Chapter 22 - Decisions
Jomiko woke up sweating.
Last thing she remembered was that Agathon had her on the ropes. Looking around, though, she found she was in bed. Her head was ringing, and her heart was accelerated such that it gave her the impression she had been having a nightmare.
She tried to work out where she was by looking for a window. Instead, she landed eyes on Arata. Arata was bandaged up all over and still had a healer working on him. He hadn’t noticed Jomiko was up yet, though, because he had his eyes closed in concentration.
It was another mouse Lan, only he had white fur, shorter ears, and short blond hair. He was dressed in a grey robe as he treated Arata. Jomiko quickly understood they were in a hospital of some kind.
She felt a pain in her head then, an acute stab just above her forehead.
“Ssssssss… ooowwww,” she massaged it, slowly.
“Oh, you’re awake,” the healer noticed, opening his red eyes. “Please remain calm, you’re at a hospital, ok?”
“I am calm, unlike my head--argh,” she pounded on it.
“That’s why it’s hurting in the first place, you know? You shouldn’t hit it more.”
“Hmpf.” She tried another look around, to find someone else, but she soon found it was just them in that room. And it was a short room, though cosy. It simply had the two beds and a small division for a lavatory.
“Where’s the rest of my party?”
“The twins are in the next room. The rest of your friends are meeting with the captain of the guard.”
“Ah…I guess the emperor will want to see us too?”
“That won’t be necessary, I don’t think,” the healer replied, surprisingly, “he’ll just collect a report from the captain, most like.”
“Hm. Agh, this headache…” Jomiko lied again, closing the pillow around her face. She was still bothered about why she had woken up all sweaty and scared.
She had almost died.
I have to face it…we can’t beat them. She opened her eyes and watched the ceiling thoughtfully.
She imagined herself facing Agathon again, and more than anger, she felt the unwilling fear to put her life at stake. The feeling was emphasized by Arata’s sporadic painful groan.
We have to drop the job. Whatever’s going on it’s just…above our level.
It didn’t take long for the healer to leave, nor for visitors to arrive. About half an hour later, Kazuki and Pixa walked in, followed by Leaf. Jomiko just felt her headache worsen at the sight of him.
“What’s he doing here?” She sat up straight.
“What?” Leaf reacted wildly, pointing at her vigorously. “Hey, I helped you track those rampaging maniacs! And you’re giving me flack?!”
“You were caught.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t know they had another ranger with them,” he complained, crossing his arms like it was her fault.
“Ugh, whatever. We can’t beat them and that’s what matters.”
“We might not have a choice,” Pixa put in, hesitantly.
There’s always a choice,” Kazuki insisted.
“Uhh… what’re you talking about?” Jomiko massaged her head again.
“While me and Ringo were tailing them, I heard a lot of conversation, and I found out why they want the stones. What they’re for,” Leaf informed, all while walking to the wall to her left, which was not surprising since Arata was at her right.
He crossed his arms in thought and paused for effect. He also leaned against the wall, she imagined he thought it was cool. It was annoying.
“I swear to all the animals in the empire, Leaf, that if you don’t get to the point--”
“They want to make a new capital city.”
Jomiko opened her eyes, more surprised than anything. But she sighed downward, trying to find the patience to bear the additional pause for effect that Leaf was performing.
“Stop with the dramatics, what’re you talking about?!”
“You know how the stories go. When all the ancestors arrived, all our different peoples huddled around certain spots. They established perimeters and defended them, and eventually expanded them into the capital cities we know today.”
“Except for the Rei,” Kazuki coldly stated.
“Yeah well, obviously,” Leaf casually said, “but anyways, that’s apparently because there was a rock. A big rock formation, that emanated power. One for each city -- but Kazuki’s explained this part, right?”
“Yes, skip the school lesson, please.”
“Well, turns out the big mounts weren’t actually connected to any sort of source or anything…that dissipated or whatever. It turns out they just had a core, and that core, a small stone, never really depleted or dissipated. The power, I mean, it never lost the power.”
Jomiko watched their expressions: Kazukis′ manifested foreboding, Pixas′ preoccupation and Leaf had his eyes closed. She knew what that meant but she had to ask.
“You’re kidding me, the stones they’re carrying are empowering them?”
“Pretty much. All the stones’re still working just fine. The ruling parties of all the city states decided a long time ago to just store them away and keep them out of use. And reach. It’s part of the ongoing terms of peace.”
“Wait…?” Jomiko’s thoughts spurred into active life, “then that means...”
“Yes. The three of them had two stones with them, so only one of them was at his actual level of ability. The other two were empowered.”
“Ah ha! That explains it,” Jomiko stated with a notable hint of relief. “But it doesn’t matter,” she slouched again, “if anything, it only makes the matter clearer. We should let this job go.”
“Agreed,” Kazuki nodded.
“We can’t!” Leaf lashed out, punching the wall behind him.
“Whoah,” Jomiko flinched, surprised at Leaf’s reaction.
“He plans to make a new city state, and last I checked, there’s no unclaimed territory to just do that.”
“He’ll make war, Jomiko,” Pixa pointed out, a bit dramatically.
“And he’s planning to start with BellHall. All he needs is the stones, and they said he already had one. They themselves had two, and they were going to meet with a fourth guy who’s stealing SpellGate’s stone as we speak.”
“We need to cut that guy off,” Pixa nodded, “we should leave as soon as possible,” she nodded again, as if fueling the determination she was trying to gaze over at Jomiko.
It didn’t work.
“Are you nuts?” Her voice unwillingly cracked. “We’re dealing with overpowered self-proclaimed enemies of all nations! I say leave it to the armies.”
“By the time they get their act together, it’ll be too late. They only found out about this today, you know they’ll be looking for who’s to blame, and meanwhile, the guy behind all this attains a ridiculous amount of power.” Pixa tried to argue, she was visibly worried about the whole thing. “Remember what that bull guy did to FairGriffen, that’s too much power.”
“All the more reason for us not to get involved in this mess! We’ve already uncovered their plot, that should be enough! I mean, guys, you know me.” She looked down and cupped her head, it kind of helped contend with her migraine. “I hate to admit it but we’re really out of our league, here.”
“Everyone is,” Leaf argued, “it might already be too late, imagine if we just back out!”
“He’s right, we have to do something!” Pixa pointed out.
“No, we don’t!” Jomiko yelled, fear accidentally ringing in her tone of voice. She coughed and growled annoyance before giving a forced effort to shut down the issue, “we really don’t. We’re not heroes, we don’t have to throw away our lives to try and stop some power-crazed nutjob from starting another war. It’s not our responsibility, damn it!”
“Agreed,” Kazuki simply stated.
“Midori,” a voice came from Jomiko’s other side. The recognizable voice of Arata.
Turning their eyes, they all quickly noticed he was in communication through Volceiso, and apparently with Midori. It was apparent by the faint blue hue in the air around his head “No, we’re alive, we’re fine.
“...I’m hurt bad, yeah, that’s what you’re hearing. But really, I’ll be fine. How are you?”
She wanted to cuss him out but he sounded so hurt she didn’t find the heart, not even in her painfully irritating state.
“...wow…really? Whoah, that’s bad,” Arata carried on as if they weren’t there.
“Yeah. Yes, you’ve heard right. Well, we found out that the stones still have a kick to them. An unlimited one. The bull and the rest’re working for someone who wants to use them to make a new capital city. They obviously need a war for that, I guess. I mean, we’re talking, and we agree that there’s no territory that doesn’t belong to anybody else, and he will need a lot of land for a new city so…”
Arata rose a hand to his head, covering his eyes from the window on his side as he obviously heard Midori speak. His voice croaked a bit as he replied.
“...Yeah, that’s possible. And yes, that would be useful. Do what you can on your end, I’ll be in touch.”
He closed his eyes and focused, dispelling it. Then he moaned in a bit of a pain as he sat up straight, pulled the covers off of him and turned towards them.
“Fuh…so, Faircloth’s trying to take over FairGrifen,” Arata told them, his eyes tired but still looking over his ever-present mild-mannered smile. It made Jomiko realize he looked really odd without a smile.
“What?” Leaf straightened up.
“Midori told me Skullerbee is busting everyone’s chops. Apparently, BellHall has already lost their stone and kept quiet about it. FairGrifen did the same, which is in very bad faith, Skullerbee’s point is that he could have prepared for the attempt had he been warned...hence busting chops. But in FairGrifen’s case, only FairCloth was aware that the stone had been robbed. So he was going to lose his position over this whole thing, which means he ran out of options.”
“See? This is a mess,” Leaf pushed on, “we can’t count on FairGrifen now that it’s dealing with a revolution, and with BellHall’s a democracy, trust me, it’ll take at least two weeks for them to decide on anything worthwhile! We’re the only ones close to this. We should head to SpellGate right now!” Leaf was still standing leaning to the wall, arms crossed like he wasn’t worried at all. His expression, however, was very nervous. He knew he’d never succeed on his own.
“No,” Arata said, “I agree with Jomiko, we’re in over our heads.”
Leaf squinted his eyes in disgust. “You cowardly excuse for a--”
Jomiko abruptly threw her bed-sheets to the side, using the violent flapping sound to both interrupt Leaf and to lead her threat in. “Finish that sentence, Leaf,” she clenched her fist, “please.”
“I also don’t agree we should leave them alone, though,” Arata carried on, his voice still a bit painful, “we won’t be able to tackle whoever these guys are on our own. But at the same time, so what if the cities decide to directly intervene? Who are these guys? Where are they? Where do the cities concentrate their forces? For what? Against what? And Leaf’s right about one thing, nobody will do anything until they can have a joint hearing of some kind, and that’ll take a few days. And at the pace those guys are moving...”
“It’s not our responsibility,” Jomiko stated again.
“Agreed,” Kazuki stated. At that point, he was almost just an echo, but one making a very important point: Jomiko wasn’t alone.
“It doesn’t matter, does it?” Arata asked, regretful. “You think I want to involve myself in this? I fought one on one with that Sen girl and I would have died if that Xia hadn’t shown... we all would have died, but how different will that be from everyday life if we allow for some conquering maniac to get his hands on this kind of power?”
“I see.” Kazuki brushed his chin, in thought. “Another age of war would be far worse than going down fighting them.”
“That’s dumb,” Jomiko stated. “You’re dumb. I’d rather risk there being a war I might be able to survive than throw down with those guys again. There have been wars before. People make it.”
“There’s more to life than surviving it,” Arata argued in a helpless melancholic tone.
“There’s no life if you don’t survive it,” Jomiko crossed her arms.
They both frowned. For a few seconds of silence, they just stared past each other, eyes locked, as if arguing in their mind.
“We need to do what we can,” Pixa put in, still sounding determined. “We need to go to Spellgate. There’s a chance we’ll be in time, at least to keep them from running away.”
“There is no reason why we should get involved, but I agree. They’re clearly in the last stages of their plans, and I remember Agathon mentioning alliances and deals,” Kazuki pointed out, looking at them all. “We’re being extremists in our thinking, we don’t need to directly fight them to the death. The cities will not move on this quick enough, that’s for sure, so it would not hurt to trail them… and stall them if we can. We could also find out more information, I’m sure the cities will pay well for whatever else we find out about them.
“Again, there is a lot that can be done that doesn’t involve full and complete direct confrontation.”
Jomiko saw herself lose her final ally, and though still a bit doubtful, she nodded in compliance. “Ok, I don’t mind that. As long as we don’t go looking for a fight.”
“Unless we manage to get their stones away from them,” Pixa pointed out.
“In that case, we should try and put them down for good,” Jomiko agreed, her revengeful blood boiling the fear a little bit, manifesting itself again, “they can’t get away clean with the beating they’ve given us.”
“Great, that’s that, then” Arata spoke. “If we can do more though, we should.”
“What do you mean?”
“The emperor will want to know more but we can’t spare the time,” Arata mentioned, “on the other hand, we should keep the different cities appraised of the situation at all times, in case we--”
“Don’t even say it,” Jomiko reacted, pulling the sheets back over her legs, “that’s not going to happen.”
“We should be cautious nonetheless. Leaf, I’d ask you and Ringo to travel to BellHall. We’ll contact you there. Miyabi can stay here if that’s okay with her, and Midori’s in FairGriffen. That way, we’ll be in contact with all the cities. No one will be blind wherever we go. Not us, not the goverments.”
“A sound plan,” Kazuki agreed, “but what about Spellgate?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Arata smiled, happy his friends were in agreement again.
“We need to talk to the twins about this, then. But I would first ask: is it even wise to take them?” Kazuki asked.
“They’ll be there whether we want them or not, ” Jomiko mentioned, “I rather keep them close than having those loose cannons running…well, loose.”
“Agreed,” Arata and Kazuki echoed. They glanced at each other, Kazuki looking slightly annoyed and Arata apologetic.
“Then that’s it, we move to Spellgate,” Arata gladly announced, trying to push himself off the bed. “Somebody help me up, we need to get moving.”
“But wait,” Leaf was the one calling to attention, “I don’t mind doing this, especially since the idea of getting Ringo to where it’s safe sounds best to me, but should you really leave Miyabi behind? She’s your healer. You might really need one, especially if you’re going to move out immediately. Not that I care but you two’re still pretty screwed up, and the twins will bleed to death if they get on a griffen right now.”
“They’ll have a healer,” a voice came from the door.
They all turned heads to find the origin, landing eyes upon the Xia from before. His expression was mild and calm, even though his voice was dedicated. He was probably the Bloods’ age but he clearly was not a fighter
It made him look like a little kid vowing to something he couldn’t credibly do. and because of that, he seemed even more childing.
He looked so young.
“I’m coming with you.”