Chapter 24.1 – Ran’s Past
“You cried.” Rikku noticed as soon as Ran arrived for breakfast.
“Not that much!” Ran waved him away.
Having just finished tidying up her tent, Belle walked over from the side; her head low, eyes on the ground. She stood behind Ran; her usual, brazen attitude was nowhere to be seen. She’d apparently intensified her vigilance after last night’s dressing down. Ran merely revealed a wry smile. Rikku noticed that not only had his maid followed him (even closer than before), but some guards had also appeared to keep tabs on him. He was somewhat peeved by their behaviour, but he was well-aware of his inability to do anything about this.
Sometime later, Parvian and Dorian reached the dining area, speaking to each other in hushed tones along the way. Upon seeing Ran and Rikku, Parvian narrowed his eyes, his whole being exuding a hostile aura. Dorian followed his ally’s line of sight and frowned. While others would think Rikku was the reason for Parvian’s hostility, only he knew the truth. What earned his frown was the tight security around the duo. He’d heard that Kan Yune had summoned Ran’s and Nora’s servants yesterday for — what he guessed to be — some well-deserved scolding. He hadn’t anticipated that Kan Yune’s suspicions would grow so deep that he’d even tighten his hold on them.
Talk about a bad way to start the morning!
Dorian was pissed, face as dark as the bottom of a pot. He ran a quick eye along the food on the table, then turned around to leave. Mana slowly accumulated under his skin as he clenched his hands into fists, the air around him growing heavy. Turns out, Ran and Rikku weren’t the only ones to earn shorter leashes.
Ran and Rikku both sensed the change in the atmosphere. Ran’s eyes twinkled. In contrast, Rikku didn’t even display a speck of interest. He’d known for some time now that Dorian was more than just a douchebag. He wasn’t surprised when Parvian had decided to ally with him. Dorian must have also felt the change around them. The corner of Rikku’s lips lifted. A tiny spark of mischief lit up in his heart.
This sudden change in Dorian alarmed Parvian. Grasping at Dorian’s arm, he applied some pressure until Dorian turned towards him. He shook his head, signalling the bulky man to stop. This was the wrong time and place for an outburst. If they were to break into a fight, they would end up on the losing side. Dorian shook Parvian off; he understood. Nevertheless, he fumed within. However, even if he understood their situation, it didn’t mean he had to endure it. After a moment of silence, he trudged towards the carriage, each step shaking and sinking the ground under. Along the way, he made sure he remembered to send a deadly glare to Kan Yune in passing.
Although Kan Yune appeared impassive on the surface, he was seething inside.
Those damn dogs! Do they plan to rebel? They can just wait and watch how I deal with such unruly bastards!
He had hesitated before, but yesterday’s failure had taught him that he should show off his might. Kan Yune was certain that, as long as those Otherworlders didn’t understand his combat strength clearly, they would avoid fighting head-on against him.
After breakfast, the caravan packed up and resumed the journey, this time with a tension in the air. Ran and Rikku, as usual, boarded the same carriage.
Belle and Rikku’s maid attempted to board the same carriage, but Rikku blocked them at the door with an icy warning.
“If you try to get in, we’ll see if you can keep your head on your shoulders.”
The door closed and a spell sealed it, leaving the two maids to exchange blank looks. Following that, Belle wordlessly climbed up the front to sit near the driver, while Rikku’s maid crossed the group to file a report. Rikku couldn’t care less about his maid’s report. Since Dorian displayed his hostility so visibly, Rikku saw no reason to maintain subtleties as well. For a while, he sat there, watching Ran knit.
“You’re very vexing. Sometimes, you act meekly. Other times, you are oozing with killing intent enough to slaughter an entire army.” Rikku stared at her. “I’m quite certain that you possess some badass abilities, but hold yourself back from using them. This frustrates me, you know?”
“I have issues.” Ran stated. “I have a lot on my plate at the moment.”
“Such as your past?”
Ran’s hands froze. She stared blankly at the scarf on her knees.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
When Ran lifted her eyes, Rikku felt his skin crawl. The depth of her gaze sent a chill down his spine; her eyes cold and abysmal, as if everything in the world was devoid of life and hope. Her face laced with indifference – the kind of cold indifference that shook the soul. Rikku shuddered, a feeling of suffocation building within him. He recalled the time at the inn when he’d seen her true face for the first time. That visage couldn’t compare to the one he saw now. Back then, he felt discomfort, as a sliver of fear seeped into his heart. This time, he felt as if the gaze slowly froze his soul, sucking him down into a bottomless void.
She merely uttered one simple word, but the weight of that one simple word sank Rikku’s heart. His face paled, heartbeat quickened. She didn’t even cast any spells or skills on him. The Ran here now wasn’t the Ran he knew. No, he should say that this Ran was the Ran she concealed from others..
A small voice chimed in from the outside. “Is everything alright? I have brewed some tea.”
Unexpectedly, this voice broke through the tension, easing the air. Ran’s gaze returned to her yarn, while Rikku released a breath he was unwittingly holding. However, Ran’s hands didn’t return to knitting. Instead, she remained lost in a daze.
Rikku’s mind was in chaos. He didn’t know what to think anymore. She was too complicated. Her past was obviously a landmine. She changed moods and face too often; he didn’t know who she was or who she was trying to be. Was she overbearing and cold? Sly and crafty? Should they be considered allies? Friends? Frustration rose in his heart. What did she want in the end? If she really wanted to escape, she would have done that earlier and on her own. He felt like he was led around by the nose. Doubts and questions flooded his mind. Did she include him in her schemes too?
“Why didn’t you escape from the very start? Or just killed everyone? Why did you have to tell me about your abilities?”
He was ill at ease with this situation. He already had enough on his plate, he wanted to be sure he could count on her. If not, he would plan accordingly.
“Did you need me in your schemes, hence needed me to trust you?” Rikku raised his voice, he was feeling fearless and didn’t care about her reactions. He wanted to know. He needed to know. Was he deceived like the others?
Ran glanced at him. She could see a distinctive light in his eyes. A resolve born of stubbornness. She looked hard; his black unruly hair and larges almond eyes. His cold features that masked a somewhat warm and awkward heart. She could feel a distant yet familiar fuzzy feeling. An impression she kept buried in her soul. Her gaze softened and a tinge of melancholy pierced through, it startled Rikku.
“You remind me of an old acquaintance. You two are so alike. You would have hated each other” The corner of her lips formed into a bitter-sweet smile. “Sorry, I went overboard. My past… is touchy and way too … raw for now. Let’s not mention it again.”
Rikku watched as her eyes glazed over with tears.
“I’m really struggling right now.” Ran spoke softly after a while. “Thing I want to do, things I can do, things I should do… I don’t know where to stand.”
“Your past is far from here. You can be whoever you want, no?” Rikku could feel Ran was running away from her past, from something too heavy for her to bear.
Ran squeezed a tiny smile… a heart-wrenching smile. Rikku’s heart shivered. That smile killed any desire he may have had to know of her past. The trip resumed; silence reigned as they kept their thoughts to themselves.