Chapter 4:

Volume 1, Chapter 3: Heart-to-Heart

Parable of the Renegades

Hi! Jio Kurenai here!

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In another nation on the eastern side of the planet, a walled house stood in the countryside. Slightly elevated off the ground, it was built with a traditional design in mind and made mostly out of furnished bamboo and wood.

The walls that surrounded it was made out of concrete while the roof that shielded it on rainy days was tiled with broad eaves. Only a single story high, every side of the structure had open windows and exterior hallways, allowing the wind to enter and give a cool breeze to the rooms inside.

From a single view outside the main room's porch was a Zen garden. The artificial, stylized landscape was composed entirely out of carefully arranged rocks, bushes, pruned trees and a rectangular section filled with sand. The carefully raked sand and gravel made patterns reminiscent of water ripples, which helped to visualize the garden with the calming essence of nature. The side of the house in which the Zen garden lay, pointed to the south, allowing the sun's rays to keep a steady light in its main room during the day.

Facing the garden in a kneeling position was a girl. Her long jet-black hair with a hint of blue was let down and an asymmetrical fringe framed her face. She listened to the morning chorus of cicadas singing while meditated with one eye closed. Her other eye wore an eyepatch.

She was dressed modestly in a casual summer garment, consisting of a sky-blue robe made from cotton with a sash of a darker hue tied around her waist.

A cackle from the far distance broke her out of her trance. A blot from the sky headed straight for her, its shape becoming clearer as it got closer.

It was a raven that carried a single piece of paper rolled into a scroll that could fit in its claws. As the raven passed the girl, it dropped the scroll which she caught before it could touch the ground.

She unraveled the scroll and her single eye read every detail it could find. Then, she stood up and disappeared into the main room, taking the curved and slender single-edged blade that was mounted there along the way.


Lucas was still in relaxing in the Jacuzzi. Thanks to his mind floating away into bliss, he did not realize that over four hours had already passed since he took a dip. Watching the steam rise from the hot tub and the dyed water's purple color made him wish this was a magical hot spring like its appearance suggested. He wished it was capable of getting rid of the aches and bruises on his body in a few seconds at first but resigned back to reality a little later. Technically, this was healing water and what did he need to rush for? The jets of water hitting his back in a relaxing torrent felt too good to cut short.

The door in the room opened and Rea walked in. With currently no patient at the moment, she entered to check on her adopted-son out of concern for his well-being as any decent doctor should.

"Lucas, what are you doing?"

"Just spiced up the jacuzzi a bit with some lavender. It feels great, I think I'll be good as new later," Lucas answered.

Slowly, he let himself loose and submerged under the colored water to the point that not a single trace of him peaked out on the surface.

"Lavender, you say? That's not a bad choice." Rea began to unbutton her lab gown. "Okay, make some room because I'll be joining you in a minute."

Lucas hardly heard a thing as he was still holding his breath underwater, letting the torrents massage the back of his head.

When he reached his limit, he emerged for air and rubbed the water out of his eyes. Lucas was caught by surprise as he watched a lean but shapely figure dip into the water in front of him. Rea had shed her lab gown, revealing a pendant around her neck and her swimsuit, now flaunted in plain sight.

"Ohhh... You weren't kidding..." She closed her eyes and let out a pleasant sigh of relief as she sat down. Hearing it made Lucas a bit uncomfortable with his position.

"Okay, I feel good enough."

Lucas tried to climb out of the Jacuzzi in haste, only to be stopped by a hand that placed itself on his shoulder and gently urged him back to sitting down.

"There you go with that excuse again. It's because we're not related isn't it?"
Rea looked at him with slightly concerned eyes.

"Is it really okay for us to be doing this?" Lucas murmured under his breath as he looked at his own distorted reflection on the water.

"You shouldn't be getting nervous. This is nothing compared to how it's done in Nihan," Rea said. "At least I'm wearing my swimsuit and you have a towel around your waist."

She stretched her limbs to help herself relax. Lucas tucked in his legs to avoid any physical contact in response.

"Speaking of Nihan," she added. "I hear that people who relax in the hot springs together tend to be more open about themselves. Like this is the chance for them to ask each other for their deepest secrets."

Lucas shuddered. "R-really?"

"It's all superficial, but while we're here, why don't we give it a go? Be honest, how do you see me?"

Her arms spread across the rims of the Jacuzzi. Forget heart-to-heart, Lucas turned around and buried his face in his arms.

"Um... well... make no mistake about it, you're someone I value." He was unaware of his adoptive mother's slight upward lip curl after he told her his honest answer. "You took me in when I was four and had no idea what to do. Although your work can sometimes take up most of your time, deep down I knew you did your best to look out for me when you could..."

Lucas' eyes left the cross of his arms and their next move was to stare at the blank wall.

"...But you know, it's hard for me to call you 'mom' just like that. Ever since I started living with you, it always felt like you were trying to forcefully replace the mother I lost. Almost like you wanted me to forget she existed."

"I see," Rea closed her eyes and crossed her arms under her bust, deep in thought.
"I'll admit, trying to make you call me your mother was a bit of an obsession on my part. Perhaps it was because I found it a bit irksome to be called 'Ms. Nightingale' instead of something a little more... endearing..."

Lucas felt a bit puzzled by that last word.

"...Then you got older and you started to call me by my first name. For me, it's a little better than 'Ms. Nightingale', but still disrespectful for most families when you think about it."

"Hey, that reminds me. We've had a picture taken of just the two of us once every year. Even though the both of us got older with every new photo, I was the only one who kept aging. I know you're over twice my age, but since you still looked the same as back then, calling you by your first name just started to feel natural."

Rea gave a smirk that went unnoticed. "Bringing up how my age contrasts my looks?"

"Also, because we looked like we were around the same age, some people would start mistaking us for a couple. Sometimes we even had to clear it up for them and the reactions that came after that were often priceless."

"So, going by that logic, right now you're embarrassed because a girl who looks around your age is joining you here?" Rea asked.

The tense shudder from Lucas that followed told her everything.

"Ah, that confirms it. You really need to get used to hanging out with girls, Lucas." Rea looked on amused at her adoptive-son, who shuddered again. "Also, I assure you that our relationship is that of a parent and her child. There are no ulterior motives, coming from me at least."

"Same here..." Lucas muttered.

"Hear me out. Being a family goes beyond being related by blood. A true familial bond comes from everyone who looks out for you. The best comes from those who do it even when you don't ask for it."

As she reached the end of her statement, Rea felt like something had struck her and she flashed back without any intention of doing so. She looked like she was in a trance.

What she saw was a pair of gravestones erected in the abyssal ocean depths.

"Besides, I'm never falling in love again-" Rea clamped a hand over her mouth as she blurted.

"Did I just hear something?" Lucas turned around, his curiosity piqued by the contents of that last line. Rea quickly reacted by mounting a facade of indifference, which led Lucas to eventually dismiss it as an auditory hallucination. The hot water they relaxed in must have been starting to cause some side effects. That was the conclusion he jumped to.

"Well, it's my turn to ask you a question," Lucas said. "You could have gone to an orphanage if you wanted a son, but the orphan you choose was found in an abandoned apartment complex and forced to rely on eating raw food for days just to survive. Why did you choose to adopt me?"

Rea froze in place. The pair of gravestones emerged into her thoughts again.

"Are you alright?" Lucas moved closer, almost not remembering his earlier shyness.

"Oh, you seem to be better." Rea snapped back into reality and changed the subject in haste. "That reminds me. Since you've been occupied for a while, shouldn't you get something to eat?"

A grumbling noise erupted from Lucas' stomach. It looked like mending his injuries made him forget that he needs something called food.

With a heavy sigh, Lucas climbed out of the Jacuzzi, leaving Rea to ponder to herself as she faded into the water.

"That memory... It should've been buried a long time ago."

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