Chapter 1: Visitors
Never has Daiba Nana ever run for her life this dearly. Her strategy to hide in the thick bushes of the Jungle to ambush an unsuspecting Nargacuga backfires, courtesy to the steel dragon Kushala Daora. The bad feeling in her gut proves to be the right indicator that things won't go her way that day.
The dragon's attention is pinned on the challenging wyvern, talon and strong gusts shower down to show who's the boss there. The fight turns into an ugly turn when Kushala Daora flies up in a twisting motion, creating a whirlwind that gust blows the bushes flat, exposing her whereabouts. Nargacuga lets out threatening chippers, but Kushala Daora pays no heed. The elder dragon dives and grapples Nargacuga with its hind legs. The flying wyvern’s scales do little to protect itself as the dragon’s claws hook the flesh. She takes the opportunity to escape the area. Her hunt ended badly with her prey getting mauled by elder dragon, and she doesn't want to end up as a lump of minced meat.
Nana's voice cracks up as she runs out for her life. Rana, her hunting pal fishes out its armor horn and blows vigorous tunes. She leaves it behind because she knows that it will return to her. Palicoes are wonderful combat companions, for they can understand how to play musical instruments and play melodies to help their meowsters in hunts. They’re hard-working and tough. Taking the time to teach them is a good long-term investment.
Nana rarely brings them on a hunt, so she's glad that she invites one out. The blonde is lucky because a few seconds after that a Deviljho jumps out of nowhere with its annoying roar a few meters before her. As much as she's very grateful not to be crushed by those powerful legs, she's not going to lose her hearing. Not only monster roars will make you unable to move, it'll certainly damage your hearing in long term. Nobody wants their ear-drums to pop in the middle of a hunt.
Nana picks her stance up, walking around the monster slowly to examine the situation. The Deviljho looks tired as it wheezes, huffing dangerous red and black puffs between its big, sharp teeth. It looks so out of breath. Judging from the damage it sustains, it just fights someone or a group of hunters a while ago. She can see a lot of arrows embedded on its hide, side, tail, even on its head. It's just everywhere.
The blonde knows that she's not the only huntress in such a big area. She also respects hunting ethics.
Never take other hunter's monster, unless allowed.
"I'm not the one to bring the end to your suffering," Nana says before chiding herself. What a waste, talking to dead meat. The monster huffs and gruffs, taking heavy steps towards Nana. She knows that she has two options: fight or run. She will only waste her time if she stays too long. Not that time matters since she's on a personal expedition. Though if she returns earlier, she might be able to use the kitchen.
Nana rolls to the side right before the big monster slams its powerful leg down, shaking the ground and creating a crater as proof of its strength. As expected of the apex predator.
Nana is about to leave when she spots someone appear behind the monster. It isn't aware of the new huntress' appearance yet, but her flailing is distracting and might fish Deviljho's attention.
The huntress simply asks her to buy some time. Nana doesn't want to do that, for real. Her prey is gone, her day is ruined and her disappointment is immeasurable. She doesn't have any reason to listen to her request, and she doesn't know anyone who dresses like a certain exotic gecko. The thing is, the huntress gets that her message is delivered, and Nana doesn’t have a choice but to cooperate despite the minimum information.
"Tch." Nana can't afford to waste more time. She throws some stones at the head, provoking it to pursue her. "Rana, buff."
The smart palico takes out the horn again out of nowhere and starts playing some melodies. It doesn't take long before adrenaline pumps in and every fiber in her body is burning with strength. Unfortunately, the Deviljho doesn't appreciate music.
It takes a deep breath, standing up on its hind legs tall, a familiar gesture for a big attack. Nana reads its movement, quickly swiping her Palico up and jumps behind a huge tree. She gets behind it right, shields her fluffy companion tightly in her arms, and braces for the powerful dragon breath to shower them…
But nothing occurs.
Deviljho's attack never comes. Instead of the destructive dragon’s breath, a strong tremor shakes the ground. As if a very old, giant tree has fallen.
Cautiously, Nana takes a peek from behind her temporary cover only to see the Deviljho laying down on the ground. It curls comfortably, snore vibrates the air around them as it sleeps.
Just what in the...
Nana raises one of her blades to the source out of instinct, earning a surprised yelp. It's the huntress she sees sneaking behind the monster. Knowing that the huntress isn't a threat, she lowers her blade. "You drugged it."
The huntress nods. Of course, she does. Nana will not run from monsters until she has to, and she's not the type to use status-inducing items. Nana keeps an eye on the sleeping monster, wary as it can wake up any time.
"Got bombs?" Nana asks casually. The huntress faces her, yet Nana can't read her face as the hoodie covers most of her head.
"We can kill it faster if we blast the head when it's unconscious."
Attacking an unconscious monster will damage it even more. For someone like Nana, this is a perfect opportunity to quickly end the monster's misery. She opens her backpack to look for her bomb, only to be halted.
"W-wait!" The huntress holds Nana's wrist on the place firmly, her dread in her voice stops Nana on her track. "I'm not planning to kill it."
Her hearing is still good, isn't it? She doesn't just hear the huntress not to kill it, right?
"You're… not killing it." Nana repeats. The hooded figure nods, affirming the statement. Not killing it? Is that even an option? If it is, then it's a ridiculous one. Even Rana gives the girl a weird look.
"You're not after the carved goods?" Nana frowns in confusion. As long as she lives, people have been killing monsters. Her mentors teach her how to effectively end a monster's life, where to attack, each monster's breakable parts, and their weak points. As far as she knows, hunting, killing, and carving are the ways hunters and huntresses live.
In her commission, that is. Known as the black commission, one which strayed from the original purpose, and backed by mafia and smugglers. Filled with people who mostly kill for entertainment, crazy researchers, and even criminals. Living in the headquarters is proven to be harsh and cruel. Nana won't call herself lucky to be able to survive there for a long time, under the pressure of tyrants and psychos. But she lives through it and became a part of them. What a bad place to live your life.
For some unknown reason, the official constitution rarely press charges to unlicensed hunters, but they won't stay silent if the black commissions stir up troubles and disturb the messed up ecosystem than it already is.
The shorter girl retracts her hand as she walks passing the tall huntress, slipping into her front pocket to pull something out. Nana stays and watches the peculiar huntress. It's her monster. It's her target. Nana doesn't have the right to choose what to do to it.
The huntress tightens her scarf to her nose before throwing whatever is in her hand twice to the ground. Reddish smoke blasts out from the impact with subtle pops, wafting in the air before it's gone not long after. Nana inhales some of the smoke, before moving out swiftly and away from the smoke. The tranquilizer is very strong, enough to knock a monster out cold in less than a minute. If Nana stays there longer than a few seconds, she will pass out. Rana sniffs the smoke and is knocked out for good immediately.
After the smoke is gone, the huntress throws a metallic device from her front belt to the ground. It immediately zaps the Deviljho awake. Nana watches in boredom as the monster limps down and continues its disturbed rest.
The huntress reached for a flare gun on her side and shoots it. Greenish smoke trails behind the flare, flying high into the sky. Nana watches the spark of the fire lighting up the sky above them briefly. It's like the SOS flare, but slightly different.
"Okay, hunt success." The huntress pulls her scarf down, taking a deep breath before sighing in relief. It doesn't seem to be suffocating, but Nana is sure that it is still annoying. "Let me share some of the bounties with you. You've helped me, after all."
"Bounty? What can you get from a sleeping monster other than their dung and loud snores?" Nana's eyebrows knit together in confusion. They just captured a monster. It's not like they will carve the creature alive. She has seen some research maniacs do that, and those are honestly disgusting. The huntress gives her a surprised look, clearly not expecting to hear such response and sarcasm.
'Maybe she's from the other commission. A legal one. Damned normies .' Nana thinks to herself.
"For starters, money. We will get money, and followed with items. The commission will reward us the items according to what kind of monster we captured."
Nana dusts her leg armor, sensing the weight of the huntress' stare on her back as she tries to figure out the meaning behind Nana's evident confusion. For a skilled huntress, the blonde knows little about the world outside killing monsters. She has the skills, yes, but it might be dangerous if her hunting motivation turns from survival into killing for fun and sports. Even if she works under an illegal commission which operates with insane ethics, Nana still has her ideals.
A flock of Mernos flies down carrying people Nana has never seen before, confirming her suspicion. As the blonde thinks, the huntress comes from another place. One of them approaches the huntress and hands her two bags of goods. She checks on the contents before nodding off. The newcomers then start taking care of the sleeping monster.
Nana watches the scene in front of her without much interest. She can see both humans, wyverians, and palicoes working together to prep the Deviljho onto a platform attached to the Mernos flock. They're going to transport it by flying it to their base, Nana assumes. One of the wyverians seems to be jotting down notes after poking and touching the monster eagerly.
"We rarely kill monsters, but there are times where we have to step in and reduce their population by harsh means to keep the ecosystem stable. But when reducing population is not necessary, we will capture some monsters and study them. Monster carcass can offer so much, but living creatures will give better and more accurate results." The huntress fixes her glasses with her knuckle. She must have meant the hunters and huntress who work for the official commissions since she has never even considered not killing them in the first place.
Nana shrugs. What a nerd. To hell she cares what they're doing to it, alive or dead. She lives to kill so she can eat and sleep with a roof above her head, not to find out how old the monster is, what its gender is, and other unimportant stuff. That kind of information is as good as trash. All she wants to do now is to get the money and go home.
"Here you go."
Nana snatches one of the bags from the archer's hand and for a second her balance shifts. She doesn't expect it to be heavy, since the huntress is holding it casually like it weights equal to 5 mega potions or so. The blonde gently sets the bag down, curious about the content.
The huntress might be making a mistake, or she's feeling considerate. Or shaming her for whatever reason. Nana earns half of the total rewards of the quest, both money and materials. There are also rare items included. By far, this is the most she earns from a single hunt. Usually, she has to go on a hunt that requires her to do various tasks, like killing, carving, and bringing the goods fresh. From multiple monsters in one hunt.
Two things run in Nana's head. Either the black commission she's been living with is running out of patrons, or whichever commission the huntress serves is generous. She should stop listening to those drunkards' biased stories about their pitiful old life after quitting the official commission and joining the black one.
Presented with the number of rewards she earns and the little work she has to do, Nana's brain cogs start to turn slowly.
Maybe she has to leave that shitty place, move out, and become the normies she detests if that means she will finally earn the payment she deserves. No. She has to move out.
"Which commission do you serve, and which fleet do you belong to?" Nana is focusing on tying the bag close as she asks, trying to sound uninterested despite her curiosity.
"I work under Seisho's wings, and I belong to the 99th fleet," the archer answers immediately. She doesn't really care about the news, so she doesn't even know any fleet after hers exist. About Seisho, she has never heard of any research commission under the name Seisho, so it must be a small, unrecognized one. Nana hoists the bag upon her shoulder before facing the archer and properly takes in her features.
Emerald orbs glinting behind the glasses, the sweat beads dusting her small nose and cheeks, pair of thin lips tinted with red parts slightly without her knowledge. Purplish hair gathered and tied in a side ponytail, her bangs cover a portion of her eyes until she brushes them to the side. She looks like a nerd, yeah.
"What about you?" The archer asks.
"96th fleet." Nana shrugs, sparing little to no information about where she works at. The stranger doesn't need to know.
Nana takes another glance at the huntress to check on something. She deducts that they're around the same age. Either she's an early bloomer or the archer's a late one. One thing for sure is that there is a clear difference between their experience. Nana has been hunting for 3 years, surviving a long period in the hellish place she calls home. The amount of violence and danger she faces on daily basis boosts her adaptability and pain tolerance.
She's not only good at beating monsters but also fighting humans and wyverians. In a place where privacy matters so little and crime is an order, she has to defend herself and suspect everyone.
"I see. Um...," The archer looks behind at the newcomers. Seems like they have finished securing the sleeping ancient monster and are ready to return. Nana is impressed at their great team-work.
"Thank you again for your help. I should get going now." The huntress bows down deeply. Her glasses slide down her nose bridge a little. Nana shrugs, picking up her still asleep palico, and walks to the opposite way of where the archer is going. She needs no thanks. It won't give her money, food, materials, and potentially a good fight. Her hand is itchy because she doesn't get to kill anything that day. But it's fine. She has something to do later once she returns to her commission.
Chapter 2: Unpredicted Shift
Quitting the commission is proven to be easy, but clearing her criminal record isn't. No matter how skillful she is, if her track record is none and dirty, it means nothing. She believes that her name is banned by big commissions, fearing the potential of overthrowing the authority to execute the black commission's nasty agenda. Fortunately for them, she has enough of it.
She sells most of her belongings; materials, armors, and weapons, and uses the money to earn information. She spends a lot of time and money in the ... as people gathered there and juicy stories are shared.
After a bunch of nonsense and some punches, she finally gets her hands on the information she needs. Rumors about a huge, successful commission. There are rumors that the commission under captain Souda's care has the best hunters and huntresses coming from many places. They're also trusted with quests that are too dangerous for most, which proves their experiences and strength. There is the famous story of a group of four huntresses who belong to her commission slain the Safi’jiifa without major casualties, where ordinary hunters need to gather forces and take several risky tries in a simultaneous attack to actually slain it. It works as a sealing statement for how fearless and strong they are. It's no wonder that they don't open recruitment for all and only accept recommendations.
Bizarre, isn't it? What kind of commission get to choose the people who will serve them? They shouldn't even be choosers since the number of people who take the job is decreasing as time goes by, statistically speaking.
'The payment must be big. If I can get this stupid recommendation, I'll be rich in no time.' Nana mulls to herself. The recommendation itself isn't an issue, but who to ask for it is. Surely they won't accept someone from shady places, except if she has the money to do the talking. She doesn't, and it irks her.
A man dressed in red approaches her, asking if she needs some cash because he has a job for her. The way he looks at her is sickening as if she's a toy. Surely this person has never heard of her before. Nana, who is in no mood for anything at all and certainly wants to be left alone, slams his face down the floor so hard she swears she hears a horrifying crack. "Piss off."
That place is doomed. She regrets her decision to think that the cafeteria can at least become a haven. Grabbing her cloak, she takes her leave after paying her bills.
The open-air is quite chill, it wakes her up from the slight drowsiness. It helps a lot since she has to stay alert at all times. Lest someone suspicious approaches her, covered from top to bottom in back, asks for her name, knocks her out cold, robs her, and then kills her-
' Hmm? Wasn't that guy in the cafeteria just now? ' Nana takes a glance at her back as the said guy walks to her. She hears no footsteps at all, which is dubious.
Before she can say anything, she feels her head spinning. Her nose is picking up a familiar scent, though she can't remember where she smelled it, or what it belongs to. Her head is sending crazy signals for her to move, adrenaline rushing in to accommodate her. Nana tries to take a step, but as soon as she does she loses control of her legs. The blonde slumps to the ground, a hint of distress and anxiety is noticeable on her facade. "Wha..."
Nana tries to fight for her consciousness as she lays down on the cold stone path. She's unable to move her limbs as if she’s paralyzed.
"This is her, right?"
"Yeah. Daiba Nana. I told you we can find her here."
"I can't believe I did what you asked me to do."
"It works and it's harmless like you wanted it. So boring."
There are two of them, females, talking about her while she's phasing in and out of consciousness. The night is getting colder, making it hard for her to stay awake.
"I'm still against the idea, however gentle and good we're doing it." The speaker approaches her. Her footsteps sound heavy, so is her voice. The other one, her partner, scoffs.
"That's not my business. My business is to catch her alive and deliver her." Her voice is light but sharp. Her footsteps are definitely lighter but quiet, unlike the first stranger. Nana doesn't have time to think about regrets and listing the crimes she has done as darkness consumes her.
"She's asleep," the first stranger mutters, pulling Nana to a sitting position. She struggles as she hoists the blonde up in her arms due to their huge height difference. "And... Heavy!"
The second stranger giggles. "I'm sure this is a good workout for you. Daiba-han will surely not mind being used as a training weight."
Nana remembers passing out on the empty street, drugged by two strangers she has never seen before. She guesses that they will rob her and then kill her. But maybe they have other plans for her.
When she comes to her senses, she feels... Awful. Her head is heavy and she can feel the strong arrhythmic pounding in her head like a drumming palico. The loud banging and stomping noises above her are no help at all. her throat is dry, so are her lips. She feels so parched. How long has she been out? Her chest feels heavy, her stomach turns and churns. It is similar to waking up to bad motion sickness. She feels stiff, making her question how long she has been passing out. Her butt hurts a lot. How long has she been sitting on this wooden chair? Probably as long as she's been knocked out.
The blonde slowly cracks her eyes open. She feels both grateful and anxious for the dim light she's surrounded with. The air isn't suffocating, but she needs extra effort to breathe. It smells wet, cold, and dusty, like an old warehouse. Maybe she's in some sort of storage room, judging from the crates and barrels stacked around her.
Nana then shuts her eyes tightly. The air makes her eyes itchy, she wants to rub them badly. Nana tries to move an arm... But it gets stuck on her back. She tugs her wrist, and something keeps it in the place. Something heavy is clacking against a dull object. From the way it sounds, the blonde judges it to be metal going against wood. She knows that she's sitting on a wooden chair, so her hands are probably bound together with a cuff or some sort.
' ... Damnit .'
She tries to move her feet, and the result is similar to her hands. Can't move it, and something is preventing her from moving it. It's a good precaution for whoever takes her away, she gives them that. She stays in silence for a couple of moments, trying to clear up the fog in her mind and to calm herself down. She needs to focus, to get her hunting instinct on.
The previous stomping sound is back above her. Judging from the distance of the wooden ceiling and her position, there must be some sort of walking deck. There are other weird noises, like rumbles and swirling sands she can't pinpoint where. It's all around her. One thing is for sure, that the swirling noises are in tandem with the tremor she's feeling. Tremor might be an incorrect term to describe the rocking sensation. It leans more towards...
"... The sea?" Nana guesses.
"Yup. The sea."
Nana's head shoots up. In front of her stands a short girl. Her hands are fixed on her hips, her eyes on Nana. For someone short, this redhead has quite a build.
"We've been sailing for a day already. Glad that you're still alive."
Her nose picks up something. Other than salt and wood. Something pleasant and mouth-watering. Her stomach growls in response. Only then she realizes how hungry she is. Responding to the cry for food, the short girl reveals a basket of bread. She also brings a bag of water. "I assure you there's no poison in this food. If we want you dead, we could've killed you right when we saw you. But the boss has another plan for you."
"How can I trust you after how you treat me?" Nana growls. She doesn't have the energy to fight back, not even to at least sounds angry. That doesn't mean she won't fight. The short girl hums.
"I brought you food. If you're cooperative enough, I will feed it to you. The ride is still long, and we want you to be at least look alive when we arrive."
Nana's eyebrow twitches. Are they trying to sell her away? Does she become one of those trafficking victims?!
"Where are you bring me? Are you going to sell me?" The blonde hisses. The red-haired girl unscrews the cap from the water bag.
"We don't do that. Even if we are, then you'll be the first and last human we ever trade. Selling is not even the correct term in this condition, but I'm not allowed to elaborate further. Now, drink some water."
Nana hesitates to drink, even when the water bag's lip is right in front of hers. She doesn't have any reason to trust her or her words. But she's been dying to drink fresh water. She can feel herself phasing in and out again with every swing the ship makes.
So drinks she does. Gulping and downing everything in one go. Ah, she feels alive. Still feeling unenergized and weak, but alive.
"Do you mind to untie me?" She asks. She guesses that it won't happen, but she still needs to ask. Unfortunately, the girl shakes her head.
"Sorry, I can't do that. We can't let the famous huntress known for beating monsters and hunters around the ship. As much as you want to cooperate to get off the shackles, we have our doubts."
That makes sense. Nana shrugs. At least she tries.
"Some bread to fill you up for the time being," she says, before putting one on her mouth and some on her lap. It's just a piece of regular bread but tastes a few times better when she's starving.
"I suggest you rest again after your meal. It's evening, we won't dock and drop anchor until tomorrow."
After delivering her last work, the magenta-haired girl takes her leave. She will give her 3.5 out of 5 for her service. Polite, isn't afraid of her, and is efficient. She munches on her bread, wondering where she will end up if she's able to see the blue sky again. She herself has never traveled this far, spending days on the sea.
She's surprised that she is very calm taking all the information in, noting that her position currently is taken as a hostage or prisoner of some sort. There's just something that ticks the back of her mind, telling her that things are changing in a positive light. Still, it doesn't mean she should end up getting cuffed onto a wooden chair.
It means that they know who they're dealing with. News must have been traveling rather quickly about her being a ruthless huntress. They know that she can and won't hesitate to shed blood if she wants to, thus the restraints. They can just talk it out with her, but perhaps it is not efficient. Maybe they're running out of time and chooses to take her with them in this way. She won't know for sure until the issue is brought under the light.
She struggles a little to reach for the slices of bread on her lap, but manages to eat all of them. If the journey is still long like the redhead says, then sleeping it off is a good way to waste time. The rocking of the sea and the sound of the waves are slowly becoming her lullaby, and once again Nana rests.
This time she's waking up sore but better. The redhead is back with a key and the water bag.
"Okay so here's the deal," she starts. Nana watches her without much interest. "I'm gonna let you go from the chair, but bind your legs and hands together. If you're cooperating, then there will be no trouble and the business will end up quicker."
"And if I rebel?" Nana asks, yawning for a second before she continues. "What's the worse can happen?"
The girl scratches her head. "You might get bad injuries, and potentially will not be able to hunt for the rest of your life. I highly suggest you don't stir up troubles now."
Nana really wants to take it as a bluff, but this shorty is serious. She doesn't look like telling lies. It leans more towards a habit. As if she's been doing it countless times.
The redhead then carefully approaches her. She starts by uncuffing Nana's feet and then binds them together. It happens so quickly that Nana doesn't even have time to react.
'This shrimp is quick... But she's alone here,' she thinks to herself. Just because she gets the threat doesn't mean she won't fight. She can just surrender when things are getting out of hand.
Once she hears the clicking noise of her handcuff getting unlocked, she stands up and kicks the chair behind. The surprise attack hits the short girl hard. She can hear a loud crack, but she doesn't know if it's the girl or the chair. She almost feels bad for hurting her if not because she stands up, looking annoyed at Nana.
"I thought I've made myself clear about what happened if you resist." She growls.
Nana shrugs. "Show me that's it's not an empty threat."
Nana leans her head a little to the side, dodging a part of the chair hurled at her face. It hits the door with another loud bang. The redhead then throws quick punches at her, which she parries before coming up with counters. They're going at it for some time, with the short girl on offense and Nana on defense.
"You're not bad," Nana says as she ducks, narrowly avoiding a punch. The girl's punches are packed with power and accuracy, something Nana's been careful of forever since the start of the fight. She can see her strong arms, formed after rigorous training. The red-haired girl chuckles.
"You're not bad yourself. Those rumors are true," she replies. Nana jumps towards the short girl, hugging her waist and shoving her into the wall. She stumbles a little thanks to the chain on her ankles but regains her footing soon after. The short girl takes the opportunity to land a knee on Nana's stomach, hard.
"So I'm here... only because of rumors?" Nana grits her teeth in pain as her back is pounded by her opponent. She's can imagine her back getting all the bruises later. "Isn't... that risky?"
"Risky yeah," the girl answers before yelping in pain. Nana is punching her side. The red-haired girl's side is hard, proof of hours of training. "Gah! But an order is still an order-!"
Nana sees an opening and lands a solid kick on the redhead's sides. She kicks her so hard the force throws the short girl into the wall. This time Nana visibly winces. The girl slumps down, groaning in defeat.
"Damn... Ouch... It hurts," she hisses in pain. She leans towards a crate as she catches her breath.
Nana shrugs. Actually, she can take the chance to exit the room and flee. But if she's here, that means they're already docked. Nana doesn't know what kind of people are waiting for them upstairs, and she really doesn't want to become a disability huntress. "Let's just say that you're lucky I'm not in the mood."
The girl rises back on her feet, grumbling to herself with stuff like "this is going to bruise later", "she's going to make fun of me", and "I got my ass beaten real quick, this sucks" as she's back working on cuffing Nana. The blonde let her do her job. Their short brawl is the result of her boredom and good thing that the girl doesn't look like someone who loves to snitch. She's also considered lucky that she has no intention to bring harm. Either that or she's dumb enough not to bring a weapon with her.
"Alright. Let's go." The girl pats her shoulder twice, before pushing back her gently as a sign for her to move. It doesn't take long for Nana to be escorted out of the huge mercenary ship but it doesn't stop people from staring at her. She pretty much ignored everyone. Sometimes she shoots out some irritating scowls, scaring those who make eye contact with her.
When Nana gets off the ship, she's quite unsure whether she has done something bad or good. Why?
Simply because she has never seen such an... Advanced place. This new place the strangers bring her to is very sophisticated, great, and it's just anything she has never seen before in her life. This place is overflowing with all kinds of people. It's buzzing with activity and is alive, unlike her old gloomy place. Despite the usage of steam engines, the air is clean and easy to breathe in.
The building is made from metal and wood, a luxury for commoners. There's an elevator too, something Nana has heard about but never seen before. With all the new things presented in front of her, Nana feels small with how little she knows about the world. The world outside hunting and her sorry little old commission.
"I'm not the one in charge for briefing and speeches, but welcome aboard," the redhead says. The blonde doesn't understand what that means at all. What is she going to do with her? What does she want? Who are these people? Moreover, where is she exactly? Nana is escorted towards an open-air area, after the crowded docks. There's a lot of people there, surrounding a huge wooden table in the middle of the area. A rather mature lady dressed in black armor stands out from the most as she stands in the middle of the crowd, surrounded by people. She has this indescribable aura around her, thick with professionalism and authority. Something tells Nana not to mess with her if she wants to live.
The lady notices her presence. As soon as they lock eyes, Nana feels a chill jolting down her back. Her instinct is telling her to run, but her legs are rooted in place. the redhead takes some steps back. They're staring at each other for some time before the lady turns away. Only then Nana realizes that she has been holding her breath. The lady says something to the people around them, and they leave her alone in no time.
"My deepest apologies for the unpleasant commute. I wished that there could be a better way for us to personally meet and discuss various things, but we didn't have a good history when it comes to dealing with black commissions and their people," the lady begins. Her voice is light and sharp, urging Nana to pay close attention. "You are Daiba Nana, correct?"
Nana takes a deep breath. She's dealing with someone out of her league, someone she doesn't want to have trouble with. In this case, she will play it carefully. "Yes. I am Daiba Nana."
Nana earns an acknowledgment nod from the lady, which weirds Nana out. Do people do this often?
"Very well," she says before opening both arms. “Welcome to Seisho.”
Chapter 3: Adaptation
"Welcome. I am commander Sawa Souda, pleased to meet you here in Seisho. It is my honor to finally meet you in person, Daiba-san." Souda ends her introduction with a polite bow. Nana gets a little weirded out.
Commander Sawa Souda might have retired from working on the front line, but her charisma and leadership are too valuable to be wasted. Her rough appearance shows that she spends most of her life on the grounds, yet the touch of a lady has never left her. Poised, elegant, and reserved. Yet for Sawa Souda, those are not enough. She has been a leader for a long time, leading people from small hunting groups to the powerful masses under the wings of the commission.
The commander then approaches her. "If you haven't heard about us, Seisho is an elite research commission. We receive hard to impossible quests, become the first responder when an anomaly occurs, and investigators for irregularities. We might be small in number, but our hunters and huntresses are experienced and well known."
The veteran huntress circles the blonde, her combat shoes are tapping against the wooden dock in a certain rhythm. "As you've heard before, I am the leader of this commission. We were given an important duty to explore more about the New World and its extraordinary environment. Because Seisho isn't a big commission, we work hand in hand with the other Research Commissions."
"Then," Nana cuts. The steady footstep comes to a halt. "What am I doing here?"
The commander hums. "To join our commission, the candidates need to fulfill certain categories and requirements. They can either be recommended by the hunter school or the commission they work for. But..."
Nana clenches her fists, feeling the gaze of the commander smoldering on her skull.
"But sometimes we find unique, talented people lurking in the dark. For people who work in the shadows, a different approach needs to be made depending on each individual. Some are easy to persuade, some needs proof of strength, some need to be-"
"Taken away by force?" Nana shots. Commander Souda shakes her head.
"... another form of persuasion," she says. Nana blinks in confusion. The veteran walks back to her big table.
"We have records about your achievements. Skilled in close-range combat, quick, nimble, has a sharp survival instinct, and passionate about cooking. Also records of past hunts you've done while you worked with them." The commander spreads out a stack of paper. Nana can't see anything but certain pictures. She spots an accurate drawing of her face. Whoever makes the drawing should get a raise.
"You've been doing your homework. As expected of the special force." Nana shrugs.
"It is necessary. We cannot afford to believe in some tales and gossips, however true it might be. For example," The commander takes a paper, puts on her glasses, and reads, "we do know that you're courageous and a risk-taker, to the point you will not hesitate to injure fellow comrades or leave them behind in the middle of a hunt."
"Bastards deserve a beating and slowpokes are dead meat." Nana shrugs. Of course, they will have a record of her beating people around or her leaving the injured behind to be the monster's snacks.
Souda hums, acknowledging the answer. "Then how are you going to do your job? I have to make sure that the people who work and live in Seisho will not bring harm to each other. How are you going to win my trust as a commander?"
"I don't know, you tell me." Nana gets irritated. "If your record is accurate, then there should be something like 'Daiba Nana hunts alone', 'she never goes on hunts with a partner except with a palico’, or 'other hunters can just suck on their thumb because Daiba Nana is not a baby sitter' written down somewhere there. The point is, I hunt alone. I work better that way."
She might understand all the reasons and get bombarded with sensitive questions, but that doesn't mean she's okay with it. Do they need a reminder that they themselves bring Nana to their tiny headquarter against her will?
"Leave me alone, and there will be no problem. It's not that hard to mind your own business," she hisses.
One might think that Nana looks scary and acts like she owns the place. But in reality? She's confused, can't believe that she's in Seisho, and doesn't know what to do. This is the place she's been wanting to go to, and somehow she gets herself in (by non-mainstream method).
Souda stays in silence as she lights up a pipe. Nana stares at the veteran anxiously. The silence stretches even after the commander inhales and puffs out the smoke.
When she decides to speak, a few minutes have already passed. "Right now, Seisho needs additional hands on the deck. I've heard the news that you have been looking for us. Taking your consideration and ours into account, I could say we have a deal."
Great, she gets herself in Seisho! Goodbye sad life, hello good time. Nana bites her inner cheek to suppress a blooming smile.
"Sounds good to me. Now can you do something about these?" Nana brings up her tied hands, the chains rattles together as she gives it a light shake. The commander nods and the redhead proceeds to unlock the cuffs.
Once the cuffs are off, she stretches. Two days, or maybe more, of sitting pays a big contribution to her back and shoulder pain. Stretching helps reduce the pain a little.
"While you're working as a part of us, do mind one thing," she adds, smoke seeping out of her nose and lips like a dragon. "The hunters and huntresses you're about to work together with our specially selected for their abilities and astounding capabilities. Do not take them lightly."
So much for some common knowledge. It sounds more like a fun fact about Seisho. Maybe the commander knows that she's a fan of fighting or something. She wants to punch whoever relays the information. Good for them, she has no intention to make trouble in her new home. She'd rather stay out of all the fights and drama and if she can, the community. The kitchen will be an exception.
"Now I will assign a handler to you." The commander knocks the burnt weed off her pipe. "I'm sure both of you are familiar with each other since this isn't your first meeting."
Wait, what? She doesn't recall meeting any handler besides her old handler. Only a huntress. There's no way that she's a handler-
She can hear someone approaching behind her. The steps are light with some momentum. Nana guesses that it's a teacher's pet kind of girl. It's her first impression of a certain archer huntress. Nana gets surprised when the person speaks though.
"Hoshimi Junna has arrived."
Nana freezes. There's no way that the huntress she hunted with is also a handler. That's just doesn't make any sense.
"Hoshimi-san, good afternoon," Sounds greets her. Nana can't see her because of their position, but judging from the soft rustles of fabrics, she must be bowing.
"Good afternoon Commander," she replies politely. Whoa. It has been a while since she sees any kind of politeness.
"From now on, you will be her handler. I understand your circumstances, but we don't have many choices for now. I will be waiting for great news."
That's nonsense. This Hoshimi is an archer. A huntress. She's the witness. She has once hunted with her, even if it's not planned. But her eyes aren't playing tricks. So how can she become a handler too? The confusion is painted on her face, with the furrowed eyebrows and the little frown.
"With pleasure." Junna bows slightly. Nana is bewildered, but she's not in the place to give them a piece of her mind.
The commander gives the archer a nod. "Daiba-san, I officially welcome you as a part of us here. And you are all dismissed. Hoshimi-san, take Daiba-san around the headquarter for a quick excursion. Isurugi-san, thank you for your assistance. Please send my regards to Hanayagi-san."
And just like that, people scatter away with their new business. Nana just stands there, trying to process everything that just happens. From Souda's introduction to the history of Seisho, and the reason why she's brought there.
Junna's voice catches her attention. She turns to her, angling her head down because the bespectacled girl is shorter than her. Taking the silence as permission to speak, Junna continues.
"I'm sorry that they treated you crudely... They're nice people actually," she frowns. Junna doesn't expect to ever see Nana again, and especially not like this. With Nana getting 'kidnapped', and her working as a handler. It's not something she's proud of.
Nana shrugs. "No kidding. Sitting and blacked out for days, getting provoked, and fighting someone with my legs tied to the chair was a fair fight apparently. I really want to take a bath and sleep."
The blonde immediately stretches her whole body, emitting clacky and snapping sounds as her joints pop and she feels instant relief. Too bad the fatigue remains.
"Then we should-"
"No," Nana cuts. "Let's just get this over with, a tour around Seisho. I don't want to talk to people, so at least my miserable appearance will make them think twice before opening their mouths."
She chews on her cheek after saying it, noting how Junna looks shocked and averts her eyes away. Nana's pissed tone is sharp enough to deal mental damage on the handler. Her rigid response teller the blonde that she's anxious. "O-okay then... Daiba-san."
Still, Junna does her job pretty well. Communications might be awkward between them, as Nana doesn't leave any openings for small talk. She doesn't greet people back, stares at people who are minding their business, and kills every conversation that is directed to her.
Junna brings Nana around to introduce the locations, locals, and facilities Seisho offers. Not only all of them are bigger in size, but the equipment used is way better than her old headquarters. Perhaps the most shocking thing will be the canteen. Because Seisho is operating mostly in the open air, the kitchen itself is a semi-open area. A big palico-head like carved boulder is sitting as the main giant griller. There's a thick, wide cooking island made from stone acting as another griller. A little bit further, a giant cauldron sits on top of the burning flames, brewing delicious stew for the hungry people. Nana will make sure to visit the canteen later after she gets her undisturbed rest.
Junna then guides her to their quarters. A small room with a humble interior and minimal decoration, since displayed weapons can't be counted as decorations. There is a tall stack of books lined on a wall, and a wooden standing cabinet filled with more books. A bunk bed is placed against a corner, with the bottom one giving signs of being used while the top one is seemingly fresh and untouched. She spots her bag on top of the top bed and takes it as a sign that she will sleep on the top bed.
Different kinds of bows are displayed and arranged neatly on a wall, and there's a box displaying many types of glasses in different sizes, colors, and shapes on the desk beside the bed.
"In Seisho, we shared bedrooms because of limited building space," Junna says, her footsteps light against the wooden floor as she approaches the bed. "I'm sorry that it's a little messy-"
"You're a huntress, right?" Nana grits her teeth. She doesn't mean to tell the girl, but the small room makes her voice sounds louder than it actually is.
Junna, seemingly to understand what the blonde asks, nods. "Yes. I am a huntress... But I am also a handler. It's... A long story."
Nana doesn't show any interest in the girl, let alone the background behind it. Though she will lie to herself if she says that she's not curious. "Explain."
Junna, perplexed by Nana's randomness, pulls the nearest chair before she sits on it.
"It's a boring story, really. I was recruited three months before your arrival, but I couldn't do much as a huntress because the number of hunters exceeds the handler. So for the meantime, I work as a handler. I have a background of a handler, but my main occupation is supposed to be a huntress."
The blonde girl feels like there should be more of it, but the bespectacled girl doesn't seem like sharing the details. Whatever, that's not important.
"You can only work as one of it. Being both at once... That's just pure absurd and not efficient." Nana approaches the bed and reached over to grab her bag. It's easy when she's almost as tall as the bunk itself. She pulls the tie open and inspects the bag. Her belongings are still there, nothing is missing. Good.
She knows that the air is still awkward at its best. She's also sleepy and her body still aching.
"That's all for today, right? Nothing else but the walk around the new base?" Without waiting for her new handler to answer, Nana keeps talking. "Then I'll go take a bath and sleep. I know where the bathhouse is. I'll ask if I get lost."
Her first day in Seisho is not pleasing and not awful. She can actually enjoy it if only her body isn't hurting, she's not sleep deprived, and hungry. That day, she even feel bad for a stranger. Which is weird. She rarely cares about other people, but her handler... Something is tickling the back of her mind about Hoshimi Junna.
She will eventually find the reason why later. Now's not the right time. Not when she stinks like a rotten Odogaron.
Chapter 4: The disappearance of Kagura Hikari (Part 1)
It has been 2 months since her arrival at Seisho. A lot of things happened in such a short span.
People are very nice. She's relatively new in the area, yet people treat her as their own as if she's been living there for years instead of months. Most of them are polite, educated people despite being a hunter or a huntress. They won't bother you out of respect. Nobody will threaten you for additional bounty rewards. Nobody steals what you have, nobody beats anyone in public. All is well organized, and the rules are fair and just.
Still, she can sniff the fear out of them. The earned respect will not erase the fact that she came from a shady place, a place that tainted the image of hunters and huntresses.
It's very different from her old place.
She can still remember that wherever she goes, she would always have her blades ready. She brings little money, and will always wear a cloak wherever she goes. The old days still haunt her, where nobody could get away without paying living tax. The jobs are always shady, dealing with hard monsters with low rewards as the payments. If you're lucky, you get to keep what you've earned. If you're unlucky, you crawl back to your hiding place covered in wounds from both the monster you've killed and the people who robbed your loots away.
She's could live outside the area and into the habitat, but it would be a stupid idea. No roof, no walls, no warmth, no protection. Those street thugs could kill her in her sleep, and nobody would care.
One could say that this is a culture shock. How can she not? She just moved from dirty slums in the middle of nowhere to the luxurious fortress under the official commission. Just like how they're afraid of her, she has high suspicion of everyone who comes and talks to her. You can never know when they will stab you in the back, or use you as fodder however nice people can be. Their true self can be nastier than an agitated Odogaron.
There are exceptions though. Only one person who dares calls her with her given name in such a friendly manner, despite not having a clear established relationship label between them. The blonde can't even remember when they exactly become friends, or it is for the caller. The term friend certainly doesn't exist in Nana's head.
Nana looks up to a bouncy brunette approaching her. The energetic huntress, Aijou Karen. Behind the girl, her handler follows. The kind handler Tsuyuzaki Mahiru. Karen and Mahiru met in hunter training school. They became friends ever since, with Mahiru following and lending a hand to Karen who would always get herself in trouble.
Judging from the anxiousness on both of their faces, something must be wrong. Nana purses her lips. Looks like unwanted trouble. So much for a peaceful morning. "...yes?"
Karen pauses in front of her, sweating bullets and heaving heavily. "Have you... Seen Hikari-chan today?"
"No, I haven't," Nana answers curtly.
The reserved huntress, Kagura Hikari. Karen's childhood friend, separated when they're still young under the promise to defeat the strongest monster in the world together. Karen had her tearful reunion with Hikari at Seisho. That time Karen got injured after hunting, so she didn't do any hunts for a while. Mahiru became Hikari's temporary handler until Karen was fully recovered. Until Karen recovered, turned into an indefinite period. Mahiru didn't mind doing two people's work as she eventually fell in love with her two friends, and both huntresses love their handler back. A weird relationship indeed.
Mahiru starts to fidget, sweat rolls down her forehead as she avoids the sharp stare of the blonde. Clearly intimidated by her presence. Karen, on the other hand, doesn't notice the tense atmosphere and gets in a panicked fit.
"Do you need anything from me?" Nana asks. She doesn't know why they approach her. Must have run out of people to go for because she knows that they come to her only as a last resort.
"Hikari-chan disappears!" Karen whimpers.
Oh, so that's what it's all about.
Now that the brunette mentions it, she doesn't see the black-haired huntress with them. Or anywhere near them, which is strange. Karen will follow wherever Hikari go, and the same applies to Hikari. It has been their routine, making the sight of Karen running alone without Hikari a rare one.
It doesn't have anything to do with her at all.
"She must have gone somewhere without telling me. W-we should ask the others." Mahiru tugs on Karen's shoulder, pulling her backward. The thick uneasiness is apparent in her tone, but Nana can't pinpoint whether it's because of her uncaring attitude or Hikari.
Nana hums. Under the span of two months in Seisho, she knows enough that Hikari isn't the kind of girl who goes around without telling anyone, except when she has something in mind.
Karen is getting restless. "But we've asked everyone in Seisho, Mahiru-chan. And nobody has any clue about her!"
Her hypothesis is true. Karen doesn't look like the kind of person who will flee out of random intimidation. The brunette approached her without any second thought, has the guts to call her like they have been friends for a long time, and doesn't hesitate to ask for her help.
Mahiru, on the other hand, clearly shows resistance and great concern. Nana doesn't blame her, really. She prefers to be left alone and not bothered unless it's about her job as a huntress. Her existence in Seisho is to work, not for playing around, let alone acting the role of a good person.
But she will lie if she says that staying for two months in Seisho, surrounded by an advanced community in both morale, technology, and attitude doesn't affect her at all.
Nana blinks. She can't believe that she just called out for her, reaching out for Karen and extending a hand for her. She believes that her head just told her to wish them good luck and hopes for them to find Hikari alive in the wilderness. But those words never come out. Something different does.
Karen quickly turns on her heel and faces Nana. She gets her attention.
"You need to calm down. You can't drag Tsuyuzaki-san anywhere and ask every single person in Seisho. You'll only waste time." She quickly adds.
What is she saying? Why is she speaking all of these? She's not the person who will tell people to calm down. She's the kind of person who will yell for others to stab the monster in the throat quickly.
Why is she offering her help over this tiny matter? That doesn't involve her at all?
"Right right. Gotta think this calmly and slowly." Karen nods as she slows down and comes to a halt after walking in an endless circle, muttering calming words to herself. Mahiru looks more distressed than before.
Nana curses herself in her mind. Somehow she gets herself into trouble. Good job, Nana. She doesn't want to work together with a hyperactive huntress, however good she is in the field and her handler who strongly shows distrust and fear. She doesn't have the patience and the energy to deal with all of these psychological wars between herself and these two people.
What's better than two people hunting together? She herself. Alone as always.
Though in this case, she's as well as waist-deep in the problem. Sucks.
Nana turns to the handler, whose condition isn't any better than the huntress. Mahiru quickly diverts her gaze away.
"Any information about her whereabouts?"
"S-some felynes saw her took a Barnos out for a hunt, but nobody knows w-where." Mahiru stutters, her voice timid and hollow.
Troublesome. This Hikari is being a pain in the ass right now...
"Has she ever mentioned anything about a quest that she wants to take?" Nana shoots another question. Somehow she has to narrow down the location. She can't just investigate every location in a day.
"We've done most of the quests we wanted to take, and we didn't have any further plans," Karen says, fidgeting with the fluffy part of her armor.
Since the quest isn't the issue, then it must be something else. Nana tries to work on anything she can think about. Something like...
"What about her hobby?" Nana murmurs.
"Hobby?" Karen and Mahiru ask in unison. The blonde nods.
"Capturing endemic creatures, picking herbs and plants, or even fishing. Does she has a favorite place or even creature?"
This time they get some progress because Karen yelps loudly. Getting the "aha!" moment. The big smile on her face shows that she might have the answer to the riddle.
"Coral Highlands! Lately, we haven't visited that place because of our jobs and Hikari-chan was very gloomy since she didn't get to see those Flying Meduso! We can find her on the place where there are many of them flying around!"
That's better than any other place really. Even though the endemic creatures are so many, crawling and flying and being annoying everywhere.
"Thanks Nana! Let's go Mahiru-chan!" Karen is now the one dragging Mahiru away, and the handler can finally take a relieved breath.
Nana's job is finished. She manages to crack the case open with a possible answer. Karen is so gleeful, and Mahiru looks so relieved that she can cry at any time. Just how precious Hikari is to them?
Nana has to admit this is the first time she witnesses something like this. The joy of discovery of your lost one. It's not that extreme, but maybe for Karen and Mahiru, Hikari is their family.
The sight is so unfamiliar, it troubles her greatly. Suddenly her curiosity rises from its slumber, knocking at the door of her mind. It wants to know more, to see more of how this event will turn out. The emotion of people who treasure something valuable and irreplaceable. How will they express their feelings after they find out the truth? What are they going to do if Hikari is found lifeless?
For the second time, she reaches out.