Chapter 181:

Hal and Rym

The Nonpareil of Resh (Act 1)

Hal and Rym walked through the hotel halls above the casino. After Tancred and Odell began their card game, the duo had gone to search the upstairs instead.

“I can’t believe him pretending to leave like that!” Rym grumbled as they walked. “It’s like he doesn’t trust me!”

Hal silently walked beside her as she complained about the short Bentalousian man.

“He’s always going on and on about cases and detective work, but spying on a cheating spouse or finding lost pets are all we’ve been doing lately. They hardly pay bills, and he acts like it’s all connected to some grand conspiracy!”

“Is it not best to focus on the task at hand?” Hal asked with a low grumble in his voice.

“I suppose you’re right; I should be complaining to his face if I want some changes in the workplace,” Rym replied. She had not picked up on the Netzian soldier's tone and instead made a mental note to do just that once they finished investigating the hotel. Little did Hal realize she was preparing a whole barrage of things to fire at the grey detective when they saw each other next. “So, how did you end up on this whole mission?”

“My commander saw it fit for me to join in.”

“That’s it?” Rym said with no effort to hide the disappointment in her tone. “No tragic backstory. No grand struggle for survival. Were you at least friends before you left?”

“Before they were strangers, now they are allies on the same mission,” Hal answered sternly.

“Wow, kid, you need to loosen up. Far as I can tell, you’re the youngest here, you know.”

Hal rolled his eyes. His mind turned for a moment to Feya, the leader of the Netzians, who had often tried to get him to goof off with her and ditch work. Even though she was almost three times his age, he was often the more responsible one.

“Age does not dismiss responsibility.”

Rym sniffled.

“I wish my sisters were even a fraction as responsible as you! I have five of them, and only one is trying to do anything with her life!”

“I see,” Hal said as he leaned away from the crying Zenotote ever so slightly.

Rym wiped the tears from her slitted eyes.

“I’m sorry, I got a little emotional there. You should lighten up a little, though. If you’re too stiff, you’ll snap as soon as the wind picks up.”

“What is true for branches is not true for Netzians,” Hal replied with a roll of his green eyes.

“I suppose we won’t see eye to eye,” Rym gave in. They walked in silence for a moment through a patch of closed doors to different areas in the hotel before she spoke up again. “So tell me about yourself! Any family back home?”

“Three sisters.”

“Really? Older? Younger?”

“I am the oldest.”

“I would guess you’ve been taking care of them for a while?” she asked. Hal had neglected to mention any parents, and given his responsible nature, the assumption was easy enough for the detective's assistant to make.

Hal kept his lips pressed firmly together, making sure not to let a single expression betray his desire to appear emotionless in the situation. Rym didn’t bother pressing further but made some guesses as to what Hal was thinking, even with his face stiff like stone.

As they walked, the duo exited the hallway of rooms and entered an ample space at the center of one of the hotel floors.

The space was a round room that went up several stories high. An artificial mountain sat in the center, and streams flowed, in four waterfalls, down the side to a pool below. Fake trees and benches were set out around it. The space served as a small park/recreational area for guests to relax.

“That must have been rough, but you turned out alright!” Rym said as they began to walk around the mountain. Hal was beginning to realize she would continue the conversation whether he talked or not.

A wailing sound suddenly echoed over the heads of the duo. Hal would have felt relief from a break in the conversation if the sound did not concern him. They turned to the artificial mountain’s peak in a flash. At the top was a man dressed in a black tailcoat with a series of red feathers around the neck and his face covered with an odd mask that flashed as a mischevous grin.

The stranger played on an unsightly, giant metal violin which radiated a sound that was colder than one made of wood. He played with vigor, without a care in the world. Three sections from a hat on his head flailed around as the stranger finished a complex and fast-paced piece. When he was done, the masked man slid the bow into his coat and stood up. He bowed to the audience of two.

“Thank you, thank you, hold you’re applause,” the masked man said, even though no one clapped. “I see you are searching around this hotel, and to be honest, I’m supposed to keep some information close to my chest, but frankly, I need you two to turn around or die.”

Rym backed up, and Hal reached into his ability space with his Needaimus bonded arm.

“Oh wow, that’s a neat ability. It almost looks like you are missing an arm, though!” the masked man laughed. As far as he could tell, the green-haired Netzian’s right arm was gone when he grabbed for a weapon. Hal ignored the man and pulled out his oversized sword, Shatter Will.

“What connection do you have with Dia?” Hal asked.

“Ah! So you’re part of that team!” The stranger leaped down from the small mountain and landed in front of the duo. “You know, you weren’t supposed to even make it here. Well, now that you are, I guess I can humor you. I am Nero, second in command of this little group in Nun. We had dear Dia Mond support our plans some time ago, though she is no longer with the group as of… a couple of hours ago, I think.”

“You’re telling us an awful lot,” Rym said as she took a step back. Nero let out a clownish giggle.

“I apologize; it’s a bad habit of mine. I always like to shower people with useful information before I kill them.”

Rym took another step back, and her eyes grew wide. Hal took a step forward and held Shatter Will at the ready.

“Fall back,” the Netzian soldier said to Rym. He couldn’t put it into words, but he sensed danger coming from Nero that he had never encountered with an opponent before.