Lino enjoyed the somewhat awkward atmosphere for a moment as he observed the colorful expressions of Lucky and Felix who both couldn’t tear away their eyes off of him. While the latter still practiced condensation of his main Martial Art, the former was dipping her toes in a small pond while observing a strange specimen of a horse -- numbering in hundreds -- running across the vast, fenced-off field.
Though it took him a month to find the branch quarters of the Great Descent, it took him but two days to return to the town on the edge of the continent and, in extension, to the ranch Lucky and Felix were living at. While he would have very much liked to observe their hilarious expressions for a little while longer, he hardly had the time for it.
“Yo!” he exclaimed with a beaming smile. “You guys made me a grandkid yet?”
“Haii, what’s with those faces? Get on with it! I’m tired of waiting!”
“... what are you doing here, Master?” Felix asked somberly.
“Hm? What do you mean? This is my home, you know.”
“No it isn’t.” Felix said.
“I paid for it.”
“Hey, L’~~ can you be a dear and fetch me--- I suppose not.” Lucky glared at him for a moment before bolting into the rather large, brick-built mansion, leaving behind her a mild dust storm. “How have you guys been?” he then turned to Felix and asked.
“... did you know you would be returning this quickly?” Felix asked, frowning.
“Nope!” Lino exclaimed, shrugging his shoulders. “If I had, do you think I’d have pissed her off that much? Haii, dear Disciple of mine, this is unjust!” Lino quickly wiggled his way over to Felix and wrapped his arm around the latter’s shoulder, clamping him firmly so that he couldn’t escape. “You have to butter her up for me, alright? When you’re lying next to her in the dead of night after this and that whisper those sweet-nothings in her ear and jab my name somewhere in-between and say just how sorry the Master is and how he wishes to make peace with her.” although Lino did notice that Felix’s cheeks were blood-red, he simply ignored them.
“M-master, please... it’s... it’s embarrassing...”
“What is? That you’re having se--”
“Alright, alright, I won’t talk about the two of you having sex anymore.”
“Oops. Just slipped, you know? Like how it slips when she’s riding---”
“...” Felix cleaved himself out of Lino’s grip and ran into the house, his eyes appearing teary. Lino smiled blissfully as he watched at the fading back, nodding with a strange feeling of pride. “Ah, how quickly they grow. Don’t forget about those grandchildren, alright?!” he yelled at the house. “Ah... to think I’d become a grandpa so soon...”
“GO TO HELL!!” Lucky’s voice shook the mansion and the earth beneath it, yet Lino ignored it, walking over to the pond where Lucky was sitting and copying her, dipping his legs up to his knees into the pond as he took out the piece of parchment that the old man had given him and began studying it again.
Though he had seemed nonchalant about the whole thing, in truth he was quite nervous and rather angry with himself over how readily he accepted the mission whereas he simply should have taken the freedom to ignore it. Even if somewhat knew that the mission would have to do with the Devil Invasion, not once did he think that he’d have to unite all powers across the Continent and act as their literal Commander until the end of the war.
The parchment in his hand held far more information than what a single piece of paper might lead one to believe; by simply injecting a sliver of Qi into the parchment, the current information would be wiped out and new one would present itself. It was sort of like flipping the pages of the book, except there was no book, and there was no flipping.
The information itself was quite detailed to the point that it left Lino stunned; detailed numbers of the invading army, their Commanders, Generals, and even the information on their Lieutenants, the strengths and weaknesses of all those individuals as well as the Legions at large, their current positions as well as their predicted pattern of movement as well as conjectures over where they might strike from.
On the other hand, there was even more information on the friendly-to-be forces of the Continent. Lino was fairly certain that by the time he memorized the whole thing, he’d know more about everyone on the entire Continent than anyone else -- well, probably except for that old man.
At the very end were hundreds of war formations, strategies, tactics and techniques over how to wage a massive-scale war. There was also a list of geographically-fit points to build a castle or a battle fort, and even places that could act as good choke points and myriad of other things that quickly caused Lino a massive headache.
Rubbing his temple, any attempt at distilling his frown in vain, he tried slowly fitting his tasks into a proper order. Yet, he could hardly plan a few steps ahead before too many variables came into play for him to be confident in any more planning ahead. Sighing, he shook his head and put away the parchment for the time being. For now, he figured, he would go around and try befriending the factions using his identity as a Descended. Hmm... most probably won’t recognize it... I suppose only big-guns will, and I can use them to sway the rest...
“Hey you two. Come out here.” he called out calmly yet was certain the two inside could hear him. After a few minutes, he realized they had no intention of showing up and called out again. “It’s important.” realizing that it truly was important from the tone of Lino’s voice, Lucky and Felix reluctantly left the mansion and joined him near the pond, yet still refused to look at him.
“... hah, to be so hated...” Lino flipped his hair flamboyantly. “Is nothing new to me, you know?”
“Anyway, there’s been some change of plans,” Lino said, smiling faintly. “So now I’m gonna offer you two a choice.”
“... hm?” both finally glanced in his direction yet still held their frowns.
“You can either stay here,” Lino said, fiddling with a lock of his hair. “And live out the war. I’ll reinforce the entire ranch with a set of massive formations that should keep the two of you safe no matter what. On the other hand...” he paused for a moment and shifted his eyes away from the pond, looking at the two of them. “You can choose to still follow me. I can’t guarantee your safety, in that case. If you die... you die. You’ll have no right to haunt me afterwards.”
“...” Felix and Lucky glanced at each other for a moment and quickly replied. “We’ll follow.”
“... of course you will.” Lino sighed. “Why am I so enchanting?” he lamented, looking sideways as he stealthily unbuttoned his shirt, revealing his muscular chest partway. “So irresistible? So... goddamn... charming? Ah... what a curse this life is...”
“Enough with the nonsense,” Lucky interrupted him with a deadpan expression. “Can you explain to us... anything?”
“I wasn’t lying before,” Lino shrugged, yet ‘forgot’ to button his shirt back up. “I really left to prepare for the war. In case I truly couldn’t come back to you two, I’d have asked Ella and Eggor to watch over you while I’m away.” ignoring their deadly stares, he continued slowly. “This one’s very much different than what the two of you have experienced before,” Lino said. “You could even go as far as to say it’s a Continental War. To be honest, even I can’t make heads or tails of the whole thing.” he added lowly as he thought back to some familiar faces he’d seen as he inspected the Hell’s forces. “Anyway, you two will mostly just be following me around while training. I doubt you’ll have many chances to join the battles.”
“... that’s all?” Lucky frowned.
“You’ll have to make me a grandkid if you want to learn more!” Pa! A slipper flew across the air and hit Lino squarely on his forehead, pulling him back and down.
“When are we leaving?” Lucky asked.
“... t-tomorrow morning...”
Lino remained lying for a little while, staring at the wide blue sky. He naturally hid many, many things from the two, but there was really no reason for them to know. He was even reluctant over them joining, which is why he didn’t even offer them a choice the first time around. Sighing bitterly, he decided to check in with Jack and subtly suggest they move their shop over into the Capital if at all possible. He reckoned there would be a massive need for blacksmiths soon enough.
Meanwhile, on the second floor of the mansion, within a rather spacious room, Lucky and Felix sat across one another, former drinking wine while latter drank tea. Lucky’s gaze remained glued to the window and the lying figure down below on the ground.
“... how much did he hide from us?” Felix asked after a short silence.
“Everything important, most-likely.” Lucky replied, taking a sip.
“... he really doesn’t trust us, huh?” he sighed, seeming somewhat pained.
“With our strengths,” Lucky glanced at him and smiled lightly. “Would you?”
“... he’s always been like this,” she said. “Unless he can’t help it, he’ll do it alone. It was a lucky coincidence that I reacted so hysterically the last time... otherwise, he might have not even let us follow him.”
“... w-wait... that was an act?!” Felix exclaimed, shocked.
“... of course it was,” Lucky rolled her eyes at him. “Do you think I’m some emotionally-unstable bimbo or something?”
“Looks like you really hate having sex with me.”
“No, I lo---khm...”
“Go on~~” Lucky grinned.
“... right. Anyway, we definitely won’t be able to help much with the fighting itself,” Lucky said, fiddling with the glass of wine. “But, we don’t need to be entirely helpless.”
“What do you mean?” Felix asked with interest; though he never voiced it out because he was afraid of Lucky, he actually wholly understood why Lino left them behind the first time around.
“I don’t know yet,” Lucky shrugged. “We’ll just follow him around for now and figure something out.”
“What? Do I have to be both the brain and the brawn here? Can’t you think of something for a change?”
“... I-I can!”
“Yeah, that sounded convincing.”
“... well, to be fair,” he mumbled. “You cast a pretty scary shadow.”
“Ah, what’s that saying?” Lucky said, smirking oddly. “Right! Man up or die out? Yeah, that’s the one. Haah... just imagine a truly grand man swooping in and carrying me off in his arms, rendering me speechless with his confidence--”
“Can I ask you something?” Felix asked, braving his heart.
“You just did.” Lucky grinned.
“... I mean... isn’t it odd?” Felix continued, though not daring to look her in the eyes. “Even if no one else... there’s still the Master. Why choose me over him?”
“... are you seriously asking me that?” Lucky looked at him strangely, wondering just how he was raised.
“--ah! I-I’m sorry--”
“You seriously need to get a pair... it’s fucking embarrassing.”
“... I already have it...” he mumbled.
“What? I didn’t hear you.”
“I said I already have a pair!!” Felix exclaimed, causing Lucky to suddenly burst out into laughter while his cheeks burned.
“Ha ha ha, yeah, I know. I’ve seen them.” she grinned. “Besides, who said that I’ve chosen you? Nothing is still set in stone. You gotta keep fighting!”
“That’s the spirit!”
“Sigh... fine...” looking at those confused and pleading eyes, Lucky couldn’t help it, putting down the glass of wine and glancing out the window. “It’s rather simple, actually. Call me selfish, but I’d rather not tangle myself into the emotional mess that is Lino.”
“I honestly don’t envy even a tiny bit the woman who eventually gets all his shit unloaded onto...”
Felix didn’t say anything in response, merely taking a sip of the tea and also glancing out through the window. Though Lino had already left, Felix could still imagine the figure lying on the grass, lazing around with a carefree smile. Though he couldn’t understand it as much as Lucky could, he too felt similar. In addition, however, he also felt a downpour of guilt overwhelm him as he knew he’d most-likely never be strong enough to at least attempt and lessen the burdens off of those broad and scarred shoulders.