Chapter 18:

Volume 1, Chapter 14: The Birth of Ruri'iro no Sakura

Parable of the Renegades


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AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Hi! Jio Kurenai here!

I was re-reading some of my previous chapters and noticed a few inconsistencies so I would like to address them now.

*Rio's eye patch officially covers her right eye. I've been inconsistent with which eye it covers lately so this should clear it up now. I also edited some of the past chapters to fix that... Hopefully.

*Rio's name is now written in Kanji as 「莉桜」. It used to be written as 「里桜」. There was no significance to the way it was written until this chapter came along.

*Similar to Rio, Yakumo's name is now written in Kanji as 「八雲」. Back then, it was written as「弥雲」.

Now then, on with this chapter. It doesn't continue from where the previous chapter ended but this part and the continuation of that cliffhanger were supposed to be together in one chapter. I just decided later on to split them apart because I prefer to divide my chapters by significant events one at a time instead of cramming so much into one. The real conclusion to chapter 13 is being edited because I'm still not satisfied with how I wrote it as of now. I promise the waiting time for it won't be as long as how I usually make so I hope you'll be patient.

Last but not least, I'm digging the new system here on Honeyfeed. I hope it will encourage readers and authors alike to support each other more. To be awarded a gold badge right after I was introduced to it gave me motivation and also insomnia. T_T

As usual, feel 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! YOU WILL BE HELPING YOURSELF AS WELL!

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The birth of Rio Kiyodera (清寺莉桜) did not lead to a call for the celebration of new life.

As she was held up in the hands of the midwife who assisted her mother in her birth, Rio's arms and legs dangled loosely without moving a single millimeter. Her intense cries sounded more like she was in excruciating pain rather than that of a healthy newborn. Partially because of a few mishaps in her delivery, Rio was born with several of her bones already broken.

It was considered a miracle that she managed to survive, but there was a consequence for continuing to cling on to dear life. Rio had no choice but to spend most of her childhood as a weak, frail, and very prone to sickness girl.

Her parents still loved her despite her poor condition, but it also became apparent that they still wanted a healthier child with as Rio was incapable of helping them around the house.

Three years later, Rio's younger sister, Yakumo Kiyodera (清寺八雲) was born. Unlike her older sister, Yakumo was born brimming with energy. She was judged to be perfectly healthy and based on the firm grip she exerted when holding on to the midwife's middle finger, she was incredibly strong for a baby and she only continued to get better with age. Their parents took this as a sign that Yakumo's excellent condition was meant to be an apology from the heavens above for the sickly birth of their first daughter.

While Yakumo was already walking and running before she turned one, Rio, even after almost a decade, still required a stick or a cane to assist her with walking. Because she could hardly move around, most of Rio's time every day was spent at home. She was confined to a futon in the Kiyodera residence's main room where the family heirloom, an ancient katana called, “Kaguya” rested upon a nearby wooden mount designed to hold the blade and its scabbard when not in use. The weapon was always by her side like it was ready to cut down anyone to protect her.

With her unable to perform much physical activity without falling from exhaustion, the part of her body that Rio used the most were her eyes. They were always darting in directions without conscious decisions, scanning to the limits the environment of her room and the world outside. Her eyes would do the traveling instead of her legs by reading the words from as many books as she could get her hands on and to learn more about the outside world she couldn't see.

Every time she found it difficult to fall asleep, Rio would turn her head to the left. Her futon was positioned next to a sliding door that was intentionally left open for most of the time. This allowed Rio to at least breathe some fresh mountain air and gaze at the view of the Zen garden outside. The garden itself was beautiful, but with the Kiyodera residence having a concrete wall built around it, Rio eventually found the scenery to be dull after looking at it every day.

But every season of Spring, Rio would find herself fascinated by what peaked behind the walls. A tree was growing pink petals that would take seven days to bloom and seven more days to keep its beauty intact. After those two weeks, they would slowly wither, but not before they were blown off their branches by the wind to swirl and scatter, performing one last dance before their time could come to an end.

They were called "Sakura", also known as "Cherry Blossoms.” Very beautiful, but also very fragile.

It was from one of the books she read that Rio would later find out more about this elusive flower. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that the characters that made her name was more than just her identity.

莉 (Ri) was written with the same Kanji character as "White Jasmine," the flower that symbolizes beauty, love, and sensuality. 桜 (o) was the same character for "Cherry Blossoms." Her connection to delicate flowers felt like a revelation.

Rio was inspired, especially by the Cherry Blossoms, on how they were symbolic of the fleeting nature of life. To her, the short lifespan of a Cherry Blossom was a message that told her to live like she was dying. If she was going to live long, but bedridden, Rio felt like her life would be more akin to torture. Instead, she began to pray once a day every day for the strength to live a short life to the fullest even if it meant living for just a few more years.

Then sometime after she turned nine-years-old, Rio's right eye started to see things differently. Color began to become rare in its sight, seeing mostly black, gray and white. This contrasted with her left eye, which still saw things in color but also began to see things beyond matter.

She called her parents and sister, asking them if something was wrong with her eyes. Indeed, something was wrong... beautifully wrong. Rio's eyes seemed to have undergone a strange kind of mutation. The color of both eyes changed from the typical dark brown to that reminiscent of sapphire. A fascinating azure blue.

When her parents and sister first laid eyes on the metamorphosis, the three of them were struck with happiness that Rio couldn't comprehend - they were like this even before they saw the aesthetic difference in her eyes. Now they believed that in exchange for Rio being born with a weak body, she would be compensated for it with natural alluring beauty as she grew older. Another belief in the heavens above.

Rio would consciously keep her right eye shut later because the differences in seeing the world in color and without it at the same time led to painful migraines after long periods of use.

Life eventually went back to normal after that... that is until Rio's prayer for strength was given an answer.

A few days not long after the Cherry Blossoms of the year had wilted away, the then ten-year-old Rio was woken abruptly in the middle of the night by the scream of a man and woman tearing through every room in the house. A common thief had taken advantage of the house's secluded location and old-fashioned design, allowing him to break in easily without much of an effort.

Rio's weak and frail body expressed its difficulty in responding to her will. As she slowly forced herself to stand, she could do nothing else but listen to the pained wails of her parents getting stabbed with a knife until they fell silent. They did what they could to protect their two children, but their unpreparedness led to the thief killing them without much of a struggle.

By the time Rio was finally able to stand upright, the thief had already stolen several of her family's possessions from the other rooms and was just about to open the door to the room she stayed in during her confinement. When the two sliding doors to the room were thrown open, in front of the thief's eyes was Rio, her eyes shut while desperately trying to keep herself standing by clinging on to the grip of Kaguya, the family heirloom katana she had just taken down from the mount near her futon.

It was unsheathed, the blade plunged into the tatami mat below as Rio tried to use it as a cane. The thief took notice of how frequently Rio tried to catch her breath and appeared to be struggling as if her own two legs could barely support her. At first, he deduced her to be too weak for him to bother. Then he saw the gleam in her sapphire eyes when she opened them, and that told him a different story. The room, mostly devoid of light, was dark, but the luminescent, sharp and vengeful glare Rio cast upon him gave off the chilling warning that as weak as she may be, she might just be able to call upon the strength needed to kill him even if for just a few seconds at best.

Anxiety took over the thief. He decided that he had stolen enough and made his escape through the house's front door. The still-struggling Rio tried to follow him but baby steps were the best she could accomplish. She collapsed to the ground shortly after taking some steps outside and losing sight of the thief.

Before she lost consciousness due to exhaustion, Rio cursed herself for being too weak to protect her family and for letting the thief get away. Her anger made her feel like she could destroy anything, but despite that, her body continued to remain unresponsive.

Hours later as the sun started to rise, a young man passing by on his way to work found Rio lying still on the road and rushed to her aid. First, he confiscated the katana next to her as it was a dangerous weapon that children shouldn't be playing with. Then he took a firm grip on Rio's hand and tried to help her up.

Immediately after their hands came into contact, Rio was forced awake and struck in awe as she felt a massive surge of new life flowing into her. Moving any part of her body was no longer painful or difficult. She was rapidly gaining the strength she prayed for and gripped the man's hand harder. Her zeal was all she had in her mind, making her oblivious to the fact that the man who tried to help her was screaming in excruciating pain. After tens of seconds, Rio pushed her legs off the ground and stood up straight without the need for assistance. As she reached new heights and felt herself to be lighter, Rio couldn't help but be enamored with her newfound strength, not noticing anything else until it was too late.

The man whose hand she had gripped onto had been reduced into a withered prune of himself like the cherry blossoms at the end of their lifespan.

It was then that Rio came to a realization. She now had the power to absorb vitality in order to invigorate her weak body, but it had to be done at the expense of others.

Leaving the now lifeless man behind with a short prayer in the middle of the road, Rio rushed back to her home after retrieving her katana. It was short, but she was finally able to run for the first time in her life.

The moment of bliss ended abruptly when she found Yakumo sitting in the corner of their parent's room, hugging her knees close to her chest and crying near the corpses of their parents, who were all covered in stab wounds. The sympathetic Rio wished to comfort her sister with an embrace she couldn't do before, but this new power brought her to paranoia. She feared it would only hurt Yakumo more. Then there was also the loudness of Yakumo's sobbing. Words felt useless to her as well. In the end, Rio slowly slid the door toward the wall until it quietly shut and left her sister to grieve for their deceased parents, alone.

Now having the capability to look around the house without the need for breaks, Rio walked everywhere within her family's property, thoroughly exploring what kind of damage the thief may have inflicted upon them. Most of the house appeared to be untouched but it was obvious to her that most of the house's valuables were no longer there. Paintings, pottery, and ornaments were clearly missing thanks to the clean spots with distinguishable shapes in the middle of locations that collected dust. It was also safe to assume that the thief managed to steal some if not all their money as well.

Although the thief stole many treasured belongings, he apparently didn't bother to steal what was of most value to Rio - all of the books in the house remained untouched.

As Yakumo continued to mourn, Rio took advantage of her heightened life force and began working without rest to slowly rebuild her family's estate. She continued to read and finish more books within a single day, filling her head with more general knowledge and ideas.

To keep herself and her sister financially stable, Rio sold off the rest of the house's valuables that the thief didn't take away, leaving only the basic needs behind.

As her knowledge continued to grow at an astounding rate, Rio researched for a way to earn a lot of money as quickly as possible. After all, the money earned from selling the rest of her valuables wasn't going to last forever. She and her sister were far too young to work high-paying jobs, so she needed one where she can keep her age a secret.

Her research eventually led her to one of her history books with a depiction of how there were people who were paid handsomely to kill others. As long as at least two people were still alive, someone could want someone else dead. That was the world back then and also the world today.

An assassin. To work as an assassin was the job Rio needed. Irregular work hours, a massive pay on any day, and a mean to keep her identity hidden. It was perfect for her.

Not long after that, she began to train herself for the skills she would need for the job. As she was now living on a tight budget, Rio made use of what she already had and decided to utilize the katana that always stood by her side as her weapon of choice. It had been aged from the countless family members it was passed on to and its scabbard was riddled with scars. Its blade, however, remained as sharp as ever.

She also began to study and practice various martial arts. Yakumo couldn't believe her eyes at first when she witnessed her sister training despite her supposed frail condition but seeing how determined Rio was to take back what was lost, she chose not to tread over the small details and followed suit, insisting on becoming her sparring partner in the process.

Having her physically superior sister as an opponent allowed Rio to practice techniques designed to handle stronger opponents. After long periods of vigorous practice, the two sisters became more than capable of defending themselves. Rio, in particular, became an unofficial master of Judo, Aikido, and Jiu-Jitsu.

It was also during this period that Rio learned through trial and error that this strange power of absorbing vitality was ineffective against her sister. She was relieved that at least Yakumo couldn't be harmed by her. Rio theorized that there were deeper rules behind this power that she had yet to fully realize.

The physical and spiritual teachings of martial arts helped both sisters, especially Rio, to improve herself in many ways including:

Athleticism, which sharpened Rio's overall physical condition and helped her to breathe better especially when under pressure. It was also a crux for performing other techniques properly.

Agility, which improved the nimbleness of her arms and legs, which had hardly moved for most of her life. It also affected the speed in which her thoughts were processed, allowing Rio to think quickly especially in harsh situations.

Dexterity, which was the form and flow of her movements through muscle memory. With this, Rio learned to traverse through irregular environments without stumbling her way. Walls, uneven lands, and tall structures were no longer obstacles to her. They had become another path for her to travel.

And last but not least…

Discipline, which allowed Rio to teach herself to focus better, helping her to control her emotions when needed and to stabilize the connection and coordination between her mind and her body. Probably the most significant advantage granted by this skill was that it allowed her to psychologically switch herself from a girl with a personal life to an assassin unhindered by emotions.

These traits were the tools she needed to wield her katana properly and in turn, learn the difficult style of Iaido.

During the time span of her training, Rio would periodically experience difficulty in moving again. The benefits of the empowerment she absorbed before was revealed to only be temporary and she was in danger of regressing back to her weakened self. It was then that she realized she needed to continue absorbing the vitality of others if she wanted to maintain her condition.

She was left with no choice. Every so often behind her sister's back, Rio would go on a hunt around the nearby city for petty criminals. Molesters, pick-pocketers, pedophiles, and fraud salesmen were her usual targets. Dealing with them made for good practice for assassinations as well.

Using herself as bait was easy. Rio would often lead unsuspecting men to secluded locations or places where civilians wouldn't notice. Once she was certain that no one was watching, she would grab hold and violate them for their vitality, taking every last bit of it until they couldn't give anymore. She didn't have to absorb their lives until they were killed but Nihan didn't have a massive crime rate, so Rio made full use of every convict she could find. It was also better to make sure there were no witnesses to her powers due to the potential consequences.

It was thanks to this experience that Rio re-evaluated herself and decided that she was to never rely on brute strength no matter how much vitality she absorbed. As such, her focus shifted solely to mastering technique instead of physical strength. Every technique she performed was now geared to be done properly with no room for useless or ad-libbed movement. A punch or a kick thrown by her was now able to strike with precision and the full force of its potential relative to her strength, regardless of how strong or weak she was.

All the vitality she absorbed allowed her to hone her skills for several days without any breaks and all that training would pay off in the years to come. By then, Rio believed she was now ready to land herself a job as an assassin.

Throughout her research by putting the pieces together on the said job, Rio learned that transactions for assassins were done in bounty stations all over the world with one of their branches located in Ameya-yokochō, a black market located near the Ueno district of Tokyo. It was there that she learned the ins and outs of the job:

1. All assassins require an alias, so they can keep their real identities safe and do business regardless of age, gender or previous records in their lives. Revealing your alias to another assassin is not forbidden but is discouraged. There are no other requirements or job interviews. So long as you have an alias, you will be a registered assassin.

2. Transactions are discussed with the bounty exchange master. The discussions are done any time in a secluded room within the facility and the voices of both sides are heavily distorted thanks to a special microphone in order for the bounty exchange master and the assassin to remain mutually anonymous. The bounty master's actual location is unknown.

3. Within the facility is a bounty board that displays the current targets for assassination along with copies of the target's confidential information including the date on which the bounty was first posted. Feel free to take one but be warned that the information may not be up to date.

4. Bounty targets are first-come-first-served. The first assassin to present the corpse of the target will be paid the reward after a successful inspection of the corpse.

5. Your track record of successful bounties is your reputation and your succession rate. Assassins with a good track record may be requested by clients to pursue more difficult targets and negotiate for a higher reward than as originally stated by the client.

Having learned the works of this business, Rio started to rack her brain for an alias. She sat beneath a waterfall to help her concentrate but found limited success. Despite her knowledge, she couldn't come up with anything until she stopped looking outside and looked once more into herself.

After breaking down certain concepts related to herself and assassination, she finally came up with a name.

An assassin must execute a target quickly and make it look like a natural death. Rio gave herself an elusive name that sounded non-existent to coincide with that. Taking inspiration from her connection to cherry blossoms and the strange color her eyes had become, Rio placed the two concepts together and developed an alias that completely resonated with her.

Her identity as an assassin started as the name of a nobody but it would later become infamous within the business. Rio became revered as the Azure Cherry Blossom...

...Or as Rio herself called it, 「瑠璃色の桜」 (Ruri'iro no Sakura).

Now a registered assassin, Rio started out small, going after local criminals commissioned from the bounty board. Her methods were crude at first, but after some time, developed into one of an assassin that kills very quickly from a blind spot while leaving no witnesses alive to see her at work. Not long after that, her reputation skyrocketed thanks to her efficiency and frequency of successful bounties.

Then Rio began to pursue more difficult targets that to her utter shock, reminded her of herself. They had strange powers that threw natural laws out the window too and were harder to kill, requiring more drastic measures to get the job done. By the time they were killed, they no longer looked human, having reverted to a different form with their human skin now revealed to be like a costume. It was thanks to those targets that Rio learned the specifics of several terms such as [Laws], [Influence] and [Stigma] among others not found in any book she previously read. Most important of all, Rio learned of her status as one of the rare subspecies of humans that walk the planet. This was when she learned of her status as a [Renegade].

The information these special targets provided her with led Rio to also follow their system as well. The ability that came to her mind first was the one that allowed her to escape her bedridden life. Even if she were to perform a gesture of affection such as a hug, this cruel power would still work the same, draining the vitality of the person she was touching to herself and leaving that person exhausted or if held on for too long, dead. It was the first [Law] to be given a name but it was actually the third [Law] Rio discovered. With her comparing it to death itself taking lives regardless of intention in action and still following the system, Rio christened this [Law] as:

莉桜の第3法則: 死神 の抱擁 Rio no Dai-san Hōsoku: Shinigami no Hōyō

She would later translate this to Lucas as [Rio's Third Law: Reaper's Embrace].

It was a step forward in her development to learning more about herself, but Rio wasn't satisfied yet. She had one more [Renegade] related secret she wanted to try out. Finding solitude near a lake in the middle of a forest, Rio, looking into her own reflection in the water after removing her clothes, gave herself a small vertical incision with her katana in the center of her chest. Then she thrust both of her hands into the wound and after some hesitation... proceeded to rend her flesh apart.

The pained screams of Rio rang through the forest, scaring animals big and small into hiding. More of her flesh was ripped off, revealing that another body resided beneath her skin. When the last chunk of bloody human flesh and viscera hit the dirt, Rio looked once more into her reflection.

She continued to stand on two legs, but she no longer looked the same, having lost her genitalia and gained new appendages that protruded from different parts of her body. Below the location of her right collarbone was a glowing tattoo-like mark, resembling a deformed butterfly and pulsating like a heart with a slight blue glow. This was the weak point that only reveals itself when the inhuman form, the real form of the [Renegade] beneath their fake human skin and organs is exposed - the [Stigma].

The look on Rio's face was hard to determine because it no longer looked capable of expressing emotion. Stretching a pair of her new appendages out, Rio vanished from the forest with a shockwave that shattered the sound barrier, leaving behind a boneless corpse that degenerated into nothingness.

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