• ~ 3 ~
    A Quest for Money

    The early hours of sunlight was reflected into Tanous’s goggled eyes off the remaining dew on the olive green grass. The sound of Tanous‘s bike drowned out any of the sound of nature. Tanous’s cloak and hair flickered like a flame as the air rushed by Tanous as he sped across the grassland. Yuntelly was a peaceful province made mostly up of vast fields of green. The province also had very little civil unrest, and almost no dangerous and wild beasts. The precarious things that were in the peaceful nations would rarely be seen or experienced. Tanous’s main concern he had as he crossed the meadows of the province was the threat of rogue brigands who may have wandered from Blackern and into Adran.

    Far on the horizon, Tanous spotted a small cottage with a wireless power pole standing near it. A broken-down old transportation truck was parked near the pole missing all of its tries. Smoke rose from the chimney on the hut’s western side. As Tanous drew closer to the house, he noticed that an old man and young woman were hard at work in an undersized crop of poor-quality wheat that stood directly in Tanous’s path. The balding man stood closet to Tanous’s location. He held a scythe in his left hand, and he was using it to reap the wheat. In his right hand, he held onto a wooden cane that supported him as he stood. The young woman reaped the wheat using a scythe that she held with both of her fair hands. She seemed to be getting more wheat reaped than the aged male.

    Resting the scythe onto the ground like a cane, the man raised his right hand off his actual cane and wiped the sweat from his brow. He turned his head as he grabbed back onto his cane. He noticed the sound of Tanous‘s bike as he sped towards him. As Tanous reached the edge of the field, he halted his bike and received a friendly greeting. “Greetings, stranger,” the old man welcomed. Tanous shut his rumbling bike off as he nodded as his salutation to the farmer.

    “What brings you to our humble residence?” the old farmer asked.

    “I would like to ask where the nearest village is,” Tanous stated. “I would like to feast on a warm meal before continuing any further.”

    “Well, there’s a small hamlet not far to the east of here,” the man alleged to Tanous. “But why not just join me and my family for dinner. It would save you the trip.”

    “I suppose I could do that, but I can’t stay long,” Tanous agreed to join the farmer and his family for a short flavoursome meal.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Within the log walls of the deprived grassland homestead seemed surprisingly homely despite its beggared appearance. There were only three rooms. The largest room appeared to be the living room, the kitchen, and the dinning room. The other two rooms were both bedrooms at the end of a short hallway. The windows had no glass, but large plastic sheets instead. Ragged cloth hung as curtains by each of the windows.

    As he followed the aged farmer into the penniless farmhouse, Tanous admired all that the family of three had to their name. A single tan-coloured couch sat in front of the house’s ember-filled stone hearth. A rough wooden table surrounded by four chairs sat under a window in the northwest corner of the house. A lone goblet of plastic sat on the table’s top beside a melted unlit candlestick. Within the kitchen portion of the room sat a rusting metal sink filled with sullied water, a small black pot-bellied stove, and a small cupboard that held the household’s very few dishes.

    An aged woman, who appeared to be the farmer’s wife, washed what remained of the dirty dishes. She shifted her gaze towards Tanous. With an astonished look upon her face, the woman greeted Tanous, “Oh, hello there,” the woman welcomed as she dried her hands on her white apron. “We don’t receive many visitors, so excuse me if I come off as surprised.”

    Tanous greeted the kind woman of the house with a nod of his head.

    “Well don’t be shy,” the woman said. “Come on in and have a seat. I’ll make some tea.”

    “You’ll have to excuse my mother,” the younger woman said as she stepped beside Tanous. “She always goes a little overboard when it comes to being polite around guests. Oh, I’m Millenti.”

    The young woman, the same age as Tanous held out her right hand for a shake. Tanous grabbed her gloved hand and shook it. “Tanous,” he introduced himself. “Tanous Kendrick Splitwings.”

    “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Millenti said with a kind smile. “Well, as you can see, there isn’t much to show in here, so we might-as-well skip the tour and just sit.”

    Tanous followed Millenti to the table as her braided bronze locks swayed behind her as she walked. The farmer already sat at the table, his cane leaning against his chair. Tanous and Millenti sat next to each other. Tanous sat across from the farmer.

    “I suppose I should introduce myself before I forget again,” the farmer said. “I am Edward Hernan. This is my daughter, Millenti, and over there is my wife, Karen.”

    “I’m Tanous Splitwings,” Tanous replied as he shook the farmer’s hand.

    “I would’ve introduced Millenti’s twin sister by now, but I regret to say that she’s gone.” Edward said as he bowed his head in grief.

    After placing the hot kettle of tea on a potholder on the table, Karen joined the others. She handed out a plastic cup to each of those sitting at the table including herself. She then poured everybody some warm tea.

    “Tanous,” Edward quietly said. “We have a bit of a confession to make.”

    “Confession?” Tanous asked, confusion running through his mind.

    “Aye,” Edward said. “We have been tricking you since you arrived. We treated you respect so that maybe you’d do us all a big favour.”

    “A favour?” Tanous asked. “You were using me for a favour!?”

    “Please, don’t take this the wrong way,” Karen pleaded. “We’re desperate.”

    “You see, Tanous,” Edward said. “Five months ago, Millenti’s sister, Yulenti, left to the city of Cye to the east so that she could get a job so that out family wouldn’t be poor any longer. She wrote a single letter upon her arrival, but we haven’t heard from her since.”

    “All we’re asking is that you go to Cye and bring our daughter home,” Karen explained. “We don’t care whether she got a job or not, we just want her back.”

    “I don’t know if I could do that,” Tanous replied.

    “Please,” Edward pleaded. “She’s been gone for far longer than she said, and we fear that something may have happened to her.”

    Tanous had no reply to the family’s desperate pleas for help.

    Edward got up from his chair and speedily walked to his room. A minute went by before Edward returned with a pouch filled with coins of gold, silver, and bronze. “If you bring my daughter back, I promise to add these thirty coins to whatever money you already have in your wallet,” Edward explained.

    “But dear,” Karen said. “That’s the only money we have.”

    “If this is what it takes to bring our daughter back, I’d do it a thousand times over,” Edward said, lowering his brow.

    “So, Tanous,” Millenti said. “Will you do it?”

    The room was shrouded in silence as Tanous thought the request over.

    “Well,” he said. “It seems that my free will is no match for the love you have for your daughter. I’ll do it.”

    “Wonderful!” Edward shouted. “You are forever in my debt, Tanous Splitwings!”

    “Now,” Karen said. “When do you intend to leave?”

    “I’ll leave for Cye now,” Tanous answered.

    “Oh, well in that case, Take this,” Edward pulled out a small picture of Yulenti and handed it to Tanous.

    Tanous took the picture from the farmer’s hand. The picture was a beautiful snapshot of the young woman. The girl’s features were flawless. She was the fairest thing Tanous had ever seen.

    Tanous slipped the picture into his back pocket on his pants as he walked over to the door.

    “I wish you luck, Tanous,” Edward said.

    Tanous nodded as he got onto the seat of his bike that he had parked in front of the house. He turned the bike on and began to ride east and begun his quest for money. Tanous was far from the border between Adran and the country of Altrenia’s province of Cyberlax, but all that stood in his way were vast and empty fields of green.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    The full moon shone its radiant light down upon the industrial city of Cye through the layer of smog that clouded over the city. The city’s most recognizable features were the multiple gloomy silhouettes of smokestacks visible through the dark-coloured that they spewed out. Within the city’s streets, rats, insects, and hoodlums ran amuck. The grotesque odours of the many piles of garbage and waste within the dirty slums of the city were enough to turn even those with strong stomachs queasy. The buildings of Cye consisted mostly of factories, blacksmiths, and brothels; each with a power pole standing next to them, tangled wires strung from pole to pole.

    Running through the grimy and dingy alleyways beside the city’s large stone wall to escape her pursuers, seventeen-year-old Yulenti Hernan, scantily clad in a very revealing skirt, top and pair of fishnet stockings, breathed heavily as she slowed her pace.

    Turning her head, Yulenti noticed that her pursuers were no longer behind her. She halted her steps and caught her breath.

    Suddenly, she heard footsteps behind her. Without hesitation, Yulenti hid herself within an insect-infested waste pile. The stench was too great for her to bear, forcing her to cover up her mouth and nose with the cloak she wore over her lack of clothes.

    Five leather-clad gangsters, each carrying an unsheathed sword in their belts. Three of the five carried bright flashlights they used to light up the poorly lit corridors.

    “Where are you my filly?” asked the bulky leader of the gang. “We know you’re here, we can smell you.”

    Yulenti watched as the gangsters walked passed her. She hoped that they would simply pass her by, but they the leader stopped next to her hiding place. It seemed as if he didn’t notice her, but then he knelt down and starred directly into Yulenti’s blue eyes. “Hello, filly,” the leader said in a wheezy voice.

    With that, the leader grabbed Yulenti firmly by her left arm and yanked her out from the garbage she was hiding in.

    “Why were you hiding?” asked the leader. “I paid you good money to give me a show!”

    “I would never give you a show!” Yulenti snapped in reply to the leader’s crude question.

    After having his burly hand strongly make contact the side of Yulenti’s face, the leader snapped back, “I don’t recall asking you for your opinion, brothel wench!” the leader roared.

    Yulenti fearlessly looked the leader in the eyes, and spat in his left eye. The large man winced in annoyance before wiping the saliva from his face. The leader then prepared himself to deliver another hard slap to Yulenti’s face, but he was suddenly interrupted, “I suggest you pick on someone your own size,” said a voice from above the gangsters.

    The five ganger members turned and looked up at the top of Cye’s wall. Yulenti looked up as well. A black silhouette of a young man stood on the top of the wall. The moon shone its light directly behind him as his cloak and long ponytail swayed behind him.

    “And just who are you, newcomer?” the gang leader asked.

    “Now why would I give my name to filth such as you?” the young man asked back as he unsheathed his claymore from his back. “I’m just here to take that girl back home and away from you.”

    “Well, come and get her!” chuckled the gang leader, noticing that the five members obviously outnumbered the newcomer. He also noticed that they were itching for a fight.

    Tanous leaped from the wall. He landed in the centre of the crowd of gangsters as they removed their swords from their belts. Tanous delivered a powerful back kick to the nearest gangster, knocking the man to the hard ground a distance away unconscious. A second gangster swung his blade at Tanous from the front. Tanous blocked the blade from striking him. He pushed against the gangster, shoving him away. Another gangster swung at Tanous. Tanous blocked the blade before he spun around and slammed the pummel of his sword into the stomach of the gangster. The man fell to the ground in pain as he wheezed for air. The gang member that had attacked earlier attack again. Tanous evaded the strike, and replied by kneeing the man in the chest. The man fell to the ground defeated as another attacked from behind. Tanous didn’t turn around, but blocked the gangster’s sword. Tanous then turned clockwise and performed an outside crescent kick, knocking the gang member to the ground. The leader of the group watched his four men all be defeated by one man as he held a tight grip on Yulenti. Tanous turned to face the leader. “Is that all?” he asked with a cocky smile on his face.

    The leader tossed Yulenti to the ground before he drew out his sword. He lunged at Tanous, but was unsuccessful in his attack. Tanous kept his eye on the leader as the man continued to flail his blade at him. The gang leader attacked again, but Tanous blocked his rusting sword. The two locked blades for a few seconds before Tanous unleashed a mighty swing of his sword. The gang leader’s sword flew up into the air. The man watched it go up, and when he looked back at Tanous, he saw the young man’s fist slamming into his scarred face. The gangster was knocked unconscious and fell onto the hard concrete pathway.

    Tanous sheathed his claymore and approached Yulenti. She backed away as her saviour came closer, hesitant to trust the skilled stranger.

    “It’s alright,” Tanous softly said. “My name is Tanous Splitwings. I’ve been asked by your parents to bring you back home.”

    “How do I know I can trust you?” Yulenti asked.

    “I just saved your life,” Tanous replied. “What were you doing getting chased by those gangsters anyways?”

    “I refused to carry out my duties for them,” Yulenti explained.

    “Duties?” Tanous said, a confused tone emanating from his voice. “What exactly was your job?”

    “I, um…” Yulenti was tentative to answer. “I… I was a… brothel wench.”

    Tanous’s eyes widened once he heard the young woman’s answer. “And you did that for money?” he asked. “If you want money, here, take all I have.”

    Tanous pulled out his wallet and grabbed several money bills, and he handed the money to Yulenti. Yulenti grabbed the money, and rolled her eyes at Tanous’s offer. She dropped her clock onto the ground and placed the bills on it. She began to undo the ties that held her clothes onto her skinny and pale, yet attractive, body.

    “No!” Tanous shouted. “I didn’t mean that. I just gave you the money because I have no need for it.”

    “So, does that mean you think I’m unattractive!?” Yulenti asked as she placed her hands on her hips.

    “What? No, just --” Tanous couldn’t put the right words together. He then removed his cloak and wrapped it over Yulenti’s exposed shoulders. “Let’s just get you home.”

    The two swiftly moved out of the alley after Yulenti grabbed her cloak and money, and into the dirty and empty streets.

    “Um, Tanous,” Yulenti said. “You should know that leaving the city won’t be that easy.”

    “And why is that?” Tanous asked, shifting his eyes about the streets searching for any threats.

    “The brothels have an adept voice in this town,” Yulenti explained. “This is a city of working men, and they need motivation if the production rate is to stay high. That is why these cathouses need to keep as many wenches as they can. We’re pretty much prisoners here.”

    Tanous and Yulenti walked down the street. The main gate into Cye could be seen at the end of the large street. Tanous lead himself and Yulenti towards the gate.

    “Tanous, what are you doing?” Yulenti asked, noticing that soldiers who were taught to prevent any brothel wench from leaving the city heavily guarded the gate. “We can’t get passed those guards!”

    “Miss Hernan,” Tanous said. “If you haven’t notice, but I’m different from others, and that’s a rather short wall. All we have to do is jump. Ready?”

    “What?” Yulenti asked, somewhat frightened and confused. “Jump?”

    Tanous gripped Yulenti’s left hand with his right and began to quicken their pace until they were at a slow run. The soldiers at the gate stepped forward and formed a short human wall.

    “Halt!” shouted the soldier who appeared to be the captain. Tanous and Yulenti continued to come. “Halt!”

    Ignoring the simple orders of the guard, Tanous picked Yulenti up in his arms and ran faster. The guards readied their rifles to take out Tanous and Yulenti, but just as they fired, Tanous sprung into the air. Yulenti quietly screamed as she held onto Tanous for dear life. The two flew over the gate and stone wall of Cye.

    Tanous landed outside of the filthy industrial city with much force, but he barely bent his knees upon impact. He set the terrified and shaking Yulenti onto her feet.

    “A brothel wench has escaped!” shouted one of the soldiers as he ran up the stone staircase that lead onto the top of the wall. “Shoot her and the scum she’s with! Shoot them both down!”

    Many gunmen aligned themselves on the top of Cye’s wall over the gate. They instantly began to fire at Tanous and Yulenti from behind the wall’s battlements.

    Tanous unsheathed his sword as the sound of gunfire echoed in the night sky. The bullets came flying at them at high speed, but Tanous was still able to deflect them with his blade.

    “Run!” Tanous ordered Yulenti. Yulenti nodded and began to run away from the city as Tanous swung his blade wildly, deflecting the bullets. He walked backwards as he knocked the projectiles out of the air. Once he was a safe distance away, Tanous turned and ran. It didn’t take long before he caught up to Yulenti.

    “I hid my bike in some trees not far from here,” Tanous said. “We’ll rest there for the night.”

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    The flickering embers and flames of a campfire glowed within the night as the crickets chirped in the moonlit darkness. Tanous poked at the coals of the blaze with a wooden stick in a feeble attempt to prevent boredom.

    Yulenti rested her sleeping head on her rolled up cloak that she used as a pillow. Tanous’s red cloak served as a cozy blanket for the drowsy young woman.

    Tanous admired how peaceful Yulenti slept. Once he noticed that she was opening her eyes, he shifted his gaze to the fire so he wouldn’t cause Yulenti to feel uncomfortable.

    “Aren’t you going to get any sleep?” Yulenti asked with a yawn.

    Tanous shook his head. “A good night’s sleep is a pleasure I rarely get anymore,” Tanous replied, the fire reflecting in his eyes.

    “Why’s that?” Yulenti asked, curious to know.

    “I’d rather not talk about it,” Tanous answered.

    “Oh, come on,” Yulenti begged. “Please.”

    “Tanous’s fiery eyes looked towards Yulenti. “Miss Hernan!” he raised his voice. “I’d rather not talk about it, not go back to sleep!”

    Suddenly, the sharp pain from before shot through Tanous’s left arm. He winced for a short second. Yulenti didn’t notice that he was in pain.

    “Please, Tanous,” Yulenti said. “Call me Yulenti. I really don’t care for formal names.”

    The cricket-filled silence sounded for a minute of two. Both Tanous and Yulenti refrained themselves from looking at one another for a brief moment.

    Yulenti finally looked up. “So, how did my parents convince you to come get me?” Yulenti asked.

    “They bribed me with money,” Tanous replied.

    “But I thought you had no need for money,” Yulenti said.

    “I don’t,” Tanous replied. “It’s just that they were so kind and I thought I should repay their kindness. My selfish desires can wait.”

    “Selfish desires?” Yulenti said. “What kind of desires?”

    “That’s another subject I’d rather not take about,” Tanous stated still poking the fire’s burning embers with the smouldering stick.

    “Oh,” Yulenti hushed herself. She then looked up at Tanous. “Hey, if you don’t mind me asking, how did you jump of that wall back there? That was amazing.”

    “The ability to jump high has been a skill of mine since birth,” Tanous explained. “I believe it is something that runs in my family. Me, my brother, my sisters, we all had heightened strength, agility, dexterity, vitality, you name it. Our father apparently had these gifts too.”

    “Wow!” Yulenti was astonished. “So, you’re pretty much all enhance killing machines. Your family must be indestructible.”

    “I wish that were so,” Tanous sadly said. The pain shot through Tanous’s arm once again, but he ignored it. “I’m the last remaining remnant of what once was my family.”

    “Oh,” Yulenti suddenly felt a weight on her shoulders. It was as if Tanous’s sorrow was afflicting her as well. “I’m sorry, Tanous; I didn’t mean to cross a boundary.”

    Tanous nodded. “It’s fine,” he said, even though it really wasn’t “You should get some sleep. We have a long journey tomorrow morning.”

    Yulenti nodded and laid herself back down onto her makeshift bed. She shut her weary eyes, and dozed off into sleep.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    An hour after the sun and presented itself from behind the eastern horizon, Edward stood on the Hernan household’s wooden front step, his cane firmly gripped in his right hand. He began to lose hope that the mercenary he hired would bring his beloved daughter back, but then he noticed the familiar rumbling of a large bike. Edward widened his eyes and stepped off the front step once he saw Tanous’s bike on the horizon with two riders.

    Yulenti looked at her dad in the distance through Tanous goggles. She smiled and waved at him as she held onto Tanous with her other hand.

    Once Tanous stopped his bike in front of the house, Yulenti leaped off, and rushed into the loving arms of her father. From inside the run-down house, Karen and Millenti could hear the cries of joy. Karen looked out of the kitchen window to see the joyful sight. The two rushed outside and joined in the reunion as Tanous stood casually, leaning against his bike with his arms cross.

    “Tanous,” Edward said. “I cannot thank you enough.”

    Tanous nodded. “It was no problem,” he replied.

    “So, Yulenti,” Karen said. “How much money did you make?”

    Yulenti placed Tanous’s goggles on the top of her head before she reached into the top of Tanous’s cloak and pulled out the several bills Tanous had given her. “Tanous gave me these,” she said.

    “You mean you don’t have any money from work?” Karen asked. “What exactly was your job, anyways?”

    Yulenti looked down at her attire. She blushed, embarrassed to tell her family the truth. “I, um,” Yulenti hesitated. “I sort of worked in… a brothel.”

    “Oh, Yulenti!” Edward said, ashamed. “You know you’re better than that. Taking off your clothes for money. For shame.”

    Suddenly Edward remembered that Tanous gave money to Yulenti. He shot an angry glare at Tanous. Tanous shook his head in his defence.

    “It wasn’t like that, father!” Yulenti explained. “Tanous didn’t take advantage of me! He has no need for his money. That’s why he gave these bills to me.”

    Edward calmed down after he heard his daughter’s explanation.

    “And I’m sorry for not leaving my job earlier,” Yulenti apologized. “They wouldn’t let me leave. “I was basically their prisoner.”

    “Well, all we really care about now is that you’re home and safe. “Thank you, Tanous.”

    “Thanks, Tanous,” Millenti acknowledged.

    “Well, Tanous,” Edward said. “I haven’t forgotten my offer. Here’s your money.”

    Edward held out his hand, and in it was the large sack of coins. Tanous softly pushed the money away.

    “Please, Mr. Hernan,” Tanous said. “Your thanks is all I need in return.”

    Edward nodded to assure Tanous that he agreed not to give away the money. “Well then, thank you,” Edward said.

    “I suppose I should take my leave,” Tanous said. “I’ve got a long journey ahead of me.”

    “Wait, Tanous,” Yulenti quickly spoke up. “Could you at least allow me to change my clothes and say farewell properly?”

    Tanous was silent for a short second before he nodded in agreement.

    Yulenti smiled and rushed inside the house. She ran into her room and shut the door.

    Tanous and the rest of the Hernan family looked at the door Yulenti had just flown through.
    “Well,” Tanous said. “I guess I have to wait some more. I hope she doesn’t take too long, I need my cloak and goggles back.”

    Time seemed to go by so slow. Edward and Karen both went into the kitchen to fetch something to eat while Millenti went to visit with Yulenti in their room. Tanous sat with nothing to do on the house’s front step. He starred out to the south, waiting for Yulenti’s farewell.

    “You’re going to need these for your journey,” said Yulenti’s voice from behind Tanous.

    Tanous turned his head to left to Yulenti’s hand holding his cardinal-coloured cloak and goggles. After Tanous noticed how Yulenti was garbed, he swiftly stood to his fee, surprised.

    Yulenti’s clothes consisted of some unique features. Her shirt was blue in colour. It was sleeveless and it collar stood up to her chin. Buttoned to each side of the collar was a thin white scarf. Belted to Yulenti’s left arm was a sleeve that was the same colour as her shirt. Her other arm was left uncovered with only small bandages wrapped around her upper arm. Yulenti’s bellybutton was exposed, and beneath it were several russet belts of leather that held up a pair of light blue -- almost white -- wide-legged shorts. The legs of the shorts went down to Yulenti’s knees. A pouch was strapped to Yulenti’s left leg by another belt. Her boots were baggy and tightened onto her feet by cloth straps. Yulenti’s socks were light blue and two different sizes. The sock of her right leg was short and barely revealed from out of her boot. On her left leg, her sock rose up passed her knee and hidden within her shorts. Yulenti had two tonfa sheathed to the back of her belts. One had a red hilt and crosspiece, and the other had a blue hilt and crosspiece. A pair of goggles rested on Yulenti’s head.

    “What are you all dressed up for?” Tanous asked, grabbing his cloak and goggles.

    “I’m coming with you,” Yulenti replied.

    “What makes you think that?” Tanous asked as he noticed that Yulenti’s family members were watching at the door.

    “I told my parent that by joining you, I could possibly earn money for them,” Yulenti explained. “They’ve agreed to allow me to go.”

    “I don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Tanous said. “It’ll be dangerous, with a lot of monsters, fighting, and death. You should just stay.”

    Yulenti rolled her eyes with a smile. “Tanous,” she said. “I’m a big girl, I think I can handle it, and besides, I know how to use my weapons. There’s nothing to worry about.”

    Tanous sighed and rolled his eyes. “Whatever,” he uttered. “It seems that there’s no stopping you.”

    Yulenti smiled with the knowledge that she could join Tanous as a mercenary. She turned to say farewell to her family.

    “Good bye,” Yulenti said as she hugged each of her family members. “I’ll she you again.”

    “If you want to talk to us, just use this,” Edward handed Yulenti a silver cell phone.

    “Where’d you get this?” Yulenti asked.

    “I’ve had that for a while,” Edward said. “It’s your mothers actually. I do have one in the house.”

    Yulenti smiled. She then walked over to Tanous’s bike where Tanous was already sitting on the machine waiting. Edward looked at Tanous as Yulenti got onto the bike. “Tanous,” he said. “Keep her safe.”

    Tanous nodded, and with that, he started up his bike, and drove off. Yulenti waved goodbye while she could still see her family as her and Tanous drove northbound.