In the depths of the uneven layered forest, the silhouette of a tall, muscular monster appeared from behind a tree trunk.
A huge impenetrable body that resembled a masculine giant, its fists clenched as if it was about to throw some punches at flying mosquitos. Its hollow eyes shot a glare at the panting android standing below off to the side with her fist opened wide. She had just sent a mini blast in the monster’s direction to distract him, but the creature had ripped a branch and swung it like a baseball bat, sending the ball of deadly energy to a home run.
Suddenly, the sound of an explosion, along with a scream of a mentally destroyed individual rang within the trees.
Netty turned her head towards the direction where she thought the sound was coming from.
“What was that!!” She asked herself, loud enough for her partner to hear, who was crouching on a higher branch at a tree.
“Isn’t that where Dolly and Noah are?” Runo’s unfazed expression still focused on the monster, who was awkwardly standing in the middle of the field.
“Oh isn't that just perfect!” The android clicked her tongue and whistled at the monster. The creature hit its fists together and stomped at the ground, causing a mini earthquake. It suddenly dashed like a deranged madman, its six-pack muscles got tensed up as its veins became visible all over its body. A sight of a monster gone wild.
Netty swiped her arm up and shot a larger blast at it, but the monster jumped over the blast and slammed onto the pavement, sending her flying across the dirt field; her body spun several times before getting hit head first onto a tree trunk, the sound of a light clatter made her dizzy as she fell onto the ground, panting.
"Netty!" Runo's yell caught the attention of the monster as it turned. The man glanced up at the horrendous thing, but before he could plan his next move, the monster started sprinting at him. Its feet dug its footprints for every step it took, and with a huff, the monster leaped and aimed for Runo's branch.
In a split second, Runo safely jumped out of harm's way the moment the creature grabbed onto the branch and ripped it apart. The man turned his body in mid-air and pulled out several grass blades, tossing them in the monster's direction while grabbing onto a branch on the tree standing next to its injured partner. He grunted as the monster easily crushed all the blades with one hand, its broken pieces glitter under the sunlight and landed promptly onto the grass.
"Tch!" Runo pulled a large tree bark just as the monster tried to punch him. The bark turned briskly into a shield and shattered like crystal glass when the punch was delivered. It flung Runo from his branch as he landed aggressively onto the ground, his back skidding a couple of times before abruptly stopping.
"Wow!" Netty exclaimed with a smirk as she attempted to stand, her legs were shaking. "This monster's a pain!"
Surprisingly, Runo managed to get up even after being flickered like a bug; he cracked his neck and fingers before standing up, his fashionable jacket was now covered in dirt.
"No kidding," the man shot a quick glance at Netty, who smirked and nodded, affirming what the two had in mind.
The monster focused its next attack on Runo as it clenched its fists and shoved them hard onto the ground, causing another earthquake. It had no care in the world on the damage it inflicted on the trees and grass around it, but that it hungered for violence.
Runo swiftly ran around the monster, trying to get it to merely focus on him as Netty gradually got up and aim her hand cannon at him. She could see from her peripheral vision that the monster was now stomping on the ground like a hysterical person, before proceeding to jump from its position and aim a fist straight for Runo's little body.
"Aaaaaaaaaaaand TOODLES!" Netty mindfully calculated the second the monster stood at the area where her instantaneous blast would hit and shot it. The lightning blast traveled from her palm and towards the running beast at the speed of light as Runo took off for cover. The beast turned its tiny head at the last second before the sounds of its howl were the only thing that reverberated between the damaged trees.
Runo's widened eye turned to relief when he saw Netty walking out of the thick cloud of smoke, holding an energy bar.
"See, I told you we got it!' The android grinned as she tossed the bar at Runo. The man blinked at her, then at it, before letting out a sigh and opened the wrapper.
"I suppose we do as usual," he said softly as he took a huge bite.
"Stop chewing so loud, you always do this," Netty laughed, her metallic hands slapped Runo's back once more. He didn't budge.
The man took a few more bites of his bar and swallowed. "Tch, mind your business. You know how hungry I get nowadays."
"I feel bad for you humans," Netty shrugged, her fingers lightly tapping on Runo's arm. "Having to work so hard to defeat a monster just to get a mere energy bar. Doesn't sound like fun when you're always starving."
"Hmm, shouldn't we check on them?" Runo switched topics, which reminded the android of Dolly and Noah.
"OH! RIGHT!" Netty turned to stare in the direction where she last heard the scream. It only lasted for a brief moment earlier, and now, the sounds of wavering leaves were the only thing entering their ears.
"Come on," Runo placed the empty wrapper into his pocket. "Let's go."
Dolly's hand gripped onto the energy bar left behind by Noah, her body seemingly can't stop rocking back and forth against the rock he once laid while he was napping. She gazed at the creek next to her, the waters reflected back a pitiful and lost individual in need of some comfort.
Why was she feeling like this? The thought of being attached to some man she only knew for a really short period of time shouldn't make her feel this attached. Was it because he was the first human she heavily interacted with outside her master's lair? She bickered to herself and whispered her overanalyzing thoughts of why she was feeling so emotionally broken over the death of a comrade.
Her soft sniffling quickly halted when Dolly heard the rustling sounds of nearby bushes. Her head jerked up, but she loosely let her guard down when she saw it was Netty and Runo.
"Oh, it's you two," she turned her head away from them. The duo cautiously approached her, they could tell something was wrong.
"Hey hey hey!" Netty said with a concerned tone. She tried to reach over at Dolly when her eyes took notice of the energy bar. "Huh, a heart-shaped one? Now that's new."
Dolly furrowed her eyebrows. Shouldn't it be obvious that someone is missing from the scene?
Fortunately, Runo caught glimpse of the situation immediately. "Netty, read the room."
The android glanced up and around for a moment. Then, it clicked.
"Wait, where's that cute guy...?" She genuinely asked the both of them as her eyes displayed the concerned look of an innocent cat, afraid.
"Did you know," Dolly suddenly spoke up with a lowered voice of irritation, her head still facing down as she didn't want to look at either of them. "That these monsters we've been killing were once humans?"
There was an awkward silence in the air as a breeze went by.
"Wait, what?" Netty's voice cracked, her lips quivered when she heard Dolly's comment. "What are you saying?"
"She's saying that these monsters were once human, Netty. It's as literal as it gets," Runo said with his usual monotone voice. The man crossed his arms and tapped his feet on the grass.
"Huh? What do you mean, Runo! How is it possible?!" Netty turned to look at him, her face covered in fear for the first time.
"I've known this since a long time ago. Where do you think failed test subjects from other realms ended up going? Have you ever noticed we never found the bodies of our fallen partners?"
Before Netty could say anything, Dolly was suddenly in front of Runo's face, her eyes glowed with rage. The wind trailed behind her quick movements, and her palm was open with its blast ready to attack.
"You're meaning to tell me, that you've known this from the beginning? When we first met?" Dolly said calmly, but her eyes were seeping with immense anger. The wrinkles on her forehead emphasized her fierce gaze, but Runo remained unfazed. If anything, he lifted his chin up as if he was trying to look down at her.
"Yes. I knew."
One of her rageful eyes twitched. She casually pointed at Netty. "And you never told your friends like that android there about it?"
Runo's yellow eye glared at her to back down. "No, I did not. Now get your face away from mine."
Dolly shot a blast to the rock that Noah once laid. The rock was blown into several pieces in the air as each of them violently splashed onto the creek, shifting the calm waves of the water into a wobbly mess.
"You're a monster," she finally stated, which made Runo's eye widened just a bit. "For being so cruel to your friends like that. I can get behind you not telling me, but I think Netty had the right to know about this."
"Huh. And here I thought you didn't like her," Runo said sharply, purposely trying to agitate Dolly even further. "So what makes you think you have the right to tell me what was best for my teammates?"
Dolly clenched her teeth as sparks began to shimmer around her eyelids and body. "You-"
"Get out of my sight," Runo shoved her body with her shoulder as he took a step forward and sauntered towards the edge of the creek. The reflection of an emotionless man. An alleged uncaring individual.
Dolly was about to start a raging war with this man when she felt the soft touch of Netty's hand on her shoulder.
"Hey, it's OK," Netty looked at her with a serious look. She wasn't smiling, or hopping, or being the Netty that Dolly first saw an hour ago.
Dolly stared at her for a minute, before glancing back at the man who was now squatting at the edge of the river tapping its waters with his fingers.
"Leave me alone. I need a moment," Dolly slowly took Netty's hand away from her shoulder with surprising tenderness before stepping away from the area. She took off into the pathway sitting between the bushes where Netty and Runo first came, and eventually disappeared behind the countless number of tree trunks.
Netty turned back to look at Runo. The man was still playing with the water.
"Hey, I think that was mean of you to do that. She was emotional, why did you have to be such a butt?" Netty asked him, her face a look of disapproval and disappointment.
"You saw how she reacted," he said, still not turning to look at his partner. "She's emotional, and I was only telling her the truth. Did I lie?"
"Runo," The android took a step closer at his presence. He stopped tapping the water. "Runo out of everyone, you should be able to understand her more than I do. And yet, here you are. She's not lying either. I'm surprised you didn't tell me something as big as this."
"I didn't want you to be an emotional wreck like her."
Netty sighed, she was definitely feeling hopeless of him. "Geez, you say you trust your friends, but then when it comes to things like this, you can't even trust me."
She smiled a bittersweet one, before turning away from him, her eyes looking at the pathway where Dolly ran off to. "I'll be right back."
'Do what you want."
"Haha, thanks!!" The android cheerfully gazed at the sunset sky, before sprinting into the darkness ahead of her.
Alas, the feeling of isolation hit her like a rock the moment she found herself standing in the middle of the pathway, endless lines of ominous trees beckoned to the android to stray off course, for everything looks mysteriously misleading.
Ah, I have to find her...
"Dolly Seek, activate!" She said with a chuckle as she closed her eyes, her childish behavior kicking in once more. It wasn't a special power or anything the master gave her, but whenever she had to sense out other Dollys, she had to say something cringy.
She eventually could sense Dolly's aura lingering farther down the lane, sitting in front of a large tree trunk, observing Noah's energy bar. The android opened her twinkling eyes, her puppy face beamed with pure excitement.
"Found you!" She said to herself before she shot a blast behind her feet, which launched her much farther down the rocky lane. She repeated her blasts several more times until she can see Dolly at the distance, sitting on top of a hill covered with dense trees.
Netty's legs bounced onto the grassy pavement below her feet as she stopped blasting, her eyes curiously look at the other android. Dolly was crouching under the beautiful willow tree, her glossy pink hair flowed along with the wind, and her eyes sparkled briefly as a couple of teardrops rolled from her cheeks.
Of course, because Dolly could sense Netty's presence, she didn't have to look up to know that someone was watching her.
"What do you want?" Dolly asked rudely. She lowered her head into her arms.
“Hey, no need to be so uptight! I just want to make sure you’re OK!” Netty exclaimed as she gleefully hopped over to where Dolly was sitting. The grass felt incredibly soft on this hill, like glowing blades shining under the rays of sunlight. It was a calmful atmosphere, and one could definitely fall asleep if they weren't paying attention.
“I said I was fine,” Dolly mumbled.
“I meant if you’re REALLY OK.”
Netty sat down next to her fellow android and mimicked Dolly's posture. Her head rested on her arms, and she gracefully smiled into the distance. The elongated leaves of the weeping willow tree swayed, dancing to the wind.
“I don't get it," Dolly spoke up all of a sudden.
"Hmm?" Netty turned to look at Dolly, but the stubborn mannequin refused to stare.
“Why did Runo hide this from us? I understand it’s harsh, but isn’t it even harsher for him to do that to you? So all this time, these monsters were people, people with families, or people who’ve been through so much that they want to avenge those that have died, only to die themselves as horrendous creatures.”
Netty shrugged. "Well, he told me he wanted to make sure I won't be emotionally affected by it."
Dolly lifted her head, finally glancing at her. “Aren’t you?”
The other android let out a soft laugh. A brittle smile. It was different than the quirky smirk she would exhibit earlier.
“Dolly, how long do you think Runo and I have known each other?”
“Hmm, good question,” Dolly said quietly.
“A long time," Netty took a deep breath and stretched her legs and arms, "when I was sent here, I was fortunate to not experience what you went through. But I almost did. I went in here alone, and was nearly defeated by a powerful monster when Runo saved me.”
“That man might be blunt, but I know he means well,” Netty said with a soft giggle. “He and I have traveled around the realm for a while, and we’ve encountered many slayers. Sometimes, a few would go missing, and then, we would fight monsters that appeared out of nowhere.”
There was a pause as Netty gazed ahead at the leaves of the willow tree as if she was reminiscing.
“At least, now I know some of our comrades must have turned into these creatures when they were killed.”
Dolly gulped and looked away from her. She couldn’t bear to stare at Netty for now, for the idea that Netty and Runo had to end their past comrades must be heartbreaking to realize.
“Runo was always a good leader. He would let us do whatever we want and explore the caves in the forest with other slayers. He would be the first to defend me. He’s an amazing person.”
That made Dolly cringe, but she was aware that at the end of the day, she barely knew these two. Her eyes glanced back at Netty, who was now smiling at her. However, it felt as if her smile was incredibly fragile, and Dolly wasn’t sure if Netty was going to break down.
“We go through things that no other person will experience,” Netty said, “as androids, people will not know the burden of being made for one purpose, especially when our master never tells us anything about himself, the scientist, or the realms created by the explosion. I had to rely on Runo."
Dolly looked away. “I get your point.”
“Yeah!!" Netty tapped onto Dolly's upper arm before rapidly poking her with both her playful hands. "So cheer up, let’s travel together! Even though I’m not fond of our master, I respect your mission, so I don’t mind helping you when the time comes.”
A brittle smile. It was a shared characteristic between Dolly and Netty. Dolly can see that the android meant well, so she gratefully showed a tiny smile back at Netty.
“You are very welcome.”
The two androids continued to sit under the graceful willow tree. The smell of roses lingered nearby while the leaves of the trees waved at them as usual. For a moment, Dolly could feel a sense of peace as she closed her eyes, and while her hand was still grabbing onto the energy bar, she tried her best to relax. Take a deep breath, and eventually, the gruesome scene of his impaled body would fade.
But perhaps, it had gotten too peaceful, for she had fallen into a deep slumber.