Chapter 21:

Volume 1, Chapter 18: Miscalculation

Parable of the Renegades

AUTHOR'S NOTE:Bookmark here

Hi! Jio Kurenai here!Bookmark here

Been having some problems lately. Had poor internet for a whole week and my laptop of three years has shown the signs of dying as it tends to freeze then shut down at random. Still, I was able to finish this chapter on the same machine so while I'm hoping that was just a fluke, I'm already looking at my options for a new laptop. I've already backed up all my important files including the POTR story itself so yey!Bookmark here

The update on this site was a great addition but Honeyfeed still needs to fix itself and I hope that happens soon. For a while, the User Interface was pretty jumbled. Icons were massive, the Honeyfeed logo was flat, etc. Now the site looks like it's back to normal, but when I copy and paste my work into this editing section, all of my paragraphs were fused and I had to manually separate them. Bookmark here

Well, it's all over now so I hope you guys enjoy this chapter as I don't think I could re-write this the same way as it is now if I were to lose my files. Bookmark here

A little update in terms of story content, starting this chapter (and the previous one because of an edit), I will start using the word "Nihanese" whenever someone foreign to Nihan talks about the language or the nationality (thanks, TrinityNovels!). Nihango and Nihan-Jin will still be retained and used to refer to the language and nationality respectively, but will only be used by those native to Nihan.Bookmark here

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!Bookmark here

   Bookmark here

Two minutes had passed.Bookmark here

Davis was still bashing his head on the lamppost closest to Lucas' house and he wasn't slowing down anytime soon. The base of the lamppost had become covered in dents and red sheens while the steel pole itself was now bent at a slight angle. A stream of blood was branching and sliding down from a gash on Davis' forehead, which was busted open after his first few clashes with the pole.Bookmark here

Lucas waited during those two minutes, crossing his arms while tapping the toes of one foot to the ground. He hoped his friend would just calm down and stop, but he was soon convinced that Davis wouldn't be stopping anytime soon so long as no one tried to interfere.Bookmark here

Davis' self-abuse came to an abrupt end when a pair of arms encircled his own from beneath his shoulders in order to effectively pull him back.Bookmark here

"Let go! I'm not finished yet!" Davis whined, arms and legs flailing to try and break free from the hold.Bookmark here

"Believe me, if I wanted you to go full-retard, I wouldn’t be doing this," Lucas said before shooting a distant glance at a girl who was struck with the giggles. Her left eye was squinted as she covered her mouth with a hand hidden in a sweater's sleeve. "Besides, I think you've given Rio enough entertainment."Bookmark here

All the way from outside the boundaries of his property, Lucas pulled his friend back to his house, bearing the slight screeching noises Davis made as the material of his shoes dragged across the pavement. Rio followed them after they went past her, staying at least six meters away from the two.Bookmark here

When they were about half-way from entering through the front door, Davis stopped his reckless flailing. Bookmark here

But when one form of complaining stopped, another began.Bookmark here

"Why... Why does it have to be you...?"Bookmark here

It left Davis baffled how Lucas seemed to have gotten himself a girlfriend before him, and with a Nihanese girl, no less. Davis continued to rant over that and other trivial matters, putting Lucas' patience to the test and making him even consider dropping and leaving him outside a few times.Bookmark here

The ranting went on until the front door of Lucas’ house shut behind them. It was tiring work for Lucas thanks to pulling someone who refused to walk, and an enjoyable stroll for Rio.Bookmark here

Setting his friend on one of the two sofa chairs in the living room, Lucas prepared to give some first-aid treatment while Davis, still wearing his heavy equipment, sank into the chair's soft leather like he had just arrived home from working overtime. Even though the best medical supplies available were all stashed in Rea's clinic at Moonlight Shores, the Thorne/Nightingale residence had enough supplies for at least basic treatment. Unzipping his schoolbag, Lucas pulled out a paper bag which contained some of the supplies he used to stitch himself back in the nurse's office.Bookmark here

All Lucas needed from that was some toilet paper and medical alcohol, which he used to clean the wound on Davis' forehead and at the same time, disinfect it. Bookmark here

As if he was getting his first medical shot, Davis jerked and winced a little when Lucas applied the alcohol. Lucky for Davis, his wound wasn't the type that would require stitches, not like Lucas would have done a good job of doing so anyway. Just a square-shaped bandage was enough to patch it up and Lucas had a supply of those along with bandages in other shapes and sizes in cases of minor injuries.Bookmark here

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Rio sat on a rotating stool by a long, rectangular counter that divided the living room from the kitchenette. Watching Lucas treat his friend made her reminisce about how she would frequently offer the same kind of help to her younger sister, Yakumo ever since the day they lost their parents. Unlike Rio, who was born frail and weak, Yakumo was born very healthy and strong, becoming a star athlete when she started to attend school. Always so full of energy, she was very active, but her daredevil attitude in anything physical also made her very accident-prone.Bookmark here

Yakumo always arrived home later than her sister because of either club activities or from playing sports. Whenever her injuries were severe, Yakumo would return home sobbing with tears leaking from her eyes, but she always wiped them away and replaced her sobbing with a smile whenever Rio was ready to dress her wounds.Bookmark here

Unbeknownst to her, the older sister never fell for it.Bookmark here

Rio believed that this false smile Yakumo wore was her way to never remind her sister of the pathetic state she was in during the night their parents were killed. She may have been too young but Yakumo had always felt guilty because she believed she was capable enough to do something but lacked the will to use it.Bookmark here

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"Alright, I'm done," Lucas said as he applied the bandage on the Davis' forehead.Bookmark here

Now that he thought about it, that was the same line he said yesterday when he finished bandaging Davis' face after slamming it into the walls of Rea's clinic a few times. At least he was hurt on just one spot this time and didn’t resemble a mummy after getting bandaged. Lucas let out a small chuckle when he surprised himself.Bookmark here

"So... how do you feel Davis?"Bookmark here

"I got a headache..."Bookmark here

"Heh, maybe because you banged your head too much."Bookmark here

After putting away the medical supplies he used, Lucas climbed the stairs to go to his room, where he searched his bookshelf for the light novel Davis wanted to be returned to him.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, Davis couldn't just sit still and wait when there was someone else in the room with him.Bookmark here

"So... Rio," Davis turned his head behind him as he lounged on the comfortable sofa chair.Bookmark here

The girl he tried to start a conversation with, gave him the stink eye.Bookmark here

"Call me 'Kiyodera-san,' not my given name," she commanded him.Bookmark here

"Ah, right... it's because we just met, isn’t it?" Davis corrected himself. Bookmark here

Thanks to the anime he watched or the manga and light novels he read, Davis was aware of the etiquette on how to formally or informally address others in Nihan. He had just forgotten out of excitement from meeting a Nihanese for the first time.Bookmark here

"So, if Lucas gets to call you by your given name, that means you and him are really close, right?" He placed an elbow on one of the big arms of the chair and rested his sour-face on an open palm. "But it's strange how he never told me or even gave a hint about you. Tell me, how did the two of you first meet?"Bookmark here

The question itself was simple, but it was also enough to keep Rio on her toes. She had to make sure her answer counted. Telling Davis the truth will expose everything like how her relationship with Lucas was just a cover for their odd partnership. To her it felt like minutes, but after racking her brain for only a few seconds, Rio came up with an idea that wouldn't make her have to suppress a guilty face from lying.Bookmark here

"Lucas was... my pen-pal," she answered, arms clasped behind her body and fiddling out of view. "I once had this school project where I was assigned to write to a foreigner my age once a week for a few months. I was not confident that I wrote very good letters, but thanks to that, I was able to practice my English beyond what I learned in school."Bookmark here

With Davis watching her as she spoke, Rio tried to act like she was feeling bashful about telling him such a "secret." She looked down at her feet as both her hands balled into fists with their fingers resting on her compressed knees. She even tried to rotate the stool she sat on left and right for added effect.Bookmark here

Davis clutched his chest with both hands, feeling like his heart was going to burst out of it after watching such an adorable display of gestures.Bookmark here

"Kill me now," he whispered under his breath.Bookmark here

"And even after the project ended, Lucas and I continued to write to each other," Rio continued. "I lost count on how many letters we exchanged. Eventually, I grew tired of reading expressionless words, so I wanted to meet him in person."Bookmark here

"Oh, so it's a long-distance relationship? I guess that's why Lucas never told me anything," Davis laughed with a hint of misery. "He was probably worried that I would suspect him of writing to an imaginary girl, but who would have thought it would be someone like you?"Bookmark here

Satisfied that her act worked to perfection, Rio just nodded, not wanting to risk saying anything that could probably backfire.Bookmark here

Davis turned to the empty staircase nearby for a moment. No one heard or saw any feet down the stairs. It seemed Lucas had yet to find what he was looking for. He turned back to Rio.Bookmark here

"Lucas isn't back yet so what I'd like to ask now is what's the deal with your eyes? I've never seen a Nihanese with blue eyes before, well, aside from anime that is. And... is your other eye blind? Cool eye patch, by the way."Bookmark here

Unlike the last question, this was something Rio was used to answering.Bookmark here

"It is possible for a Nihanese to have blue eyes like mine," she said, keeping a straight face. "But you will not find many like me." She then tapped on the corner of her eyepatch. "As for my other eye... yes... I am blind there. It could no longer see properly around the time I turned nine, so I just covered it."Bookmark here

"Woah..." Davis' eyes sparkled from laying them on someone he found so fascinating, even before asking her his questions. A little later, his head dropped down. "Aww... Lucas must be feeling lucky to have met someone like you. I'm so jealous."Bookmark here

“Ufufufu… I guess he is." Rio murmured, continuing to pretend. Deep down, a part of her would have not minded if Lucas really thought of her that way.Bookmark here

Footsteps echoed from the top of the stairs, signaling the end of Davis and Rio’s conversation.Bookmark here

"Davis!" Lucas called to his friend. "I found the volume you're looking for!"Bookmark here

Approaching the sofa chair Davis sat on, Lucas handed him a copy of "The demon princess and I are secretly dating in a faraway land while everyone else is expecting us to be having some ongoing epic fight to the death, volume 2."Bookmark here

"Awesome! This should make up for today's disappointment!" Davis squealed as he took the light novel off Lucas' hands. Rotating the tiny book in many directions, Davis examined every nook and cranny and was pleased with the results. "No dirt, no wrinkles, and no damage. It's like you never touched this when I forced it into to your hands, along with the first volume! You must have taken really good care of it!"Bookmark here

"Y-yeah..." Lucas faked a laugh and tried to smile. "I guess I did."Bookmark here

Davis inserted his light novel into his school bag. "Right, I think I'm just about done here." Bookmark here

Shortly after making sure his possessions were in order, Lucas and Rio accompanied Davis out the front door where the two friends exchanged waves for goodbye. Rio waved as well albeit, half-heartedly judging by the slow movement and really narrow distance her hand covered.Bookmark here

"See you two." Davis walked away while continuing to wave. "I gotta bolt and start making preparations for tomorrow!"Bookmark here

Rio stopped waving and grew perplexed. "Preparations?"Bookmark here

"He works as a blacksmith after school," Lucas told her, also stopping his wave. "I asked him to show me his best, so I can buy a weapon for 'you know what.'"Bookmark here

"And since Ri--," Davis almost said the girl's given name again, but her timely scowl made him correct himself. "I-I mean since Kiyodera-san is here, I'd really appreciate it if you can come to my shop as well. I've made all sorts of top-notch equipment not just from here, but from other nations as well, Nihan included!"Bookmark here

"Top-notch you say?" Rio smirked. "Then be forewarned, my standards are quite high."Bookmark here

Davis responded to her remark by shaping one of his hands to resemble a gun, aiming it at Rio before jerking his thumb as if to improvise a safety lock slamming into a barrel. "Challenge accepted! If I can't shoot your heart, I'll just blow your mind off your noggin!" He recoiled his hand to point up like he just fired a bullet before leaving. Bookmark here

Rio could have sworn to have seen that gesture before, but regardless of that, she did not find it amusing.Bookmark here

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After going a considerable difference away from Lucas' house, Davis stopped walking.Bookmark here

"Shoot, I forgot to ask Rio for a translation on her Nihanese re-introduction." Bookmark here

He considered going back but decided against it as it was probably not a good reason to do so anyway. "Eh, I'll just look up whatever words I can remember."Bookmark here

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Re-entering the house and closing the front door, the atmosphere around Lucas and Rio changed. They dropped the fake couple act Rio masqueraded to Davis and dove into matters between just the two of them.Bookmark here

"Okay, first off, why are you wearing my sweater?" Lucas was the first to bring up a topic and pointed an accusing finger at the piece of black clothing Rio was wearing on her upper body. It was quite an interesting choice for Rio to pick that one out of all the other shirts or sweaters Lucas kept in his closet.Bookmark here

"I do not care much about the design. I just picked the most comfortable-looking one from the pile. Your other clothes have bits of armor or other annoying things on them."Bookmark here

Rio pinched and stretched the base of the shirt to get a better look at the logo printed on it - an eight-legged creature resembling a scorpion crawling on a phrase that read "FREE HUGS!"Bookmark here

Just as how dangerous the creature looked to him, Lucas could think of nothing but horrible consequences if Rio were to give him a nice, snuggly hug. The thought sent cold shivers tingling down his spine.Bookmark here

"Anyway," Rio continued. "My sweater got dirty, so I wore this while I had mine washed."Bookmark here

"Dirty? Just what did you do today to get your sweater dirty?" Lucas asked, a bit curious.Bookmark here

The pair got themselves comfortable and sat next to each other on the rotating stools by the kitchenette's counter. Cups of steaming herbal tea prepared by Lucas were placed in front of them; it was like they were confessing everything in a bar.Bookmark here

Taking a small sip of her tea, Rio began to elaborate on the short exploration adventure she embarked on while Lucas was away for school. She told him of how she trekked all the way to the town of Cameron's Feint while enjoying a few detours along the way, starting with her first stop at Moonlight Shores.Bookmark here

Her recap of the beach was quite vague as she avoided the parts where she frolicked all over the sandy shores with reckless abandon as well as her liberating swim in the cave lake after slowly undressing almost all of her clothes off.Bookmark here

All she actually talked about was the locked wooden cabin of a Dr. Rea Nightingale who Lucas revealed to be his legal guardian and self-proclaimed mother. It was also during this exchange that Lucas told Rio of his relationship to the cabin's owner and why he calls Rea by her given name and nothing along the lines of "mom."Bookmark here

Speaking of Rea, Lucas remembered she was staying in a nearby town for a week to attend a seminar.Bookmark here

After mentioning the few restaurants she passed by while exploring the town, Rio started to show more signs of enthusiasm. She talked about her encounter with the four hooligans in the alleyway, the same alleyway where she and Lucas had their chance encounter the previous night. This time, Rio told everything down to a gnat's eye, at least for her favorite parts. This led to Lucas forgetting his tea was still hot whenever he took a sip. A seared tongue served as his reminder.Bookmark here

He found it disturbing but also somewhat attention-grabbing as he listened to how Rio spoke so casually and fondly of the many submission holds she tortured the hooligans with. It was in the name of self-defense she said. It was also an added bonus that her aggressors discovered they could hit the high notes with their screams. Rio left out the fact that she spared one of them but in turn, forced him to crawl back home on his own after breaking all but one of his limbs along with his smartphone, which was the hooligan's fault anyway.Bookmark here

"And that is how my sweater got dirty," Rio concluded as she eyed the damaged clothes Lucas wore, especially the one that was dyed a brand-new color with his blood. "Now then. Just like my sweater, I believe that jacket you are wearing used to be white."Bookmark here

"It's called a hoodie," Lucas said before taking his turn to testify. He revealed how this day of school started with him getting dragged into a fight where he faced almost every male student for the sake of protecting a girl; a girl he omitted to say was his non-blood related cousin.Bookmark here

With one arm propped on the counter and one side of her head leaning on its open hand, Rio raised an eyebrow slightly as she held her cup to her lips and took a long sip of tea.Bookmark here

Then Lucas began to speak with a more solemn tone. He talked about how he triumphed over almost all of the students he faced despite them being armed to the teeth while he had no weapons and only minimal protection. At the end of it all, he was the one who came out of the fight with numerous wounds from getting cut or bashed with weapons while everyone else was just knocked out.Bookmark here

Then he learned about the possibility that an outside force led the other students to attack him. As one of the students revealed later that day, they all felt like their hearts became heavier, weighing them down. As the description of what they felt was something Lucas recognized, he asked Rio if this had something to do with the [Influence] of the [Renegade] target Fenris, who just so happened to be spectating the fight from a safe distance.Bookmark here

"I see you are taking my advice on observation," Rio noticed. "Depending on who it comes from, an [Influence] will force an emotional trigger that comes along so naturally that you might not notice it. However, if you were already feeling that specific emotion before entering the [Influence], you will start to act out upon it. The only solution I know is to simply use force and beat them down one way or another."Bookmark here

"So, they weren't in control of themselves," Lucas said.Bookmark here

"It is like being manipulated without realizing it. This also happened to the four men who tried to attack me in the alleyway."Bookmark here

"I see. Well, thanks for clearing it up for me. You can always count on a [Renegade] in cases like this."Bookmark here

Rio sneered. "Good~, because from now on, I will no longer confirm whether your observations on the [Renegades] are correct or not. This does not mean I may never reveal another secret but do not expect it to be done for free~"Bookmark here

Lucas gave out a weary sigh as he realized he should have taken his own advice to Rio, which was to watch his words. "Right, right. Guess I gotta sharpen my senses then."Bookmark here

With that topic on [Influence] now out of the way, Lucas moved on in his testification.Bookmark here

Rio already noticed he had tacky stitches on his arms, so Lucas appropriately moved on to that next. He was not pleased when he spoke on the details of the living hell he put himself through such as sewing a black thread to seal all of the wounds that covered his body except his neck and above.Bookmark here

She didn't want to say it but the extent of the injuries all over Lucas' body was what began to float in Rio's thoughts. She moved on to another topic, holding back on asking him as that would mean he’d have to take off several articles of his clothing in front of her. The howling tension in her going out of control was not something Rio wanted.Bookmark here

As the two continued to drink tea and open up in their discussion, they learned more about each other's perspectives when it came to engaging in combat. Both of them were brutalists at heart and only fought in self-defense under normal circumstances, but there was a key difference between them.Bookmark here

Disregarding the Underground Arena, Lucas fought only as a last resort and whenever he did so, he would always try to end the fight as quickly as possible. Using a mostly self-taught anything-goes fighting style, which often relied on strikes from his fists, he would always aim for a vital point, forcing his opponents to the edge until they heard the whisper of death's melancholic call. He was giving a merciful warning to discourage anyone from trying to pick a fight with him, lest they learn the lesson the hard way.Bookmark here

Rio, on the other hand, fought for fun and to satisfy herself - toying with her victims until every last bit of life was forced out of them. She utilized her massive arsenal of submission holds to slowly cripple those unfortunate to face her while gradually injecting excruciating pain in order to relish their pained cries for the longest amount of time possible. The torture session would not stop until Rio heard the pleasant melody of bones or cartilage breaking and would only end her opponent's life after growing bored of watching them struggle on a limb.Bookmark here

They found disgust at each other's views but at the same time, also found a strange kind of fascination. They tried their best to not let each other's words go in one ear and out the other.Bookmark here

"Whether you like it or not, you will have to learn to kill. If this moral of yours keeps up for too long, our contract might end you," Rio said. "It might be difficult at first, but once you have done it a few times, killing a person becomes as easy as squashing a bug."Bookmark here

"I know," Lucas assured her, his face burying itself into his arms. "What worries me the most is that once I've taken a few lives, I might start to enjoy it." He held his cup close to his face and stared at his reflection in the green tea. Will he be able to see himself the way he is now after he fulfills the contract?Bookmark here

Wanting to not think about it for the time being, Lucas brought up other topics, not related to [Renegades] or anything similar, to discuss with Rio. Their conversation went on until the sun had started to set.Bookmark here

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"Thank you for the tea." Rio exhaled a breath of relief after sipping her drink down to the last drop before placing her cup back on the counter. She dropped down from her stool and began walking in a direction, not toward the front door.Bookmark here

"Where are you going?" Lucas asked, also dropping down from his seat.Bookmark here

"To get my sweater out of the dryer," Rio answered. "After that, I am returning to Nihan."Bookmark here

"Really? I thought you were staying for a while to keep an eye on me."Bookmark here

"I just need to get some clothes and money. Expect me to be back here tomorrow morning at the earliest," Rio told Lucas, turning a corner in the house and disappearing from his sight.Bookmark here

It was only going to last for the rest of the night, but Lucas was a bit relieved to have his life reverting to its somewhat peaceful state. While he felt the time spent with Rio so far was unforgettable, she had also been nothing more but trouble to him.Bookmark here

For her own amusement, she teased him, locked him in painful submission holds, violated him with her agonizing touch, and now, she even faked a relationship between the two of them in front of his best friend.Bookmark here

Even though she wasn't always directly responsible, Lucas couldn't help but think Rio's intrusion into his life was an omen that led to all of the troubles he went through since then and it wasn’t going to end anytime soon.Bookmark here

Still, he had a heart and figured he should give Rio a proper send-off.Bookmark here

"Before you go," he called and went to one of the drawers in the kitchen to take out a blue apron that he strapped to his shoulders and around his waist. "Do you want to eat something, first?"Bookmark here

Rio poked her head from behind a corner. "Really? You will... cook something for me?"Bookmark here

"Consider it as my payback for the dinner you made back in your house, even though you and your sister ate most of it," Lucas said, grumbling on the second phrase.Bookmark here

He threw open the doors of his refrigerator and took out some cold ingredients from different shelves one by one. "I'm pretty tapped out, so I'm only cooking a simple meal."Bookmark here

Still watching from behind the corner, Rio beamed a smile which went unnoticed. "Sure. You do just that~"Bookmark here

While the [Renegade] Nihanese girl navigated her way to the house's laundry room, Lucas opened a few more drawers in the kitchen where he took out a chef's knife with a finely sharpened edge and a chopping board covered in thin trenches. He laid out the ingredients he chose near the kitchen sink before turning one of the knobs on the electric stove behind him. One of the four circles on the top of the appliance began to glow a bright hot red.Bookmark here

A golden stream of virgin olive oil was poured in a spiral pattern on a medium-sized skillet before Lucas placed the flat-bottomed pan on the stove's heated circle. As the oil simmered, Lucas spent that time chopping most of the ingredients into fine bits after washing them, keeping the knife close to the solid chopping board while rolling and cutting vertically with speedy but precise movements.Bookmark here

Moments later, Rio, having changed back to her now spotless white sweater after taking it out of the dryer, returned to the kitchen's counter where a fork and knife was waiting for her.Bookmark here

Lucas had just turned off the electric stove and placed what he cooked on a plate he held in his hand. Rio was a bit enticed as her celestial nose detected the powerful aroma wafting from the sample of Lucas' culinary skills before he presented the dish to her.Bookmark here

It looked like a pile of vegetables on four brown bowls about half the size of an open hand.Bookmark here

"So... what is this?" Rio gripped her hands to the edge of the counter and leaned to take a closer look, having no idea of what she was about to eat.Bookmark here

"Tonight's dinner is stuffed portobello mushrooms," Lucas told her, soaping and washing his hands in the sink as a way to thank them for their hard work. "I honestly had no idea what to prepare but then I remembered you ate a mushroom sandwich this morning, so I just went with something like that."Bookmark here

Now that Rio examined it, the dish consisted of an upside-down grilled mushroom cap stuffed to the limit with ground turkey, finely chopped baby spinach and slices of roasted grape tomatoes. All of those ingredients were merciful on calories.Bookmark here

"This is quite... healthy," Rio said, furrowing her eyebrows.Bookmark here

"Almost everything in that fridge is," Lucas pointed his nose to the cold storage machine. "They're all expensive, but they're also worth the investment. It's all thanks to them that I can keep myself in the best condition possible."Bookmark here

"Then that leaves one more question." Rio was a bit skeptical. "Does it taste good? If it is good for the body, there is usually a price to pay."Bookmark here

Lucas said nothing and cleaned up his space before washing the tools he used in the sink, leaving a taste-test as Rio's only choice. She was about to take one of the four mushrooms like it was an appetizer at a formal dinner party when Lucas' voice stopped her in her tracks.Bookmark here

"Use the fork and knife." He pointed to the two pieces of silverware next to either side of Rio's plate. "You might make a mess if you try to eat the whole thing."Bookmark here

Slowly, her fingers curled around the stems of both the fork and knife, Rio was not holding them right as she positioned the blade and tines of the silverware over one of the mushrooms, her elbows pointing forty-five degrees in an awkward angle. She was just about ready to destroy the presentation when she got distracted by the one who prepared it.Bookmark here

Lucas had stopped what he was doing and was leaning, his lower back supported on the now cooled-down electric stove. He wore a slight smile while his arms and ankles were crossed over. Even though his eyes were shielded from view, as usual, Rio could tell from his overall posture that he appeared to be monitoring every single sliver of movement she was making.Bookmark here

"Lucas, are you watching me eat?" she accused.Bookmark here

"Oh, don't mind me," he said, waving a hand back and forth in front of his face. "Just pretend I'm not here."Bookmark here

Following a suspicious glare, Rio did just that. It was ironic how despite an apron's use was to protect the cook from food stains, Lucas' apron was spotless unlike the rest of his clothes, which were all bloody and torn-up.Bookmark here

Lucas' gaze moved closer as he noticed that Rio's hands appeared to be trembling. The feeling of giving her a taste of her own medicine was at hand. He could finally see for himself how a foreigner would screw up when trying to eat like a westerner...Bookmark here

...But that was what Rio wanted him to think.Bookmark here

When the fork and knife were just a few millimeters away from touching the morsels, Rio suddenly changed the way she held them, adjusting the positioning of her fingers. Her left hand had its index finger resting straight on the back-side near the head of the fork while her other fingers wrapped around the handle. Her right hand had its index finger straight and resting near the base of the knife's blunt side, while her thumb juxtaposed it on the side. The other fingers were wrapped around the handle, which touched the base of her palm.Bookmark here

She had her fork pin down a mushroom at an angle and her knife slowly cut away a piece of everything. Vegetables, meat, and mushroom were all skewered in a straight line without much of a fuss.Bookmark here

In short, Rio used the silverware in the same manner a well-educated person would.Bookmark here

"What!?" Lucas exclaimed, disappointed from getting baited.Bookmark here

“Ufufufu…You thought I was going to embarrass myself like how you tried to eat with chopsticks, did you not~?" Rio played with the knife, spinning it around her fingers without accidentally cutting them. The novelty act was as difficult to her as fighting. "Have you forgotten that I travel all around the world as part of my job? I think I had plenty of chances to learn how to use a fork and knife~"Bookmark here

Lucas dropped his head, moody in defeat, which Rio enjoyed looking at. She then brought the piece she cut closer to her slightly open mouth and popped it in. Right after her tongue met the food, Rio's left eye widened to its limit as she lost herself from reality.Bookmark here

As the harmonic flavors danced on her palette, Rio felt strange. It was like she was being pulled away from this world and into another.Bookmark here

In this new world, she wore nothing but clothing made entirely out of baby spinach leaves - an eyepatch and a short primitive dress that was not shy to bare her midriff and one shoulder.Bookmark here

Rio found herself laughing gleefully and pirouetting without care all over a sunny valley that was simply the entire bowl-shaped cap of an upside down portobello mushroom. The ground she walked on was feathery with the mushroom's gills and littered with smashed grape tomatoes that brought in a pleasant sensation when her bare feet sunk into them. Wild turkeys roamed this valley, approaching her like they meant no harm and leaving to roam elsewhere after she gave them a gentle stroke on their fluffy feathered heads.Bookmark here

She was in ecstasy.Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

"Hey, Rio?"Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

"Earth to Rio!"Bookmark here

"..."Bookmark here

Back in reality, Lucas was wondering why Rio was not responding to the call of her name.Bookmark here

From the looks of it, Rio appeared to be staring into space. Her left eye was as wide as possible, hands moving on their own to use her fork and knife to cut a piece of the stuffed mushrooms on her plate before bringing a piece into her mouth and chewing it. She was doing all of this with incredible accuracy considering that she was not even looking at the food. That was all she did.Bookmark here

She never even blinked.Bookmark here

Lucas tried waving his hand in front of her face for a few seconds... Rio saw nothing.Bookmark here

Lucas tried snapping his fingers five times next to one of her ears... Rio heard nothing.Bookmark here

After a short period of time pondering over why the first two methods didn’t work, Lucas grinned ear to ear when an insanely devious thought manifested in his brain. Ignoring the potential consequences of doing such a thing, he raised his dominant hand, the left one, and positioned it next to Rio's right cheek before pulling it back and raising it up. His feet planted themselves firmly on the floor while he torqued his upper body counterclockwise, charging potential energy. Then, he unleashed it all with every bit of his spite compressed into his open palm.Bookmark here

"WHOA!! MOSQUITO!!!"Bookmark here

Of course, what he shouted was an excuse.Bookmark here

The deafening crack of skin contacting skin echoed off the walls like an exploding bullwhip. A piercing scream reverberated all over the house's interior.Bookmark here

The scream did not come from a girl.Bookmark here

Lucas sunk down to his knees in pain, shouting expletives while massaging his left open palm. Having just given Rio the biggest slap he could ever unleash across her face, Lucas received a reminder that the [Laws] of a [Renegade] are constantly active and [Rio's Third Law: Reaper's Embrace] did its work on the exact moment Lucas' hand connected with Rio's cheek. As their skin-to-skin contact lasted merely a fraction of a second, Lucas was inflicted with only a sting of incredible pain, while Rio received a tiny amount of his vitality.Bookmark here

The slap was indeed powerful. So much force was put into it that it ripped past the point it hit. Following the impact, the stool Rio sat on spun many revolutions too fast to count. With every second that passed, the stool gradually lost its momentum, slowing down and eventually coming to a perfect stop with Rio once again facing her plate of food.Bookmark here

Getting up and examining the girl he just smacked to vent out his frustration, Lucas was certain that slap was even harder than the one he gave to Davis hours ago.Bookmark here

Rio continued to eat her dinner with the same movements as before, her face was still expressing the same blank stare. She pretty much looked no different except there was now a burning red handprint emitting sizzling steam on the right side of her face.Bookmark here

In conclusion, Rio felt nothing.Bookmark here

...Bookmark here

Back in her false reality, Rio, with both hands holding her cheeks, found herself moaning in utter bliss when a single stream of olive oil poured down from the heavens above and doused her. The golden liquid cascaded at a snail's pace down her hair before it traveled in multiple branching paths down every inch of her body. Her hands explored and caressed herself, taking her time to rub the oil deeper into her pale skin and making it glossier with a translucent shine. Her clothes became soggy and sticky, it was getting uncomfortable to keep them on.Bookmark here

Before Rio could continue her escapade au naturel, her fantasy cracked then shattered like glass, bringing the stuffed portobello mushroom world she played in to a sudden end.Bookmark here

The air around her was calm again and she was back sitting on a rotating stool, wearing her casual clothes. The fork on her left hand was trying to repeatedly stab an empty plate.Bookmark here

"Oh, you're finally blinking again," Lucas commented.Bookmark here

Realizing that she dozed off and probably made an embarrassment of herself in front of Lucas, Rio just nonchalantly got off the stool and walked as calmly as she could toward the front door without looking back. She rubbed a hand on the right side of her face, which felt numb for some reason.Bookmark here

"So... how was it?" Lucas asked, a little excited to hear how she would rate his cooking skill.Bookmark here

Rio just opened the door without looking back, uttering, "I was disappointed," before slamming the door shut.Bookmark here

When she was gone, Lucas bared his teeth and threw his apron down hard to the floor. "Then don't finish it if you think it's bad," he growled.Bookmark here

He turned around, intending to go up the stairs to his room when the door opened slightly, and Rio poked her head in through the gap.Bookmark here

"I was disappointed you only made four~," she said before closing the door once more.Bookmark here

When her words reached his ears, Lucas couldn't help but turn his frown upside-down as he laughed to himself that what Rio did was well-played. She hooked him again with another bait and switch.Bookmark here

A few minutes later, Lucas' smile would then revert to a frown in an instant when he saw the state Rio left the laundry room in as he opened its door. Bookmark here

Soap suds were everywhere, apparently barfed out by the washing machine. A box of detergent was tipped over and its contents were spilling out. The entire room turned into a man-made winter wonderland, except this snow couldn't be made into a snowball and it wasn't much fun to get hit in the face with these. It will burn the eyes.Bookmark here

"Damn you, Rio..."Bookmark here

Lucas kicked the box of detergent hard in frustration, destroying it but also creating an explosion of white smoke that left him coughing and gagging for minutes.Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

“Grrraahhhh... All done...”Bookmark here

Lucas yawned as he put down his pen and lay stretched out on a chair in his room.Bookmark here

The sun had already set, and a full moon was watching everything that night. It had taken him several hours but in that span of time, Lucas managed to clean up the entire laundry room that Rio made a mess of, make some dinner for himself, take a shower, change out of his damaged clothes into something more loose and comfortable, and to end it all, finished the world history assignment Mr. Faust gave him that day.Bookmark here

Weary and feeling magnetically drawn to his bed, Lucas was just about to dive into it when his doorbell rang.Bookmark here

"Ugh... Just who would come here at this hour?" He groaned to himself.Bookmark here

Going down the hall, trotting down the wooden stairs and making his way to the front door, Lucas felt a sensation he was already all too familiar with when he was about five meters away.Bookmark here

He turned the knob and pulled the door open intending to say, "You're back already?" while he was at it, only to be greeted with a furious slap of revenge that was more painful than it should have been.Bookmark here

It was enough to shock him awake, for now.Bookmark here

"I looked into the mirror when I returned home and what do I see? A red handprint on my face!" Rio snarled, her hands balled into quaking fists.Bookmark here

Lucas was forced down to one knee as he rubbed the left side of his face. A lithe, red handprint was now marked on it.Bookmark here

"At least it was for a good reason. Besides, it's gone now." He pointed out the fact that Rio’s face was already back to normal as he slowly brought himself back up. "Anyway, why are you back so soon? Didn't you say you would return tomorrow morning?"Bookmark here

"Look at the time," Rio said, peering over Lucas' shoulder.Bookmark here

Looking back into the interior of his house, Lucas saw that the hands on the wall clock were both pointing up.Bookmark here

It was now 12 am, Tuesday.Bookmark here

He should have realized sooner that midnight can also be considered morning.Bookmark here

With a heavy sigh, Lucas stepped aside and welcomed Rio back into his house. She was still dressed in the same white turtleneck sweater and black stretch pants she wore that day, but now had the addition of a massive backpack strapped to her shoulders.Bookmark here

"Okay, where is your guestroom?" A hand was lifted to cover Rio's mouth as she yawned.Bookmark here

"Yeah..." Lucas scratched the back of his head. "There's a problem since you came back too soon."Bookmark here

"Hmm...? Why is that?" Rio slightly tilted her head in confusion.Bookmark here

Lucas led Rio to a door under the staircase and told her to follow him. The two walked down another flight of stairs into what seemed to be an infinite mass of darkness below. Each of the wooden steps creaked a bit when a bit of weight pressed onto them. When they reached the bottom, Lucas flipped a nearby switch, and the room was instantly illuminated for them to see. Every wall in the four corners of the room was a giant mirror. Different machines and shelves of weights to be used for working out surrounded a large blue sparring mat that took the center space in the room.Bookmark here

"This used to be the guest room," Lucas revealed, casting a hand across the space of the vicinity. "Now, it's a gymnasium."Bookmark here

Rio was enamored with everything the room contained, especially the sparring mat. Putting her shifty eye on Lucas when his back was turned, Rio was for some reason, looking forward to giving him a first-hand experience of all sorts of things on that.Bookmark here

Moving on, Lucas and Rio climbed back up the stairs and returned to the living room before climbing another set of stairs to go to the house's second floor.Bookmark here

They stopped when they were in front of a snowy white door somewhere down the hall. Lucas tried to turn its knob, but it wouldn't budge.Bookmark here

"This is Rea's room," Lucas told Rio. "I'd let you use it since she won't be coming back until this Sunday, but apparently she locked the door, and the only key is with her."Bookmark here

"What about her window?" Rio asked.Bookmark here

"Ah... her windows were designed to be anti-theft." Lucas held a hand to his mouth and let out his own yawn, wanting to end this tour as soon as possible. "There's a grid of bars that prevent anyone from going through it. Mine, on the other hand, can be used as an entryway so you can climb to the roof."Bookmark here

"I think I figured that out after going through your window four times already," Rio said.Bookmark here

The two continued to walk down the hall. Sleep was trying to take them as they started to drag their feet, which actually felt pleasant because they were moving on a long wooly carpet. Rio then brought out a concern of her's.Bookmark here

"You told me there was a problem because I came back too soon."Bookmark here

The two of them stopped by a brown door at the end of the hallway. Lucas placed his hand on the knob, preparing to turn it.Bookmark here

"If any of us want to sleep well tonight... there's only one pillow, one blanket, and one bed." He gave the opened door a light push, making it slowly reveal what was behind it — a familiar room with beige walls.Bookmark here

"So, the only bed left... is in your room?" Rio cocked her head.Bookmark here

"I was going to buy you an inflatable mattress tomorrow after school since the store that sells it closed for the day a few hours ago. So now, we are stuck with this problem."Bookmark here

The air around them became heavier - at least for Lucas who remained silent. He had no idea what to say beyond that point and was waiting on how Rio would react.Bookmark here

"Is that all?" Rio remained surprisingly indifferent. "Then do what is proper for your house guest and let me use your bed for myself."Bookmark here

This was not what Lucas had in mind. The idea that Rio wanted to hog the bed to herself came in as a wakeup call to him. He felt a sudden adrenaline rush to his patience being tested, once more.Bookmark here

"Not happening," he turned to face Rio. "I'm not going to let myself risk being late tomorrow just because I couldn't get any shut-eye in my own house."Bookmark here

A vein throbbed on Rio's forehead as she turned to face Lucas as well. "Let me remind you that you had your own futon at my house, last night!" She jabbed her index and middle fingers a couple of times on Lucas' clothed chest.Bookmark here

"Oh, so that's what those indoor sleeping bags are called? Guess I should say 'thank you.'" Lucas pretended to be amazed. "Anyway, I had my own only because you knew you had a spare! On the other hand, how was I supposed to know you were coming back here this early? And in the first place, it's not like I didn't ask to go to Nihan; you... (somehow) dragged me there!"Bookmark here

"Then shall I convince you to give me the bed?" Rio eyed Lucas for the limb joints she could exploit.Bookmark here

"Are you seriously going to attack an injured person for a petty reason like that?" Lucas said, bracing his arms to himself. "Because if you do, the only thing I'll be convinced over is that you're more contemptible than you look."Bookmark here

"Then I guess we have no choice," Rio said, tired and desperate for her beauty sleep as soon as possible. "If neither of us will give up, how about we call this a draw and just share the bed?"Bookmark here

"That bed was designed to fit only one person. No way can we possibly... share?" Lucas paused after realizing Rio's suggestion. "Share... the bed? Did I just hear you say that!?"Bookmark here

"You heard me right~," Rio examined the narrow furniture, its creamy white mattress was begging to have someone on it. Maybe two. "I think if we stay close to each other, that bed can just barely fit the two of us. Shall we do it, or are you too afraid~?"Bookmark here

Lucas whipped his head away from the girl's menacing gaze as his own began to burn. "Your touch can kill. I think 'afraid' has the right to make sense."Bookmark here

Rio grinned at her advantage in the situation. "Of course~, and considering what you are wearing... you will not last very long with me~"Bookmark here

From head to toe, Rio scanned the clothes Lucas was currently dressed in. Loose black shorts and a tank top that allowed plenty of exposure for his stitched wounds.Bookmark here

"So, choose wisely~," Rio warned with her head held high. "You can either save yourself the trouble and just surrender the bed to me now, or you can risk me leaving you dry tomorrow. Either way is fine by me." She held one hand up with her forefinger extended. "Oh, and just so you know, I might play rough in my sleep~"Bookmark here

Despite the potential risks, Lucas took a deep breath and chose to stand by his decision. He faced Rio once more and locked glares with her, giving the impression that sparks were shooting out of their eyes and clashing with each other in tiny thunderous roars.Bookmark here

"I'll take that risk. Whatever happens, you're not getting that bed to yourself."Bookmark here

He was unmovable and stood his ground like a statue. That is until Rio invaded his personal space by getting right up in his face, the theoretical sparks from her eyes pushed and overpowered Lucas when the distance between them turned intimate. With a sudden jerk like he was close to getting licked by a tongue of flames, Lucas retracted his head at the risk of their noses accidentally touching.Bookmark here

"Is that so~? Then watch yourself when you join me~" Rio cooed. "Because if you do not, you just might find yourself in 'Takama-ga-Hara'... or 'Heaven' as you westerners call it."Bookmark here

She taunted Lucas with a mocking smile then pulled back, snickering. "Well, you still have time to back out, so think about it for now. Until then, I am going to change into something more comfortable~"Bookmark here

Rio left the room, closing the door behind her and walked to the bathroom to change into her sleepwear.Bookmark here

From within his room, the pressure was beating up his insides. Uncertain of what to do or what to expect next, Lucas could only stand frozen, his gaze fixated on his door.Bookmark here

So many trials happened to him in just one day...Bookmark here

Bookmark here

...And now, one more awaits.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.