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!
(Thank you for the meal!)
Rio and Yakumo put their chopsticks down and clasped their hands once more, saying that phrase at their own pace after they finished their dinner.
A translation wasn't needed. Lucas figured this was how one would express their satisfaction or gratitude after eating. He wasn’t grateful at all, not because the food was terrible but because his stomach was still begging for more.
With the issues he had when using chopsticks, he managed to pick up only four small cubes of wagyu beef before there was nothing left; compare that to what once looked like countless pieces crowding the plate earlier.
All Lucas could have to himself were his three small bowls of rice, fish and vegetable appetizers and miso soup (he learned the name while he was taking it).
Those were all secondary meals though, so it was only natural he’d want more. Two of the three meals didn't have much of a distinct flavor, and once again, using chopsticks further hampered the experience.
As she collected all the empty plates to have them washed, Rio asked her sister, Yakumo, for a favor. Of course, they conversed in their native tongue, Nihanese so Lucas was clueless of its contents.
"Now that dinner is finished, follow me. It is time to negotiate our contract," Rio said to Lucas after she finished speaking with Yakumo.
Two pairs of footsteps echoing on a hollow floor of furnished wood, Rio led a reluctant Lucas back into the main room of the house, the same room where he first awoke.
They sat partially under the blanketed table with short legs and machinery on its underside after Rio made it stand. Soothing warm air emanated from beneath the table and thanks to the blanket trapping it, a suitable heat source was available in a house that relied on drafts in order to keep the temperature down. It made Lucas forget that he was still hungry for a moment.
"I like this. Sort off," he said, enjoying the heat warming his legs. "Since I also live in a mountainous area, I could use something like this in case I get tired of the cold for a while."
"Good for you. We call this a 'kotatsu'," Rio told him before moving on to another topic. "Now then... I am offering you a chance to be spared despite my policy as an assassin, but to do so, you will have to fulfill a contract. Let me tell you this: I would not offer this kind of opportunity to just anyone."
Lucas listened with anticipation making his chest tighter. Not just anyone? What did she see in him? His shoulders tensed as he held a firm grip on his pants.
"To do this, I would need someone with special abilities,” Rio continued. “I need a [Renegade]. Someone like you."
"Huh?" Lucas gawked. He sure wasn't expecting this. "A [Renegade]? Me? You can't be serious."
"Oh, but I am," Rio assured him. "Did you not realize your eyes are not something any ordinary human should have?"
"Well... yeah, but... I don't see why that alone makes me one of them--"
"Then stop lying to me and just admit the truth!"
Rio climbed over the table and extended an arm, intending to reach for the hair bangs that covered Lucas' eyes. He tried to fend off her attempts, but every time he tried to shove her hands away, he was reminded that touching her hands induced an otherworldly pain. He still couldn’t figure out how that was happening and why he grew a little more tired every time it did. Soon enough, Rio finished the job and brushed away at his bangs. When she looked into what was faded outlines for a pair of irises, she was left wide-eyed in disbelief.
"You are not lying..." She backtracked herself to her original spot and rested her chin on the butt of her hand as she pondered in disbelief. "How strange... A [Renegade] who has yet to realize he is a [Renegade]?"
She was baffled at first, but a few aspects made her question if Lucas really wasn’t a [Renegade] like she assumed he was. First of all, she never felt any forced emotion whenever she approached him. Second, no anomalies outside her knowledge occurred during the time she’d spent with him so far. But those eyes of his had to be the real deal. It was weak, but they were emitting a glow in the dark when she first saw them.
The time she spent thinking allowed Lucas to recover before addressing Rio.
"Okay, this is getting really weird. If you say I'm a [Renegade], then what else makes me one? You know, besides my eyes?"
Rio left his question hanging as she stood up and opened the sliding door that led to the Zen garden outside.
"I need to think," she said, stepping out.
She sat on the porch outside the room and began to fiddle with a stringed musical instrument she picked up from there. Known as a shamisen, the instrument resembled a western banjo but with three strings instead of four, five or six. Rio played it with a curved, cone-shaped pick that slightly dwarfed the hand that used it.
A mellow oriental tune filled the previously silent atmosphere.
"Hey, if this discussion will have to wait, then at least send me home first before you get back!" Lucas called from within the main room but again received no reply. Rio didn't seem to hear him, or maybe she wasn’t even bothering to listen.
Lucas slumped down on the table, resting on one side of his face. He was wondering how much longer will he stay in this foreign nation when the sliding doors to his right separated.
(Thank you for waiting.)
Yakumo entered the room with two plates in her hands, which she placed in front of Lucas.
An aroma forced itself into Lucas' nose and he brought himself back up to see two plates and another pair of chopsticks meant for him. One was filled with karaage and the other had tuna and salmon nigiri, the very dishes he failed to sample earlier.
"Yū sutiru hangurī… iesu?" Yakumo apologized with a quick bow after setting the plates down. "Jīzu... ā fō yū."
"Okay," Lucas told her with a bit of a smile. "Thank you."
The younger Kiyodera sister beamed her own smile, relieved once more as she exited the room and left Lucas with a new batch of the savory dishes she and her sister finished within minutes.
Now that Lucas thought about it, Yakumo couldn’t say his name correctly. "Ryūka" was how she pronounced it. Rio, on the other hand, had been saying his name with no issues. This made him assume she must’ve overcome her Nihanese accent. Accomplishing that was no easy feat, especially for someone so young.
With that afterthought finished, Lucas brought himself back to reality and saw the chopsticks in front of him on the kotatsu. Hard times were coming again, but at least no one was going to steal anything away from him this time.
His handling of the twin wooden utensils still needed a lot of practice and there was the possibility that Rio could finish thinking any moment. Then again, no one was watching him eat.
To speed things up, Lucas used the chopsticks in an unorthodox way by spearing the fried chicken. He used his hands to pick up the nigiri and dip them in soy sauce with a smear of wasabi before he ate them.
At last, he was on the road to satisfying his hunger.
Ever since he ate his first nigiri, Lucas developed a craving for raw fish. He never thought something as strange as that would ever happen.
Oh, and the karaage had a succulent taste too.
As he ate, he listened to the ongoing music Rio was playing, which made him feel even more like he was another nation far from home. It was strange that he was enjoying this. Lucas was never fond of watching or listening to anyone whenever they played the guitar. It reminded him of his failure to learn that instrument. Maybe similar instruments like Rio’s shamisen were exceptions. Just goes to show Lucas didn’t have a full understanding of some of his likes and dislikes.
When Lucas was close to finishing, the music stopped. Rio walked back in. She sat on her side of the kotatsu, opposite to Lucas.
"I see Yakumo had already finished what I asked from her."
Lucas perked up, surprised. "So, that's what you two were talking about? Thanks, I appreciate it."
Rio smirked in delight. "Well, you gave my sister and me some entertainment at the dinner table, so I felt you deserved a treat~"
Lucas scowled at how Rio made it sound like she was treating him as her pet dog. "Now I wish I took my thanks back."
“Ufufufufufu.” Rio snickered and returned to the contract she wanted to discuss. "So to give you a bit of a background, I, as an assassin, am currently assigned to assassinate seven [Renegades]. All of them are from different nations across the planet.”
“And you’re telling me this because why?”
“It is for our contract,” Rio grinned. “In exchange for me sparing your life right now, I want you... to kill those seven targets for me."
For a moment, Lucas was silent as he took in the specifics.
"I see. Kill the seven [Renegades] on your hit list and you’ll stop pursuing me. Whoop-dee-do,” he cheerfully said to Rio, who nodded. “I just wanna say..."
A pair of palms went up then slammed themselves on the katsu’s table, causing a mild tremor to the furniture.
"...Are… you… KIDDING ME!?"
Rio stared daggers, her expression aloof. "Does this look like I am kidding?"
She was serious about this. Lucas looked past his open hands and shook his head, unable to fathom why.
"I... I don't believe it... You're an assassin..."
Rio nodded again. "Correct."
"...And you're asking me to do your job for you?"
"You need a lot of training to assassinate," Rio informed him. "I am asking you to kill them. Any method is fine, so long as we have a corpse to prove it."
"That's not the point!" Lucas exclaimed. "And why are you asking me, an ordinary high school student to do something so drastic? Is it because you can't do it?"
"Of course I can do it," Rio mused with a kitten’s grin, a curl of her upper lips that irked the person in front of her. "But remember, this is so you have a chance to escape. Since you really want me to spare you, I am giving you the opportunity to make me break my policy as an assassin for once. It is your call. You can accept, or I execute you now. I might make it quick and painless."
“Ugh...” Lucas let himself fall backward, eliciting a thud on the floor.
"Kill seven [Renegades], huh?" Lucas' blank face made it appear like he had given up on life. "How could I take on one, let alone seven, if I don't even know the first thing about them?"
Rio took notice of how he was clearly lost in the dark and an idea popped into her head. She leaned forward and peered over to the other end of the table. "Since you claim you are not a [Renegade] and know nothing about them, I can teach you some useful things. That way, you will be better prepared once the time comes for you to face them. What do you say?"
Hearing Rio's offer brought Lucas back to life. He sat back up and steeled himself. Even if he decided not to go after the [Renegades], there may come a time he would be forced into an encounter with one. With the information on them still considered unknown to the public, this was something he could not allow to slip away.
"Alright, I'll listen to what you know. But this doesn't mean I'm happy to accept your contract."
"Fine with me." Rio adjusted her sitting position as she prepared to begin her lecture.
"Well then... where should I begin?"