[2nd of December, 2740 AD; outside of Hurst, Iiayikohn]
The rustle of the trees alerted Rysol Wilk. He gritted his teeth and let out a quiet growl as he began to look around. Someone was following him and Rysol had no idea who it was, but regardless, he was ready for them.
He was on his way to meet with Jelka in the middle of the night to discuss their plans moving forward, but the sudden intrusion of the way to the meeting place stopped him in his tracks. Jelka would have to wait, Rysol thought, as he drew his sword and turned around. The wind blew again, rustling the trees once more, and with that came a figure obscured by shadows.
“Who dares follow me?” Rysol asked.
The figure stepped forward and revealed themselves. Rysol could not make out the person due to the fact that they were shrouded in a long, black cape while wearing a mask on their face, but Rysol knew that he could trust this person and withdrew his sword.
“So you’re the one Jelka told me about,” Rysol said. “I see… Very well, then we’ll go on and meet her.”
Earlier in the morning, Rysol stayed in a local hotel in disguise as he had spent the time speaking to Jelka over the phone. She had told him that he would meet with an ally to their cause, but Rysol did not expect this. The person in the cape and mask walked alongside Rysol as the two hurried down the pathway. The wind was beginning to pick up as the masked traveler tried their best to hold down their cape while Rysol did his best to make sure his hair was not getting in the way and let it flow behind him.
“You’re not letting that cape go… are you?” Rysol asked.
The masked traveler did not reply. Of course, Rysol knew that they were not going to speak at all, since Jelka had also told him that they preferred not to speak and instead let their hand-to-hand combat skills do the talking. As the de facto leader of Johan Kuu’s Moonlit Silence, Jelka was someone that Rysol held in high regard. He trusted her to lead in this moment as they sought out a lead into stopping Foundation.
“You must know Jelka well enough for her to trust you like this,” he said. “I won’t question your motives; as long as you hold that desire to defeat Foundation, then I, too, will trust you.”
They made it to the end of the forest path and came upon a campground. Rysol scanned from left to right and spotted a lit campfire with Jelka standing near it. He and the masked traveler rushed over to her and greeted her as she did the same.
“Glad to see that you made it in one piece, Rysol,” Jelka said, “And I see that you’ve met our ally over there.”
“Yes, it came as quite a surprise when you called me,” Rysol replied. “They seem very cooperative.”
Jelka walked past him and over the masked traveler. “That is good,” she said, placing her hand on the person’s shoulder. “You must’ve had quite a fight earlier, didn’t you?”
“You are certain of this person’s skill, Jelka?” Rysol asked.
“You’ll see,” Jelka said. “I’m surprised that you haven’t figured it out yet, to be honest.”
Rysol stepped forward. “Figured out what?”
Jelka looked past the masked traveler and towards the forest. The wind began to blow again as the flame from the campfire danced about.
“Were you followed?” Jelka asked.
“Followed? No, I don’t think so,” Rysol asked. “Why do you ask?”
Jelka stared at the forest again. “Step back!”
She and Rysol hurried back, as did the masked traveler, as a small object came hurtling their way. Rysol looked as the object landed on the ground and recognized the grenade in an instant.
“Son of a… we have to get further back!” Rysol exclaimed.
But as he said that, the masked traveler rushed forward and picked up the grenade. They threw it back in the direction that it came from and turned back as both Rysol and Jelka covered their ears. The ensuing explosion rang out as a few Ameci soldiers hurried out of the forest and towards the campground.
“Ameci soldiers?” Rysol asked. “How did they even find me here?”
A baritone voice echoed. “You were a fool for coming here, Rysol Wilk… A goddamn fool.”
“Show yourself!” Jelka demanded.
“No, Jelka, I want you and our ally to stay back,” Rysol said. “Take them far away from here… I… I will handle this.”
“You can’t be serious,” Jelka said. “We’re already outnumbered as it is!”
Rysol growled. “Please, go now,” he replied. “This man… this man is very dangerous… I don’t want our ally to get hurt.”
Jelka looked away. “But…”
The masked traveler place their hand on Jelka’s shoulder, as if to say that they should listen to Rysol. Jelka looked back at them and nodded.
“If that’s the case, then I leave it to you,” Jelka said to Rysol. “Promise me that you’ll return safely!”
“I will try,” Rysol said.
Jelka then turned to the masked traveler and hurried off with them. The Ameci soldiers aimed their guns as Rysol drew his sword in turn.
The baritone voice returned. “Lower your weapons… They aren’t that important…”
The Ameci soldiers did as they were told and lowered their guns. Rysol kept his sword out as the keeper of that baritone voice stepped forward. Upon seeing him, Rysol reacted as his eyes widened and gasped.
“So it is true, after all,” Rysol said. “You do live here… Harold Mars…”
“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Harold asked. “By the way, it was very noble of you to protect those two… Quite unlike how you usually are, I must say.”
“Shove it,” Rysol replied. “What do you want me for?”
Harold scoffed. “Really? Are you too stupid to realize why I’m here? Who was it that gave you that replacement arm?”
Rysol did not answer.
“You talk big, and sometimes you even fight big, but right now, you’re nothing to me,” Harold said. “How disappointing.”
Harold proceeded as he came closer to Rysol. The wind picked up once more as the nearby campfire went out, leaving the two men in the darkness while the Ameci soldiers stood and watched.
“You see, there’s quite a bit of tension going on between these neighboring lands,” Harold continued. “The flames keep getting hotter, which only serves to make the water boil fervently. The new Queen of Thekohn wants to put a lid on that, but she has no idea what she’ll be in for once the water reaches its boiling point. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“What is the meaning of this?” Rysol asked.
“What, you ask, is the meaning behind what I’m saying?” Harold replied. “I only serve as a messenger for those who are passionate about their goals. Those who strive for glory and will look to win by any means necessary… those are the people I work for.”
“And what about you?” Rysol wondered. “What is in it… for you?”
Harold laughed. “I’m just an observer who only wishes to live without worry,” he answered. “To be honest, I had no intention of showing my face, but once I heard that you were here, I had to see for myself.”
Rysol tightened the grip on the handle of his sword. “Who… Who informed you? Who was it, damn it?”
“That’s irrelevant,” Harold said. “You’d do well to listen to me. My idiot son claims that you sliced off his arm… Normally, I would write off what he says, but I find it highly plausible.”
“What are you getting at?”
“Think about it,” Harold replied. “What is it that you’re doing here? Do you honestly believe that you’ll be able to create this ‘world without wars’ that you’ve been hearing so much about?”
Rysol clenched his fist.
“There are eyes all over the Thekohnian Region,” Harold said. “Once I’ve heard what I’ve needed to hear, I do my best to cover my tracks. Yet, people still give me the time of day when I request it. Do you wonder why?”
“Truly you have more to say, don’t you?” Harold asked. “Then again, what can you say? Loyalty only goes so far, because we as a species are a selfish bunch and only care about ourselves. Those soldiers behind me? They are the ones who associate themselves with my son and Bradley, because they only desire to kill for the sake of killing. There’s no nobility in that, but then again, can you really blame them for going off the deep end?”
“Maybe in the past, I would have understood,” Rysol replied. “I swung my sword around and killed without much of a purpose… In that way, perhaps I am like that man…”
“Oh, then you do comprehend,” Harold said. “You truly do understand how altruism is nothing but a false ideal.”
Rysol sighed and pointed his blade at Harold. “But that is not who I am now,” he said. “I fight because I envision a better world! One where there is no need for wars! If… If you’re opposed to that, then you are my enemy… and if you’re my enemy, I must defeat you!”
A loud roar carried throughout the forest as Rysol thrust his blade into Harold’s abdomen. The Ameci soldiers reacted with audible gasps as they raised their guns and pointed them at Rysol. However, before they could do anything, laughter filled the air as Harold looked up at Rysol.
“Is this… how you treat the man that helped you?” Harold asked. “This is the thanks that I get? Then again, you’ve only proved me right… Rysol… you are nothing but an ignorant fool!”
Rysol looked at Harold, who blindsided him with a punch to the stomach. This sent Rysol to his knees as he let loose the grip on his sword, which was still stuck in Harold’s body. Harold kicked Rysol in the head, knocking him to the ground and placed his foot on the man’s head.
“To think that you would leave yourself so open… you truly have gotten weak,” Harold said. “I heard it was the same with your mother, actually. April never expected to be greeted with such a malevolent display, but that only goes to show you how weak she was.”
“Fuck… Fuck you,” Rysol snarled.
Harold pressed his foot into Rysol’s head. “Don’t talk back to me! Now, where was I? Oh, yes, what to do with you… I could just kill you right now, but that would leave evidence that something transpired here. Even if it’s unlikely, I can’t afford to be careless.”
Rysol had no way of getting back up to his feet. No way to get his sword back and finish off this heinous man. All he could hope for was that Jelka made it out of Hurst safe and sound with the masked traveler.
“I’ve just come up with an idea,” Harold said. “Looks like that idiot will be useful after all…”
To be continued…