Chapter 28 – Doubts
A horde of wild beasts?
Ran and Rikku exchanged looks. A “horde.” Isn’t that a bit exaggerated? What kind of beasts will cause a guard to panic like that?
“Do you think it’s a trap? Maybe Kan Yune moved his plan ahead.” Ran wondered.
“It’s difficult to say,” replied Rikku. “If it’s true, we have to move fast. If it isn’t, then…” he paused as he thought of something. He turned to stare at Ran.
“I need to know that I can count on you,” Rikku simply stated.
“What do you mean?” Ran was confused.
“You know what I mean,” Rikku repeated. He needed to be sure she wouldn’t crumble. In the heat of the moment, he needed to make sure that she had his back.
Ran blinked at him and grimaced “I’ll try my best. I confess: last time, I felt lost and muddle-headed. I know that I have no other choice than to live here. These chains that hold me back… I want to leave them behind, but they won’t disappear like magic just because I want them to.” She sighed, “When we’re done with this mess, let’s start over alright? We’ll introduce ourselves over again and have a drink.”
“… that you don’t use your ‘real name’?” Ran giggled, “Of course, I do! Ain’t I the same? We have more in common than you think. I’m just a bit more on the crazy side.”
Rikku rolled his eyes at her. He saw guards — together with some priests — rushing towards the man on the ground. He scowled. This situation didn’t make much sense. Why would one guard create panic like that? If there really was a danger, why not directly report to Kan Yune? Collapsing like that was so overly dramatic.
“Anyway, we lack info,” Ran sounded a bit annoyed. “The size and nature of this horde aside, we don’t have a real overview on the guards’ ability to deal with these sort of threats. We still have to take the watchdogs into account and Kan Yune’s intention into consideration,” Ran continued with a pout. “Even if we were under attack, what role would we – the otherworldlers – serve? If things turn sour, do they have a plan or will they leave us to fend for ourselves?”
“We may not know much, but someone else should,” Rikku tossed out.
Through the entrance, they could see Rikku’s maid trotting towards them, causing a shadow of a smirk to appear on each of their faces. Such good timing.
“Look at that! Haven’t you heard of the saying, ‘Ask and you shall be given’ ?” Ran giggled.
As soon as Rikku’s maid noticed the duo looking outside, she flashed a reassuring smile at them. They walked out to greet her, then followed her back inside. At first glance, she appeared composed, as if all was well However, if one took a closer look, they would see some uneasiness in her eyes. The maid shook her head. She must disregard this feeling. She even wondered how she turned out this way.
She was an elite assassin, trained at her craft since a young age. Before this, she had completed countless missions, bringing her to walk the line between life and death much too often. Despite all this experience, how come she felt so antsy for this one mission? Although Kan Yune was a cruel and vicious man, she didn’t think much of him. However, no one has made her feel so threatened and fretful as much as she felt in front of Rikku. Was this because he was an otherworlder? Or was this because of the fact that neither she, nor the high priest, managed to grasp any ideas on his personality?
Even though he behaved rather low-key, he was still a complete mystery. On this type of mission, not having a good grasp on one’s enemy could lead to death. She already tried her best from the very beginning, from performing the ingenue and pitiful act to coaxing him with her charms. However, he never relaxed his guard. On the contrary, he was the one keeping an eye on her. He used methods that she had never seen before, causing her to lose track of him on a couple of occasions. Furthermore, he wasn’t afraid to blatantly oppose the high priest, and he knew a dark type of magic. Who in their right mind would mess with a dark mage, and who was also an otherworlder on top of that?
There she stood, trying to keep her composure while wiping her sweaty palms on her dress. She had seen Kan Yune’s face earlier. She had seen the lifeless body of Parvian’s maid on the ground. The situation was already taking a bad turn and now, this guard came out of nowhere and caused a fuss. If she can’t keep Rikku under control tonight, she won’t live to see the morning sun. Her only comfort was that if worse comes to worst, she could retaliate. Better, if she could eliminate him along with that useless girl, she was promised a generous bonus. She looked around. Ran was daydreaming on the side. The maid’s lips lightly pursed. She still couldn’t wrap her mind around Ran. Under Belle’s influence, she, too, assumed that Ran was useless. Still, something deep down seemed amiss. She had this weird, faint feeling that something was wrong.
Ran felt Rikku’s maid’s gaze on her and lifted her own eyes. Her gaze met the maid’s and Ran couldn’t help herself from showing a bright and warm smile. Instinctively, the maid shivered. She felt goosebumps all over and her face paled a bit. She felt threatened. Her basic instincts were telling her she was in danger. As she was about to pull out a weapon purely by reflex, Rikku opened his mouth and spoke.
“What’s going on outside? Who’s this guy?”
The maid blinked fast in confusion and conflict, as her eyes alternated between Rikku and Ran. Rikku stared back at her indifferently. He had already shed all pretence, set on using this commotion to his advantage. Whether this maid was on her guard or not didn’t change a thing for him. The maid found this atmosphere peculiar. Ran didn’t usually warm up towards anyone and Rikku’s gaze was more inquisitive than before.
Ran chuckled lightly. “Don’t mind him. He’s a bit…” fading off, she vaguely gestured, then moved to pick up a glass sitting on a small table near the maid.
“I asked a question,” Rikku pressed for an answer.
“My apologies. I was being rude,” the maid gave a small smile and made a shallow curtsy. “The man outside is just an inexperienced guard. He encountered some beasts in the forest, so he panicked on his own. You have nothing to worry about,” she offered a small comforting smile.
“Oh,” Rikku commented in response.
The maid felt the back of her neck moisten with cold sweat. She still kept her composure steady, adding, “Rikku-sama and Ran-sama shouldn’t worry. There really is nothing to worry about. He just made a mountain out of a molehill.”
“Oh,” Rikku repeated with nonchalance.
Discomfort swelled in the maid as she fidgeted with her fingers on her side. Suddenly, Ran cried out and the glass she was holding shattered on the floor.
“Ouch!” She tried to pick up the shards and hurt herself.
“Wait,” the maid knelt down, took out a handkerchief to wipe the blood of Ran’s fingers.
Ran took the maid’s hand into her own and flashed a smile. The maid froze. She felt the warm hand in hers. The warm feeling flowed through her arm and spread in her body. Blushing slightly, she tried to retract her hand back. But then, how could Ran allow her to do so? She kept a strong grip on the maid’s hand.
Rikku’s lips curved into a sly smile, “So, this whole commotion has nothing to do with Kan Yune’s plan to ambush us?”
The maid opened her eyes wide. How did he…? Her eyes flashed in disbelief. How could he possibly guess? “I don’t understand…”
The maid quivered in alarm. Things were looking bad. She needed to act. She flapped her free hand and her body shook. Incredulity washed over her. Her body actually moved sluggishly in response to her will. She opened her eyes wide and struggled to free herself.. Her face flushed red.
“Such a hot-blooded little one,” Ran softly shushed.
Ran had positioned herself in front of the maid, her fingers wandering up the maid’s shoulders and arms. Anywhere her fingers touched, shivers would spread and a dull and cold sensation would invade the maid’s body. Finally, Ran settled both of her hands flat on the maid’s forearms, but the maid still struggled in vain.
“It’s useless,” Ran muttered with mischief when she noticed the maid attempting to activate one of her skills. “The more you struggle, the more mana you deplete, and the worse you will feel,” Ran didn’t just seal her movements. She also released her homemade poison.
Ran glanced at Rikku. He didn’t fully understand what she did, but he knew they didn’t have much time. He straightened his posture, and then a wave of killing intent poured out from him. The temperature inside the tent dropped.
“Now, let’s have a little chat,” Rikku’s lips curved into a cruel grin.