Lino limped through the dead of the night, his entire figure shaking, lips trembling, frozen in cold. Ever so often a cry of the crows startled him away from his thoughts which had entirely turned crimson. Barely enduring the pain, he scuffled through the narrow and dark alleyways full of nigh-unbearable stench, occasionally whimpering and wailing, almost in accord with the low howls of the stray dogs.
Whenever he would grow too tired, he’d lean against the wall and take a breath or two before moving onward. He knew that if he fell asleep in the middle of the street in this cold, he’d never get to see the dawned sun -- which he would very much like to see.
However, in the end, he was barely twelve; he had eaten once in the past three days, forcing his body to believe that it wasn’t being drained by occasionally eating some dirt. Several of his ribs were cracked, muscles in his right leg torn, a forearm bone in his left arm broken. He slumped despite his efforts not to, despite the urging of his mind to move forward. He couldn’t.
He sat down at last and leaned back against the wall in the alleyway behind the local bakery. Panting and whimpering, he couldn’t even bring his legs and arms closer to his chest as it hurt. He knew it was reckless to go at Barry so early, yet he had to; he couldn’t endure it any longer, seeing his face in the orphanage ever so often, knowing that Ally had merely been the cold beginning of the nightmare.
In just two years, five girls and three boys in the orphanage had committed suicide. Yet, all the while, all he c ould do was sit on the side and watch... watch it all unfold like some hellish game designed to torture him. He didn’t regret it -- not even now when he was finally beginning to accept he would be a dead corpse come dawn. He somehow managed to tilt his head sideways and look back at the road he’d taken, where in the distance black smoke and flashes of flames rose into the sky.
His thin, trembling lips curled up in a smile... and his whimpering turned into low laughter. Exchanging his life -- something that hardly had any worth -- for a life of that monster... he fancied it a victory.
“... you really went after him, haven’t you?” a familiar, youthful voice suddenly sullied his mood as his smile turned into a frown, his eyes shifting away from the distant smoke onto the figure standing just above him.
“...” even if he wanted to reply, he realized he couldn’t. He had no strength remaining for anything but to stare at her.
“Is that all the resolve you’ve got?” he heard a trace of mockery in the voice, causing him to growl out. “Hah, look at you. Like a dog. What have you accomplished, huh? Nothing. What, you think that fatass is the only one in this town alone? You’re pathetic.”
“Yeah, yeah. Save it for when you’re body’s not falling apart.” as though she was picking up a bird’s feather, Lino felt a thin and slender arm wrap around his armpit and lift him up, tossing him over her shoulder. He found himself staring at that slender and bony back as the world surrounding him slowly began melding into dark colors till the buildings were no more.
His mind grew weary and dull and his eyes turned empty as his consciousness faded. The girl glanced back at him and sighed as her beautiful, green eyes flashed in a complex array of emotions. She then tossed his body back into her arms and held him gently against her chest as she slowly carried him out of the dark alleyways and toward the far end of the town where a small, wooden cabin lay empty and hollow.
She walked in without hesitation and took him to a nearby woolen bed, carefully lying him down before reaching into a pocket of her leather vest and taking out a small, yellow pill of sorts and putting it into his mouth. She then reached for the bucket by the bed and took a gulp before sowing her lips to his and letting the water trickle down his throat.
After ensuring that he had swallowed the pill, she retreated from the bed and walked back into what seemed like a kitchen. She lit a small candle on the table and sat onto a chair, seemingly tired. She seemed roughly fifteen-sixteen years old and had a rather unnatural-seeming crimson hair running down one side upfront. Her skin, though rather pale, was muddied here and there, and even dyed in blood at several spots.
Her eyes quickly veered off the flames of the candle and onto the boy lying on the bed, still whimpering. She waited, minute after a minute, an hour... two... soon, the flame of the candle vanished as light of the dawn pierced the windows, unveiling her still open eyes from the dark. They hadn’t moved an inch from the bed all night long, and she seemed to have ignored the sun as though she didn’t even realize it was the dawn.
As though startled, she quickly jolted onto her feet and raced over to the bed, straightening her hair, clothes as well as her expression.
Lino opened his eyes slowly, feeling headache besiege him strongly. Groaning in pain, he reached with his arm and held onto his temple, barely forcing his eyes open. The first thing he saw was light cascading through the window, breaking apart when it reached the figure standing over the bed, looking at him. His headache seemed to have amplified at that moment as he groaned yet again, not in pain but in frustration.
“... so it wasn’t a dream.” he mumbled faintly as he sat up, steadying himself.
“No.” the girl replied.
“Was kind of hoping that it was.”
“Sorry to disappoint you.”
“... why did you bring me here Hannah?” Lino asked as he finally took a moment to look at where he was.
“... where else would I bring you to?” Hannah asked as she dragged the chair from the kitchen and pulled it next to his bed, sitting down and handing him a glass of water. Despite the reluctance in his eyes, Lino accepted it and drank a handful before replying.
“The orphanage,” he said. “Or, better yet, nowhere.”
“Oh. Right. So I was supposed to leave you in that alley to die?” Hannah asked with a faint smile.
“... doesn’t sound all that bad.” Lino mumbled.
“See?” her lips curled up in a rather harsh smirk, causing Lino to frown. “I told you weren’t cut out for this. Yet, bla bla bla, you keep saying you are.”
“I killed him, didn’t I?!” he retorted.
“Yeah, and you would have died yourself had it not been for me.”
“Doesn’t matter.” Lino said, looking away. “Why’d you save me anyway? You told me you were leaving yesterday.”
“Because I knew you would be stupid enough to go after him the moment I left.” Hannah said.
“... I don’t need your help anymore, Hannah.”
“What part of just leave me alone don’t you get already?!!” he yelled out, yet she seemed to have expected it, not even flinching.
“... you finally looked me in the eyes.” she said, smiling lightly.
“Why... why do you keep coming back?” Lino asked, biting his lower lip in frustration.
“I told you, I--”
“Yeah, yeah, you wanted to see how much I’ll fuck up my life,” Lino interrupted. “Haven’t you seen enough already?”
“... do you plan to go after the rest?” she asked.
“Then I haven’t seen enough just yet.” she chuckled faintly. Lino suddenly shifted his eyes sideways and reached out, grabbing her by the collar of her vest and pulling her closer in. “Hoh? Oh my. I didn’t know you’ve reached that age yet.” she smiled playfully.
“Leave. Me. The. Fuck. Alone.” he slowly enunciated before pushing her and looking away.
“... I can’t do that Lino.” she said after short silence, sighing. “At the very least, let me teach you something so you don’t end up begging on the streets once you leave the orphanage.”
“... I already know what I want to do.”
“Oh, please. Not again with the smithing! You literally don’t know anything about it!”
“What of it, huh?! I just need to see it properly once and I’ll know as much as all the Divine Smiths combined! Humph! You’re just too blind to see the depths of my talent!”
“I honestly have no fucking idea where do you pull this confidence from.” Hannah rolled her eyes, sighing yet again.
“At least I’m better than you,” Lino glanced at her with a mocking smile. “You keep criticizing me, but have you taken a look in the mirror recently? Instead of chasing after your dreams with all the advantages you’ve been given, you keep coming to this hellhole and pestering me.”
“... heh... you’re right...” Hannah smiled bitterly as she lowered her head. “Regardless of what, you still know what you want to become. I... I’m just lost.”
“... didn’t you tell me you were selected to be a Holy Maiden or something?”
“I’ve given up the title.”
“Why? You got bored?” Lino asked.
“It was never meant to be mine,” she smiled. “I was just a stand-in anyway. Ah, good news! They chose Ally to inherit the title!”
“... so... she’s doing well?” Lino mumbled.
“Yeah, she’s doing great. Well, aside from the whole ‘angry wolf mode’ she goes into whenever I mention you.”
“... w-what?! Why the hell do you mention me--ah, right.” Lino recovered as he saw Hannah trying to stifle her laughter. “You’re joking. Of course you are.”
“What? You’ve practically taught me how to do it. You can’t be surprised that I’ve started using it as well.”
“Hmm... you’re still too green,” Lino said. “I mean, when you want to change the subject, you stay on the joke! Got it? So, no laughing, no looking like you’re about to take the biggest shit of your life--”
“--hey! I’m still a lady!”
“--right, sure. And, as I said, always look them in the eyes. Keep at it till they’re looking at you like you’re insane.”
“... hah, that’s the hard part. For you it’s easy ‘cause, you know, you are insane...”
“Yeah, of course. I’m the insane one here.”
“Well, for starters, you did just commit a murder, you know?”
“You’ve been committing murders since the day that I met you.”
“... what are you talking about?”
“You’ve been murdering my desire to live.”
“Ah. I see it now. You look like you really mean it!”
“That’s because I do.”
“Damn, you’re really good. I still got a long way to go, so keep teaching me, alright?” she flashed him a beautiful smile.
“For the love of god just leave me alone already!!!”
“No can do~~”
“Then just kill me...”
“I like you way too much to do that.”
“Then tell me what to do so you can like me less.”
“Let me stay forever and ever!”
“... fucking hell..”