CROSSING THE WEDGE
Lino enjoyed a rather peaceful, yet somewhat awkward, atmosphere as he sat atop the back of his own hippogryph as they cruised through the tall skies above the clouds. The wind ruffled his hair and the strange feeling of it hitting his shaven face lent value to the thought it wasn’t his own. He groomed himself, at last, in preparation for the journey, changing himself so much that nobody was able to actually recognize him.
He both took pride and felt hurt over the fact, but hardly let it hinder his plans. He took Lucky and Felix, said farewells to Chwek, Sena, Valkyria and a few ladies of the night he’d met there before finding a somewhat secluded, hilly area in the desert and taking out his new pet. Suffice to say both Felix and Lucky were rather adamant in refusing to ride the beast, though Lino convinced them eventually. Mostly through force.
Though the awkward atmosphere behind him in-between the two somewhat ruined his rather elevated mood, he didn’t pay them much heed, mostly occasionally glancing backwards to see the shifts in their expressions. Lucky’s reminded him of someone eternally on the verge of bursting out into laughter, while Felix’s was hidden beneath the layers of redness Lino hadn’t seen ever before.
“First time, huh?” Lino spoke out, interrupting the silence. Surprisingly enough, the hippogryph herself - he checked - had the ability to fence off the area on its back, shielding the riders from the harsh winds.
“Eh?” Felix exclaimed, jolted out of his thoughts while Lucky stiffened her laughter.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lino waved it off. “We’re adults here. Well, you became one just recently but, hey, it counts. Right?!” he flashed him a grin.
“M-master... please...” Felix mumbled meekly as he glanced at Lucky before quickly looking away.
“Ha ha ha,” Lino laughed freely unlike Lucky, who was still holding it in. “Ah, I remember when I was just like you.”
“Eh? You were?” Felix asked hopefully.
“Ay,” Lino replied. “I was fifteen.”
“Gruh...” there was a strange sound that came out of the Felix’s mouth, but Lino ignored it.
“This lovely lady and I just broke out of a damnable place full of Demons, and I’d gotten banged on the way so much I remained comatose for a whole month. She tended me with grace, with love unbound to these mortal chains.” Wait... what does that mean? Lino wondered for a moment before shaking off the stray thought and continuing. “Alas, by the grace of the lord, she humbled herself and took my first. Ah, those were the magical moments...”
“...” Felix’s head was by now buried in his chest, his entire body shaking.
“You think it’s too much?” he glanced at Lucky, asking.
“... khm, y-yeah. Pft... khm.” she barely managed to get it out.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” Lino clicked his tongue a few times as his eyes went up and down Lucky’s figure. “I didn’t think you swung so young.”
“He’s not really young, though.” Lucky questioned.
“Ah, right. Yeah... I suppose I’m a bit of a sinner.”
“Lust... ah, what a cardinal sin it is,” Lino said, the two seemingly ignoring the silent pleas of Felix sitting next to them. “Yet, such a pleasurable one. Hey, remember that Lady Natasha?” he suddenly asked Lucky.
“Natasha? Oh, you mean Nat from the Wordwell Inn?” Lucky arched her brows as she glared at him. “Hey! She was so fair and pure!”
“Hoh, I can tell you she was anything but,” Lino shrugged. “Anyway, the brag wasn’t the point, just, you know, a subtle incline.”
“Turns out she was running the underground prostitution ring in the City of Sun,” Lino said. “And, oh boy, did she take me places.”
“Eh? Wait--wait. Those ‘Pleasure Cells’ establishments... were hers?”
“Yeah--wait, how do you know about them?”
“Oh, Eve asked me to investigate them and report the location,” Lucky said, grinning strangely. “Unfortunately... my skills were lacking. I was simply unable to find them no matter how hard I looked.”
“Tsk, really unfortunate,” Lino grinned back. “The whole place was like a cesspool of the filthiest, most degrading, most inhumane fetishes you---”
“SHUT UP YOU TWO!!!” Felix suddenly screamed out from out of nowhere, yet the two merely glanced at him, smirking.
“Finally broke, eh?” Lino commented.
“He’s more resilient than I thought.” Lucky added.
“... please... you guys...”
“Alright, we’ll stop.” Lucky said encouragingly, stroking Felix’s shaking back. “I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, you’re doing great buddy. Keep it up.” Lino fanned the flames. Just as he was about to add something else, he felt a prickle coming from the void world, causing him to curiously look inside and see that one of the communication talismans was vibrating and glowing.
He took it out and examined it, trying to remember who was the one that gave it to him; after all, over the years he’d collected many of them, from any random Rando that fancied it a good idea to give him one. Shrugging his shoulders in disinterest, he pressed it faintly and injected a sliver of Qi into it whereupon the talisman burned up into ash and a blast of faint light, forming a rather realistic looking screen in front of him. Eh? Ethereal-tiered talisman? Who’s the spendthrift throwing these around?
“Eh? Where are you, Lino?” a familiar voice sounded out form the other end as the image sharpened and focused, turning into a face of a rather beautiful, middle-aged woman who gazed at him in wonder.
“Hoho, Lady Ava,” Lino spoke out. “You sure have enough money to waste.”
“What do you mean? Oh, the talisman? Well, seeing as you’re a VIP, I figured I’d treat you as one.” she flashed him a smile before continuing. “Where are you? W-wait... is that a sky?!”
“Oh, yeah! I’m flying!” Lino exclaimed, smiling. “Ah, let me introduce you.” he shifted a bit till both Felix and Lucky came into frame. “To my right is Lucky, a quasi-disciple of mine. To my left is Felix, an actual disciple of mine. The reason they look so awkward is because they made bed sheets together last night, so it’s still a bit awkward.”
“Pfft... made bed sheets...”
“Hm? Made bed sheets? What does that mean?” Ava asked, seeming confused.
“W-what’s with those eyes?! Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Nevermind,” Lino sighed, shaking his head. “Anyway, why are you calling me?”
“I’m calling about our deal. The Elders agreed to it, but they want to meet you in person.” Ava smiled awkwardly, realizing that it was probably impossible.
“Oh, yeah, no problem,” Lino, surprisingly, agreed. “I’m on my way over to the Central Continent, though. Do you have a way station there or something where we can meet up?”
“Oh, you’re moving over here? We actually have a branch Sect settled here,” Ava spoke with a slight joy in her tone. She seemed rather relieved she would no longer have to travel back and forth between the two continents. “It’s one of the smaller ones as we didn’t really invest much into it, but it’s still quite influential. You can find it on the southern peninsula,” she explained. “A fifty or so miles offshore. It’s called Skies of the Wayfarers. I’ll head straight over so you can just ask for me once you get there.”
“Alright,” Lino nodded, embedding the name into his memory. “Oh, right. I’m going in blind here so can you give me some tips about life over there?” Lino asked while Felix and Lucky looked at him stunned, quickly wondering whether they actually made a right choice.
“Eh? Really?” Ava looked at him somewhat dubiously.
“I mean, most of the information I know is at least a few years old at best,” Lino shrugged his shoulders helplessly; it’s not like he enjoyed going in blind, but that the information about the Central Continent was really scarce. “So I could use some help.”
“... hmm. Well, there are really only two things you need to look out for,” Ava said. “That is the two leading powers of the continent -- Titan Empire and Unholy Calling Sect. The former is a theocratic absolute monarchy while the latter is... uh, just insane, really. The Emperor of the Titan Empire is also its theocratic leader, or how they see it as a ‘projection of the Titan Gods’ onto this era. They’re very... adamant about their beliefs, so you should be careful about what you say. As for the Unholy Calling... they’re, uh... really... just insane. They do anything they want so it’s best to avoid them if you can. If you can’t, remember that in their world might makes right, so always make sure you’re on the stronger end of things, not the wittier or cleverer one.”
“Aye aye captain!” Lino saluted, causing Ava to roll her eyes. He already knew these two powers who had been reigning over the Central Continent with iron fist for thousands of years now. “Alright, we’ll try to stay out of the way of everyone else and just make our way over down to you in one piece. However... should you hear the stories of the handsomest man alive suddenly being found dead, grieved by literal millions of fair maidens who questioned heavens over his early passing, offer a prayer for me, will ya?”
“... I’ll see you, Lino.” rather than indulge his antics, Ava merely flashed him a smile before the screen suddenly disappeared and, with it, her too.
“Tsk,” he clicked his tongue angrily. “Just you wait woman. I’ll make you mine.”
“Yeah, I don’t think you stand a chance here.” Lucky added.
“She... she seems rather powerful Master...” even Felix tried to persuade him. “Maybe, maybe it’s a good idea to just drop it...”
“Drop it?!” Lino flared out at him. “Humph, what do you know? What? Just because you lost your virginity you think you understand how the dynamic between a man and a woman works? Hah, you braindead disciple! You know nothing! Unless you consistently shove your charms down her throat, how will she ever understand just how charming you are?!” he didn’t seem to realize that Felix had turned beet red yet again. “Just because you lucked out -- he he -- doesn’t mean that’s how my world works too! I’ve to put in effort--”
“-- and by effort you mean just throw gold at them until one smiles back at you?” Lucky stabbed back for the pun.
“--effort far surpassing your imagination and understanding of the world! I’ve been courting her for ten years! Well, admittedly, we talked like four times in total and we’ve seen each other like three times in total, but it’s still been a long and exhausting process! You see...” while Lino went onto another one of his rants, Lucky took out a gourd of wine and began slowly drinking while shutting his voice off, while poor Felix had to endure the barrage of a few monologues through which Lino attempted to convey the sheer complexity of coupling dynamic, adorned with various, rather graphic depictions of certain those and that-s which poor Felix had to find a way to forget, lest he become celibate till the end of days.