Rei put the rest of her belongings in her bag. Before she left the room, she put on her armor. The Inn Keeper waved to her as she left the lodge. Rei simply sneered and went on her way.
She walked along the gravel trail. Nearly twenty yards away, passing cars could barely be seen through the small layer of trees that separated the road and the trail Rei walked upon. The wind blew the long ponytail that stuck out from underneath her helmet, as well as the map she was trying to hold. She began to get frustrated.
"It would really be nice if I didn't have all this wind…"
She attempted to hold the map level to her eyes. The top of it kept folding over itself. When she tried to straighten it out, it blew out of her hands.
She chased it along the trail. Each time she tried to grab at it, it seemed like a gust would propel it right out her reach. She was almost ready to give up until it wrapped itself on a low tree limb.
"Gotcha!" She said in delight. As she reached for it, she stopped and turned her head slightly. Was the wind through the trees humming? Or was that…music? Rei quickly folded the map and stuck it in her bag. She took cover behind the trees. Someone was coming.
Barely a minute later, a man was strolling along the trail from behind where Rei was walking earlier. He wore what looked like some kind of dark purple haori. A pointed hood was draped over his head, covering most of his face. Rei could only see his jawline, and barely the bottom of his eyes. It seemed to be part of the robe that covered most of his body, with the exception of his front side. He whistled along with a tune he played on the lute he carried in front of him. It sounded strangely like "Jukebox Hero".
Rei silently drew the cutter from her bag. When he walked by, Rei creeped out behind him. Although she wasn't skilled, she hoped to deliver a fatal blow while he wasn't looking. As soon as she was within range, she swung. The blade caught the stranger between the shoulder and his neck, but the blade didn't sink in or slice through. Rei backed up and realized she hit him with the back of the blade. The man stopped and turned to see Rei holding her cutter in a defensive manner.
"I say, have you any reason to attack me?"
"Were you following me? Don't you dare lie, or you'll regret it."
"I was just enjoying a merry stroll through the woods. Does that sound strange or outlandish? And you do realize that the killing end is on the other side of your sword?"
Rei quickly thought of an excuse to avoid revealing her inexperience.
"I was just trying to knock you out."
"Really? What did I ever do unto you?"
"I thought you were following me. Are you a spy or something?"
"I'm simply a wandering musician. I have no quarrel with you."
"Well you do, now!" Rei raised her cutter slightly higher.
"Hmm. You wish to challenge me to a duel?"
Rei knew she had never fought anyone with a blade before, much less ever used one. From just looking at him, she assumed a musician would have little combat experience as well.
"Whatever you want to call it. Do you smile at everything? I'll give you a reason to smile." Rei braced herself.
"You go about attacking innocents? You are but another thief in the woods, eh? Very well." He slung his lute behind his back and pulled a small cylinder from underneath his cloak. It extended itself into a bō. "As for why I choose to smile? Life is full of little excitements isn't it? Let's have fun, then. En garde!"
Rei immediately rushed and swung. The bard parried and spun around. His bō hit her across the back lightly. Rei growled and swung again. Her blow was easily knocked away. He backed up and tapped on her head with the end.
"I didn't know you could dance so well. Your random flailing isn't too shabby!" He smiled.
Rei flinched with every tap. She batted the staff away. "Stop playing around!"
"Why not treat every occasion with joy? It's all for fun, right?"
Rei made an attempt to rush him again. He reacted instantly as if he'd read her mind. He performed a low sweep with his bō and Rei was knocked off of her feet. She stood up. This time she payed closer attention. She ran at him, watching for his next swing.
Rei ran straight at him. But instead of swinging, he held the bō straight out, perpendicular to his body. The maneuver was so sudden and unexpected, Rei ran into the end of the staff. While the armor protected her, she fell to her knees. She quickly ripped her helmet off and gasped for air.
"Are you ok, young lady? I meant you no serious harm."
Tears welled in the corners of Rei's eyes. "Am I ok? You could have punctured my lungs!"
"Well, you did after all attack me first. I was merrily minding my own business. And at that, I never forcefully hit you."
"Never? Then what do you call that!"
He thought for a moment. "Hmm. How about -- you running top speed into the end of my staff? All I did was hold it for you."
"Then just stop playing around. Just go ahead and kill me now."
The bard almost laughed. "Kill you?! Why would I want to kill you? Do I look like a killer to you?"
"There is no reason for me to live." Rei stared at the cutter beside her. Her gentle sobbing turned into crying. I'm sorry, Dad. I can't even defeat a clown who didn't take the fight seriously. I've no hope of finding you. I'm a failure…
"No reason? Sure there is. You just have to find something worth living for."
"I have nothing to live for. I don't have anything but my own self-pity."
"…why do you cry, young lady? If you are only wanting money, I have a few gold pieces to spare. It isn't much, but will that satisfy you?"
"I don't need money."
"Maybe a song, perhaps?"
"I don't believe I understand the reason behind your tears. Is there anything I can do to console you?"
"Of course you don't understand! You're blissfully skipping around acting like nothing in the world matters! Do you have any idea what it's like to have the people who matter the most in your life taken away from you? And the only hope of finding them is yourself?"
His expression suddenly darkened. "I do, actually." He picked a few notes on his lute.
"It's…all in the past." His smile lifted again. "Quite a story, but sometimes you just can't let that keep you down."
"I don't think you understand my situation!"
"Perhaps not…. If I may ask, what exactly happened?"
"…my parents are being held captive. I don't know who those men were, or where they took them…" Rei's eyes filled with tears again. Her eyes were red and puffy.
"…Your parents? How old are you?"
"And you're attempting to find them all on your own?"
"I've no other choice. The military officials refused to help me. Their typical human ways of war keep them from lending out men to help. It disgusts me, along with every other pathetic human being on the face of this planet."
"Human? Disgusting? Can those words even be used in the same sentence? You've actually decided human beings are abominations because of how flawed they may seem?"
"Yes. And you'll never change my mind."
"You poor dear." He held out his hand. "If you can accept this as an apology, would you mind if I accompanied you?"
Rei took his hand and pulled herself up. "What for?"
"For one, I can't just turn down a troubled young lady like yourself. You said you requested help before, right?"
"From the military, yes."
"Well I may not be a soldier, but I would gladly help you."
Rei looked skeptical. "Why? Don't you have something better to do with your time?"
"I'm only a free traveler. I don't go anywhere. I just simply…go. If you will allow me, I will help you find your missing loved ones."
"But, I -- umm." Rei sighed. "Alright."
The bard smiled widely. "Glad you'll have me aboard. Trust me, I do not wish to be a hinderance to you."
"That would be very appreciated. Umm…my name is Rei. And you are…?"
He laughed. "Haha. What exactly is a 'name'? Something people label each other as? To be completely honest, I don't really have a name per se. You can refer to me as whatever you like."
Rei seemed puzzled. "Without a name? Ok then, will just 'Bard' do?"
"That works well for me. Now that I've made your acquaintance, what are you doing currently to reach your goal?"
"…I don't know…"
"Hmm. Left without any evidence as to where they are?"
"That is a difficulty isn't it?" Bard thought for a moment. "Exactly how long have you been fighting with that cutter of yours?"
"…Never. And yeah, the wrong side of the blade was an accident."
"I figured as much. Not to worry. I can teach you a thing or two." He pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve and handed it Rei.
She wiped her eyes. Her expression brightened slightly. "…That would be great, thanks. And I'm sorry I'd tried to kill you…"
"No, no. You've nothing to apologize for. To tell you the truth, your footsteps were a bit heavy. I knew you were behind me."
"…And you let me hit you? What about had I swung correctly?"
"I could sense your inexperience. I could completely tell you were holding the blade backwards."
"I've dealt with my fair share of would-be muggers in wooded areas."
"But how did you know I was holding the blade the wrong way?"
"O-K then. You probably know the land better than I do. Where would be a good place to start gathering information?"
"Well for lost parents chances are no one has ever seen, I can't say I would know. But as for finding out who these mysterious people are, I'd say Etna City would be a good place to start."
"Mhm. It's not too far from here by sky train. It's the next closet civilized area next to Olympia City and almost equal in size and population."
"I just came from Olympia City."
"Olympia is the capitol city, but in terms of latest technology, up-to-date news reports, libraries, and other informative gizmos, Etna City is unsurpassed. Say we start there?"
"It's a good as anywhere else. I suppose."
"Great! It's settled then! To Etna City! Although…I can't pay the fare for both of us."
"I've got plenty of money. But don't worry. I've got something better than paying for a train ticket."
Well. I won't be alone anymore. At least not for the time being. I've managed to cross paths with a bard who won't stop smiling at everything. Whether he's annoying or not, his insight and wisdom might be useful to me. The minute he proves a hinderance, the minute I take him out. But as long as he continues to help then I need all I can get. He suggested I start gathering information in Etna City, supposedly the best place on UBW-594244 to learn just about anything. I don't know much about the planet, so I suppose it's as good a place as any. The bard seems to know combat, and has taught me a few simple moves. Hopefully he knows what he's doing with navigation.