Ran made a face, “Say, do you have any mana potion?” She managed to have some bonus stats, but they stay relatively low. She better be careful or she won't be able to keep her life.
Rikku rummaged through the pile, grabbed a glass bottle and threw it over. Ran caught it with ease.
“I need equipment too.”
Rikku arched an eyebrow, “What kind?”
She chugged the potion and smiled broadly, “Any kind.”
Rikku described what he had on hand, “Let me see… She has a couple of short swords. One staff. Some daggers. Throwing knives. What do you want?”
“Anything you won’t use.”
Rikku sent some items over and packed anything he found useful in his own item box.
“Alright,” Ran changed into some sturdy pants, leather top and boots she had bought in Linestone city. “You should find and secure a carriage. I’ll go get Dorian and Kan Yune.”
Rikku threw some wrist guards he bought in town over to Ran who caught them with ease. Then, he reported, “I saw 5 beasts earlier. By now, most of the guards should be dead. 5 Earthlings went to fight, there should be 3 others on the loose including Nora. 12, no, 11 watchdogs aka assassins. Around 7 or 8 priests apart from Kan Yune. Another 10 to 15 servants, I guess they should all be dead too. Around 25 people left, give or take. I didn’t see the watchdogs. They must be struggling with other beasts or they didn’t intervene because the situation isn’t dire enough.”
Ran finished fixing the wrist guards and adjusted the blades in her boots, “As long as we don’t get surrounded, it should be manageable. Get Belle if you can. If you can’t, that’s fine. She will be lucky if she can survive tonight in her current state. I need as many potions as possible," A pouch full of potions flew to her.
“Where should we go afterwards? From what I saw the horde came from the South-West.”
“We can’t go forward for now anyway. We can only ride back to the first camp stop after Linestone City. We’ll get the information we need there. Then, we’ll head to Orchard city,” Ran patted her body as to check if everything she needed was in place. "The carriages are kept Eastward. From the carriage to the road, there’s about 300m if we take a straight line. If we have to go around the camp,...” Ran shook her head.
Rikku knitted slightly his eyebrows, “You want to go to Orchard City?”
“No one will think of looking for us there. We’ll hide in plain sight,” explained Ran as she gathered her hair into a long and messy braid.
“What about Dorian and Parvian?”
Ran shrugged, “Who knows. We’ll separate after dealing with Kan Yune. ”
“Come on. It’s not like I don’t want them to stick around. Well, yes, I don’t want them to stick around. BUT, it’s mostly because whoever ordered our summoning will look for us. We can change our appearance. They can’t. Don’t look at me like that! Of course, I know you can. How? I guessed, obviously. It would have been reckless of you not to be able to alter your appearance. I told you, we have more in common than you think.”
Rikku threw some miscellaneous items to Ran, “Don’t die.”
Ran froze, “How can I?” The tone of her voice was slightly weird and fake.
Rikku watched her back as she bolted through the tent’s entrance. He didn’t miss her tone. He only hoped that she would be reliable for once.
Outside, Ran couldn’t help hissing under her breath. “Wild beasts, my ass! Those are magical beasts!” The situation was more chaotic than she thought. The number of beasts had increased and even the watchdogs had to join the fight.
“Who’s ever seen wolves the size of cows!”
Ran complained as she rushed through the camp, dodging the stray attacks as she went. Her face screwed in simili panic. She stumbled a couple of times, her whole body turned dusty and somewhat miserable. Every time she would trip over a corpse, it would disappear when she stood back up and some blood splatters would follow her. Random objects, weapons, corpses of guards and anonymous servants were piling up in her storage.
From the corner of her eyes, she saw Parvian locked in a fight with a snake the height of a car. She shot a piece of a sword at the back of the reptile's head and stabbed its eye. The snake thrashed about violently. Parvian froze for a second, surprised. However, he recovered fast enough and took the opportunity to attack. He summoned an ice lance that pierced through the palate of the snake. Tremors ran through its body before it crashed on the ground.
“Alright?” Ran gave a mana potion to Parvian.
“Good,” Parvian caught his breath and started to drink the potion. “What’s going on here? Is it that damn Kan Yune?”
“No. We don’t have much time. Go and get a carriage. Rikku will be there too. I’ll go get Kan Yune and have Dorian deliver him to you. We’ll break through and head back toward Linestone.”
“Try to save as much mana you can. We’ll need it to get out of here. Now, go!”
They nodded to each other and went on their separate ways. Ran waved her hand and pocketed the snake. She looked around and spotted Kan Yune fighting near the giant bonfire. At his side stood Dorian, a guard. He was being protected by a random dog and they were surrounded by 2 enormous wolves. They were struggling, but it was obvious that given some time, they would defeat them. Ran smirked, how could she let them off this lightly. Dorian was fighting fiercely, Kan Yune who wasn’t too far was barely helping. It looked like he wanted Dorian to go down with the beast.
She rushed through. In her hand appeared a blood needle, she discreetly aimed for the watchdog's knee. The man’s joint gave out for an instant, his attack went askew and missed the wolf. The wolf swept its paw at him and slammed him to the ground. Then, it launched itself toward Kan Yune who surprised, barely managed to put up a shield. The shield held its own fine until Kan Yune cried out in pain. Something just pierced through his left knee. He stumbled down. The guard tried to chop at the wolf’s neck. The wolf roared and slashed at the guard and killed him on the spot. The watchdog thrust his sword to impale the beast. However, he lost his footing yet again. The wolf fiercely took a bite and tore off his arm. The guard yelled out, blood spurting everywhere. An arrow came out of nowhere and violently pierced its throat mid-howl. The beast collapsed on the spot.
Kan Yune shuddered. Things were getting out of hand. He started chanting a spell when he heard a pitiful cry behind him. Kan Yune saw Ran running to him. Her face was grim and her hair was a mess, covered in dust and mud. There was blood on her clothes and she was obviously running for her life. He just sat there, unable to comprehend how she could still be alive.
“Help me! Please!” She screamed as she reached out, pleading to the high priest.
The high priest furrowed his brows. He ignored her, opened his mouth to chant when he felt something was wrong. His instincts bellowed in danger. Ran reached out her hand, he noticed the shadow of a smile on the face of the young woman. All of a sudden, he felt a sharp pain in his throat. He fell heavily on the ground. The staff he was holding rolled aside, out of his reach. He was in so much pain. He wanted to cry out but couldn’t.
He heard the annoying voice of Ran coming closer. His eyes were popping out of their sockets.
“Kan Yune-sama, are you alright?”
The high priest wanted to get angry and just kill that useless annoying girl. Ran hovered over him and her hand touched his shoulder. He sensed another sharp pain and a numb feeling going from his shoulder down to his fingers.
The high priest paled. What did you…? He choked and felt a warm and coppery taste in his throat. Facing him was the brightest of Ran’s smiles. In the depth of her eyes, he saw viciousness and a cunning light that gave him goosebumps. He zoned out and realised way too late that she was poking him all over. Anywhere she touched, a sharp pain followed by a numb feeling spread.
“Oh my goodness!” Ran’s voice was sweet and a bit disgusting to the ear. “What is going on? How come you fainted?”
Kan Yune tried to struggle. He couldn’t move. His face had lost all its colours. He was helpless as Ran slapped her right palm above his heart. Aaargh! If his vocal cords hadn’t been severed, he would have howl his pain.
Ran leaned close and whispered sweetly, “Let me help you.”
Her eyes turned into two crescent moons as she laughed. Then, her left hand covered his forehead and a warm liquid seeped out of her palm. The air around her became cold. Under the moon, her gaze was peculiarly ominous.
Behind, Dorian had wrapped up his fight against the remaining wolf and was catching his breath. He saw everything from the corner of his eyes and he couldn’t help being shaken. That girl was bad news!
“We need to go,” Dorian reminded her. More and more beasts were bound to arrive and they won’t be able to get away otherwise.
Ran lifted her head, at her feet, Kan Yune was unconscious. “Parvian and Rikku are waiting for us at the carriage site. It’s not too far. Carry him, I’ll clear the way.”
Ran sprung to her feet. Her hand lightly shook as she packed up the high priest’s staff, the beasts’ corpses and the 2 dead men before running. She pursed her lips. Dorian knelt down, threw Kan Yune over his shoulder and followed Ran. They hadn’t run far when a thundering roar echoed.
Dorian and Ran swung their head around and their expression turned ugly. Kat - Dorian’s maid - saw them. The pair glanced at each other. Shit! Ran looked around to grasp the flow of the battlefield. The maid was far but at her speed, she would catch up in a matter of dozens of seconds.
“It’s fine! Let’s move forward!” Ran decided.
Dorian gritted his teeth. He felt that it wasn’t a good idea at all.
“No matter what, don’t stop! Go straight to the carriage!” urged Ran.
Dorian nodded and charged forward. He didn’t expect Ran to side step and dashed around. He gulped down. Kat tossed 2 daggers aimed directly to his head. The F! He closed his eyes expecting the worse, still, he didn’t stop running forward. His heart was throbbing out of his chest and cold sweat had drenched his back.
He heard metallic sound colliding and his eyes snapped open. Something had deflected the blows. He hissed in relief. It wasn’t the time for him to die yet.
Kat howled, “I’ll slaughter you all!” She darted to save Kan Yune and was intercepted by Rikku.
“Go! I’ll take care of her!” Rikku yelled as he flew forward to clash with the murderous maid.
Shadow daggers appeared in his hands and a shadowy shield formed in front of him. There was no way he could take her blow head on. Kat’s short sword surged with killing intent and slashed down. His shield exploded under the impact, Rikku raised his daggers to block yet was still sent flying. His breath got caught in his chest and he grimaced in pain. A sword appeared in his hand. He stabbed it deep in the ground in an effort to stabilise himself. It managed to stop his slide. As soon as he found his footing, without missing a beat, he dashed forward with force to counter-attack.
Countless shadow darts rose at his side and threw themselves at the maid. Rikku didn’t believe that they could injure her, at least, he hoped they could hinder her enough for him to find a gap and strike. Kat flung the darts away. A couple of stray ones managed to graze her smooth skin, leaving shallow trails of blood. One dart had injured the face she was so proud of. Her face screwed up in fury, furious magic fluctuations danced around her, cracking the ground here and there. She dashed forward, her short sword had been replaced by a massive war hammer.
Rikku’s complexion turned dark. Her real weapon wasn’t a sword but a war hammer. He would definitely die if he got hit. The difference in level and battle experience was way too great. He dodged and evaded but, he wouldn’t be able to keep it up for long. He was feeling the pressure. The pressure of a fight that could cost him his life. Rikku felt goosebumps crawling through the surface of his skin. The shadow of a smile drew itself on his lips. Deep down, he felt something new and odd. A rising feeling that gave him shivers yet he couldn’t pinpoint what kind of feeling it was.
Kat mumbled, flourished her hand and threw a dagger coated with a spell. Rikku gritted his teeth. He jumped into the air, barely dodging it, but as he was still in midair, a dagger hidden under the previous one came at him. The dagger went through his shoulder and the recoil made him fly backwards. He plummeted into the ground, impacted heavily into it and spat a mouthful of blood.
A shadow rose from within and launched itself at Kat. She sneered, she lifted the war hammer over her head while the shadow attack with a short sword. Kat swung the war hammer down, the shadow side-stepped, dodged the blow and stabbed its sword in her side. Kat barely evaded. Even though the blow didn’t stab her, it cut deeply. She put some distance between her and the shadow and growled in pain. She never thought that she could be hurt by a low-level like Rikku. She stared at the shadow with hate. She froze. The shadow. It felt familiar. The silhouette. The way it held its weapon.
The shadow struck at her neck. Kat was still frozen solid, she couldn’t believe her eyes. How could this be possible! Out of nowhere, she felt someone grab her arms and whisk her aside. She narrowly dodged the blow and finally snapped out of her daze. Sebas - Nora’s butler - had come. Rikku put himself back on his feet while gulping down on a potion. He swore under his breath. As if one wasn’t enough.
Kat tugged at Sebas’s sleeve, “Isn’t that -?”
“We don’t have time for that,” the butler coldly spat before rushing forwards.
Kat pursed her lips and stared at Rikku with deep hatred. She lifted her war hammer and rushed forward as well. Rikku turned around to flee, alas, there were enemies on all sides. Most of the guards were now dead and the number of beasts kept on increasing. The watchdogs had turned into guard dogs and even they had their paws full. There was a beast coming in front, Rikku gritted his teeth and could only brace himself in order to receive the blow from behind. He summoned his shadowy shield, surrounding him whole.
Sebas’s sword swung down, the edge was glowing. Suddenly, a piercing wind hurled from the side, aiming at Sebas’ head. The butler felt the killing intent and changed the course of his blade. The strike was as fluid and graceful as flowing water. The blade stuck down and destroyed the hurling arrow. Sebas stopped and frowned. At some point, a massive dust cloud had appeared nearby. A dark silhouette was making its way out of the cloud at a fast pace. Another arrow shot out. A sword strike imbued with lightning retaliated and struck through the dust cloud. The lighting hit the moving silhouette and some dust was blown away. The dead body of a guard that turned into charcoal slumped down on the ground. Sebas harrumphed in contempt and before he could turn his attention back to Rikku, another arrow shot out. He evaded nimbly, a bit annoyed when darts, craftily hidden behind the arrow pierced through his body. The darts were only 4 and didn’t do much damage. His eyes reddened in fury. He glared straight forward and the mischievous face of Ran became visible through the dust.
“Despicable!” Sebas shouted as he dashed to Ran.
Ran slightly rose her chin in provocation and smirked in his face. Sebas flew into a rage. He would definitely kill that bitch! Ran flung a couple of daggers which Sebas all brushed aside in contempt.
“You want to hurt me with that kind of skill?” He hissed.
“As if I had the strength to,” Ran winked at him, she stepped on the corpse at her feet and jumped high in the air while doing a somersault.
Sebas rose his sword when he noticed what had charged out from behind Ran. Sebas’ face lost all colours and his heart turned cold. That bitch! Hidden behind by the cloud was an enormous boar monster. A fire type magical beast the size of a small truck. Ran had lured it with difficulties to finish Kat. It looked like Sebas became the unlucky target.
“Hah!” Sebas shouted out.
He didn’t have time to dodge and could only brace himself. He summoned all his strength and mana. However, something must have gone wrong: his mana was temporarily blocked and his arms had lost some strength. Sebas’ eyes were as wide as saucers. He had been played. The darts must have been poisoned. He took on the full frontal charge of the truck with his sword. His sword shattered and pieces of shrapnel exploded everywhere. They embedded themselves deep into Sebas’ flesh. Blood splashed around and his arms broke under the impact. Even though his feet were rooted deep in the ground, Sebas was dragged backwards. He gritted his teeth. If it continued like that, he would be turned into a pile of mush flesh and blood. Sebas rose a broken arm. He shouted in pain. In his palm, a short sword manifested itself.
“Aaargh!” Sebas wailed as he stabbed down on the beast’s head. The sword broke and only stunned the beast.
Its skin and leather was tough and burning hot. Sebas’ chest had caved in and was bleeding profusely. He spat blood, his hand slid. Fortunately for Sebas, he managed to cut through a soft patch of skin and open an artery in the beast’s neck. The beast howled in suffering, trashed around and send the butler flying with its tusk. Sebas heavily dropped on the ground. The boar was enraged and bleeding to death. In its madness, the beast rushed to the closest moving thing which was Kat. Rikku had succeeded in staying alive so far, his lips curled as he watched the maid being struck by the mad boar.
Rikku wasn’t the only one still alive by pure fluke. Sebas was panting hard. His legs were about to transform into jelly. His whole chest was in pieces and he didn’t doubt a second that the boar just crippled him. Wrath and resentment were set ablaze inside his soul. He tried to pull himself off the ground but his injuries were too heavy.
“Ran, you bitch! I’ll definitely skin you alive,” Sebas hissed. In his hand appeared a deep red potion.
“Your mama never said you shouldn't talk behind people’s back?” a mocking voice sounded behind the butler. “Otherwise, you’ll get stabbed!”
Sebas turned his head around in fright yet saw no one. All of a sudden, he felt something pierce through his chest. He lowered his gaze in shock and saw a delicate and thin arm. His eyes followed the arm and discovered the one attached to it. His eyes opened wide in terror. Ran’s warm smile was shining in front of him. He felt cold all over. Ran’s arm twisted and grabbed onto the flesh and guts it found. Sebas wanted to scream but he was too weak to do so.
For the first time, the butler really looked at her. Dust and blood couldn’t hide the coldness of her features. Her eyes were deep and mischievous. He saw the viciousness lurking in them. Her head was held high with confidence. Her long hair was floating around swept by the wind. Her lips were curled into a demonic grin. He was stunned. He wondered how they could have missed that. His body trembled and he breathed his last with eyes wide opened. Ran watched him slip away in silence. She absorbed as much blood and mana she could. Her eyes were downcast and her expression was aloof.
Kat, on the other side, had succeeded in defending against the boar with her war hammer. However, the wounds she received were heavy. The beast crashed on the ground. It twitched before dying. Kat breathed in relief when she felt a cold wind on her neck. She didn't have time to react. In a fierce sweep of a blade, Rikku decapitated the maid on the spot. Her head flew high in the sky and almost hit the absent-minded Ran as it plummeted down.
“Hey!” Ran yelled as she barely dodged the flying head.
Rikku offered her an awkward smile before falling on his knees. He was exhausted and almost lost a couple of lives. He tried to catch his breath the best he could in between mouthful of potions. Ran was also drinking without any moderation. She didn’t care about any side-effects nor consequences.
“Quick! We don't have much time!” Ran motioned toward the corpses on the ground.
Rikku nodded and put himself to work. In the meanwhile, Ran had already empty all the blood from Sebas and was transferring it to her equipment. They had gained some stats, it should be barely enough to get her through this ordeal. An alluring and invasive thought crossed her mind. She made a rictus and shook her head as if she wanted to get rid of it.
“Let’s go!” Rikku returned to Ran’s side, “We still have to meet the others.”
Ran put the 3 corpses in her storage and wanted to use the war hammer. Alas, it was too heavy for her. She threw it in her storage, annoyed. Rikku wiped the blood and dust off his face and rushed forward followed by Ran. The campsite was in utter chaos. Almost everyone was dead or half-eaten. The hidden guards mentioned by Rikku’s maid didn’t even make an appearance. The ground was littered with dead bodies, broken things and lost limbs. Ran pursed her lips at the gory battlefield.
“Did you find Dorian?” Ran swung her hands and threw a blood needle into a beast’s eye.
“Yeah. Found Belle too,” Rikku sent a dagger flying which blew a hole in a vicious owl’s wing.
“Oh,” Ran sounded distracted.
“Wanna look for Nora?”
Ran harrumphed, “Tsk! I don’t have time to lose with-”
An explosion occurred on their side and the burning shockwaves startled them. Rikku hastily pulled out his shield to protect both of them. As the smoke dispersed itself, the pair raised their guard and took a look. The scene before their eyes was surprising.
“Speaking of the devil…”
In front of them, Nora and 2 other otherworlders were fighting against boar type of beast. They were obviously in a fight they were about to lose. Nora was panting hard, her hair was messy and she was bleeding. Kirito beside her wasn’t in a much better state. He was fighting for his life. In his eyes, they could see the terror of one placed in front of death. He must have realised that this Isekai wasn’t such a paradise after all. The life of a Hero was to fight to death. There was a girl behind them who was trying her best with some healing spells. However, it was just the beginning of the journey, no one had any real firepower nor battle worthy spells.
Kirito tried to dodge the boar’s charge yet he still got bumped pretty badly. In his desperate attempt, something, rather someone entered the field of vision.
“HELP! PLEASE HELP!”
He had seen Rikku and Ran. Rikku sneered; as if they had time for that. Ran harrumphed in disdain. She was petty to the bones. She had already been merciful enough so far, why should she burden herself with others? Nora lifted her eyes, saw Ran and her world turned red. Even though she was in a dire spot, she still had the leisure to hate and entertain revenge. She noticed that the pair didn’t have any intention of helping them. Nora’s lip curled in viciousness. Her expression was grim and her eyes were alight with hate and madness, if they don’t come, then I’ll go to them! She threw a flame arrow to the boar to get its attention, enraged it and rushed to the pair with the boar chasing her.
Ran gritted her teeth, “That bitch actually dared to scheme against me!”
Nora made a risky move: she used the snout of the beast as a stepping stone and jumped up high. All of a sudden, a fire fist locked onto Ran. Her face turned unsightly. She had used the same trick earlier. She knew well enough that she couldn’t take a blow from that beast. She couldn’t meet the beast head-on, Nora on the other hand… Ran jumped to meet the fist. Nora didn’t expect her to do so, but it didn’t matter much to her as long as Ran died. Nora was so caught up in her narrow little world that she didn’t notice the change of attitude and aura of Ran.
Up in the air, Ran twisted her body to evade the fist by a hairbreadth while tossing a short-sword at Nora. Nora was taken by surprise and couldn’t defend against it. Her left leg got pierced through. Furthermore, a crimson whip snaked around her neck and pulled her down. Ran made use of the twist of her body to strike the beast at the back of its head while Rikku slashed at its front legs. The beast tumbled and rolled over several meters. Ran landed on one knee while Nora crashed on the ground and spat a mouthful of blood. Kirito gaped. How? How could Ran be this skilled and experienced? If it was him, he would have fallen for the trick and most likely die. He was frozen still for a moment, unable to shake his incredulity.
Ran stood up, walked to Nora and stared down onto her. Her hand held the whip tightly. Nora kept on rubbing her the wrong way. Something about her, her fiery temper and recklessness was an eyesore for Ran.
Nora wheezed while stared back, “You slut!” Her hands were grasping her throat, trying their best to untie the whip.
Ran’s face was cold and indifferent and her gaze sharp. She lifted the whip and Nora followed by the throat. Ran pulled her on her knees. She ignored the painful scream, then, in a smooth and determined sweep of her leg, kneed Nora straight in the gut. Nora jolted backwards and collapsed on the ground. Her breath got caught in her chest and her innards were definitely bleeding inside. She gagged and almost choked on her own blood. She never felt pain like this before. She had never thought that Ran could be this strong. She was about to swear some more when she felt a finger pinching her chin and lifting her face up.
Her eyes met Ran’s and she broke into goosebumps. The girl in front of her was too different from her memories. She remembered a Ran who was timid, useless and easy to bully. Now, the Ran in front of her resembled a demon. A vicious and bloodthirsty demon. Nora didn’t have much time to compare the 2 Ran when a fist came crashing down her face. The force wasn’t great but it was skilful. Her jaw broke and she lost a couple of teeth. She barely touched the ground that a kick sent her flying. Ran clicked her tongue and the whip had dissolved itself. They couldn’t say she wasn’t merciful. Nora fell unconscious and barely kept her life.
The whole scene didn’t last long and Rikku didn’t even make a move to interfere. He was unmoved by the whole situation. One reaped what one sow after all. He turned around and resumed his run. Ran followed swiftly behind. Kirito watched them leave and looked back at Nora. He felt conflicted. Sure, Nora got what she deserved, but…
“Kirito-kun,” a small voice called, “We have to run away before it’s too late.”
Kirito nodded, picked up Nora and left together with the healer girl.
Rikku and Ran met with a carriage nearby.
Parvian exited the carriage, “You’re here!” He breathed out in relief.
Dorian was sitting at the driver’s seat and stated, “We’re good to go.”
Parvian jumped beside him, his bow and arrows in hand. Ran took out a potion, drank it bottoms up and flung it aside unceremoniously.
Rikku eyed her, “You’re alright?” Something didn’t feel right, Ran had been drinking potion on potion and even him didn’t dare drink that much in case it backfired.
“Should be,” 2 blood orbs appeared in Ran’s hand. The orbs spun around, wrapped themselves around her hands and wrists turning into gauntlets.
“Hey!” Rikku didn’t have a good feeling.
Ran glanced at him and tilted her head to the side. There was something odd. Something amiss in her eyes. She offered Rikku a small smile. Rikku frowned. The smile was delicate and a bit carefree. What really puzzled him was the sincerity behind it. The smile was genuine. One of her rare truly genuine smile was in the midst of the blood and death.
Ran lowered her gaze and turned around, “I’ll open a path. Stay sharp!”