Chapter 22:

Volume 1, Chapter 18: Miscalculation

Parable of the Renegades



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AUTHOR'S NOTE:

Hi! Jio Kurenai 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!

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. 

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. 

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.

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 BY GIVING POINTS TO YOUR BADGE! BY THE WAY, COMMENTS GIVE MORE POINTS! ;)
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Two minutes had passed.

Davis was still bashing his head on the closest lamppost to Lucas' house and he wasn't slowing down anytime soon. At that point, the base of the lamppost was already 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.

Lucas waited during that span of time, patiently crossing his arms and tapping the toes on 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.

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

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

"Believe me, if I wanted a friend to go full-retard, I'd let you," 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."

All the way from just 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 were dragged across the pavement. Rio followed them after they went past her, staying at least six meters away from the two at all times.

When they were about half-way from entering through the front door, Davis stopped his reckless flailing but when one form of complaining stopped, another form began.

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

He expressed his dissatisfaction over 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.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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Rio sat on a rotating stool by a long, rectangular counter that divided the living room from the kitchen. Watching Lucas treat his friend made her reminisce about how she would frequently offer the same kind of help for 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.

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

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

Rio believed that this false smile Yakumo wore on her face 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.

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

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.

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

"I got a headache..."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"So, if Lucas gets to call you by your given name, that means you and him must be really close." 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?"

The question itself was simple, but it was also enough to keep Rio on her toes. She had to make sure her answer would count. 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 also wouldn't make her have to suppress a guilty face from lying.

"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..."

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, both hands balled into fists with her fingers resting on her compressed knees. She even tried to rotate the stool she sat on left and right for added effect.

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.

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

"...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 and I wanted to meet him in person."

"Oh, so it's a long-distance relationship? I guess that's why Lucas never told me anything," Davis laughed with a hint of a miserable demeanor. "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?"

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

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

"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? I think that eyepatch looks pretty cool by the way."

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

"It is possible for a Nihan-jin to have blue eyes like mine," she said, keeping a straight face. "It is just not often that you will find someone 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."

"Woah..." Davis' eyes sparkled from laying them on someone 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..."

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

The sound of footsteps echoing from the top of the stairs signaled the end of Davis and Rio’s conversation.

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

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."

"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 it when I forced this into to your hands, along with the first volume! You must have taken really good care of it!"

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

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

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.

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

Rio stopped waving and grew perplexed. "Preparations?"

"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'."

"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!"

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

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

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

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

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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 that Rio masqueraded to Davis and dove into matters between just the two of them.

Lucas was the first to bring up a topic.

"Okay, first off, why are you wearing my sweater?" He 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.

"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."

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!"

Just as how dangerous the creature looked to him, Lucas could think of nothing but horrible consequences if Rio were to give him a hug. The thought made cold shivers tingle on his spine.

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

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

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The pair found themselves sitting next to each other on the rotating stools by the kitchen'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.

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.

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.

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."

Speaking of Rea, Lucas remembered that she was staying in a nearby town to attend a seminar and wouldn't return home until around next week.

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 lead to Lucas forgetting his tea was still hot whenever he took a sip, resulting in his tongue getting seared.

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.

"And that is how my sweater got dirty," Rio concluded while eying 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."

"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.

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.

From here on, 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 from weapons while everyone else was just knocked out.

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.

"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."

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

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

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

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~"

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."

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

Rio already noticed he had tacky stitches on his arms, so Lucas appropriately moved on to that next. He was not pleased at all 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.

She didn't want to say it but knowing 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 would 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.

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 normally fought only in self-defense, but there was a key difference between them.

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 all the way 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.

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 force 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.

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

"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."

"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?

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.

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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.

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

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

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

"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.

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.

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.

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.

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

"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?"

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

"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, begrudgingly on the second phrase.

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."

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

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 round circles on the top of the appliance began to glow a bright hot red.

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.

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.

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.

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

"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.

"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."

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.

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

"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 I can."

"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."

Lucas said nothing, 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.

"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."

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.

Lucas 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.

"Lucas, are you watching me eat?" Rio accused.

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

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...

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

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.

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.

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

"What!?" Lucas exclaimed with disappointment from getting baited.

*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~"

Lucas dropped his head, moody in defeat, which Rio felt a bit of pleasure from 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.

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

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.

Rio found herself laughing gleefully and pirouetting without a 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 and cooling 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.

She was in ecstasy.

...

"Hey, Rio?"

"..."

"Earth to Rio!"

"..."

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

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.

She never even blinked.

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

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

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 spite compressed into his open palm.

"WHOA!! MOSQUITO!!!"

Of course, what he shouted was an excuse.

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.

The scream did not come from a girl.

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.

The slap was indeed powerful. So much force was put into it that it ripped past the point it hit without coming to a stop. Following the point of 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.

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.

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.

In conclusion... Rio felt nothing.

...

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 branched 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, she started to feel like it was getting uncomfortable to keep them on.

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

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.

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

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, a hand rubbing the right side of her face, which felt numb for some reason.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

A few minutes later, Lucas' smile would then revert to a frown without any time wasted when he saw the state Rio left the laundry room in as he opened its door. 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.

"Damn you, Rio..."

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.

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧

*Grrraahhhh...* “All done...”

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

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.

Weary and feeling magnetically drawn to his bed, Lucas was just about to dive into it when he heard his doorbell ring.

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

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.

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.

It was enough to shock him awake, for now.

"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 to quaking fists.

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.

"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?"

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

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

It was now Tuesday, 12 AM.

He should have realized sooner that midnight can also be considered morning along with the fact that an entire day had already passed by then.

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

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

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

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

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. 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.

"This used to be the guest room," Lucas revealed, as he waved a hand across the space of the vicinity. "Now, it's a gymnasium."

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.

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

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.

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

"What about her window?" Rio asked.

"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."

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

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.

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

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

"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.

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

"I was going to buy you an inflatable mattress tomorrow after school since it's too much of a hassle to go back to town. Also, the store that sells it closed for the day a few hours ago, so now we are stuck with this problem."

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.

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

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 as his patience was being tested once more.

"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."

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 in my house, last night!" She jabbed her index and middle fingers a couple of times on Lucas' clothed chest.

"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!"

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

"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."

"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?"

"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!?"

"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~?"

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."

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

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.

"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~."

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.

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

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 back at the risk of their noses accidentally touching.

"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."

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 out of these and into something more comfortable~"

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

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.

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

...And now, one more awaits.

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