The Huntress Chapter 3
It was in the process of obtaining the reward that Opera learned yet another problem with the undeveloped technology this planet possessed. No electronic banking. Which in turn meant physical currency. And that in turn meant...
"Holy crap, don't they make lighter money?" Opera demanded, shifting the weight of the pack on her shoulder.
"I do not believe I have ever run into this problem before," Ashton admitted. "But 30000 gil amounts to a considerable weight. Nevertheless, we could have worse problems. Are you certain you are alright?"
"Lighter gravity," she grunted. Between her 15000 gil and the Kaleidoscope, she was getting a significant workout. If she was to step on someone's feet while wearing her heels, they'd probably find their feet fixed to the floor. But she could manage.
"Gravity?" Ashton inquired in bewilderment.
Geez, was this planet ever primitive. "Don't ask. Just think of it this way - where I come from, everything is a lot heavier. How far is it to Lacour?"
"Quite a walk, actually."
Opera decided not to pester him about the directions. For all his nuances, his obsession with luck and his rather formal way of speaking... Ashton had the look of a well-traveled individual. The ease with which he handled his half of the reward, even without the benefit of higher-gravity experience, attested to that fact. He obviously did more than just sit around and do nothing. She would assume that he knew where he was heading. Right now, he seemed like the fastest way to get to Lacour.
"What's that?" she asked, pointing to the north-west. The structure was tall enough to be seen from a considerable distance. From her observations, it was some sort of fortress. She'd seen plenty of variations in her exploratory travels, and this seemed to include the important elements. Big stone wall, one big gate, and a large structure in the middle of it all, no doubt belonging to whatever form of government was active around here.
Ashton glanced over. "That is Cross Castle. If you are tired, we can rest there until tomorrow. But if you can keep up this rate of traveling, we should be able to cut two days off our travel time to Lacour. And I was not originally planning to enter the competition until you came along, so there is still a danger that I may be too late."
"I'm fine," she informed him. "The faster we can move, the better. For both of us, I guess."
"Excellent. We can stop in Mars for something to eat and spend the night there at the inn."
"It is a city between here and Herlie. The inhabitants are trained from birth in the heraldic arts. They are very highly thought of around the world."
"Oh." For a moment there, Opera had thought Ashton was referring to a certain planet... "Sounds good by me. Want a beer?"
Ashton raised an eyebrow as she popped the cap off a bottle and took a drink. "Beer?"
"Yeah. Booze, liquor... y'know, alcohol. This is just light stuff, don't worry."
Ashton looked thoughtful. "Perhaps... it is lucky as well..."
Opera hit him on the head with another bottle. "Hey, didn't you listen to a word I said before? There's no such thing as luck!"
"Ouch. I... forgot. Perhaps... this will help me to create my own luck..."
"Better," she agreed, tossing him a bottle. "Besides, whatever you drink, I don't have to carry anymore."
"Is your load getting heavy? If you wish, I will carry your weapon for you."
"Go to hell."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Steal my beer and chocolate, okay. Torture and maim me, I can maybe forgive. But if you even _touch_ one of my lovely little weapons, I'll castrate you with a dull spoon."
Ashton's face briefly turned green as he edged away from her. "I... will let you carry your... lovely little... weapons."
"Oh, don't mind me," she added cheerfully. "Everybody's got their obsessions, right? You got your obsession about luck. I'm into weaponry."
"An... interesting diversion, to be sure."
"Isn't it? Lots of fun, too."
Ashton took a drink from the bottle. His face immediately screwed up in a frown. "What _is_ this drink?"
"This is _wine_!"
"No, it's way too weak to be wine."
"Weak?" he demanded incredulously.
"Yeah. It takes at least eight of these before I get anywhere near drunk."
Ashton gaped. "I would not trust myself to drink more than two of these! You are obviously a heavy drinker."
"Nope. Just occasional. It's hard to aim weapons when you're drunk."
For an answer, Ashton merely shook his head.
"We have company," Ashton informed her some time later. Gesturing with one of his now-drawn swords, he pointed behind them.
Opera turned to face a group of about ten men about thirty feet behind. "Oh. Is that a problem?"
"They have followed us for some time now, and have drawn their swords," Ashton informed her. "They look to be from Salva. It is my guess that they are interested in the reward money we have procured."
"Well, screw them," she growled. "I almost got _eaten_ for this money. Let them go find their own demon-dragon to kill."
"My thoughts exactly. But there are ten of them."
"What the hell d'you want?" Opera demanded of the men.
"Hand over the money and no one gets hurts," one of the men replied grimly.
Ashton drew his other sword and set down his money. "Our luck seems to have taken a turn for the worse..."
A whine ensued as Opera leveled her gun at the group. "What was that about luck?"
Ashton looked thoughtful. "My mistake. We have encountered some misfortune. But you intend to make your own luck..."
"Exactly," she agreed. "This is just life. Things look bad. But I've got a Kaleidoscope field cannon that's begging to be used."
Ashton shrugged, then sheathed his swords. Picking up his money again, "So we have nothing to worry about from these common rabble."
"Right. First, we give them one chance to go home peacefully."
"You hard of hearing, bitch?" one of the men demanded.
Opera frowned. "And they didn't take that chance when they had it."
"That scarcely qualified as a chance," Ashton objected.
"I don't like being called a bitch."
"Somehow, I find myself getting accustomed to that weapon," Ashton observed as he looked at the cloud of debris and dust in front of them.
"It grows on you," Opera agreed, shouldering the weapon again. Peering through the haze, she could see the forms of ten figures running back towards Salva as fast as their legs would carry them. "That's right boys. Keep running."
"By the Sorcery Globe, you are the most violent woman I have _ever_ seen in my entire life!" Ashton observed as they resumed walking.
"You've met a more violent man?"
"I stand corrected."
The afternoon passed with few interruptions. Occasionally creatures would approach them. Some energy blasts were more than enough to convince the survivors to reverse direction and wait for easier prey. Indeed, more dangerous were the two times Opera almost twisted her ankle when her pin heels caught in soft ground. Both times were enough to bring forth enough curse words to make Ashton blush and repeat that he'd never seen such an uncouth woman in his entire life.
That aside however, things were quiet and uneventful. When a collection of buildings on the edge of a large patch of forest came into view, Ashton informed her that they had reached the village of Mars.
"Good evening, travelers," a young lady greeted, favoring Ashton a considerable moment longer. "How are you today?"
"Quite fine, thank-you. And a good day to you too," he politely replied, completely oblivious to the attention.
"Cheers, miss," Opera greeted, enjoying mystified stare she received. Really, you'd think that no one had ever seen a person with three eyes and a personal field cannon before. Perhaps Ernest simply hadn't passed through this area. Just the same, she would make some inquiries before they continued onwards...
"And where have you come from?" the lady inquired, directing the question towards Ashton.
"We have just come from the town of Salva. The two of us just finished dealing a with a demon dragon that was in the mines."
"Oh my! We received word about that about a week ago. And you beat it?"
"The two of us together we able to defeat it," Ashton corrected.
"Oh, I see. Your girlfriend?"
"No, just a friend."
The lady's face lit up. "Oh! Would you like for me to show you around the town?"
"That is quite alright," Ashton assured her. "but thank-you for your concern."
The two continued onwards into the village.
"A very friendly town," Ashton commented.
Opera just rolled her eyes. "Uh, yeah. _Really_ friendly. You're such a heartbreaker, you know that?"
"I do not understand..."
"Nothing, don't worry about it. Hmm... this town looks pretty nice," she observed, scanning the length of the village.
"Indeed," Ashton agreed. "As I told you before, Mars is renowned across the world for its expertise on the heraldic arts. As I understand it, the vast amount of forest around here is designed to assist in the training. Although I could be mistaken; they tend to be very secretive about their processes. Regardless, harming the forest is strictly prohibited."
"Gotcha," she agreed. "So where's some food? I could _really_ go for something beside beer right now."
"As could I," Ashton agreed. One bottle had been more than enough for him. "I have yet to see a bar that would consider such drink as only 'beer'. You come from a strange land."
"You have no idea."
"At any rate, we perhaps we should see what this restaurant has to offer. I understand it is rather expensive, but..."
"We've got some money to spare, right? And I'm starving. Let's see what this joint here serves. Time to unload a little bit of this weight."
"Welcome. Table for two?"
"That would be good," Ashton agreed with a smile.
"I'll set your weapons aside for you."
"Touch my weapons and _die_," Opera agreed with a smile.
Ashton hastily intervened. "She... is rather attached to her weapons. And they are quite bulky. She... simply does not wish to burden you with them. But if you could keep my swords, that would be appreciated."
The waitress nodded slowly, finally electing to only take Ashton's weapons. Alternating between sneaking covert glances at Ashton and worried glances at Opera, she led them to an empty table and gave them each a menu. "Right this way."
"I believe I shall try the Lacour Roast," Ashton decided after scanning the menu over.
"What's that?" Opera inquired.
"A meat dish, long said to bring luck and success to warriors."
"Excellent choice, sir. And what will you be having?" the waitress inquired, still casting an uneasy eye on the giant weapon presently hanging on the corner post of the chair.
Opera pointed at several items. "Deep-fried scallops, roast partridge with lemon marinade, goblin shishkeebob and a pitcher of your Lacour lager."
"You can eat that much?" Ashton inquired.
"With nothing but warm beer for the past few days? Just watch me."
"I'll give your orders to the cook," the waitress agreed, walking off towards the back of the restaurant.
"Was that really necessary?" Ashton inquired.
"Hey, I'm hungry, okay?"
"I meant, was it necessary to threaten the lady's life?"
"I wasn't threatening her. I was just threatening her if she tried to make off with my weapons. There's a big difference."
"She was only being polite. Perhaps customs are different in your land, but it is considered classy for a restaurant to allow a warrior to set aside their weapons during a meal.
"Where I come from, it's classy to let someone _keep_ their weapon in a restaurant."
"Is that weapon a family heirloom?"
"No. It's _my_ weapon. I put it down when I feel like it. And _only_ when I feel like it."
"For someone who accuses me of having a fetish about bad luck..."
"Hey, _your_ fetish is just a bunch of superstition. _My_ fetish is a lifelong hobby."
"I enjoy a pair of fine-crafted blades as much as the next warrior, but I do not threaten waitresses who attempt to set them aside for me."
"Yeah, but a sword is just a sword. A good gun on the other hand... it's a beautiful work of machinery and design. The smooth, yet pronounced recoil, the flawless 50/50 weight distribution, the smell of burning thermite, the feeling of residual plasma static... simply heaven."
Ashton sighed. "You need therapy."
"Hmm... not bad."
Ashton briefly looked up from his meal. "Indeed. It is not often that I can afford to partake of dining such as this. I can almost feel my meal empowering me with luck..."
Opera rolled her eyes. "Your meal isn't doing anything except filling your stomach, idiot. You make your own luck. One way of doing that is making sure you don't fight on an empty stomach."
He gave the manner some thought. "I suppose that I _do_ fight better after a good meal..."
"Exactly. That's because your stomach isn't growling and distracting you. That's not luck, that's just common sense."
"I see... and what of your meal?"
"Not bad. I hadn't had such watered-down beer in years. But the food is pretty good. I could get to like these goblin shishkeebobs. There's something neat about eating those stupid little things that keep bothering me on the trail."
"Some people believe that by eating enemies, you gain their strength in the process."
"Hmph. Eating your enemies makes sure their bodies don't go to waste. And it fills your stomach up at the same time so you've got energy to go fight some more."
"I suppose there is some merit to that viewpoint."
Opera finished her scallops. "So what else is there around here? This is the town of Mars and we're approaching a place called Herlie, you said. That's a ship port?"
Ashton nodded. "There is a regular ferry that goes to and from Hilton. From Hilton, it is a walk of several days to reach Lacour."
Opera nodded. Ernest's trips were often several weeks in length, so she should have plenty of time to catch him, wherever he was. "So what's it like being a hired-sword around here?"
Ashton shrugged. "If one is skilled, it pays much better than most jobs. But if one is not skilled, he is soon dead. There has been a great deal of work as of late, but much of it involves monsters and such. Such as that dragon you and I dealt with."
Opera nodded. "That was the nastiest animal I've run into for a long time. It was a good thing I was packing chemical heat too."
"It was not an animal. It was a demon. They are quite different."
"Yeah, I'm beginning to see that. So what's the deal with these 'demons'? I've seen weirder things than them, but usually they die easier."
"Demons are not like other animals. They have only started appearing recently, with the advent of the Sorcery Globe. Some think that the demons were always alive, but that they have now come out of hiding. There are stories that suggest that many were not always violent. In which case, the Sorcery Globe has clearly driven them mad."
"Freaky. When I find Ernest, we'll have to do some research on them."
"Right. Ernest and I are explorers. He's a top-notch archeologist and I'm what you could call a foreign terrain expert."
"What is that? Your position, I mean."
"I know how to deal with problems. Lots of places we explore have things like traps and weird life forms. My specialty is keeping us alive and getting us to wherever we're trying to reach. I've also got some connections with the high muckety-mucks that come in handy sometimes. And I'm a top-notch mechanic. Once we get there, he knows how to understand what we find. And how to make money from it."
"I see. An impressive team, from the sounds of it."
"Yeah, we work great together."
"Why did he leave you behind?"
"I was busy with some family affairs, and he was probably too impatient to wait for me to finish. I woke up one morning and he'd left a message for me. He just said that he was off on a trip for a few weeks, and not to worry."
"You did not listen to the note, I assume."
"Are you kidding? He may wear the pants, but I do too. And I pack the heat. I never listen to anything Ernest doesn't tell me to my face. Ernest is a great guy, but he's a little naive sometimes. He thinks that all problems can be solved without violence. And he has a habit of not being careful that I haven't quite cured him of yet. For all I know, he's already gotten himself killed."
"You do not sound worried."
"Worried? Ah, sure I'm worried. But what good is worrying going to do? I mean, I find a dead body and there's going to be some serious hell to pay. But until then, I don't know anything for sure. But really, it's no big deal. Ernest always backs off when he runs into trouble without me. So he's probably not in any danger."
"A good approach, I think," Ashton finally approved. "You are a very level-headed individual."
"Part of the business, right? Do you stay alive by getting over-worked about every single thing that comes along?"
"Quite true. But I have had little to get overworked over as of late."
"It'll happen, trust me. You have to be ready for it when the time comes. If you loose your head, you'll probably wind up doing something stupid, then winding up dead."
"You sound experienced."
Opera sighed. Once this business was done with, she'd never let her fuel tank gauge drop below half-full again. "Yeah, I guess I am. That's why I'm in this mess right now. When I found out that Ernest had taken off without me, I lost my head, and chased after him without thinking the situation over. Now I'm stranded here until I can find him. I'm not going to make the same mistake again."
"I see. I will bear that in mind in my future travels, then. Still, you must keep in mind, Lacour is a very large city. Surely this Ernest individual will be there of all places."
"I'm hope he is. Just the same, I can't count on that. I want to talk to everybody in this city before we leave."
Ashton nodded in agreement. "I will help you, then. I do not know this individual, but I am considerably more familiar with the lands. Let us finish our meal, then begin to question the locals."
"Perchance, have you seen an individual come through here, with three eyes?"
"Are you insane?"
"As insane as _I_ am, buddy!" Opera snarled.
The owner of the pawnshop glanced away from Ashton to face her. After several moments of thought, he slowly nodded. "Alright, I'll grant the part about three eyes. But you're the first I've ever seen of _that_."
Opera scowled. "Forget it. Come on, Ashton. There's got to be someone here who saw him."
Ashton followed her away from the pawnshop owner. "You must accept the fact that he may not have passed through this village. Perhaps he arrived on the continent of Lacour?"
"I know, I know. These idiots are getting on my nerves, that's all. And I'm getting tired. I haven't slept in a while."
In cue, Ashton stifled a yawn. "Nor have I. We should finish questioning any remaining individuals, then go to the inn."
"Sounds great. How much does an inn cost?"
"No more than 50 gil, I imagine."
"Wow. I hadn't realized how much money we're dragging around. And that meal was only 250 gil. 15000 gil sure is a lot of money."
"Indeed it is. I look forward to reaching Herlie, where I can deposit this in a bank."
With a sigh, Opera lay back on the bed. The coat hooks on the wall were presently occupied with the task of supporting the Kaleidoscope and her pack, complete with the six remaining bottles of beer and two chocolate bars. The third bar was presently being eaten by herself.
Ashton had left on an errand, leaving her to make herself comfortable. Given her complete lack of any extra clothing, the entire process of making herself comfortable had involved lying down on her bed. She wished she had a magazine to read. Falling asleep just wasn't the same without a good magazine to read first. When she got home, she was going to have a lot of reading to catch up on.
It had been one of the sore points between her and Ernest when they'd first met. She had constantly been insulting him on account of his hopelessly pacifistic tendencies. After all, what kind of a wimp actually subscribed to three different diplomatic magazines? Not to mention the other sixty-three subscriptions devoted to archeology, mining, and anthropology. For his part, he had been convinced that she needed as much counseling as possible. Proof of this, he had maintained, was in the eighty-three magazine subscriptions _she_ had. All of them devoted to firearms, energy weapons, or hard-core mechanics.
Opera smiled, remembering the countless arguments that they had engaged in, for lack of anything else to do. They had been at each other's throats constantly from the beginning. Her using him as a source of income. Him using her as somebody to walk in front and find traps and dangerous lifeforms.
It had been several years of working together, off and on, before they'd finally realized how successful they'd been as a team. There was still lots of friction, but the annoyance had slowly but surely worn off, replaced with an indifferent sense of amusement. To be replaced with a healthy measure of respect for each other's eccentricities.
She had come to understand his desire to explore as the only way he could avoid turning in an overweight desk jockey professor. He had come to understand her fiercely independent exterior as a rebellion to her stuffy and sheltered aristocratic upbringing. She had learned to respect his calm and diplomatic demeanor, as well as his easy-going sense of humor. He had learned to respect her decisiveness, as well as her uncanny resourcefulness in a crisis. She had quickly learned to appreciate the fact that he could cook something beside vacuum packed rations. He had quickly learned to appreciate the benefits of traveling with a top-notch machinery specialist.
A match made somewhere between heaven and hell, but they had learned to take the good with the bad. Virtually no activity in the romance department, admittedly. But once or twice, she'd overheard him referring to her as his 'girlfriend'. And every now and then, she would refer to him as her 'boyfriend'. They'd sort everything out one of these days...
"Are you awake?"
Opera blinked, swiveling her eyes to see Ashton looking down at her worriedly. "I'm awake. What's the matter?"
"I was rather concerned. You looked as though you had fainted."
"Your eyes... were all looking in a different direction," he clarified.
She shrugged his concern away. "I was just day-dreaming. No big deal. My kind can focus their eyes independent of each other. Kind of handy in a fight sometimes."
Ashton nodded, taking a seat on the edge of his bed. "I suppose it would be. I am most surprised that I have never heard of... your kind."
"Tetragenes," Opera supplied. "Don't be surprised. I'm from... really far away. Just leave it at that, okay?"
"Indeed. I was under the impression that our world had been explored thoroughly, but... obviously not."
"It's a lot bigger than you'd ever believe." She sighed, closing her eyes. "Ernest and I were always planning to find the edge someday."
"But the world is known to be round," Ashton objected.
Opera laughed weakly. "That's the latest theory, I think. As soon as I find Ernest, we'll have to get around to testing that theory."
Author's Notes: One thing that I disliked about Star Ocean 2 was the general lack of background information on most of the characters. The only one with any significant background is Claude, in part because of the original Star Ocean (Featuring his father). Even Rena's background is limited somewhat. Admittedly, it does a lot compared to a lot of other RPG's, but I really wanted more. So one of my goals throughout this story is going to be to establish something of a background story for my main character. I will probably find myself doing that for other characters as well, based on what I can extrapolate from what the game provides. Let me know what you think of what I come up with.
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