicely. But killing intelligent beings was fairly high up on her list of least favorite things to do. "Listen, I'm in a hurry. How big in this reward?"
"Don't you know?"
"No. I'm in a hurry."
"30000 gil," he informed her.
"Is that a lot?"
He gave her a strange look. "What land are you from?"
"REALLY far away, okay?" she snapped. "How much is it?"
"An extremely large amount of money," he replied slowly.
"Great. Then I'll be happy to split it with you as soon as we get it. Just... don't get in my way."
He looked thoughtful. A glance down at the ground before him decided him. "Very well. We will split the reward. But I refuse to let you out of my sight."
"I don't care what you do. Just stay behind me, and don't make any noise."
"I can't believe you consider yourself a professional! Just take my word for it! Now which way is this dragon?"
"The only way I haven't explored is _that_ way," he informed her slowly.
A whine briefly filled the air as Opera set the rifle back to 100% power. "Time for a new fur coat," she muttered.
"I do not believe that demon dragon's have fur," Ashton pointed out. "Only scales."
"Then a scale coat. Whatever. Quit talking."
"Why do you have three eyes?"
"Shut up. You're just missing one. No more noise!"
They continued down the passageway for about a hundred yards.
"This passageway is long."
Ashton doubled over from an elbow in his gut. "Ack! What is the matter with you?"
"No noise!" Opera snarled. "Or I blast a hole through YOU!!!"
"You are the most uncouth lady I ever met in my entire life," he muttered. But he said nothing further.
"You better believe it," Opera muttered, easing forwards again.
"Quiet!" she hissed. "We're getting close. I can feel it."
"But this is quite serious."
"It can wait!"
"I must insist we deal with this problem immediately."
"Oh, for cryin' out loud! WHAT!?!"
"There is a two headed dragon following us."
"It can wait - excuse me?"
"There is a two headed dragon following us."
Opera froze in mid step. "Ashton. Duck down on the ground."
"Just. Do. It."
"I am not quite certain what you mean to accomplish, but very well-"
Like a spinning top, Opera whirled around, pulling the trigger back. A massive pulse of light blasted out of the gun, completely ripping several cubic meters of rock from the wall of the mine tunnel before connecting with something else.
"By the Sorcery Globe!" Ashton gaped, scrambling backwards from the pyrotechnics display. "What _is_ that device?!?"
*Two more insects for me to play with!!!*
Opera ceased firing, skipping backwards to give herself room. She didn't know what that voice was that she had just heard, but it hadn't been Ashton by a long shot. What's more, it had come after she'd fired, and there was only one other living thing nearby, which seemed like a bad thing.
"It is enormous!" Ashton observed, also backing up slowly.
It was, Opera had to admit. It wasn't often she found lifeforms _this_ big. It looked like a standard reptile-type form of life. Albeit, about forty feet long, with two heads. One head was red, the other's scales were blue. It's green scaled body sported a discoloration on its shoulder, testament to where she had hit. If that was all a full- powered blast would do, perhaps there was going to be some trouble.
But she had plenty more to offer, and a target to shoot at. Two of them, actually.
Two more bursts from her gun lanced out, each one striking squarely on a head a piece.
Both heads flinched from the impact, but were left intact. *Pathetic little worm.*
Interesting, Opera noted. Whatever this creature was, it seemed to be capable of limited telepathy. That alone would be worth cataloguing once she found Ernest.
"What _is_ that device?!?" Ashton demanded in disbelief.
"Heraldic Field Cannon," she muttered. "And it doesn't seem to do much to this thing."
"Of course not!" he snapped. "This dragon is a demon! Heraldry has little effect against it! You must use conventional weapons to defeat it!"
Just in case Ashton was wrong, Opera let off a few more blasts at the dragon, creating several more mild burns on the creature's scales before it closed the distance between them.
Throwing herself sideways, she felt the ground shudder as the blue head smashed into the wall where she'd just been, dislodging a shower of rocks.
A screech from the red head briefly got her attention. Ashton seemed to have done a chopping job on the neck with his swords. While it didn't even begin to look fatal, his swords had done far more damage than her gun had. Maybe he _was_ right.
In retaliation, Ashton was knocked flying backwards, a deft roll letting him get to his feet relatively unhurt. He looked over at her disgustedly. "Your magic will not work! Don't you have anything else?"
Approach number two. The blue head was still stunned from hitting the wall. Winding up, Opera smashed the barrel of her gun down on top of it, giving it the benefit of a nasty electrical shock in the process. In response, the head swung at her like a baseball bat, knocking her back in a similar fashion as Ashton. The fact that she was still holding her gun prevented her from landing as nicely.
Ashton was already attacking again, his swords moving faster than she'd ever have believed possible. However bad his stealth (or lack thereof) technique might be, Opera had to admit that he knew how to use his swords. As for her own gun, its power reserves were already below 50%. And the first half hadn't done a great deal of damage.
"Attack the heads!" Ashton shouted, recovering from being knocked down again.
The blue head seemed to have singled her out for a meal, lunging for her again. Giving a brief prayer of thanks to whatever deity had arranged for the lighter gravity, Opera leapt sideways in time for the head to impact the wall once again.
"Eat THIS!!!" she snarled, pointing the gun point-blank in the creature's face. One pull of the trigger, and the entire remaining charge was immediately put to use.
The resulting explosion of energy knocked her backwards like a rag doll, her now- powerless gun clattering noisily on the ground some distance away. The dragon's head was motionless for a moment, probably reeling from being smashed into the stone wall so hard. Some of the scales were actually _dripping_ off of the side of its neck, the rest all pitch black from the heat of the blast. Staggering to her feet, Opera watched the head hopefully. Surely nothing would have survived _that_...
With a shudder, the head trembled, then rose up again. It spotted her quickly.
*You will die now*
"Oh crap," she muttered in disbelief, backing away. She would have given a lot to have a personal rocket launcher in her hands right now. Anything with an explosive yield of at least 5 kilotons per shot would be about right.
Ashton had been sent flying yet again, this time colliding with her. "It is quite strong," he observed, gasping for breath.
"No shit," she agreed, rubbing her hip. "Any ideas?"
"My swords cannot seem to harm it enough," he admitted sheepishly, "and your magic also appears useless. And it has blocked the exit. It appears that our luck has run out."
"That's bad," she agreed.
"For what little it is worth, I do not think we would have lasted this long on our own."
"Perhaps you could hit on the head with your pack? While it is distracted, I will attempt to chop a head off."
Opera unshouldered her pack. "You think that'll work?"
"No, but we do not have much choice."
"Gotcha. Get ready to start chopping."
The pack was heavy. Perhaps it would have some effect. There must be more beer in it than she'd thought...
"I am ready," Ashton prompted. "And we are running out of space to retreat."
Opera abruptly began to laugh. "I'm an idiot," she exclaimed, ripping open the top of the pack.
"And I, no less," Ashton granted. "But we must try something-"
"Shut up. Keep backing off." Opera pulled out a beer bottle and flung it at the dragon. It struck squarely on its head, clattering to the floor undamaged. Wow, those Meryti lagar bottles really _were_ strong...
"What are you doing?"
"Killing this thing."
"No, with THIS!!!" With a relish, Opera produced the objects of her hunting. One automatic handgun and a fifteen round clip of splinter ammunition.
"What is that?"
"Anti-demon weaponry, I hope," she supplied. Snapping the two pieces together, she took aim and fired off a test shot.
"MERCY!!!" Ashton shouted, backing away from the ear-splitting gun shot.
The splinter bullet impacted the red head's neck, smashing clear through it and exiting in about twenty new locations. The dragon roared in pain, halting in its tracks.
Ashton took in the damage with awe. "That is a _very_ powerful weapon!"
"Oh yeah." Opera agreed, flipping the gun's switch from "semi-automatic" to "automatic". Exiting the barrel in a fraction of a second, the remaining fourteen bullets all contacted squarely with the red head, literally blowing out the back of its skull as they all exited. The red neck fell to the ground, dead.
"Why didn't you do that before?" Ashton asked, placing more distance between the noisy weapon and himself.
"Forgot I had it," Opera admitted, pulling out a second clip of ammunition and loading it.
*Perhaps a deal is in order...* the dragon began hesitantly.
She smirked at the creature. "Yeah. _Your_ scaly hide and _my_ share of the reward cash, lizard-" Fifteen rounds later, the blue head had been shot clean off its neck, and the entire body slumped to the ground.
Ashton's face displayed a healthy measure of respect as he watched her repack the weapon. "What manner of weapon is that?"
"AP-5," she replied. "Nickname - 'Lady's Kiss'. Cute little toy. But splinter bullets don't use Heraldic energy."
"It seemed... strong enough to kill the dragon," Ashton admitted, approaching the remains.
"Oh yeah. Anyway, how do we prove we killed this thing?"
Without hesitation, Ashton made several hard slashes with his swords that severed the red head from its respective neck. "I believe showing the two heads will suffice. At least... what is left of them."
"It's a little messy," Opera admitted, grabbing the already-severed blue head. Bending down, she picked up a few loose scales that had been knocked off the body. No harm in taking a few souvenirs, after all. "I've got this one. You get the red one."
Ashton obeyed, also retrieving her gun for her. He made a face upon lifting it. "This is... a heavy device," he observed.
"Hey! Hands off!" Opera snapped, yanking it from his grasp and deftly shouldering the weapon herself. A quick inspection of the weapon revealed no damage, although she was going to have to polish that scratch another time...
Ashton raised an eyebrow. "That appears to be an awkward weapon."
"It's worth its weight," Opera observed, checking on the charge. To her delight, the screen told her that it would probably be recharged by the end of the day. This planet was a literal gold mine where heraldic energy was concerned. Starting back down the way they had come, she commented, "That was the first animal I've ever seen that could take that much punishment."
"Monsters are getting dangerous these days," Ashton agreed, falling into step with her. "It makes for more work, but the work is much more dangerous. My share of the reward will tide me over for a long time, however."
"So are there a lot of these demon things around?" Opera hoped not. That monster had cost her two clips of ammunition, and she only had two more left. Unless she found Ernest quickly, there could be trouble.
"This is the first I have ever gone up against. And I have heard of few others in this area. They only began to appear with the advent of the Sorcery Globe."
"You have not heard?"
Ashton seemed to be getting used to her ignorance of local news. "A mysterious globe of power that appeared some time ago in the land of El. Since its arrival, there have been many monsters appearing throughout the lands. But rarely have they ever been this dangerous. Perhaps the effects are worsening."
So they were still rare. That was just fine. "The land of El?"
"A land to the far north. It is where the Sorcery Globe landed. Right now, it has been all but taken over by demons. I understand that Lacour is expected to be the next target."
"Lovely. That's where I'm headed."
"With such weapons, you should be quite alright. I have traveled far, and never seen such a demon as what we have just fought. You evidently _are_ a professional."
"Been dealing with this kind of stuff for seven years now," she agreed.
"Seven years? How old _are_ you?"
"None of your damn business!" she snapped.
Ashton didn't take the hint. "But you cannot be over twenty..."
Opera face brightened, her irritation vanishing without a trace. "Oh my. You really think so?"
"You are not twenty?"
"Uh... I'm twenty-three, actually."
"Incredible. Why do you have three eyes?"
It took her a moment to realize the topic change. "Well... I'm from _really_ far away. Just leave it at that, alright? And where I come from, it's weird to have two eyes."
Fortunately, the answer seemed to satisfy Ashton. "You are well-traveled also, I see."
_That_ gave her an idea. Producing the photo of Ernest, she held it up to his face. "You seen this guy? He's got three eyes, just like me. I'm looking for him."
Ashton shook his head. "I am afraid I have not. Is he your father?"
"Um... no. He's my boyfriend."
The young man frowned. "You... already have a boyfriend?"
"Yeah, we normally work together, but he up and left without telling me. So I'm tracking him down. He's somewhere around here, I just gotta find him."
He looked somewhat downcast. "I see... I... wish you luck, then. I am... sure he is a good man."
Opera finally noticed the tone in his voice, and took a good guess at what he was thinking. "Hey, don't think that way, buddy. You're a swell guy. Just smile a little more, and you're find a cute girl in no time."
"I think not. I am notoriously unlucky."
"Oh, you're the guy those men were talking about? The one who's as unlucky as a thirteenth child or something?"
"How did you know?"
"That I was a thirteenth child?"
Opera rolled her eyes. "So are you _really_ that unlucky?"
He nodded. "I daresay I might have been dead, had you not been there."
"So there you go. Your luck is changing. You just killed a monster, and you're going to get a load of money. Your bad luck spell must be over now."
He appeared to give the matter some thought. "Perhaps you are right... no bad luck can possibly last forever..."
"Right. You've got to be optimistic. Thing have been pretty lousy for me so far, but I'm not about to give up."
"Perhaps... I should test that theory."
"That's the spirit."
"I will enter the Lacour Tournament of Arms."
"I will enter the Lacour Tournament of Arms."
"You are obviously from _very_ far away. There is no one who does not know of the tournament."
"Shut up. _I've_ never heard of it, okay?"
"It is the biggest tournament of arms in the world. Fighters from all over the world come to compete in it. I almost competed last year. I daresay that I could have taken second place quite easily, too. But the blacksmith accidentally broke my swords, so I was unable to compete..."
He nodded miserably. "It is a curse on my life. But perhaps my luck is changing..."
"Right. So you're headed to Lacour?"
"I believe so. I must test this newfound luck of mine."
"Great. I'm headed there too."
"Really? Perhaps we should travel there together. You seem like a lucky individual... and with my newfound luck, perhaps I may actually make it there in time!"
"Did anyone ever tell you that you were obsessive about good luck?"
"Many times," Ashton agreed. "But after they see my bad luck..."
"First rule of being a hired gun, Ashton. You make your own luck."
"What is a hired gun'?"
"A hired sword. Whatever. But you gotta forget about all that garbage about luck. There's no such thing as luck. Sometimes things are good, and sometimes they really suck. But you've just got to push ahead, no matter what you run into! The person who wins is the last person to give up."
Both blinked as they finally exited the mine, the sun glaring into their dark- accustomed eyes. Several shouts of disbelief echoed through the village as they were spotted hauling the two dragon heads with them.
"Perhaps you are right," Ashton agreed sagely. "Perhaps that is my problem. I must learn to take control of my life! I must stop blaming my misfortune on things beyond my control. I must instead push forward and overcome even my misfortunate!"
"Right. So let's get our reward, and get to Lacour. And then you can kick some ass in that tournament, and I can find out where Ernest is."
I plan on staying pretty cannon to the basic events of the RPG. And in the RPG, you can't have both Opera and Ashton in your party. Just thought I'd mention that yes, I am aware of that. But just the same, nothing in the story specifically says that she couldn't have run into Ashton at an earlier point before running into the main group. Realistically speaking, she must have run into a little trouble in the process of traveling from Arlia to Herlie, especially since she's got three eyes. If you get Opera in your party, the game won't let you progress into the Dragon's cave at all, which I found annoying. Besides, I thought I'd save Ashton from the dubious fate of getting stuck with Gyoro and Ururun. He'll be out of the picture by the time Opera runs into the main group, of course.
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