Chapter 39 – I’ll stand by you
The princess was seething.
Ran sneered. “I’m going to give you a piece of advice because I’m a nice and gentle girl. Whatever you had planned, I’m sure you can do it with the rest of them. If, by sheer stupidity, you dare go after me, rest assured I will annihilate your moronic self along with your country and your equally fake God’s Avatar.” Ran walked to the apparition and looked down upon it. “This is just a suggestion, of course. I’d be happy to play with you. However, I’m way above your paygrade, little lady.”
Ran leaned close and raised her hand. “I’m not someone you can afford as an enemy.” She waved through the silhouette and dispersed it.
As the silhouette disappeared, the body of the high priest slumped down, lifeless. Ran snorted, and waved again. Threads of blood rose from the body and spun around an invisible wheel. She glanced at the woman huddled up in a dark corner and thought for a bit. Ilia was shivering on the ground, her mind muddled.
She used to think of herself as merciless and vicious. How naive! If she hadn’t been this arrogant and condescending, would she…
The maid didn’t finish her thought before a needle pierced her forehead. She died without a sound. Soon enough, her blood started to stream towards Kang Yune’s blood. until she was all dried up.
Ran had killed her former maid with a smidgen of impatience. The evening didn’t go as she’d imagined. She didn’t like to be involved in whatever conspiracy and hidden struggle of this world. In the end, she pursed her lips and sighed. It didn’t matter much. However, she doubted she could avoid it though. Even if she was to lay low for some time, she was aware of a very crucial detail about her and the other Otherworlders: they all possessed a very special aura. A hero aura. No matter what she would do, there would be no way she could escape this annoyingly noisy aura.
She smirked. If she couldn’t avoid it, then she would play along and make it even messier. Let’s see who’s prey and who’s the hunter! It’d been a while since she went wild. She heard rustling behind her. Rikku cancelled his magic and alongside Dorian and Parvian appeared in the tent. Their expressions were serious and somewhat grim.
“I…” Parvian didn’t even know how or what to say.
They’d heard and seen everything. Thanks to Rikku’s magic, the princess didn’t detect their presence. Still, they didn’t know how to wrap their heads around all these unexpected revelations.
“What now?” asked Dorian.
“We get the hell out of here.” Was Ran’s matter of fact reply.
“What about the ring?” Dorian frowned.
“Can’t we just cut the finger off and have a healer reattach?” asked Parvian.
“You can try.” Rikku shook his head as he busied himself with collecting Ilia’s soul. “However, the spell works with blood. At best, it will slow down the research. Your best shot is to go to an enemy country and figure out something from there. I guess, finding the mage association would be a good move.”
“We have to move fast. That Princess will surely send people to investigate. Do you guys have a map?”
Ran saw the elf nod.
“Go to the closest border. You can’t go back to Linestone city, perhaps you’ll be recognised.”
“You guys really don’t want to come with us?” Parvian couldn’t help asking.
Ran just smiled at him. She turned around and started to undress. As she shed her clothing, her body was morphing into a petite brunette. Pointy ears, pixie haircut and shiny grey eyes. She looked a tad younger with her baby face and freckles. She put on clothes befitting a mage and a large pointy hat. Dorian snorted at Ran’s new appearance.
“I get it. We’ll go our way, you’ll go yours.” He turned away to leave but paused at the door. “Are you going to kill that princess?”
“As long as she isn’t looking for death, nope.” Ran didn’t even think before answering.
“I’m not going to ignore the whole situation. I’ll find the ones behind this mess and make sure to settle all scores,” Dorian said as he clutched his fists tightly.
“What’s the point of looking for them?” Ran chuckled. “Did you forget? We are heroes. You should believe in your hero’s aura. There’s no need to look for trouble, whereas trouble will definitely be looking for you.”
“You’re right. Anyway. I hope we’ll never meet again.” Dorian left without looking back.
Ran was secretly startled at the sentence. Parvian sighed. He had so many things he wanted to say, to ask. He just shook his head in dejection.
He looked at the duo for the last time. “Thank you for everything.” He then followed after Dorian.
“They’re gone,” Rikku stated.
“Finally!” Ran undressed again. “Flat is justice, my ass!”
Her body morphed back into the Ran who’d arrived in this world. Fragile looking, long curly hair and hazel eyes.
“How many times can you change your appearance?” Rikku asked, with curiosity.
“I can actually only switch between 2,” Ran answered as she put on some leather pants. “Earlier was just something I picked up; I can’t use the skill for a long time.”
Rikku thought for a moment. “Does it have something to do with the blood you extract from people?”
“Smart!” Ran chuckled. “I can virtually absorb and learn any kind of skill from the blood I take. However, there’s a cap on how high my mastery over stolen skill is.”
“Convenient in a battlefield.”
“Battlefield? Haha, it’s convenient anywhere. I just need some drops of blood and most people won’t realise it because I just take away some of their efficiency over the skill. It’s not like I completely steal it.”
“That’s sly. Fits you well! Anyway, where to now?” he asked.
“I heard the red light district in Linestone is pretty nice.” Ran grinned.
Rikku waited for Ran to finish putting on her clothes in silence. He just watched her acting normal.
“Ready?” Ran asked.
Rikku grabbed her wrist and gathered her in his arms. Ran froze, not understanding what was going on.
“I got you now. You can cry.” Rikku squeezed her in a tight hug.
“You can let it go and cry now. You just survived your attempt. You don’t have to put on a strong front in front of me,” he explained, softly.
“I’m okay.” Ran began to struggle. “Let go.”
“Let go!” Ran started to be forceful.
She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to cry and crumble. She couldn’t let herself go.
“I’ll stand by you. I won’t let you fall back into the pit.”
Ran was agitated. “I don’t need your pity. Let me go!”
“I won’t.” He persisted. “Once, someone stuck with me like that. No matter how ugly I was, how broken I was, they held me tight.” He patted her head and tightened his grip on her. “I swore that day. If I can overcome it, I’ll do the same one day. No matter what.”
“I won’t crumble!” Ran bit down on Rikku’s shoulder. She didn’t want to be overwhelmed. She didn’t want to face the situation. She bit down with force and drew blood. However, Rikku didn’t even flinched.
“There’s no shame in being alive. There’s no shame in being broken. There’s no shame in being you.”
“SHUT IT!” She struggled harder but couldn’t break free.
“You don’t have to apologise for being yourself. You don’t have to apologise for being broken-”
“You don’t have to apologise for being alive. You deserve a chance too.”
“You’ve done your best.”
“You’ve worked hard enough.”
“You can rest now.”
“I see you. I’ll stand by you.” He kept comforting her.
Rikku continued reassuring her gently until she couldn’t hold on anymore and crumbled. She cried. She really cried. Her tears came from deep within, from the place she’d tried so hard to seal away. She let herself go for the first time in thousands of years. She cried for her broken heart and tormented soul. She cried for the one she missed. She cried for the one she couldn’t save. She cried for the memories of the happier times she had forgotten.
Slowly, Rikku felt the change in Ran. He felt her weight in his arms and her tears on his chest. He felt a truly heartbroken woman who bore more than she could, for far too long. He felt the weight of her feelings and regrets; her darkness and the depth of her despair. He didn’t know what happened before and didn’t really care. He only wanted to support her, offer her some release.
He tightened his embrace and buried his nose in her neck. His heart was dripping. He was once the one crying. He was once the one hurting. He was once the one ashamed to be left behind. He was once saved by a tight embrace.
‘I’ll stand by your side until the end. I got you. You can breathe now.’