Chapter 17:

Volume 1, Chapter 13: Desire of the Azure Cherry Blossom

Parable of the Renegades


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AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Hi! Jio Kurenai here!

Sorry for taking a while to publish this. Work and a few days of confining myself to bed due to sickness made me adjust my schedule. With the amount of time that passed, the gap between this chapter and the previous one took almost the same amount of days as my hiatus, so it's just like I went on another one. T_T

Well, it's here now! This chapter takes place at the same time as chapter 12, but focuses on someone else! Hope you enjoy this character getting the spotlight for now!

By the way, I'm giving myself a new rule. As you may know, I have written some of Rio's dialogue in Japanese (or in this world's case, Nihango). From now on, I will only write the Japanese dialogue whenever Rio talks in that language and there happens to be a nearby listener who doesn't understand it (Like Lucas). In moments where Rio is alone, her dialogue will be written in English, but story-wise, she is speaking in her mother tongue. They will be distinguished with Japanese quotation marks (「」). So far, I think I've been consistent with this rule even before I came up with it so I just decided to roll with it!

As usual free to leave a comment below. It can be anything like a random question, a comment for fun or any constructive criticism to help me improve!

A "LIKE" would definitely be appreciated too!

P.S: I was reading some random manga online and I found a character who resembles Lucas almost the exact way I imagined him in my head! The manga is called "Munou na Nana" (Talentless Nana), and Lucas' doppelganger is named "Kyouya Onodera." You can find him as early as chapter 1!

Now that I think about it, while he's got Lucas' looks almost down to a tee, his full name resembles Rio's family name (Kyouya Onodera / Rio Kiyodera). The coincidence here is too scary since the English version of this manga was posted on Kissmanga on June 7, 2017, and I created Lucas and Rio years ago!

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Shortly after seeing Lucas Thorne off from his home, Rio Kiyodera continued to gaze at him from behind a window while Lucas rolled his feet across the streets of Falcon Rock as he headed toward the bus stop for school. Once Lucas disappeared from her sight, Rio began to act on her own accord.

For the time being, she didn't think she could do anything to satisfy the boredom that shrouded her while staying in Lucas' home. Moving or hiding a few objects in the house came to mind, but it wouldn't be worth it. Even though Lucas had already warned her that he will know if she doesn't leave his house as it already was, she knew he was just trying to keep her on her toes. And even if she decided to do it anyway, what can he hope to do?

[Rio's Fourth Law: Broken Vow], reminds him to watch his tongue. In the case that Lucas does anything in Rio's awareness to imply that he will cease his progress to kill the seven targets Rio forced upon him, the [Law] will stay true to its conditions and kill him without taking Rio's own feelings into account.

[Rio's Third Law: Reaper's Embrace], was the biggest factor that gave Rio the advantage. A few seconds of skin-to-skin contact was all that would be needed for Lucas to be down on his knees, while Rio herself would find herself standing dominant and rejuvenated.

Just those two [Laws] were enough, and they weren't even half of what Rio had in her arsenal.

And even if she had no [Laws], Rio already possessed the perfect counter to Lucas' preferred fighting style. Despite his years of experience in combat, Lucas was absolutely clueless on how to fight on the ground. If he were to ever try anything suspicious on her, Rio could easily hold him down in many ways and eventually force him into surrendering.

She didn't need to tell herself twice. Rio had already confirmed for herself when she first assaulted him in his room that with the way they are now, she will always come out on top.

It wasn't long before she soon left the Thorne / Nightingale residence behind, locking the front door before closing it behind her. She mused that even though Lucas had already taken what could be the last key to the house (the other one was definitely with Rea), it wouldn't matter to her even if she returned to the house first. After all, she did have her fateful encounter with Lucas the previous night by entering his room uninvited through its window.

Out into the open, Rio glanced upon the residential village of Falcon Rock in broad daylight. She was so focused on chasing Lucas the previous night that she didn't realize how similar their living conditions were. She started to see the differences as she hiked on the sidewalk, over to the outside of the village and onto the steep road, which will lead her to the path toward the town of Cameron's Feint

Just like her, Lucas also resided in a house located on a mountaintop, where a nearby mass of structures was easy to view from the village. The high altitude of its location meant the weather was quite chilly too, so long as it was windy. Despite the wool sweater Rio was wearing, she could still go under the sun without feeling its heat.

But unlike her, Falcon Rock had several houses that shared the same design and color, looking like several basic shapes put together and a specific number embedded outside to show whose house it belonged to. Residences in Nihan had no houses that were copies of each other and they had family names embedded outside instead. The Kiyodera residence was no exception.

The close proximity between neighboring houses was notable too. While the Kiyodera residence had neighbors as well, they certainly weren't found right next door. This distance between houses greatly benefited Rio as it primarily prevented arousing suspicion for her job as an assassin and her status as a [Renegade]. Outsiders were, under normal circumstances, kept far away from the range of Rio's [Influence] which covered an approximately 5-meter radius around her.

The distance wasn't the only reason Rio chose to live away from the city. Nihan's population had a greater ratio in favor of the elderly to the youth. Most of those in old age preferred to live a peaceful life where they could do as they please without many disturbances, hence the isolated and quiet countryside in the mountains was considered the perfect place to live. Their advanced age also led them to be less active, keeping them from staying interested in investigating anything strange and making them see Rio as just a young girl who liked to live far from industrialized civilization.

Down the steep road, Rio enjoyed an effortless walk as she kept herself close to her right. She walked down next to a long steel guard rail that prevented anyone from accidentally falling off into the ocean as cars or other vehicles passed her, driving over the road in either direction.

The behavioral differences between Lucas' and Rio's home nations began to show itself right on her face. A few of the passerby that drove these vehicles displayed behaviors that Rio found to be strange, right as they passed her.

Some cars honked their horns twice or thrice as they drove by. One person driving an Acura lowered his window and shot her a wolf-whistle, distracting her for a second and making her turn to the source. As the car sped away to continue climbing the road toward Falcon Rock, Rio could have sworn that she heard the car's driver playfully bump his fist to the shoulder of the person who rode next to him in the passenger's seat while exclaiming, "She looked at me! She looked right at me!"

「Haa?」

She sure wasn't expecting a total stranger to do that. Good thing he wasn't driving on a curved road if he was going to keep his eyes off it, even if for just a moment.

As she continued to walk, the road beneath Rio's feet gradually transitioned from steep to flat. To her right, she took a glance with pleasant emotions once more. She looked and listened to the sounds of seagulls squawking as they flew around the area, and ocean waves resembling a stampede of horses, crashing to a beach with white sands. A wooden cottage stood on a platform of the same material that was supported by four short, but thick pillars driven into the sand.

Rio looked at a nearby sign and learned the name of the place. This was the beach known as Moonlight Shores.

In Nihan, going to a beach was a bit of a hassle. On the rare days they would ever visit a beach, Rio, and her sister, Yakumo had no choice but to commute there by train. It wasn't a straightforward trip, the two sisters had to switch to other trains once or twice thanks to Nihan's complex railway system, which was staple knowledge to getting around the nation.

Even after they got to the beach, only Yakumo would vanish into the crowds of people. The emotional trigger of Rio's [Influence] led others to start feeling really bold. A few even became so bold to the point that they committed acts, not meant to be seen by those who weren't ready, in public. Soon enough, some children who witnessed these acts asked questions that gave their parents a figurative heart attack. Simply put, Rio's [Influence] and the beach with all its visitors clad in revealing swimsuits were not a good mix.

As such on these beach days, Rio (who has yet to ever wear a swimsuit), always kept her distance at least five meters away from any other beach-goers. It's not like she had any special concern for others; she just wanted the world around her to revolve normally like she was just another human being.

And it's not like her sister was immune to the effects of her [Influence] either. For some reason, all Yakumo could feel was the joy of seeing her sister again whenever she entered Rio's [Influence], like whenever she arrived home after a hard day in middle school. The different ways her [Influence] can affect people was something Rio had yet to understand about one of her latent abilities as a [Renegade].

Since visiting a beach was easy for once, Rio decided to take what she thought to be a quick stop at Moonlight Shores. After rolling up her pants up to just below her knees, Rio took off her rubber sandals and held on to them with a single hand. One by one, she sunk her bare feet into the white sand, feeling its cooling sensation as her feet went in deeper. She began to wade toward the cottage. The weather felt a bit hotter for Rio as she had now descended from a mountain. It was a little better.

Unbeknownst to Rio, the cottage was the same clinic that Lucas would frequent to have his injuries treated. After climbing four wooden stairs that creaked a bit with every step, she knocked on the clinic's hollow door then tried to turn its knob to open it. Nobody answered, and the door was apparently locked.

Now looking behind and at her surroundings, Rio found the beach to be practically empty. No one appeared to be in sight and there didn't seem to be many cars compared to earlier. For the time being, the place was her's and her's alone.

A maddening enthusiasm slowly built up and took over her. With a powerful first step, Rio kicked a cloud of sand behind her as she started to run across the shores with incredible speed while bursting into gales of laughter like never before. Rio ran with all her might and took great pleasure in the wind hitting her face and flowing deep into the silk of her long raven hair, which swayed and spread out along with the breeze's direction. While she ran, she occasionally performed movements she never expected herself to be good at such as a short dance of pirouetting on one heel. As she spun like a tornado, her hair twirled with her like a festival ribbon as a small sand cloud circulated around her knees.

The distance Rio ran eventually led her to discover what lay in the far ends of the beach. Over there was a seclusive area hidden below the cliff-like mountain where Falcon Rock was built; a cave eroded by years of countless waves crashing onto a piece of the mountain. In the dark cave supplied with a little light from outside, countless spikes called stalactites and stalagmites hung down from the ceiling and rose from the parts of the floor, respectively. A small river formation from the entrance allowed some seawater to form a small waterway which after getting filtered through countless rocks in the path, led to a small lake inside the cave.

The cave was the perfect sanctuary for her. Rio already knew she was alone even when she was in the beach's public area, but now she has truly hidden herself away from the eyes of everyone for sure. No one will know of her recent actions and no one will ever find any evidence.

All that nonstop running caked her clothes to her skin thanks to sweating a honey nectar-like moisture. Rio figured it was only logical to get rid of her perspiration before she could begin exploring the nearby town of Cameron's Feint.

Even though it wasn't actually happening, she felt like her [Influence] was arousing her emotions when a mischievous smile worked its way onto her face. No one was going to see her. After dropping her sandals onto a part of the cave with a stone floor, Rio let out a somewhat devious snicker as she hooked her fingers into the waistband of her pants and gently pulled it down before lifting one thin but toned leg after the other, out of it.

Next, she crossed her hands down at the hem of her sweater, gripping it. Slowly, she pulled it all the way up until she felt the cool air caressing her back.

In a manner, like she was letting herself move without any concern for time, Rio disrobed herself from articles of her clothing until she was left vulnerable. She was wearing nothing, but the eyepatch in her right eye and her snow-white undergarments.

The breeze touching her body felt soothing, but also a bit stimulating. She couldn't hold it in much longer...

*Hah...hmn...*

...Even though she was alone, Rio couldn't help, but wrap her arms around herself as she panted and tried to suppress the quiet moan that barely escaped her lips.

For once Rio felt so pathetic instead of the usual superiority she exuded for letting that sound come out. In her mind, she advised herself that Lucas must never know about this, lest he starts thinking that she can no longer walk over him.

Although Rio's current attire consisted of a sweater and stretch pants, she only wore the modern clothing to blend into foreign society without standing out. Her actual preference leaned more on traditional Nihan outfits and it was a couple of these old-fashioned clothing that she wore as undergarments.

Her chest was constricted down to appear smaller than its actual size with a sarashi, long strips of white bandage-like cloth, made of cotton, meant to be wrapped tight around her. Down there, she wore a white string loincloth called a fundoshi. Her undergarments covered only the bare minimum, exposing more than an eyeful of Rio's ivory pale skin save for her nether regions. They helped to prevent restricting movement but were very revealing in exchange.

After she folded the clothes she discarded and placed them on top of each other, Rio was struck hard with a sense of freedom...

...No, "liberation" was the more suitable word.

Approaching the cavern's lake, she dipped her toes into the surprisingly clear water to test its temperature.

It's lukewarm... Just right...

Rio took several steps into the lake pool. Every few of those steps, the water gradually consumed more of her until it was deep enough to reach up to her waist. Feeling that she walked far enough, she dove in hands first like an Olympic swimmer, using the sensation of being submerged underwater to clear her thoughts and loosen up. Even when she swam underwater, Rio made sure to stay close to the surface as cave water consisted of layers that went from fresh water on the surface to impure and dense salt water at the very bottom.

When she came up for air seconds later, Rio whipped her hair and cocked her head backward. Its fluid movement accompanied by countless particles of water formed an arc similar to the shape of a crescent moon. This scene, combined with Rio's slender figure would have made a nice photo for many reasons had someone managed to capture this moment, but alas, she was all alone, and she wanted it that way for the time being. Speaking of time, her track of it was lost as Rio let go of herself and allowed the lake's water to carry her around, wherever it pleased.

After who knows how long much time had already passed, as Rio lay outstretched and floating over the lake's surface, she realized that her attention to enjoyment on the beach and in the cave lake had run its course. During the time she had been trying to have fun, she fantasized playing on the beach and having fun, not just with her sister, but also with her friends. Those nine girls in charming bikinis she called friends. Those faceless apparitions she called friends...

They had no faces because Rio had no one to remember.

She never had any friends.

Rio shut herself away from all her peers because her [Influence] and [Laws] often led her to unneeded trouble. When she told Lucas that only her friends and family can call her by her given name, she only told half of a truth. And even though her sister, Yakumo was allowed to address her as such, she always called her "Onee-chan" out of familial respect. With what happened earlier that morning, Lucas was currently the only person to call her "Rio."

「I knew it, but didn't believe it at first...」 She stared at the cave's spiky ceiling with nothing but melancholy in her eye. 「It really is boring to frolic like this... when you do it alone.」

Rio came to this epiphany, which she realized after doing something so carefree.

The only company she had in the cave was the sounds of water droplets cascading down the stalactites then creating ripples as they hit the surface of the lake.

Her mood spiraled down. She felt like she stayed long enough. With a stroke of her arms assisted with quick paddle kicks, Rio glided herself across the lake's surface until she could take a step out of the lake. She used her hands to scrape off most of the water from her skin and wring out most of the water absorbed by her hair as she walked back to where she left the rest of her clothes. When she considered herself to be dry enough, she put her sweater, stretch pants and sandals back on then returned to where she last left off before making this detour, walking this time.

Back on the road that led to Cameron's Feint, Rio found the sun to be positioned around the center of the clear blue sky. She didn't need a clock to tell her the time, it had just become the afternoon meaning she spent a combined time of about four hours at the beach and in the sea cave. By this time, she would already be late for school back in Nihan, but Rio didn't care that much. Unlike Lucas, nothing bad would happen to her if she was absent for a day or two. And besides, her academic records were far from abysmal.

After she walked into the inner boundaries, Rio found herself back in the town of Cameron's Feint. The very town she traveled to complete her original assignment, which was to assassinate the hooded figure now revealed to be known as Fenris. It was also here that she met the person she would delegate this task to in exchange for the preservation of his life, Lucas Thorne. It had only been a day since all of this happened, but for some reason, Rio couldn't help but feel nostalgic.

As she walked the streets, crossing roads and intersections while glancing at what the town had to offer, Rio kept her distance from most people whenever possible. She passed through an arcade, clothing stores and many restaurants, each one specializing in serving different varieties of cuisine. She stopped to look at one that appeared to use a bigger venue than the others.

Trattoria Ponzos? I think the food there is from Italia. Must very expensive there too.

Soon enough, she passed by other restaurants that originated from other nations. Germain, Xina, Francisca, Kanada and even Nihan were some examples of cuisine that was available around Cameron's Feint. Although she had some interest in trying one of them out, Rio currently didn't have any money with her, and her body clock was telling her it was not yet time to eat thanks to the different time zones between Sarkansas and Nihan.

During her exploration around town, Rio caught sight of what seemed to be a familiar entrance. It was one of the many gaps in between the mass of structures that spread throughout the town.

With the sun still being out around this time of day, the alleyways no longer resembled a dark place where anything could happen. Still, the narrow corridors and unclean environment depicted the alleyways to appear as an unsafe place to a point. Despite that, it was also in the alleyways that Rio felt her [Influence] may not cause unnecessary trouble.

Into one of the many entrances she went, Rio had no idea where she was going, but she had all the time in the world anyway. She was searching for something....

...And then she found it. In a part of the alleyway where she stood, what lay in front of Rio was the scene of the crime from the previous night. A dumpster that was cut clean in half from her katana laid flat with garbage spewing out near the walls. Splatters of blood that had already dried up painted part of the walls and the ground like graffiti, but there were no bodies in sight.

This was why Rio took a bit of time to pursue Fenris then Lucas after she killed the Knights of Viola, who all stood in her way. She needed to dispose of the bodies first before dealing with the alleyway's maze-like structure. Looking at the scene now with a little bit of sunlight, Rio began to ponder when will the local authorities start investigating the Knight's disappearance. Will the dried blood be suitable evidence? What about the dumpster? The clean bisection it received would surely be suspicious.

Her thoughts to herself were interrupted when Rio discovered that she was no longer alone. Turning herself around, Rio found a quartet of troublemakers behind her. They consisted of four young men, each with different builds and ethnicity. None of them wore the same choice of clothing, but it still felt like they were uniform. A combination of beanies, baseball caps, jackets, jerseys, baggy pants and rubber shoes was what these hooligans wore.

"Hey there." The tallest member of the quartet greeted her. "You lost, little lady? You sure don't look like you're from around here."

"I am fine," Rio answered with a bit of a scowl. "And yes, I am not from around here, but I can find my way out, thank you. So if you will excuse me, I will be on my way--"

"Whoa there!" The hooligan butted in. "Not from around here, you say? You know this place can be dangerous for anyone who's alone."

"I can take care of myself," Rio told them, but the hooligans weren't listening.

"You know, not only can we help you out of here, but we can also land you a nice job if you're looking for work. Our boss is interested in kittens like you."

"Well, I am not interested," Rio said, concluding that she was being seen as eye candy. "Besides... I... already have a boyfriend..."

She lied after a bit of hesitation but went through with it as it was the best option to throw the hooligan's interest in her, away.

"Oh, so you're taken? I don't think your boyfriend will mind once he learns what we can do to those who try to resist! Besides, how can I go away when I feel like I'm in total heat right now! You guys feel the same?"

““"Yeah!"”” His fellow hooligans agreed in tandem.

At first, Rio thought that was just their nature as boys and can be talked out of it with the right words but then she noticed something else. The quartet of hooligans appeared to be standing within five meters away from her, meaning they were in the range of her [Influence]. In Rio's case, her [Influence] triggered an emotion Lucas described as "climatic happiness", or in other words, feelings of stimulation. The fact that [Influences] had to be constantly active unless one wanted serious drawbacks made Rio curse herself for having to live with such a thing.

This isn't good. My [Influence] is just doing its job, but that's why it can be so inconvenient.

It was already stated that a [Renegade's] [Influence] will automatically trigger a specific emotion to anyone who steps within its range, but what happens if someone was already expressing that very emotion before they entered the [Influence]? The answer? They become madly driven, letting the now dominant emotion control their bodies without making them feel like anything is unusual. To them, it is just like following one's natural instincts.

*Hehehehe* “Boys... We just hit the jackpot!" the hooligan declared, raising a hand and snapping his fingers. "Let's knock her out, then we take her to the boss... after we finish playing around with her, that is!"

Right after his declaration, the hooligan charged toward Rio in a burst of speed, sprinting erratically like a madman. As the distance between them closed in, Rio knew what she had to do... and she couldn't help but feel euphoric for her failure in a peaceful closure.

She already tried to convince the hooligans to leave her be, but her best wasn't enough. Fleeing was also pointless. Even though she was probably fast enough to outrun these people, it may lead to unnecessary attention from civilians if she managed to find an exit out of the alleyway, and with it being like a maze, who knows where the exit was.

With her [Influence] being the one responsible for stimulating the hooligan quartet's behavior, they could no longer be negotiated with and they won't stop until they get what they want. Emotional triggers from an [Influence] may only be temporary but getting motivated by said [Influence] is a different story altogether. The only known way to stop the hooligans was to do so with force, and Rio was more than elated to oblige.

As an assassin, Rio always made sure that her targets were executed without warning and if possible, with a single strike from her katana. Rio had yet to break this rule.

She was very proficient in the art of Iaido, a discipline that emphasized being aware of one's surroundings and quickly drawing the sword in response. The style is associated with the smooth and precise movements of drawing the sword from its scabbard, striking or cutting an opponent, removing blood from the blade, and then replacing the sword back into the scabbard within a short gap of time.

Countless assignments have molded the young Nihanese girl to become very used to the sight of blood and the taking of another's life to the point that those no longer psychologically affected her. But another side of her began to develop itself alongside the persona she portrayed as an assassin.

Killing an unaware target with a one or a few strikes from her katana was becoming boring. A bloodthirsty hunger for hand-to-hand conflict became her closeted desire. One where Rio can fight without restraint to her heart's content and win the way she desires without much reliance on weapons.

Taking lives as an assassin was a job, not something meant for one who finds pleasure in killing. Rio didn't want herself or others see her as a blood knight, so she decided to suppress her urges and use violence only when she was left with no other options.

However, deep within her subconscious, Rio hoped that these kinds of situations would always end with her using her last resort.

Having finished confirming for herself that she was the victim under attack and with all peaceful options exhausted, Rio's psyche underwent a sudden and drastic change. She surged with an intense and cold darkness full of bloodlust unlike the side of her as an emotionless assassin. Her eyes sharpened, and her face became twisted with rapture. The look of a heartless being revealed itself.

The blame was on the effect of her [Influence], but in the end, the situation presented itself as Rio all alone, unarmed and about to be assaulted by four hooligans.

「I see... This is just self-defense...」 Rio whispered under her breath, malevolence mingling with her words.

Crackling noises reverberated as all of Rio's fingers flexed and contracted with sudden and erratic movements. The veins on the back of her hands swelled, becoming very visible to the naked eye.

Rio smiled cheerfully. Way too cheerfully.

Kami-sama, I thank you for another chance to deliver retribution upon the deserving!



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