Trades Chapter 7
The late evening of the next day was when Apple finally reached the bustling town of Gregminster. It was quite a change from the much calmer Radat. Apple had been here a few times before though never spent much time in touring the place. The last time she had been here for more than a few minutes would have to have been at the end of the Liberation War. And...
Her eyes dimmed. And I wasn't there for him when it happened...
The inn maid's voice broke into her thoughts. "Miss?"
Apple looked up. "Oh! Yes?"
"Marie is out for the evening, but she left me in charge. How long did you say you wanted to stay?"
"Just for tonight."
"All right, let's see. Toward the end of the hall on the second floor, we..."
Though the town was still generating memories for her, Apple was relieved to get to her room at last. After unpacking a few items, she quickly changed into a short, yellow nightgown, her mind focused only on sleep. She turned off the lantern on the wall and, using the moon's light, made her way back to the bed. Crawling beneath the covers, she lay back, letting out a relaxed sigh.
She had started to drift off into a dream world when a cry broke her out of her sleepy state. "Wh...wha-?"
"...My God!" a female voice said shrilly from behind the wall. "Why does it happen like this, every time I'm here? I'm just..." A frustrated sigh.
"Who...on earth..." Apple fumbled around for her glasses, and then reached for the robe which was slung over the chair next to her bed. She quickly slipped it on as she arose.
She exited the room and, seconds later, found herself at the door of her neighbor's. Cautiously, she began to knock. "Excuse me, but could you please keep it down? I'm just next door, and...well, I can't sleep with you carrying on like--"
"Apple?" cried the voice from inside the room. "Is that...is that really you?!"
This took her by surprise. "Y-yes, but who--"
"Oh my God!" The girl hastily unlocked the bolt from the other side and swung the door open. "I'm sorry. I had no idea anyone was there, least off all, you."
Apple's mouth fell open. "Kasumi!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"Err..." The female ninja momentarily looked away in embarrassment. "N-no, it's just...uh, I mean..."
Apple then made the realization. "Agh! Sorry, sorry. Dumb question."
"It's all right," Kasumi assured her. "Even Gremio sometimes asks me what I'm doing in town, when he knows as well as anyone why I'm there. Force of habit, probably...but anyway, come in!" She moved out of the way to let the girl into the room. "I haven't seen you in a while. And, uh, sorry if I woke you."
"Actually, you didn't really wake me," Apple said as she stepped inside. "I was just getting to sleep."
"Just now?" Kasumi asked, closing the door. "It's a little late, don't you think? Of course, I should talk..." She walked over to a desk and pulled out a chair, offering it to Apple. "Come to think of it, what are you doing here?"
"Thanks," Apple said, sitting down. "Uh...well...I'm just passing through, really. I'll be returning to Seika tomorrow."
"Oh..." The ninja bowed her head sympathetically. "Something to do with...Master Mathiu?"
"Yeah..." Though Kasumi had been closely tied with the man in many missions during that entire war, it was still so strange to hear her call him by that name.
Apple shook her head. "It's all right. He's been gone for years. Though sometimes..." She paused, cracking a short-lived smile. "Sometimes I wish he was here. That...maybe he could see me today...even though there isn't really much to see."
The ninja took a seat on the bed, sitting cross-legged. "What do you mean?"
"My accomplishments...little as they are. I really wish I'd have done more with my life, you know? At this age..."
"What are you talking about? How old are you? Nineteen? You'll get a lot more done during the rest of your life."
Apple let out a sigh. "I know, but...I mean...I wish I'd done more as a tactician." Her eyes dimmed. "But I wasn't even half the tactician that...that..."
"That Lord Shu was?" Kasumi completed for her.
"I..." she started. "I realize he's had far more experience than I have, but...he's always possessed an incredible power within him. One I could never match, no matter how much studying or training I did."
"Well...that shouldn't stop you from studying," the ninja responded. "Some people simply can't be better at something than others, but that doesn't mean they can't be good at it."
"Yeah, well..." She stopped. "I'm sorry. You're right, Kasumi. Thanks. It's just...I've always envied that power of his. Even when we were both training under Master Mathiu, he..." Apple trailed off, chuckling at a memory.
"What?" Kasumi asked.
"Uhhh...i-it's nothing," Apple said, her face growing warm. "I was just...remembering the first time I met Shu. I was about eleven years old and..." She laughed again. "I swear I fell in love with him that first day. He was such a god to me. I was in complete awe of him and everything he did."
"Ha ha. I can just imagine you as a little kid, hanging all over him."
"Yeah, that's pretty much the way it went," she continued bashfully. "I thought for sure that I was annoying him, but he never did seem to mind it."
"Oh, that's so cute," Kasumi teased. "Maybe he had a thing for you too?"
Apple glared at her. "Be serious. He'd just turned nineteen then. I'm sure there are laws against that."
"I was kidding."
"Oh...well," Apple continued more despondently, "Doesn't matter, though. I'm pretty sure I was just some little brat he thought of as a sister, at the most. Nothing more." She shook her head. "But anyway, that's all over now. And when I go back to Seika tomorrow, so will the rest of it."
"Oh...do you...really mean that?" Kasumi asked, as though to get the girl to think whatever plan of hers through a second time through. "I'm not sure what you're up to, but whatever it is, it sounds so final, and...I'm not convinced you want to accept that."
"It doesn't matter. I'll have to." The words were quick. Her eyes closed, more sad memories entering her heart. "If I don't close that chapter of my life...how can I truly live?"
Morning came, yet the two girls continued their conversation as though it were new.
"Just because he has difficulty opening up to you doesn't mean he doesn't want you there," Apple was saying, and then paused as her tone turned more serious. "You know, I really admire you, Kasumi. To have that much strength to return here all the time, to try again and again...I'd never be brave enough to do that."
The ninja let out a strained laugh. "Honestly, it's not so much 'being strong' as it is 'being weak,' holding on to something that...that can never be." She blinked back her tears. "But you...you're moving on with your life. Pressing forward and seeing where your opportunities lie."
"That's not true," Apple insisted. "I'm not pressing forward at all. I'm simply fleeing from everything, hiding from truth. But..." Another pause as she lowered her eyes to the floor. "Perhaps that's always been my destiny. I just...even when I force myself to do something, I just can't go through with it right away."
"What do you mean?"
"Well...for example, when I first joined everyone at the mercenary fort...I could've asked Shu to join then. But...I just couldn't go to him. I don't know what was wrong with me. I knew I couldn't do it, but it's like...I had to prove something. And because of me, all those people died, and--"
"You can't blame yourself for that," Kasumi interrupted. "You had no idea what was going to happen. Besides, everything worked out for the better, didn't it?"
Apple turned away sadly and became silent for a while. "Even so, their blood is still on my hands," she whispered.
"You can't talk like that. Nobody blames you."
"They do," Apple responded with a sigh. "They do. I heard them, a group of men talking about me. They didn't know who I was, but they blamed me. And I know I shouldn't care what they think, and I don't, but..."
"You worry what others think?" Kasumi completed for her. "What your friends think? What...Lord Shu thinks?"
As much as she hated to admit it...
"It's just...been so long since I'd seen him, been on...decent...terms with him. The last thing I needed was him to think ill of me..." She let out another laugh that was devoid of all joy. "It's so pathetic. I remember when Lord Riou, Nanami, and I went to see Shu. I swore to myself I wasn't going to let my feelings get involved. But it seems like they show through more than I realize..."
"With Lord Shu, you mean?"
"Yeah," she said, feeling herself blush again. "It seems that every time I spoke of him, Nanami would ask me questions, implying that...he and I were involved."
"Well, it's no wonder," the ninja remarked with a smile.
"What do you mean?"
"The way you speak of him, say his name, the way your face lights up whenever you talk about him...anyone'll assume from that look in your eyes that you must be in love."
This caused her cheeks to turn even redder. "I...I guess," she said nervously, looking away from Kasumi. It was then she finally noticed the early morning light pouring through the window. "Oh my God! It's morning already? I'd better get packed if I want to reach Seika by the afternoon."
"In your condition?" Kasumi asked in concern.
"It's all right. I'm wide awake." She slowly stood up, heading for the door. "I'm gonna go gather my things."
"W-well, okay, but..."
Apple turned around. "Yes?"
"It was nice to see you," Kasumi finished.
"Agh..." She covered her face with her hands. "Sorry. I'm sorry. That was really rude of me. It was nice to see you too. It really was."
The ninja girl laughed at Apple's embarrassment. "It's all right, you're in a hurry. So go on, do what you need to do! But I hope we run into each other again."
A thoughtful look appeared on Apple's face. "Yeah..."