“No way? Really? You never had a boyfriend?” Lino asked walking at a brisk pace, a faint smile hanging on his face, his eyes glistening. “That’s impossible! You’re way too cute!”
“It is forbidden.” Freya replied somewhat shyly, trying to avoid his gaze.
“Haii, how loathsome one is to forbid love?” Lino lamented flamboyantly, stringing his arm around Freya’s shoulder. “Can you imagine it? The world... the entire world forbidden to love. Children mourn on streets for their papas and mamas dumped them like garbage they are... beautiful, work-maidens ravaged in poverty... a hopeful, young man with blazing heart, unable to express it to his love... and his love, of equal disposition, forever wreathing in loneliness and silence of her small room. Aii, how lonely... how damned does the world sound, no?”
“... you seem rather passionate about love, Mr. Lino.” Freya mumbled meekly as she fought off Lino’s arm around her shoulder.
“’course I am!” Lino exclaimed, seemingly unaffected by Freya’s feeble attempts to free herself. “It is through loving one another that we also understand each other, don’t you agree?”
“Of course you do! After all, I can hear your heart bleeding in desire to know more about me!”
“... that is because you are... rather odd.”
“Odd? Is love odd?”
“Then I am odd,” Lino said. “Odd like a duck in chicken hen!”
Meanwhile, a few paces behind the two was another group of four with poor Felix currently being besieged by startlingly hostile gazes of three women. He could almost feel his skin being peeled off by those eyes, his entire soul being exposed and bared open for all to see. He hadn’t felt so uncomfortable since that day his young sister caught him naked in a bath.
“... uh... he... my Master means well... I promise...” he said meekly, hardly believing it himself; for the past four hours that they’ve been traveling with the ladies, Lino’s done nothing but talk about love and some other odd stuff.
“Our Lady is innocent in these matters,” one of the women said. “Should anything happen to her, both you and him will be boiled alive.”
“I’ll go check on her.” another woman said, pulling away from the group and quickly reaching Lino and Freya, immediately piercing herself in-between the two, breaking away Lino’s lock on Freya’s shoulder in the process.
“Ah, Jane, why have you come here?” Freya asked, her cheeks flushing red.
“Is everything alright, my Lady?” Jane was a rather young woman, perhaps not even twenty just yet, with long, red hair and red eyes and as much beauty as any of her sisters behind her.
“Y-yes... yes... everything is just fine.” Freya said, quickly hiding her expression.
“You...” Jane frowned, looking at Lino with fierceness of a lioness protecting her cub from a predator.
“Me... what?” Lino asked, smiling still.
“Stop feeding our Lady profanities.”
“Are you calling love profane?”
“We all know of what love you speak!”
“... oh? We do? Can you enlighten me, then?” Lino teased.
“... you would have a lady utter such perverse words? You, indeed, are corrupt!” Jane exclaimed, not backing down.
“Perverse words? What perverse words?” Lino asked, seeming confused. “Love of heart is the purest word of all, bearing no perverse tone or line.”
“How long will you keep up your sham?!” Jane exclaimed somewhat loudly, seemingly losing her patience.
“... don’t worry ‘bout your lady,” Lino gave in and smiled widely. “I’ve no intention of sullying her, if that’s your worry.”
“I’m just trying to have fun.” he said. “If you knew my story, you’d understand. Trust me.” he added, flashing a rather bitter smile.
“What? You think your tragic days excuse your actions in present?” Jane asked, looking at Lino with trace of disgust. “What a weak man you are.”
“... you’re right,” Lino nodded faintly as he looked up. “I really am weak...”
Lino, however, didn’t reply; rather, he had no time to reply as before them a gate in space opened, black as night, through which two figures appeared. Both donned shimmering, silver-plated armor stacked with layers of grandeur, lined with golden patterns and shimmering crystals embedded across their greaves, chests and shoulder pads.
Both wore helmets cleaved above eyes under sharp angles, with spiked protrusions extending up like erect swords. Intimidating was the meekest word one could use to describe them, and that was without taking into account a pair of gigantic war axes hanging off their backs whose blades reached the size of four heads of grown adults in diameter. Felix wanted to jump forward immediately, but felt pressure descend against him - the sort he only felt when facing the Elder generations of his family.
The girls were no better, including Freya. All five were forced on their knees, shaking in silence of words, yet brittle of crackling jaw and creaking bones. Only Lino remained standing still and upright, his head faintly leaned up toward the men standing some ten meters above and fifteen meters ahead of him.
“... his Imperial Majesty has not expected your arrival for another few months.” one of the men broke the silence, ignoring everyone else except Lino.
“I’d concluded my business in the Capital, so I figured I’d get a head-start over there.” Lino said, smiling lightly.
“It is not safe. His Majesty asks if you could return and wait for a while; He shall summon you when things calm down.” the man said.
“... hey,” Lino waved his hand gently, causing heavy air hanging over Freya’s head to disappear as though it was never there. She looked up with shocked and fearful expression, breathing heavily. “Sorry for that. Do you have an extra spear?”
“Spear, a weapon, a stick with a pointy tip, whatever. Do you have it?”
“Can you lend it to me?”
“S-sure...” Freya raised her weak arm meekly and held it flat while taking out a spear she came across randomly at the Demonic Battlefield from her spatial ring. It was a relatively lengthy spear with a single tip made of solid steel. It didn’t seem all that special, but as a blacksmith, Lino immediately realized it was quite good. He grabbed it out of Freya’s hand and swung it around a few times, causing his blood to boil.
“Why are you arming yourself, Mr. Lyonel?” the man asked while both of them drew out their axes.
“’Cause I don’t like being told what I can’t, can, should or shouldn’t do,” Lino said. “So I’m arming myself in case you decided to chop my head off when I tell you I’m going there and there’s quite literally nothing you can do to stop me.” he finished with a wide smile.
“... must we do this?”
“No, of course not!” Lino said playfully. “Just go back and tell him you couldn’t find me. That ought to do it, no?”
“... we shan’t kill you.”
“Oh, how comforting.”
Two men descended from the sky in a quick burst, causing a shockwave to erupt behind them, one which quickly leveled trees to trunks and flatland. It took less than a flash of time before two men were right in front of Lino; neither Freya nor Felix were able to capture the speed with their eyes.
Two great axes paired in perfect rhythm, striking at Lino from two sides in full force of two mountains. Glancing casually left and right, Lino smiled widely before lifting up the spear in his hand and slicing in an upward, angled arc. It was a slice far quicker than the axes’ strikes, far quicker than what two men, let alone Freya or Felix, could comprehend. Time seemed to have frozen for but a blink of an eye before an eruption of energy bounced two men backwards like cannonballs, sending them spiraling through the air in blazing arrays of light. Tsunami of invisible strength pressed forward from Lino’s spear, catapulting large swath of earth before his feet forward, uprooting it and flinging it like rocks across what used to be a path through the forest.
As the dust slowly settled, a few meters in front of Lino appeared completely decimated; there was a massive pit, seemingly dug out in flat perfection, bereft entirely of life. Lino swung the spear casually a few more times before handing it over to Freya who took it purely due to instinct, as she was still trying to understand what just happened - she, though, was hardly the exception.
“... he doesn’t want me there, eh?” Lino mumbled, briefly allowing a cunning smile to surface on his face. “Looks like they’ve almost opened up the ruins. Ah... my cheeky king. If you’d only just let me be... I would have never known.” Lino turned to Freya who was still on her knees, looking at him with a mix of respect, awe, dread, terror and a trace of curiosity in her eyes. “Looks like we’ll have to take a detour. Do you mind?”
“...” Freya said nothing, merely shaking her head.
“Hah, good!” Lino exclaimed, stretching his arms out as he took a deep breath. “Damn, this ought to be fun.”