SEA OF SAND
There was a certain elegance to the day; what with the perfect, blue sky blending over into meekly misty horizon sheltered in white, and warm, southern wind working in concert with the nature to create an idyllic scenery spanning lands and mountains. Then there were animals, of all sort and make, both winged and otherwise, enjoying the bliss of the day and amplifying it with their own majesty. There were also rivers and lakes with waters so glistening it would seem they were made of diamonds and pearls, translucent till rocked bottom, with fish of all sort and kind swimming about freely.
It was truly a day one would describe as perfect, yet, along a road through wooded marshlands, the atmosphere broke away from the peaceful one world was celebrating and into an awkward, even tense, one. Two men walked upfront, well over fifteen meters ahead of four women. One of the men was constantly glancing back and forth between the other man and four women, clearly nervous.
“Master... are you really not going to talk with them?!” Felix exclaimed lowly at Lino who had a rather dubious expression on his face.
“Hm? Why? Look at them. They’re like scared, little rabbits. It’s beyond adorable.” Lino replied, flashing a playful smile.
“Master!! Please... please take this seriously!” Felix exclaimed once again, on the verge of tears. It’s been two days since the battle and ever since the girls didn’t speak a single word to them; rather, they kept such large distance even Felix couldn’t handle it any longer. “They’re afraid of you!”
“... why do you care?” Lino glanced at him with curiosity. “Oh... wait. Could it be? Do you like one of them?”
“Which one? Tell your Master which one!” Lino said, stringing his arm around Felix’s shoulder. “Among many things that I’m a Master of, being a wingman certainly sits at the top of that list. I can have you guys married in a week!”
“I don’t want to get married in a week!!”
“Alright, fine, be one of those who takes their time then.”
“I don’t want to get married at all!!”
“Eh? Why? Do you hate marriage? Did you get your heart broken when you were younger and now you can’t even imagine the concept of someone loving you so you repeatedly doubt whenever girls want to hold your hand because you think they just want to use you and then discard you later like a piece of shit?”
“... I know you’re doing this on purpose,” Felix said, sighing faintly; he very much ignored his Master’s one-breath-speech. “For what reason? I can’t say. It’s... it’s not right, though. They could be thinking you’ll kill them!”
“... haii, come on dude, you’ve been under me for months now. Did you really not pick up anything?” Lino sighed, too, but more so in disappointment and bitterness.
“Eh? What-what does the Master mean?” Felix asked.
“They’re not keeping their distance because they’re terrified of me,” Lino said. “But because of the fact that I ignored former Emperor’s suggestion - which, y’know, was pretty much an order. So, they still want my help, but they also don’t want to get entangled in my mess.”
“I know you like flowers man,” Lino said, smiling faintly. “But you ought to spend more time understanding and knowing people instead. They’re the ones with a sword.”
Lino remained unbothered about the whole ordeal; whether the girls helped him or not didn’t really matter. Everyone has their own best interests in mind before anything else, and that’s the language Lino can understand very well. He considered it quite cute, actually, with how open they were about it; it showed how little experience they truly had with the world.
He didn’t turn entirely bitter and cynical of the world and people, but it was a seductive call. In his heart, though, he couldn’t cross that last bridge. Somehow, he still believed in goodness of heart, a constant ilk binding everyone. After all, for however much of human’s cruelty he’d seen, he’d also seen plenty kindness; for every rotten heart he’d noticed crying, he’d also noticed decency in many others.
No one’s inherently good or bad - tender or rotten. It’s just that the depressing tragedy of the heart is that it’s far easier to hate others than it is to love them. Among numerous flaws, Lino realized, that one perhaps scars the most. Months... if not years of developing love for someone can be vandalized entirely in night’s cry.
“... I really am naive, aren’t I?” Felix mumbled, sighing.
“... yeah, of course you are.” Lino said. “I would have been more worried if you weren’t. Don’t feel down about it, though. Your Empress is also quite naive. As am I. As are a whole lot of us who want to believe in others.”
“I... I just fail to understand,” Felix lamented. “You offered your help without asking for anything in return, to a swath of complete strangers no less. Yet, they behave like this because of something like that?”
“... you have a rather convenient misunderstanding about me, Felix,” Lino said, smiling. “I’ve not offered my help freely. Actually, you could say that I’m pretty much exploiting their unfortunate circumstances.”
“Eh?” Felix quickly glanced up, somewhat surprised.
“They pretty much offered me an open invitation to their Ancestral Grounds,” Lino said, his smile widening. “Which you can only gain access to in the first place if you have appropriate bloodline.”
“... oh! So... it was one of those unspoken understandings?” Felix asked.
“... yeah, well, it’s certainly unspoken.” Lino replied somewhat awkwardly.
“... oh. They’re not aware of it...” Felix added, frowning slightly.
“Wow, you’re a quick study!”
“Sometimes you really do confuse me, Master.” Felix sighed.
“Hey, nothing wrong with using people once in a while,” Lino said. “Just, you know, don’t be a dick about it.”
“Aren’t you being a dick just by using them, though?” it wasn’t the first time Felix felt like arguing with his Master over something, but it was the first time he gathered enough courage to do it.
“Heh, little Felix saying dick so openly,” Lino suddenly smiled cheekily as he patted Felix’s head. “To think I’d live to see a day.”
“Oh, you’re starting to decipher my tactic, aren’t you?”
“... Master, please be serious!! Just once!”
“... you want me to be serious?”
“Alright,” Lino said, nodding lightly. “I’m not a good man, Felix. You’ve lifted me up to a pedestal because I played a tune to the dream you never knew you had,” Lino said, looking deeply into Felix’s eyes for a moment. “You see me as someone who’d shown you the world, but... that’s not who I am. I’m... many things. A thief, a murderer, a liar, an asshole... I’ve been played by people and I’ve played people, I’ve been betrayed as I’ve betrayed, I got left behind as I left others behind. Just as some people have given up on me, I’ve also given up on some as well. I’ve become a reason why a normal, cheerful young girl has turned into a cold-blooded, torturous maniac. I’ve never been a good man, Felix. And I’ve never had qualms about using other people to achieve my goals. I know you want me to be someone, something more than life,” Lino smiled faintly, ruffling Felix’s hair. “But, I’m not. Just like everyone else, I’m... just another guy. At the very least, though, you’ve grasped my first lesson at last.”
“... first lesson?” Felix asked numbly, still processing words Lino just spoke.
“Never trust blindly in anyone, Felix. Forge yourself out among the muddied waters of those who would wish to save you and help you. Don’t make yourself a voice in the masses,” Lino added with slight bitterness. “Make yourself a person you would love to be friends with. Echoing what others tell you is a disservice... greatest disservice you can ever do to yourself. Remember... there are no gods among men, as there are no wise among the fools. We’re all just trying to make it, the best way we can.”
The walk continued in confounded silence. Felix stared at the dirt road beneath him, his feet kicking up dust back in strange rhythm. Lino’s words resounded profoundly inside his mind; perhaps, for the first time since he’d met this strange beggar, Felix understood what it meant to have a Master - rather, a Master who truly wishes you well. He didn’t lose respect for the man walking briskly next to him; rather, it was quite the opposite. But, he’d also realized he didn’t have to adhere to everything Lino ever said. They were two different people, and their beliefs were never meant to be the same.
It was only then that he’d realized it was much brighter around than it was a few moments ago. He raised his head slowly and gazed forward, his eyes widening in surprise a moment later; rather than greened trees rising like obstacles all around, it was a hilly horizon, reminiscent of the wavy sea, with the exception of being golden in hue. It stretched endlessly across, Felix realized, this great divide between the two worlds, this sea of sand.