Chapter 7 – Darker than Ink
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Nora and Rikku faced each other, their auras blazed, sending the water surging and rolling as if in the middle of a storm. Belle, Rikku’s, and Nora’s attendants ran and tried to mediate.

“Please do not fight,” Belle intervened.

 

“And where were you when that bitch pushed Ran into the water?” Rikku growled without even sparing her a look.  

 

Belle looked unsightly. She didn’t move earlier because she wanted to enjoy the show. But who knew Rikku would appear out of nowhere? An elite like her was already reduced to babysit for such a useless girl, and now Rikku’s anger just added more to her pent-up frustrations. However, as a maid, she could only stay silent and lower her head as she did right now. The situation had become explosive. Nora’s mana burned around her as her anger flared up. What did he see in her? The angrier Rikku got, the more jealous Nora became. She was definitely the prettier and more talented one, yet that useless girl...

  

“Don’t…” a weak voice pierced through the clashing auras, “Rikku, don’t…”

 

Ran’s hazel eyes were red after coughing out much water. She laid on the floor drenched and pale, looking like a total mess. Struggling to sit down to stop Rikku, she ended up slipping and hurting the floor instead. Rikku moved to support her and instantly felt a current as their skin came in contact. His instincts were crying out, warning him about something he didn’t know. Still, he helped Ran’s shivering figure sit. 

“Your head is bleeding,” Rikku said. He didn’t try to touch her, he just glanced at Ran’s maid.

Belle knelt beside Ran, took out a handkerchief and pressed it on Ran’s forehead. Meanwhile, Ran stayed quiet and unmoving, her eyes lowered and her fingers fidgeting by her side. An awkward silence enveloped the wooden bridge.

“You, piece of trash!” Nora gasped in anger. She really wanted to tear Ran apart right this very moment.

While Nora was still fuming, Belle helped Ran’s frail body struggled to stand up. Afterwards, she lifted her head to finally meet Nora’s gaze. Right now, Nora felt like a cheated wife catching her adulterous husband in an affair. She would have wanted to curse at Ran some more until she saw her deep, unfathomable eyes. Her dead and dark stare sent shivers down her spine causing her to retreat a step. Ran did not miss Nora’s reaction. She collected herself and gave Rikku a reassuring nod. These small details also did not escape Rikku’s eyes, and his suspicions grew even more. 

“Today’s matter, I will remember it,” Ran glared at Nora.

“Come at me then! Let’s fight right now!” Nora taunted in disdain. She doesn’t believe such a cowardly mouse could do try anything.

“Nora-sama, you can’t!” Nora’s butler exclaimed.

“Shut up, Sebas!” Nora hissed.

Ran ignored Nora and wobbly walked past Rikku. The bridge had become crowded now and there was no other way out but to pass by the livid, red-haired girl. However, her unsteady gait did not last long, and her legs soon gave out. Ran instinctively grasped at anything to stabilize herself and ended up falling right in Nora’s full bosom. With Ran clutching her belly, Nora ended up wet, reigniting her anger. She did it on purpose! She angrily pushed Ran aside and was about to swear, until Rikku’s cold glare strangled whatever words she wanted to say.

“Belle, could you help me to my room, please?” Ran asked faintly, unsteady on her feet.

 

The maid expressed no dissatisfaction as she supported Ran to her room. But inside, Belle sneered. She had always disdained weak and bland types of women. Everyone else got a suitable target, while she was the only one to serve a weakling. This was a total waste of her talent! By the time they reached Ran’s door, she had already looked exhausted and her maid was also drenched wet. Rikku said some comforting words before leaving.

 

Back at the bridge, no words were spoken as Nora stayed behind. Having nowhere to vent her anger, she let her fire magic loose and burned the pavilion down until its ashes sank into the deep pond. 

 

Inside her room, Ran collapsed on the floor as soon as the door was closed. She sent Belle to run a hot bath and sat shivering on the floor, neither moving nor talking. Her breathing was deep, her thoughts unfathomable, and her fists clenched tightly. When the bath was ready, she locked herself in the bathroom. She wasn’t in the mood to see people nor humor anyone. 

As she slipped into the hot water, Ran body relaxed and finally let all her guards down. At this very moment, she looked like a totally different person. Her back was straight and her aura was majestic. She inhaled deeply. Everything had pissed her off today. It had been less than 12 hours since she had arrived in this world and trouble just kept on throwing themselves at her. Keeping her temper in check and trying hard to act her part had been exhausting. She exhaled and opened her eyes. The coldness she had kept hidden all day surged forth. She wanted to vent her anger and frustration, but she knew well enough she couldn’t do anything right now. It was urgent for her to find a way to leave here fast or else she’d implode from holding back. This afternoon’s encounter brought a vicious smile on her lips. At the same time, a water ball appeared on her palm. Inside was a branch with leaves and small dark seeds swirling around. After some time, the leaves and small seeds dissolved in water and tainted the liquid with a light purplish hue. 

**Appraisal**

Cherry Laurel

FactUsed as a hedging shrub.

Warning: Ingestion of the leaves and seeds can cause potentially fatal respiratory problems. Toxins in the leaves and seeds can be distilled into prussic acid. Absorption of acid into the skin can cause cell necrosis.

Symptoms: Weakness, spams, suffocation, death

**** 

Ran chuckled. She was one to hold grudges. Nora wasn’t the kind of person to bother Ran, but she had wronged her and her hands were itching to get back at that red-haired girl. She toyed with the water ball. How could she just let that barbie off after insulting her? Her only regret was not having enough time to refine a real poison. The small gift she gave Nora could have been much better if she had a bit more time back then at the bridge. The water ball with cherry laurel disappeared and was replaced by numerous others. Each water ball contained something she had picked up in the garden.

**Appraisal**

Hybrid tea roses 

Fact: Make good fragrant tea.

****

 

**Appraisal**

Chamomile.

****

 

**Appraisal**

Valerian.

****

 

**Appraisal**

Cinnamon bark.

****

 

**Appraisal**

Azure Lotus leaf

Fact: Tier 2 medicinal plant, 20 years old.

Properties:  Essential ingredient for health and mana potions. Water and wind affinities. Seeds can be refined into cosmetic products. It can be used to enhanced stats when paired food.

****

 

**Appraisal**

Glass Roots Lily

Fact: Tier 2 medical plant, 25 years old.

The flower helps …. skip

The lily pad … skip

Warning: Absorbs mana and other elements to nourish its flower. Oil extracted from the root is poisonous. It seeps into the bones and gradually destroys accumulated mana. Left untreated for a long time, it affects the ability to sense and store mana.

Symptoms: Abnormally smooth and light skin, tastes like nectar, sensitive to touch.

skip

****

 

Ran smirked at the good idea she had just devised. Someone else had been getting on nerves, and it would be a pity not to prepare a gift for that person. That person was the very reason she’s famished right now. The water had turned chilly when she stepped out of the tub, with drops of water still flowing on her delicate hazelnut skin. Her waist-long tresses cascaded down her back, straight and silky. Ran stood in front of the tall mirror and smiled at her reflection. Under her imposing aura, the silver strands have been eclipsed by her dark flowing hair. So black, it was darker than ink, just like her heart. 

After bathing, Ran recovered her cowardly, timid self. She regarded her dinner with a sullen look, giving off the impression of still being unreconciled about this afternoon’s incident. Dinner was composed of bland soup, plain bread, vegetables, and a couple of pieces of fried meat. She harrumphed softly and wanted to go to bed without eating. However, Belle persistently goaded her to eat that she was left with no choice but to eat. She finished her meal with her eyes glued to the carpet in order not to glare at the maid. That night, she came down with a fever. Belle kept watch over Ran and left before midnight. In the silent, dark room, Ran laid on the bed, staring blankly at the foreign ceiling. These sneaky people were really getting on her nerves.

 

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