Parable of the Renegades
Hi! Jio Kurenai here!
Honeyfeed only allows up to 70,000 characters. I should really stop making promises that I will end a story arc or volume in the next chapter or two. I'll just write as much as I can from here on.
Despite this minor setback, I hope this chopped-off content can still deliver to some extent!
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It was way past midnight and the full moon was shining at its brightest across the horizon. Through the open window of a bedroom, a moonbeam continued to provide a ray of dim lighting, creating a cool blue ambiance when it mixed with the darkness inside.
Sitting still in the shadows, on a floor of furnished wood and facing a blank wall, a girl in a ruffled kimono had only herself. Though her solitude lasted only about five minutes, the silence of no activity and the cold of the evening winds made her delude herself to spending time alone for an eternity.
It was nothing new; this was how she always operated, and she was used to it.
She never stopped hating it.
For better or worse, no matter how much her life had changed it was always lacking what she sought.
Her life since birth was already worth loathing. Spending every day laying down on a futon and only walking a few steps on weak legs with heavy breaths before an inevitable collapse was something nobody would ever want. It made her unable to perform any physical activity or see what was beyond the confines of her home. It also limited the number of people she could interact with.
Then she turned ten. Her life had taken a sudden turn for the worse when she and her sister lost their parents to a common thief. She walked down the path of the assassin to rebuild her household and earn a massive income despite her young age and lack of outside financial support. Thanks to training, she became more physical and came to relish the effects of violence to some extent, but a thought always haunted her at the back of her head: "Who would want a killer for a friend?"
At her own pace, she discovered herself to be a [Renegade] and that gave her the opportunity to escape the frailty she so despised, but it came with a cost. The price for staying healthy was to rob others for their vitality on a regular basis or else she would regress to her weakened state again. Not only that, the other innate abilities every other [Renegade] possessed ruined her efforts of living a decent social life. Her [Influence] didn't stimulate any negative emotion unto others, but it still caused nothing but unnecessary trouble for herself and to the people around her. Her [Laws] or at least one of them made social interaction far too risky.
And it wasn't like she could just explain to everyone about how to interact with others like herself. After all, the [Renegades] were prejudiced as a threat to the public. She had to stay wary because any information she shared may be used against her. Any friends she made may betray her.
Then she found her way to Cameron's Feint Sarkansas. What was supposed to be just another assassination, led to an unforeseen creation of a new bond with another person through a heinous contract. To spend time with another person again, it was a re-discovery that re-kindled her internal flames. Sure, it paved the way for both good and bad experiences with still more to come, but it also brought back a spark that told her she could still find a reason to exist, no matter how tainted she already was as a person.
To develop connections with others. Whether or not she wanted to admit it, that was what a forced loner like Rio Kiyodera desired the most.
The sound of the doorknob turning reached her ears. In an instant, Rio was freed from her cage of eternal time when she was given company.
Lucas let himself back into his bedroom with a cup of hot steaming tea in each hand, which were both mildly shaking due to the amount of blood he had already lost. Keeping the tea from spilling over the cup's brim proved to be a hassle for Lucas even after he removed his socks to prevent accidental slipping. Not even re-entering Rio's [Influence] gave him any significant help.
"Hey... I uh, brewed us some chamomile. This should put us at ease."
Lucas was doing his best to make himself sound more mellow, a complete contrast to the "frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" attitude he wielded against Rio when she provoked him.
The cup that was better maintained was carefully laid next to Rio, who continued to sit the same way she did before Lucas left the room. She was still motionless and unwilling to respond, hugging her knees to herself and burying her face between them. Nothing changed after she heard the white piece of porcelain getting placed to her left, on the floor.
"You should drink that before it gets cold," Lucas suggested, sitting crossed-legged with his back facing Rio's at a distance that could fit up to two people between them.
The stains on his sweater and pants were getting bigger from all the blood they continued to absorb and the blood running down his neck made the once pleasant breeze feel like a nasty chill biting his skin. Lucas was still a mess. Having chosen to prioritize Rio's well-being over his own partially due to his guilt, Lucas wasn't in the mood to tend to himself until he was certain he and Rio could put their differences behind them. He drank his tea with tiny sips to bear its heat while waiting for Rio to get started on hers.
It did not differ from five minutes prior. Rio continued to ignore him.
Sighing, Lucas figured that Rio was still sour over the things he said to her as a way of retaliation. Now that his composure had returned to normal, he shuddered under the weight of his actions and what he wanted most at that moment was to address them before his guilt could weigh him down further.
After figuring that only he could make things progress in this situation, Lucas took the initiative. He placed his cup down after the last drop of tea went down his throat.
"...Rio?" Lucas peeked over his shoulder to a curtain of raven hair. "About everything I said, I--"
"My head hurts a lot, but this is nothing compared to every truth you have spoken."
Rio finally responded; her dual voices were still present, and their contempt shook Lucas to his core. "Yes, I cannot help but feel superior to those who are not [Renegades]. Yes, I actually believed friends or relationships will always remain a daydream for me. They were all in the back of my head until you were so kind as to remind me. Good job, Lucas. Superb."
She acknowledged Lucas on how he read her like an open book but her gloomy tone and the unsettling nature of her voice left Lucas with a victory he wasn't proud to carry.
Lucas cleared his throat to give himself time to mentally prepare. It was unnerving for him to hear Rio, now talking with two voices at the same time - one that sounded like the playful tone he acquainted himself with alongside a slightly deeper voice that distorted with a minor echo. Nobody in the right mind would consider that to be "human."
"Yeah... I want to say that while I can't undo everything I said, I'll come clean now and admit that I went too far. Sorr--"
"Apology not accepted."
His attempt to say "sorry" was shot down without a second thought. The fact that Rio did so without hesitation while expecting it at the same time led Lucas to lower his head in shame. So, everything he said was true. Words can be harmless, but what he said affected Rio on a very personal level. Because she didn't forgive him, his guilt doubled in weight. Petrified, Lucas had no idea on what he should do next. His eyes were twitching and fighting to stay open but falling asleep was impossible for him.
Growing bored of sitting still and wanting to find out what was next to her, Rio shot a quick glance at her cup of tea while keeping most of her face hidden within the safety of her crossed arms. Within the cup were ripples on the clear honey-yellow drink's surface. It was coming from a single pink flower bud with its petals all gathered at the top and center to form an unbloomed shape. Its base was flat, allowing it to float like a raft.
From the looks alone, the presentation looked like a peace offering. Rio laced her fingers into the cup's ringed handle and picked it up, the cup warming her hands without eliciting a wince. Her lips touched its brim and she smelled the warm ribbons of vapor that emanated from the tea. A sip told her that her beverage didn't have much bitterness. In fact, it was sweet and airy with the harmonizing infusion of red apples and honey. It was so easy to take that Rio could drink it straight in one sitting despite the heat, but it only took the first sip for her to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside.
It was almost like an [Influence] was at work. Before she knew it, more negative traces in her emotions faded away to where staying angry felt like a waste of time and energy.
Thinking with a clearer head allowed Rio to re-visit her squabble with Lucas from another point of view, which helped her to understand why he had taken such as a stand against her. She got a taste of her own medicine not just because of her prejudiced accusation - it extended to all the way back to when they first met, which was just about a day before.
It made Rio recall a few moments where she teased or used Lucas on every chance she got despite having just met: how she enjoyed his fumbling as he tried to eat dinner with chopsticks at her house, how she used him as a life-bank for her third [Law] when she needed to recover, how she used him as a cover-up in front of his best friend so she could have an excuse to stay in his house, and most recently, how she jabbed him around while goading him for his answer on how her kimono pajamas looked on her.
Now that she thought about it, she never did this before - not even to her sister. Lucas was the first person she ever picked on, and to Rio, it happened naturally from her perspective. Maybe, she wanted attention.
Her mood improved, and it was only continuing to do so as her reflection went on. Rio placed a hand near her left eye and ran it down to her cheek. All she felt was a smooth surface with no ridges. This told her that the glowing azure cracks that once broke out on that spot had receded until they disappeared like they were never there to begin with.
Having calmed down to some extent, Rio tested her voice.
"Lucas?" her voice called, singular and recognizable.
In response to the sound of his name, Lucas lifted his head but did not look back as he was uncertain of Rio's mood and not ready to meet her face-to-face.
"You want to apologize right?" Rio asked him, her voice growing softer to the point of lacking even a trace of hostility. "I can tell that you now have second thoughts but saying 'sorry' and being forgiven like that is not the way I do things."
Lucas was puzzled over Rio's views on apology and forgiveness. Judging by what she said, Rio wasn't the type of person who would be satisfied with apologetic words alone. The extent of how much someone should repent in order to earn her forgiveness piqued his curiosity.
"Then what will it take for you to let this all go -- UWAAAHH!!!"
Lucas tried to ask a question, only to lurch with a high-pitched yelp when he was interrupted by a sudden bit of weight that landed on his shoulder. His breathing intensified, and his heart slammed on to his chest, almost like it was about to burst out.
"Calm down, will you?" Rio, who was now directly behind Lucas, took her hand off his shoulder. "It is only me," she assured him, but then remembered that he probably didn't see her as someone who he'd feel safe with anyway.
Lucas was no longer the only person to be baffled. His reaction was considered far too exaggerated for Rio, who only placed a hand on his shoulder from behind. She was the only person in the room with him and there were no signs that something or someone else could have joined them. Still, there were more important matters to attend to.
"Anyway, let me see your neck," Rio said, shelving her minor curiosity for the time being as she moved around to face Lucas directly before kneeling to his eye level.
After his breathing became more stabilized, Lucas allowed Rio to look at the damage she did to him by craning his neck to one side, slightly removing her from his field of vision while exposing the first mark she left on him. Both sides of his neck had the same wound: two bite marks from a head turned sideways, one for each side.
"They may be very bloody, but they are not as serious as you may think," Rio said after examining the personal signatures she left on him.
"Maybe because you're not the one who got bit," Lucas pointed out with a grumble.
"At least I missed the important veins," Rio told Lucas, her satisfying words relieving him from some of his worries. "Now hold still. I will heal your wounds for you, starting with this."
Rio gently placed her hands on Lucas' shoulders to keep him secured. By doing so in front of him this time, Lucas didn't react like he witnessed a jumpscare. Getting a sense of how more considerate Rio appeared to be made him lower his guard to his own surprise. Rio leaned forward, bringing herself closer to one of his bite wounds.
I guess this is what she considers an apology, Lucas thought as he allowed himself into Rio's care, still wary about the painful effects of [Reaper's Embrace].
His senses alerted him that something wasn't right as soon as Lucas felt what was happening to his neck. What was wiping his wound wasn't dry and it didn't appear to feel like anything similar to the tissue paper nearby. In fact, Rio didn't even grab a single sheet. What was wiping, no -- caressing his wound was soft, flexible and wet. His skin crawled as a viscous trail replaced his blood on every spot it touched. Lucas dragged his sight to the left corner of his eyes and glimpsed how dangerously intimate Rio's face was to his neck. He was shocked beyond words on how she was tending to his wound.
Rio uttered a muffled cry when she was shoved off by a sudden and forceful push that came from opposing hands. Lucas scrambled several feet away, panicking in a similar manner to escaping Rio's clutches from their earlier fight.
*Haah, haah* "WHAT THE HELL, RIO!?" he gasped for the air he lost and exclaimed after reaching a safe distance.
Lucas was frightened beyond his wits, one hand clutching his chest like he was in the middle of suffering a heart attack. Rio was left shocked and wide-eyed after landing hard on her backside.
"There is no need to be afraid," she said, one hand rubbing her soft behind while the other was raised in front of her to gesture Lucas that she meant no harm.
"Afraid!?" Lucas rigidly placed a hand on his neck then shook his head while shooting a cautious stare at Rio. "How can I even stay calm when you..." He looked at his fingers, which were dirty with red and bubbly transparent liquid. "...when you just licked me!?"
Rio, who believed she did nothing wrong, tried to explain her actions.
"My tongue is not made of skin, so [Reaper's Embrace] will not activate even if I touch you with--"
"No, no! Forget [Reaper's Embrace] for one second!" Lucas interrupted.
He whipped his head to look down and away and he threw his hands outward, both index fingers pointing up as if to tell Rio to shut up and stay far away from him. Before he knew it, his thoughts broke free through an unhinged rant.
"I... I never was the type of guy that didn't mind getting touched without warning, let alone getting licked! A...and it doesn't make things any better even though it was done by someone who's a girl and around my age, for once!"
Gasping, Lucas slapped both hands over his mouth, uttering a garbled "oh shit.” He was too late to realize that in his panic, he may have said a little too much.
"'For once'?" A bothered Rio monotoned the most suspicious phrase she heard just then.
"Lucas... Did something happen to you?"
"F-forget everything I said!" Lucas changed the subject as his body trembled. "If you really want to treat me properly, I have some medical supplies I left downstairs. I'll get them now!"
He rushed himself out of the room, forgetting not to slam the door shut on his way out.
That outburst Lucas put on display reminded Rio of how the day started that morning when he dramatically panicked over how he didn't want her to touch him. She found it strange because, for some reason, he did that on his own without her trying to do anything.
「I thought he was simply afraid of [Reaper's Embrace], but it seems that's not the only reason.」
Rio held her chin as a peculiar interest emerged within her. She was starting to see Lucas in a new light.
The hallway appeared to stretch farther than usual for him. Lucas went from one end to the other, but he couldn't walk forward in a straight line. He wobbled with every step he took, and each step shifted him to a different lane. His shoulders bumped the walls whenever he strayed too far in one direction. Throughout his wobbling, Lucas held both hands to his head as cold sweat broke out all over his convulsing face. Every thumb and finger did their best to vigorously massage his scalp to relieve him from a dizzying migraine.
Rio's seemingly harmless invasion of his personal space became the catalyst for a horrendous memory. One from years ago and thought to be forgotten. It invoked flashing images of a shadowed figure in the form of an older but still fairly young man holding a set of lacy clothes in one hand, and a thin book in the other. His friendly but distorted voice kept calling Lucas by an affectionate pet name while his sweet demeanor urged him to change into the clothes he was presenting to him.
Like an audible slideshow, more similar images kept playing until they became too much for Lucas to bear. Upon reaching the stairway and before he could go down one step, Lucas fell back and sank to the floor, his back scraping against the wall on his way down. His hands clutched and yanked on countless strands of his hair for recalling what he had been suppressing to the darkest corners of his mind.
The entire hallway was disturbed by a primal scream as its solid walls were hammered repeatedly by the underside of an out-of-control fist. The dense bones in Lucas' hand prevented it from breaking no matter how many times he abused it against the wall, but that didn't stop it from drawing blood after several painful strikes. When his hand grew numb and unable to take any more of his self-inflicted punishment, Lucas, his breathing now erratic, tucked his limbs to himself in a desperate need for comfort and curled into a fetal position, toppling over to one side. His sobbing would have drowned him in his own tears if it wasn't for the pain from his migraine overwhelming his senses first.
Darkness engulfed Lucas' vision and he blacked out, returning the hallway to a state of silence.
No one was there to witness the act.
Am I... asleep?
His shut eyes placed him in a warm and quiet realm with nothing but endless darkness. Lucas laid down in eternal bliss.
Am I back in bed?
He curled his fingers and scratched what was under him. No, that couldn't be right. The hardness below him meant that his body was still lying down on solid ground. He was probably still unconscious in the hallway.
What the...? How strange... My head doesn't hurt anymore...
His migraine had disappeared; those painful memories still lingered but they were no longer bothering him for the time being. In fact, his head was now the part of him that was feeling the most relief. A pillow was supporting it from the shoulders up. That pillow was creamy and soft with a bit of firmness in it, better than any other pillow he ever used throughout the years he had been existing. And not only that...
Hmm...? It sure smells nice... I thought we didn't have an air purifier in the hallway...
Lucas allowed himself to drift into this blissful ecstasy thanks to an aromatic scent that ravaged him every time he breathed. He took in everything at a slow and steady pace to fully immerse himself in its pleasantries.
Hang on... Don't I recognize this from somewhere...?
Now that he thought about it, the smell became more familiar with every subsequent inhalation. Familiar to the point that he could have sworn getting corrupted by it not too long ago.
Wait... Is that... Cinnamon!?
Just as Lucas made a guess of the scent, a pair of claps resounded, and a ray of light blinded him despite the bangs of his hair shielding his already shut eyes. A burning sensation stung him on his hand, making his fingers ball themselves into a fist. Its intensity was sufficient enough to force him out of the quiet dark world and back to another called "reality."
Lucas awoke with a gasping wince. His chest rose and fell quickly from the frequency of his breathing, which had gone a little higher than normal. What he saw when he opened his eyes was blurry at first, but it was slowly sharpening into form.
"An angel?" he blurted in a whisper.
He blinked a few times to adapt to the light entering his eyes and to clear the image. Above him was an upside-down pale face, less than half of it obscured by the underside of its chest. It gazed down at him with a narrowed feline eye of a deep azure and comforted him with a smile just vague enough to have an air of mysterious intention. Its silky black and midnight blue hair cascaded as a beautiful frame for its expression, which was like the gaze of a parent tending to a child. However, as soon as it heard him speak, it changed its comforting smile into a crooked one. When the identity of this enigma became clear, Lucas switched his remark, which he blurted in a deadpanned manner.
"Oh wait, it's the devil."
Another shrieking wince of pain was how Lucas reacted when a few squares of toilet paper soaked in a lot of medical alcohol forced itself to one of the bite marks on his neck in response. The medical alcohol on an open wound burned his nerves like fire and it took several seconds for the pain to subside.
"Lucky for you, I consider 'devil' to be a compliment," Rio cooed, her lips forming a slight devious grin to go along with it. She strayed her hand, having finished disinfecting and cleaning the bite mark.
"Rio... of course it's you," Lucas said with no other part of him moving an inch. "Where am I now?"
"Back in your room," Rio clarified as she put away the squares of toilet paper she used. "I heard you shouting along with some noise that sounded like gunshots, so I went out to check. That was when I found you... all curled up on the floor and crying a river."
She let out a wry chuckle after saying her piece, which Lucas wasn't the least bit amused by.
He turned his head to one side, ashamed that Rio saw him in such a state. "You wouldn't understand why I did that," he said, his voice creaking and trying to sound stable.
"Maybe." Rio agreed to some extent. "Anyway, you were such a sorry sight that I just had to take it upon myself to go after those medical supplies you left downstairs. I then dragged you back to your room for treatment."
Lucas frowned. "So, you helped me only because you pitied me?"
"You can say we are even now, Lucas," Rio said, her tone soft but triumphant.
From what Lucas could understand from her statement, Rio must've felt like he was pitying her when he cleaned all the blood and sweat off her face shortly after their fight ended. For her to possess such a mentality probably meant her ego must've been of a considerable size. However, pity was not what Lucas had in mind.
"You're right. Pity can be a reason," he admitted, agreeing to some extent with Rio's assumption. "But I was thinking something else as I wiped your face."
"Really, then what?" Rio asked, challenging him.
"Oh, I dunno. Maybe... I'm not a jerk like you?"
That was Lucas' answer - if he wanted Rio to get the message. Ironically, that would have also labeled him as a jerk as well and then again, it could have been a sign of pity too. Lucas was uncertain, though. Regardless, he gave another answer that while it wasn't what he had in mind at that time, it was still true enough to not be considered a lie.
"I don't like serving others, but I rarely have guests over, so I figured once in a while wouldn't hurt," he said with a casual shrug. "Know this. So long as you behave during your stay here, I'll continue to treat you like..."
Lucas didn't finish. He paused suddenly.
"Well?" Rio urged him to finish his answer.
Lucas tightened his lips, keeping them sealed.
"Like what!?" Rio raised her voice, losing her patience and demanding an answer.
"...Like... my princess." Lucas finally said, diverting away from the face above his. Unease was clear in the tone of his voice.
As soon as Rio heard his answer, the three words replayed themselves in her head, adorably shy tone intact. For the second time that night, she was awestruck. Her face overheated before white steam blew out of her ears. Within her false heart, a chord was struck, making it beat itself into overdrive before it slipped into a comical, non-lethal version of a cardiac arrest.
The strength of her arms departed and they fell limp to her sides. Rio couldn't stop herself from moaning in defeat, which Lucas found to be compelling because it sounded like something not within his horizon. Rio's head cocked itself backward and hung over her back, dangling loose. Her left eye derailed into a confused spiral, spinning in countless revolutions. She was caught off-guard, not expecting Lucas to say something so endearing to her, especially after what they've been through.
Heh. Take that, Rio.
As for Lucas, he was so proud of his strategy he couldn't help but grin the same way a bandit would. A pause before the final part of his answer forced a build-up of anticipation from Rio. When she was close to bursting from the accumulation, he struck her open with the climax. Calling Rio "princess" was a little difficult to say, but the reaction he got from her made the effort worth it.
Lucas would soon find out he didn't have much time to bask in his glory as Rio wasn't the type to take a beating sitting down.
She snapped her head back into place and looked down at Lucas once more. The sharpened glare in Rio's eye and the way she bit her lower lip to prevent herself from baring her teeth conveyed the message that her face was screaming with a desire for revenge.
She snarled, "You heard nothing! Understand!?"
Lucas just gave her a half-hearted nod. His grin had adjusted to become so subtle at this point it would require a closer look just to see its perverse intention.
"Moving on, you were too heavy for me to carry, this time," Rio growled, continuing from where she left off. "Since I could not put you back to bed, I went for an alternative." Her voice toned itself down, discarding her anger in an instant and leaving Lucas with paranoia. "So, tell me, Lucas... how does it feel?"
Lucas gurned the look on his face, clueless on what Rio was talking about. "How does... what feel?"
Rio bent over and brought her face closer, an impish smirk painted as clear as day.
Her soothing voice whispered, "To rest your head upon my lap~."
It should have been obvious, but the sheer comfort and the semi-groggy state Lucas was in led him to realize it only now. The so-called pillow was Rio herself, specifically her silk-covered lap, which she placed Lucas' head on while she knelt on the floor. If Lucas wondered why Rio's face always appeared to be upside-down and above him, he now had his answer.
Now it was Lucas' turn for his face to overheat from embarrassment. Like Rio, it lasted until a jet load of steam erupted out of his ears.
"Oh... it's okay, I guess," Lucas answered after cooling down a bit. His hands clasped themselves together and fiddled, trying to hide that deep down he was saying, So... I've been calling that as one of the best pillows ever!?
"Really~?" Rio beamed a mocking grin and spoke with a partially revived mocking tone. "That does not seem to go along with the fact that you were smiling the whole time before you woke up~."
"T-that's only because my headache was gone!" Lucas claimed, hands fidgeting.
"I suppose," Rio said, looking away for a moment to smile at herself for having the last laugh. "Also, it seems like you want to stay like this a little longer~."
She said that because Lucas appeared to be relaxed with the current position he was in. Lucas didn't want to admit it, but she was right, mostly.
"N-no, I'm fine, thanks." With his hands letting go of the other and moving to the side to help him, Lucas tried to get up. Rio prevented that by grabbing a handful of his hair before slamming his head back down. Besides some discomfort from getting his hair pulled with a bit of force, Lucas wasn't hurt in the least as his head landed back on Rio's lap, which caught and nestled it like the soft pillow it was portraying.
"I am not finished with you yet," Rio said, letting go of Lucas's hair.
She ripped a few new squares of toilet paper from the roll next to her, squirted them with a plastic bottle of medical alcohol, and applied them to the last remaining bite wound on Lucas' neck.
Just like before, he winced again.
"Oh, you poor thing~. Does it hurt~? " Rio teased, once again amused. "How about I ease your pain~?"
She lifted Lucas from his underarms then gave him a soft push from behind. This forced him to sit up a little, so it would be easier for Rio to bring her mouth closer to the wound. When strands of her hair brushed him against his neck, Lucas shivered, shut his eyes and clenched his teeth out of reflex.
"No... Don't do that again..." He begged as he was too frozen to move on his own.
The sensation he felt from Rio was not that of a wet tongue, but that of a gentle breeze. It took away his nervous tension. Instead of licking the wound again, Rio formed a small hole between her lips and blew on it with a concentrated stream of air. In an instant, the stinging pain from the medical alcohol was killed by a cool breath that smelled of mints.
*Ufufufufu* "Really? Did you seriously think I would not mind the taste of medical alcohol~? Use your head next time, alright~?" Rio let out a soft laugh and playfully patted the thick tufts of wavy hair on Lucas' head like he was her pet.
"Okay, I wasn't thinking that time," Lucas admitted, shaking his head a little to throw Rio's hand off. He then thought about what he was so anxious about and asked with a little bit of blush. "If I may ask, why did you try..." He hesitated. "...to lick my wounds?"
Rio stopped blowing on the bite mark and pulled her head back. "Ah, you can consider it to be a force of habit among the Nihanese," she told him, scratching the back of her head with a finger. "Human saliva has natural germ-killing properties so we often lick injuries as a method of first-aid since it costs us nothing. I guess practicing it for generations made us used to the taste of blood. By the way," she licked her lips and teeth to make sure she was certain of what she was about to say. "Yours tastes like cherries. Mostly sweet, but with some hints of a twisted sourness, too."
"Oh joy," Lucas rolled his eyes and remarked with false enthusiasm before craning and pointing to his neck. "I guess that means this was a nice snack, too?"
"No." Rio crossed her index fingers together to form a miniature "x" and switched to a more down-to-earth tone. "That tasted like junk."
That was good... and bad at the same time for some reason. It was great for Lucas to know he wouldn't make a good meal, but he wasn't ready to move on. Not just yet.
Curious, he looked over his shoulder with a suspicious scowl. "Uh... Define 'junk'."
"Why?" Rio tilted her head to one side, her expression unsure of how she should elaborate.
"Nevermind." Lucas conceded after Rio continued to look confused without saying a word. It was better to leave that topic in the dark. "I think it's best you stop this wound-licking habit. I'm no expert, but I don't think human saliva works on every disease you can find in someone's blood."
"Hoh~?" Rio moved and spun on the floor until she was kneeling on her side in front of Lucas, gazing at him with a kittenesque look in her eye. "Are you saying you are worried about me~?"
Lucas swiveled his head away from the charming display, his cheeks scorched from an ember. "...Is there anything wrong with that?"
Amused at his concern, Rio giggled with a kimono sleeve held to her mouth. "No, not at all. But even if I somehow got infected, I would not be worried in the slightest," she said, her kimono sleeve adjusting to reveal a partial smirk.
"Whatever you say," Lucas accepted her statement at face value and felt the wounds on his neck, which were now dry and clean. "Anyway, now that my hand and neck wounds are all better, I guess you've done your part. Thanks."
Lucas tried to smile out of appreciation, but before he could do so, the atmosphere between himself and Rio grew anxious, reflecting on what was to come.
Rio stopped her jovial demeanor, which she was using to lighten the mood and to distract herself from something she would eventually have to do.
"No... not yet," she informed Lucas, the pale cheeks of her face failing to hide a light blush. She darted an eye away then brought it back to him at a snail's pace. "When I said I would heal your wounds, I meant all of them."
It only took that one word for Lucas to grow tense from grasping the bigger picture.
After parroting, a swarm of hypothetical butterflies invaded his insides. The blurring beat of their wings rampaged within his stomach, making it churn.
Defensively, he crossed his arms all over himself and buckled his knees in to put up a guard. "You do realize that the rest is under my clothes, right!?"
While trying to keep her expression aloof, Rio shifted her eye to remove the unwilling Lucas from her sight. "It would probably be easier for me if you did not point that out."
"Don't tell me..." Lucas looked down and eyed the stains on his clothes he could see. "You were going to take my clothes off if I was still asleep!?"
Rio only grew more annoyed at him for his exposition. Frowning, she furrowed her eyebrows as her entire face lost control and transitioned into a state of shocking pink.
"It crossed my mind..." she admitted.
Miniature tremors erupted on the floor as Lucas shuffled his feet to make a getaway toward his bedroom door. Unfortunately, he fumbled, losing his step a few times before he could start running. His body had yet to fully awaken after his short nap, thus rendering his movements to be sloppy. This gave Rio enough time to snap herself out of her plight and race ahead of him despite a few seconds of a head start. She reached the door first, spun on her heel and stood her ground, blocking Lucas before he could even get close.
"Stop making this difficult for me." Rio conveyed her annoyance through the slanted angle of her eyebrows and pressed lips.
Following a skid from trying to stop himself, Lucas turned tail and made a beeline for his bed, intending to escape through the window he opened earlier. His efforts were dashed, however. Rio had already seized his right arm by the wrist before he could get any considerable distance away from her. A gentle but firm tug combined with the opposing tension Lucas made when he kicked his feet off the ground was all Rio needed.
The tension in the center of forces going in opposite directions threw Lucas off balance, removing his center of gravity while allowing Rio to gain control of his actions for a second. In tandem with the tug she gave, Rio spun counter-clockwise while still holding on to Lucas' wrist, allowing her to pull him to herself like his weight never mattered.
When he was within her grasp, Rio gripped Lucas by the appropriate shoulder with her free hand while simultaneously extending a leg that swept him off his feet when it tapped his heel from behind, stinging it for a split-second. Lucas fell to his back, but Rio did not drop him to the floor and make his bleeding worse. Her balletic grappling skills continued to work their magic, and Lucas found himself gliding in a semi-circle before his back made contact with the floor with not a sound or bump made.
Lucas couldn't even struggle or do anything - it all happened in a matter of seconds.
Like she was leading him into a waltz-styled ballroom dance, Rio used the principles she took to heart from Judo and Aikido to manipulate the flow of momentum between herself and Lucas in her favor. She just had to target the right body parts, execute her string of actions with impeccable timing, and most importantly, have a calm mind working together with a silent and serene heart.
But Rio wasn't finished yet. She pinned Lucas down to the floor again before he could get up by straddling him over his hips. She locked-on to one of his arms. What happened next was a case of déjà vu, but it also made Lucas learn the difference between a Rio that had gone feral and a Rio that didn't.
『腕絡 Ude Garami 腕絡』 (Figure-Four Shoulder Keylock)
Her arms slithered like a pair of snakes, darting and coiling around a single target before biting each other to ensure their target had no chance of freedom. One slid under Lucas' arm next to his shoulder before grabbing her other forearm, whose hand held a firm clasp on Lucas' wrist after bending his entire arm at an angle.
It was the same submission hold Rio failed to do when she wasn't thinking straight. A while ago, she was practically lost on where to put her hands and how to bend her opponent's arm. Her constant arrival at the wrong answer led her to curse her frustrations in the form of profanity, giving Lucas more than enough time to escape.
This time, however, she performed the same technique without a margin of error - no words, no wasted or ad-libbed movement, and executed within a second, maybe even a fraction of it.
Aside from having one of Lucas' arms entangled in a hold, Rio positioned herself to a form that concentrated her weight to a single point and pressed every inch of her body on top of him to keep him from escaping. Successfully executed, Lucas was imprisoned like Rio had become several times heavier. Of course, she didn't suddenly gain any weight. Rio simply knew how to pin a bigger or stronger opponent to the ground.
Lucas tried to struggle and squirm his way out. That is, until Rio lifted one of her shoulders, forcing a rotation to his arm past its limit. This simple motion was enough for Lucas to sense a wet crackle from his entangled dominant arm. It was loud enough to silence him, and the pain was comparable to a lightly pulled muscle. That was all it took for him to be warned that Rio could easily unplug his arm from its socket if she allowed herself a little more effort.
Lucas may have a solid form of defense in his dense skeleton that always did an excellent job of protecting him from blunt force trauma, but submission holds were designed to pierce through that kind of armor. They worked not only by attacking the bones themselves but were also versatile enough to target the fragile joints that connected them or the muscles and soft internal organs near them. Simply put, Rio was the perfect counter to Lucas in every way despite being physically inferior in normal circumstances.
"So, will you cooperate with me or shall we continue this little contest?" Rio asked, maintaining her hold and eye contact (figuratively) with Lucas.
"Why must you make things harder for yourself?" Lucas questioned her, no longer trying to back, but still showing some hostility in the way he spoke. "I would've been satisfied with what you've done so far."
"And you are being ignorant," Rio retorted.
Lucas was dumbfounded. "What?"
"I wanted you to get what you deserved, but I was not thinking right. In the end, I went too far and made you bleed, so it would be preferable that you do not rob me of my chance to make up for my mistakes."
For someone who reveled in violence, Rio was regretful of what transpired. While Lucas was gaining an understanding of the morals she followed, he still shuddered at the idea of letting her see him in such a vulnerable state.
"I can understand why you are nervous..." Rio pressed on, reluctant but still determined to pay the price. "...but If you allow me to treat the rest of your wounds, I will do what I can to make things less uncomfortable for you."
Lucas was perplexed. "Less uncomfortable?"
"Mm-hmm..." Rio nodded and blushed a little, and not because there were almost no gaps between the person below her and herself.
Despite what Rio promised, Lucas was still unwilling. On the flip side, he didn't have much of a chance to weasel his way out and he was out of options. It was already proven that Rio could catch and restrain him if he tried to escape. If her treating the rest of his wounds could erase the last fractions of animosity between the two, then it was best to just get it over with.
"Alright," Lucas complied. On another topic, although both of them had full-body clothes on, Lucas was still subjected to an otherworldly feeling, courtesy of a feminine body melting onto him. "C-could you get off me, first?" he said after following suit in blushing.
With Lucas granting his consent, Rio disentangled her complex hold, freeing his arm before she lifted a leg to get off him. As Lucas pushed himself up while settling his fragile mind, he requested that the lights in the room be turned back off. He suggested that doing so might help make the whole experience less nerve-wracking even if by just a little bit. If Rio needed help in finding the spots to treat, she could ask Lucas himself or use the dim moonlight that was entering through the windows.
No argument came from Rio. Seeing in the dark was nothing new to her.
With her agreement to his terms, Lucas braced himself and clapped his hands twice in quick succession and the room darkened to where they could only see what the moonlight shined on, and what was closest to them.
"Now then, take off your clothes..." Rio said, hands grasping each other behind her back before transitioning to a whisper. "...in front of me."
"WHAT!!!!?" Lucas reeled back. It was a given that Rio would see him exposed, but for her to say such a thing was just making the situation more awkward.
Rio twiddled a finger in her hair, forming temporary spirals on its raven silk. She was a little shy from requesting something so assertive, but she also seemed to be a little worked up.
"Seriously, I'm learning something new about you every minute." Lucas deadpanned as the rest of him trembled to move.
"I am going to see every inch of your body, anyway!" Rio forced herself to say, raised voice, hands thrown down and balled into shaking fists. After that, she let out a sigh, softened her voice and loosened her fingers. "No one else will know. Only us."
That was a little reassuring, but it wasn't enough to make things easier. Lucas still didn't want to expose himself in front of another person - not again after such a long time, but time itself wasn't waiting for him. He needed to rest so he could be ready and in good condition for what may happen the next day.
With both hands, Lucas started with the least embarrassing article of his clothing to remove. As expected, anxiety permeated every fiber of his body as he pinched the hem of his sweater.
It'll be fine... It's in front of a girl this time.
He assured himself and took another glance at Rio to solidify his thoughts before forcing himself to pull through.
He took deep breaths as he slid his head into the biggest hole of his sweater while pulling it up. Deep breathing was Lucas' secret weapon to attaining relief whether he was nervous before fights in the Underground Arena or moments that could leave him embarrassed such as this. Here, it worked to some degree.
The time it took for Lucas to remove just his sweater would probably bore a person to death and the removal of his pants took even longer. Still, because of its content, Rio was treated to about two-thirds of a minute's worth of a strip show. Her watchful eye saw the state his body was in as it was laid bare before her.
Poorly done stitches were noticeable in every nook and cranny no matter where she looked. Blood was leaking out of every wound with some already clotted. Some trails of it dried out leaving red blemishes on Lucas skin. Lucas sure wasn't exaggerating when he said he came out of a life-or-death situation.
"T-there, you happy now!?" Lucas held his shoulders. He stood straight but was also shuddering and bloody in only a pair of black boxer shorts. "Now how will you--"
Before he could finish, his jaw dropped in awe.
Within his field of vision, Rio turned her back on him before proceeding to show how she meant to make things even between them. While gazing at Lucas over her shoulder, Rio's hands went behind her and felt for the loose ends of the sash around her waist. Both hands trembled the moment they found their respective ending strands, but Rio didn't stop herself and she slowly pulled both ends away. The loops of the ribbon behind her waist compressed into its knot until it became untied, and the long sash that kept her clothing together fell to the floor in an unkempt bundle. Her hands moved on to the robe's crisscrossing collars around her neck, which she separated to reveal the pale skin once hidden beneath them.
Just like how Lucas took his sweater and pants off in front of her, Rio intended to spare him the humiliation... by disrobing herself in front of him.
She tried to keep her face stoic but her lips quivered and she was left blushing mad. She had just arrived at the part where her bare shoulders were peeking out of her kimono when--
"Okay, I get it!" Lucas held an open hand in front of his face to obscure his sight and to urge Rio to stop. "There's no need for you to go that far."
In response to his words, Rio grabbed hold of the collars and held them in a firm grip before the silk robe could slide off her body. However, she didn't stop because Lucas told her to do so.
"Lucas... look at me." she beseeched him to his utter shock.
Hearing her shaky but somewhat appealing request made Lucas' heart skip a beat. He was losing himself to his adolescence, but a part of him carried empathy and aforementioned guilt.
"Do you really want to go through with this?"
He tried to stop her because once again, his guilt was affecting him. Now that he had returned to thinking rationally, Lucas believed he'd already caused enough psychological harm to Rio when he pointed out her issues, which he previously failed to realize were all beyond her control. He believed Rio stripping in front of him was only hurting her further due to feelings of shame or self-consciousness. Those feelings, he knew them all too well.
From the countless assassinations she undertook, Rio used everything in her power to get the job done while keeping her emotions suppressed. Distracting a target by showing off a bit of her skin was just one of the many tools she utilized. She had gotten used to performing it after several times she lost count off and she had no repulsive memories to worry about since dead targets won't remember her anyway.
What she lacked experience in, however, was disrobing with her emotions intact in front of someone who would live to see another day. Lucas was not an assassination target and no longer a witness casualty ever since she forged her contract with him. His memory of seeing her exposed will be taken into his head instead of his grave for the time being. The fact that she even passed off doing something like this as a joke made her feel even worse. Despite this setback, Rio had no intention of backing out, not with how far they've already gotten. She savored every second of Lucas unclothing himself because she had pent-up desires that were reawakened after a long period of slumber. Besides making things even between Lucas and herself, Rio considered this to be her penalty for giving in to some extent to what she was deprived of as a blossoming young woman.
"You were curious about me when we tried to sleep... right?" she asked Lucas as she adjusted her grip on her collars.
Lucas made sure Rio was out of his sight before answering, "There's no point in lying now, is it?" His face burned brighter when he admitted it. "I mean, it's not every day that something like this would happen to me..." He abruptly shook his head and re-worded his answer. "...No, more like I thought something like this would never happen to me."
Rio nodded even though Lucas didn't notice that she was agreeing with him.
"I think I felt the same. Maybe that was why I did not want to face you in bed." She narrowed her eye and murmured in the heat of the moment, "It was difficult because it has been years since the last time I was alone with a boy."
"Wait, what!?" Lucas swiveled his head to Rio after catching her say something that grabbed his attention.
"Eh!?" A chill struck Rio in the spine, forcing her senses to wake up. It was too late to hide what she had already blurted. "I-I made a mistake in my English!" she claimed as she rubbed one foot behind the other leg. The thumbs of her hands fidgeted on the smooth silk of her clothes.
"Oh, I-I see..." Lucas said, pushing his thumbs against each other as he pretended to be convinced. "It's a common mistake for anyone that speaks more than one language. Yeah, that's... that's gotta be it, right?"
Rio bobbed her head several times, almost making her hair flip over it.
"A-anyway, I am getting tired of holding my kimono up!" She almost bit her tongue as she spoke in an uncontrolled frenzy.
Even though she was determined to continue despite her frantic mannerisms, Lucas wanted to give her one more chance.
"You can still back out you know?" He told her. "Are you sure you want to go through with this?"
"I have no idea whether I should say yes or no," Rio answered before pursing her lips. "But I watched you take your clothes off without looking at anything else. I think you deserve to do the same." She turned around to face Lucas, aggravating him with a shot of her exposed shoulders down to her collarbones. "This curiosity we are having over each other will just become a hindrance later if it stays, so... how about we put an end to that right here and now and just let it all out?"
Lucas had his doubts that showing off to each other would work as Rio claimed. Still, she was adamant to go through with it after the progress they made so far. Deciding to stop trying to understand everything and just let things go naturally, Lucas swallowed a gulp of air and saliva in anticipation.
"If you say so." He conceded, but a part of him was elated.
Before she resumed, Rio asked Lucas to reveal his eyes as he could easily pretend to watch her thanks to the curtain of wavy chocolate-brown hair that obscured them. Heeding her words and finding no harm since she already knows that secret, Lucas swept his hands through his hair starting from his forehead until there was nothing to keep his eyes safe from stares of anything.
They were still colored a ghostly white, just as Rio remembered from the first time she recoiled at the sight of them. Those faded pupils, iris, and sclera... They were so unusual that they were likely to frighten the average person or at least repulse them from who they belonged to. Now that she looked at them again, they no longer appeared to be frightening. The round almond shape they formed on the anxious face they were gazing from made Lucas look like a timid puppy from Rio's perspective. Timid, but with a speck of excitement lurking beneath.
His eyes were now on her. Rio took this as her cue.
"Make the most of this while it lasts because I do not think this will happen again." One-by-one, all of Rio's fingers released their grip on her kimono. "Here I go."
The silk robe took its time to slide down and reveal the feminine figure it was hugging. Lucas fought to keep his composure in check, but he couldn't stop his heart from hammering in his chest as his eyes drifted down every last detail. Starting with Rio's slender shoulders, which he already had a glimpse off, he could only imagine how easy and comforting it would be if someone wrapped their arms over those smooth and delicate parts as they rested their chin on her hair. The bewitching pleasantries of its cinnamon scent would be ecstasy.
Then the descending kimono unveiled Rio's chest, wrapped by a long strip of bandages. The front was tightly bound to the point that barely any cleavage was exposed not unlike the back, which wasn't shy to show off her robust shoulder blades. Overall, Rio's chest bandages were tied in a similar fashion to a bikini top as a few layers of strap went over the center of her collarbones and around her nape while other straps were tied below her shoulder blades.
Rio paused. She noted the direction Lucas' eyes were pointing at and despite some uneasy feelings, it flattered her.
"In case you want to know, I often tie my chest down, so I could move with nothing holding me back," she explained while gazing away and suppressing the urge to cross her arms over her chest.
Lucas nearly thought his heart would jump out of his throat and in a flash, diverted his attention away after finding out he was caught staring even though it was to be expected. Amidst that, the context of what Rio said made him speculate.
So... they only appear to be small?
Her breasts looked like they were suffocating and trying to break free from their tight bindings. It made Lucas ponder over their actual size as his shoulder angel did say they were neither big nor small but the fine line in between. After giving it some thought, Lucas decided it was better to forget about it lest he might go overboard and ask Rio to unravel her chest bandages as well. It may have been Rio's idea for the two of them to strip down, but there was still a line neither one of them should cross.
"Hey, look back here," Rio urged Lucas, cheeks flushing. "I am almost done."
Lucas lagged his sight back to the person in front of him and caught sight of Rio's waist, which was the most recent to be laid bare before his very eyes. It was slender with serious inner curves on its sides that transitioned to a pair of wider and firm hips. That flat and delicate stomach was just teasing him with its hints of toned abdominal muscle. Every detail was enticing to the point that Lucas even chastised himself for thinking Rio's small and vertically slit belly button... looked kind of alluring. He clasped his hands together to discourage them from getting near the thought of curling themselves around that waist, only convincing them to not give in to temptation when he reminded himself of the dire consequences for doing so.
Then Lucas got his second surprise when he saw what Rio wore between her lean and shapely calves. Attached to thin white ropes that went around her hips was a plain white loincloth. With how skimpy it already appeared to be in front, Lucas already had an idea of what to expect from the other side - minimum coverage of the nether region.
She wore a sarashi and a fundoshi. Those were Rio's choice of undergarments. From looks alone, it was easy for Lucas to deduce them to be old-fashioned and from an era centuries before either himself or Rio was born.
And yet, Rio flaunting herself in such primitive clothing was far more appealing to him than any lingerie or swimsuit-clad character from the light novels he borrowed from Davis. He couldn't comprehend why.
As Rio's white kimono hit the floor and collected some dirt, Lucas saw in full what the human layer of this [Renegade] looked like. Only one thought was on his mind.
That shoulder angel wasn't exaggerating. Not... at... all.
Rio was truly bestowed with a figure that the highest of beings would dare not to create. She was synonymous with one word.
With open arms outstretched to her sides and her dainty footsteps only eliciting tapping noises on the floor, Rio walked toward Lucas with no abrupt changes in her movement.
Her narrowed feline eye glowed in the dark and her lips were slightly curled on both ends to resemble that of a cat's. It was difficult to tell if such a smile was meant to be playful, sly, or if it was even a smile at all.
But as the distance between them inched closer, agitation struck and held Lucas by his throat, making it harder to breathe with each step Rio took. They were now stripped to the bare minimum. That itself was the prelude to a warning Lucas didn't figure out until Rio was within a few feet away.
The very [Law] Lucas feared, the dreaded [Reaper's Embrace], was now wielded at one of its most critical level of lethality.