Raia splashes cold water on her face and looks in the mirror mounted on the wall above the sink.
The pale grey eyes stare back at her, and a memory flashes through her mind.
"Raia, you're an Elysian. That means the angels have acknowledged you. Don't let that Call go in vain; join us in saving this corrupted world. This is the reality, Raia," Simon told her gently, his hands on her shoulders.
Raia couldn't look him in the eyes. Tears streamed down her cheeks, but her expression remained stunned. She was at a loss for words and actions.
Raia reaches for her silver necklace. She clenches her teeth and lowers her gaze, clutching the cross pendant.
"I still don't understand," she hisses, her fists trembling.
What did Simon mean when he said she was acknowledged by the angels? Raia has no recollection of praying to the Light or even requesting a favor from the angels. After all, she hadn't previously believed in them. She only has one wish, and being a disciple appears to be a long way from fulfilling it.
Or so she thinks.
A soft knock at her door jolts her out of her reverie. Her brow furrows as she wonders who it could be. She then sighs. She grabs the towel from the metal hook and wipes her wet face dry before exiting the bathroom.
Raiden greets her with a friendly smile as soon as the door opens. She raises an eyebrow, puzzled by his sudden appearance.
"Hey, I'm sorry if I disturbed you, but Bishop Galbraith has requested our presence," Raiden says, scratching the nape of his neck.
Raia blinks. Only two hours have passed since her Branding, and she spent half an hour touring the place with one of the headquarters staff before being summoned once more. She wonders what it could be about.
Cyrus is on the phone with someone when Raia and Raiden arrive. Of course, his office remains the same. Papers and documents piled up like mountains on his desk.
Cyrus's gaze sweeps over them, and he motions for them to wait while still holding the phone handset to his ear.
Raia looks at Raiden. "So, what's the deal here?"
Raiden shrugs. "I'm not sure. But I'm guessing you're about to embark on your first mission as an Aragon. Congratulations, by the way."
Raia purses her lips into a thin line, recalling what happened during her Branding.
When Raiden notices her sudden change in expression, he pats her on the shoulder and smiles at her when she gives him a puzzled look.
"Alright!" Cyrus exclaims, capturing their attention. "Come on, you two."
Cyrus rests his chin on his interlocked fingers and fixes his gaze on them as they approach his desk. "Pardon me for this unexpected call, but since the others are on another mission, it's just you two. And because this case cannot be handled by a single disciple, I will send Raia as well." He looks at Raia. "Would that be fine with you, given that you've only had a brief rest since arriving here?"
Raia nods, relieved that she'll be out hunting demons again. The mere thought of staying in one place bothers her. If there are Outcasts roaming outside, she can't be idle. After all, she's now an official disciple, and the main reason for her existence is to eradicate such beings.
"Of course, " Raia mutters.
Cyrus gives her a warm smile. "It's settled, then. So, here's the situation: something strange is happening in central Gerland. Last week, I received a phone call from a resident of this particular town informing me that many people are committing suicide. So I dispatched some Laity to investigate the location. Unfortunately, only one of them returned . . . and he's in bad shape right now."
The youths' brows furrow as they fix their gaze on Cyrus.
"What do you mean he's in bad shape?" Raiden inquires, his voice strained.
"He's in the midst of battling his own darkness."
The two Aragons are taken aback when they hear Sonnet's voice. The woman is leaning against the doorway, arms folded across her chest. Despite the lines between her brows, her expression is gentle and calm.
"He's not tainted, but his soul has been touched by darkness," Sonnet says as she looks at them. "It means that his negative emotion has been triggered, and it won't be long before a lost spirit chooses him as a vessel if he lingers in his despair."
Raia frowns as she notices Raiden's expression dimming and his jaw tightening. She wonders if he's that close to the people here that he'd make such a face.
"Don't worry," Cyrus's soothing voice assures them. "He is currently being counseled. We will not allow more of our people to fall victim to the darkness."
"He's right," Sonnet concurs. "That's why you've been summoned here. You must eliminate the source of this strange phenomenon so that no more souls become victims."
"And be careful," Cyrus warns, leaning against his table. "It could be a Cimmerian's doing, and there's a good chance there will be a few Outcasts in that area."
Raiden and Raia's expressions harden as they meet Cyrus's gaze. They don't have to say anything because the fire in their eyes sends a far more powerful message to Cyrus, letting him know that they are aware of the danger ahead.
"Alright, so your duty is to locate and destroy the source. Furthermore, "Cyrus says, his voice suddenly firm. "Remember to look for the Core."
Raia's brow furrows. "How will we know if it has the Core?"
Cyrus looks her straight in the eyes. "You'll know."
Raiden lets out a sigh. "Let's just hope it's there, eh? Anyway, where is Milan? I haven't seen him around."
"Milan? He was out looking for a carriage for you two," Cyrus responds, then furrows his brow. "Why?"
A man appears in the doorway just as Raiden is about to speak. He has dark skin, buzz-cut blond hair, and is a couple of inches shorter than Raiden. He's dressed in a crimson coat, which indicates that he's a staff.
"Bishop Galbraith, a rental carriage has been hired for ten rubies and eightpence from here to the train station in the City of Yohan," Milan announces, his eyes widening when he sees Raiden and Raia. "Pardon me, have I interrupted something?"
Cyrus smiles. "Not at all; I'm about to dismiss them." He looks at Raia and Raiden. "I've already paid for your transportation. Kara, you take care of the rest. Treat Raia for the time being until she receives her pay."
Raia's ears perk up when she hears Cyrus. She carries only one sacred pound and twenty rubies. When converted to kon, her home currency, the rate is fifty-one kons, which she believes will not last long.
Her mouth twitches in frustration.
Raiden gives Raia a sheepish smile. "Sure thing. I'll take care of it."
"By the way, Raia," Cyrus says as he turns to face her. "I forgot to discuss your pay. We'll discuss it when you get back. Kara will handle the expenses in today's task." He gives her a wink and a thumbs-up sign.
Raia only nods. If that's the case, she'll save the rest of her money for personal expenses and rely on others to pay her bills until she receives her first paycheck.
"Anyway, Milan, I was looking for you," Raiden says as he approaches the man standing in the doorway.
"What's up, Raiden?" Milan expresses his surprise.
Raiden looks at Cyrus. "Are we now officially dismissed?"
Cyrus nods. "Yes. Go now and start preparing. Don't keep the carriage driver waiting too long."
"By all means," Raiden says, turning on his heels, unusually perky.
Raia looks at him as she reaches inside her coat. "Hey," she says, interrupting Raiden's exit.
When Raiden looks over his shoulder at her, his eyes widen as something is about to hit him in the face. He spins and backpedals, catching it with his palms open. A jingling sound reverberates. His mouth gapes open as he looks at it. It's a tan drawstring pouch.
It's the bag of sacred coins he gave to the coachman.
Raiden lifts his head to meet Raia's gaze, her face unreadable.
"The carriage driver was gone anyway, so I took it rather than leaving it there," Raia says monotonously. She doesn't need to count to figure out how many sacred coins are in the pouch. It has about two sacred pounds in total, based on its weight and the sound the coins make. She can't just leave that much money for a random passerby to take.
Raiden's face flushes with surprise, but he quickly regains his composure and smiles at her.
"I see. Thank you," Raiden says in a small voice.
Raia did not tell him that night because she knows how he would react if she did. She doesn't know much about him, but his behavior that night revealed the type of person he is. They might just end up arguing, which is a waste of time.
Raiden looks at Cyrus and scratches his head, as if embarrassed. "So . . . I'll just grab a snack for us to take with us before we leave." He nods to Sonnet before leaving the room with Milan.
"Raia," Cyrus interrupts before Raia can leave.
She comes to a halt and half-turns to face him, arching her brow.
"Please look after Kara," Cyrus says in a soft voice.
Raia frowns and returns his gentle gaze with a cold one. "I'm not anyone's guardian, especially not another disciple's. It is his responsibility to look after himself, not mine. If he can't do it, no one can. Someone must be aware of this before entering a war."
Cyrus blinks as she turns and walks out the door, then comes to a halt. She looks over her shoulder, barely meeting his gaze.
"Kara is a warrior chosen by the angels. He may be a little careless, but I'm sure he doesn't need anyone to protect him," Raia continues, her voice low-pitched, almost crooning. She then closes the door behind her, leaving Cyrus and Sonnet stunned.