A FATE’S FOOL
Sea’s waves rolled underneath the clear, blue sky, endlessly in their own rhythm, indifferent to the world’s currents. Here and there a majestic-looking fish would leap out in a splash and glory before diving back down, waiting for the sea to calm yet again. Well above it, several thousand miles at that, a large object flew at great speeds, a dome-like barrier surrounding it, causing the hissing winds to slip over its smooth surface and ignore the insides of the barrier.
The object was reminiscent of a ship, decked with all the things you imagine one ship would have; a deck, masts, a hull, even a figurehead shaped into a fair-looking woman with her arms spread out wide open, her dress and hair bellowed backward as though by wind.
The ship was made out of light-colored wood with a singular cabin opening leading into its lower decks. Atop the utmost one, though, at the moment were four people who were sitting atop the quarterdeck, two of whom were engaged in a card game, with the other two sitting by side and observing.
The four were none other than Ella, Eggor, Annar and Scarlet. They had departed from the Western Continent nearly a month ago and had almost reached the Central Continent by now. Without the teleportation arrays, crossing the distance between the two continents may as well be a distant dreams -- but one of the Eggor’s own designs, the ship they were currently using to traverse the mass of water, enabled it.
Eggor’s ship crossed over four thousand miles in an hour, and due to the endless, intricate system of arrays, not only are those on it safe from the winds, but as the ship doesn’t shake at all are capable of doing anything and everything they would do on land.
“... I’m still bitter.” Scarlet suddenly mumbled into her jaw, but just loud enough for Ella to hear. The latter turned toward her and looked at her oddly, wondering whether there was something wrong with her head. “Don’t look at me like that!” Scarlet exclaimed defensively. “He was a perfect guy!”
“... ay. Sorry you lost that very important, life-defining opportunity.” Ella commented, thinking back to the day the four of them left and how unwilling Scarlet was because Lino suddenly vanished, a memory which prompted her to smile bitterly.
“Tsk, of course you wouldn’t understand,” Scarlet clicked her tongue. “You clearly have no taste in men.”
“Hey!!” both Ella and Eggor exclaimed at the same time, staring daggers at her.
“You weren’t actually being serious about that kid Scarlet, were you?” Annar questioned.
“Humph, of course I was. Didn’t you see him?”
“Ay, I did. Which is why I’m wondering whether I should ask Father Endor to exorcise those demons inside of you.” Annar commented, smiling wryly.
“Jealous bitch.” Scarlet said.
“Open-borders whore.” Annar didn’t hold back.
“What’s wrong with wanting to live a pleasurable life?”
“... not again.” Eggor and Ella sighed and mumbled as they tried to turn their conversation into white noise.
“Anyway,” Scarlet decided to preemptively end it and switched the subject. “Where are we going anyway?”
“We’re going to the Titan Empire,” Ella replied nonchalantly. “Your parents have already contacted me and gave me the permission to use you two as I see fit. So you better prepare to work.”
“Eh, don’t worry, she’s not as scary as stories make her out to be.” Eggor commented, seeing rather terrified expressions on Scarlet’s and Annar’s faces.
“She’s much more terrifying.”
“Ha ha, don’t worry about it,” Ella said. “It’s going to be just a tiny-tidy-bit-dangerous. Nothing you two can’t handle.”
“It’s not.” Eggor added from the sidelines but immediately shut up as he felt a pair of eyes burning through his skin.
Back on the Western Continent, within the confines of the Kvalend Tribe, Lino was currently sitting cross-legged and drinking from a gourd of mead as he observed a sparring session that was transpiring on a slightly elevated platform in a courtyard of his new home that was given to him by Valkyria.
Felix and Lucky were currently engaged in a battle, with the former having suppressed his cultivation to Lucky’s level. As Lino promised, he’d found Lucky a Cultivation Method -- or, rather, Valkyria had given him one, [Blades of the Thousand Illusions]. While by no means a super-rare one-of-a-kind sort of a method, it was still a pretty decent starting point, being Superior-grade Ethereal Cultivation Method, which were hard to come by even on the Central Continent.
One of the advantages humans had over other races exactly had to do with this; due to the natural structure of human bodies, they were able to cultivate different methods simultaneously. While there were some restrictions -- mainly having to do with the elements -- other races were confined exclusively within their own element.
For instance, Devils can never cultivate any other art but Devil Arts that are derived from the Devil Qi, just as the members of Angel Race can’t cultivate any art besides the arts derived from the Holy Qi. While there are some exceptions, it’s a standardized rule across the entire world.
In return for their ability to cultivate numerous methods, however, humans are innately the worst off of all races, and they require the longest while to actually utilize their strengths properly.
As this was Lucky’s second time cultivating, she’d already reached Level 40 within a single weak, standing strong as a Mid Core Realm cultivator. Despite that, she still had an upper hand in her scuffle against Felix. Lino figured it was only normal as she had far, far more combat experience than the latter which played the greatest role in determining the outcome should two people be roughly the same strength in terms of cultivation.
However, Lino spared only about a quarter of his mind to the sparring session, while he dedicated the rest to trying to figure out what to do next. He had planned on leaving the Western Continent after settling his accounts here, and moving to the Central Continent where he’d go and join the Great Descent.
His plans now, though, were scrambled; Valkyria had already offered to safeguard him here until he’d gotten strong enough to survive in the outside world. By staying here he would also be able to focus on the blacksmithing and fulfill his promise to Ava. Yet, deep inside his heart, Lino wanted to move on. To cross the vast ocean and experience a completely new world.
While he didn’t doubt that he’d be relatively safe if he stayed with the Kvalend Tribe, he knew that it was also a risk. Not only were there Althone and Evelyn who, while remaining indifferent for now, wouldn’t leave him alone. Worst case, they might even use their connections to summon someone far stronger from the Central Continent or even the Holy Continent.
No matter how much he thought about it, he was unable to make a decision -- at least not just yet. It wasn’t because he was indecisive per se, but more because he felt this decision alone would define his future at large. If he stayed, he could fulfill -- to some extent, at least -- his childish dreams of forming a family. He would have a permanent home surrounded with people who he cared for.
If he left, on the other hand, it would mean surrendering that dream, steeling his heart to forever chase ghosts that he may never end up catching. While he fervently defended that desire when he spoke to Valkyria, in truth, he’d long since buried it deep inside his heart, realizing it will probably never come true.
Still unable to decide, he did what he does best: drink and postpone it until time no longer allowed him to postpone it any further. It just so happened that at that exact moment Lucky and Felix’s spar came to an end, with the former blasting the latter off the stage, striking a triumphant pose shortly after. Grumbling, Felix got up and walked toward Lino slowly as he held onto his nose which was bleeding.
“Lost again?” Lino asked him, smiling faintly.
“Sigh... she’s way too ruthless, Master...” Felix complained.
“It’s just that you are too weak.” Lucky replied, smirking.
“You’re too weak!” Felix retorted. “You fight dirty! Where’s the honor in anything you do?”
“Humph, who cares about honor so long as I get to beat your ass?” Lucky said.
“Alright, enough.” Lino interrupted their little theatrical play that they got accustomed to performing over the past week. “Felix, go see Gran and have her patch you up. I swear, I think I owe that woman a Kingdom by now...”
“Shoo, shoo,” Lucky flapped at him as she sat down next to Lino. “Go get your milk and have a nice, dandy sleep.”
“You should probably leave insults to the Master.” Felix commented before leaving while Lucky remained seated, staring daggers at his back.
“You should give him a break,” Lino mumbled as Felix left. “He’s not used to your pace.”
“He better get used to it, quickly. Otherwise, he might die.” Lucky shrugged.
“Wow, you’re like a cruel mistress.” Lino commented. “Except without any good parts of it.”
“Heh, thanks for the compliment.” Lucky said, chuckling lightly. “By the way, when are we leaving?”
“... I don’t know.” Lino sighed, shaking his head.
“... don’t tell me you want to stay?” Lucky asked, arching her brows. “Wait, you didn’t fall in love with that gorgeous Matriarch, right? I mean, I can’t say I blame you, but... y’know, abandoning dreams for a woman--no, wait, that sounds exactly like something you’d do.”
“Hey! What kind of a man do you take me for?!”
“The kind that makes it his first priority to visit a local brothel whenever he enters a new City?”
“... that’s just a sound principle to follow.” Lino scoffed. “The quality of the City can easily be gleamed from the quality of the women in their brothels.”
“... did you seriously just say that?” Lucky rolled her eyes at him.
“Don’t believe me?” Lino smirked at her. “Try it once or twice, and you’ll be convinced. No pretty woman willing to sell herself will go into some backwater city full of ugly men.”
“... wait, that actually does make some sense.”
“Of course it does. It’s a tried and tested method of determining the true value of the City.”
“... you... you’re just sick... in so many ways...”
“Say what you will about it, but it works.”
“Yeah... whatever... oh, wow, you’re really good at smoothly manipulating the flow of the conversation! Damn, even now I get caught off-guard!”
“... no--no, I mean, yeah, I am. But this time it was you who did it.” Lino said.
“I don’t mind if we don’t leave,” Lucky said. “But... are you really satisfied with just staying here in comfort? That hardly sounds like Lino I know.”
“Oh? What’s the Lino you know like?” he asked, smiling lightly.
“Hmm... let’s see...” Lucky tapped her chin for a moment before continuing. “He’s dumb, rash, idiotic, self-centered, dumb, self-important, headstrong, dumb--”
“Hey, hey, hey!! Isn’t once enough?!” Lino grumbled.
“... you’re like a storm,” Lucky said, glancing at him. “You go where you want, and there’s nobody that can stop you.”
“... hmm, I like that.” he nodded. “Henceforth, call me Thundercaller the Great!”
“... and you’re obviously very, very, very dumb.”
“I assent to that.”
“Anyway,” Lucky slowly got up and stretched as she turned to leave. “I’ll follow whatever you choose to do either way. But... I know you’re not the sort that dilly-dallies over dumb things like that. You just follow your gut and heart and let them lead you. Which is what makes you dumb... but also interesting and inspiring.”
Lucky strolled out immediately after, leaving Lino alone in silence of contemplation and drinking. He smirked widely as he thought back to Lucky’s assessment of him, wondering just how many people he’d fooled so far in his life. In the end, however, she did get one thing right; he wasn’t the sort to sit around and wait for things to happen that would allow him to just follow the flow. Ever since he knew of himself, he was the kind that created that flow. I suppose... it’s time to say goodbye, huh?