Trades Chapter 5
"It sounds like you two have been up to quite a bit," Shu was saying as his visitors concluded their tales.
Viktor shrugged. "Not really. We more or less took a little tour of some of the other lands, but nothing much. In fact, I think we hung around Toran, mostly."
"That's right," said Shu, turning to Flik. "You come from the Warriors' Village, don't you?"
"Err, well..." Drops of sweat formed beneath the man's bandanna. "Originally, yeah. But that's not where we went, and...to be honest, I probably won't return for a long time."
"Besides," Viktor added, "the capital is far more interesting. More familiar faces." There was a wicked grin on his face. "We also briefly visited a certain town just in case your friend happened to be there."
Shu's face grew warm. "My friend?" Though he inquired, he had an idea of which town and which friend Viktor spoke of.
"Yeah, I just thought since Apple was working on that biography, she might've returned to Seika to finish it or something." He then added, much to the former trader's curiosity, "But...she wasn't there, and no one's seen her since the last time she was."
"I...I see..." Shu said softly. What was that he was feeling? Disappointment, or...?
Viktor cleared his throat with nervousness. "Well, that's probably more than you wanted to know, and besides, I've talked enough for one night."
"Nonsense," Shu assured him. "I enjoyed hearing your tales, and I'm certain you have more to tell."
The bear-like man groaned. "All right, you got me. I do have more to say, but...well, I'm kind of starving here."
Flik raised an eyebrow. "You just ate two hours ago."
"What's your point?" Viktor shot back. "Anyway, if anyone wants to join me, I'll..."
"I'm still full from--I think--two hours ago," Flik responded sarcastically, consequently receiving an annoyed look from his friend.
"Thank you for the offer, anyway," Shu said to Viktor. "Go on ahead."
Viktor nodded. "Okay, I think I'll do that. Just need to find out what's open now..." He got up from his seat a second time that day, and started to leave the room. "You guys talk. I'll be back later."
"All right." The former strategist started to turn back to Flik, but...
"Viktor, wait a minute," Shu called before the bear-like man exited.
"What is it?" Viktor asked, turning around.
"I..." Shu started. "I know somewhere you can go."
"Oh God, stop...!" the young woman was pleading. She covered her face with her hands, still weeping. "Th-the room, it..."
"Miss, please try to calm down," the waiter told her. "We've called a doctor, and he should be here any--"
"Heh heh, she don't need no doctor," Apple heard one of the drunks at the bar saying. "Just take her, and call me in the morning! With details!" He and a friend laughed at his own stupid joke.
"How did this even happen?" another man, either the owner or the manager, was scolding the waiter. "Weren't you monitoring how much you were serving her? And for God's sake, just look at her! Is she even old enough to be in here?"
"Sir, I-I assure you, she was fine before," the waiter stammered. "I don't know what happened. After the fifth glass, she just lost it."
"Five drinks?! Good God. It's gonna take a while to get her to calm down. And this has already caused enough of a scene..."
The waiter ignored the man, approaching Apple. "Uh, miss...I'm arranging for someone to take you home. Where do you live?"
"Ohh...I'm...I-I'm..." Another wave of nausea hit her as she attempted to respond. "...at-at the inn. I'm...staying...there at the inn..."
"You know, you're paying for all of this," the other man continued after a moment. "A small price, I might add, for not having paid attention in the first place."
"Fine," growled the waiter a moment later, then added, under his breath, "Just get off my case."
About half an hour passed when Viktor finally arrived at the tavern. The sun was already setting, so he was expecting quite a large number in the place. However, as he walked inside...
"Huh?" He looked around the restaurant, noticing that not even half of it was filled up. Conversations were muted, and there didn't seem to be any excitement among the small crowd. "Weird..." He spotted one of the waitresses, gradually stepping up next to her. "Hey, uh..." he started. "What's going on? I thought it'd be packed about now."
"Yeah, well, the thing is," began the waitress, "we had a little incident half an hour ago and we had to clear some of the rowdier ones out."
"Ah...well, a girl came in here and had a little too much to drink. After a while, it caught up with her and she started to freak out. It was really bad; she was crying and everything. Then we had a few of the male customers either mocking her or trying to pick her up. I hate to say this, but I hope she was too sick to notice, for her sake."
"Oh." Viktor's expression turned somewhat appalled. "Yeah, that would be a little traumatic for someone that young. How old was she?"
"I thought she looked a little young, but I'd estimate her to be about eighteen or nineteen. She seemed to be really down about something." She briefly looked over her shoulder, and then back to Viktor. "Look, I've got to check on some tables. Just...have a seat somewhere, and...I'll get to you in a bit."
Viktor nodded in agreement. "Okay." He started to walk towards a table when a young woman, seemingly out of nowhere, bumped into him.
"I'm sorry, sir," said the muffled, though familiar, voice, and then the woman continued on her way.
"Wait a minute," Viktor said, putting his hand on her arm, stopping her. "Apple?"
That voice! Shocked, the young woman turned around to find herself staring into the face of the bear-like man. "V-Viktor? What are you...? Why are you here?"
"I'm just passing through. What are you doing here?"
"Er...the same. I'll be, um, leaving tomorrow, actually...to the Toran Republic."
Viktor was bewildered. "So soon?" he inquired. "I thought you'd want to stay."
"I...can't," she responded with traces of sadness in her voice. "Even if I wanted to, there's something I have to do."
"Well...hey, I figured with the news about your friend being back in town, you'd want to stick around. I mean, you did hear about Shu, didn't you?"
A tear slid down her face, involuntarily, though almost like a response to the man's words. Embarrassed, she wiped it away, her cheeks growing warm. "Y-yeah," she said, politely forcing a smile. "But I, uh...I just...I'm not ready to see him, I'm..."
"I'll tell you what. I'll drop by Shu's place right now, and tell him you're here. That way, you can prepare--"
"N-no!" Apple protested, then quickly lowered her voice. Her face flushed for a moment, and she bowed her head timidly. "I-I mean, no, don't tell him I'm here. I don't want him to know I'm in Radat."
"Why not?" Viktor asked in confusion, but then it cleared. "Oh, wait. You want to tell him yourself, right?" He displayed a smirk.
God, he was making this so easy. "Uh...y-yeah," she stammered softly, wondering how ill she still looked. However, he hadn't said anything about her humiliating situation yet, so perhaps he still had no idea...? This could turn out better than she thought. "I'll...I'll see him tonight." She could imagine herself blushing furiously now at the lie she was telling him. "Just...don't say anything."
"Well, all right," Viktor said, nodding. "I'll be quiet about it."
"Anyway, I have to...get back to the inn," Apple told him. A weak statement, but she had to make her getaway somehow.
"Okay. It was nice seeing you."
"You, too." On that whisper, she exited the restaurant.
Viktor sat himself down to a table a moment later, still not having made the connection regarding Apple and the girl stricken with alcohol illness.
"Hey Shu...I was wondering..."
"What is it?"
"Well," Flik began, "I'm not...saying I suspect you or anything, but, uh...why are you being so nice? Or should I say, hospitable?"
The question somehow caught Shu by surprise. "Hospitable?" he repeated. "No, I'm just doing what any good host would do."
"Well, that's what I mean. We weren't even your guests until you extended your welcome."
"Oh...well, I'm certain anyone else would have done the same."
"Well, yeah, anyone else would, but what about you?" Flik asked, and then smirked. "I think you've changed these past couple of years."
"Changed...? I've always treated others with a certain respect."
The man with the cape chuckled. "Come on, Shu. You were probably polite to the people of this town, but even you have to admit you wouldn't have been that generous a year or so ago. Something must've influenced during that time...or maybe, someone..."
It was true that Shu had been met with many positive driving forces within that time. Before then, he had only been living for himself...and never others. But the moment he joined with Apple and the others...there was rarely a moment he was not met with such influence. Quite considerably during the times he performed deeds which were highly unlike that of his nature. The deeds influenced by the good of the army, and by Apple...
As much as he hated to admit it, Flik's view was accurate. "Yeah...maybe you're right..."
The room fell silent after that, and then Flik wandered off to a window. "Viktor's been gone a while," he commented, staring outside. "Maybe I should go check up on him and make sure he hasn't gotten himself into trouble."
"He can take care of himself."
"True," Flik responded, turning around. "But to be honest, I'm getting a bit hungry myself, so I think I'll head out as well. Or did you want to go too?"
The former trader shook his head. "No, I think I'll stay here."
When Flik was gone, Shu walked up to that same window. He wasn't watching Flik or anyone else passing by the mansion. Rather, he found himself observing the darkening skies...while still thinking about that influence. "I've been gone for so long," he quietly stated, for what must have been the fiftieth time that day.
But this was true. He wasn't so much bothered by the fact that he felt an alien in the town he was a resident of for quite a few years. He only felt a sort of emptiness inside of him from realizing what he had missed by being a part of the country's force of power. That included not only material things and daily routines, but also, people...
He looked up into the starry sky, and before he knew it, an unexpected query escaped him, accompanied by an equally unexpected emotion.
"Where are you tonight?"
Apple made her way back inside the inn, her head still down. The lady from the carriage ride had been polite, but there were times the erratic motions from the carriage wheels made her condition worse. Still, she tried her hardest to keep things together.
It was surprising that she hadn't lost her lunch, considering how much she had drank. Of course, she was lucky the doctor had reached her in time with something to dispel the effects of the alcohol. The memory was still clear in her mind, but her reasons for having gotten into that situation weren't.
Why did I let myself do that? she asked silently. Because I was upset about those jerks ridiculing me? She looked up at the table they were sitting at earlier that night, the table which was now empty, save for a cup or two. That was really stupid. After all, they don't even matter. Why the hell should I care what they think of me? No reason to act so crazy, but...
On some level, their words still got to her. Whether it was because it brought back memories of Shu, or memories of her master, or probably both, she still had to admit that she was still bothered. After all, she nearly drank herself into a coma that night.
She reached her room, immediately locking the door after entering it. With a wearied sigh, she set her bag down on the bed, tossing her coat down beside it. She turned around, uttering a gasp as she caught sight of herself in the mirror on the wall opposite the bed. Calming down a bit, she slowly walked over, stopping a few feet short of the looking glass.
Apple observed her entire appearance without a single, lucid feeling. She could remember her stay in Harmonia, where some of the more superficial ones would comment on her looks. "You're a cute girl," they'd tell her, "if you'd lose the glasses and grow your hair out." That, or, "Why don't you dress in something more flattering of your figure?" She couldn't decide which was the more idiotic. But still...
She removed her glasses, setting them down on the dresser, and then brought her gaze back to the mirror. She ran a hand through her shoulder-length hair, wondering how she would look if it grew any longer, silly as it felt to her. But maybe there was a need for change. Though anyone could clearly see she was grown up, there were times she still resembled a child. And there were people who would remind her of that from time to time...such as tonight...
The greenish-light brown orbs piercing back into her eyes...she had to look away. She wasn't certain of many things, her appearance being one of them, and she was tired of feeling bad for the evening. Too much had happened, too many memories returned, and she was having trouble dealing with everything. But thankfully, the physical effects wouldn't be so much trouble...
She reached into a pocket of her dress and pulled out a vial. "If you think you felt bad now, you're going to feel even worse in the morning," the doctor had told her. "The potion I gave you will make the illness subside for tonight. But when you get home, I want you to take this, and it should help numb the headache you'll have in the morning. You may feel groggy, though..." He then produced the small bottle, filled with dark blue liquid.
There was a tiny smile on her face, but her gaze was mirthless. "I'll have to be stronger than this," she told herself. "Even if I...even if I had my reasons..." She unfastened the cap of the vial, drinking all of its contents. "It's just...so much, and then...with Shu..."
Throwing away the small container, she headed over to the window, opening it to let the night breeze inside. It was refreshing for a while, but then the wind died down, leaving her alone with the darkness...not to mention everything still on her mind.
"Those people kept saying what a cute girl I was," she said softly, and then her cheeks turned rosy. "I-I wonder if...if...maybe...if maybe Shu would..." Apple interrupted the thought with a laugh. "Yeah, right..."
Her eyes watched the streets below, with sudden fascination. It amazed her how active the town was at night, considering the population, and also the mannerisms of the people. And if she could stay, she might join in with them, but...
"I'm sorry...Shu. I lied to Viktor. I won't be seeing you any time soon. Not today, not tomorrow...I just...I just can't..." Despondently, she folded her arms on the window sill. "Tomorrow, I'll be long gone, but for tonight..." She let out a yawn, leaning her head upon her arm, and unknowingly responding to an unheard inquiry.
"I'm here, Shu."