For One Last Embrace by carlsojos

Chapter 9

Rika felt uncomfortable when the bandit king insisted on watching her as she fed Rui, but as the shackles clamp back onto her wrists, she can feel a rage clouding over her eyes as the giant began to cuddle her son. That rough woman takes the lead again, and begins to lead the Numan back to her cage.

As soon as the two women get out of earshot, Rika suddenly halts. The bandit tugs at the chain, but she refuses to budge. She pulls a dagger from her belt, but the hunter strikes first. Rika pushes the other woman into the wall of the cave, and the rusty chains binding her arms together prove to be a weapon against the other person. As the shackles press into her neck, the bandit does her feeble best to scream for help, but barely manages more than a squeak before she loses consciousness.

Rika loots the key to her restraints, and helps herself to the claws the bandit confiscated, feeling the reassuring click as the blades lock into position. Realizing that it won't be long before somebody notices something amiss, she drags the other woman beside a pile of crates, and after rooting through them for a bottle of liquor, opens it and pours it all over the rogue.

Wait, why is there a pile of crates here? Rika thinks to herself as she looks again. Out of curiosity, she starts pulling at them, making a small hole through which she can look. After a couple minutes of laboring, she manages to make a space large enough to crawl through. The Numan ducks inside, unsure of what to expect.

What greets her beyond is a small, almost-vertical channel, which leads upwards towards sunlight. Without thinking what might await her beyond, she scrambles up the shaft, towards the light above.

Rika feels as if it had been days since she last saw the sun, as her dirty face pops out of the side of a large mountain overlooking the plains. To the southeast, she can see the town of Krup, and towards the northeast lie the mountains that separate the Motavian town of Tonoe from the rest of the desert plains. As her eyes sweep back to the mountain she's on, a series of holes similar to one she climbed out of become apparent.

She realizes the purpose of having such channels cut into the rock- they serve as the cave's ventilation. She looks down into each hole, her long ears straining to pick up every sound that could betray the purpose of the room and how densely populated it is. About halfway through, she can make out Nusumu's voice in one of the holes. ...should know better than getting wasted on her watch. I want double guards at the exit, and everybody else to search the caves for the bitch. If we don't find that hunter by tonight, prepare to relocate before dawn. Move!

The Numan decides that if she rushes to Krup, she might be able to relay the location to the Hunter's Guild before the bandits leave, but it's still a big gamble on whether backup would arrive in time to attack. As she begins to turn away, another sound catches her attention- an infant beginning to cry. She closes her eyes, hoping that somehow, someway, she could tell Rui that she was going to be with him soon.

Instead of climbing down the mountain, she heads towards a ventilation shaft she thinks leads to a storeroom and slides down it, wracking her brain for Seed's lectures on how to prepare basic chemicals from common materials.

Nusumu sits down in the throne he made out of an empty keg, and contemplates on the meaning of the day's events. After what should've been a perfect raid on a caravan somehow wound up with almost zilch for loot, he ordered his men to kill everyone. As soon as he had turned his back to torch the camp, a sudden ruckus reveals one of the survivors being lined up for execution was making a run for it. He watches the guy get tackled, but then some woman comes out of the blue and dives into the brawl. Ah, how she fought... no sane person would've attempted to take on 50 men by herself like she did... yet, she did, and he had to send every single person to finally beat her into the ground, losing the other survivors in the process. If the bandit king was particularly angry about anything right now, it is that fact.

Nusumu! The bandit king looks up from his self-reflection, and sees a frightened rookie standing in front of him.

He pulls his knife out and steps over to the young man, What?

S-sir! Something's going on here, and I'm not sure what! Should- Smoke suddenly begins roiling from behind one of the crate piles hiding the vent shafts.

Realizing what is happening, the giant walks over to the keg-chair and grabs the intricate sword that the hunter had seemed so hell-bent on acquiring. Get your ass out and tell everyone to get in here! It's a trick!

As his underling runs off to relay the order to the rest of the gang, he glares over at the little boy the hunter had with her, and hides him inside an empty crate. Content that the woman-beast won't avoid confrontation any longer, he holds the mysterious sword in a battle stance and with a single strike reduces the crates covering one of the ventilation shafts to kindling.

Before the slash could even complete its follow-through, Rika bursts through the rubble, claws ready. Caught unprepared, the bandit is knocked to the ground, but as the Numan attempts to tear out his throat, he uses his superior size and strength to force her away. As she recovers from being thrown across the room, he stands up to taunt the woman. So, you came back, eh? What do you seek this time? That brat of yours? Or the sword you traded him for?

Rika screams out in pure rage and charges Nusumu. He parries her slash, and his boot connects with enough force to make her double over in pain. He steps back as the Numan tries to force herself to stand, and continues his monologue. Oh, don't worry; there are plenty of worse mothers out there. My mom sold me off for a bottle of liquor once, back in the day. But I turned out alright!

Tears now streaming down her face, Rika begins slashing at the bandit king with the fervor of a mother separated from her child. This time one claw manages to find purchase in his abdomen, but not before he backhands her, sprawling her out on the floor. Nusumu follows her and provides a swift kick to the ribs before she can recover. As she rolls over in pain, he presses his boot down on the center of her chest.

As his weight makes the woman's breathing labored, he lays the tip of Elsydeon against the side of her neck. You're just as dumb as your old man. Did you honestly expect to leave here alive? He cocks the beautiful weapon back, and brings it down on her head with all his might.

What the hell? Nusumu is surprised when the sword shatters into a thousand pieces. The blow to the head shocks the Numan, but she manages to recover and tears her claw into his calf, eliciting a howl of pain from him. Unable to stand without his second leg, he falls to the ground, and Rika climbs on top of him, and deals a series of punches more numerous than she can possibly count.

Finally exhausted from the fight, the Numan flops over beside the unconscious bandit, unsure of what to make of Elsydeon shattering when it did. She gives up on attempting to pull the fragments into a single pile... Her ears pick up a sound that she instinctively knows, and she looks over to see a pile of crates on fire, an infant's crying coming from somewhere in that direction. I must have messed up that smoke bomb recipe!

Desperately, she bolts to the crates and proceeds to tear through the burning pile, ignoring the pain of batting at the flaming materials, her one desire in this world being to find Rui alive and well. Finally, she finally pries open a scorched crate and finds the blonde infant inside. She cradles him in her burnt arms, sobbing violently onto his shoulder. I'm so sorry, Rui... I'm so sorry....

As the infant calms down in the presence of his mother, she looks around and finds that even the supports put in place to protect against cave collapses have begun to burn. Realizing she doesn't have much time left, she looks at the bandit lying on the ground. Knowing how difficult it'll be to run through the smoky passageways, she decides on a more tactful approach. After binding Nusumu to prevent him from reacting if he wakes, she bundles her son into the bandit's clothes to protect him from the heat and smoke. Satisfied with the human stroller, she grabs the man's feet, and proceeds to drag him through the dangerous caverns.

After navigating through the dangerous caves, Rika finally bursts out into the sunlight, and finally lets herself fall to ground, happy to be in the warm embrace of the desert sand. She could lie here forever...

The sounds of people talking bring the Numan's mind back to reality, and she forces herself up to face whomever she had run into. Her eyes meet the faces of more bandits than she had ever seen before, but they all betrayed uncertainty in what they were to do.

Rika understands that she doesn't stand a chance against such a large group in her state, so she decides to try a bluff. There are a hundred hunters heading in this direction now. You all have only two choices here. Either leave now, or surrender yourselves to the authorities. Her threat seems to work for some of them, and a decent number of them begin to wander off into the desert. The veteran rogues, however, see right through her, and instead draw their weapons.

The woman follows suit, letting her claws slide downward. She attempts one final ploy, and she lowers her voice to almost a growl. So, you think that together you can kill me? Perhaps you can, but I've already bested your 'king,' and I'm sure I can destroy two or three of you before you kill me; who's volunteering to go first? None of the remaining bandits leave this time, but she could sense a seed of fear among the brigands; they apparently value their own lives over the group.

The standoff lasts longer than the hunter can bear with each side waiting for the other to make a move, but eventually, a distant war cry draws the attention of everyone. Rika looks over and sees a horde of townsmen carrying a variety of makeshift weapons, with a couple of red jumpsuits interspersed throughout the crowd. Relieved, she lets her arms fall to her sides, and she simply watches as the group surrounds and captures the remaining rouges.

Next chapter

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