“So, how did you meet Rak?” Allan asked in curiosity as they watched Evelyn reducing a full-sized orc to ashes with her black flames. They were currently on the Third Plateau, helping the succubus leveling up. They had also come to learn that even as a Phantom and bound to an object, she still needed to complete Trials on her own to climb Plateaus.
“I’m curious as well,” Nyx followed up the blond’s question. “While I do believe Rakna is honorable and generous to some extent, I don’t think he would take in someone on a whim. He even allowed you to both inhabit and wield his prized weapon.”
Evelyn smiled wryly as she jumped back from the last orc. She pulled Sonata from her neck and mentally commanded it to turn it into a bow. She drew the string and three arrows appeared. She then activated her magic and the arrows were coated in black flames. She promptly let go and the orc was skewered in a second, advancing her new archery skill up to level two.
She sighed and lowered the weapon. “He and my brother… made a promise to each other. Though it was more a sort of agreement on which I had no say,” she answered their question.
Flavia scowled at that. “A promise? Are you sure?” She inquired with a serious tone.
The succubus tilted her head in confusion. “Well, yes? I believe it was. I was present, after all.”
The beginner witch was about to retort when Allan beat her to it, “You said that they promised something to each other,” he reiterated. “If Rakna’s promise was to, I guess take care of you, what was your brother’s promise?”
Evelyn smiled sadly. “To forever stay true to his wish, even in death.”
Her answer surprised them all. That sentence carried more information than they expected. This especially suggested that Rakna had been there when her brother died. Flavia was first to recover as she pieced things together. She let out a helpless chuckle and caught the attention of everyone.
“That does sound like him... Rakna rarely makes promises because he’s aware that nothing can be predicted with 100% accuracy. More than failure and disappointment, he hates false hope and baseless words. But, at the same time, he would never ignore a dying wish. Really, exchanging promises with a dying man; there’s only him to do that.”
“Heh, that’s true,” Allan snorted.
“I see…” Nyx whispered. “The more I learn about him, the more I find myself mystified. I’ve never met someone so…”
“Twisted?” Flavia finished the sentence for her with a somber tone. They all turned toward her with widened eyes. “Well, I guess twisted isn’t the most accurate way of saying it,” she added with a bitter smile. “Perhaps ‘distorted’ would be a better label.”
“…may I ask how you met him?” Evelyn broke the silence that had ensued her words.
Flavia glanced at her and sighed as she extended her arm in a certain direction. Twenty meters away from them, three orcs who were rushing them had their necks rotate 180 degrees. They fell on the ground lifeless and Evelyn blinked several times. Allan snickered and Nyx just smiled.
“I first met Rakna around five years ago,” she started. “I moved in the house next to his with my grandfather who then told me to go with him to greet our neighbors. When we went to Rakna’s house, he was the one who answered the door.”
At this point, this training session had completely turned into story time and Evelyn had even cast a barrier around them to make them undetectable by the monsters outside.
“That’s a day I’ll never be able to forget. My grandfather was a good man, someone who was warm to his family and always smiled at them. But when he saw Rakna, he instantly grabbed me and distanced himself from him...”
* * *
Flavia was confused as her grandfather urgently pulled her away. Even though he was old, he still was incredibly strong and quick on his feet so she was quite shaken.
She managed to take a look at his expression and stiffened when she saw the coldness on his face befitting of a former general. But there was something else on his face, something she had never seen from him before; unadulterated horror.
“You are?” A voice unfamiliar to her resounded and she forced herself to not shudder. She looked over the arm her grandfather was putting in front of her, as if to protect her, and spotted the person who had opened the door to them.
He looked no older than twelve but that was a detail she couldn’t even focus on as her breath got stuck in her throat when she saw his eyes. Hollow, cold, uncaring, and analytical.
“…we are the new neighbors,” her grandfather finally found the voice to reply.
“Hm?” She watched as the boy raised an eyebrow. “Oh, the old man did mention something like that,” he muttered with a voice so empty she never imagined possible. “Is that it?” He then asked them. “If you want to see my uncle, you’ll have to come back another time. He’s not here.”
“That’ll be fine,” her grandfather said. “We merely wanted to introduce ourselves. My name is Cole Jeina Walker. I hope we’ll get along in the future,” he said politely but she knew better. It was forced and it concealed the apprehension he was feeling.
“Cole J. Walker?” The boy muttered. “Former General of Aurora. Second Generation Augmented Soldier. Retired four years ago because his family was targeted by a terrorist group.”
Flavia widened her eyes and she saw his grandfather shake and clench his fists. “How do you know that?” He inquired with a growl.
“Let’s say that your story interested me,” the boy said indifferently then looked at Flavia. “And this is? Your granddaughter? Orphaned, I assume.”
She gasped when she crossed eyes with him and even lowered her head. Why? She was several years older than him. Why couldn’t she raise her voice at his inconsiderate mention of her late parents? Why… was she scared?
“That’s enough,” her grandfather said and pushed her behind her. “I don’t know what a… monster like you is doing here but I’ll never let you hurt my grandchild.”
The boy took some time to answer this time. “You’re not my enemy, Walker. As long as you stay as such, you’re not a target,” he replied coldly. “Rakna Xiorra is my name. Have a good day,” he uttered and closed the door on them.
Cole gritted his teeth then released the breath he was holding. “Let’s go back. I don’t want to stay here for any longer,” he hissed and she quietly followed him.
After they were back to their house, her grandfather spoke again, “Flavia.”
“Never go to that house without telling me,” he said with utmost seriousness. “Rather, I hope you stay away from it as much as you can.”
She didn’t know what to say for a few seconds. “Why… are you so cautious of him, grandad? Isn’t he just a child?”
“Do you even believe the words you’re saying?” He retorted with a crooked smile. “What did you feel when he looked at you?”
“I… I was scared. Terrified.”
“Exactly. That’s what those kinds of people do to you. While ‘killing intent’ as they call it, is nothing more than fiction, humans can instinctually tell when a predator stands in front of them, ready and fully capable of drawing their blood. That monster is not a child. I have met serial killers who felt more innocent than him.”
Flavia gulped. “But there’s no way… right?”
“I’m sorry to tell you, Flavia, but there is,” he said solemnly and opened the door of their house.
* * *
Everyone was silent as Flavia finished recounting her experience.
“…that’s the first I hear that one,” Allan commented after many seconds. “I already knew Rakna at the time, so I understand the attitude, honestly. But… ‘more innocent than a serial killer’? What did your gramps mean?”
“I’m… still not sure,” she said. But, at the same time, she knew she was lying to herself. She knew, more than anyone else, what Rakna’s hidden nature was during those times.
The memory of a certain night where she saw him stand over tens of bodies came to her. She shook her head to get rid of these thoughts as Nyx spoke up.
“I believe we should stop here,” she stated. “The sun’s also setting. It’s best to go back to the town for the day. We’ll continue helping Evelyn tomorrow.”
The succubus slowly nodded. She took down the barrier surrounding them and they unanimously agreed to return to the Pavilion. They also took the portal to the First Plateau, which was a sort of massive vortex inside the room located behind the Pavilion’s reception.
“Do you think Rakna’s still here?” Evelyn asked the group as they walked out of the portal room.
“Well, wanna check?” Allan suggested and they climbed the stairs. When they reached the border of the Filter Dimension, the System notified them that their common friend was still present.
When they accepted to be transported inside, they found him sitting cross-legged on the floor of the main lounge room with his eyes closed. They all thought he was resting but Evelyn had a completely different reaction. She gasped in shock and almost stepped back.
“What’s wrong?” Flavia asked her in worry.
“He… his soul…” The Cambion managed to voice.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It changed,” she replied, hardly believing herself. As a Phantom, sensing souls was probably the easiest thing that she could ever learn to do. Back when Rakna ringed at the Jill house’s door, she had to spend a good minute to calm herself when she saw his soul through the walls.
The size of it matched someone of his level but the shape and color were otherworldly for her. It released both a frigid and fiery color and was molded into something similar to a circle formed by nine wolf tails. In the middle of the circle laid three pairs of silvery wings. That had been enough to seriously consider what sort of abomination would own a soul like that.
She had ultimately decided to not think too much about it and got used to it. But she could not ignore what was in front of her now. The wings and tails were still unchanged but there was a new addition that had not been there a few hours ago. It was a mane of black fur complementing the silvery wings.
“It changed?” Nyx frowned. She knew for a fact that souls never changed. Or at the very least, their nature was perpetual, unless the person became an entirely different being. “What do you mean exactly?”
“It-!” Before Evelyn could answer, Rakna twitched and she wished she hadn’t been sensing his soul at that very moment. In the blink of an eye, she was surrounded by three beasts in a dark place.
A cross-breed between a wolf and an eagle was looking at her from above with its six wings casting a shadow over her. A nine-tailed wolf was sitting and scrutinizing her from afar with its blood-red eyes. And then, behind her, a massive lion with light-eating fur glowered at her before leaping at her with a roar.
“NO!” She screamed in fear as she was brought back to reality and Flavia hastily went to help her when she was about to fall on the ground.
“Evelyn! Are you okay?!”
Rakna snapped his eyes open at the shout, getting out from Soul Breath’s trance. He immediately looked to the source of the voices and furrowed his eyebrows when he saw Evelyn shivering in fear. At the same time, unbeknownst to him, three beastly apparitions fused with him again.
“It’s all right... You’re safe,” Flavia cradled Evelyn who gradually calmed down after confirming that there indeed wasn’t a lion trying to eat her.
Rakna blinked at them and after a moment, they also returned his look. He stared at them with a bemused expression. “…what happened?”