The battlefield hadn’t been cleaned, the ground was still soaked in blood and remains of flesh. The closer you walked, the stronger the stench. Rikku and company had found a fairly spared tent on the edge of the camp and decided to stay there. They made minimal alterations to their surroundings in case others came to investigate.
As Ran was sitting in her bathtub under the tree branches, she was daydreaming and thinking back at her conversation with Rikku. Her gaze had found a certain tranquillity. She thought back at the past couple of decades, at how she was young once again, of the time that had passed. She had indeed been hard on herself, she had known it for a long time. She just didn’t want to leave the past behind, she was truly afraid to move on.
She was scared of feeling alive again, of being happy. She was scared of forgetting about the things she’d once held dear. She watched the clouds slowly moving through the blue sky. The sun was high up. It would set at the end of the day and rise again tomorrow. She sighed. She liked her ruthless self better. Too much sentimentalism had rendered her dismal. Perhaps Rikku was right, she should give Ran a chance. Perhaps it’s time to part with the old stories and start a new one.
“Status.” In front of her appeared a floating screen.
Her finger hovered about it. For a moment, she hesitated.
‘Give Ran a chance’
She breathed in deeply, maybe Rikku was right. Maybe she should give herself a chance.
Are you sure you want to change your name?
She pressed on the screen.
Your name has been changed to Ran.
“Don’t you have regular clothes,” Dorian eyed Ran with a frown.
“I’m planning to put them on a regular basis, so they are regular clothes.” She shrugged as she sat down.
“Isn’t that cosplay?” Parvian laughed.
Ran was wearing a loose silk robe resembling a Chinese-drama dress.
She rolled her eyes. “We are in an Isekai and we killed our way through magical beasts all night with magic. I’m pretty sure this,” pointing at her outfit, “can be considered normal.”
Rikku rolled his eyes. “Alright, alright.” He threw her some dried jerky.
“Dried food?” Ran frowned.
She looked around and realised that there was chaos everywhere. They’d actually let everything be as is. She took out a bottle of rum to wash off the bad taste of the meat.
“Better safe than sorry.” Rikku shrugged.
“So, what now?” asked Dorian.
Rikku and Ran exchanged a glance.
“What’s going on?” Parvian asked with a serious expression.
“The situation is a bit more complicated than we thought.” Rikku started to explain what they’d learned through the maid yesterday.
Dorian and Parvian frowned hard. Parvian was fidgeting with his ring, his face blank. Dorian was pacing around, barely able to contain his anger. He crushed anything that he could put his feet upon. Ran was eating in silence, her eyes lowered.
“You were right, we’re really like pigs on the road to the slaughterhouse,” Parvian said, nervously.
“Fuck!” Dorian’s intimidating aura exploded.
“Don’t you have a way?” Parvian turned to Ran.
Ran lifted her gaze. “I do have some ideas, however…,” she looked at the duo observing her, “...you may not be completely free.”
Dorian motioned to her to speak.
“Option 1, hide away somewhere and hope for the best. I can try and weave something to suppress the ring, but I don’t have much confidence in that. The ring is a piece of top-grade magic equipment after all. Option 2, find an independent backer by joining an organisation. Who, where, and how, you’ll have to figure it out yourself. Option 3, ask for protection from an ‘enemy’ country. At least with this option, you can screw whoever is behind this.”
“Option 2 and 3 mean we still have to slave around for someone else,” retorted Dorian.
“Everything will depend on what you want to do in the long term. Keep in mind that on top of your own strength, you can use the inside knowledge of this ‘illegal’ summoning. I believe it’s good blackmail material.” Ran added.
Dorian and Parvian turned silent and thought about it for a while.
“What are you guys planning?” Parvian asked.
“Go to Linestone city, then wait and watch for a time. It will depend on what kind of information Kan Yune will divulge.” Ran yawned.
“Linestone city, really? You just don’t want us to know, in case we get caught, don’t you?” Dorian sneered.
“There’s no reason to lie.” Ran smiled plainly. “It’s not like you guys actually know what I really look like or my real name anyway.”
“When are we going to interrogate that bastard?” Dorian’s fists were itching. Nothing would please him more than to vent his anger on Kan Yune.
“You won’t,” Ran said, “I will.” She saw Dorian frown and spoke before he could. “Psychological impact will be heavier if it’s me. Furthermore, I can change my appearance, it will be easier for me to disappear afterwards.” Ran yawned and stood up. “I need a nap. I’ll start at sunset.” She waved and left the tent.
“Is she okay?” Parvian stayed silent for a minute before asking Rikku.
“Who knows?” Rikku clicked his tongue.
“Do you trust her?” Dorian asked, in all seriousness.
“To get info out of Kan Yune? Yes.” Rikku stared at him.
“And in general?” Dorian narrowed his eyes.
Rikku scoffed before leaving the tent as well.
Belle stirred; her body, heavy and sore. Her head was killing her and she felt like a carriage had rolled over her. She groaned. Her eyelashes fluttered. She fought to open her eyelids. What’s going on? How come her memory was so fuzzy? Her body swayed. She could feel that she was sitting on a chair, but something didn’t feel right. She could barely move her arms and feet. Her eyes slowly opened. She looked around.
It was nighttime. The light of a lamp shone softly. She took in the scene before her eyes and found it hard to swallow. The tent she was in was ramshackle; missing a wall, tattered fabric, broken wood and smashed furniture. There was chaos all around. Then, the smell hit her. Charred flesh and blood; the heavy smell of smoke and burnt earth. Cold sweat started to drench her back. She stirred again and looked down. She was tied to the chair.