Chapter 14 - Not Just Party Members
“Yes, two more days and we’ll arrive at the harbor. Alright.” Miyabi dispelled the communication and turned to the rest of them. “He says they arranged for flying mounts. It’ll be hard to keep up with them but he’ll try. Also, he expects to be refunded for the mount and whatever else he has to purchase to keep up chase.”
“Why doesn’t he just call all of us?” Arata asked.
“Doesn’t want to hear your voice,” Miyabi said, amused with the insult.
Arata frowned, grabbing at his heart.
“Ouch. Does he need to be so hateful?”
“Well, you know how it is…” Jomiko said just before crouching to spin around with her leg stretched out, round-housing a number of imaginary enemy legs.
Arata laid back against the railing and looked away, momentarily somber.
“Yeah. I know…”
Jomiko hopped and sliced through the air with a kick, not really paying attention to him.
“HUA HUA HUA!” Sanpu was dueling some adventurer, a pugilist with metallic gloves. “This is fun! You’re not all that bad!”
“I’m glad I’m making an impression on you, kid,” the burly and muscular Fea put, grinning, “though the way you fight, I’d never guess you were so young.” The Fea was blonde of broad shoulders and chest, with swift and strong legs stretching from his torso. He had a bit of facial hair, and was, at the time, naked from the waist up.
“I’m not ashamed to say I am, ha ha!”
“If I fought like you when I was a kid, neither would I,” the Fea confessed, impressed.
Sanpu rolled out of a diving attack, letting the Fea splinter the ship’s hull slightly. The Fea back-flipped around the heavy saw Sanpu waved at him, landed, and leapt to hit him. Sanpu, however, used the momentum to spin under the Fea’s punch in order to use his shoulder to collide against his chest. That staggered the Fea and allowed Sanpu to take the saw’s blade to his neck.
Fortunately for the Fea, Sanpu was in a good enough mood to stop short of drawing blood.
He grinned happily instead. “I win.”
“And well done for that, friend,” the Fea opened his hands and held them up. Sanpu giggled and looked back at Fuun’na.
“Did you see that? How was I?”
Fuun’na smiled back, happy, “amazing, big bro! You’re amazing!”
“C’mon sis, fight me, show this full-grown Fea how it’s done!”
“You wound me,” the Fea reacted, jokingly. The crowd around them laughed, except for Fuun’na who gladly took the challenge.
As the twins met their steel, Arata turned around, leaning on crossed arms over the railing to watch the sea. He was thinking.
He replayed in his mind the days that had passed and then kept going further; to how he joined Jomiko, Kazuki and Pixa. To how they arrived at Fairgrifen and why. Further still, he remembered Aellea with some fondness, the first of the great cities that he had visited.
He remembered back to the first time he met any of his friends, and back to his incident with Leaf. He just plunged his mind, wholly on accident, into his memories.
“Hm?” His eyes gained focus and he noticed it was night time. His brain then processed that it was Jomiko who had called him out, and secondly, it had been a couple of hours. He turned around to face her with puzzled eyes.
“Let’s spar. It’s been a while,” she told him, adjusting her gloves.
“That’s ’cause it’s never really just a spar…” he frowned, his eyebrow dropping a tear of sweat, “it’s normally a very serious struggle for me not to die. You always take it too seriously.”
“Oh stop being such a pansy, come on,” she smirked and assumed a fighting stance. “Despite the fact you’re such an annoying messy disappointment, you’re about the only one here who can stand up to me.”
Arata stood, drawing his chained swords as he faced her. He smiled, responding to her glare. “You know flattery always gets me.”
“Only pansies need flattery to have a fight,” she switched stances, “bring it, horn boy.”
“Try and keep up, buck-teeth.” He leapt at her.
“Oh, you did not just--”
He swung a right, which went over her as she ducked and threw a jab, which missed because Arata had hopped and side-flipped. Landing to the side, he swung again, this time with both swords, leading with the left. She rolled back, avoiding the slashes by the time her feet touched the ground again, which was the moment she instantly dove to tackle him.
He ducked, though, still spinning, allowing her dive to pass over him. Alas, her breasts were salient enough they brushed Arata’s head. This went unnoticed by Arata who was too focused on keeping his inertia cooperative. Facing her back due to his spin, he stood and brought his blade to swing upward and at her.
Jomiko expected it. She had already half-flipped to reach the ground, she slapped it to throw herself up and away.
Landing, she vigorously pointed at him, stopping Arata in his about-to-charge stance.
“Wha-what?” He was confused.
“You know what!” She didn’t seem to be.
He looked around, then back at her, puzzled. “What?”
“You touched my breasts!”
He winced in half-desperation. “What?!”
“I am going to pummel you!” She looked at him mean and angry and charged so violently her first step splintered the floor.
He shivered and leaned back in very real concern. “…WHAT?!”
Arata leaped back, allowing her to attack the air.
“I did no such thing, what’re you—“ He blocked a punch with his sword but the force of it sent him sliding across the deck. His back bounced off the railing, almost flipping him over. His eyes focused and found her in mid air, she had jumped high and long to catch him. “Calm down!”
“I am calm!” Jomiko yelled out as she fell with a flip to land a heel on Arata’s head. He predictably dodged to the side, consequently driving her to tear into the railing.
“Jomiko! We have to pay for the damage we cause! And you’re the only one with money!”
That actually cooled her down a bit. She looked at him, breathing out her indignity.
“Don’t touch them again without my permission!”
“I never even tr—wait, you’d give me permission?”
Her look inflamed and her cheeks blushed.
“NEVER!” She rushed him again.
It actually felt good. It felt good to work up a sweat while leaving his thoughts in the same oblivion the past really was. With his mind properly focusing on the fight, it was if it was empty. No longer bothering him.
And it felt good that she cared.
Jomiko always helped like this. She wasn’t good with words or showing emotions other than through action, that action usually being a fight. She fought for what she agreed with and against what she didn’t like. Also, more than anyone else, she knew the peace you could find in combat and physical exertion.
In fact, Arata knew she hadn’t sought out her martial art because she wanted to hurt people with it but because she simply liked to push her body. It brought her peace of mind. Mind never rests when the body does.
Of course, despite the peaceful reason that motivated her to mastering the art of beating people up, she was not a peaceful person. It was still the art of beating people up and she spent no reservation or hesitation on doing just that.
Arata laughed and teased and Jomiko made her show of anger and fury but it was clear from her fighting she wasn’t giving it her all. Quite frankly, the ship wouldn’t last long if they fought too seriously.
That was all too well for him. Last time he fought Jomiko anywhere near seriously, he had almost died. She too, though, it had been a close match. He normally lost those bouts as he was always driven to concede lest they really hurt each other.
But then that was the difference between them.
It was different for him. Mastering the blade was very different. A person can survive and heal from a fireball, a beat down, an arrow…a person can also survive from dismemberment, but it’s not the same. There’s no going back from a well-inflicted sword wound so Arata was always struggling with his inhibitions and hesitations because gladiators need them. They’ll choose to slash at the helmet when they could slash at the neck almost every time… and many die for it. When their opponent doesn’t show that restraint.
If one gets into the blade business for its ease of killing, you’re better off being a marauder. That was why Arata was so uncomfortable with Sanpu and Fuun’na. They had to release such inhibitions, if ever they had them, to master being marauders.
And in order to be successful mercs…
And that’s why Jomiko called him a pansy. She had witnessed Kazuki fight at his best, and killing, but with all their time together, Arata had not been pushed to that point. And every fight she had with him confirmed it. He didn’t fight to kill, he never gave it his all, and that was why she always got so upset.
That is why their sparring sessions always left her dissatisfied and irritable.
Because Arata held back.
That was why he knew she did it for him and not herself.
“So what do you think of all of this?” Jomiko asked as they danced around.
“This mission. You think we should drop it?”
“No,” he told her with little to no hesitation. “I’ve said so, I think.”
“Yeah, but you gave a half-baked reason. Kazuki thinks we should quit.”
“What do you think?” Arata asked.
“I’m here aren’t I?”
“So is he.”
“So are you,” she said, “and unlike him, you lie.”
“Well that’s harsh,” he replied, “I’m not that dishonest, am I?”
“No, but you do lie; to spare feelings, to spare people being…not motivated, and to spare keep what you feel are…unnecessary fights between us. Pixa’ll always side with Kazuki, for obvious reasons, so you need to be on my side. Otherwise there’s inbalance.
“You’ve been against this since you fought Agathon, haven’t you?”
“If I’m against it, shouldn’t I be taking advantage of their opinion? That would be smarter.”
“Exactly,” she jabbed, hitting his face. She then leapt back to avoid his blades. “So why don’t you?”
“Ouch,” he massaged his forehead with his arm, “I honestly want to catch them. I didn’t after I fought Agathon because it was clear he didn’t have money. But then we took that job…”
“So it’s the money?” She asked, doubtful.
“Well. It’s the fact we’re on an actual quest now and we haven’t lost track of them. It’s gonna be difficult to keep up, lacking in funds as we are, but if they make just one pit-stop, we’ll nab them. Yeah, it’s not ideal that we let them escape to Aellea but you know how this adventuring goes: we’ll get them. And then we’ll grab some mores jobs that take us to Fairgrifen to make up for the trip. There’s always some merchant looking for extra security.”
“They wouldn’t have escaped to Aellea if you hadn’t let Agathon get away from you.”
Arata scoffed a smile. “Me and Kazuki. But yeah.”
“Still, we should have ended this on Stormdream.”
“There was no way,” Arata waved it aside, “strength in numbers. This time, we just really need the strength in our numbers. I’d recruit Leaf and Miyabi again, if I could.”
“I wouldn’t,” Jomiko said with spite, “not for this job at least. They’ll just turn on us on the next setback.”
“You think there will be a setback?”
“I think that if there is, the last thing we want is backstabbers and quitters on the team.”
Arata nodded, accepting the point. “To his credit, Kazuki sure has proved trustworthy, huh?”
“So far,” Jomiko conceded, “he seemed pretty edgy during Stormdream though. He even showed some emotions, if you can believe that. None of them good for the team.”
“He’s not the type that likes to have things spiral out of his control. He was at the wall, he probably had reservations from the get go about facing them without everyone there. When it became clear Shinyaki was even more dangerous than Agathon…”
“It became clear he had no control over the situation, I get you.” She sighed, absent-mindedly dodging his slashes. “Guess that’s why he seemed relieved Sanpu was too wounded to fight.”
“That’s a harsh way to put it but I get your meaning.”
“There’s no other way to put it,” she said bitterly, “he was relieved.”
Seeing as how little she even liked Sanpu, it was remarkable how she could be so angry for him.
“Don’t take it too personally. Anyone will be relieved they weren’t the ones to be skewered. And quite frankly, better them than anyone else. Nobody can shrug off a near death experience like those two.” She flinched, “psychologically, I mean,” he immediately added in case Jomiko took it as him saying the twins were tougher than her.
“Humpf,” she stopped.
Arata stopped in mid-charge. “Tired?”
“Of talking to you. You always manage to derail the conversation, it’s unnerving. And you always defend everyone. That’s frustrating.” She massaged her face, hard, with her right hand. “You’re unnerving and frustrating.”
“…” Arata could do little else than keep his silly smile, completely unaware as to what he could say to her in that situation. She wasn’t usually that forward. She was obviously calling him out on not telling her if he thought they should be doing that.
“But I trust you with my life,” she said, looking at him as if she was insulting him. “I guess that’s what counts.”
And as if she had indeed shot Arata down with her words, she turned and headed back inside, sweating and, as it was usual, a little frustrated from not having some need of hers satisfied. Which when sparring with him meant a good fight.
Arata let his arms slump, only then noticing they were aching from the fight. He looked down, feeling his heartbeat slowing down.
“That is what counts.”
He gripped his swords tight and drew a big smile.
He could somehow feel that quest they were on was bigger and more important than they could imagine. He felt it in his guts that they needed to stop whatever plan involved the origin stone.
But then again, he always felt like that. Every quest was an adventure because he never knew what it would develop into, what it would entail, and what it would change and for whom. He was an adventurer, through and through, and this greediness over an ancient artifact like the origin stone was more than enough to peak his curiosity.
But above all, at that moment, he felt and realized, once again, what had been the most important thing for as long as he can remember.
He liked his friends. Adventuring with them was the best.
Happiness isn’t a state, it’s an adventure.
Then his mind had a revelation.
He chuckled and knuckled himself, lightly, for being dumb. Then he went inside to catch some sleep.
The next day, he would remind his friends they had their mounts with them and they could very well lift off the ship right then to gain a day.