THE ENDS AND THE BEGINNINGS
A torrential rain fell so freely it showed no signs of stopping, even after pouring for nearly a week straight. The streets of the city appeared barren of life, sucked into an entirely different reality than what they were used to. While everyone else wondered why it was raining in desert, Lino figured it had to do something with the ruins -- as they’ve most-likely collapsed entirely by now.
He currently stood atop a tall platform inside one of the towers within the city, overlooking not only the city itself but also the desert. His gaze veered onward toward the horizon, the latter blanketed by gray and black clouds and endless thunder and lightning.
Hearing the footsteps behind him he turned, his eyes glistening strangely. Valkyria stopped a few meters away from him and bowed lightly, causing him to sigh.
“I’ve decided to leave.” Lino said as he shifted his gaze off of her onto the sprawling, now wet, desert.
“... I see.” Valkyria said, trying to control her voice. “Is there nothing I can do to change Your mind?”
“You could become my wife.” Lino chuckled.
“... it was a joke.”
“There’s no need for you to become a part of my world,” Lino glanced at her yet again and smiled freely. “And even less of a one to drag your entire tribe into a conflict well beyond you.”
“It is the reason we exist in--”
“It’s not,” Lino interrupted. “Just like anyone and anything else, you’ve no reason for existing. You make one.”
“... it was made so.” Valkyria persisted.
“Perhaps... a long time ago,” Lino said. “Not anymore. You have a new reason Val. One far more honorable than indulging my whims.”
“You’ve an entire Tribe to look after,” he added as he took a gulp of a rather sweet wine, a local product. “You shouldn’t betray their hopes of surviving and prospering in this world.”
“... why are you projecting?” Valkyria asked directly with a somewhat harsher voice.
“... because saying I don’t want you to serve me sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it?” Lino chuckled oddly for a moment. “Anyway, this isn’t a place for me. It’s time to let the old legend go, Val.”
“... your battles and wars will be endless.” she mumbled. “They may cost you far more than what you’re losing here.”
“... perhaps.” Lino said.
“No matter what you say, Lino, I haven’t chosen to kneel before you because of my Ancestors.” Valkyria said. “I’ve done it of my own heart and mind. It’s painful... your rejection of both.”
“What would you have me do, then?”
“You made a correct choice,” Valkyria continued. “To leave. Your growth would be stunned here. However, you told me you don’t want to be another Empyrean, no?”
“...” Lino merely nodded.
“Then answer me this... when did the Empyrean come the closest to achieving their dreams?”
“When they had someone behind their back,” Valkyria said. “And that’s what I’ll give you. Don’t fight the world alone, Lino. It’s a hopeless battle.”
“... here.” Lino flickered his sleeve and sent a couple of talismans flying in her direction. “One’s to contact me, the other is to locate me. If you truly made this decision of your own mind... I’ll be expecting you.”
“Good luck on your journey.”
“... I’ll visit.”
Lucky and Felix were currently sitting on a porch, the latter indulged in reading an old-looking book while the former drank, seemingly bored with staring into the horizon. She glanced in short bursts at the tower rising above all others at the center of the city, sighing from time to time.
“What’s the matter?” Felix asked.
“Nothing.” Lucky replied.
“... I’ve realized you’re a lot like the Master.” Felix commented, grinning. “Maybe that’s why you seem to hate him so much?”
“... I hate him because he never makes the right choice,” Lucky said. “Before I had the chance to do so.”
“... are you in love with him?” Felix questioned, looking at her oddly.
“...” Lucky glanced at him and suddenly laughed, startling him for a moment. “What makes you think that?”
“I don’t know. Just a guess.”
“... no. Not anymore at least.” she said.
“Anymore? You were?” Felix asked, seeming stunned.
“Hm,” Lucky nodded. “It was while we were still young,” she continued. “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say I was in love with him. It was more of a case of the angry infatuation blinding one’s judgment.”
“... I can sort of understand it.” Felix smiled. “He can be... quite infuriating. When did you stop?”
“... when I saw his heart die.” Lucky replied. “And realized I’d never be loved back.”
“...” Felix suddenly bit his lower lip as his eyes veered downwards. “I... I’m sorry...”
“Eh, don’t worry about it,” Lucky said. “We were young and all. Those flames rarely ever survive. What about you hotshot? Any lucky lady waiting for you in the City of Sun?”
“Ha ha... no, no such thing. Well, I imagine my parents had already arranged someone and are simply waiting to inform me of it.”
“Eh, whoever she is, here’s to her.” Lucky raised her gourd but, realizing Felix wasn’t drinking, shot him a murderous gaze before emptying the contents of hers.
“Will... will you follow him?” Felix asked.
“Yeah.” Lucky replied without hesitation. “What? You’ve made a decision as well?”
“... heh, it was never really even a dubious question. I’ve always known I’d go where he went.”
“Sounds like you’re the one who’s in love with him.”
“Call it what you will... but he showed me an entirely new world, and I feel like following him will lead me to more experiences like those, rather than just staying cooped up in a safety of a random corner of the old one.”
“Hey, wanna come back to my room?” Lucky asked suddenly, shooting Felix a strange gaze.
“Hm? Why?” Felix looked at her innocently. “Do you need help with something.”
“Oh, yeah. Something like that.”
“Huh. Alright, sure.”
Lino suddenly came to a halt as he glanced inconspicuously and dubiously at his temporary residence. Shaking his head and smiling wryly, he turned left and headed toward the city’s exit, walking casually while ignoring the blasting rain. Here and there he spotted lights flickering within the homes, their noises drowned out in the rain.
Lost in thoughts, he ventured through the calm, empty streets of the city without truly paying attention to anything. It was only when he reached the end that he came to an abrupt halt, his eyes widening in surprise and shock. Just outside the city walls stood a figure clad in black, doused in rain from top to bottom.
She appeared even more majestic and daunting within the darkness of the raining night, with her black hair falling freely down her shoulders, her eyes almost like shining stars. They quickly spotted him and locked their gaze onto his, not letting go. After a brief shock, however, Lino came to and slowly walked over before stopping in front of her.
“... hi.” he said, smiling lightly. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“I didn’t think I’d come here.” Evelyn said.
“Why have you come here?” he asked.
“I needed to see you.”
“I’m not too sure.”
“Well, I’d invite you over to my house,” Lino said. “But it’s currently occupied by two rather... engaged individuals.”
“... let’s take a walk, then?” Evelyn proposed as he turned around, extending her arm. Lino sighed briefly and locked his with hers, following in her footsteps as they descended down the hill into the wet desert.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Swarmed. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a month.” she replied.
“It is. But it’s worth it.”
“I imagine.” Lino said. “How’s Al’?”
“Probably not too thrilled that you still call him Al’.”
“Ha ha... yeah. I guess I lost that privilege.”
“... he’s locked himself up,” Evelyn said somewhat somberly. “Refusing to leave, cultivating every day all day long. Can you imagine why?”
“I think I can.” Lino said.
“... does he stand a chance?”
“... no.” Lino replied.
“Hah...” Evelyn sighed, shaking her head. “I told him so. But... well, he was never the one to pay much heed to the advice of others.”
“Let him indulge,” Lino said. “Anger is oft’ the greatest fuel of man’s heart.”
“It seems more to me as though you’ve ruined him.” she commented.
“... heh. If he were that weak... he would have never reached the heights he had.” Lino said, glancing at her from the corner of his eye. “You... on the other hand...”
“What about me?”
“You don’t seem to be handling it all that well.”
“What? Can’t a girl try and avenge her Grandfather when so close to his murderer?” she said, smiling widely.
“... I suppose there’s nothing wrong with trying. But... can’t you see it’s impossible for you?” Lino said, smiling back. He’d long since felt Evelyn trying to infest his body with her Qi, though all her attempts were at best just futile. She didn’t even manage to break through his skin.
“You’re still far stronger than our estimates... just who the hell are you?”
“I’m just a lonely beggar taking a midnight stroll with a beautiful Empress, hoping she would stop trying to kill him.”
“I’m flattered you think so highly of me.” Evelyn commented, retracting her Qi. “What do you plan to do now?”
“I’m leaving,” Lino said. “So I guess your timing was impeccable.”
“What about Felix?”
“He seems to rather enjoy following me.” Lino said. “Don’t worry though. I’ll return him in one piece once he grows tired of it.”
“... I’ll never forgive you for what you’ve done.” Evelyn suddenly said as she stopped walking, loosening her arm from Lino’s. “And... if I ever do get strong enough to kill you, I promise you I will.”
“I know.” Lino said, smiling.
“So don’t go dying before that.” Evelyn said, her eyes fluttering underneath the wet hair covering them.
“... that’s one promise I can’t make, though.” Lino chuckled. “But, I’ll do my best. It’s been a pleasure meeting you and getting to know you Evelyn. You’re a fascinating woman. As I’ve made a promise to your Grandfather,” Lino fetched out another talisman from the void world and handed it over. “You can have this.”
“Should there ever come a storm you can’t withstand,” Lino explained. “Give it a flicker.”
“... how comforting. Indeed, you’re the most not-beggar beggar that I’ve met in my life,” Evelyn said, smiling faintly. “Good luck, Lyonel.”
Lino watched as she stormed like a black bolt, streaking through the sky with a thunderous roar matching those of the distant clouds. He stood in the same spot, his hands in his pockets, rain freely falling over him. He remained staring and standing for a while, seemingly carving out a spot in his memory for this very moment. He only left when the sun finally showed its brief flutters from behind the clouds, leaving behind only a faint chuckle and a set of footprints in the sand which lasted but an hour, soon buried as all others ‘neath the streaking wind.