Episode IX- On the Road

Serah occasionally glanced over at Samilles in the driver's seat of the van as they drove towards Lear, looking at the thick layers of bandaging she had wrapped around his head earlier. Seeing him coated in his own blood unnerved her to no end, especially knowing how Samilles' fight with Razor could have turned out. "How're you feeling now?" Serah asked quietly, finally breaking the long silence between them.

Samilles grunted. "A little lightheaded," he muttered, taking one hand off the wheel to wipe a trickle of blood out from his eye. "Must have lost more than I thought."

Serah shivered.

"What?"

"If I hadn't been there," Serah murmured, "you could have been- I could have-"

"But we're not. We're still alive, and that's all that matters now."

"What about Razor?" Serah asked.

Samilles snorted. "What about him?"

"Well," said Serah, glancing out of the window, "I'd imagine he's going to be pretty pissed off now."

"Why's that?"

"Why?" Serah gagged in disbelief. "After what you pulled on him back there?"

Samilles snorted again. "It's no different than what he pulled on us back in Kanadiam with Nagen. He should've been expecting something like that."

Serah sighed again. "I really think he wanted an honest fight with you."

"I know," said Samilles. "What, you wanted to see me lose?"

"No, it's not that," said Serah. "Look, I know when your life's at stake, you really don't think about fighting fair, but-"

Samilles arched his eyebrow in curiosity. "Fair?" He asked, cutting Serah off.

"Well," Serah muttered sheepishly, "Don't you think he'd find that a little unfair?"

Samilles snorted a short, mocking laugh. "'Unfair' is a word someone made up when they just didn't want to admit they lost."

"But what about Kanadiam?" Serah asked, "There's no way that was f-"

"We lost that time in Kanadiam," said Samilles. "Given the circumstances, there was no way we could have won. So we lost. Simple as that. Crying about how unfair it was wouldn't have changed anything. Making excuses doesn't do anything other than make you a weaker person. I don't whine about what would have happened or should have happened. When I lose, I learn, and I become stronger."

Serah blinked, struck by Samilles' profound philosophy. "Well," she said after a short pause, "Let's hope Razor feels the same way." Glancing out of the window again, something caught Serah's eye in the side-view mirror. "Hey Samilles," she said, "There was someone trying to wave us down."

Samilles gently braked, letting the slender figure in the dust behind them catch up, panting heavily. "Hey there miss," said the man once he approached the side of the van. "Couldn't help but notice you're with the Royal Kanadiam family."

"What gave you that idea?" Serah asked, looking down at him.

The man paused to scratch the back of his head though his short black hair. "Well," he said smugly, "you've got your Coat of Arms plastered on the side of the van there. Hey, you need a guide 'round these parts?"

"We're fine, thanks," said Serah, about to roll up the window.

"Hey wait, hold on," he said, placing his hand on the windowsill. "How 'bout a little extra protection along the way?"

Serah was getting a little annoyed. "And… who are you?" she asked.

The man smiled and turned to the side slightly, showing Serah the axe tethered to his belt. "The name's Yrral Elbac, of Yrral's Mercenary and Bounty Hunting Service," he said proudly, "You squeal, I'll deal."

"Get lost, Yrral," Samilles muttered.

Yrral was stunned. "Sam?" He asked, stepping up on the van's wheel so he could get a look inside the van. "Hey Samilles, what are-" Yrral's jaw dropped when he saw Samilles' bloodstained face. "Holy-" he muttered, "What happened to you?"

Samilles only muttered under his breath.

Serah turned to Samilles. "Friend of yours?" She asked.

Samilles grunted. "He's no friend of mine."

"Ouch, Sam. That hurts," said Yrral. "Hey, where are you guys headed anyway?"

"Central."

"Central?" Yrral gagged.

"Central?" Serah asked.

Samilles nodded. "Central. And we're wasting time talking with you."

"Hey, mind giving me a lift there?" He asked.

Samilles turned to Serah, turning the decision over to her. "Sure, I guess," she said.

"Great, thanks!" said Yrral, hastily swinging the door open and dropping himself into the seat beside Serah. "So Sam," said Yrral as they continued on down the road, "another customer of yours?"

"Client," said Samilles, irritated.

Yrral shrugged. "Semantics," he said as he offered his hand to Serah. "And your name is?"

"Serah Gize," she answered, cautiously giving Yrral's hand a gingerly shake.

"Nice name," he said. "You must be pretty rich to hire a merc like Sam."

"I didn't really hire him," Serah murmured.

"Oh? You two an item then?"

Serah and Samilles glared at Yrral in unison.

"Nevermind."

Suddenly, Serah noticed something. "Hey, that's the same tattoo Samilles has on the back of his neck," Said Serah, looking behind Yrral's head.

"When did you notice mine?" Samilles asked.

Serah shrugged. "Awhile ago," she said. Taking a little more time to study the small, slightly faded tattoo, Serah made out what looked like a skull and crossed swords, with what looked like a halo on top dripping with something. "What is it anyway?" She asked.

"This?" said Yrral, "This is The Bloody Halo."

"The Bloody Halo?"

"Yup. Our guild."

Serah was taken back. "Like, there's a guild for mercenaries?"

Yrral shrugged. "Not really a guild. Kinda' like a club."

"It's no party, Yrral," said Samilles. "We're in the guild for a reason, you know."

"Yeah, I know," said Yrral, a little annoyed at the reprimand.

Serah was all sorts of lost and confused. "What do you guys need a guild for?" She asked.

"Protection," said Samilles.

"Protection?" Serah asked. "Isn't that what you do?"

"Yeah, but protecting each other," said Yrral. "Hey Sam, you know how that story goes?"

"What, the one how the Bloody Halo was formed?"

"Yeah, that one."

Samilles grunted. "A few decades ago, I'm not sure how many- but anyway, there was this one merc who was traveling on foot between towns looking for work when he comes across this other badly injured merc, trying to fight off two guys. This injured merc's good, but not good enough, and he's about to get gutted. The first merc dives in and runs the two thugs off, and helps the injured merc to the next town."

"What, no charge?" Serah asked skeptically.

"Professional courtesy," Samilles answered. "Anyway, it turns out that the injured merc was coming back from an escort job, during which he had to kill bandit. This bandit's friends found his body, and tracked down the merc who did him. Mercs only kill out of necessity- those we do kill usually have friends or family that don't see it that way. So, these two mercs prefer to work alone, but both agree that there's strength in numbers, and they offer to watch each other's backs when they can. Pretty soon, more mercs are watching each other's backs, and eventually the guilds are formed. Yrral and I belong to The Bloody Halo, based out of South Namerik."

"Interesting," said Serah. "Where's the name come from?"

Yrral shrugged. "One of the guys back in Central said a founder was reading this old book from before the big war, found the name, and ran with it."

"And this, 'Central,'" said Serah, "This is where the Bloody Halo stems from, right?"

"Yup," said Yrral, "We practically built the town ourselves."

"A town full of mercenaries," said Serah, "If there's any safe place for me-"

"Safe for you?" Yrral butted in. "Safe from who?"

"Razor," Samilles muttered.

"Razor?" Yrral gasped. "But- he's one of us!"

"One of you?" Serah gasped.

"You didn't know?" Yrral asked Serah.

"You knew?" Serah asked Samilles.

Samilles grumbled and rubbed his eyes. "Razor won't try to pick a fight in Central."

"Pick a fight?" Yrral asked. "What do you- wait… Sam, you didn't get into a scrap with him did you?"

Samilles grumbled under his breath again.

"I guess that explains all the blood," said Yrral. "But it's weird. I thought you two were best fr-"

Samilles shot Yrral a deadly glare, silencing him immediately.

Serah glanced uneasily at Samilles, and then at Yrral. "Friends?" She asked.

"Oh no," said Yrral sheepishly, "I don't know where I got that crazy ol' idea from. Forget I said anything, okay?"

"Um, alright," Serah murmured.

"We're here," said Samilles as a road sign reading "Lear" whizzed by on the road. "We'll stop here to restock and rest a little." Then, wiping his forehead with his sleeve, Samilles muttered, "and to get all this goddamn blood off of me."