Rain temperamentally fell, soaking the earth for nearly three days straight. Gray, thundering clouds veiled the sun, casting a rather depressing atmosphere upon the world down below. Within one of the hilly mounds, scurried away in a rather isolated corner, a cave covered with thick shrubbery existed. It was a rather small cave, and had nearly always been bereft of life.
Yet, at the moment, there were three figures inside. One lay unconscious in the corner, her previously pale cheeks gaining some rosy complexion. Compared to how she was like a week ago, Lucky now looked far healthier; as the matter of fact, Lino suspected she should wake up in a day or two. It was partly due to the fact that her injures weren’t all too severe, and partly because Lino used some of the herbs he got from the auction and the shop to help the healing process along.
As for him, he seemed the complete opposite; his expression was placid, eyes bereft of a single emotion, sunken in. He seemed entirely listless, as though his soul had long since abandoned his body. Slumped against the rugged walls of the cave, he appeared to be starring into the abyss of the other end, contemplating.
As for the third, not a sign of life could be spotted; she was covered with a thin blanket, leaning against the other end of the cave. Lino had barely moved a muscle for the past week save for helping Lucky. He mostly drank himself into a hallucinatory stupor, hoping it would one way or another erase his memories. Yet, they all remained.
He neither wished nor dared to think too deeply about anything; he merely waited for Lucky to wake up so he can finally understand what had transpired. Too many questions that he lacked answers to confused him, rendering him incapable of coming to conclusions.
It was almost ten days after Lino found her in the cave that Lucky showed signs of waking up. Her somewhat thinned body trembled for a moment as a low groan escaped her lips. Lino, sitting right beside her, shook himself as he lowered his gaze toward her. Then, he saw her slowly open up her eyes, which were full of nothing but confusion.
She wished to propel herself upward instinctively yet found she lacked any strength to do so. As her vision was still blurred and she wasn’t sure as to where she was, panic began to encapsulate her. Just as she was prepared to scream out, a familiar voice jolted her.
“Don’t move,” Lino said. “You’re still hurt.”
“...” an image of the cheekily smiling boy immediately sprung into Lucky’s mind, yet she could never connect that cold, emotionless voice to him. Still, somehow, almost by heart, she knew it was him.
“Can you talk?” Lino asked as he helped her sit up. It was only then that Lucky’s vision cleared up and the face so familiar, yet that of a complete stranger, showed up in front of her. He appeared listless, his usual, smiling expression replaced by icy placidity that couldn’t be measured. His eyes lacked that drive and desire, even a bit of mischief that Lucky remembered seeing. It was only the general outline of it all that confirmed it was him.
Realizing she was struggling, Lino reached into the void world and took out a gourd of wine, helping her to a few gulps. Her parched throat immediately felt almost revitalized as some semblance of life returned to her. However, it was also accompanied by surge of memories, ones so painful her tears immediately grew moist as she unleashed a shrill cry.
Lino did nothing to stop her; he simply took the gourd to his lips and downed whatever was left inside. Shrill cries continued echoing against the walls for nearly half an hour until Lucky finally calmed down somewhat. Her eyes were reddened, lips bitten and bleeding, snot falling out of her nose. Despite never being a pinnacle of beauty, she was at least eye-catching; however, now, she felt the ugliest in her life - inside and out.
“... here.” Lino helped her to another few gulps of wine, yet even they didn’t help much against the ache of her throat. “You’re still weak.”
“... t-they---they...” Lucky mumbled, gritting their teeth.
“... haah,” Lino sighed. “After you recover, tell me everything. Then... we’ll see.”
It took nearly three days until Lucky had recovered just enough to share her story with him. The more Lino listened, the calmer he appeared which, for anyone who truly knew him, was far more terrifying than if he had began screaming in rage.
As Lucky’s story unfolded, she could feel the temperature in the cave physically dropping, as Lino’s eyes darkened more and more. By the end of it, she could swear she felt an aura of utter destruction escape briefly from his being.
Lucky’s story was rather simple, yet, at the same time, profoundly deep, Lino realized. On the face value, what had transpired was ordinary: Demons suddenly invaded one day without any warning, some people fled to get reinforcements while others stayed behind to delay. They were unable to do so and died before reinforcements arrived.
Yet, to Lino, it was a story of utter betrayal, profound ugliness of human heart, one which further stoked the flames of hatred toward the world of cultivation. By now, he held nothing but pure, unfiltered contempt to everyone and everything within it. Even Sister Roa and other Sisters in the orphanage, however vile and vicious they may have been, they at least had a little bit of humanity left inside of them which prevented from outright exploiting the children in the orphanage even more.
Cultivators? Lino realized there was no such thing as ‘humanity’ present in this world. Even someone like Ava, who on surface appeared to be entirely normal, wasn’t; Lino knew that, if he had stayed, she would have no doubt locked him up and forced him to craft repeatedly for her Clan, no matter what. Lives... were like flickering candle flames. Whether they flickered a second longer or not didn’t really matter, as they would soon disappear anyway.
The Elders from the Su Clan who stayed in the City used the teleportation formation to escape, alongside hundreds of other cultivators. They promised they’d come back with reinforcements, but, by that point, even a child would realize their promise meant nothing. Those few cultivators who remained did so because they either had no choice, or had their families there, or simply didn’t wish to abandon the Town where they grew up in.
As for Lucky, Aeala, Fish, Kraval, Shaneine, Smite and Freya... they were among those who were forced to stay. They were no fools and neither were they saints; when they saw the sheer number of Demons and Devils approaching, they wanted to escape. However, they were denied.
To Lino’s shock and surprise, the person who led the army was none other than Prince Yox from Umbra Kingdom, though now it seemed he went by the name of Ashen Emperor. At the very start of the battle, he took Freya away after which he simply told other Demons to kill everyone. It was only through some luck and sacrifice of others that Aeala managed to bring Lucky away and hide inside the cave.
After finishing her story, Lucky remained silent, occasionally glancing at Lino who sat there motionless. She didn’t blame him; rather, she had no reason to. However much he irked her with his personality, she also respected him. Even if he had been there, he couldn’t have changed a thing. Much like Aeala, she was glad he wasn’t there.
As for her, she knew deep down that it was over. Rather, she was unwilling to continue; it was the second time in her life that she felt such pain inside her heart that no amount of medicine could cure. The barely flickering flame of life remained so only because she wanted to tell her story to Lino in hopes that he’d learn a lesson for the future and, perhaps, even act out some form of revenge for them, though she held little hope for that.
“... heh,” Lino suddenly chuckled bitterly. “Even when there’s a clear enemy... hearts of men are still corrupt.”
“... what will you do?” Lucky asked.
“Obliterate them.” Lino replied casually. Lucky shook; though she expected similar answer, the conviction by which he spoke made it seem as though he’d spring to his feet any moment now and go.
“Are you willing to give up already?”
“... already?” Lucky looked at him grimly, her expression cold.
“That’s right, already,” Lino said, looking back emotionless. “Do you think they saved you just so you could tell me what happened?”
“Whatever,” Lino sighed as he got up. “It’s your choice as to whether you want to live or die. However, before you make it, why not accompany me? Maybe... you’ll see the light of hope in the things I’m about to do.” Lucky’s heart skipped a beat as she looked up.
“What you’re about to do?”
“Hm,” Lino nodded, smiling faintly. “You guys were the only true family I’ve ever had in my life. And they took you away from me.” though there was a smile on his face, his voice was beyond frigid, as though coming from the depths of netherworld. “They think they can just walk away from it? No...” Lino turned toward the cave’s exit. “Humans... Demons... it doesn’t matter who. Come dawn, they will join Aeala, Fish, Kraval, Shaneine and Smite, to kiss their feet for all eternity.”