Chapter 12 – Behind the mask
Rikku was flabbergasted. A weaver? What kind of job was that? He searched her face for clues. She told him the truth and he didn’t know what to do with it.
He could see her awkwardness and some apprehension. She clearly wanted to draw a line and push him away.
“I didn’t want to be part of this hero business and I love clothes, so I got that. According to Belle, my mana and skills aren’t even enough to register as an adventurer.”
She shook her head and explained, “I just want to be left alone. I can become a travelling weaver, going from city to city, have a small stall and sell what I do.” There was some expectations in her voice.
“Did you tell this to Belle?”
“I can feel she doesn’t really like me. Maybe, because I’m quite pathetic compared to you guys.”
Rikku remained silent. Once again, Ran had drawn a clear line between herself and the rest of them. A production class wasn’t bad in itself; the real problem was this one’s nature. If she was a blacksmith or anything that could support the rest of the group, then it’d be fine, but a weaver. What could a weaver do anyway?
Ran was quiet, enjoying the taste of tea while watching the scene outside. She watched the merchants yelling advertisements for their goods, and housewives haggling over them. She saw children with wandering hands running through the crowd. She gradually relaxed and lowered her guard.
Rikku was sitting still, barely breathing. He’d never been able to shake off the alarm he felt when he was with her. Even though he felt she’d told him the truth, he was still a bit unsettled. Without Ran noticing, he activated one of his skills. Slowly, as if he was merging with the shadows, his presence faded, and a serene atmosphere flooded the room.
Several minutes passed in complete silence. Bit by bit, Ran’s pitiful, childlike mask began to flake, and the temper underneath revealed itself. Bit by bit, the warm and moist eyes turned aloof and indifferent. The quivering lips were replaced by the shadow of a sly and mocking sneer. Ran’s head that’d been hanging low rose with pride. Her posture straightened and her aura changed, releasing a majesty he’d never seen from her before.
Rikku’s heart grew cold. If he hadn’t followed his instinct, he would’ve been fooled like everyone else. How deep is she hiding? What else has she concealed?
Ran suddenly frowned; something below had caught her attention. Rikku canceled his skill, and it was as if he’d popped out of nowhere. Ran jumped in surprise and spun around. She only saw Rikku drinking tea with leisure.
“Something happened below?” he asked with interest, leaning closer to the window.
Ran blinked fast and frowned. She quickly realised that Rikku had done something. She’d never lowered her guard, so for her to feel startled by someone right in front of her… Ran’s eyes narrowed as she stared. Rikku turned and stared back. The atmosphere grew tense and electric. The commotion below grew louder, getting Ran’s attention. She saw a big, bulky, crude man shake a little girl violently. He was tossing her around and the girl was howling in pain.
Ran jumped to her feet and, without caring about her image, hurried downstairs. The frigid glare she’d sent the man comforted Rikku’s mind. She was definitely not a harmless little thing. He clenched his fists, wondering what he should do. He observed the scene down below. Through the open window, he launched a chopstick that crashed against the man’s wrist. The man’s whole arm was thrown back. He stumbled in surprise, but he still didn’t release the little girl.
“Who did this? Who dares hurt me!”
The little girl was terrified, her small face drowned in tears and snot, and her thin arm had turned deep purple. Deep down, she realised that she was about to die.
Running as fast as she could, Ran stepped out and yelled at the top of her lungs, “Stop! What are you doing to her? Don’t you know shame, you asshole!”
She hurried over and put her hand on his arm, trying her best to shield the girl. She was relieved that she managed to arrive on time. If anything had happened to the little girl, she would’ve lost it completely. The man’s eyes were red, and seeing yet another woman with a confronting attitude made him snap. He raised his hand with force again, and again something was thrown out of the window. The other chopstick flew through the air and went through the man’s wrist like a knife through butter, severing the hand and leaving a crimson trail. A piercing shriek resounded through the market.
Ran took advantage of the situation and kicked the man in the nuts to make him yield. Finally, he released the thin arm in his grasp, and began to roll on the floor in pain. Ran took the girl in her arms and ran away through an alley before the guards had the time to come over asking questions. She sat the girl down and examined her.
“How do you feel? Where does it hurt?” She saw the deep purple bruise and her heart turned colder.
The little girl was still crying a river. Ran’s heart softened. She sighed softly and reassured the child the best she could. She sat down on a wooden crate nearby and put the girl on her lap, massaging the bruised arm.
As the fingers roamed on her frail arm, the little girl felt warmth spreading through her body. She felt really comfortable and safe in the hands of this strange big sister. Little by little, the purple bruise lightened. The little one had stopped sobbing but her eyes were puffy and face a mess. Ran took out a small wet towel and cleaned the child’s face, shoulders, and arms. She kept on telling the child how brave she was and how everything was going to be alright.
“Don’t worry, he won’t hurt you again. I swear,” reassured Ran.
The child nodded. Ran smiled, took out a bag filled with sweetbreads, a small vial of ointment, 1 Gold coin, and some silvers. She put it in the magic bag Belle had given her and gifted it to the little girl.
“Go back home. Nothing is broken so you should be fine after some rest. Eat the bread with your family and use the money to buy you some pretty clothes. Alright?”
The child nodded again. She gave Ran a big hug in gratitude and even managed to squeeze out a bright smile. Ran ruffled her hair and sent her away. She watched the child run out without moving an inch.
“Thank you for earlier.”
Ran turned and faced the man who’d been lurking around. Rikku walked out of the shadows and stood a couple of steps away from her. His expressionless face showed that he was guarded around her.
“However,” Ran spoke, “I don’t really appreciate being played around with. What you did at the Restaurant wasn’t cool.”
“Says the scheming hypocrite!”