Chapter 74

“Split”

Nobody tried to stop Ran as she walked out of the room. The soldiers and the medical personnel rushed into the room as soon as she was out, and went to Bacca’s rescue. Hoshiko was pushed aside, and the girl was taken back to her bed, in between barked orders.

“Aegea-san, are you okay?” Torao said, helping her up and dragging her aside.

“Yes, I’m… Yes. Yes.” She looked up at Torao, then at Bacca, and for a moment or two she looked lie she wasn’t sure what was happening. “Is she okay? Is…”

The doctors were now working in earnest. She saw bloodied bandages, and just as bloodied gloves on their hands. In the flurry of activity there was one thing she missed, and that was Bacca’s voice. Not a complaint, a cry, or a single word escaped her lips.

“What the hell was that?” Torao said.

“What?” Hoshiko replied, not looking away from Bacca.

“Nereida Nostrum! What on Earth’s got into her? And where’s she going?”

Hoshiko didn’t answer, she only shook her head. Torao made a frown, and shook Hoshiko by the arm.

“Pull yourself together!” he grunted. “What’s wrong now?”

Ran didn’t see any of that. After leaving Hoshiko frozen in place with her gaze, she had walked off without looking left or right. She didn’t even notice who she was walking past as she headed for the stairs.

“R- Nereida Nostrum!” Nagataka called. When he was ignored, he turned and rushed to her. “Wait! Nostrum!”

He reached out to grab Ran’s arm, and got a jolt on his hand for his effort. It had felt like static electricity, only much harder, solid even.

What the heck, did she just push me away?

“Nostrum! What’s wrong?” Nagataka called. He quickened his pace, and walked in front of Ran. He stopped, and so did Ran.

“Don’t get in my way,” Ran said. There was no sharpness in her voice. It was flat, and almost calm. Yet Nagataka felt a chill go up his spine.

“What’s going on? Dad said they were looking for you, where are you going?”

“Really now, looking for lil’ old me? They don’t really need me. And I have to go.”

Nagataka took a moment to process what Ran was saying. There was something off about her attitude. “Where are you going?” he insisted.

“I’m going to find Nereida Pacifica,” Ran said, after a sigh. “Really now, everyone’s forgotten about her. Why did she even bother to fight, nobody cares about her.” She made a shrug, and for a moment a small smile flashed across her face. “It doesn’t matter.”

Ran made to continue walking, but Nagataka stepped in front of her again. The effect was immediate.

“Don’t get in my way,” Ran said in a low voice.

“I’m not. Well, I suppose I am, but I’m going with you.”

“Really now,” Ran said, with the faint smile flashing on her face again. “Don’t bother Nagataka-kun. Nobody cares.”

I care, of course I care.” He waited, but Ran didn’t say anything. “I’ll go talk to my dad to get some equipment, okay? Wait for me.”

“Get out of-”

“Nostrum! Dammit, just wait for me. Go to the east exit, okay? I’ll be there.”

What the heck’s wrong with her? Is she angry or not?

Ran and Nagataka held each other’s gaze for several seconds. It was Ran who finally broke it off.

“Fine,” she muttered. She pushed him aside, and made for the stairs with a determined step.

Nagataka looked at her go without saying anything else, and even kept staring at the empty space after she disappeared down the stairs. He had expected her to be worried about Ayame, but the way she was acting was completely off her usual self.

And now I’ve got to convince dad to let me take the stuff and go with her. I could sneak out I suppose, but I’d rather not.

Ran made it to the exit gate in just a few minutes. It was a large structure, disguised against the sheer rock wall of the mountain. Several pairs of eyes followed her movements, but nobody approached her or said a thing.

She hesitated for a moment. Her thought was to simply go through the gate and get out, not really caring about any of the guards. But there was Nagataka’s request. It was the reason why she had come to the gate, and not simply gone through the latest crash opening in the dome.

Why would I wait for him? Nobody cares. Not even her.

Her grip on her magical branch tightened as she remembered the image of Hoshiko knee-down and getting between her and Bacca. Or as she saw it, between her and Ayame.

Really now, whatever. They don’t care, I don’t care. I’ll find her myself.

The gate was closed, and the soldiers were still looking at her rather warily. With a sigh, she started pacing, waiting for Nagataka. The more she paced, the more worked up she got, and the faster her pace became.

“Going somewhere?” the familiar voice of Kitteh called.

Ran stopped pacing and followed the voice. It had come from a corner of the nearest building, and she found the cat hiding away from curious eyes, patiently waiting for her. For once, the feline’s expression didn’t give anything away. He looked just like a normal cat, fixedly staring at her.

“What do you want?” Ran said unkindly.

“To go with you, of course.”

“With me? Really now, what the hell for?”

“How are you going to find her?” Kitteh said, now giving Ran a more penetrating look. “I can’t even feel her presence anymore. Something is wrong.”

“What? What do you mean? What’s wrong?!”

“I don’t know. If I knew, I wouldn’t have said something. I may find her if I’m closer.” He raised his paw, and pointed in a vaguely eastern direction. “I felt her go that way when they took her.”

The sound of a horn caught both their attentions. Behind them, Nagataka had arrived in an army jeep, and was waving from the driver’s seat.

“Well?” Kitteh said.

Ran looked at the cat, picked him up, and drew a faint smile. The sight of Nagataka had lifted a weight off her shoulders.

“Let’s go then,” she said, smirking at Kitteh. She took a deep breath, and rushed towards the car.

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