Chapter 14 – Conspiracy
Ran stretched lazily in the water before answering, “ Did you seal the room?” Ran saw Rikku nod, then continued, “I guess there is no point in playing games anymore. My original plan was to stay low-key and discreetly disappear along the way. Alone.”
“Aren’t you well prepared?” Rikku asked in suspicion.
“As if you weren’t.”
Rikku sipped on his wine. He did have a scheme or two.
“How are you going to slip away?”
“As a “weak human”, everyone’s betting on me dying on our way to the Capital,” Ran smirked.
“You are a weak human?” Rikku sneered.
“Don’t confuse ability and attitude. I have a big attitude but only mediocre abilities.”
“We could choose and create our own skills and abilities. Based on your personality, there is no way you would do something that would put yourself at a disadvantage,” he asked in suspicion.
“You’re not right, yet you’re wrong either,” Ran refilled her cup. “But being at a disadvantage early on isn’t a bad thing, you know.”
Rikku was puzzled. Even if she feigned weakness, being actually weak would definitely end her.
“The issue, Darling, is that you think you had a choice to begin with.” She readjusted herself in the bathtub. “Think about it. How could a so-called god’s avatar let you create whatever you want without any regard for the balance of this world?” She mocked.
“You’re pushing your conspiracy theory too far,” Rikku said in astonishment.
“Far? Do you have any idea how difficult it is to travel through worlds?” Ran waved her hand. “Of course not. Why would you? This is real life; it’s not one you those stories you read when you’re bored. The energy needed to transfer a soul can barely be covered by the sacrifice of 10 mages. Summoning 12 souls with less than 20 mages with only 7 deaths?” Ran laughed out loud. She reclined on the edge of the bathtub. “Alright, let’s say, they use the mana in those linestones statues. Why would they go as far as to give us a new body and let us create our own abilities? Isn’t that too OP?” She materialised some pastries, nibbled on them and let Rikku think about what she just said.
He didn’t want to admit it, but she had a point. Summoning these many people in the middle of nowhere and devoting precious time to bring them back to the Capital was already suspicious. He had never considered that part with the god’s avatar. Sure, no amount of stories and light novels could prepare one for this kind of experience. It’s so surreal, but still… Rikku paced around the bathroom with his eyebrows tightly squeeze together.
“What do you think are they planning?”
Ran shrugged, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” She pushed her fingers through her hair to untangle them. “This world could be set ablaze and I wouldn’t care less.”
“You are ready to kill and see people get killed? Rikku was astonished after hearing Ran’s declaration.
“People. They’re born, they live, and they die every single day. I didn’t care about people back there; why would I care about them here? I already told you I didn’t want to take part in this hero business. I’m not nice, you know. You shouldn’t expect anything from me.”
“We are strangers in a strange world after all. I understand your point,” Rikku sighed after studying the young woman.
They stayed silent for a while as their thoughts danced with the faint echoes of footsteps.
“You said it’s suspicious because they let us create our own abilities. Why?” Rikku finally spoke.
“Balance is a fragile thing,” Ran started, throwing Rikku a glance. “A world like Earth began to wither because it broke its balance with nature. In this magic-dependent world, someone too powerful could disrupt the balance. Just one hero is enough to shake the balance of several countries, but there are 12 of us in here. From what we’ve seen, only one force had secretly summoned us. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s definitely way bigger than what we could think of,” she explained.
Rikku was still pacing around in sullen silence. Suddenly, he stopped dead in his tracks.
“How do you know how hard it is to travel through worlds?” He stared at Ran, realization finally dawning on him.
Ran eluded the question with a wave of her hand, “Like I was saying earlier, I am but a weak human.”
“Why did you do that?” He asked.
“Because if I were to try and fool whoever is behind all this, it would be extremely difficult. Aside from the spies who guard us, they play many tricks. For example, enchanting the money purse was just a trick to hide the fact that they already placed a tracking mark on us.”
Ran stood up and stepped out of the tub not minder her audience. Rikku’s ears turned red yet he did not turn his head away. Ran raised an eyebrow and smiled with a hint of mischief. Rikku understood that she was trying to play around so he stared back and check her naked body from head to toe with indifference.
“We aren’t in the same team,” he spoke glumly.
“Boring!” Ran rolled her eyes with exaggeration. “The food they gave us has side effects. It’s not poison but an agent that will make us… more willing to follow orders,” she explained while drying her hair and body. Then she threw a glass bottle to the young man. “Here. It will help solve the side effect,” she spoke while slipping into a loose silk robe.
“What’s this?” Rikku examined the liquid inside the bottle.
“Water from the pond and some other stuff,” Ran explained.
“When did you-?” Rikku raised an eyebrow.
Ran chuckled. Rikku squinted his eyes.
“You fell in on purpose,” Rikku stated, partly shocked and partly accusing.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ran shrugged as she stood in front of the mirror. “As for a plan, I-” Ran stopped mid-sentence as she caught a gleam on the mirror while she was fixing her robe.
She blinked rapidly as she made a subtle gesture with her hands to signal Rikku to withdraw in the dark. With a blank expression on her face, she combed her hair and prepared herself, making sure Rikku wasn’t reflected in the mirror. When she turned around, she beamed at Rikku like a teenager in love before rushing over to him in the shadows and throwing herself in his embrace.
Pushing the man to a faintly distinguishable distance from the mirror’s reflection, she hugged him and buried her head in his neck. “Someone’s watching.”