Chapter Seven ~ The Meaning of Identity
She was in that dream again, that world of everlasting bliss. That world that was free of worries, free of the despising hypocrites that made the world into its cold, unrelenting form as it was today.
She hated that kind of world.
"I'm tired of just waiting here," Rydia called out, absentmindedly twirling her hair while staring off into the "waterfall" of her dream world. "You keep on hiding like this and I'll forcefully try to find you. It's my dream, you know."
The intruder did not stir nor did it reply. It just merely changed the scenery, fading it into a world of darkness. Rydia patiently waited for the unknown visitor, still continuing to twirl her hair patiently as if nothing had changed. This was her dream, after all.
After a few moments of silence, a soft, melodic voice said:
It would be best if you had remained hidden.
That answer startled her. "Hidden? Why?"
She could make out the silhouette of a female in what seemed to be a mirror below her. The woman was wrapped in chains, but that was all Rydia could make out.
He would have never found you, the voice told her. But now...now that you have gotten stronger, only time can tell when he will find you.
A sudden burst of light struck her, thrusting Rydia back to the world of the living.
She shot straight up in bed with eyes like a frightened child, gasping for air. Her necklace clung loosely around her neck and she instinctively clutched the amulet tightly as she began to take deep breaths to calm down.
Yet as she started to calm down, Rydia pulled her knees close, hugging them as if they were her only lifeline of support, and silently wept. She didn't dare tell anybody about these dreams: the dreams that began just after Odin's death. She would always be at the temple grounds as if she had no choice but to stay there. At first, all she would see were images -- mere flashbacks of something that she couldn't quite grasp.
But Rydia quickly became aware that someone was sending her these images, these glimpses of the past. She would call out, demanding to know why she had to witness these events. There had been no answer for them...until this one.
Who was that woman wrapped in chains? And why did she send Rydia back to consciousness with no reply?
"...Rydia? Are you awake?" a familiar voice called out.
Startled, Rydia uncharacteristically jumped as she whipped her head back in the direction of the voice. When she realized that it was Sakana in the moonlit darkness, she tried to regain her composure.
"Oh...Sakana..." she managed to say.
Underneath her hood, the sky faerie frowned at Rydia's reaction. She had seen her in this paranoia state before when they had first met. Wondering to herself what had frightened the young sorceress this time, she noticed that Rydia's hand was clutching something tightly against her chest; her necklace, she assumed.
Sakana only saw Rydia's treasured amulet once, and even then it was just a small glimpse. But she knew that Rydia treasured the priceless keepsake for some odd reason, and it would just have to be simple time to pass before Sakana would know a little bit more about the sorceress's mysterious past and maybe what was to come in the future.
"Rydia, are you okay?" she whispered so as to not awaken her unexpected load from his slumber. "I'm sorry, did I startle you?"
Rydia acted a bit more like herself this time, shaking her head. "Um, no...just couldn't sleep."
An awkward moment of silence lingered between them before the faint sound of snoring caught her ears.
"Who's that?" she asked as she peered behind Sakana, changing the subject.
"Um...well," Sakana began to explain, albeit a bit sheepishly, "Kentarou and I were talking outside for a bit." A pause. "...And he had a little bit too much alcohol to drink and..."
Rydia arched a skeptical eyebrow. "And?"
"Well...I was helping him back into the house and he just kind of fell asleep," the sky faerie murmured, looking down at her hands as if she had been caught doing something she wasn't supposed to. "He's too heavy for me to carry back to his room..."
Rydia sighed and got out of bed. She sighed not for the fact that Sakana could not carry him back to his room but for the fact that the irritating bandit was now a drunken irritating bandit. The fact that he even drank alcohol in the first place surprised her. He didn't seem to be the kind of man who indulged in those kinds of addictions.
But then again, Rydia had to remind herself that he was a bandit after all.
"Did something happen to make him drink so much?" she wondered out loud as she came closer to the door, brushing back her hair.
Sakana hesitated to answer at first; unsure if the revelations of Kentarou's past would be appropriate to say to Rydia without his knowledge, so instead she said:
"Maybe you should ask him when he wakes up."
Rydia knelt down beside Kentarou, holding out a hand to feel his breath. Sure enough, and from previous experience with her master, he was fast asleep.
"Well, as long as he doesn't do anything to me, then he can stay here," she murmured.
Sakana blinked in surprise. She didn't think that Rydia would give in so easily. She had expected some kind of retaliation from the young sorceress no matter how minor the issue was concerning Kentarou, but then Sakana saw the hint of fatigue on Rydia's features. It had been barely over a day since Rydia had recovered from her wounds, but the look on the sorceress's face resembled someone who had not slept well for weeks. Her mismatched eyes did not hold its usual spark and whatever mask the young sorceress had put on was slowly washing over her. It was a mask that seemed void of emotion, and it was a mask that scared Sakana.
"Rydia, if there's something---"
"Can you help me drag him in?" Rydia slung one of Kentarou's arms over her shoulder. She had looked too preoccupied with the bandit to hear Sakana speak.
"Um...yeah...sure," Sakana replied, taking the bandit's other arm.
Both women dragged him inside Rydia's room with some difficulty. For one, Kentarou was much taller than Rydia and Sakana, so his feet dragged on the wood floor. Sakana had, fortunately, managed to put his boots back on rather loosely, but that made the noises where his feet hit the cracks in between the floorboards louder than what they could have been.
After literally tossing him onto Rydia's bed, both women breathed a sigh of relief while Kentarou continued to sleep undisturbed.
"Man, he's heavy," Rydia commented.
"I told you so," Sakana told her.
"Doesn't look like it."
"I wonder what he eats?"
"Probably lots and lots of fish."
"Remember when he was muttering about how there were no decent rivers for him to catch fish around here?"
"He said that?" Sakana asked incredulously.
"You didn't hear?" Rydia replied just as incredulous. "You were with me when we were talking to Kaika right after entering the village."
She certainly did not remember the bandit ever saying that, but Sakana usually ignored Kentarou's strange utterance of words. She couldn't help but lightly giggle, though.
"He likes fish that much, huh?"
Rydia shrugged, also joining Sakana in the laughter. "Who knows."
The two continued to softly laugh together while Kentarou shifted in his sleep. He mumbled something in a foreign tongue, surprising them for a split second before he began to lightly snore again.
"Did he just say something in Melbane?" Rydia asked in astonishment.
"...It sounds like it."
A bout of silence lingered between them again. The trio only knew each other for a short time and it was only out of coincidence that they all ran into the same path. Rydia knew that Sakana decided to stay with her out of her own will and for whatever reason the sky faerie kept hidden from her, but Kentarou was a different story.
He had no real reason to stay with them besides accompanying them under Blank's orders. But he had already done his job, guiding them to Mt. Collaseus, so he could leave any time he wanted to.
So why does he stay? Rydia wondered.
"I'll leave you to go back to sleep," Sakana interrupted her thoughts. "But where..."
"The floor," she answered. "I'll just grab the blanket from that idiot and find a corner in this room to sleep."
Sakana couldn't help but smile. She figured that there would be some form of retaliation against the bandit in some way or another.
"Well then...good night."
Rydia waited until Sakana closed the door before she let out a heavy sigh, hands on her hips as she hopelessly stared back at the slumbering Kentarou. Just by looking at the way he slept told her many things. He was exhausted -- physically and mentally. Maybe a little bit emotionally, too, or why else would he drink to the point where Sakana of all people, with her petite frame and all, had to carry him back into the house? Sakana said to ask him when he woke up, but Rydia knew that she was the last person in Archangel's Kingdom for him to confide in about his personal matters.
The bandit teased her so often; Rydia wondered once again at his reasons. Was it because she stood out so much? Rydia unconsciously knew that she was different from the normal human. No ordinary human had vibrant green hair like she did; only those who were either not of the human race like Sakana or partially demon had strangely colored hair. And although magic was accessible to everyone, it wasn't easy to master. There were very few renowned sorcerers and even fewer sorceresses in the history books. A summoner, what Rydia was in the practice of training to be, was something of a legend nowadays. The last summoner known came from Feuille Pinnacle, the village of summoners that had disappeared from the pages of history.
Rydia often wondered what her heritage was when she was a child, asking her master a variety of questions that he was hesitant to answer. She knew that once she had become acquainted with Odin, she realized that he was not her father. They did not look anything alike, though strangers often did associate her as his granddaughter. Even that was not true. Odin told her that they were not related in any sense, just an old friend of her father's. Who her father was and how her mother died, Rydia did not know, and after a while she had given up wondering who her parents were and what they looked like. She just accepted that she was a bit different than the rest, and that was all.
Yet if Kentarou teased her because of her looks, what right did he have to tease her? Rydia called the bandit "amber eyes" for a reason -- amber eyes signified, at least in the stories she remembered Odin tell her, someone who came from a village that specialized in demon magic: a forbidden practice among any magic user from any race. To people heavily influenced by the Archangel Kingdom's Kingdom of Rites -- a kind of religious group dedicated on studying the rules of the kingdom above that governs them -- someone with amber eyes signified a heretic or an outcast. Kentarou's small utterance of words in the Melbane language revealed to Rydia probably one of the reasons why Kentarou was a bandit in the first place. And his past as well, whatever it was.
Her thoughts made her realize that when she and Sakana had thrown Kentarou onto her bed, the covers she wanted to take were now underneath him. Oh great...that means I have to move him again.
She gingerly leaned over his body, careful not to make any physical contact, and meticulously tried to pry out the blankets underneath him. She managed to straighten out one and was about to yank it out when Kentarou suddenly turned and pulled her down with him. Rydia gave out a startled yelp as she was literally flipped onto her back with much of Kentarou's weight now on top of her. Her heart began to pound and she could feel her face begin to turn red as she tried to wiggle her way out of Kentarou's hold in panic. But the more she tried to move, the tighter his hold around her. Rydia was about to yell in his ear to wake up until she heard him speak again in the same Melbane tongue:
"(...I'll kill him...that bastard...)"
He was still asleep, but she could see the grimace on his face as if he was having a bad dream. Sympathy welled inside her and for some reason, she could feel his pain. She hesitantly reached for his face and gently brushed her fingertips across his closed eyes. Her heart began to beat normally again and oddly enough, she felt comfortable like this. It felt like the time he had saved her before back on Mt. Collaseus. She felt safe, warm, protected. But most of all...
The sound of Kentarou's rhythmic breathing against her ear lulled Rydia to close her eyes, her thought never finished as she drifted off into a deep sleep.
And this time, that dream she had before never came.
<The next morning>
The sounds of birds chirping outside caught his ears. Then the warmth of the sunlight on his skin. And then finally, the faint scent of lilacs reached his nostrils along with the feeling of something warm and soft next to him. Warm and soft? was the question of the day as Kentarou opened his eyes. The blurred object of green and white in front of him soon cleared into a very recognizable person, and he nearly jumped out of bed.
What the--- he clutched his head with one hand and supported himself with the other before he could finish the thought. He had sat upright so quickly after seeing her next to him that Kentarou felt the long-awaited effects of his drinking binge the night before.
"God...damn," he cursed under his breath, his muscles stiffening as the familiar young woman next to him shifted in her sleep.
Kentarou managed to open an eye, taking a peek down at Rydia, her long green hair slipping over her shoulder like water. And as much as he tried, he couldn't stop staring at her. Someone once told him long ago that people looked much more different than when they were awake, that a sleeping person didn't hide anything they usually did when awake. Sometimes sleep told the truth of a person's personality.
He never tried this on anybody before and was really never an expert at telling someone's personality, thinking that the idea was wacky, and Kentarou always left in the middle of the night before he could even see the woman he slept with really looked like. Money, treasures, and jewels were always the first and foremost things to focus on in a bandit's mind. Everything else could be handled at a later time.
But this time, it was different. He didn't remember what happened after he blacked out, but Kentarou had a pretty good idea. Sakana must have tried to brink him back to his room but couldn't and asked Rydia if he could sleep in her room for the night. With the situation he was in now, she probably agreed.
But that still didn't explain why Rydia was sleeping next to him.
Unless... Kentarou took a quick glance at himself. With the exception of his shirt and jacket, he was still pretty much clothed. Hell, even his boots were on. He then looked at Rydia and was relieved that she was also fully clothed in her sleep wear. The last thing he ever wanted to do was to rape on of his boss' clients, even if he didn't realize it. That just wasn't his style -- something that made him quite different from the rest of the men at camp.
Once again he couldn't stop looking at her and his eyes trailed down to the rest of her body. There was just something about the young sorceress that drew him in, that made him act a bit differently when she was around. Since the two women didn't know him all that well, it was easier for Kentarou to hide the subtle change when speaking to them. But with Shion...
That girl with the green hair, you like her don't you?
Kentarou had scoffed at his friend at the comment. Like Shion, "liking" a woman was not in his vocabulary. But just seeing her so vulnerable like this made him think otherwise. He honestly wasn't quite so sure himself.
I better go before she freaks out, he thought and painstakingly made his body move out of the bed despite the throbbing pain in his head that each move his muscles made. As soon as his feet hit the floor, he stopped again, closing his eyes and rubbing his temples to ease the pain.
"You know, it'd be better for you to stay in bed for a while to let that hangover go away."
Her voice startled him and despite the migraine he turned around.
"I thought you were still sleeping," he murmured, wincing at hearing his own voice.
"The mattress moved," Rydia explained. "You're heavier than you look, you know."
Well, okay, she can tell differences in weight and is a light sleeper. Wonder if that's a good thing or a bad thing...he mused. Then he immediately reproached that thought. Kentarou...what the heck are you thinking?
He closed his eyes again. The little sunlight peeking through the paper thin curtains of the window was beginning to bother him. But he smiled at her remark.
"...That a compliment?"
Rydia blinked in confusion and she could feel her cheeks getting hot for the second time that morning. The smile threw her off into a loop. It wasn't the typical, cocky smile that he always gave -- the kind of smile that often sent her fuming. This smile was a genuine, lopsided kind of smile. She immediately looked away form him before any other strange thoughts filled her head.
"Take it how you want. I didn't get into this situation on purpose, you know."
Kentarou opened an eye, taking another look at her. His smile grew wider. Heh, she's cute when she's mad like that.
"Oh? You mean you didn't willingly fall under my charm and slept next to me?"
This comment made her blush even more as she sharply turned back at him, replying, "For YOUR information, I wasn't the one who turned in his sleep and bear-hugged me while I was trying to get the blankets out from under you!"
The grin on his face was annoying her. He was teasing her again, and she knew it.
"That's all I did? Damn..."
"What do you mean 'damn'?!? You're lucky that I didn't set you on fire!"
"Well, why didn't you?"
Before she could reply, Rydia saw him wince again at the sound of his voice. Then it dawned on her that he had just drunk himself to unconsciousness hours before. Her bubble of anger died down.
"...You've got a bad hangover, don't you?" she asked softly.
A bit surprised by her sudden change in behavior, it had taken a moment of careful thought before Kentarou could say anything.
"...I've had worse, neko-chan," he answered, turning away from her. "Don't worry about it."
Like hell I've had worse, he inwardly cursed. This is the worst one yet.
A sudden shift in the bed caused him to come out of his reverie. Before he could react properly, Rydia had closed the distance between them and placed a hand on his forehead.
"Oi, what're you --" he tried to say.
"Master Odin had a knack for alcohol," she said. "He wasn't an alcoholic, but every month he would send me down to Lilandre to buy some sake. The guests we had always drank a lot of our supply and would get really bad hangovers because the sake in Lilandre is a lot stronger than most."
A soft blue light began to encircle her hand, and Rydia looked at Kentarou and smiled. "So I guess you can say that curing hangovers is one of my many specialties."
Kentarou looked at her in a mixture of curiosity and stupefied wonder. As the throbbing pain in his head began to subside, he began to wonder. That smile of hers...he had seen it somewhere before.
The sound of the door sliding open caught them by surprise:
"Um, Rydia, are you ---"
Sakana dropped the bundle of clothing in her hands with a loud thud at the sight of seeing Kentarou and Rydia in such an awkward placement of positions. Rydia, on her knees, had one leg in between Kentarou's in order to get as close as possible to him with one hand on his leg. Kentarou had one arm to support his leaning weight from the sorceress's sudden advance, the other on Rydia's leg. Their heads automatically turned to the door upon hearing it open, and their expressions on their faces looked as if they had been caught in the act of doing something terribly...odd.
At least, that was what came into Sakana's mind. The sky faerie turned a dark shade of blue and automatically turned around and slid the door shut.
"I-I'm sorry to i-interrupt! Um..K-Kaika gave me back the clothes she mended!" came her bewildered voice from behind the screen. "Um...I-I didn't see anything! Nothing at all!"
Her footsteps faded away, leaving the two still in a state of shock. In a second, Rydia -- who was blushing beet red -- immediately jumped out of bed, grabbed the bundle on the floor, opened the door, and chased after her faerie friend.
"W-wait a minute, Sakana! It's not what you're thinking!!"
Kentarou slowly sat back straight, dumbfounded. He looked at the empty space where Rydia once sat next to him and then back out to the doorway where she had disappeared to. Scratching the back of his head, he sighed and grabbed his jacket. He had a feeling that this was going to be a long day.
Crimson eyes burned into the image of Kentarou's face that was projected onto the flame. With one swipe of an invisible hand, the eyes doused the oceanic flame with a feeling that the creature had never felt before. Why did it feel this mysterious feeling whenever it saw those two together?
More oceanic flames lit up around the being in the dark room, dimming its crimson eyes and shaping its form. The being was a beautiful man with hair that matched the darkness surrounding him. His pale skin and unusual crimson eyes contrasted the darkness that cloaked him, and peaking underneath his pale lips were the tips of fangs that quenched for blood. The man was human, yet he was at the same time, not.
"Ryuuho," a voice said behind him.
The man named Ryuuho only acknowledged the shadow of the man behind him with a slight glance and nod. The shadow's blue eyes narrowed in scrutiny, but his eyes defied the calm tone in his voice.
"Why have you let those two watch them?" the shadow asked.
"Jade and Jax are the best for this task," Ryuuho simply replied.
"They can kill them at any moment."
"Not without my command. Though the twins are unpredictable, they will never be able to disobey our master's orders."
Ryuuho turned around, the sheath of his blade glowed a strange hue in the dark.
"Why are you against this order?" he asked the shadow, looking at it with a cold stare. "You have done your job killing the man who sheltered her; your task is done for now. There is no need for you to concern with the girl any longer, Raiden. Or is it that you want to break your soul contract with Orion?"
Raiden remained silent, deciding that it was best not to answer. Having his contract broken meant that the demon would become yet another wandering soul in Archangel's Kingdom once again, and he had come too far to lose everything he gained now when he already lost everything he held dear.
But that girl's face, he could never forget. Something deep within his mind told him that he knew this young girl from somewhere...that she looked so much like someone.
Ryuuho turned back around and walked away. Raiden followed.
"You have been given another assignment," Ryuuho said to him. "The angel we have captured; she will not speak a word about her amulet's whereabouts."
"Angels that have been appointed by Hyne himself to guard the secrets of Archangel's Kingdom were sworn to secrecy and strict rule," Raiden explained. "I'm not surprised that she won't speak."
They walked through another dim hallway, the pale torches lighting each beings' figures. Red hair glistened beneath the cloak Raiden wore and a dominant cross-stitched scar appeared visible on his left cheek as well as the scar on his left eye that had been partially healed.
"She is an old acquaintance of yours, am I right?" Ryuuho asked as they stopped before an iron bolted door.
"Was an old acquaintance," Raiden corrected. "I no longer associate myself as one of the guardian angels to Archangel's Kingdom any longer."
"Your previous relation with this guardian is more than useful," Ryuuho told him. "Speak with her, and see if she will reveal to you the amulet's whereabouts."
"As you wish."
He unbolted the door and released the seal. Raiden's blue eyes scanned the dark room before his eyes fell upon the woman in chains in the corner. Her dark, violet hair covered her face; her pristine robes were covered with smears of dry blood and rust. The hint of light that peeked through the open door caused her to twitch and she slightly turned her head to see who entered. Upon locking eyes with Raiden, her emerald eyes widened in shock. Without hesitation, Raiden stepped in the room and the door and seal closed behind him. His blue eyes stared at the wide-eyed woman with no emotion and he began to walk towards her. The woman's eyes filled with tears as her face began to twist with anger and sorrow.
She opened her mouth, uttering the first words she had spoken in months since her capture.