Azhure: This Sub-Chapter closing Chapter 5 might be a little rushed and slightly shorter. But I have mid-term exams and I would like to finish this before that ’cause I’ll be on hiatus until then. Oh, there’s also the fact that this is the best I could come up with. Enjoy.
It is dark… was all she could see when she felt a sharp pain in her temple.
Ow, my head hurts. What happened? she wondered.
Ah, that is right! she realized. There was smoke and someone struck me in the head! Then I must be…
Huh? Someone is calling me.
“Miss Illyer, please wake up!”
“Aah!? Uhn…” Irene gasped as she came to, with the firm voice jolting her up.
Slowly, she firmly placed her hands on the ground, sensing the rough texture of dirt, and pushed herself up. Then, she looked to the source of the voice waking her up, it was Ronald with his hood lowered. “Mister Bell?” she uttered.
“Thank goodness you’re awake,” Ronald sighed in relief. “Can you get up?” he continued, giving his hand.
“Oh, yes. Thank- aah!” Irene quickly replied and was about to take Ronald’s hand when she saw the sight before her.
On the ground, few centimeters away from them, a black-garbed figure laid there. Irene would’ve thought the figure was unconscious too if not for the charred black face and body exposed under its hooded cloak.
Was he burned with mister Bell’s spirit arts? she thought. But his robe is unblemished as if only his body was burned, and where is his arm? She noticed the cauterized stump that was formerly the limb of the figure.
But with a quick scan to her surroundings, Irene found the severed arm holding a knife across the figure’s corpse which was only slightly burned.
“Sorry about that,” Ronald quickly apologized, moving his body to block the dead body from her view. “That guy was holding you in knifepoint, so I had to take him out and that was the only way I could think of.”
Oh, so this man was the one who kidnapped me. But, “How did you do it?” Irene asked.
If that man had held her hostage, then shouldn’t she be caught in the flame when Ronald unleased the same spirit art he used on the bandits? And yet she felt no burn in her skin, only a few bruises. There’s also the unburned cloak of her abductor in that manner.
“Hm?” Ronald raised his eyebrow. “Oh!” he then uttered in an understanding of what Irene implied. “Well you see, I can order my… arts to not burn at one side. Here, let me show you.”
He then stretched his hand out and within a second or two…
…a tongue of fire appeared above it.
“Try putting your hand here,” Ronald motioned his free hand to one side of the fire, which was Irene’s right side.
Seeing no reason to refuse, Irene stretched her hand to where Ronald pointed and felt no heat from the fire. “…You are right,” Irene said as she even dared to inch her hand closer to it. “I do not feel the heat from the fire.”
“Alright, try the other side. Also, be quick about it, the fire doesn’t last,” Ronald warned as Irene could also see the flame suddenly shrink in set intervals.
“Oh, right.” Irene pulled back her hand, then reached it out back to the left side of the fire. This time, she properly felt it. “…I feel the heat from this side,” she muttered.
“Right?” Ronald snapped his hand shut, the fire extinguished with it. “So you see, what I did was covering the man’s body under his cloak with fire that is set to only burn inside, which is why you nor the cloak gets burned too.
“After that, I launched myself to cut off his knife hand and you can imagine the rest.”
“I see…” With the sound explanation, Irene simply rolled her eyes. “Then, thank you,” she smiled.
“Huh?” Ronald blinked.
“For saving me,” Irene clarified.
“…You’re not disturbed by what I did to him?” Ronald asked.
“I would be lying if I say I am not disturbed.” Irene shook her head. Who wouldn’t be frightened by the sight of a man completely burned whole? She should even be scared of the man who caused it in front of her right now!
“But still,” she continued. “You did it to save me so I must thank you for that.” Besides, she has seen enough of it to not be queasy at it anymore.
“I believe they are good people.”
…she still believed her intuition was right about Ronald, and Joshua too, even if their actions seemingly betrayed it.
“…I see,” Ronald rolled his eyes. “Then you’re welcome,” he smiled back then stretched out his hand again. “Anyway, we should get up now.”
“Oh! You are right.” Irene realized she was still sitting on the ground and Ronald kneeling in front of her. Immediately, she accepted Ronald’s hand to which he slowly helped her up.
His hand is not as rough as father’s, she noted. Based on what her war hero father taught her, I suppose he relied more on his spirit arts (can I still call it that?) than his dagger.
“Is something wrong, miss Illyer?” Ronald asked as she was still holding his hand even though she already got up.
“Oh!” Irene flustered, quickly letting go of his hand. “Apologies, I was just…” However, she stopped as she took a good look at his face. He is rather good-looking, Irene blushed internally. But…
“Uh…” Ronald, on the other hand, stood there in confusion. “Is there something on my face?” Immediately, he rubbed the front of his head with his hand. “I don’t feel it,” he reported.
Should I? she asked herself, unconcerned with Ronald’s rather childish response with her words stuck in her throat. No, I should… “No, there is,” Irene spoke.
“And that is?”
“You look pale.”
“…Huh?” Ronald blinked.
“I was going to ask you two before I was abducted,” Irene continued. “So I will ask you here.
“You said that you were fighting the bandits hiding throughout my father’s land, correct?” Using the very same words, she asked Ronald this question.
“Yes.” Even Ronald gave the same nod. “Why?”
“Because even spirit arts can be taxing to one’s mind.” Rolling her eyes, Irene continued what she wanted to say, “then you must have been fighting to protect us for so long. And it must be especially tiring for you for having to rescue me as well.”
And Ronald stood there silently, disseminating what she said. He looked as if he never expected it, but he regardless gave his reply, “Yes, we never did use that much maneg before.”
…and even that. Ignoring the term Ronald used, Irene continued, “And you also had to kill those bandits and that man too.”
“…Your father at least tried to avoid that topic,” Ronald frowned.
“And it is also not good to keep it in your heart either,” Irene countered.
“Hm, I guess you’re right,” Ronald conceded with a sigh and after a brief silence, he began his story, “…Usually, someone else, not Joshua, but someone else entirely does the deed and we simply watched.”
“…And what happened to him?” Irene asked, slightly hesitating with what Ronald implied.
“…She is no longer with us.”
“Oh,” Irene covered her mouth. “My condolences,” she apologized.
“It’s fine, you didn’t know,” Ronald softly assured her. “Anyway, ever since she had passed, we thought to take her burden and well, watching it was wholely different than doing it.”
“I see…” Irene muttered in a low voice. “Then are you fine now?”
She may not fully know the extent of his struggles nor understand them much less deserving to have him confide it with her.
But staring back at her, Ronald simply rolled his eyes. “…Yes,” Ronald nodded. “I guess it was better for me to let it out. Thank you, miss Illyer.”
“You are welcome,” Irene smiled, putting her hands to her chest. “Thank the greater spirits…”
“Well then, shall we head back?” Ronald asked, turning his back on her. “Your father is getting worried.”
“Yes,” Irene nodded. “Let us.”
“Irene, my daughter! You are safe!” Allister sobbed, pulling her daughter in a big hug.
“F-Father!” Irene flustered, surprised by her father’s sudden action.
He’s crying like a child, Ronald cringed as he even saw her dress drenched in the duke’s snot and tears.
“Waah! Don’t leave me again, lady Ire-e-ene…!” Even her named spirit, Layla, was no better as she was dangling on to Irene’s leg as if her dear life depended on it.
Upon the return to the carriage, Ronald and Irene were met with the knights and company looking like they were husbands waiting outside the operating room as their spouses were giving birth inside or people waiting for the result of some test that will dictate the rest of their lives.
When they saw Irene safe and sound, they rushed to her dramatically yelling “My lady!” and “She’s saved!” and stuff with tears in their eyes. After that came the tackle from the duke and greater spirit candidate.
And in the midst of it all was Joshua, standing arms crossed completely unamused. Even the bound bandits were dumbfounded by the supposed disciplined knights’ behavior along with the intermediate spirit Neptune stared outside from the carriage wondering what the heck was going on.
As Ronald approached Joshua for answers, he simply said, “If we have kids, promise that we will not be like them.” He pointed his nose to the crying fest before them.
Looking back at said crying fest, Ronald simply nodded.
“I have yet to ask,” Allister said. “But what is the garb you two are wearing? It is unlike the previous the last time we meet.”
“It’s our battle uniform,” Joshua immediately responded, as if it was already a textbook answer. “Matching colors and masks to prevent the enemy from keeping track of us through the color of our ceremonial cloaks, which is what we wore back then. Bootleg ninja tactics.”
“‘Boot-leg neen-jah’ tactics?” Irene tilted her head in confusion at the last thing Joshua said.
“It’s best not to think about it,” Joshua swiftly said, realizing the minor breach of the fourth Rule and tried to clear out what he just blurted.
“But usually you wear the cloak in battle ’cause you don’t like wearing the ‘baggy’ robe,” Ronald accused. “I mean, I and a few others had to force you to wear it this time.”
“Really?” Irene perked up. “That is quite a peculiar habit.”
“Don’t talk about it,” Joshua grumbled.
“Hm, I had a feeling that you do,” Allister rubbed his chin with a smirk. “But you should adhere to your organization’s tactics even though you personally find it uncomfortable. Quite young indeed.”
“Not you too!” Joshua groaned, much to the others’ amusement.