AN ENDLESS ODYSSEY
Lino stood frozen in place, gobsmacked into silence, confusion and outright madness. He certainly expected many things to happen and he’d planned for all of them, yet not even once did he imagine Valkyria would suddenly kneel in front of him and call him ‘Your Majesty’. He was many things, Lino admitted, but King was not one of them -- of that he was certain.
“Good god I need a drink...” he mumbled after almost five minutes of tepid silence, taking out an entire gourd of mead before blowing through it in a single breath. As it wasn’t enough, he took yet another one out and began drinking it without any reservation. “Get up!! What the hell are you doing?!” he exclaimed when he realized she was still kneeling.
“Thank You, Your Majesty.” Valkyria spoke out humbly, keeping her head low, as she got up.
“Alright, you need to end this majesty crap.” Lino spoke sternly. “And the hell are you staring at floor for? Is it more interesting than me?”
“I-- I can’t.” she said softly.
“... I... order you?” Lino gave it a shot.
“...” Valkyria slowly raised her head and looked him into the eyes for a brief moment before averting her gaze sideways.
“Well, this certainly isn’t how I imagined the end of this story...” Lino mumbled with a sigh as he continued drinking before fishing out yet another gourd. A sweet taste of mead had already soured his throat yet he couldn’t care less at the moment. “Let’s go back. You can check the Artifact later.”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“If you call me that one more time I’ll rip your heart out.”
“... a-alright.” Valkyria said meekly, flicking her fingers twice before opening up yet another vortex through which the two of them walked. They found themselves back in the Valkyria’s room whereupon Lino immediately sat on a chair afraid he just might faint.
“Speak.” Lino said.
“... about what?” Valkyria asked, still standing in front of him, seemingly afraid to move an inch.
“... I think I’ve finally figured out why all those Kings go mad,” Lino commented. “They get so pissed off their minds literally stop functioning and they decide to just kill everyone.”
“Your---uh, I mean, Lino?”
“Just sit down and explain.”
“Oh. Alright.” Valkyria nodded and sat opposite of him. “Forgive me... I’m having a hard time controlling my emotions at the moment.”
“...” Lino refused to make a comment and merely continued to listen.
“As I’ve said previously, I’m a descendant of the Main Lineage of the Antoan Oreb, or rather Maria Oreb, the woman depicted in that portrait.” she pointed at the picture hanging on the other end of the wall. “To be more specific, the entire Tribe is a branch family of the original founders of the Oreb Kingdom.” she took a deep breath before continuing.
“The original tale of her ‘making a deal with the devil’ to avenge her husband is based on the actual story,” she explained. “At the time, Maria and Antoan were merely just a part of one of the many Chiefdoms that dominated the Demonic Battlefield. During one of the battles, her husband was killed which is when she accidentally ran into a young man and asked him to avenge her husband. That young man was -- as you’ve most-likely guessed -- an Empyrean, Ion Kwall. Rather than just avenging, he helped Maria’s Tribe unify over thirty nearby Chiefdoms into a Kingdom whose first Queen became Maria herself, hence naming the Kingdom as she did -- Oreb Kingdom.”
“...” You still hid so much from me... huh... Lino almost wanted to curse out at the Writ but chose to still remain silent and listen while drinking.
“She also appointed Ion as the Guardian of the Kingdom and gave the Empyreans their future home.” Valkyria explained. “After her death, her descendants reclined into the shadows and remained relatively quiet for the remainder of the Kingdom’s days, mainly focusing on searching for the future Empyreans and helping them reach the Oreb Kingdom. They also fanned the flames of awe and respect the citizens felt toward the Empyreans, which they themselves had long since adapted. Since then they hadn’t served the numerous Kings of the Kingdom, but the concurrent Empyrean until the Kingdom fell and my Ancestors fled. We resettled this part much later in hopes of eventually finding another Empyrean and returning to our Origin.”
“...” Lino stared at Valkyria’s shining eyes which stared right back at him with reverence he recognized; he’d seen it in those statues... in those murals... in those sculptures and carvings... it made his soul and heart stir with uncomfortable guilt, with desire to flee and run and hide. “’s that so?” he mumbled faintly as he looked away, unable to hold her gaze, drinking. “History really is an endless odyssey of twists and turns, huh?”
“It really is,” Valkyria said, smiling widely. “To think I of all my Ancestors would be graced with Your presence.”
“... why do you seem so genuinely fanatic about me?” Lino asked abruptly.
“I’m not your majesty Valkyria, and neither I am your savior. I didn’t help you with anything beyond just simple removal of the Dimensional Pocket. While I would understand your gratitude, I have a feeling your idea of me goes well beyond that.”
“... you are the reason I am here, Your Majesty,” Valkyria spoke humbly. “Without you, the Oreb Kingdom wouldn’t have existed.”
“... I’m not the Empyrean Writ, Valkyria,” Lino retorted. “I’m just... me. Just a beggar-looking idiot who occasionally makes perverted jokes.”
“... You are still denying it?” Valkyria asked.
“What’s wrong with that?” Lino asked, smiling lightly. “I don’t want to exclusively be remembered as just another Empyrean in an eternal cycle of ‘em. What’s wrong with wanting to be remembered and known as Lyonel Qa’yi rather than just another Empyrean?”
“You misunderstand,” Valkyria chuckled faintly. “I don’t respect you because of something as vague as the Writ and your connection to the past Empyreans. I respect you because of what that title says of your character. Far and wide, however different they were, Empyreans always shared the same, core values Lyonel. And I can already tell you’re hardly different. To stand lonesome against the world... and bear your heart out to them... who else can do that?”
“Hah, you’re the same too,” Lino chuckled faintly, taking a sip of now bitter mead. “You’ve romanticized the idea of an Empyrean far too much, Valkyria. We are not lonesome, brooding heroes standing tall in the midst of the destructive waves of the world. We aren’t the saviors upholding the heavens nor are we the titans shouldering the burden of salvation. Well, at the very least I’m not like that. Do you know I planned on killing you should you have had any intention of outing me?”
“You had every right to.” Valkyria said.
“... no, I really didn’t. I killed Gustav for that reason, and I settled my heart with the same excuse,” Lino said. “But... what’s it matter in the end? I can make up stories in my mind that excuse all my shortcomings, but it’s irrelevant. And, truth be told, I don’t want to be the lonesome symbol,” he added smiling meekly. “Loneliness is cold, Valkyria. It’s emotionless, frigid, daunting, worthless... empty. I can’t say with certainty what it is exactly you believe me to be, but I can say with certainty I’m wholly undeserving of your reverence.”
“... forgive me. I haven’t realized Your chest felt so heavy.” Valkyria said as she lowered her head yet again.
“... whenever I visit a big town or a city,” Lino spoke out after short silence. “My favorite thing to do is to just... walk around. Look. Observe. And I always end up feeling the same envy, the same jealously, the same resentment toward the people living there. For all my strength and knowledge, I envy their weakness and ignorance. I wish I could be like them. Live a few somewhat peaceful decades of life and drift away into the annals of history to forever be forgotten. I, too, want to have family... to have friends... to have people who would come to my funeral and perhaps sing a song or two in my name. Yet, chances are the world will have forgotten me all the same as it forgets an ordinary farmer, despite all my struggles, battles and ‘heroic’ dreams. It’s gravely unfair.”
“... it is,” Valkyria assented. “But, you still continue your journey. If you hate it that much... why?”
“... why?” Lino glanced at her and smiled faintly. “I’m thirsty.”
“Thirsty?” Valkyria asked, confused.
“Thirsty for knowledge,” Lino elaborated. “I want to know every why and where and how and who that led to me becoming who I am. I’m thirsty for seeing the world... for meeting all sorts of weird and wacky people on my journey. I’m curious to see whether meeting them, befriending them and getting to know them will inspire that same flame that other Empyreans felt in their lifetimes. I’m curious to see just how far I’ll come before faltering. And, perhaps, to change the world... at least a little bit. For better or worse to carve my name out amidst the masses. Heh, you never expected your oh-so-revered symbol to be anything like me, have you?”
“... You are more than I could have ever asked for, “Valkyria answered, smiling as she reached out and grabbed his hand gently, clasping it. “And I can’t imagine how hard it is to cleave out Your own path in the midst of this madness... but, I know You can do it. While I can’t speak for everyone and especially so about everyone, I can speak for myself; You are more than just a symbol, Lino. Every Empyrean was. Ion was steadfast, honorable, just, fierce yet calm. Eyna was a loud, brave general, incredibly motivated, terribly tempered. Tyvel was a withdrawn, solitary, cold and distanced mastermind who played the world like a flute for thousands of years. Swor was a beyond just man who spent more time hunting criminals throughout the Kingdom than he spent fighting for his Title. Fardel was a man who reveled in and enjoyed murder, and he traveled there where he could smell blood. Syvelea was like the clouds; either they merely pass by without doing anything or they drown the world in rain and thunder.”
“All of them were different, and all fought for different reasons and in different ways. They weren’t just symbols of something greater than them; they were people who channeled that symbol in various different ways, while still fighting for the same thing. And just like them, you are the same Lino. You are brave, steadfast, self-aware, funny, charming leader who makes it easy for others to trust you and follow you. Not because you promise them a safe world, but because for them you shine brighter than the sun.”
“... damn, your hand is really soft.” Lino exclaimed suddenly.
“...” Valkyria couldn’t help but roll her eyes at him and groan, quickly realizing what she’d done and apologizing. “Ah-! I’m-I’m sorry!”
“Ha ha ha...” Lino burst out into a short fit of laughter as he continued drinking. “So... I’m charming, huh? I wonder if we could---oh, god, no. Go away!!” he suddenly clasped his head and shoved it into his bosom as strange images began moving in his mind. “No!! N-nooo, stop, stop jumping and mounting and slapping your tongue like that!! Arrgh!!”
“Y-your Majesty?!! What’s wrong?!! Is it a Soul Attack?!!” In a sense it is... the Writ thought as it observed a rather peculiar meeting that he hadn’t anticipated.