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 didn’t alter much in their surrounding in case others will come 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 past. 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 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 turned her dull. Maybe Rikku was right, she should give Ran a chance. It was time to part with the old stories and start a new one.
“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,” she pointed at her outfit, “can be considered normal. And who cares? What’s the point of being here if I can’t do whatever the hell I want?”
Rikku rolled his eyes, “Alright, alright.” He threw her some dried rations.
“Dried food?” Ran frown. She looked around and realised that there was chaos everywhere. They actually let everything as is.
“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 learned through the maid yesterday.
Dorian and Parvian frowned hard. Parvian was fidgeting with his ring, his expression blank. Dorian was pacing around, barely able to contain his wrath. He crushed anything that he could put his feet on. Ran was eating in silent, her eyes lowered.
“You were right, we are really like pigs on the road to the slaughterhouse,” Parvian said softly.
“Fuck!” Dorian’s intimidating aura exploded.
Parvian turned to Ran, “Don’t you have a way?”
Ran lifted her gaze, “I do have some ideas, however…,” she looked at the pair who was 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 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.
The pair turned silent and thought about it for a while.
“What are you guys planning?” Parvian asked.
“Go to the city, then wait and see for a time. It will depend on what kind of news Kan Yune will give us,” Ran yawned.
“You don’t want us to know, in case we get caught, don’t you?” Dorian sneered.
Ran smiled plainly without answering.
“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 did, “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.
Parvian stayed silent for a minute before asking Rikku, “Is she reliable?”
Rikku clicked his tongue, “Who knows?”
“Do you trust her?” Dorian asked with seriousness.
Rikku stared at him, “To get info out of Kan Yune? Yes.”
Dorian narrowed his eyes, “And in general?”
Rikku scoffed before leaving the tent as well.
Belle stirred, her body was heavy and sore. Her head was killing her and she felt like she was rolled over by a carriage. She groaned. Her eyelashes fluttered. She fought to open her eyelids. What was 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. She was inside a wreck tent. The tent was missing a wall and the cloth had tears. Broken wood and smashed furniture. There was chaos everywhere. 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 and looked down. She was tied to the chair.
She shouted to the door, “Someone! Help! Anybo-” the next word died in her throat.
Something moved nearby. She had been so shocked that she didn’t pay attention to the chair in front of her. There was someone sitting unconscious on that chair. Her eyes grew bigger as she realised who was sitting there. So many questions were flooding her mind. What happened yesterday? She remembered the camp being attacked by magical beasts. She remembered the panic, how she wanted to escape. Who captured her? Why? Footsteps sounded outside the tent. Belle’s body tensed. She struggled and started to panic. She never imagined that she would be in such a state. She had noticed way too late that she was having a problem with the mana in her body. At first, she thought it would pass after some time. Who knew that not only she was losing her grip on her mana but her body also started to weaken?
The cloth at the door opened and a figure entered. Belle was flustered and shocked. Ran lifted her eyes and rose an eyebrow at the sight of Belle. She made her way to her maid.
“Ran-sama! Thank the Goddess, you are safe!” Belle blabbered. “Ran-sama, save me. We have to escape before the one who tied me up comes back,” Belle insisted.
“Save you and escape?” Ran tilted her head, amused.
“Yes,” Belle urged. Her instincts were telling her that something was terribly wrong and she was in danger. “Please, Ran-sama. We have to be fast.”
“Hahaha,” Ran roared in laughter.
Belle shuddered, a horrific premonition washed over her. She watched Ran pull a chair and place it in front of them. Ran sat down, she waved her hand and water splashed on the unconscious Kan Yune. She saw him shiver and slowly come back to life. Ran gave a smile to Belle, showing her white teeth. Belle paled. Under the light of the lamp, Ran seemed evil and full of bad intentions. The Ran in front of her was unknown to Belle. The shy and cowardly young woman turned into a confident and proud woman. She had never seen Ran walked with this much charisma. The cold and mischievous glint in her eyes made Belle flinch.
Kan Yune groaned, a headache was grinding his mind. He shivered. He opened his eyes and blinked. He was drenched. He was also tied to a chair. His body jolted. He struggled on his chair and looked around. To his left, he saw Belle also tied up. He followed her gaze.
“You!” Kan Yune was confused. What was going on?
“Welcome back. How was your nap?” Ran smiled softly.
Kan Yune frowned. He tried to remember. Monsters came through the camp, he fought alongside Dorian, then… he gasped and stared at Ran with incredulity.
“Kan Yune-sama,” Ran giggled, “Isn’t it vexing? You spent so much time and effort to monitor Rikku when the real threat was so plain in front of you. If you had thrown me out at Linestone city like I asked you to, you wouldn’t be in this position.”
Kan Yune pursed his lips, anger brew inside of him. Belle couldn’t believe her eyes or ears.
“Ran-sama… what… who?” Belle stammered. She could barely think straight, everything seemed to unreal.
“Belle, Belle, Belle. You sly little thing,” Ran smirked. “Don’t you know that arrogance can ruin someone? You have been a mean and annoying bitch the whole time, haven’t you? I wanted to tear this annoying sneer off your face for so long.”
“You slutty bitch!” Belle shouted. She couldn’t believe things turned out this way.
“Hahaha,” Ran enjoyed seeing Belle struggling on her chair. “Who would have thought that an assassin like you would be this pathetic?” Ran scoffed. “Didn’t you hate me for being weak? How does it feel to weaken and lose your powers?”
Colours drained out of Belle’s pretty face as she shivered.
Ran smirked, “Don’t the beauty product I gave you smell nice? Don’t they leave the skin soft and smelling like honey? They are top-notch products, aren’t they?”
“You poisoned me?”
“Cherry laurel, glass root lilies. Did you know that when absorbed by the skin, they can disturb the flow of mana? You just grew weak. You should be happy. Nora rotted inside out,” Ran smiled brightly. She swaggered to Belle and her finger traced the contour of her face. “I had planned so many amusing things for you. It’s a pity that I don’t have much time anymore,” The cold touch of her finger made Belle shiver even more.
The finger ran down Belle’s throat, delicately brushed her collarbone, and made its way to the top of her heart. Ran drew a small circle. Belle’s expression twisted.
“Aaaaah,” Belle bellowed.
A thin thread seemed to be knot around the tip of her finger, slowly, she pulled it out as she spun it. The thread seemed to be endless. Belle was thrashing around, howling in pain. Ran was still smiling softly. It took several minutes for the thread to be entirely pulled out. Belle’s face was white, her voice hoarse, and some blood was seeping out the corner of her lips.
“Does it hurt? Poor little thing,” Ran smirked. Her finger moved upward.
“You still have so much attitude… Let’s see how long you can keep this up. It wouldn’t be fun if you begged right away.”
Ran’s finger pressed against Belle’s left temple. Belle gritted her teeth.
“You think you know pain?” Ran was amused. She twisted her finger, sending intense pain to the maid.
Ran’s moves were slow and delicate. She wanted it to last. She would stop from time to time. Every time Belle would faint, she would stop. She would pour water down her throat, enough to hurt and choke, not enough to completely drown. An hour flew by. Belle had never felt this much pain before. Belle had no energy left. Ran had been more vicious and used to torture than she thought.
“So? How much attitude do you have left?” Ran asked. She lifted the maid’s face up, “Does it hurt, Belle? No, I should say, Ilia Nova.”
“Kill… me… if you dare,” Ilia’s mind was in chaos and her gaze cloudy.
Ran laughed, “Kill you? Hahaha, sorry, I’m not that nice! Even if you beg, I wouldn’t kill you.”
Ran seemed to be satisfied with her former maid’s look. She walked away and sat back. She faced Kan Yune with a smile. He had watched as she tortured her heart content. The priest gaze was cold at first, then he couldn’t help but be afraid.
“Now, that I had my little fun, let’s talk,” Ran stated.