Toaru Ramen no Hanashi
"U-Umm, are you serious?" Eroi playing her bangs with a flustered face.
The boy paused, then dropped the phone in the table. "Yes? What do you mean by that?"
His confused tone, naturally brought the entire establishment on a mute. Bocchan, who was one of the perplexed spectators, then directed the boy a query. "Umm, boy. Just so you know, we heard you say "Man, I think I'm in love" mere moments ago."
Gourmet who returned from his smoke break, sat back on the counter. "Hey, hey, hey. What's with this atmosphere like it's something out from a police drama?"
Bocchan dropped a stiff mien, hardboiled expression akin to an investigator interrogating a vicious wanted criminal. "You..." he paused, clasping his fingers and cracking them one by one. "For your sake, just admit that you said it."
The boy however, delivered an anti-climatic response with a noncommited tone. "Well, I did. What of it?"
For some reason, the boy and the whole gallery of regulars are not in the same page. Undeniably, the boy exudes a calm and steady behaviour, like his usual self voided of any ulterior motive or drive. Such display further confused the gallery who thought they were witnessing a young adolescent boy falling for the notorious gal, who is widely known for her brutal rejections of those who confesses to her.
Instances like those are sort of a staple in the establishment and such event actually had bearing to the newcomers if they will return or not, which is a subject of a gamble-like betting among the regulars. Whispers among the veteran visitors circulated in the ramen shop, which made the ramen shop lady sigh while massaging her temples. "Ugh, these lots... They're on it again, aren't they?"
The chef donning an uncaring mien replied, "Leave them be."
The boy in the center of attention took notice of the ambience. He then seek answers from Gourmet, who at the moment, was grinning like a madman in his own space with matching idiotic poses as well.
"Umm, Gourmet-san. Why are you acting like you're someone who was cut out from a certain popular bizarre manga?" the boy bluntly asked with a blank look on his face.
Gourmet, as expected, replied with vigor. "Ora, ora, ora, ora, ora, ora!" he then paused, took his time posing. "Don't worry, boy. This is nothing new."
Eroi was murmuring silently in her seat, Bocchan still playing his role as a stoic detective, Gourmet, out of nowhere, flexing his muscles and the regulars doing all sorts of discussion in their tables. The irregular frenzy was enough to put a repulsed mien on the boy's face. After a short intermission, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was ramen shop lady with an apologetic smile on her face. "Sorry, boy. I suggest not minding these weird bunch for a while. They'll soon return to their tolerable state after some time."
The boy nodded. "Well, it's not really that bad. I'll just divert my attention to something worthwhile." said the boy, who wiped off his fogging eyeglasses with a handkerchief.
"Well, well. How about going inside the kitchen and look at how we work?" the ramen lady said that instantly caught the boy's intrigue. Despite his apparent exhilaration, he still tried to maintain a prudent attitude.
"Umm, can I really take a look?" he innocently asked with a bow.
The lady only smiled and gestured a "Come with me" handsign leading the boy to the kitchen. Once there, the reluctant at first chef, showed the boy the ropes. From kneading the noodles, stirring the boiling pots of broth and stock, fine chopping of the toppings and the actual act of putting everything in a bowl. Awed by the experience, the boy spent a good amount of quarter hour inside the kitchen, watching, listening and learning things that were usually out of his norm.
Pleased with the honest yet controlled manner of the boy, the chef decided to have the boy make a bowl on his own. Hesitant at first, the boy finally willed himself after a good encouragement from the owner and his wife. He then finds himself, sorting an authentic ramen bowl that may be served to a customer.
"But still, to actually get the chance to learn how to whip a ramen from scratch. Aren't you one lucky kid?" Gourmet said, from the back of the counter.
"Oh, Gourmet-san! Done playing poses?" the boy said, carefully placing kamaboko on a miso ramen.
"You little... you certainly lack culture, my boy!" Gourmet retorted, slamming his hands on the table.
Bocchan and Eroi who were startled by Gourmet's actions then took notice of the boy doing some arrangement in the kitchen. Eroi, who is still feeling some aftereffect from the boy's vague confession and Bocchan, who recovered from playing a hardtacked police enforcer, then locked sights on the miso ramen the boy is working on. Gourmet, who instantly read the mood, whimsically played his goofy antics earning the ire of the two regulars sitting in the counter.
Within a few moments, the boy finally completed his first ramen bowl with the chef's approval. "Good job, boy. I hope you found this experience memorable even if it's on short notice."
The boy bowed his head. "I definitely learned a lot, sir. Thanks for letting me experience such a unique event like this."
After paying his respects to the chef and his wife, the boy returned to his place behind the counter with a fulfilled expression. Gourmet then put his arms on the boy's shoulder, "Nice job out there, boy. Bookmark this day on your calendar from now on and don't you dare forget it."
The boy released a laugh, "Hahaha, I'm pretty sure this memory will stay in my mind for a long time. Who would think a kid like me actually gets the chance to make my own ramen." the boy said.
Before long, the boy gets served with the ramen he whipped earlier. "Enjoy" said the ramen shop lady, patting the boy's hair gently like a mother would caress her child's.
Before he could take his first bite, he noticed a set of peculiar eyes locking onto his ramen. Obviously, it was his closest seatmates doing some fidgeting, acting shyly. However, their intentions are so telegraphed, evident by their gaping mouths and some wetness in the side of their lips prompting the boy to bluntly shut them without mercy. "Nope, I won't share this with you."
Dejected, the three could only watch the boy enjoy his ramen.
"But to be honest, I'm still wondering... didn't you just confess to Eroi earlier, boy?" Bocchan suddenly asked.
The boy, with noodles in his mouth, dropped his chopsticks, chew the contents inside his mouth and gulp his glass of water. "Huh? Excuse me? Confess? To Eroi-san?" he said, obviously surprised.
Eroi, a little annoyed at the boy's bewilderment dragged the boy by his collars. "Hey, boy! I heard you say you're in love with me. Loud and clear!" she stated, with a strict tone prompting the boy to think retrospectively. Upon his memory rewinding, the boy picked up the exact moment everyone's talking about.
The next thing that followed was the boy dropping his elbows to the table and his face buried in his slender fingers. In a nutshell, a full covered facepalm.
After a short time, the boy cleared his throat and opted to start correcting the misunderstanding. "Eroi-san!" he said, facing the seductive lady beside him. "I'm sorry!" he added, bowing his head.
Naturally, the event silenced the entire gallery. The boy, who paused for a while, then resumed, "I certainly said that I was in love... but not to Eroi-san, but to the..."
"To the..?" the spectators recited in unison.
The boy inspected the eyes all over him, including Eroi, who looks nothing but dumbfounded.
"To the cat in the background!" he declared, with a blushing face as he scratched his right cheek.
For a while, the establishment played an utter silence. A blank phase with nothing but lull persisted, with the regulars just sitting on their seats with their heads down. The boy who dropped such bombshell, tried to initiate a conversation, but to no avail. As he dropped his shoulders in his seat, a sudden chuckle by Gourmet erupted the whole roster to absolute guffaws. From all direction, there was just boisterous laughing that even includes the ramen shop lady covering her snickering face. Eroi, the other subject of the matter, quickly scrolled the pictures she showed to the boy, trying to get clarification of a certain cat that even she can't recall. Bocchan, who was laughing hectically, was forced to do the same. Upon checking their gallery, there was indeed a random calico cat included in a portrait of Eroi. Its tri-color feature, lovely fur, vertical pupils, bubbly figure and distinct pose was too much for Bocchan to hold his laughter.
Eroi, who had the picture for 5 years, immediately checked hers. Upon looking, there was indeed a cat, not in just one or two old photos of hers. Coincidentally, it can be seen to even photos of hers in the most unlikely places. Her room, her house's bathroom, kitchen, lawn, in random streets and even in her old high school.
Bocchan and Gourmet in particular, was also taken aback. "Were you cursed by a cat in your past life?" asked Gourmet with a frightened look printed on his face.
Eroi shook her head vehemently. Bocchan then put his clunky fingers in Eroi's shoulders. "Serves you right!" he said condescendingly, wearing a patronizing smirk that naturally annoyed Eroi as she helplessly continued to browse her photo gallery.
The boy felt a little responsible for Eroi's current dilemma. He tapped the lady's shoulders and offered literal encouragement that made him shine in Eroi's perspective.
"But to think a cat managed to photobombed Eroi by an otherwordly amount. That's got to be one heck of a meme, don't you agree?" Bocchan said, looking at the screen of his phone.
Gourmet and the boy traded gazes. "Do you hate cats, Eroi?" the old man asked.
Frantically, Eroi answered with an uneasy tone. "Of course not! I actually like cats a lot, but they seem to dislike me in return."
Laughing without reservation, Bocchan teased the vulnerable Eroi poking her cheeks with his clenched fist. "Hahaha. That's what you get for hauling all the men in the university, you curvy fox!"
The boy and Gourmet could only sigh from Bocchan's petty mocking of Eroi. "Good grief, this lad never learns." said Gourmet, shaking his head. "Ane-san, your nephew's getting too full of himself here! Please teach this kid a lesson, will you?" he said, calling the attention of the ramen shop lady who immediately grabbed Bocchan's square-face with her bare hands.
"O-O-Ouch, Auntie! I understand, I'll behave now!" Bocchan pleads as he escaped the claws of his mighty aunt.
Eroi, seemingly disappointed, sighed a heavy one. "This is the first time my charm didn't work on somebody after gaining the moniker Eroi." she said, glaring at the boy, raising her left shoulder that juggled her mountains in an erotic fashion.
The boy wryly smiled hiding the redness in his face by playing with his glasses, "Nah, that's not the case, Eroi-san."
"Don't bother with a follow-up. That's just something I used to deal with my old self."
The boy then recalled Eroi's old photo in his mind. This time, his focus was Eroi herself, not the calico cat in the background.
"Umm, just to clear further misunderstandings... I think you were as lovely as you are now." he said, still fiddling his glasses.
"This is not just lip-service. I actually prefer how you look in the past, but nonetheless, you're still very attractive, Eroi-san!" the boy blushingly said, scratching his hair clumsily trying to hide his embarrassment.
Eroi suddenly felt a rush of confidence brimming inside her, but more importantly, she can feel her face getting hot hearing such statement. "Oh, is that so? Mhmm, just so you know, hearing you say that doesn't make me the least bit happy. You hear me?" she said, averting her face opposite to the boy.
"Why are you beet red, Eroi? Ah, don't tell me you're actually fal-" Bocchan nonchalantly blurted before getting his mouth covered with a melon bread, still in its plastic wrapper.
"Hahaha! You wanna stuff yourself with melon bread? Sure, I'll give this to you. It's good, isn't it?" Eroi suddenly said in an agitated tone.
After a while, Bocchan recovered, removing the wrapper and eating the bread in three successive bites. "Are you planning to kill me?! I don't wanna be the headline of a news flash that says ~A college student choked to death by her classmate with a melon bread with wrappings.~" he retorted aggressively that instantly warranted Eroi to properly apologize. "I thought I was a goner though. I thought I saw flashes of my childhood." he added, gulping a fruit milk bottle handed to him by her aunt.
"But seriously, boy. Did you really say you like Eroi's old looks over her current style?" Gourmet curiously asked, giving a scrutinizing leer on Eroi's curves.
The boy played with his thin cheeks. "Like I said, I'm well aware of Eroi-san's destructive charm." he said, locking gazes with Eroi herself who blushed helplessly. "But surprisingly, her old style just hits my strike zone. For me, her "Yamato Nadeshiko" look is just indescribably perfect."
Bocchan saw Eroi turned into something akin to the redness of a ripe tomato. He sighed, but displayed a caring mien afterwards. "Why is it always you...!" he shouted, with a hapless grimace deserving of pity. Comically, traces of blood can be seen flowing out in the side of his mouth and tears forming in his eyes while violently shaking Eroi by her shoulders.
Seeing the expression of her classmate, Eroi clumsily tried to laugh her way out. "Hahaha... My bad..."
Gourmet signalled the two giant bodyguards to pacify their disoriented employer. As they forcefully removed Bocchan in the scene, Eroi released a sigh of relief. Gourmet soon threw a series of teasing that rattled both Eroi and the boy to respond weak retorts that further motivated Gourmet to poke fun at a potential pairing.
"Ahrara, since when did the story became a love-comedy one? Have I lost the plot?" the old man said, spinning his cowboy hat joyfully. "But seriously, jokes aside, if you two decided to become a real couple, I just want to let you two know that you have everyone's blessings here."
A warm feeling suddenly enveloped the establishment.
"NNNNNOOOOOOTTTTT MMMMMMEEEEEEEEE!!!" shouted Bocchan far from the scene that completely obliterated the shortlived warm ambience.
Before silence can take another set of ample moments, Gourmet instructed everyone to disregard the bitter, toxic and jealous Bocchan who is raging in one of the corners of the ramen shop.
The boy sighed. "Everyone, I think this is enough joking about us, don't you think?"
Gourmet wore his hat back and straightened his posture. "Well, if you say so, boy. But I think you should consult Eroi her opinion as well. You don't want her to misunderstand the situation any longer, right?"
Eroi crossed her arms. "Geez, to think there'll come a day that I would be the victim of the jeers inside this ramen shop." she said, finally recovering her usual composure.
Gourmet immediately replied, "And we have the boy to thank for such an interesting event." he said, rallying the other regulars to give the boy a round of applause. "She is lacking tremendous amount of delicacy and respect to others, but thank you for taking such a presumptuous girl as your lover. I hope you two will be happy for the rest of your lives. " he added, respectfully bowing to the boy.
"Huh?!" Eroi retorted, with a line of redness in her cheeks. "Why the heck are you acting like my pops offering his blessings to my potential groom?"
Gourmet, out of nowhere, took a white handkerchief and wipe the side of his eyes. "Uhuhuh! My little girl! Our little girl is finally..." said Gourmet, before blowing his nose off with the handkerchief.
The boy conceded to the ongoing farce. The atmosphere had taken another drastic change that even he considered bothersome to deal with. Instead of pouring oil to Gourmet's burning desire to tease them, he decided to quiet down and just enjoy the ramen he made himself earlier in the kitchen.
Eroi, for a while, attempted to shut Gourmet down but for some reason, the hyper old man was too much to handle at the moment. "Geez, can we just go back to the story? I'm pretty sure we already had enough talking this time around." she sat back on her space, her shoulders seemingly tired.
"My thoughts exactly!" said Bocchan who spontaneously appeared like a wild mushroom sprouting out of nowhere. Fully recovered, he reached for the fruit milk bottle and drank it in one go. "Forget about Eroi here and her ultra evanescent rom-com experience with the boy. Still, don't assume I was jealous even for one bit cause I wasn't! For real! Swear my heart!" Bocchan added, that obviously quietened the ebullient crowd.
Gourmet who couldn't stand the sudden silence finally took the reins. "Ugh, okay fine! Let's get back to the story..."
On the sixth day of their trek, Alliona, Helen and the attendant found themselves running frantically into higher elevation. It was still early in the morning, but their exhaustion was unlike any other they felt during the past days. Helen, who just recovered from a fever, kept pressing her midsection, finding her breath as she keeps up the pace step by step.
"Milady... please do not force yourself to heighten the pace. We're still relatively..." Alliona stated, worried about Helen who was panting and sweating excessively.
Helen released a glare. "Are you kidding?! I need to find somewhere to relieve myself or I'll shame my humanity in front of you two."
The attendant rush herself towards Helen and handed a fabric and a claypot of water. "Take your time, mistress. I'll be on the lookout." she said, signalling Alliona to take a five.
Alliona, who was also overwrought at the same time, took a short jog towards a vantage spot and kept an eagle eye to the surroundings. "I hope they don't find this route. If they do, we'll have a lot of trouble in our hands." she mumbled to herself, drinking from her claypot an ample amount of water.
After a long while, Helen came out from behind a huge rock. "Why am I the only one having this misfortune?" she said, abruptly holding on to her stomach again.
"Forgive me, mistress." the little attendant responded as she kneeled on all fours, offering apologies. "To have you recover, we made you take a herb for its efficacy to allay the fever by having you..." she paused, flustered to say another word.
"Argh, don't say another word!" Helen weakly retorted. "I get it, I ingested some sort of concoction to mitigate the fever, but the tradeoff is I'll have tendencies of... of..." she stopped, looking mortified to say another word.
Alliona who was told of the herbs effects beforehand, also was unable to insert her commentary. Still, pressing matters are on the move while they take a short break from their impromptu climbing.
It happened hours ago elsewhere, the capital soldier squadron finally caught a trail of the bandits. With efficiency on their side, they made way to pursue the desert rogues who were unknowingly journeying back to their previous hideout. As the capital soldiers shifted past the rocky terrain, with enough preparation, they launched an ambush to the leisure travel of the sand prowlers who were naturally taken by surprise.
Advantages clearly were on the soldiers' side since even without the surprise factor, they were able to suppress their enemy fair and square in two decisive battles that took place days ago. One by one, the bandits were either slashed to their demise or beaten up to a pulp which prompted their numbers to scatter in panic.
The bandit leader who was riding a horse took one a small number of her loyal subjects and forcefully escape the ambush by sacrificing the members who were deemed out of her inner circle. With enough tenacity, they were able to secure a route and left without glancing back to their fallen comrades.
With another dominating victory on their names, the soldiers screamed a unison battle cry. It was intimidating and empowering at the same time. However, amidst the joyous celebration, the official who were leading them suddenly interrupted their victory spell.
"What the heck are you screaming about?! You lots weren't able to decimate them wholly! Give chase to those who managed to escape and I personally want the right to behead the leader! You hear me? Get me their leader alive so I can trample her in shame for what she did to me!"
Unable to resist the orders of the official, the soldiers resumed their relentless pursuit of the escapees.
Hours later, the bandit leader and her subordinates arrived at the same spot where they almost caught Alliona's party. After she ditched her horse who was wounded in the last skirmish, she took the lead by foot and treaded a route she personally decided. After being push to the brink of death, she calmly decided to play one last gamble and that was to catch the prey she once regarded as insignificant.
Hours before Alliona and her party move out of their previous resting spot. Unaware of the pending trouble they were about to deal with, Alliona told Helen and the attendant her decision to take the flat route to lessen the burden of the long walk. With Helen, still feeling a bit wonky that morning, she blessed Alliona's judgment without hesitation. As they took the first half hour of slow travel, Alliona noticed a movement from afar and immediately instructed her companions to fasten the pace. With enough observation, Alliona was able to confirm the upcoming wave was not a friendly one. The openness of the flat route with just cactuses and sparse shrubs immediately alerted Alliona to scrap the safe trekking as she sternly instructed her companions to make a run towards the rocky terrain that can be seen from quite a distance.
Still, the distance to cover was doable. They made a bee-line towards the east and never looked back to the route they were supposed to take. Fortunately, they weren't seen by the desperate bandits making a rowdy scene in the open sand space. It was until they made it to the rocky terrain that the pursuers noticed their trail.
Back to their current spot, Alliona, Helen and the attendant who took a short break resumed their frenetic pace hoping to escape the clutches of the sand rogues. As aforementioned, Helen was currently feeling the effects of the medicine she took to ease her fever, but another ill-starred factor mixed in along the way. In their desperate travel deep to the higher planes, they soon find themselves surrounded by a different ambience as they stumbled upon a small forestry contrast to the barren sand space they were just trekking earlier. There was a path with green grasses, plants and some trees enough for shade. There was also water from a small brook that continuously flows for quite a distance. Albeit the terrain remains a bit rocky, the evident appearance of some wildlife brought them a sense of reprieve.
Helen dipped herself to the flowing water, unconcerned of her clothing getting wet. "Oh... this is blissful." she said as she lay down into the stream of clear water.
Alliona went upwards to fill her claypot. Exhausted from their nonstop walking in an elevated route, she drank the cold water directly from the stream without minding proper manners. Within the vicinity, a certain mist-like covering is slowly enveloping the surroundings. While not enough to hinder their eyesights, can still be imposing given their current circumstances.
"Shouldn't we stay put and use this fog as cover?" said the little attendant sitting comfortably, dipping her small feet to the cold water.
"I suppose we could do that, but better we don't get complacent. These lots are good trackers as well. We can't afford to be static if we want to lose them off our tails." replied Alliona who shifted to a serious tone. She placed herself to the top of a tree, climbing it effortlessly.
Like a jinx, all of her worst fears have come to haunt them. In a split moment, Alliona noticed that their resting spot was already invaded by their pursuers. True to their stealthy nature, they already placed themselves well to strike an ambush.
Alliona in her distraught, played one desperate gamble and that was to boisterously inform her companions. "Run!" she screamed at the top of her lungs as she jumped off a height normally one would hesitate to plunged themselves. Upon landing, she instantly drew her slingshot and took the initiative to attack first. Regardless of whether it will hit anything, she just let go of that shot and run together with her spooked fellow travellers.
They kept running without any regard to the direction. At the same time, they can hear the pursuers doing the same, effectively shadowing their every step. Frustration is taking over Alliona's mindset, she is doing everything she could to outrun her enemies, but they were able to keep the pace despite the mist posing as an obstacle.
Upon arriving at a junction where an open space can be treaded, Alliona, Helen and the petite attendant finally got pinned towards the end of a cliff. Elevating for about 50 meters from the ground, it is safe to say it is not a height one person could jump off and expect they're still alive afterwards.
"Hahaha." a laugh emerged from the back of the bandit ranks. A gorgeous woman, with sunkissed complexion and extremely long silky-smooth black hair, stepped forward with an embellished getup consisting of bandages and minuscule fabrics covering her private parts. "Salutations, kittens." she said, as she flipped her hair in the air.
Alliona drew her slingshot once again, but before she could snipe the enemy, she was given a lightning-fast blow to her midsection that dropped her to her knees, shrieking in utter pain. The power of the punch was enough for Alliona to puke the water she drank earlier. Although she almost lost her consciousness, Alliona still tried to swing her arms haphazardly, but she was fully countered effectively. She was manhandled by the tanned rogue, who showed extreme mastery of hand-to-hand martial arts and skillful short blade pokes that rendered Alliona, extremely helpless while having her hair violently pulled by her attacker.
"Good grief. Ever heard of proper manners, young lady? Isn't an introduction required before anything else?" the bandit leader sighed, as she crouched close to Alliona who is kneeling in the ground.
All of a sudden, Helen boldly walked forward. She placed herself in front of Alliona and spread her wingspan akin to a mother shielding her offsprings forcing the bandit leader to let go of Alliona's hair. "Don't get too close! If you want our belongings, I will hand you everything I have in exchange for letting us go unscathed." Helen stated, with fiery eyes that intrigued the enigmatic tanned lady.
"Oh, what do we have here? A gallant foreigner, Russian it seems. Her ocean-clad pupils are so beautiful, it's like a gem." the bandit leader blurted, touching Helen's face by the chin, shifting her flawless face left and right, checking angles. "I wonder how much riches can we get from those gems of yours?" she added, with a dangerous smirk planted on her dark-skinned face.
Out of nowhere, the attendant launched a thrust with her dagger. The angry mien on her face obviously was locked onto the bandit leader who, with closed eyes, easily evaded the attack. Even after such humanly impossible feat, the enraged attendant kept her relentless attack to the bandit leader. However, each of her attacks were effortlessly thwarted by an unmotivated bandit leader who couldn't help but sigh in the end, flicking the attendant's forehead as her retaliation.
"Now, now, little girl. Playing with a knife is dangerous, I suggest you drop it before you get hurt."
Instead of listening to the intimidating figure in front of her, the attendant felt provoked to launch another attack, but this time, she was hit by a kick from one of the leader's subordinates.
"See, I told you. Just stay down, little girl. We promise everything will be done in a minute." the bandit leader said, who playfully messed the hair of the attendant, almost unconscious in the rocky ground.
The worsening situation continues. Helen who witnessed her attendant flew for a few meters due to a kick, raised her hand to slap the bandit leader, who unexpectedly, got hit crispily in her right cheek. "Will you stop your barbaric horseplay?! I already told you I will impart you with everything I have, just don't lay a hand on my companions!" Helen shouted sternly to which the bandit leader could only respond with a wolf whistle.
Helen dropped the sack bag strapped to her shoulders. Like she said, she offered everything she had to the bandits without reservations. One of bandit subordinates went to check the contents and as soon as Helen's personal effects were revealed, it resulted an uproar among the bandit ranks. The jewelry box consisting of priceless gems and a staggering amount of gold and silver coins were enough to put the bandits on a jovial mood, roaring celebratory cheers among themselves. However, before they could go wilder, the bandit leader snapped their whoopee. "Hey, hey, you useless maggots! Since when did we become a donation box, huh?!" she angrily inquired, her tone truly sounds irritated.
She dropped a knuckle to the nearest subordinate's head and walked towards Helen. She then grabbed Helen by the collar of her shabby clothing. "We are bandits, milady. We take what we want, we don't accept charity and the likes. Don't pull another one of your valiant showings or I'll freaking cut your tongue and chew it in front of you."
The look on the bandit leader's face is goofy, but her intentions can be felt as dark and grim. Despite that, Helen remained calm and unmoved in her spot. She returned an intense glare to the bandit leader who finally let go of her collar. Impressed at how composed Helen was, the bandit leader took three backsteps and sat on a nearby rock.
"Don't worry. I actually took a liking to you three. I won't kill you yet, provided you give me amusement." she said with a smirk.
A beaten Alliona and the slightly hurt attendant regained some of their vigor after a while. They struggled but stood side-by-side with Helen in the middle. Even with lingering pain in their bodies, both of them resumed a vigilance stance.
"For a start.." the bandit leader said, after chugging her liquor. "Why don't you three take off your clothings? How about giving my little boys some pleasure as we pass time?" she said with a devilish grin in her face.
Cheers erupted in the spot, with every bandit lackeys offering revel and praise to their unique leader. The noisy and disruptive mood spread like wildfire resulting an intoxicated look among the faces of the male bandits, who eyes the three maidens stuck together like glue in a spot before the ravine. They boisterously and shamelessly cat-called them with fervor, eager to grant their perverse desires and satisfy their pent-up lust. The bandit leader can be seeing snickering, hyping her subordinates to show her a good time.
As the bandits fall into a festive disposition, it was Helen who again took the spotlight as she was suddenly approached by a particular bandit, already half-naked. When he tried to grab Helen's front assets, he was met with the same slap Helen gave the bandit leader earlier. "Don't you dare touch me, you skanky lowlife! If you think you can lay a hand on us, then you're gravely mistaken!"
Once again, the crispy sound effect of the slap resounded and it brought the bandit leader crouching in the ground, laughing uncontrollably without reservations. "He got shot down! What a pitiful sight! Look, even his hard-on was lost along with his pride! Hahahaha, if I were him, I'd just jump off the cliff and die like a freaking pig!"
Urging her lackeys to insult their fellow member, the bandit leader continuously acted like a mischievous harpy. She sung slurs like a chorus, she even waved a fallen branch as if she's playing a conductor role. She chugged her liquor in a wasteful manner, evident to the excess flowing onto her neck, then to her breasts and even to her navel, down to her legs and finally on the ground. "Uwaaah. I can't believe I'm in this convivial mood despite almost losing my entire band of good-for-nothing followers." she said, as she sat back to the aforementioned rock.
Her utter lack of virtuous elements put Helen in a vortex of anger. "Go to hell, you shitbag! You and your mob of dogs have to walk over my dead body before you can dream of touching a speck of our skins!"
Helen can be seen raging, her ocean-colored pupils brightens as a certain sunray pierced the mist-like covering in the vicinity. Alliona and the attendant, who still nurses their damaged body portions, were in awe to their adult companion, fending them off from a vile circumstance all by her own. The bandit leader, who was laughing her soul out earlier, dropped her claypot of liquor and glared a sharp one towards Alliona and her party. The intensity of her hawk-like stare was enough to give Alliona and the attendant goosebumps.
For a moment, an uncomfortable lull swept everything aside as it took over the current ambience. Nothing, or rather no one, dared speaking a word or whispering a murmur. Amidst the silence, a glaring contest persisted between the bandit leader and Helen. Alliona, still hurting in her abdomen, shifted her gaze to the ravine. Fifty meters approximately from the flat ground, recklessly jumping such elevation could be nothing but suicide and is downright unthinkable. Before she could think of another alternative, the lull was forcefully obliterated by the bandit leader's actions.
She suddenly threw a pebble to Helen's face which of course, hit Helen even with her trying to avoid it. Blood can be seen gushing out of a wound in Helen's forehead. Soon, a vile laugh erupted. "Hahaha, you talk big, milady. But do you think you can scare us off with your clumsy excuse of... you know, ability?" she paused with a gaping mouth displaying a pair of fang molars. "I believe I've insinuated earlier that I don't appreciate you playing chivalric plays in front of me. Especially, given your positions, I could easily skin you three alive in my sleep if I feel like it."
Suddenly, the bandit leader's playful demeanor is gone. All that remains is an aura of straight business. Alliona, in her spot, can feel her knees trembling, close to folding in half from the belligerent circumstance they are in. However, contrary to what she currently feels, the attendant recklessly rocketed herself towards the villain who injured her mistress. With her mind going blank from the sight of Helen bleeding, regardless of the consequences, despite their grave situation, she held her knife with a forceful grip and run straight to the bandit leader.
Taken by surprise, one of the subordinates shielded his boss and suffered a leg wound, quite deep that some gush of blood flew into the bandit leader's face. But instead of being flabbergasted, the bandit leader released another horrifying laugh that showed she is indeed an asinine lunatic. "Good! Very good! To think you would dare attack me albeit your dire circumstance. Oh, I feel aroused all of a sudden. I can feel my crouch getting hot and steamy from the excitement!"
In retaliation, the other bandit members roughed the impulsive attendant without regard to her age and petite stature. She was kicked, punched, walloped with a club and in the end, was thrown in front of Helen, who was shocked to see such unfiltered brutality. The attendant, albeit panting, was beaten so badly it made Helen eyes watery without her realizing it. After seeing tears flowing from Helen's eyes, the bandit leader sat herself back to the rock and mockingly teased the weeping Helen.
"Oh, we made her cry, maggots! I'm chowwy, milady. We didn't mean to be so rough." she blurted playing a crybaby role.
Naturally, like it's mandatory, a torrent of rowdy laughter from the male bandits erupteds, filling Alliona with overflowing emotions of rage. Her intimidated mindset from earlier vanished into thin air. As the jeering continues, Alliona from a distance, strike the bandit leader's face with a precise shot that resulted a gaping wound in her forehead, making the bandit leader's blood flow into her nose and then to her mouth. Coincidentally, the spot of the bandit leader's wound is the same where Helen was hit earlier.
At this point, Alliona couldn't give any care about the repercussions of her actions. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth... or should I say a wound for a wound?" she sarcastically said to the bloodied-face of the bandit leader, who responded by licking the flowing blood with her unusually lengthy tongue.
"It feels so good..." she paused. "It's been a while since I felt something that makes my head go numb." added the bandit leader while crudely wiping the open wound in her forehead with her saliva-drenched fingers.
The tense event continued with no signs of the tide shifting towards Alliona's advantage. They were still stuck in the same spot, close to the ravine with no apparent escape route to take. The standoff between Alliona and the bandit leader was stalled, with the latter playing another flippant move that somehow irked Alliona to a certain extent. "What do you want to do with us anyway?" she fearlessly inquired.
The bandit leader who is now biting her bloodstained nails, replied nonchalantly with a uncaring tone. "I actually don't know. Initially, you guys piqued my curiosity, but to be honest, I couldn't care less what becomes of you now."
"Huh? So you're saying you just whimsically targeted us without any specific reasons?"
The bandit leader placed a finger to her temple, as if she's trying to ponder a profound answer. "Hahaha, perhaps along that line of thought."
Alliona couldn't help but sigh enthusiastically. Hearing such ridiculous statement brought a discomfort to her head as she appears to clenched the space between her eyebrows. "Did somebody tell you you're such a pain in the arse?"
"Hahaha, I like it when my boys stick it to my plump ass though." the bandit leader proudly said, earning another set of cheers from the male bandits.
"You and your vulgar mouth..." Alliona weakly retorted. After a light sigh, she continued. "So what do you get if we just decided to jump off this ravine?"
"Oh? Will you do it? Do you have enough guts to do it?" the villain said with a curious tone, her eyes shining like an excited toddler. "To be honest, I am not a fan of people killing themselves. I mean, if they wanted to get killed, why not let me do the honors, right?" blurted the woman, her eyes almost bulging out highlighting the sharpness of her hawk-like eyes.
Alliona scratched her hair. Amidst their dire circumstance, she was forced to think of her parents, her journey, her meeting with Helen and the attendant and their first days of safe traveling.
"Say, bandit leader. Can you please spare me serious answer to a single question?"
"Ohoh... I like the look in your face. Go ahead, I'll try my best to answer it prudently to the best of my ability."
Alliona breathed deeply. She tried to calm her excited heartbeat. She shortly hovered her sight towards Helen and the attendant beside her, all silent and unmoved.
"Maybe I'm just barking at the wrong tree, but have you encountered a certain couple. They were a Chinese male and a Russian female. The lady's eyes are the same color as mine and she also had light-brown long hair that stretches up to her legs. The male, by the way..."
Before Alliona could finish her inquiry, the fickle bandit leader answered. "Oh, those on the way to Vladivostok? I can still remember the lady's eyes burning in the dark like a fiery gem. She was really intense and damn brave for a woman. She was really feisty I recall. She was prepared to bite her own tongue before my boys could lay a hand on her beautiful body." the bandit leader stated, with a blushing mien. "The other one, was that really her husband? That pathetic piece of shit, he actually begged like a dog in front of me that I had no other option but to kick his ugly face as hard as I can." she added, this time with a nefarious chuckle as she pressed her stomach trying to calm herself from laughing too much.
Upon hearing such testimony, Alliona was surprisingly calm. "I see..." she murmured to herself.
"Mhmm?" asked the bandit leader, who up herself from her rock throne. "You okay, lass?" she added, tilting her head as she walks towards Helen and the attendant. It didn't take that long before the mad woman pulled another stunt worthy of her lunacy.
"Up we go." she blurted, casually carrying the almost-unconscious attendant and tossing her to the edge of the ravine afterwards. Like a calculated throw, the attendant landed perfectly on her back, supported by a meter-wide ledge. Suddenly, a gust of moderately strong breeze blew upwards and seemingly carried the petite girl like a piece of paper plane. Helen, who was half-dazed, instantly felt a sense of urgency as she ran frantically towards the dangerous and narrow path, but the bandit leader perfectly stopped her tracks by tripping her causing Helen to fall face-flat to the rough ground.
Blood from Helen's nose drizzled the pebbles as she crawled her way towards the ravine. Impressed by her persistence, the bandit leader shrugged her shoulder and planted a wide grin to her face resembling a literal devil. "Oh, milady sure is tough! Surely, we've been proven wrong, huh, boys?"
Jeers from the bandits again resounded as they watched Helen struggle her way to her attendant's side. After a full minute, Helen finally reached her panting follower, with a thoroughly beaten face. Broken nose, swollen eyes, wounded cheeks and torn lips. The little girl coughed once, with blood and some fallen teeth removed from her gums.
"I... I... am... s-sor...ry, mi... str... ess..." the attendant silently murmured, which brought a vexed grimace to Helen's face. The adult embraced the young girl in her arms while weeping silently, praying for a miracle.
While each of the bandit's attention were focused on that particular scene, Alliona tried to sneak a straight to the bandit leader's face. But luck is certainly not giving her any break. She was easily parried and was countered with an elbow to her face. "Here comes the lassy! Tried to land a punch, but alas, eats an elbow to her face. Oh, look! Her pretty nose is now bleeding profusely as well!" the devilish woman said as if she's commentating.
Alliona wipe her nose with her bloodied clothing and blew a snot afterwards. The reddish mucus flew in front of the bandit leader who smirked her fangs once again. "Ugh, disgusting! Where are your manners, lassy? Didn't your parents teach you some?" she retorted with a highstrung pitch.
"Can you stop blabbering with your filthy mouth? Your breath stinks like a rotten egg." Alliona instantly countered, with a frosty mien and tone.
A series of muffled giggles can be heard among the bandit ranks. They immediately diverted their sights away from their leader, who at that moment, felt a sting resulting popping veins in her forehead. She fanatically laughed in a monotone, but her eyes are literally livid.
After a mere five seconds of staredown that felt like an eternity, the bandit leader cracked her neck. "Alright. I'll give you time to say your last prayers. You can also ponder jumping off the ravine if you prefer a milder end to your worthless lives. Let's see..." she stopped, crossing her arms around her ample breasts. She then looked up to the sky turning into dusk-colored. "Before the sun sets into the horizon. Plenty of time, isn't it?"
After she said her statement, another set of wild zephyrs blew upwards. This time, undoubtedly stronger that the previous one that threw Helen unsteady, losing her grip to the attendant who was on course for a free fall from a height of fifty meters.
Before gravity could do its magic, Helen thoughtlessly stretched her arms locking onto the thin wrist of her attendant. Squinting only to see her mistress on the edge of the ravine, desperately clinging to her wrist brought adrenaline to the young follower's system.
"H-Helen-sama! Please let go! Just save yourself!" cried the attendant.
"Don't talk nonsense! There's no way I'll let go of your hand!" screamed Helen with a bloodied face.
Alliona had already surpassed the limits of her exhausted body. Aside from the injuries the bandits inflicted, the intensity of their stressful situation slowly drags Alliona's consciousness into the abyss. She's starting to see doubles, her body begins to sway, her senses steadily getting duller.
"Uh..." the bandit leader sighed heavily. "That's why I suggested to just indulged yourselves into pleasure earlier." she said, shaking her head in disappointment. "Compared to dying, taking off your clothes and playing with my boys would've been a better alternative if you ask me."
"S-Screw you and your sense of depravity." Alliona stated, her sight beginning to succumb to darkness.
"Oh, good grief! What a waste." said the bandit leader, squatting her bottoms to the ground. "Whatever. I hope you already pleaded to your gods by now."
Alliona gave herself a struggled turn to look at the situation of Helen and her attendant. Despite racking her brains earlier, their situation is just as grim as ever. She apologized to her companions in her mind and placed a clenched fist in her bosom.
After that, she sighed, controlling her deep pantings, focusing all of her remaining consciousness into her core. She put her hand onto her pants pocket to grab a stone and steadily aimed her slingshot to the woman who put them into such hell.
"I'd rather you let me hit your monstrous face rather than pray to the gods." Alliona smugly declared with a still voice.
A familiar heinous smirk stretched into the bandit leader's face. "Hmmp, you're an utter idiot..."