EDGE OF THE EAST
Ayar took a deep breath and slowly gathered his bearings, taking a sip of the drink, and slowly meeting Lino’s gaze squarely. The pair of black eyes stared at him with curiosity and excitement, lacking the mad intent he’d come to expect. Rather, everything about the man sitting opposite of him was… different. Rather than trying to reconcile it, however, he merely accepted it on the face value and moved on.
“—it’s a long journey,” Ayar said. “Despite what maps may showcase, the distance between the Eastern Shores of the Holy Continent and even the mere ‘Edge of the East’, to say nothing of the Isles themselves, is beyond massive.”
“How massive?” Lino quizzed.
“Roughly the distance between the Forgotten Continent and the western point of the Holy Continent.” Ayar replied as Lino exclaimed softly.
“… that’s one big-ass journey.”
"Yes. Even using the fastest ships, it usually takes around four to five months to reach the Edge. I estimate it would take at least twice as much to reach the Isles if not more. In addition," Ayar added as the woman called Beckie carried over a massive tray stacked with still-sizzling meat, putting it down before quickly running away, called by someone else. "The ocean… is anything but calm. Though we don't get many storms that reach the shoreline, just a few miles into the open waters means weathering waves that start from five meters and never stop rising."
“…” Lino listened intently, taking a few bites of a rather salted lamb.
“Furthermore, there are several aquatic species that are a nightmare,” the boy said. “From some forms of squid as large as sixty-seventy meters to sharks the size of massive whales. Honestly, I have never sailed all the way to the Edge not because of the waters, but specifically because of the creatures…”
“… you really love sailing, don’t you?” Lino suddenly asked, surprising the boy.
“Your tone, that glimmer in your eyes… and the fact that you aren’t stuttering,” Lino said, chuckling. “Let me guess… you grew up on a boat?”
“… yes… how did you know?” Ayar mumbled, a shocked expression emerging on his face.
“Eh, I just did.”
“… I… I don’t know who my real parents are,” Ayar said, lowering his head. “But, my dad picked me up one day from the orphanage when I was two, and raised me as we sailed the ocean. He was a fisherman, though not the kind that sells fish as food, but rather the kind that the rich employ to find exotic fish to act as trophies more so than anything else. He taught me everything I know, and… since I knew of myself… I’ve been in love with the open sea…”
“… he sounds like a great man. How did he die?” Lino asked, his voice low and mellow.
“… heh,” Ayar chuckled bitterly, indignation clearly visible in his gaze. “A rich, local cultivator asked him to fish out the Blind Whale, offering him eight hundred Crowns as a reward. That would have pretty much set us up for life, so he accepted immediately. We spent almost two years tracking it down, and over two weeks capturing it. We’ve spent over twenty Crowns on bodyguards as we took the whale across the ocean. The cultivator, instead of paying the agreed eight hundred, gave my dad only fifty and told us to get lost. And, well…”
“… I’m sorry.” Lino said.
“… it’s… it’s fine,” Ayar shook his head. “I’m over it.”
“… we never truly get over the loss of the loved ones,” Lino smiled faintly, causing Ayar to look up and meet his eyes. “And that’s fine. No shame in it.”
“… let me guess,” Lino said after a few moments of silence. “Your dad’s dream has always been to sail to the Edge.”
“… we’ll take each other there,” he added, chuckling faintly. “And beyond.”
“… aren’t… aren’t you scared? Of the Dragons, I mean.” Ayar asked meekly.
“Why’d I be afraid of the Dragons?” Lino grinned. “I’ve one as my pet after I’ve beaten his ass black and blue.”
“Yeah. Wanna see him?”
“… c-can I?”
“Sure thing!” Lino exclaimed as he forcibly ripped Vy out of the pocket, causing the angry blur of fire to appear next to the table. “Say hi to our new friend, Vy.”
“… hey, kid, a piece of advice,” Vy turned toward Ayar. “Don’t trust a single word that comes out of this guy’s fucking mouth. He’s going to swindle you, and make your life an eternal misery of pain and—”
“And that’s enough of you!” Lino quickly shoved him back in, chuckling awkwardly. “As you can see, he’s still quite bitter about his defeat.”
“… ah, yeah.”
“Anyway, relax. We won’t be sailing anywhere for some time still,” Lino said, getting up. “Eat up and drink up. I’ll send someone to escort you to your room. Spend a few days looking around, getting to know the place. I’ll ask someone to fetch you then so we can start charting the course. What do you say?”
“… uh, sure. Yeah.” Ayar nodded submissively as he watched the strange man walk away briskly and silently.
Lino followed the path over to the central area that was dubbed the ‘Administrative Center’ as it was used largely as a local shed of documents and bureaucratic proceedings that he could never quite understand.
He quickly descended to the basement level that very few knew even existed and where the majority of the collection of books he owed were stored in addition to maps, theories, and even some few unique, captivating Arts. He took out one of the maps and looked over it, pondering why the Dragon Isles were painted in as being so close to the Holy Continent. It's not as though they ran out of paper, as there was still the option of scaling down if not getting a bigger paper.
“… is it really just to deter?” he mumbled lowly, frowning.
“Deter what?” Lino looked up and saw Alison sitting over on the other side. He was slightly shocked as he hadn’t spotted her at all before coming in here. She had a faintly curious expression on her face enhanced by a lovely smile.
“… you’re quite sneaky, aren’t you?” he smiled, walking over and sitting with her. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were stalking me.”
“He he, it’s good that you do, then. Know better, I mean. What brings you here?” though Alison had relaxed considerably around him compared to when she first arrived here, there was still a stiff air of reservation and holding back when it was just the two of them alone.
“Why do you think the Isles are painted in as being so close to the Holy Continent?” Lino probed, putting the map in front of her.
"… hmm," Alison frowned for a moment, seemingly thinking back to something. "From what I recall, the ‘official' explanation was that the difference wasn't all that big and that it made the map easier to read. Why?"
“… the difference is really big, though,” Lino mumbled. “Think the distance between the Western Continent and the Holy Continent big.”
“Eh? Really?” she exclaimed softly.
“Hm,” he nodded. “That was a conscious decision. Aah, if you can’t trust the cartographers, I don’t know who you can trust…”
“Ha ha, since when were the cartographers the measure of truth?” Alison asked, laughing lightly.
“Ah, excuse me miss, but cartographers are some of the most important people in the world! If not for them, how would we ever know we live on land instead of in the ocean? Huh?”
“Ha ha ha…”
“How do you like your new sword?” Lino suddenly asked her, causing Alison’s expression to light up.
“I love it!!” she exclaimed. “It’s so light… and quick… and I honestly feel like I can control it with my heart! I mean, I know it sounds stupid but… I really feel like it’s true…”
“I’m happy,” Lino said. “Because, well, you’ve cruised along long enough, haven’t you?”
“What do you mean?!” Alison pouted. “Are you saying I’ve been freeloading?”
“Well, you’ve been keeping one of our demons fairly tied up, so not freeloading per se…” Lino couldn’t help but burst out in laughter as he saw her cheeks flush red like blood. “Ha ha ha, sorry, sorry. I promised her I wouldn’t do it anymore. No, of course I’m not. But, I’ve a feeling our excursion to the Isles won’t be as simple.”
“Why do you say that?” Alison asked with faint curiosity.
“… I don’t know. I’ve kind of developed a very strange quirk after being on the run for all my life,” Lino said, chuckling. “My body always seems to know when something bad’s about to happen even before I do. I guess that, after being beaten an inch away from death so many times, it really wants me to stop doing stupid shit all the time."
“… why do you?” she asked suddenly in a rather somber tone.
“Why do you do it, still?” she repeated, her gaze rather peculiar. “
“… why, huh?” Lino hummed, leaning back into the chair and glancing around the book-stacked shelves. “It’s my way juvenile attempt, I guess, to punish myself.”
“A way of coping, really,” he looked back at her, smiling faintly. “We all have our demons… and that’s how I deal with mine.”
“… hurting yourself won’t change anything.” Alison said, smiling back. “Only make it worse.”
“… perhaps,” he added with a chuckle. “I’ve this embarrassing habit of taking up the weight of the whole world, and then crying wolf when it crushes me. To me, it’s easier to look out.”
“—I’m the opposite,” Alison said, lowering her head. “I can’t help but believe that I could be doing so much more to help. To help you, to help Hannah, Lucky, my Master and Elders and everyone. I… I feel like an observer… a passerby…”
“… nah, you aren’t the opposite, just as I’m not entirely gone either,” Lino said, suddenly ruffling her hair gently as he got up. “We may lean inch here and there more so than elsewhere, but altogether we are all bits and pieces making up a fairly balanced whole. I may occasionally overstay my welcome to punish myself, but I doll out just as much punishment. I also enjoy walking away from conflict, cradling into my room and taking a nap. You say you’re an observer, but the observer never inspires Ally. They are ticks in the stains of history – you are not. You’re a story. Just like me. Just like Hannah. Just like Lucky. Just like everyone else. No such thing as an observer, unless ghosts really do exist. In that case, they must be doing some really spooky shit that we can’t see.”
“… thanks.” she smiled gently, getting up and following after him as they slowly climbed out of the basement. “Looks like I’ve underestimated your ability to sympathize.”
"… we all have the ability to sympathize," Lino said. "Sometimes, however, it's stolen away from us. The only thing that's important to remember is that no one is impervious to pain. Even the evilest, the cruelest and sadistic soul to ever exist… hurt. Sometime, somewhere, somehow. Doesn't excuse their cruelty, but it gives it the lacking ambiance. There's always a reason why someone's quick to anger, quick to weep, quick to break or to fire back. As I said," he added as the two left the basement, going their separate ways. "We're all our own stories."