Night swallowed the landscape. The fire casted an orange glow, the only light that was visible for miles. A pot was hanging above it, which Bard had stirred every so often. Rei leaned against a tree, secluding herself from small talk. She seemed to be lost in her own thoughts…
Her father was bent under the hood of a vehicle. There were a few banging sounds. Rei stood beside him, passing tools as he requested.
"Question. Will there ever be a point when we could take vacations more often? It seems like we hardly leave here."
"Well, Rei. Let me answer with a question of my own: is there a reason you want to leave?"
"Not really. But it's like we are always just cooped up out here. Surely there's somewhere we can go every so often with more excitement. And I don't mean a beach trip every two years."
"So it's excitement you're after? You're only fifteen. You'll have plenty of time for exciting life experiences. And on top of that, traveling costs money. There's tons of room around home. You can run around all you want."
"Are you just determined to make my life unhappy? Every time I ask I get the same answer. And I KNOW money isn't an issue. Can we not just at least go wrestle with some panthers or something?"
"We aren't trying to make you unhappy. We just have a lot of…safety concerns. And besides, the only wrestling I do is with your mother." He looked up and aimed his wrench toward Rei. "That's what you're doing here, gal."
Rei pressed her fingers to her temples. "Oh my God, Dad. I didn't really want to hear that."
He smiled and went back to the engine. "Listen. I know that it's a bit hard for you to understand right now, but we live away from publicity for a good reason."
"Dad, you never tell me anything. It's just like the whole heritage thing. Mom was willing to tell me her whole life's story. You won't even tell me about our background. Don't I deserve to know where we come from?"
He set his tools down and removed his gloves. He then embraced his daughter. "Rei, I wish I could tell you, and someday I will. But it's very complicated and I want it to be a day when you can understand properly. Right now I think you're still too young."
Rei settled down. "So one day you'll tell me everything? Promise?"
"Yes, I'll tell you everything one day when I know you're ready."
"I love you, Dad."
"I love you too, sweetheart."
Many questions began to occupy her head. Even though that was only a year ago, Rei started to again grow frustrated. What was he keeping from her? Why was he trying so hard to avoid telling her what she wanted to know? Her mother had always said it was for her own protection, but Rei never cared.
As soon as I find them, when all of the hugs and kisses are out of the way… She thought. …I'll beg and plead with Mom and Dad to tell me the truth. Everything he wouldn't tell me in the past. I want to know who we are. Who I am…
Rei sat up and removed her boots. Then she started to crawl into a sleeping bag.
"Rei, I know you're an impatient individual, but you shouldn't keep skipping out on eating. You need to keep up your strength."
"Not now Keena, I'm tired. Don't bother me."
Keena sighed, and then whispered to Bard. "Won't you say something to her? She always listens to you."
"Her eating habits aren't healthy, no. But I believe it's best we leave her be. She seems to have much on her mind right now."
"Well then will you at least go find out what's wrong?"
"If you think that's best…"
Bard stood up and walked over to where she was.
"Everything alright, kiddo?"
"You don't seem so certain."
"I don't want to talk about it. Leave me alone."
"Rei, you do understand why we are here, don't you?"
"…helping me find my parents."
"And do you think that's the only reason we came along?"
"We aren't just helping you find them, Rei. We are here for everything. You can think of Keena and I as a second family. If something troubles you, you need to only ask and we will gladly help you solve your dilemma. We came together all as individuals who knows what it is like to lose family. Unless you are willing to talk, I cannot help you."
"I…I…I just can't. It's just too much."
"I won't make any judgement, Rei, I promise."
Rei sighed, but she stayed facing away from him. "I don't even know who I am."
"What do you mean?"
"My parents wouldn't ever tell me what my background is like. Where we come from, our heritage, our past. It's starting to bother me more than ever."
"Wouldn't ever tell you? Did they ever say why, or simply write it off?"
"They said that it was for my own safety, and that I was too young to understand. And now that they're gone, I can never find out what they've been hiding from me until I rescue them."
"So that's what this quest to find them has been about?"
"No. At first, it was just for the sole purpose of just getting them back. I love my Mom and Dad very much. But for the past few days, this has started to bug me. And once I do find them, I want them to tell me everything."
"You don't feel like your finding yourself since we've been traveling?"
"I have, sort of. But there are still many unanswered questions I have."
"Don't worry. I'm sure you will find that it's nothing that you wouldn't expect. Looking at you now, I know that you can look deep within yourself and tell me exactly who you are."
"Thank you, Bard. And you're right. I'm on a quest to save my parents and any alien or human being who dares stand in my way is as good as dead!"
Bard's smile dropped slightly. "…I'm…glad I could help…" He returned to his place beside Keena.
"Maybe I shouldn't have asked you to talk to her." She said.
"It's nothing. At least she might feel a bit better, even if her motives are still as bad as ever."
"I guess so. We'd better eat and get to sleep ourselves. No doubt Rei will be ready to move as soon as she --"
Keena stood up and grasped the hilt of her passer. Bard stood up and extended his bō.
"I heard it, too. Arouse Rei!"
Keena obeyed. "Rei, I know you just fell asleep, but we need you to get up."
"I said don't bother me!"
"I heard you, but we aren't alone out here. Arm yourself and be ready for anything!"
Rei crawled out of bed and quickly pulled her boots on her feet. She threw the HYD-00-IX on her back and grabbed the Trinity.
Immediately something sped out of the dark. It looked like a pointed metal tip that glowed with a strange blue light, like a spearhead. It was attached to a long chain. It wrapped itself around Rei's hands, forcing her to drop her bow, and then pull her into the woods. Keena intercepted and grabbed the chain. She gave a hard yank, and someone in armor was thrown forward. She cut the chain with her passer and began to question the intruder.
"Who are you? What are doing out here? Speak!"
The armored person stood. On its right arm was what looked like a cannon barrel. Its voice was slightly higher pitched than expected.
"I am BH3296 Model A. Current objective, development and retrieval of the girl. All interference must be eliminated."
Rei had just finished unwinding the chain from her wrists. "That's right. And you're the first one on the menu!" She picked up her bow and took aim. "It's a three-on-one. You can't win."
"Falsified information." Spoke another voice. It stepped out of the dark woods. It carried a strange weapon of its own. It looked to be a heavy rifle of some sort. "I am BH3293 Model R. The match is now an even two versus two."
Rei laughed. "You must not be able to count properly. I'd get that cranium of yours checked out."
"Quantity receptors are fully functional. Hooded man and woman are only severe threats detected. Target does not pose danger."
"Not a threat! I'll give you a threat!"
Rei released a tri-arrow, but Model R countered. It held up its weapon a swept a large laser at Rei. She had to dive backward, and narrowly avoided the attack.
Keena helped her up. "You need to be more careful about how you respond to taunts. Fight less aggressively and more intelligently."
Model A held its own weapon up. As the team had prepared to dodge any attack, five needle-like projectiles flew from the end of the barrel. One knocked the dagger from Keena's hands, two hit Rei's trinity from her own hands, and two homed in on Bard's bō, but he managed to hold onto it.
"Locked targets have taken a confirmed hit. Two of three have been disarmed. Make no further movements if your lives are of value to you. You will surrender the girl without refusal."
Bard grabbed his lute and held it in the air, likewise with his staff.
"Go back to the shadows!" He yelled.
"No sudden movements!"
"YOU SHALL NOT PASS!"
Keena shouted at him. "Bard, what are you doing?"
Rei's face grew red. "Now isn't the time to be stupid!"
In the confusion, Bard quickly swung. He struck Model R in the side of the head, knocking it over completely. Model A immediately reacted.
"Targets locked. Fire initiating."
Five more projectiles launched from its arm cannon. Two flew straight at Rei, but her Force Field engaged and absorbed the blow. Bard began running in circles, while one of the projectiles chased him endlessly. Keena avoided one, but the other hit her right arm.
"Elder female has taken damage. Begin eliminating blow, Model R."
Model R was now on its feet. Energy gathered within the barrel of its laser cannon and then fired a large beam toward Keena. Rei jumped in front of her with her Force Field waiting. The beam was dissolving harmlessly around it. Model R resumed fire for roughly ten seconds before ceasing.
"Cannon overheated. Must revert to cooldown."
Rei fired an arrow before she fell to her knees. She was breathing heavily. The arrow connected to Model R and it was thrown backward from the explosive impact. Bard ran toward Model A and vaulted over it.
The projectile that was still behind him struck Model A square in the chest cavity.
"Damage critical. In need of assistance, Model R."
"My damage reading is higher than yours, you should be aiding me."
"You are in no place to order me!"
"I am just trying to keep the situation a positive one. We cannot fail."
"I never said this is not a positive situation. I have only taken critical damage and am alerting you."
"You are a downer."
"And you are an idiot!"
Rei grit her teeth and forced herself to stand. "Ok, now you've pissed me off for the last time!"
She fired a triple volley at Model A, and it never spoke again. She drew back to fire at Model R before it recovered. No arrows formed. Rei swore and dropped her bow. Rather than switching to her cutter, she grabbed the chain from off the ground. She reared back on the spearhead and threw it with all her might, impaling Model R in the chest. She pulled back on the chain.
"Get over here!" She yelled.
Model R flew toward her. Still holding the chain, she grabbed her cutter with her other hand and drove the blade right through its body. Model R fell and ceased to move. Rei collapsed to her hands and knees. Bard rushed to her side.
"Rei, are you --"
"Forget me. Go help Keena."
Having been occupied with his own projectile, Bard never noticed that Keena had gotten hit. He ran over to her.
"Keena! How bad is it?"
"I…I'm fine. It's just a scratch."
"Keena, you're bleeding awfully profusely for that to be a scratch. Remove your hand."
"I told you, It'll be alright. Don't be overly concerned."
"Remove your hand."
"Stop being so worried about me."
Keena was taken aback. Bard's expression was one of worry. His tone was soft but firm. She hesitated, but Keena slowly let go of her arm. A gash more than an inch across was seriously bleeding. Bard dug around in a small bag of his own and removed a small vial, a roll of bandages, and a pad of gauze.
"So how are you feeling Rei?"
Dark rings lined the underside of Rei's eyes. All she could manage was a weak "Ugh…" she fought even harder to keep her eyes open. Her breathing was airy and broken. Bard immediately knew what was wrong. He rolled the sleeve on his cloak back.
"Rei, I need you to take my energy. You're exhausted to the point you should be hospitalized."
Rei didn't move.
"I won't ask you again."
Rei lifted her hand to his arm.
"Take as much as you need. Even if you have to kill me."
"I…won't…" Her hand began to go slack.
"Rei. Please. You have to be alive to complete your mission."
Rei hesitated. Bard began to feel a strange tightening in his arm. A single bead of sweat rolled down the side of his face. His vision grew a bit hazy. As soon as he nearly nodded off, Rei quickly released his arm.
"Thank you, Bard. Don't ever force me to do that again."
He smiled weakly. "I'm sworn to keep you ladies safe from any harm. As long as I'm around nothing shall befall you!"
Keena laughed. She rubbed the bandages on her arm. "You're as bad as my older brother was."
"I'll bet~♪. Rei, please try to avoid skipping meals. It takes away from your health and stamina. And be careful with your Force Field. From my observation, it draws strength from the wearer of the pack thanks to mithril fibers that it is probably made of. A double-edged sword in a sense. Above all else that extra strain from fighting back didn't help when you were already beyond exhausted."
"I'll keep that in mind." She said.
"Take these. They're all of the ammunition capsules I found on Models A and R. They should be plenty for a while. Remember that wearing your armor will help reduce your ammo energy requirements thanks to the chip you were given in Etna."
"Yeah. Just let me get some sleep for now."
As soon as Rei's head rested against the ground, she fell fast asleep.
Ever since we had starting setting up camp last night, a strange voice has been tugging at my mind. It made me realize how little I actually knew about myself. I love my parents very much, but I want answers now more than ever. Even after an encounter with two more of Ladon's armored BH Series Models, I wasn't about to let that stop me. I will find my parents, and I will learn what I want to know.