Chapter 24:

Volume 1, Chapter 21: Conflict may create a rift between us...

Parable of the Renegades

AUTHOR'S NOTE:Bookmark here

Long time, no see! Jio Kurenai here!Bookmark here

2018... wasn't off to good start for me.Bookmark here

Right after the new year started, I fell ill enough to shock my folks. While I've managed to recover after a few weeks of medication and rest, I'm still feeling some side-effects from my illness as of this time of writing. Not just that, the new laptop I bought had a defect so I had to return it and order another one just a day after I tried to use it.Bookmark here

Anyway, that's all behind me now. I've finally gotten my replacement after about a few weeks of waiting, and while I tend to relapse every now and then, I can consider myself to be... well... in "okayish" health.Bookmark here

Now here's another culprit that contributed to my delay...Bookmark here

"Monster Hunter World" was released over a month and a half ago. My priorities have gotten mixed up because I just had to vent out my hype (If you have this game on PS4, we gotta hunt sometime!). And then there's its character creation system... Oh man, that was overhauled to the extreme because designing your avatar no longer required relying on presets. So I was thinking... maybe I should try to realize one of my characters by creating them with it. Lucas? Rio? or maybe a character I have yet to introduce in this novel? I will probably try to create them all, but I can only play the game as one of them!Bookmark here

Now here's an update on the progress of this novel:Bookmark here

As you may have noticed from the title, I have now started calling this collection of chapters as part of "volume 1" and this volume will end with one more chapter after this and an epilogue to begin setting up volume 2. If I recall correctly, some of the light novels I've read or skimmed consist of 5 short chapters further divided into 4 or 5 parts for each chapter, making 20 - 25 parts all in all. I'm pretty close to that and I feel that the current number of chapters here is enough to tell the story of one big scenario that ends with a final conflict and resolution. Bookmark here

Also, I've also spent some time to update all of my previous chapters to be more consistent with my current ones such as converting some of the text to Bold, Italics, and underlines(?). I've also done some grammar checking as well but I can't say for sure that everything's mistake-free.
Bookmark here

As usual, feel free to leave a comment below. It can be anything like a random question, a comment for fun, or any constructive criticism to help me improve!Bookmark here

Lastly, please give yourself some credit by giving that "LIKE" button a click after reading this chapter! I'm always interested to know who's following me and I'd absolutely love it if we could start a conversation too! Likes and Comments will give points to your Honeyfeed badge, so make me recognize your mark by doing at least one of those two! I'll be singing your name in praise if you do both! ;)Bookmark here

That's it for now. It's been over a year since I first started this brainchild of mine and while the road started rocky and I know this to be really late, here's to a great 2018! :DBookmark here

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In the suburbs of Falcon Rock, windows from a small number of houses were illuminated. The people living in those houses were forced awake in the middle of the night because by a ghastly wail so inhuman that they switched on any nearby lights to investigate this disturbance. When no more of that mysterious noise was heard, all the lights dimmed one by one in quick succession. Most of the disturbed residents returned to sleep, convinced that this was nothing more than some white noise or a nightmare that could easily be warded off by waking up. Others laid in bed with bloodshot sleepless eyes, their blankets covering everything up to their noses.Bookmark here

✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧✦✧Bookmark here

The one responsible for that strange noise, Rio, lunged at an unsuspecting Lucas after discarding her sense of composure. Lucas was forcefully alerted by the lancing pain of Rio's fingernails digging into some of the stitched wounds on his shoulders. This should've given Rio the opportunity to capitalize on him, but she made no further moves. Her blind rage had placed her thoughts out of order, leaving her uncertain on what to do next. Before she knew it, her chances were thrown down the drain.Bookmark here

It wasn't like nothing happened after that. Due to the sudden push and additional weight on top when she ambushed him, Lucas, who was lying just barely off the bed's edge, spilled off the mattress with Rio still clawed to him onto the wooden floor below.Bookmark here

During the short amount of time they had before they fell off the bed, Lucas acted quickly on instinct and grabbed hold of his wrist after his arms went around Rio's waist before rolling himself in the same direction they were to fall. This allowed him to forcefully switch positions with Rio during their split-second time in the air.Bookmark here

Lucas' quick thinking worked to his benefit. Rio hit the ground back-first and faster than a blink, Lucas followed, landing on her as if she was a soft cushion before Rio even had time to recover. The full force of another person's weight crashing onto her made her head and legs jerk up while expelling every last breath of air out of her false lungs. Rio may have flinched, but it wasn't long before she resumed her wild thrashing as a defensive reflex. Smirking, Lucas responded by grabbing hold of her sleeved wrists before she began to thrash about.Bookmark here

Just like their first encounter in the same room, the fight took itself to the ground where Lucas and Rio were locked together in a senseless struggle. This time, however, the floor rumbled wilder than the first time they did it. Without concern for time, Rio forced Lucas to wrestle with her for control over the dominant position. Every few seconds, one of them would get turned over with a hard thud as they hit the ground back-first. In this situation, it was a sickening sight to look up at the winning person on top and neither of the two was content with staying in a submissive position. Their refusal to admit defeat was so great that their fight escalated into a ball of violence, where Lucas and Rio spiraled with each other in random directions all over the room.Bookmark here

Both of them grunted in pain every time they crashed into anything that stood in their way before rebounding in another direction - the walls, the bed, the closet, the chair, the desk, and the mini-trashcan; nothing was safe. All of them felt the weighted force of two people holding on to each other while fighting like wild beasts. Objects on top of the desk were either shifted from their place or fell to the floor, especially those that were close to the furniture's edge.Bookmark here

Lucas refused to loosen the firm grip he had on both of Rio's wrists. He held them at a safe distance in order to prevent her bare hands from touching his face or any other part of his exposed skin.Bookmark here

Despite the restriction of her arms, Rio still fought back with reckless abandon. She clamped her toned legs around her opponent's waist and locked her feet together, pressing her heels onto the small of Lucas' back. Rio hissed and clenched as she tried to crush Lucas' ribcage into dust with in a body scissor hold.Bookmark here

The difficulty to breathe made Lucas rasp and the pressure lancing his midsection only continued to intensify, but the power trip he was indulged in made him unwilling to submit. He continued to play mind games with Rio, getting into her head while the world around them spun in a blur.Bookmark here

"What's wrong, she-cat~? Did I... strike a nerve~?"Bookmark here

Rio swung her head in a violent left and right pattern, desperately trying to shake off the fact that she couldn't convince herself to take Lucas' words as lies. Her eye shut itself tight as if she was trying to fight off a nightmare.Bookmark here

「黙れ! 黙れ!! 黙れっ!!!」 「Damare! Damare!! Damaree!!!」 (Shut up! Shut up!! Shut uuup!!!)Bookmark here

That was all she could cry out in an eerie distorted tone. With her mind not in the right place, Rio had returned to speaking in Nihanese instead of a language Lucas could understand. Despite that, it didn't take a genius for Lucas to interpret her words correctly thanks to the manner of her outcry - it only made way for a nasty grin of triumph to creep onto his face.Bookmark here

He was experiencing what it was like to be in Rio's shoes, tasting the elation she must've savored from getting on his nerves. To look closely at the face of an adversary twisted in anguish, and to listen to their continued denial of every possible truth he brought out. This sensation felt... so righteous and awesome.Bookmark here

And yet, this elation could last no longer than a moment.Bookmark here

To his unawareness, Lucas discarded and recovered his grin every few seconds. Between each time he flipped the curved shape of his mouth, he questioned his sense of morality for doing something he started to think was too drastic.Bookmark here

Am I doing the right thing?Bookmark here

Did I choose the right weapons to defend myself?Bookmark here

Does Rio deserve all of this?Bookmark here

At first, he forced himself to believe that what he was doing to Rio was justified. He was only standing up to someone who treated him indecently since their first meeting and for no given reason.Bookmark here

I wouldn't dare to even think of doing such a thing if she was fair to me.Bookmark here

The word "fair" made him think again. There were often two sides to every mistreatment that transpired between himself and Rio so far.Bookmark here

When Rio somehow brought him against his will to her home in Nihan, she gave him food and only made him a laughingstock for her and her sister because of his lack of proficiency with chopsticks.Bookmark here

When she found out he knew nothing about [Renegades], she taught him the basics, and although she didn't teach him everything, she insisted that the vital secret to keeping up with them was to be alert and observe.Bookmark here

When she established her contract for him to take over her assignment of killing seven wanted [Renegades] on her hit list, she was giving him a chance. A chance for her to break her own policy as an assassin who kills all witnesses to her work without question. It was ridiculous considering that the contract was technically about risking his life seven times in exchange for not losing it on the spot. Still, it was a chance, nonetheless.Bookmark here

There were still other examples, but they were mostly trivial, and time was something Lucas didn't have the luxury of.Bookmark here

His lingering thoughts gave Rio an opening, allowing her to exploit a chink in his defense despite her lack of focus.Bookmark here

Their tumbling bodies came to a stop when Lucas was laid flat on his back and pinned to the ground. Rio, who straddled him over his hips, grabbed hold of one of his arms and forced it to bend and entangle with her own. A world of bone-cracking hurt was nigh. Lucas knew right away that Rio was intending to lock his arm in a submission hold and with no clear options for escape, gritted his teeth and braced himself.Bookmark here

For some reason, he felt nothing.Bookmark here

Despite the amount of time that passed and the intersecting mess his arm was in with Rio's, Lucas wasn't subjected to even the tiniest sliver of pain.Bookmark here

Rio's hands were moving and placing themselves on his forearm, then his elbow, then his shoulder before repeating in random combinations of the three - it was more like she was feeling around his arm in a manner of rough inspection.Bookmark here

「糞。。。糞、 畜生!」 「Kuso… Kuso, chikusho!」 (Shit... Shit, damn it!")Bookmark here

The room was disturbed with Nihanese obscenities born from Rio's failure to execute an [Ude-Garami], a ground armlock better known as the [Figure-Four Shoulder Keylock] or [Americana]. This was one of the techniques she casually utilized during her one-sided massacre of the four hooligans she encountered in the alleyways of Cameron's Feint. Out of all the painful joint-locking techniques she had at her disposal, Rio went for this because it would have allowed her to twist Lucas' arm out of its socket in brutal fashion while giving her the luxury to gaze at any pained expressions his face would twist itself into. This technique, however, required some concentration due to the complicated entangling of arms an attacker must do with her opponent and Rio saw for herself that she was lacking that. In fact, her troubled state meant most of her techniques (especially her favorite ones) were sealed off.Bookmark here

Rio's frustration took all of her attention. This left Lucas with ample time to reach a hand to one of her shoulders. He took advantage of Rio's distraction by shoving her off him with his free arm, forcing the two some distance away from each other. Bookmark here

Now freed and feeling like he cheated death, Lucas scrambled backward until he hit a wall, panting from actually escaping Rio's clutches.Bookmark here

Lucas took steady breaths while keeping one hand flat on the wall as a way to remind himself that Rio shouldn't be able to attack him from a blind spot. His clothes were soaking wet but sweat wasn't the only liquid his body was secreting.Bookmark here

His sweater and jogging pants were now blotted with darker stains that expanded and caked themselves to his skin with a mixture of stickiness and hardened adhesive. Copper and iron became the most dominant scent Lucas could smell. All of that reckless struggling he and Rio went through forced his stitched wounds to get exacerbated, opening them and allowing several streams of blood to leak out.Bookmark here

It was the pungent smell of his own blood that made Lucas release his bravado. He now knew the danger he was in and that brought him back to his senses.Bookmark here

His eyes had taken the time since the beginning of the fight to adjust naturally, allowing him to see better in the room's darkness. When Lucas finally saw the physical changes that occurred in Rio, a chill ran down his spine, further amplified by the breeze hitting the blood and sweat on his backBookmark here

"What in the world happened to you?" he uttered, a tinge of fear present in his voice.Bookmark here

Glowing azure cracks had spread out from a single point around Rio's left eye and extended down her cheek with a few more cracks peeking from behind her eyepatch.Bookmark here

Lucas wasn't supposed to be surprised by this. The versatility of the internet allowed him to access footage recorded from a time way before the digital age was established. Through that, he once watched the incident that led to the revelation of the [Renegades]. An adult man actually ripped every fiber of his human flesh apart to reveal his true form as another body that wore the flesh like a costume. He remembered what that man exhibited during Rio's crash course on [Renegades], leading him to speculate that she didn't teach him everything about the human subspecies she will eventually force him to face.Bookmark here

Now, he was bearing witness to a live demonstration.Bookmark here

A fraction of skin on the left side of Rio's face crumbled off before they fell out in pieces, hitting the floor and breaking down further into specks. What was previously hidden behind her human flesh was another layer of skin - its texture resembling a natural mineral known as obsidian thanks to its dark grey color with hints of a glossy luster.Bookmark here

What was probably more attention-grabbing, however, was the fact that Rio now had two eyes - both of them situated as an imperfect column on the left side of her face. This new eye, which revealed itself from her obsidian skin, was much narrower and unsettling compared to the playful feline eye Lucas was more familiar with. Similar to that eye, this new one also bore a glowing azure color for its round pupil, but the sclera that surrounded it was an abysmal black. Its shape was vertically slitten and hollow with a glowing azure outline to define its shape. Within this small space, the eye's pupil moved independently from the eye above it.Bookmark here

What little Lucas saw told him that if the rest of Rio's face was peeled off, her entire head wouldn't look or bear a resemblance to something human. His throat was tied into a knot when he raised the possibility that behind her alluring human form, the true Rio Kiyodera could have the appearance of an abomination.Bookmark here

The situation had turned into one between a crouching cat and a cornered mouse.Bookmark here

The room was dead with silence until the floor creaked from Lucas and Rio slowly rising up to their feet. They kept each other at the same level as their watchful eyes saw nothing but their opponent. They were proactive in case of any sudden movements from the other.Bookmark here

Out of a mind focused only on Rio and nothing else, Lucas unintentionally held his breath, only allowing himself to breathe when he remembered that it was essential to staying alive. His knees were slightly bent in case he needed to move away at the last second. They also shivered in anticipation.Bookmark here

Rio, on the other hand, had been displaying feral behavior since the fight started and she only continued to devolve, her mannerisms becoming more animalistic. She stood hunched on the balls of her feet, ankles elevated off the floor. Both her hands remained the same but were exaggerated to resemble claws. At this point, she only made unsettling growls while her two left eyes pointed and stayed locked-on to Lucas at their own individual pace, synchronizing to only move at the same time he did no matter how subtle.Bookmark here

Lucas saw his life flash before his eyes when Rio finally attacked, pouncing on him with clawed hands and a howl that left the air shaking. Like his body ignored his thoughts in favor of self-preservation, Lucas kicked his feet off the ground and strafed out of the way at the last second despite the difficulty from wearing socks. Bookmark here

Right after Rio passed him, Lucas gave her a soft push from behind that conformed with her direction. This gave Rio an unneeded momentum boost, making her unable to stop herself from moving forward until she collided with the wall in front of her. Before Lucas could fully recover, he gasped at Rio who had already begun her next attack. She had used her feet to kick off the wall, rebounding herself for another ambush. Bookmark here

Lucas evaded that unscathed... barely.Bookmark here

It was now a matter of endurance and playing your cards right. Rio continued to go on the offensive, charging while using the walls of the small room to give a quick boost to her momentum every time she missed. Soon enough, she was ricocheting off the walls, floor, and even the ceiling.Bookmark here

Lucas, with his tongue clenched between his teeth, put his fists up while trying not to stray too far from the room's center, having realized the walls were working to his disadvantage. Rio's attacks continued to be simple and predictable. Her frustration only continued to grow every time Lucas dodged, weaved or parried her while doing his best to avoid touching anything pale or obsidian directly. Because of Rio's straightforward strategy, Lucas had many chances to intercept her with a well-timed punch to the face. That would probably end the fight once and for all, but he chose to stay on defense.Bookmark here

That was because his aim wasn't to break Rio's body...Bookmark here

...His aim was to break her spirit.Bookmark here

It was a combat philosophy Lucas often relied on against opponents beyond his league and was only made possible due to his level of endurance. To break Rio's spirit meant to repel her attacks without harming her until she released and exhausted every last trace of her rage and pride. Eventually, both her mind and body should subconsciously realize their inability to break down the wall known as Lucas Thorne. Lucas was optimistic that maybe, this could open a new path for himself and Rio to find another solution to settle their differences.Bookmark here

However, Lucas was unable to realize that there were too many odds against him for that plan to work this time.Bookmark here

(1) His adrenaline rush had run its course.Bookmark here

(2) Rio had become far too relentless.Bookmark here

(3) And worst of all, he only continued to lose blood with every passing second thanks to his re-opened wounds.Bookmark here

After over a minute of fighting at a stalemate, Lucas was hit by a strike to his hand that hurt more than it implied. [Reaper's Embrace] had activated for only a fraction of a second, but that was enough to cause him pain with a similar sensation to touching an electric wire. The blood-loss Lucas suffered had dulled his ability to anticipate and react accordingly, leading him to be grazed repeatedly with Rio's third [Law] every time he tried to dodge. It was only a matter of time before Lucas found himself a second too late to evade a direct attack.Bookmark here

After many failed attempts at using the same move, Rio finally took Lucas down with a simple tackle. Her opponent's back skidded a few feet across the floor with a squeal. Following that, Rio coiled around Lucas' arms and legs with her own, ensnaring him in a grapevine hold that pinned him down beneath her slender body.Bookmark here

Lucas grunted as he tried to squirm and struggle his way out, but Rio forced him back down every time he came close to escaping. They wrestled again, exerting all they could give until exhaustion and perspiration took over them.Bookmark here

When their fight came to a halt, Lucas looked up and Rio looked down, her face slightly elevated above his. Within Rio's dark curtain of moist hair, their hostile glares projected their malice while their heavy breathing caressed each other's faces with an unsettling warmth. Their chests rose and fell against one another, throbbing from finding breathing to now be a physical strain.Bookmark here

"How long... must we go on... until you're satisfied?"Bookmark here

Labored breathing, the rasps of a man who'd just undergone excruciating torture, filled the night air with each breath Lucas took. He waited for Rio's answer as her deceptively minty breath and droplets of nectar-like sweat continued to rain on him.Bookmark here

"It depends on you... take back everything you said... and surrender yourself... to me... forever."Bookmark here

Rio, who regained some of her composure, was so certain victory belonged to her that she made that demand. She sounded calmer, but her tone was still distorted. Lucas heard her like two people with distinct voices were speaking in unison.Bookmark here

Lucas would have been more than willing to take back the hurtful words he said if that would be enough, but surrendering himself was going too far. It meant him accepting Rio as the superior who will always pull his strings. If she commanded him to bring her tea, he must do so. If she commanded him to jump into a sea of flames, he must do so. Even though he was already bound to Rio because of their contract through [Broken Vow] and even though surrendering himself would have just been a verbal agreement with nothing supernatural thrown into the mix, willingly agreeing to have his freedom taken away and his life taken for granted was something Lucas would never forgive himself for. It would mean losing his self-respect, and Rio could easily remind him of his submission to make him remember his place.Bookmark here

He now had his answer. Lucas looked away, removing everything from his sight.Bookmark here

"Ha... Bite me."Bookmark here

His imminent howls of agony were delayed by the unforeseen fact that his vulnerable neck was exploited - by a pair of tiny jaws that slammed themselves shut on it.Bookmark here

Rio had taken the words meant to defy her - literally.Bookmark here

Her animalistic killing intent returned upon understanding Lucas' defiant gesture. She sank her teeth into his neck, lacerating through the tender meat like a carnivorous predator killing its prey with a strangling bite. Lucas was partially choked, and his eyes nearly burst out of their sockets and through his bangs. However, a sensitive part of him getting mauled was just the beginning of his suffering.Bookmark here

【法『Rio's Third Law: Reaper's Embrace』法】Bookmark here

The condition was met when Rio bit Lucas. Although Rio's teeth weren't made out of skin, her lips and every other part of her face that came into contact with Lucas, were.Bookmark here

Lucas panicked in a frenzy at his vitality getting sucked out and the sharp pressure of Rio's bite goring him. He would have been rolling on the floor like a child throwing a tantrum if Rio hadn't restrained him first. It wasn't just physically painful - Lucas felt like he was getting violated too. Being held down with his efforts proving to be useless brought back a bad memory that was difficult to shake off. There was a time he did things he didn't understand as a child during his early days of learning how to fight.Bookmark here

When he finally realized his panic attack was amounting to nothing, Lucas affixed his hands to Rio's shoulders, fingers gripping them tightly. It was out of reflex that Lucas tried to pry Rio off him, but he couldn't bring himself to give it his all. Rio still had her teeth firmly attached to his neck and any attempt to force her off would most likely result in him losing a chunk of it as a price.Bookmark here

Rio held Lucas tight as she continued to drain his vitality. A weak glow was emitted all over her person and she regained some of the stamina she used up. Her face slowly regenerated, new foams of flesh grew and covered some of the traces of her mysterious obsidian skin along with what it contained. Bookmark here

Five seconds.Bookmark here

That was how long Rio held on before she released Lucas from the grip of her jaws. Still holding him down on the floor, Rio loomed over Lucas. Her feline eye gave off a menacing stare, and her mouth was slightly opened to reveal her bloodstained teeth. It was as if she was trying to convey herself as the last image he would ever see before his demise. All of the accumulated life-drain from [Reaper's Embrace] left Lucas helpless, unable to do much except look back at the [Renegade] horror above him.Bookmark here

"It hurts more than it should, right?" Rio whispered with her dual voices to her helpless opponent, who did nothing but grimace from the pain. "[Reaper's Embrace] tells no lies. I can now say without a doubt that I harbor no special feelings for you!"Bookmark here

【法『Rio's Third Law: Reaper's Embrace』法】Bookmark here

Rio struck again with blinding speed after her declaration and connected without an opposition, eliciting more pained howling from Lucas when a previously untouched side of his neck took its turn to feel Rio's devastating bite and life-draining effect.Bookmark here

Another five seconds passed before Rio released Lucas' neck again. This time, Rio licked off all the blood on her teeth before spitting the collected liquid on Lucas' face.Bookmark here

She regenerated again. All that was left afterward were the azure cracks around her human eyes, but they had slightly rescinded.Bookmark here

Desperate and pressured, Lucas racked his brain for a way to escape while a trail containing Rio's spit and his blood ran down his cheek. How much longer will Rio continue to maul him until she's had enough? Will he be able to endure until she stops? Bookmark here

No, he couldn't afford to gamble on it ending soon considering how feral Rio had become. His options were far too limited. His arms and legs have grown too weak from the constant infliction of [Reaper's Embrace], and they were securely restrained from the way Rio held them.Bookmark here

Then Lucas saw Rio's face lunging at his neck once more, aiming for the first spot she bit. At the first sight of her mouth revealing its teeth, Lucas reacted with the only option he had left.Bookmark here

Now!Bookmark here

The heavy atmosphere was forced into silence when two hollow skulls clashed with opposing velocities. The dissonant sound created from their collision was so stiff, it was never a pleasure for anyone with the right mind to hear.Bookmark here

Lucas had given himself a mental signal, and with what little might he had managed to gather, threw his head up to meet Rio at the last second with a headbutt, intending to knock her out of her blind rage. His intention was to clash foreheads with her while taking advantage of his thick hair bangs to shield himself from any skin-to-skin contact.Bookmark here

The timing Lucas took to intercept was almost perfect. Unfortunately, the conditions for [Reaper's Embrace] were met in the clash due to a miscalculation in the angle Lucas' head would go. His head convulsed erratically like he was suffering from a seizure before he fell, and the back of his solid skull hit the floor hard. Bookmark here

Groaning from suffering too much excruciating pain, Lucas ceased to move. He was finished.Bookmark here

As for Rio, she was left wide-eyed with muffled screams as a long-lost burning sensation overwhelmed her senses and broke her out of her killing intent. Their heads were in contact for only three seconds, but to her, it felt like nine. She was stunned beyond words as she watched Lucas fall from under her, breaking a wet bridge of spit and blood that used to be connected to the both of them before his head hit the floor. Disengaging her hold on Lucas, Rio sat up and held both hands to her face, but she didn't place them over the bleeding gash that opened above her left eyebrow. For some reason, looking at Lucas' face flustered her and made her instinctively avert her gaze.Bookmark here

A refreshing breeze from outside entered the room and gently brushed Lucas and Rio, telling them they had done enough damage to each other. It was time for them to stop fighting.Bookmark here

It was then that Rio became aware of the blood on her face. The crimson liquid cascaded in a non-linear stream that traveled from above her left eyebrow, the right side of her nose, and down a corner of her lips. She placed a finger under her chin to catch the trail and saw a crimson droplet resting on her fingernail. Rio recognized this droplet of blood as her own despite the appearance of blood looking generally the same for every person. Even though she practically bathed in the crimson liquid ever since the first day she worked as an assassin, Rio lost herself to fear after seeing her own.Bookmark here

Rio trembled as she held one of her kimono sleeves to wipe the blood from her face away, but a hand grabbed her arm before the silky fabric could be stained with the color red. The hand's grip was firm enough to stop her arm from moving but also gentle enough to tell her that it meant no harm. It was pleasantly warm too. Only a small part of her felt the source of this warmth, but Rio was put at ease - for some reason, her trembling stopped.Bookmark here

Rio looked past the hand to see Lucas, who had recovered after a short moment of rest. Still flat on his back as Rio was still straddling his hips, Lucas stretched an arm to grab a piece of tissue paper that was sticking out of a rectangular box. Said box was one of the objects that fell from his desk and luckily, it landed on a convenient spot on the floor.Bookmark here

After pulling a few sheets out, Lucas slowly sat himself up, using one arm for leverage. He brought a cluster of tissue paper to Rio's face.Bookmark here

"I didn't want this to happen. I should've thought better," Lucas said, now showing remorse for his actions.Bookmark here

He wiped away every red trail and transparent nectar before finishing at the source. His delicate motions made Rio feel almost nothing. She stared blankly at the sorrowful and gentle expression Lucas was making as her mind struggled to gain an understanding against a gauntlet of questions.Bookmark here

Moments ago, we were fighting... Why are you suddenly being so nice to me...?Bookmark here

You forced me to stop... Why are you not gloating over your victory...?Bookmark here

I said I feel nothing special for you... Why do you not despise me...!?Bookmark here

I look pathetic... Why are you not saying anything to demoralize me...!?Bookmark here

Your condition is far worse than mine... Why are you cleaning my blood instead of your own...!?Bookmark here

Why............ Why.................Why!? Bookmark here

Rio broke out of her rampaging train of thoughts when she failed to answer her own questions.Bookmark here

With a narrow swing of her arm, she smacked the tissue papers out of Lucas' hand, stinging him again with [Reaper's Embrace]. Lucas however, didn't wince in pain as several sheets of paper fluttered to the floor.Bookmark here

"I can do this myself!" Rio grabbed some of the fallen tissues and promptly wiped her face.Bookmark here

"Too late," Lucas informed her, shaking the numb hand that Rio smacked.Bookmark here

Upon hearing his words, Rio looked at the tissue papers she held. She was using a side of them that was still untainted, but after wiping her face all over, Rio saw for herself that they were still as clean as before.Bookmark here

"You sure gave me a lot of time," Lucas said, pointing out how long Rio had been dazed. "Why didn't you stop me earlier?"Bookmark here

"Because I..."Bookmark here

The next set of words refused to come out. Rio's inability to give a straight answer made her grit her teeth. She pushed herself off Lucas with a hand to his chest and stormed to the opposite side of the room away from him. She sat down facing the wall, hugging her knees to herself and burying her face in her crossed arms.Bookmark here

Bookmark here

Letting out a heavy sigh, Lucas rubbed a hand on his chest as he wobbled in the process of standing up before he exited through the only door in his room, leaving Rio to herself.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.