" I wish I had your luck. " The dragon knight had known this particular associate for a long enough time to know that he could get away with a bit of snark. " Not many people can say they've caught a group of bandits going in to refuel. "
On the other side of the desk stood a young wolf who seemed disinterested in banter. " Not many bandits go around robbing places in the day. "
Dawn, actually. Merchants priced their goods lower at night to encourage people to leave their homes and go shopping. Not many were willing to take them up with so many Phantom Beasts running around, however. That worked out just fine for the bounty hunter. Guntz wasn't foolish enough to travel alone during the dead of night, but he still managed to take advantage of the reduced prices by getting in before the prices changed for the morning rush. This morning he just so happened to walk in on a robbery in progress. Now five criminals were bring processed by some of Jugkettle's finest.
" No many want to move around at night anymore. Not even the criminal element. " Suiryu shrugged. " The beasts don't care what side of the law you're on. They'll gut you all the same. "
Suiryu expected a comment but got a pointed look instead. He knew that look. Sighing, the dragon knight circled around the desk and made a beeline for the safe on the other side of the office. The department made no effort to hide where the valuables were in the station. Thus far, no criminal had been bold enough to try and rob them. Even if they somehow escaped they would not last long with such a proficient hunter working the city. It was only Wednesday, and this had been the fourth time that Guntz had come in with a bounty this week.
" If this keeps up we won't be able to afford to keep paying you. "
Though he muttered it the wolf heard him clearly. His right ear twitch. " What does that mean? "
Suiryu looked over his shoulder. " Just as I said. The department is almost out of reward money. The King has cut back on funding due to the situation down at the harbor. Few ships can enter and fewer can leave. Trade is a vital part of our economy. Without it, the entire Kingdom has been suffering. "
" The situation? " Guntz thought aloud. " It must be a Phantom Beast, then? Why not just send some guys down to deal with it? "
" We were defeated. Specifically, I
was defeated. " For a moment the dragon seemed - pained by making such a statement. " I went out to battle the beast myself and barely escaped with my life. " He did not want to admit it but his age had become a factor in that battle. Though dragons were among the longest living creatures in Lunatea he was no longer in his prime. A defeat in his element was inevitable. " If the beast can defeat the strongest underwater combatant on the force there's no point in throwing any of my subordinates in its wake. "
The wolf could tell that the dragon's pride was wounded. He had come from a long line of knights and could not face the idea that he could no longer protect and instead was one of the many who needed protecting. Not many could handle such humbling. Or even the transition. Having come from just as long of a line of Hunters Guntz knew that he would rather fall in battle than admit that he needed someone else to save him.
Yet - " If things are that bad the King must be offering a reward to capture this monster, right? "
Suiryu grimaced. " ... yes. King Seadolph is willing to give the remainder of what is in the Royal Treasury, 200,000 Stones, to whoever brings in proof that the monster in Jugkettle Harbor has been vanquished. It is a generous reward that will likely bankrupt the Kingdom, but with intervention the Kingdom will be out of food -and- money before the season is over. "
Guntz lit up immediately. It was no surprise why. " 200,000 Stones! Why didn't you tell me sooner!? "
" I was hoping you'd act out of compassion. " The dragon had almost immediately regretted his wording.
" Compassion? " Guntz scoffed. " I don't work a charity, Suiryu. I need the money. "
" We already paid you 80,000 Stones this week. " Now they had reached what was often the turning point in their relationship and why neither of them rarely went beyond pleasantries in conversation. They were both prideful individuals who seemed to believe in very different things. Similarly, they were both easily angered. " That is more than the average citizen in Jugkettle gets in a year. How much more do you need!? "
" Are you trying to say something, Officer
? " And there it went. This was not the first and would likely not be the last time that they butt heads. Whenever it happened in the past it often lead to them calling each other outside of their names. Suddenly dear friend Suiryu was 'Officer' and Shimigami Guntz was now the 'Hunter'. " That I shouldn't be rewarded for saving your Kingdom? "
" You shouldn't need a reward as a reason to help someone. " Suiryu snorted. " If I had thought in those terms of inconvenience and profit perhaps I wouldn't have pulled a drowning boy out of the harbor that night. " The dragon knew that he was pushing the limits of what was acceptable. He could see the hurt and anger building behind the wolf's eyes with those words. That was almost too far. Almost, but those were words that he knew the young hunter needed to hear.
Guntz's response was delayed. " ... do you regret it? " Though anger lingered his tone lowered.
" Not once. " The Gold Medal that sat opposite of his badge radiated with light. There was no hesitation in his voice. No remorse. " You have a long way to go, Hunter
. " Suiryu said as he gestured to the less prestigious Hero Medal on the Hunter's jacket. " I pray that one day you understand what it means to carry that. "
" I'm not here for a lecture about my merit, Officer
. Merit doesn't put food on the table or bullets in my guns. "
The dragon didn't answer. He reached into the vault and pulled out the last bag of Stones.
Guntz would be back to exterminate the monster in the harbor. Right now he needed to ride.
There were few things that brought him pleasure in this world. The Red Clan was one of them. It didn't take him long after starting his career to realize that he needed to get around faster and more efficiently. After trying half dozen bumpy wheeled bikes already on the market he had this beauty custom made with a sizeable amount of his reward money. The most important feature? A complex system of motion stabilizers that made for a smoother ride. After explaining his ... limitations
... to the mechanic he made it explicably clear that the bike's ride had to be as smooth as possible even if it came at the expense of speed.
He didn't need " fast ". Power and stability were much more important to him. The Red Clan could still do over a hundred miles per hour if he pushed the engine but that would come at the expense of the stabilizers. He had only gone that fast to escape imminent danger. Now he cruising along at a more leisurely pace of just over forty miles per hour. Faster than running and most of the phantom beasts out there.
One of the reasons Guntz stayed around this area was because there was plenty of countryside for him to ride through. Ghazzaland had more open space but that came with relentless sun during the daytime hours and chilly conditions at night. The lands around Bell Hill stayed at a more desirable temperature longer, especially around this time of year when Spring just started to give way into Summer. The skies looked clear as well. It was a perfect day for riding.
It would have been if he wasn't lost in thought.
Guntz assured himself that he did not feel guilty about taking the bounty on the group of bandits. Together they were worth a measly 10,000 Stones. Most who were wanted by law enforcement did not offer the greatest rewards. Though thieves were dangerous they only impacted a handful of people occasionally. Good rewards came from hunting monsters or turning in criminals that caused serious problems to the surrounding regions. Admittedly, the Hunter had never been fortunate enough to get involved in anything that big. Most of his fortune came from catching petty criminals. So if he caught the monster in the harbor it would be the biggest single bounty he ever collected. Not just when it came to the reward money, but his prestige as well.
He collected more bounties in five years than most Hunters did in their entire career ... but he did not feel like a Hero. And the color of his Hero Medal reflected that.
The Hunter did not want to admit that the Dragon Knight may have been correct with his assumptions. That he was only in this because it was lucrative and he had no other prospects. He'd been trained as a Hunter from an early age. Taught self-sufficiency by his mother before her untimely death and basics of tracking and holding one's own in battle by his father before his. His parents were career Hunters yet he did not remember either of them as particularly cruel or cold. Mother always seemed to be smiling and rarely arrived anywhere without a gift to give. Father was a jovial man who seemed to regard everyone he met as a friend until they proved to be his enemy. Perhaps it was because of that he had been cut down in the prime of his life.
Guntz had vowed never to show that kind of weakness in front of his enemies. And then, given his father's circumstances, in front of anybody. He had to condition himself to become strong, self-sufficient, and not rely on others for help. Somewhere along the way that changed from a timid child who shied away from others to an intentionally cold and calculating individual who sought no one's companionship. He could confidently say that he had no one he could consider a friend. He only tolerated Suiryu because he usually gave him money at the end of their transactions. He only remembered his name because he occasionally asked the other offers where the one who gave him the money was at the moment.
Was this the type of life that he wanted to live?
The cry was so loud and so close that Guntz swerved out of instinct. The Red Clan came to a stop facing what appeared to be a very bad situation. A boy who looked about the same age - a little younger than he approached a group of large Phantom Beasts with the intent to fight. Hunters knew that the most dangerous types of Phantom Beasts were not particularly the strongest ones but those that traveled in groups. One target was one target. With a group it was easy to get overwhelmed.
That happened almost immediately for the kid. There were just three of them, but he was outnumbered and from the looks of it way out of his depth. One of the beasts knocked him to the ground and clearly knocked the wind out of him. It seemed as though adrenaline was the only thing keeping him going. He narrowly avoided being crushed by the second beast by pushing himself clumsily out of harm's way at the last moment.
He was going to get himself killed.
On any other day Guntz would have been content to just watch and see how this played out. Today he was angry. Suiryu, someone he knew and at times respected, thought that he was only in it for the money. Guntz thought, no, knew that he was wrong. He did need the money. He had neither family nor friends nor a King or Elder to take care of him. Though money was a primary motivator in what types of jobs that he took he knew that with every bounty turned in the world was getting a little better. And with every Phantom Beast killed he made it a little safer. So that maybe, one day, the world wouldn't need people like him.
Guntz didn't need the Red Clan's canon for this. He reached for one of his pistols and took note of where the kid was. On the ground and trying in vain to shield himself from the onslaught. Though two hundred yards separated them he felt confident that he wouldn't hit him. Barring a few miserable months in a bad place he'd been practicing his shooting daily going on a decade.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Perfect. Unfortunately, the Phantom Beasts only dropped a few measly Stones before they expired. They were almost not worth the fuel or effort picking up.
He headed over anyway.
The Hunter didn't need to check up on the kid to know that he was still alive. Still breathing. Still clutching that strange looking ring that he used as a weapon. And as he went to pick up the first of the dropped Stones finally rolling over onto his side. Coughing miserably. His eyes were clenched shut during his coughing fit. When they opened they fixated on the Hunter immediately.
Guntz did his best to ignore him. It was easy since he'd been preoccupied with counting his Stones. Less than a hundred all together. " Of course ... " He muttered more to himself than anyone around him. " I could not have expected much from weak monsters. " And chances were he would receive no reward from the village for exterminating them. The nearest village to Bell Hill was Breezegale; a village that used to be a center for trade and community until the country became more industrialized. Now they were just some backwater country town with backwater country people who thought they could fight Phantom Beasts.
He had made his mind up to leave, but the kid had finally caught his breathe. " A Hero Medal! " That made him pause. Not many took notice of that. They usually took notice of his guns, his expression, or the canon on the front of his bike. Not some mediocre piece of medal that never got its shine no matter what he did. Anyone could get a Hero Medal. They just had to ask for it. It took a special type of person to actually make it shine. He had long convinced himself that he was not that special type of person.
Yet, his Hero Medal had turned Bronze.
A few months ago I started doing an outline for a big story. Unfortunately, I was not satisfied with the quality of the bigger story so I decided to cancel the project. There is a lot of good material in there, though, so I will be cutting out and posting the better chunks over the coming weeks. I already posted this one elsewhere but decided to post it here since I'm eventually going to move all of my Klonoa-stuff here.
The main story was supposed to happen a few years after the events of Klonoa Heroes
. Told through the perspective of Guntz, several events in his past are referenced to justify his actions in the " present " which is actually the future.