Parable of the Renegades
Hi! Jio Kurenai here!
Feel free to leave a comment below whether you got a random question, or if you have any constructive criticism to help me improve! A "Like" would definitely be appreciated too!
His eyes gradually opened. Lucas awoke to find himself in an unfamiliar room.
Above him was an ash-red ceiling with wooden planks that aligned themselves to make it look like a grid. Hanging from it was a half-squashed sphere of a paper where a dim yellow light glowed from within. Similar to the ceiling, the walls to his left and right had a grid-like design, while the walls in front and behind him were plain.
From the waist down, he was on the floor and under the covers of a thin quilted mattress. Gently, Lucas let his hands feel the mattress' material. His sense of touch told him he was touching something soft and fuzzy, so it was most likely made of cotton or wool. He could also feel the floor below it when he pressed down hard. His fingers ran over it at a steady pace. It was not smooth. In fact, there were countless tiny ridges that grazed his fingertips.
Some of the objects in the room were also strange. A table with short legs and a thick blanket underneath it was flipped to its side and placed near a corner. Lucas could spot some form of machinery under the blanket. Next to it was a quartet of cushions all piled on top of each other.
Hanging on the plain wall in front of him was a rolled-down scroll depicting a complex-looking type of script. Lucas noticed that it was written with black ink, and was most likely written with a brush, based on the combinations of thick lines and sharp strokes.
Lucas was wondering where the doors in this room were when one of the grid-like walls moved to the side. They turned out to be sliding doors that revealed another room behind them and also another person.
"Finally awake. Did you sleep well, Thorne-san?"
"Yeah, I guess..." Lucas looked to his right as he grazed a hand through his hair and scratched it a little, but then he realized who he was talking to.
"...Wait, why did all of this happen?" He hissed like a cornered rat. "Where am I? Why did you kidnap me? And what do you want with me?" He threw every question in quick succession, one after the other.
The other person, who had no idea where to start, kept their silence.
"Hey, answer me, Rio!"
"Will you just slow down, and give me one question at a time?" Rio hissed back at him. "And how rude of you to call me by my given name."
She cast a glare from her uncovered eye. The pressure from her glare struck Lucas and in seconds, he reluctantly extinguished his hostility.
Hollow footsteps echoed across the floor as Rio approached Lucas, grabbing a nearby cushion along the way. She fluffed it a bit before proceeding to sit on it in a manner Lucas considered unusual. Her posture was one of discipline with her back pointed up straight, knees folded underneath her thighs and her hands folded modestly on her lap.
"English was my second language so I want you to ask your questions one at a time. I will answer them the best I can."
She waited while keeping a watchful eye on Lucas who for a few seconds, observed this strange form of sitting down and with it, her change of clothes. Rio was dressed in casual attire this time. A white woolly turtleneck sweater and a pair of black stretch pants, all suitable for the chilly night. Her raven hair was let down this time, its length just long enough to reach her shoulder blades.
Her katana was not in her hands. Still, Lucas felt he needed to be cautious. Who knows if it was hidden somewhere he wouldn't expect.
"Okay, um..." Lucas fidgeted in place as he brought up his first question. "Let's start with 'Why did you kidnap me instead of killing me?' Not that I wanted to have my life taken, but you were making it look like I shouldn't be alive just because I saw you."
Rio clapped slowly at his assumption. "Oh look~ You figured it out. Before I answer that, I should tell you some things about myself, so you can understand."
"I am in high school just like how you seem to be, but I am also working as an assassin."
As Lucas listened, the word "why" floated in his thoughts.
"Why is that, you ask? Because all the money that goes into everything in this house comes from me." Rio declared.
She knew what he was thinking. Lucas was a bit surprised at first, but then again, it is common to ask "why?" in such a situation.
So, all the money comes from her? He pondered. What about her parents?
"As an assassin, People pay me to assassinate," Rio continued. "Believe me, I can go after anyone around the world and have them dead with no evidence in a short amount of time at least compared to my fellow assassins. Therefore my reputation is high and why my service is expensive."
She paused for a moment to give her explanation some time to sink in.
"Part of my policy is that anyone who sees me at work must not be allowed to stay alive, even if it was an accident." She fixated her gaze on Lucas as she inched herself closer to him. "But, I choose to make an exception for you."
"Because... why?" Lucas asked her, sweat trickling down his forehead.
"Because..." Rio reached forward and allowed her fingers to move into Lucas' fringe, lifting them and exposing his colorless eyes. "...I developed an interest in you."
"Eh?" Lucas could only stare at her in surprise. Slowly, his face transitioned to a vivid red.
「何？」(What?) A bewildered Rio tilted her head, all confused.
It was only after a few seconds of locking eyes with Lucas that her face followed suit in being dyed red as well.
「嘘でしょう？」 (You're kidding, right?) Rio recoiled as more of her face changed color while becoming warmer. "'I-Interested'. I-I-It can mean something like that too!?"
"Um, yes?" Lucas hid under the mattress cover, hiding the look on his face. He shivered and buckled his legs close to his chest, holding them tight.
「とーとーとにかく！」(A-a-anyway!) Rio gripped the covers and pulled them away, exposing her captive once more in her sight.
"Sorry, I don't know what you're sayi--"
"A...NY...WAY! By 'interested', I meant to say that I want to know more about you."
The color of Lucas' face was on the road to recovery, but then it relapsed back to red. "Um, that's still..."
"Nnghh..." Rio bared her sign of frustration over a common problem involving a person's second language and beyond.
She took a deep breath then tried again. "I... want... to study... your--"
"Uh..." Lucas' eyes darted away, not wanting to see the new look on Rio's face.
She finally had enough and slammed her palms to the floor after failing to make her point for the third time.
"Next question... now!"
"Do you... want to cool down first before we continue?" Lucas asked.
"...Fine." Rio replied with some hesitation.
She stormed out of the room, turning to her right as soon as she exited from the sliding door.
Now left in temporary solitude, Lucas thought about his first impressions of Rio's character. She said she was an assassin, so he guessed that explained the stoic and aloof expression she had for most of the time he had been with her. If her reputation as a top-class assassin were true, then that probably justified the way she kept looking down on him.
Then when she realized she might have accidentally confessed to him (sort off...), she broke down into embarrassment.
Lucas admitted that he didn't dislike that.
So, she does have a sensitive side. Huh, she's kind of cu--
What was he so close to thinking!?
Lucas snapped back and came to the realization that he needed to make himself ready to ask his next question, lest the assassin girl changes her mind about keeping him alive... For now.
With weak and rapid slaps, he beat the blush out of cheeks to psychologically wake up from his earlier thoughts.
While he was in the middle of it, he was enveloped in a strange case of euphoria. Rio had just returned to the room, her face and hair being somewhat moist. She probably submerged her head in some icy cold water.
"Alright, let us continue... Hmm?" She was puzzled when she caught sight of Lucas still trying to get rid of the rest of the redness on his face. "What are you doing?"
"N-Nothing important..." Lucas said, turning away. He turned back moments later when he was certain that he had nothing written on his face. "Right... the next question... Where am I now?"
With her air of superiority back like nothing happened, Rio walked toward the closest wall next to Lucas who in turn, looked to his left the moment she passed him.
"You are in my home that is in what some would call the land of rising sun..."
She placed both of her hands on a pair of grips located on the wall, then with a little force, flung them apart revealing them to be another pair of sliding doors.
The doors parted to reveal a garden, bathed in the dim light reflected off the moon. Although the rocks of varying sizes, bushes and carefully pruned trees were arranged in specific places, their arrangement felt natural regardless. The site left Lucas awed with fascination. This wasn't something he could expect to see every day back home.
"Do you like what you see?" Rio asked him, a slight smile of amusement plastered on her face. "It is artificial, but an environment like this is what you will most likely see in my country... the Eastern nation of Nihan."
Lucas was in the middle of admiring the aesthetic of the Zen garden when the last word Rio spoke brought his attention back to her.
"I'm sorry, did you say... Nihan!?
Rio nodded in response while giving an emphasized "Mm-hmm."
"Y-You can't be serious... that's like... on the other side of the planet!"
"Oh, but we are~," Rio assured him while beaming a smile that mocked him. "Go outside."
Without hesitation, Lucas got up and prepared to make his way out of the room. Then he came to an abrupt stop after realizing he could feel himself standing on the floor below him.
"What happened to my shoes?"
"You were not wearing them, to begin with. It is fine because almost nobody in Nihan wears their shoes inside the house. Now follow me. We will go over the garden wall."
Rio stepped foot into the garden as she headed towards the walls that surrounded her house with Lucas following her from behind and felt the soothing feeling of strolling on the trimmed grass with his bare feet.
When Rio was just a few feet away from the wall, she picked up on speed and with only a few steps, ran up the wall and sat down on its flat surface with one leg crossed over the other. Lucas, on the other hand, couldn't perform such a feat and had to jump as high as he could a few times just for his hands to land a grip before he could pull himself up. The process took a bit of time with Rio's silent gaze urging him to hurry up or else there would be consequences.
As he sat next to her, Lucas realized that like his home back on Falcon Rock, Rio also lived in a residence on high altitude. Just like back home, he could see a city in the distance. Some of the buildings resembled the ones back home but thrown into the mixture were structures that resembled shrines, remnants of the nation's history which remained preserved. Some of the trees in the surrounding area had leaves that were white like the petals of a flower. As the winds blew, they scattered in a swirling dance that made for a fond sight to witness. Even though it was now in front of him, Lucas found it hard to believe that he was suddenly in another country on the other side of the planet.
"It's beautiful," Lucas admitted.
Then a sudden thought surged through his head and he blurted out.
"Wait, what's the time and date now?" He pulled out his smartphone, which was thankfully not stolen from him.
"It's... June 13 at 3:43 am back home... I need to return now!"
Almost out of reflex, Lucas was close to dropping himself off the wall and outside the house when Rio made him halt with a warning.
"If you jump off this wall and run into the city, I will not stop you, but... how can you survive without me~?" The ominous tone of her voice held Lucas in place. "You cannot speak our language or understand our writing. Yes, English is taught in school here, but only a few of us studied it seriously. Are you willing to take that chance?"
Frozen in place, Lucas came to a realization. Even though the doors to get out were wide open, he had no chance of escaping or surviving in Nihan without Rio's help. She had him by the nuts. Even with no restraints to bind him, she had him trapped within her nation.
With a heavy sigh as he conceded, for now, Lucas could only think about how much time he had left before school would start back home. He compared the time now to the time before he was knocked out and somehow ended up in Nihan.
"If it's 3:44 am now, that means... I was brought here... in eight hours!?"
"It was way shorter than that," Rio peeked at the time and date on Lucas' phone. "You were unconscious for most of the time. Right here in Nihan, it is now June 14, 6:44 pm."
"How did you do it!?" Lucas asked in desperation. "A ride from Sarkansas to Nihan by airplane would take much longer!"
Rio placed a finger pointing up on her soft lips and whispered in a manner meant to disappoint him.
"It... is... a... secret~!"
With wild nails, Lucas scratched his hair in frustration as Rio looked on, amused.
"Ahgh! I can't afford to miss class!" He ranted.
"Why? Are you going after a 'perfect attendance' award?"
"It's not that," Lucas said. "Just like how you earn money from killing people--"
"Assassinating." Rio corrected him.
*Tch!* "--Ass...ass...inating people," Lucas humored her. "I earn my money by busting my ass off in what is very close to being unsanctioned street fights!"
"So, you fight like it is a job... Oh, what does 'busting my ass' mean?"
"I worked like my life depended on it," Lucas clarified to her.
Rio tilted her head to the side as she learned the meaning. "So, I guess I also 'bust my ass' at work every time then. Your language is so confusing with these words having so many meanings."
"Tell me about it," Lucas concurred. "Anyway, going back to what I was saying. There are conditions for me to continue doing this. One them is not missing a day at school!"
Rio placed a hand on her mouth as she tried to hide her laughter, with only a slight chuckle escaping. A mischievous half-smile made itself present leading the one it aimed at to recoil. "So... This means I have you under my control... And I get to do what I want with you."
"Yes..." Lucas admitted. "Yes, you do... Wait... did you say, 'do what you want with me?'"
"Alright," Rio shifted the subject. "You will return to Sarkansas. In time for school maybe. But first, we will make a deal."
"A deal?" Lucas parroted.
"A contract," Rio specified. "But for now, you must be hungry, right? Let us go back to the house. I already prepared dinner before I checked on you."
Lucas felt his stomach rumble after being reminded that he needed to eat... again. The hours haven't been so kind.
With the words being spoken, Lucas dropped down from the wall and landed back into the garden as he followed Rio back to the confines of her home, his chest feeling tighter over what the details of this contract could be.