Chapter 6: A Finished Story
~Ten Years Later~
Having finished my work, I cleaned up my manuscripts as usual, put them into an envelope as I always did, and put it into the lowermost drawer in my desk as part of my routine. I'd leave it there until my editor comes to get them.
I got off my seat and walked to the centre of my room. I stretched lazily. I stretched my arms as high as I could, as if I was trying to make myself taller.
After made a sound like a kitten crushed under four of its siblings, I relaxed.
Then, the fatigue that had piled up as I spent the past ten hours writing at my desk instantly came rushing over me.
I love this feeling of exhaustion.
The way I sink into my bed feels different depending on how tired I am. If I feel myself sinking like a rock into the mattress, I know I can spend the next few hours without a single thought.
If I don't do that, my head will spin. I find my mind drifting from one thought to another against my will.
Everything I'm doing now. My plans for later. Things like this are bearable, but if I end up coming up with a new story, it's over. I won't be able to fall asleep for a while.
When something like that happens, I always have to lie in bed in uncomfortably as I coddle and plead with the ideas that pop out of my head and put them into sentence form on the notepad I keep beside me. It's not unusual to finish all this and find myself watching the sunrise.
Someone once said, "A writer is someone who works 24/7". I don't know who this person was, but there is no greater truth. I felt appreciation for this quote again in the midst of my fatigue.
I had just completely finished one particularly difficult job--I was very tired, but in a good way.
I collapsed into bed.
Thud. My weary body bounced back up slightly, and finally--slowly yet surely--sank into the mattress. I felt heavy. I didn't want to move even a single finger. But I moved my hand very slightly to get my long hair out of my face. I'm still too young to die of suffocation, after all.
That's right. Tomorrow I'll go and get a haircut. My hair had grown out a lot because I didn't do anything about it for a while.
Suddenly, I remembered my teens, when I had very short hair for a girl.
It was a time when I was still living in the midst of gunsmoke, with a handgun at my side.
And I remembered the day, when all too suddenly, it all came to an end.
I wonder what that cheeky motorrad Hermes is up to now?
What would he say if he saw me, settled down in a country as a famous female writer?
That's right. Tomorrow I'll get a haircut.
I can't cut it as short as it was before, but tomorrow I'll get a haircut.
Having made my decision, I fell asleep.
A lone motorrad stood in the sand.
It was a sandy beach dotted with rocks. Scattered across the sea was a chain of tiny islands. The waves were calm. The spring sunlight shining in the clear sky gently warmed the earth.
As the beach grew more and more distant from the waves, the number of pine trees increased. Soon they became a great, think forest.
The motorrad was standing between the waves and the forest of pine trees.
On its back was loaded a great deal of travelling gear. There were boxes hanging on either side of the back wheel, and a large bag and a rolled-up sleeping bag were tied above it. A wooden plank was placed below the side stand so that it would not sink into the sand.
A single person sat crouched on the left side of the motorrad. It was a young person, likely in their mid-teens. She had very short, cropped blond hair and emerald-green eyes.
The human wore a ragged, patched-up jacket and pants, had on sandals with thick rubber soles, and held an automatic hand persuader in hand. There was a stock on it like a rifle so that she could aim for her target while balancing it against her shoulder and cheek.
The human anxiously looked towards the forests from behind the motorrad.
"Hey, I don't know who you are, but you'd better stop." the motorrad said. The human did not answer. She merely kept her persuader trained, eyes glinting in an attempt to miss nothing.
"Well, I guess humans have their own reasons for things, but you just had to attack Kino, of all people…" the motorrad spoke again.
The human retorted sharply. She then continued, in a slightly diminished voice.
"So that traveller's name is Kino?"
"Yeah. And this motorrad you're using as a shield is Hermes." the motorrad that identified himself as Hermes replied in a nonchalant voice, "Well, it's nice to meet you."
"My name's Inid… wait. That doesn't matter!" the human called Inid yelled loudly.
"It's nice to meet you, Inid." Hermes greeted her.
Inid ignored him. She stood up slightly and slowly poked her face out from behind the sleeping bag. She aimed her persuader into the forest and fired.
Three clear shots rang out, and three empty shells fell to the sand. It seemed that Inid was using an automatic persuader that would fire three rounds every time she pulled the trigger.
"Did you miss?"
"With skills like that, you're going to end up getting shot yourself."
"That's why I have you as a shield. You won't be able to move if your wheels are accidentally damaged."
"That's true, but considering Kino's personality…"
Hermes was suddenly interrupted by the sound of something slicing through the air. Part of the sleeping bag blew open as the feathers that were once its contents flew into the air. The bullet grazed the side of Inid's ear. White feathers landed on her golden hair.
"Kino would fire anyway, just like that."
Inid stiffened and took cover behind Hermes' engine.
"Do something, Inid."
"D-don't just say my name like that!" Inid yelled back, crouching down as much as she could.
"Anyway, why'd you attack us travellers in the first place? Just to let you know, Kino's flat broke."
"That doesn't matter. Attacking and mugging you is all I care about."
"What's what supposed to mean?"
Inid did not reply. Instead, she raised her head and followed a moving shape in the woods with her eyes. She then pulled the trigger again and again. Five shots of three rounds. Fifteen bullets loudly ripped through the air.
"Damn it! He ran into the woods!"
"You missed again? You're not very good at this, are you?"
"Okay, calm down. You're not gonna win by getting all anxious."
"I told you to shut up… but I-I guess… you're right."
Inid took a deep breath and lightly shook her head.
"Anyway, why'd you attack us, anyway?" Hermes asked.
"I wanted to be acknowledged as a real member."
"A member of what?"
Inid got down on her stomach and adjusted the persuader's muzzle with her line of sight as she responded.
"Pirates. There's a rite of passage for the pirates who control this area. On the year you turn fifteen, anyone who wants to join is given a test. You have to attack the first person they come across that day and mug them. If necessary, you can kill the traveller, too. If you don't pass this test, you'll never be able to become a pirate."
"I see. But what if the person you attack is really strong? What if they fight back?"
"I have to trust my luck… that's something a pirate needs, too, you know. So part of this test is to see if I'm lucky or not."
"I get it." Hermes seemed to have been impressed by this answer.
"Today's the day. Once I take down that traveller, I'll officially become one of them. One day, I'll take my father's place as captain. So… so I can't give up here!"
"You're really desperate, huh?"
"Yeah. I've lived all my life, getting ready for this day. I don't care who it is. I'll win no matter what!"
Inid tightened her grip on her persuader. Her emerald-green eyes peeked through Hermes' engine and frame, into the heart of the forest.
"Come on out. You can't wait forever…"
Three seconds later, Inid's left eye was irritated by something red. She turned her head in confusion. A red light was etched onto her left shoulder--the exact place her eye had been a moment earlier. A laser sight was reaching towards her from between the engine and the frame.
Inid quickly moved out of the way. In that very instant, the forest was rattled by a single gunshot.
The bullet hit neither Hermes nor Inid. However, the plank that had been supporting Hermes' stand was blown apart.
Hermes let out a shout. The stand buried itself in the sand. Hermes tilted, falling on his left side.
Inid twisted around to dodge the bag and sleeping bag that had suddenly begun falling towards her head. Although she was able to avoid them, Inid found herself stuck under Hermes' fallen form.
"That was mean…" Hermes mumbled.
Inid desperately struggled to free herself from under Hermes, but her left arm did nothing but powerlessly clutch at sand. She tried pushing Hermes with all her strength, but he would not budge.
"Damn it! Why do you have to be so heavy?! Get off me!"
"Let's try to be reasonable."
Inid looked into the sky as she desperately pushed at Hermes.
However, she froze the moment she was finally able to free her left leg from under the engine.
The sky darkened. Someone was looking down at Inid. She couldn't see the person's face because of the sunlight behind their head, but the person had a large-caliber revolver trained on Inid.
"Damn it… so you had two guns…" Inid mumbled weakly.
Inid's opponent looked up.
The traveller was a young human in their mid-teens with short, messy, black hair, wearing a black jacket.
"You okay, Hermes?"
"I am, but I can't speak for your sleeping bag. How about you, Kino?" Hermes asked.
The person called Kino aimed the persuader at Inid, who was still stuck under Hermes, and answered.
"That's good to hear. Anyway, help me up."
"Just a second."
Kino slowly turned to meet the glaring emerald-green eyes under the motorrad.
"Hmph! You can shoot me for all I care!" Inid spat.
"Let me introduce you, Kino."
Hermes quickly explained Inid's situation.
"I see. So that's why you attacked us out of the blue like that. A test for acceptance, huh…"
As Kino mumbled, Hermes (still lying on the sand) added a comment with a know-it-all tone.
"That's right. It's a 'rough of personage', like most cultures have."
"…You mean, 'rite of passage'?"
"Yeah, that's it."
"That didn't even sound similar… I think you're getting worse, Hermes." Kino replied incredulously.
"That so…? As long as you understand, right? That's how language works."
"But it still takes a lot of time for me to figure out what you're saying."
"Really? I'm sure I did my part to help you practice your reasoning abilit--"
"Hey! Don't ignore me, you bastards!" Inid suddenly yelled, glaring at Kino and Hermes in the middle of their conversation.
Kino holstered the revolver, snatched the persuader from Inid, and quickly disarmed and dismantled it. Then, Kino took out a rope from the bag rolling on the sand and restrained Inid's wrists and ankles. Only afterwards was Inid dragged out from under Hermes.
Kino stood Hermes back up and desperately attempted to balance his stand on some pieces of the original plank. Inid, meanwhile, tried biting and pulling on the ropes, struggling to escape.
Kino finally managed to balance Hermes' stand. At the same time, Inid freed herself from the ropes and lunged at Kino.
Kino effortlessly dodged Inid's fist and simultaneously grabbed her by the collar. Inid was instantly thrown to the ground. An elbow bearing Kino's entire body weight slammed into Inid's solar plexus.
Inid let out a strange noise and fainted. Kino lay her on the ground sideways and bound her wrists together.
"She just can't stay down…" Kino mumbled.
"That's some spirit she's got there. You should try and be more like her, Kino." Hermes replied playfully.
Inid coughed several times and sat up. She then glared at Kino, her face a mess of sand and water.
"Kill me! Just kill me! Right now! I'd rather die than fail this test! Come on! What, you can't? Don't be a coward!"
"She wants you to kill her, Kino. What are you gonna do?"
Kino gave Hermes a quick glance, then gave Inid a reluctant shake of the head.
"Kill me! You're just going to let me live?! Take responsibility and kill me now, you bastard!"
Kino ignored Inid and headed into the forest to bring back another persuader. An automatic hand persuader was tied to a tree, and a long string was attached to the switch that activated the laser sight. Kino untied the string and holstered the persuader.
When Kino returned to the beach, Hermes was chattering to Inid, who was sitting with her head bowed.
"So what I'm saying is, you were just unlucky this time. It's all about luck. You said it yourself, didn't you? You don't need to be so disappointed. No, um, I guess you can't help but be disappointed, since you've always wanted to be a pirate, huh. I won't tell you to not be disappointed. But that's all it is. you have to accept the facts. You still have a long life ahead of you, and if you're lucky, maybe you'll find something you love even--"
Between sobs, Inid would mumble, "Shut up… shut up…"
Hermes ignored her and kept talking.
"You know, motorrads sometimes end up with new owners. Sometimes it might be unbearable because they have different driving styles. But that's like a motorrad's fate. So there's no point in resisting. Maybe it's like that for humans too…"
At that very moment, a small ship appeared from behind one of the islands dotting the sea. It sped over in their direction. Several men were on board.
Hermes took Kino's mumble as a cue to pause.
"Yeah. Looks like they're Inid's friends."
"Good timing. Wanna run for it?"
Kino removed the hat and goggles from their place on the belt, climbed onto Hermes, and was about to start the engine--but was interrupted.
"Traveller! Please, wait! We don't mean to harm you!"
A loud voice echoed from a loudspeaker on the ship.
"It is our tradition to make reparations to those who become involved in this rite and survive! Please, wait a moment!"
The ship, along with the voice, closed in.
"What do you wanna do, Kino?"
"Maybe we should go, just in case."
However, Kino was suddenly interrupted.
"It's true… A pirate never lies…" Inid quietly mumbled, head still bowed.
Kino got off Hermes and untied Inid. But she still sat weakly on the beach.
The ship slid directly onto the beach. Seven men were on board, each armed with a persuader. But none of them showed any signs of hostility.
First, the men surrounded Inid and asked her if she was all right, voices full of concern. Inid looked away from them and silently shook her head.
A bearded, middle-aged man walked up to Kino.
"I am the captain of this crew. Please, take these."
The captain took out all kinds of valuable objects from the sack he had slung over his shoulder, and handed them to Kino.
Kino politely declined, explaining that travelling with objects that once belonged to other people might cause unnecessary suspicion.
But the captain insisted on making amends. Kino asked him if he could spare some fuel or ammunition.
The captain ordered one of the men to bring out some fuel from the ship. Kino filled Hermes' tank until it was nearly spilling over.
The captain shook his head.
"That's my line. Of course, I'm upset that Inid wasn't able to pass the test. But it's thanks to you that she's still alive…" the captain continued, "Once you had her tied up, you could have killed her anytime you liked. I can tell that someone of your caliber wouldn't hesitate to do so. So why did you spare her?"
Kino looked over at Inid, who was still sobbing on the ground. The rugged-looking men around her were crying alongside her. Kino looked back at the captain.
"I'm not sure."
The captain spoke quietly, eyes damp with tears.
"Then let's say… she was very lucky."
So on that day ten years ago, I failed to become a pirate. I found myself living in a completely different world from that point on. It was still the same world, but entirely unfamiliar. The fact that I could no longer be there crushed my heart.
I was still crying on the ride back to our headquarters, listening to the distant sounds of the motorrad's engine.
Everyone was very kind to me. No one blamed me, laughed at me, or feigned sympathy. I would have killed anyone who acted that way, but in the end there was no bloodshed.
Afterwards, I went to a deserted island by myself without telling anyone. It was a tiny place, devoid of food or drinking water. I spent about fifty days there by myself.
I spent my days just sitting there, doing absolutely nothing. I even thought about starving myself to death sometimes. That might actually have happened, if not for the fact that everyone secretly left food and water there for me. I'm still thankful to them to this day.
Afterwards, I was sent to a country that secretly supports the pirates, as per the traditions. There I began a 'normal' life. I went to a school and studied for the first time.
Learning new things was a big help in consoling my sadness.
I finished school surprisingly quickly, and found a job at a publishing company surprisingly easily.
It was much more fun than I expected. Although I never had much of an interest in books, I found myself reading more and more. Eventually I wanted to write them myself, and that became my job.
I'll never know if my life now is more fulfilling than the life of a pirate.
Sometimes, I see news stories or hear rumours about them. My heart aches a little every time, reminding me that I'm no longer a part of that world.
But… the current me is who I am, not the old me. That's how it will be until the end.
Ever since then, I've always kept an eye on the list of people entering the country. But I've still yet to see a traveler named Kino on a motorrad called Hermes.
If I ever see them again, I'll welcome them with open arms.
They couldn't have run into bandits and gotten killed, right?
I know that there's no way that could have happened.
Now, let's go get a haircut.
I can't cut it as short as it was before, but let's go get a haircut.