Van took off his shades as he walked around the town of Kalen. It was a small town, with small town people, just like every town he'd been to. He looked at them and envied their simple lives with their simple problems. He used to be like that...But that seemed like a long time ago. He put a cigarette to his mouth, lit it, and inhaled deeply. Yes, it was a very long time ago.
Van entered the local inn of the town and was greeted by the innkeeper.
"Good evening, sir. How can I help you?" asked the innkeeper in a fake cheerful voice as he walked into the local inn and up to the front desk.
Van gave her a blank look, not liking the superficial tone of her voice and the stupid question he was asked. He took a long drag of his cigarette, exhaled and said, "A room." Whether intentionally or unintentionally (most likely it was the former), he blew smoke in the woman's face.
"Of course sir," the woman smiled, maintaining her phony cheerfulness, but Van could tell she was put off by him. "A room for one?"
"What do you think?" Van asked her, not too kindly.
"Uh-yes, of course," the woman stuttered, probably bewildered from his behavior being so unusual from the normal townspeople. "How long are you planning to stay here?" tavern
"Three days." He handed her money and she gave him a room key.
"Here you go. You have room nine."
Van took the key she held out, and without saying another word to her, he walked up the stairs leading to the rooms, putting out his cigarette on the railing of the staircase. When he entered his room, he slammed the door, dropped his bag, and collapsed on the bed. He was tired, in more than one way.
Van brought another cigarette to his mouth and lit it. He watched as the smoke rose and disappeared before it reached the ceiling.
It was always the same. He had been doing the same thing in every town he'd been to for almost six months. He'd go to the local inn of a town, stay there for a few days doing nothing and leave. It was all the same, but he kept on doing it. He knew this wasn't the purpose of traveling, but he really didn't give a damn. No one was there to tell him what to do and he could waste his time away if he damn well wanted to.
Van smoked his second cigarette and watched as the ceiling changed from white to dark grey. It was getting dark, he noticed. He remained in bed, and didn't bother to turn on the light. He watched as the room grew dark around him, the only source of light from his cigarette.
He took the cigarette from his mouth and stared as the fire was slowly reaching the tip of it. He put it out on the night stand next to the bed.
Another day wasted.
* * * * * * *
"Good morning sir, how was your-" was the innkeeper's greeting, but was cut short as Van ignored her and walked out of the inn.
Van scowled. He would have preferred to have stayed in the room, but this was a necessity. He was running out of food.
A bell ringing was the signal that he had walked into the store that was this town's main source of food. Not surprisingly, it was small and plain; just like the inn was. Just like everything else in this town.
"Hello, sir, can I help you?" a teenaged boy, who looked to be a couple of years younger than he, said to him. He ignored the boy, just like what he did to the innkeeper, and walked toward the aisles of food. About fifteen minutes later, he had a basketful of food and put it on the counter. He said nothing and looked down at the counter as the boy started to cash the food. He was aware that the boy had been staring at him ever since he walked in the store. He knew what the boy was going to ask. He always knew whenever people stared at him like that.
"Excuse me, but are you Va-"
"No," Van answered. It wasn't a lie, not really. He wasn't the Van Flyheight everyone knew and loved. He hadn't been for a while. Or he probably never was.
"Oh, sorry," the boy said. "You really do look like him, you know. You even have his hair." Van's eyes remained glued to the counter as the boy began to speak his praises about him. "I saw him on TV about two years ago. It was right after he beat that Deathsaurer. Everybody in this town talked about it for months. He must be the best Zoid pilot there is to have beaten that Deathsaurer TWICE. It must be so cool to be him," the kid said in a voice filled with awe.
"I doubt it, kid," Van said softly.
"What was that?" the boy asked.
"How much do I owe you?"
"Um, right, that's $20.45," the boy said, staring at him suspiciously.
Van took the food and was just about to leave when the boy spoke, "I won't tell anyone you're here. If that's why you lied about who you were."
Van froze for a couple of seconds, then left without saying a word. He scowled as he was walking toward the inn. That boy was just trying to get on his good side. That kid probably called all his friends right after he left.
"I should leave," he muttered to himself.
He looked around him and narrowed his eyes. He saw that people were staring at him and whispering. "News travels fast," he thought. "Damn kid. I almost believed him."
The moment he walked into the inn, people who saw him immediately stopped what they were doing and stared at him. Whenever he looked at one of them, they looked away. None of them were brave enough to come up to him. His scowl remained firmly in place as he began walking (or rather, stomping) up the stairs leading to his room. Everybody could talk behind his back, but no one had the balls to say anything in front of him. He hated people like that.
He slammed his door and packed the few things he had. He was leaving. He couldn't stay in this excuse of a town any longer. He gave a little growl as he thought of the people looking at him. They were all the same: in every town, that's how they acted around him.
He opened the window and without a second thought, he grabbed his bag and jumped out of the second story window, landing effortlessly on the ground. It was better that he left like this. He would have attracted too much attention if he left through the front door in plain sight, which was the last thing he wanted. Plus, people would know which direction he headed...
He went to one of the back roads of the small town, which were usually deserted, and went up to a jeep parked behind a clothing store on the edge of the small town. He knew now to hide the way he came into towns, lest anyone decided to follow him. He learned that lesson months ago when curious villagers did just that. He opened the door, threw his bag in and drove off, leaving a trail of dust in his wake.
"They're fucking idiots; all of them," he muttered to himself. He decided that he had enough. He would be staying away from towns and people for a while. He turned left, not wanting to go straight, since that led to another town. The direction he was headed had no civilization for three days of driving. Just the way he wanted it.
* * * * * * *
He drove for two days, stopping for hours at a time to rest, eat, or when he just didn't feel like driving. If he stopped less frequently he would have reached Sky Colony, the nearest city, by now. But he was in no hurry. The scenery hardly changed; it was flat as far as the eyes could see, save for a few trees here and there and mountains in the distance. That was why he was surprised when he saw a small dark lump to the far left of him on his second day of driving. He paid little attention to it at first, thinking it wasn't worth his time investigating any further. But as he got closer to the object, it started to take on a more human shape, and it was lying on the ground. When he realized this, he made a beeline straight for it.
"Hey, are you all right?" he called as he drove up to the person. He got out of the jeep and ran up to the person. He stopped in mid-step as he got a closer look at whom the person was.
The city of Guygolos, the capital of the Guylos Empire, was brightly lit, contrasting with the inky darkness of the night sky above it. Fiona Alyssi Lynett stood by a large window in an empty conference room of the Guygolos Palace and stared out at the large city. The lights were off, and there was only a little light, coming from the other buildings, seeping through the darkness of the room. The light revealed the look on her face: her eyes were somber and half-lidded, her mouth set in a small frown. The look on her face looked strange and foreign on her, as if she rarely looked that way, or that look just didn't suit her.
"Miss Fiona?" a soft voice said behind her.
Fiona could see Thomas Schubaltz's reflection on the large window. "What is it, Thomas?" she asked. Her voice was not the kind and cheerful voice she was associated with. Her voice sounded tired and drained, as if all hope had left her.
"We..." Fiona could see Thomas look down at his feet, "We have found out the last location of where Van last resided."
Fiona looked away from Thomas' reflection and looked down at the city below her. She was silent for a moment, then she spoke, her voice soft, "Where?"
"In Republican territory, in a small town called Kalen on the Western Continent. He was seen there two days ago."
"...I see," she said, her voice still soft. "Thank you, Thomas."
"Miss Fiona..." If Fiona were paying attention, she would have noticed the worry that was so apparent in Thomas' voice. "I'll always be there for you if you want to talk."
"Hm," Fiona said, not really listening. She didn't catch the worried glance Thomas gave her before he silently left the dark conference room.
* * * * * * *
Van was sitting on the ground, watching the flames of the campfire that chased away the darkness that surrounded him. The sun had set hours ago, the same time he stopped to make camp. Van continued to watch the fire, his stare turning into a glare, as if the simple fire was the cause of all his problems. It had been six hours since he found Raven lying unconscious on the hot, dry ground. He put the boy in his jeep without question; even if Raven was his former enemy, he would not leave him in the middle of nowhere. Even if he didn't like doing it. Damn his conscience.
Van watched Raven sleep silently. The said person was lying in his jeep, the passenger door opened, to accommodate Raven's feet, which was sticking out of the car. He couldn't help but wonder what would happen when the man woke up.
"The little shit would probably try to kill me, even after I helped him," Van muttered to himself. Although that was very likely to happen, it was in Van's nature not to leave someone who was in need of help alone. He cursed himself for the hundredth time that night for his weakness.
He unfurled his bedroll and lay down on it. He pushed the thoughts of Raven out of his mind as sleep took over him. He would just have to deal with the man in the morning.
Van could vaguely feel something crawling on his forehead. He let it be for a while, as he was still half-asleep. But when he became more aware, he realized what was on his forehead. He swatted at his forehead, knocking the thing off, as he gave a short exclamation of surprise. He could feel his heart race as he saw the roach crawl away from him. He had an irrational fear of roaches ever since he was a child. He heard his parents would put a dead roach in his crib if he misbehaved. Hardly anybody knew about his fear, only the people closest to him knew. He watched the roach and raised an eyebrow as a black boot squashed the insect. Apparently, Raven now knew, too.
Van's eyes led a trail up the boot and finally landed on the man's face, or what he could see of his face. Raven was sitting in Van's jeep, with his feet on the ground. Raven's long hair veiled his face as he was looking down.
For a short moment, Van was embarrassed about that roach incident, but he realized that Raven wasn't even paying attention to him. Van stared at him in silence for a minute, waiting for the other to do anything, but the man just sat there, silent as stone. So, Van got up, dusted himself off, and walked toward him. Van ended up standing in front of him, his arms crossed across his chest. "Well?" Van said expectantly. "Aren't you going to say anything?"
Raven said nothing; he didn't even acknowledge Van's presence.
"Hey!" said Van, trying to get Raven's attention. He lowered his head, trying to look Raven in the eye, but Raven's hair covered his face. "I saved your scrawny ass out there," he pointed in the general direction of where he found Raven. "The least I could get is a 'thank you.'" Truthfully, Van didn't expect a "thank you." He really expected a "fuck you" after what he said, but all he got was silence.
Van stared at him again, but gave up after a couple of minutes because the other was totally silent, save for the sound of breathing. So, he busied himself by packing up his things. "You know, I could just leave you out here," he said, while rolling up his bedroll. "You didn't seem to mind before."
The silence was beginning to annoy him. "Fine," said Van, throwing his things in the back of his jeep and putting on his shades. "If that's the way you want it." He entered the jeep and sat in the driver's seat. He reached out with his right arm, intending to push Raven out of his jeep.
* * * * * * *
He slammed the door and drove away. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag of it. "Why on Zi did I do that?" he asked himself, but heard no answer. All he heard was soft breathing, which was reminding him constantly of his weakness.
Van drove into Sky Colony late in the afternoon. Sky Colony was on the verge of becoming a big city. It was still small by big city standards, but big enough to be called a city. It was in Republican territory and was not too far away from the inland sea of Europa.
Van furrowed his eyebrows in confusion when he first came into the city. This was his first time visiting Sky Colony, but he knew the number of people here was more than what this city would usually have. He'd been in enough towns and cities to know that a city of this size could not have so many people.
Van had trouble finding a place to park his truck, so he went to a more secluded part of the city and parked his truck in an alley; which he would have done anyway even if it wasn't so crowded.
Van was already out of the jeep when he saw Raven in the car. "Shit; forgot he was here," he thought.
Van actually contemplated on whether or not he should just leave Raven in the car. After minutes of debating, Van decided he didn't want the possibility of his car being stolen; at least that's what he told himself.
"Get out," he said, not expecting a response, but he was surprised when Raven got out of the car and closed the door. Van stared at Raven in surprise for a couple of seconds before a smirk appeared on his face. "Sit," he said in a commanding voice and Raven plopped down on the ground, which looked slightly painful to do, but no emotion showed on Raven's face. Van's smirked widened. Amusing images flashed through his head. Oh, the things he could make Raven do...But, Van could feel a little tug of, he wasn't sure what it was, guilt maybe?, and his smirk disappeared. Shit! There was his fucking conscience again. He scowled at Raven, who was still sitting on the ground. "Let's go," he said sharply before he turned and walked out of the alley without looking back.
Not too long after he walked away, Van could hear soft footsteps behind him.
* * * * * * *
Van found an inn called The Trigger, which was small and was filled with people. Van's prospect of getting a room was very low. He walked up to the front desk anyway.
An old man at the front desk smiled when he saw the two men. "Good evening sirs. A room for two?" the man asked.
Van raised an eyebrow–this man wasn't as stupid as the woman in Kalen. "Yes," he said.
"You're lucky. A group of people decided to camp on the field so there are a couple of rooms free," the man said. "I've hardly seen the inn this busy before," said the man as he went to find a room key. "I don't think we've had so many guests here. There's going to be a Zoid tournament tomorrow at 2 pm. The Zoids are already at the location and some of the pilots are even staying here," the man said excitedly.
Van, who wasn't listening to the man babble, turned sharply and stared at the man in surprise when he heard something that caught his interest. "A Zoid tournament?" he asked.
"Yes," the man nodded. "Pilots from both sides are here. It's not really a tournament, mind you. It's just a show of goodwill on both sides. They're showing that even though the Empire and Republic used Zoids as tools of war, they can now use it to show unity between the two nations. It's going to take place on the field I was talking about. It's not too far from here. That's why so many people are here; it's the closest city to where the tournament's going to be held.
"There hasn't been a tournament here in the history of this city. I bet you're wondering why a place like this in the middle of nowhere would be chosen for a Zoid tournament."
The old man continued anyway, "That's because the field was a place where a battle between the Empire and Republic took place, but it was also a place where a truce took place between the two sides fighting. It was actually the only truce in our history since the war ended. It's a very interesting story, really. You see—"
"I'm sure it's a real interesting story," Van said, obviously lying. "But just give me the key to my room."
The old man looked shocked at Van's rude behavior, but he smiled shortly after. "You know," the old man said as he got the key, "I piloted a Zoid myself for the Republican military years before you were born. It was a red Rev Raptor. It wasn't the fastest Zoid; it didn't even have that much firepower, but I loved it all the same."
Van, who was feeling a mixture of boredom and annoyance, was about to jump over the counter and get the key himself when the man asked, "How about you? Do you pilot Zoids? Is that why you're here? To compete?"
Van's eyes were wide for a split second before they narrowed and glared at the man. "Can you just give me the key?" Van asked harshly.
The man just smiled and held out the key. "Here you go. The room is on the first floor," he pointed to the hallway to his left. "It's the fourth door to the left."
Van took the key and walked in the direction of his room, with Raven trailing behind him. He scowled and lit a cigarette, the smoke filling his lungs as he breathed in deeply. That man was getting on subjects he didn't even want to think about. "Damn it," he said. "They can't leave me alone."
* * * * * * *
"Who was that jerk?" said a girl, the man's co-worker. She stared at Van––who was walking toward his room––in distaste.
"Now, be kind, Meryl," the man smiled, but then his expression turned serious as he also stared at the man. "I don't think he knows who he is, he may have forgotten." He looked sadly at the man, "I hope he remembers someday."
* * * * * * *
Van entered the room and dropped his backpack to the floor. He collapsed on one of the two beds and took another drag of his cigarette. He watched as the smoke rose and disappeared before it reached the ceiling. He did the exact same thing at Kalen. It was always the same.
Except for the fact that one of the most dangerous people on Zi was standing by the door.
Van could see Raven in the corner of his eye. This man was a constant reminder of his weakness for kindness and of his past. Which were the two things he wanted to forget the most. He stayed in bed, willing himself to not notice the other man.
Two hours later, after three cigarettes were put out on the nightstand, he finally relented. "Screw this," he said and got his bag and went into the bathroom.
Van closed the door to the bathroom and began to undress. He figured he should take a shower since he was already in the bathroom and, thanks to his traveling, didn't shower for two days.
Van let the warm water wash over his body. His long hair was protecting his face from the water as he looked down. He began to think of what he usually did when he stayed in a hotel room the past six months. He would usually just stay in bed and smoke as many cigarettes he could until he fell asleep. But, thanks to Raven, he wasn't doing that right now.
This man was breaking his routine.
* * * * * * *
Van was lying in the shower, his body having dried off long ago. There was no bath drawn; he was just lying there, staring at the showerhead as it let out a droplet of water every half a second. He didn't know exactly how long he was there, but, as he watched the sky darken outside his window, he guessed it was more than two hours.
He didn't question himself why he was lying in a tub for more than two hours because he knew the answer. He just didn't want to admit it. He didn't want to see that person who was just outside that bathroom door. He didn't want to see anyone.
That old man...He scowled...That old man just had to mention Zoids. He just had to go to a place with zoids. Van closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He didn't want to think about anything right now.
* * * * * * *
Van opened his eyes and realized that he had been sleeping. He looked out the window and saw that it was morning. He got up and stretched his stiff muscles. He took his clothes out of his bag and began to dress, then he got out of the bathroom.
What he saw as he entered the room was Raven sleeping on his stomach on the floor. Raven was laying one the same place where he was standing hours ago. He shook his head, "Idiot." He guessed that Raven must have stood there for so long that he fainted.
He stepped over the man and walked out of the room. He pushed the door to close it, but Raven's boot got in the way so the door was left slightly open.
Van put on his shades as he left the inn. Even this early, streets were crowded with people. He could see the excitement on the people's faces. He glared at them, feeling annoyed by their excitement.
He took out a cigarette and lit it, walking down the street. "Idiots," he thought aloud. "They're all a bunch of idiots."