As they followed the river, Ryner heard a distant sound of water falling. The soft roaring noise began to get louder as mist became more visible to the two. A small smile escaped his lips as they continued walking towards the vertical drop. He looked towards Ferris to see if she had a similar reaction but all she did was continue walking with an expressionless face. It surprised Ryner that Ferris could hold him and herself up for so long.
"Oi Ferris?" It took her some time to reply.
"Hmm?" she responded as she looked at him. She didn't have any facial expression on her face but he could tell that Ferris was exhausted.
"We can take a break here if you want." He offered.
"No, I'm fine," She stated. "Besides, we're almost there."
Ryner looked at her with lethargic eyes. "How are you so strong? I would have given up a long time ago." He said bluntly.
"I spent my childhood getting stronger."
"How did you live?" He exhaled slowly. He knew that a skilled warrior such as Ferris had to have worked like her life depended on it looking at her status and family of birth.
"With a lot of dango." She said with a straight face.
"Of course." He said chuckling as he rolled his eyes. "Did I have to ask?"
"Well your stupidity plays a large role in affecting the caliber of your questions so to answer your question, Ryner Lute, yes you did have to ask." Ryner's face relaxed as he heard that come from Ferris. He felt relief knowing that his partner was back to her original self. After all that had happened so far, he never expected her to revert that quickly.
Once they made their way to the top part of the falls, Ferris put Ryner down to catch her breath. She stood right by the edge breathlessly taking in the phenomenal view. The mist wavered over her face as she felt it condense onto her pale cheeks. It felt refreshing having cool water douse her body after all that walking.
"Oi Ferris! Don't stand so close! You're gonna fall." Ryner yelled.
"Hmm?" the blonde replied as she turned around to face her partner. A breeze passed by blowing her golden locks of hair forward.
"We should find a way down and set up camp. The sun's going to set soon." Ryner said as he got up. He walked towards Ferris and rested his hand on her shoulder. "Come on." To this Ferris nodded.
"How will we get down?" she inquired.
"There's a mud trail down which is probably the safest but dirtiest way down."
"Well we can jump and pray we survive." Ryner said with a chuckle.
"Start praying." Ferris said with a straight face.
"Wait, wh-" Before he could finish his sentence, Ferris jumped off the edge.
Ryner's face went pale as he saw the blonde go down. Shit shit shit! She'll die on impact at this rate! There's a huge rock right under her that'll kill her! As he jumped down, the Alpha Stigma bearer activated a spell. "I offer up a contract to bear the wicked spirit beast that sleeps within the earth!" He sped down and used one hand to grab Ferris's waist tightly while the other was used to press her head closer to his body. The magic encircled around Ryner's foot pushed off the large rock as they bounced off onto land.
"YOU STUPID FOOL! WERE YOU TRYING TO DIE?!" he yelled in frustration as he pulled Ferris away from him. To this Ferris laughed.
"Calm down. I knew you would save me."
"And what if I didn't catch up to you on time or my magic didn't activate?!"
"Then I wouldn't be here," Ferris said with a straight face. Ryner turned his head away looking pissed. "But I had faith in my partner and I am very much alive because of it."
Ryner turned his head back and looked Ferris in the eyes. "If you ever do that again and something happens to you…I don't know what I would do."
The blonde stared into his eyes. A hint of pain lurked under those brown orbs. He was worried about me. Tension started to build between the two as silence formed. "Let's go set up camp." She said as an attempt to change the topic.
"Fine." He replied. Ryner activated his Alpha Stigma and scanned the area for any possible campsites. Behind the waterfall was a dry cave. It was an excellent shelter for the two to spend the night. "Over there," he pointed to the waterfall.
"You want me to sleep under a waterfall?" Ferris asked raising an eyebrow.
"You're going to be sleeping in the cave behind the waterfall." He responded.
"Beggars can't be choosers." She sighed. "And where will you be sleeping?" she asked.
"Huh?" Ryner questioned back.
"Don't try and act dumb. I refuse to sleep beside a pervert that can attack me during the midst of the night. I'll be defenseless with no means of escape."
"Say what now?" he questioned again. "I think I would need a means of escape if I were to try anything on you. You and your evil brute stren-"
"What was that?" She asked as she picked up her sword and placed it by his neck.
"Nothing! Nothing at all! I'll go… collect…um…firewood! Yeah that's it! I'll go collect firewood while you set up cam-"
"Leave it." She responded humorlessly. "I'll get it. You set up camp and wash up." She said as she put her sword down. Ryner wouldn't have the strength to do it with the wounds he had. He still hadn't healed fully and he really needed to get out of those makeshift bandages.
"Oi Ferris! I'll get it! Besides, you're probably tired after carrying most of my body weight. You need rest." He said while scratching his head.
"Don't worry about it; we're partners."
"Exactly why you should let me help you." Ryner proclaimed. "We're partners so we've gotta work together."
Ferris stared at him for a little bit. She knew that he would keep pestering her if she didn't let him help. And she also knew that he wouldn't sit by and let her get it alone even if she told him not to. That was the kind of person Ryner was. "Fine. I'll collect the firewood and you can retrieve it after you've finished washing up."
"Sounds like a plan." He replied. "Now then, time to set up camp."
"You have fun doing that. I expect a luxurious bed and silk sheets when I return." She said as she started walking into the forest.
"Oi, Ferris! Where am I going to get that?" he called out but she didn't reply. "Well better start before her majesty returns." He said to himself as he scratched his head. This woman… Ryner chuckled as he watched Ferris enter the forest.
"Ryner?" Ferris called out as she walked into the cave. She heard her voice bounce off the cave walls forming an echo that roared loudly.
"Could you keep it down?" she heard from behind her. "I'm right here." He was carrying a pile of leaves as he entered.
"What are you doing with those?" she asked him.
"Making your luxurious bed. The cave is pretty hard and I doubt you want to sleep on cold rock." He replied bluntly.
Ferris stared at him with judgemental eyes. "I refuse to sleep on leaves. And more importantly, did you say 'luxurious bed'? As in one bed?"
Ryner nodded his head strangely. "yeah…?"
"I refuse to share a bed with a sex crazed maniac." She said with a straight face. "I don't want to lose my virtue t-"
"Not this again." Ryner sighed.
"Do not ignore me when I'm talking to you, you perverted fiend." She was about to lay a punch into his face when she stopped. "More importantly, why haven't you washed up yet?"
"No clothes, remember?" he said bluntly.
"Oh right. Where's the bag with the stuff I brought?"
"Behind the huge pile of leaves." Ferris picked up the bag and pulled out her red sweater and black tights.
"You are a good man, Elliott." Ferris mumbled as she nodded her head subtly. Along with the clothes, he had packed a kit containing emergency supplies, towels, and food rations. She left Ryner's clothes in the bag and tossed it to the Alpha Stigma bearer. "There just might be something in there for you after all, pervert." The blonde said wryly. "Go clean yourself. We gotta bandage you up before you die of infection."
"I don't think I'll be able to." Ryner said as he looked in the bag.
Ferris looked at him puzzled. "Why not? You have clothes now, do you not?"
An embarrassed expression formed on his face. "Well…"
"Well?" she looked at him with a bemused face.
"Well um… I don't think I'll be able to clean a whole lot."
"What does that mean?"
Shit how do I tell her this… "I can't really turn a lot since my abdominal muscles are torn up so…."
"So…?" Ferris questioned again.
Damn it. How am I going to approach this without her taking it the wrong way? "Well… you see…Um… can you…Ferris can…you help me…wash my injuries?" he struggled saying.
It took her a couple of seconds to process what Ryner was trying to ask her. "O-oh." Her face started turning a light shade of pink.
Ryner looked at her for a little while as it grew quiet and awkward. He didn't anticipate this at all. "Um don't worry about it, Ferris! I'll manage someh-" he said finally breaking the silence.
"No," she interrupted. "You need to get all those wounds cleaned before they get infected." She responded sternly. "Let's go." She said as she picked up the first aid supplies.
The Alpha Stigma bearer was not expecting that response from the blonde. In fact, he was planning a more painful response involving a sword, her yelling 'pervert' and 'sex crazed maniac', and a lot more blood that was going to come out of his wounds. Instead, he received the exact opposite. It surprised him to think that Ferris had changed so much since the first day they had met. Granted, she still did call him all those things time and time again, but their relationship was changing… they were growing less distant.
"Oi, you coming?" Ferris called.
A small smile formed on Ryner's face. "Yeah!" he called back to catch up with her.
"Look at you." Ferris said as she took off Ryner's blue shirt and folded it. She then began to slowly take off the make-do bandages around his hip region. They were sitting right by the pool of water. She could feel the mist send shivers down her spine as the cool liquid made contact with her pale body.
"Yeah well, he wasn't the easiest of opponents." Ryner responded as he unravelled the bandages around his arms. They were fully drenched in his blood. It still seemed like the wounds hadn't closed up at all.
Ferris looked at his bloodied body. "You're going to end up in an early grave if you keep running into trouble." She said.
"Again, wasn't trying to. You think I wanted Mr. Shadows to attack me and have Roland's messed up experiments hunt me down?" he replied.
"Hmmm I guess not." Ferris mumbled as she cupped her palms together. She put her hands in the clear liquid to scoop up some water and gently poured it onto Ryner's left shoulder.
Ryner winced in pain as he felt his shoulder sting. The cold water mixed with the blood as it trickled off the deep wound. "O-oi, F-Ferr-is," he tried saying as he shuddered. "I-it's b-burn-ning!"
Ferris continued immersing the wound with water. "I know. I saw how bad it was when I tended to it under the bridge. It seems like our shadow friend is incorporating some fire magic with his shadow beasts."
"Seems that way. And he su-AUGH-re did one hell of a j-OUH-b doing it." Ryner tried saying as he winced in pain.
"Alright, you'll need to submerge your body in the water, Ryner."
"You can either be in a whole lot of pain once, or you can suffer through it little by little. Me pouring water on you over and over again is just going to irritate your wounds. But on the bright side, I do find this quite amusing."
"I'm glad my agony brings you happiness, you sadistic woman." He said annoyed. Ryner knew she was right though. He knew both methods would suck but doing a one shot was better than sitting shirtless for a good hour. It completely sucked; he got attacked by the enemy, almost died from blood loss, and was stuck with wounds that just didn't want to seal up. And the worst part was he couldn't heal it with magic. "Can you help me get up?" the Alpha Stigma bearer asked lifting his right arm. The blonde looked at him and then pulled him up. "Thanks. Now don't let go." He said.
"Say what now?" she responded puzzled. Just as she said that, Ryner took a deep breath and stepped into the body of water. Ferris could feel Ryner's weight push her down so much so that she had to use her other hand to grab onto his wrist. His whole body was submerged except for his hand and a bit of his wrist. She looked at the water turning a light crimson colour.
It's been more than a minute. Why hasn't he come up yet?! "Yo, idiot?" Ferris called out. She was starting to worry. The blonde tightened her grip around his hand and dug her heel into the moist soil as she struggled to pull him up. "Oi! Ryner!" she called out as she closed her eyes and started pulling him out with all the strength she had in her. She only opened them when she heard coughing. "Are you out of your mind!?" She yelled while helping him onto land.
"Geez I thought I was going to die." Ryner sighed. He rolled his right shoulder whilst stretching his arm and coughing. Ferris looked at him furiously.
"What was that about?!" she shouted.
"The pain kinda got to me with all that burning."
"WELL YOU SURE TOOK YOUR SWEET TIME GETTING OVER IT." Ferris said holding back her frustration.
"Yeah well, I knew you'd help me out. Besides," he yawned "Your little feat off the waterfall wasn't too insufficient to cause death, now was it?" He questioned. Ferris looked deep into his eyes before averting her eyes to the ground.
"When we get back, remind me to hit you so hard that not even the country's best doctors can seal the wound I leave on you." She said sternly. Ferris saw the first aid kit and had a better idea. "Oi pervert," she called with a sly smile forming in her head mentally.
"Stop calling me that!"
"Whatever." She replied completely ignoring that comment. "Time to bandage you up. You're clear of blood for now." Ferris dried off his body with a towel, opened the kit and pulled out disinfectant.
Ryner looked at her strangely. Is she going to pour all that on me?! Horror filled Ryner's face. "I'll do the disinfecting, thank you very much!" he said as he quickly grabbed the bottle out of Ferris's hand. For some reason, she didn't argue about it. In fact, she looked quite puzzled.
"Alright…" She responded slowly. He took pieces of cotton out and dabbed them in the solution. As he cleaned the wounds, he kept his eyes on Ferris. He wondered what she was plotting but nothing came in mind. "Are you done?" she asked him while holding cotton strips.
"Yeah." He responded in pain. Ferris placed a few cotton strips onto his left shoulder. Next, she started wrapping the area with white fabric tape. Ryner stared at her as she did this. Still don't sense any dangerous schemes of hers…
Just as Ferris was finishing up with his last bandage, he sighed peacefully. So she wasn't plotting anything. Right when Ryner thought that, Ferris tightened his bandages.
"FERRIS!" He called out. "T-TOO TIGHT!" the Alpha Stigma bearer cried in pain.
And with a smirk on her face, the blonde replied with "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you with all that squealing."
"I'll kill y-AHH-ou!" he yelled in pain as he felt the bandages tighten even more.
"Is that an apology I hear?" Ferris replied with a straight face.
"I'M SORRY SO SORRY! I WON'T DO IT AGAIN I SWEAR!" Ryner cried. Ferris loosened his bandages and tied them. This woman is gonna kill me! Ryner felt his wounds pulsate in pain as he stared at Ferris. She picked up the bag with his clothes and passed it over to Ryner. He opened it to find a black pair of pants, long boots, and a peacock blue zip-up shirt. To his surprise, the neck and shoulders contained buckles just like his old shirt.
Ferris looked at him as he examined the articles of clothing. "Buckles again, huh? Need me to tighten them for y-"
"NO!" Ryner called out defensively.
"Okay…" Ferris said with a smirk on her face as she saw her partner quickly put on his clothes and run into the forest.
"I'm going to go retrieve the firewood so go wash up!" he said. "I'll be back in a bit!"
Don't work too hard, idiot. Your wounds aren't healed yet. The blonde smiled slightly as she packed up the first aid kid and went to retrieve her clothes.
The waterfall's cool water flowed down Ferris's pale skin as it trickled off her locks of blonde hair into the pool of clear liquid. She stood on top of the large rock that almost killed her if not for Ryner saving her. She felt shivers run down her spine as the fluid ran down her naked body. She had never washed herself under a waterfall before but it was rather peaceful if she did say so herself. She closed her eyes and listened to the sounds of nature around her. She felt calm and relaxed while her body was completely drenched as she soaked herself happily in the solution.
For once, after a long time, she got to wash away her tensions and just admire the world around her. Ferris felt happy knowing that there were still nice people in this world such as Elliott. She felt fortunate knowing that she was alive. And she felt reassured knowing that her partner was still with her. Ryner could've left her when he was being attacked by Roland's army. He could've abandoned her after learning that she was the key to Froaude's success. But he didn't, and Ferris was grateful for it.
She leaned her head back slowly for her face to come in contact with the cool water... And then it happened. The blonde felt something wanting to come up as her chest tightened in pain. Her body shuddered as she started coughing. Ferris tried to hold back the urge but after a short period of time, her resistance waned and blood began to come out. At first, it was a little but she felt more come up every time she tried to take a breath of air into her burning lungs. Her eyes began to tear up from the pain. She needed to get out of the water before she collapsed due to lack of oxygen. She had never felt so much pain before. It was worse than the pain she received from the wound on her back. The blonde continued to cough up blood, while her vision began to grow cloudy and blurry. She knelt down onto the large rock with one hand squeezing her chest while the other was covering her mouth.
Ryner made his way back with the firewood. He never expected Ferris to collect so much but then again, it was Ferris. She loved cutting things up with her sword. He was just lucky that his head wasn't cut up yet. Although his body still ached, it wasn't as bad anymore. His wounds had been tended to and were on their way to recovery. Although it wasn't the fastest healing process, it was better than nothing. Now he just needed to get back to the campsite. A chill went through the air as he walked by the river. Seems like it'll be a chilly night.
A crimson colour caught the corner of Ryner's eyes as it passed in the water. It looked like it was coming back from where they set up camp. Something doesn't feel right… As Ryner picked up his pace, he saw more of the red liquid float by as it mingled with the water. He could hear something going on but couldn't make out what it was. He grew anxious whilst carrying the wood back. As he got closer, he could hear agonizing coughs. "Oi Ferris?!" Ryner called out.
"Ferris?!" Ryner called out again as he ran to follow the bloody water path. The Alpha Stigma bearer's eyes widened as he saw his partner knelt down on a rock struggling for breath whilst coughing up blood. Her long blonde hair draped her body but was covered in the dark red liquid. He dropped the firewood immediately and quickly scanned the area and located her towel and clothes. Grabbing the towel, he stood by the bank of the pool of water. He looked at the blonde continuously coughing and stretched his hand out. He could see her in agony and knew that she wouldn't be able to grab it. "You have to jump, Ferris! I can't reach you!"
Almost instinctively, she jumped without thought. "Got you!" Ryner took hold of her bloodied hand and hauled her in. He immediately wrapped the towel around her and pulled her close to his chest. He could feel Ferris's chest hit his violently with every bloody cough that escaped her mouth. He rubbed her back in hopes that it would create some heat so that her lungs would open up a little. At last, Ferris's coughing calmed down a little. "Take deep breaths." He coached as he continued to rub her back. Ferris did as she was told until her breathing stabilized itself.
Ryner released his grasp on the blonde and turned his back to her. "You should put your clothes on before you catch a cold," He said as he got up to give her privacy. "I'll walk you back to our hideout after I go drop off the firewood." Without waiting for his partner's response, he left.
Ryner picked up some of the dropped firewood and stared at the ground for a bit. Why is Ferris getting so sick all of a sudden…? Something is definitely wrong, I can sense it. The Alpha Stigma bearer stood there pondering about what might have caused her coughing attack. What does Froaude want from us? Sion didn't send him so does that mean that he wants us dead for another reason? He said that Ferris was the key to his success…What went on between them that Ferris can't tell me?
Ryner picked up another piece of wood. She said that she'd become a puppet of his. Damn it! She's in danger and I can't do anything about it! After all she's done for me... and I can't even relieve any of her suffering that she's going through because of me… Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! Ryner looked up and stared into the sky. It was a little lighter than Ferris's eyes but it was beautiful nonetheless. Ferris, I'm here for you so just…open up a little and tell me what's on your mind... An ache filled his chest as he made his way back to camp; this reoccurring ache that did not disappear when he tried to think about what to do with the blond.
As Ryner entered their hideout, he noticed that Ferris was already there. She was wearing her red sweater and black tights while leaning against the wall of the cave. Her face lacked expression just like the first time they had met.
"I'm back. Looks like you made your way back here in one piece." He said trying to break the tension between them. But to his dismay, the blond did not respond back. She just sat there like a lifeless doll and stared out into the distance. "I brought the firewood so I'll just prepare the campfire." Ryner took two pieces of wood and stacked them up against each other. He then said an incantation. "What I seek are the burning fields, Kurenai." With just one small fireball, the fire formed and began to heat up the room. He made his way sitting directly across the campfire and Ferris. "There we go. Now we'll stay warm since this water is pretty cold and all." He knew that Ferris didn't want to talk. He left the wet towels from before to dry right by the heat. "I'll go check what food we have so we can start eating. The sun is going to set soon."
As the Alpha Stigma bearer made his way to the bag, he pulled out a container. Inside, there was what looked like a small loaf of bread and some cheese. "I think this will taste really good if it's toasted, don't you think, Ferris?" The blond didn't reply back. "There should be a flat rock here that I can use as a pan…"
Once he prepared their dinner, he passed a slice of the cheese bread to Ferris. "Careful, it's hot." He cautioned. As Ferris took a bite into the simple dinner, a small facial expression peered onto her face. "What's wrong?" Ryner asked worriedly. "Does it taste bad?" To this, Ferris shook her head. Instead, she took another bite and continued to eat. Ryner looked at the blond. He knew she hadn't eaten for a long time. It had been over four days since she'd had anything to eat in fact. He was still thinking how she lived without dango let alone food for that long. Just as the Alpha Stigma bearer took a bite into his bread;
"Ryner…?" Ferris called quietly.
"Yeah?" he replied back with his mouth full.
"Thank you." She responded.
Ryner met her gaze and swallowed. "Don't worry about it." He said. "Besides, we need to get back to full strength so we can find Iris and Keifer."
Ferris nodded her head. "I'm sorry..." She apologized.
The Alpha Stigma bearer looked at her with a confused expression. "For what? You didn't do anything wrong." He replied.
"For coughing up blood." She said.
"I'm here for you, Ferris. You're scaring me with this apologizing thing. I was expecting more of a 'YOU FIEND! How dare you try to meet up with Iris and the others? This is a plan to steal their virtues, isn't it? WHACK!'" Ryner said as he acted out what Ferris would've said.
A small smile perked up on her face seeing her partner act out the hilarious scene.
I'm glad you're smiling, Ferris. Ryner thought to himself whilst making a fool out of himself.
Once they had their dinner and some time had passed, Ryner raised his head up to look at Ferris who just sat there looking at the water falling.
"Hmm?" she responded.
"Be honest with me, okay?" A chill formed in the air as a small gust of wind encircled the campfire. The wood crackled loudly as it burned by the flame. "You're not dying, are you?" he asked seriously.
"Where did this come from?" she asked back.
"Just answer the question."
"No…? What's wrong?" To this, Ryner got up and made his way to the confused blond. He leaned into her pale face and placed his forehead against hers. "Ryner…?"
"Promise me you won't die, alright?" he said. Ferris nodded her head.
"May I question why your forehead is resting on mine?" the blond asked.
"Just checking your temperature. It's going to get cold according to the chill in the air so I wanted to see how you're holding up." He responded matter-of-factly. Ryner then got up and left the cave. A few minutes later, he returned with more leaves. "We have to be prepared for tonight so I'll keep watch and sleep outside while you're in here, okay?"
"No." Ferris responded bluntly.
"You're not leaving here."
"Because the last thing this world needs is a roaming pervert in the prowl at night trying to steal the virtue of poor maidens." She said nonchalantly.
"I'M NOT INTO ANY OF THAT! And besides, this so called pervert doesn't want to get killed at night by you so I'll take my chances outside." He responded. To this, Ferris called him over and put her hand on Ryner's left shoulder. "What are you-" She then applied some pressure. "AHHH OKAY OKAY I GET IT!" the Alpha Stigma Bearer screamed in agony. "I'll stay!"
"Good. Now get some rest. You'll need it." The blond said as she turned her head away to watch the water falling.
"I'll bring all the leaves inside then." Ryner said as he went to grab the small pile he left for himself outside.
You're worried, aren't you Ryner… Just don't do anything rash…until your wounds are healed… We can't do… a whole lot since you're badly injured. We should….get back…to…Iris and…
Once Ryner had prepared their sleeping area by the fire, he returned to the blond. "I've prepared your luxurious bed, your majesty!" he called.
Rather than receiving a response, he got silence in return. As he looked over to check on his partner, Ryner noticed that Ferris had dozed off. "What am I going to do with you…" Ryner murmured softly with a light smile forming on his face as a sigh took over.
Feeling guilty for speaking so loudly, Ryner put one arm under the blond's legs while the other one wrapped around her back and picked her up. He carefully lifted Ferris over to the pile of leaves he had prepared for her and placed her gently down so that she wouldn't wake up. He grabbed her towel that had dried and tucked her in with it. "I'm sorry they're not silk sheets like you wanted but in these circumstances, it's all I could do." He whispered to her quietly. Ryner then lay down onto his leaf pile beside hers and tucked himself in with his towel. He looked over to see Ferris one last time before his eyes grew heavy. It had been a long day with so much that had happened. A yawn escaped from his mouth and he too fell asleep.