Their arrival at haunch had come sooner than Aria thought during the middle of the day. Along with Cadenza, Pyter and a few other pirates, the bat fluttered out of the ship before landing on Pyter’s head. Her eyes scanned the distance to see a city, not unlike Rind but there was so much more life to it. Carts carrying all sorts of goods traveled along the road and split off into different portions of the city where buildings covered them from sight. People were setting up stalls and kiosks even at the edges among a variety of rather large looking officials checking through objects and one not. One such official stepped over with a gleam in his eyes before Cadenza simply handed him a neat little pouch of coin. They tipped their head toward the captain and grinned before heading off leaving them to their own devices. Aria wondered just how many times Cadenza had paid that bribe, how many times she had been through this city bustling with merchants only to sneak on through to sell her dangerous goods elsewhere. Of course, Aria herself was a criminal now too just because she wasn’t saying anything and even enjoying the good graces of the kind captain. Maybe that made her a pirate too? That was actually kind of a neat thought. Sailing the seas or riding along on some sort of land vessel and...Seeing more living things get carved in half. Maybe being a regular old civilian with criminal ties was better. That still sounded cool, still afforded her thoughts that she could turn into art so that is what she was going to stick with.
“Listen up!” Called the captain breaking Aria out of her thoughts, “Me and the boys here are going to head out in town to grab a few supplies that we’re missing for the trip to Dewclaw. If you aren’t back when the sun starts coming down then I am going to tear this town apart to find y’. Pyter!”
The hanged man brought a paw up to salute, “Yes ma’am?”
Cadenza chuckled and slapped his paw down, “First off, you don’t need to salute like that. Fist to chest or a quick nod of the head will do. Second, you’re keeping our guest safe. You’re part of the crew and if I catch you failing me on this I’ll make sure to deliver the punishment myself. That being said, if I have to tear apart the town to find both of you, I’ll find both of you because you’re part of my family now and Aria might as well be.” She then clapped her hands together, “So! If all of that is understood, let’s head off.”
Aria brought her wing up to her head while Pyter saluted, both of them calling out, “Aye aye ma’am!”
The captain shook her head and turned tail to start walking while waving, “Clowns...Be safe you two!”
When Cadenza was gone, Pyter lowered his arm and breathed out, “Our mother is quite the creature isn’t she?”
Aria sighed, “I guess she is.” The painted bat then squawked, “But I don’t know about calling her mom! That seems like a bit much, doesn't it?”
As Pyter started to walk, he gave her a reply with a chuckle, “You’re right. Maybe I should be thinking about ways to court her instead. Imagine what a dynamic duo her and I would be.”
“I don’t think you could keep up.” Said the bat with a hum.
Pyter snorted, “Thank you for the vote of confidence but we aren’t here to talk about dating possibilities, mothers or other nonsense. We’re here to do a bit of shopping, exploring or whatever it is you want really. I’m your escort and apparently, your vehicle too since you’re riding atop my head.”
Aria fluttered up just a bit, “Sorry about that, I can carry my own weight if you find it too annoying.”
A paw came up and touched her head, bringing her back down to perch atop the hanged man as he chuckled, “Don’t worry about it. You’re not too heavy and it’ll be easier for us to move like this. So, just point a direction and I as your trusty steed, bodyguard and guide shall take you in the right direction.”
The bat rolled her eyes, “You know, I’ve never actually been to Haunch so I have no idea where to go. There are shops all over the place but I’m not really looking to spend money. In general, I kind of just want to draw what I see so I guess...Just take me around to any interesting spots.”
Pyter beamed, “That’s fine enough! I guess I’ll just take you around to various stalls and whatnot. There is nothing more interesting than the little corners and alleys of a city, the smallest spots where people gather and the bigger world tends to ignore.”
Aria tilted her head, “Hm? I guess I can agree with that. I’m looking for new sights and new things so I guess anything in this city is fair game.”
With that settled, Pyter started heading down a path that led them between and through a few buildings. The painted bat pulled a sketchbook out of her bag to start taking in the sights and sketching them. Neither the Citrico Capital nor Rind had seemed as busy as this city. It wasn’t as if there were oceans of people that they needed to wade through but there were businesses at almost every corner calling out for folk to check out their wears. Even in the small alleys, there were shutters opened on buildings and various little stores that sold everything from food to things that she was certain that she should never have seen in the first place. No one seemed to care that a bat was sketching the various sights that the city had to offer. If she drew someone, then she made sure to keep their face obscured but she remembered everything. Pyter occasionally stopped at a store to browse through the wares, mostly looking through clothing and weapon-related shops.
The brick and mortar of the city came to life on her paper, the small alleys and corners providing a view into a world that she had never seen before. Aria wondered if there were places like this back at the Citrico Capital. Deeper and deeper through the small routes and roads of Haunch they went until they found themselves at a dead end with a single curved street lamp against a wall. When Pyter turned around, a group of assorted strangers stood there blocking them, a tall feline with chestnut fur at the front holding a knife.
Aria slowly closed her sketchbook and cleared her throat, “I...I can’t help but notice that you all appear to be blocking our path. Is there something we can do for you.”
The feline at the front spat, “You can get yer little painted tail outta here because we got nothin’ to do with you. That punk right there you’re nestin’ on is the one we’re looking for.”
Pyter pointed towards himself, “Me? Why, whatever have I done to deserve such a beautiful crowd of people.”
With a hiss, the feline took a step forward, “You owe a lot of money for the scarves you bought off of me. You said you’d be back to pay it back and I trusted you! A drink or two and one romantic evening and there I am giving out free artifacts to a charlatan!”
The hanged man rubbed his beak for a few seconds before he beamed, “Ah! Tora! Hello there, good friend of mine. How have you been?”
Tora took another step forward and brought the knife up to point it directly at Pyter, “The money I could forgive but y’left on such short notice. Y’didn’t say a single thing about it! All your promises for naught! So here I am left without knowing whether I’d see you or not and later on I hear you’re running with a crew outfitted with the scarves that I made! A friend of mine who actually knows what keepin’ their word is caught wind of you when you stepped into town and so here we are. I don’t even give a damn about your reasons anymore, I just want my money and to be done with this!”
Aria leaned down to whisper desperately, “What did you do?”
Pyter muttered back with the same volume, “I might’ve taken a few things with my smooth negotiating skills and a bit of charm aaaaand skipped town afterward.” The hanged man then cleared his throat before calling out, “Listen, Tora, dear. I’d love to pay you and I genuinely do have enough to pay you but not right here this moment. See, I was planning on never coming to this place but now I’m running with an entirely different crew an actual pirate crew. I should be able to get you situated in no time with the amount of cash you need. How does that sound?”
“Double-crossed your own crew did you?” Tora said with a snort.
“Why, I would never double-cross them! They’re like my family.” Pyter retorted.
The feline took another step and Pyter backed away while he snarled, “But you’d cross me then?! I don’t even care if you really do have the money but I am taking that scarf back and cuttin’ sending you packing without a body!”
Aria looked from the feline to Pyter and noticed that he was reaching into his coat. Even if he could take one of them, there were still the people behind Tora to worry about. It didn’t look like a good situation! There was too high a chance of Pyter getting hurt and while he probably deserved it, he had saved Aria’s life and had been something of a friend.
Unable to believe she was about to do this, she put her sketchbook away and raised her wings to the air, “I beg thee! Stop and leave this jerk alone!”
Pyter scoffed, “Excuse me?”
Tora ignored Pyter’s irritation to look up at Aria and squint his eyes, “What is it that you want? I told you that you’re free to go so git but if you want to get involved then I don’t mind taking down a runt like you.”
Aria cleared her throat and called out as loud as she could manage, “I as this person’s companion cannot allow you to harm him and I do not wish to harm you! Please understand that my magic can be volatile and dangerous but I will use it if I must!”
The feline cut the air, “You’re bluffing!”
Breathing in and out, Aria called on her power, visible sparks of brown and red forming glowing blobs. A few of the group were already running until they were in full route. Tora stood his ground and growled, “You think a little light show is gonna scare me!? Huh y’little punk!?”
Aria’s cheeks puffed out while she struggled to hold the immense amount of magic concentrated in the air until she let it all drop on top of the feline. Thick paint fell from the air and buried the feline while the bat yelled out, “RUN YOU FOOL!”
Pyter took the hint fast enough and started to bolt past the feline who was sputtering while struggling to get up from the avalanche of paint. As they ran, the hanged man called out, “Good work! I thought I was going to have to sacrifice myself for you or possibly sell you.”
The bat clung to the hang man’s head while she squeaked, “You were thinking of selling me?! I risked my life for you!”
“Well, that’s true and all but you see I haven’t survived in this type of job by not being extremely pragmatic! Although, I’ve got to say, saving your life before was a bit of a stupid move that could have cost me my own but one that paid out in the end it seems!” Pyter said with a labored chuckle.
Aria huffed, “Just shut up and keep on moving before I regret having risked my own neck for you.”
There was no objection nor snarky word given to her suggestion. Pyter kept on running through the alleys, darting back into the open areas where people still sold their goods. He slowed down once the crowds started to thicken. Aria eased her grip on his head to turn around and check to see if they were being followed. So far, no one that she had seen in the group was following them. It either meant that her paint was working really well or they had somehow lost them. With a sigh, she sat back on Pyter’s head and turned her eyes upward where she saw a paint-covered feline sprinting across the roofs.
“Pyter I think we need to keep moving!” She squeaked.
The hanged man didn’t even take a chance on looking back as he started rushing through the crowd while ducking low, “Ah Tora. I remember him well. He was such a firecracker! Golden eyes, chocolate fur, and heart of pure honey. Of course, I cheated him out of a lot of product and left him in the dust but I would recommend him to anyone as a companion.”
Aria groaned, “That’s wonderful but maybe you can just focus on getting us out instead of complimenting the person that you betrayed?”
Pyter dipped into a separate alley crossing into tight corners until they got to a wall. When he looked up at it, he beamed, “This’ll be easy to climb.”
“Stop right there!” Said a familiar voice from behind.
When Pyter turned, he only had a few moments to duck as the knife came flying and struck the wall, Aria fluttering up the air to avoid it with a squeak, “Are you trying to kill us?!”
Tora huffed, “It was aiming for the shoulder. All I want is for him to pay with either cash or blood.”
“Can’t we talk this out?” The bat called out.
The feline covered in paint crossed his arms and lifted his chin, “I’m listening right now aren’t I?”
Aria hissed, “Pyter, say something right now.”
Pyter cleared his throat, “Okay, so...I never had the money before. Never really had the inclination of paying because I just wanted to start something and didn’t think that you would invest in it. I was naive because obviously, you would have let me go and I’m actually not lying to you when I say that I do have the money. If you just come here and check my compact then we can make the necessary trade.”
Tora blinked, “If that’s the case, why did you run?”
“I ran because I was ashamed to see the lover that I had betrayed so long ago,” said Pyter without pause.
For a second, Aria felt her heart melt with such a warm statement before she heard Tora snort and shake his head, “You have not changed a bit...Still a smooth talker through and through. If you’re lying to me though, no amount of honeyed words will save you.”
Tora approached to stand before Pyter who had pulled his compact out. Pyter wore a bent smile as he tapped away at the display of his compact to transfer funds while Aria watched from above. When the deed had been done, Pyter reached out to take the knife from the wall and offer it up by the blade, “Well, it was wonderful catching up with you Tora. Maybe next time I’m around we can go out for dinner, get to know one another again.”
The feline put a digit up with a claw flicked up, “Nope. None of that. You want to talk? You do so as a customer or not at all. I’m not going to get drawn in by that pretty beak again. Anyway, little bat, you might want to find yourself better company.”
Aria nodded, “Yeah.”
Pyter huffed, “What? Aren’t we friends?”
“You said you were going to probably try to sell me to some strangers in order to alleviate your debts.” Said the bat with a huff of her own.
They both stared at one another a moment before smiling. As Pyter started to walk, he sighed, “So, anywhere you’d like to go before we go home?”
Aria hummed, “I think I have some cash that I can spend for some food sooo...Let’s grab a bite to eat.”
Pyter beamed, “As you wish captain!”
With everything resolved. Aria was free to realize that she wasn’t close to throwing up. Perhaps it had been a distinct lack of something or someone dying, but she didn’t feel sick at all! It would be worrying if near-death experiences became natural for her. Pyter and Cadenza seemed somehow at home during these types of situations with a sort of cool that she could not describe. Even in the moment, she had felt her heart racing but she felt like she had handled it as best as she could maybe even better! Even if it was a bit worrying, maybe she could let herself be comfortable with these situations if only it meant being able to hang out with Pyter and Cadenza some more. Sure, neither of them were all too safe and perhaps Pyter really did intend to sell her, but they were fun and they treated her kindly and with respect. Everything about that came off as odd to her and in the end, getting used to having a good time couldn’t be a bad thing.
The pair stopped for sandwiches on the way back and ate in relative peace before they made their way back toward the house. Cadenza and her crew were already there carrying a few crates inside and when the captain saw them, she grinned and hailed them over, “Here I thought I was going to have to pull you two out of some sort of danger! How did it go?”
Pyter began with a smile, “It went perfectly—”
Aria chimed in, fluttering in front of his face to block his words, “An old lover that Pyter broke the heart of showed up asking for an old debt to be paid and Pyter almost decided to trade me. I managed to trick them into thinking I was dangerous but the cat was too smart and so I swamped him with paint and we ran like cowards! Turns out, Pyter was close to just selling me but it's okay, he ended up paying for it in the end.”
Clearing his throat, Pyter stepped past the bat and muttered, “As I said, everything went perfectly fine. We even grabbed a quick bite to eat.”
Cadenza raised a brow before chuckling, “Okay. If that’s all that happened then good to know you two are safe. Pyter could have called me and I would have settled his debt myself since he’s part of my crew now but hey, I’m glad he took responsibility.”
Pyter grimaced and grabbed one of the crates to start helping the other crewmates, “Wonderful.”
Aria smile and landed on Cadenza’s shoulder, “Honestly...It was really fun. I don’t think I should be getting used to this but I think I am.”
Cadenza grinned, “Does that mean you’re ready to join my crew?”
With a hum, Aria paused and pretended to consider it before she giggled, “Nope!”