WAR OF THE MADMEN (VI)
Lino stood at the lake’s side, his eyes hidden beneath the placid mask and glued to the lake’s tranquil surface. The sun’s position in the sky caused the trees surrounding the lake to cast a rather eerie shadow over its surface, leaves seemingly desolate with holes, shadows distorted due to the angle. Yet, it hardly painted a horrific scenery.
He was jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of approaching footsteps, causing him to veer away from the lake onto the source. Today she wore a rather simple silken dress, Lino noted, coated in embroidery of white roses over the cyan surface. The dress ran down to her knees, and she was barefoot for some odd reason. Hidden behind that mask were still the piercing eyes Lino couldn’t shake off all that easily. Though her movement appeared nonchalant, there was certain grace to it, Lino realized, almost as though she was eternally walking on water.
“I’m honored,” Lino smiled. “Very few cute women answer my calls.”
“I’m not cute.” she said.
“I’m beautiful. Please get it right.”
“Eh, cute, beautiful, what’s the difference?” Lino shrugged
“Indeed,” she nodded, smiling faintly as well. “In the end it’s saying the same thing: I’d like to tip you over the bedframe and make you scream thunder till you collapse.”
“That’s one way to put it, I suppose.”
“Oh? You have a better one?”
“I’d like to pin you down onto the floor so hard that it would stark cracking merely from your moaning cries.”
“Not bad. You have potential.” Thunder smiled at Lino as she walked up and sat down next to him, dipping her legs into the lake. “So? What have you called me for?”
“What? Can’t I have just had a desire to chat up a beautiful maiden?”
“You don’t seem the type to chase after hopeless adventures.”
“Ouch.” Lino chuckled, sitting down next to her. “Shut down before even expressing my interest.”
“Your interest is too fleeting.” she glanced at him and smiled mischievously.
“Oh, a dreamer are you? How... cute.”
“Then why do you look even more eager now?”
“... perhaps to prove you wrong. Perhaps to just have my way with you and prove you right. Who knows?” Lino smirked. “Anyway, I just wanted to run something by you.”
“What?” she asked.
“I’ll be going on a rampage soon,” he said. “And it ain’t gonna be pretty.”
“... are you asking if it’s allowed?”
“... what happened?” she asked with a relatively warm tone, to Lino’s surprise. The latter glanced at her from the corner of his eyes, still shaken by that gaze.
“... all my life I believed I’d make it if only I was given a chance,” rather than answering her, however, Lino steered the conversation elsewhere. “That so long as I got lucky once, the rest was merely a matter of time. I got lucky once,” he said. “I was perhaps the luckiest bastard in the entire world at that moment. Yet, since then... time and again... I’ve been nothing if not proven wrong.”
“So you were a dumb kid. Nothing wrong with that. We all were.”
“... I still am.” Lino smiled bitterly. “Just like you, I’m still a dreamer. It’s just that I don’t dream of charming, perfect men devoting their souls to me.”
“I’d be far more interested in you if you did.”
“We’d have something in common, huh?” Lino commented.
“We’ve plenty enough things in common as it stands. Any more... and I would seriously consider taking off my mask.” she said, smiling lightly. “You still haven’t answered my question, though. As much as I love random tangents, I also like straightforward answers.”
“... straightforward, huh? At the core, I suppose... it’s guilt.” Lino replied. “Officially, though, it’s ‘cause I want to look badass in front of all the royal ladies.”
“I know, right?”
“Guilt, however, is a terrifying fuel, Wing,” she said. “If you don’t let it go... sooner or later, it will consume you.”
“Oh? A Master in the area?”
“... a little bit. Anyway... what you actually wanted to tell me was to stand out of your way?”
“You really get me.” Lino grinned.
“Well, I’ve always been good with kids. What can I say... motherly instincts and all.”
“And right back we go.”
“You started it.”
“I’ve never been good with emotionally charged moments,” Lino sighed. “Especially if they involve a cutely beautiful girl.”
“What a great compromise.”
“I’m a great compromiser, after all.”
“I’m fairly certain that’s not an occupation.” she said.
“And I’m fairly certain I’m gonna make it one.”
“... do as you see fit,” Thunder said, getting up slowly. “It’s your mission.”
“... hey.” Lino suddenly called out to her as she began walking away, causing her to halt her footsteps and turn around. “What’s the cost of that mask?” Lino asked.
“... what’s the cost of yours?” she asked back.
“You’re free to take it off any time you want.” Lino grinned.
“I appreciate the sentiment,” she smiled back. “But mine’s not worth the price, I assure you.”
“... that’s not for you to decide, now is it?”
“My mask, my rules.”
“... not even gonna give me a chance, huh?” Lino smiled awkwardly.
“A chance is not given, Seventy-Two,” she said, turning around and beginning to walk away again. “It’s always earned.”
“... eh, I suppose that’s not a definite ‘no’.” Lino mumbled as he watched her silhouette fade out in the distance. “Now... to settle my accounts with the other guest. Where is he?”
“In your bed.”
“... well, I’m changing the room the moment he leaves.”
Lino quickly vanished, as though never there, running off back to the inn. Meanwhile, Thunder was currently floating in the sky, staring at the dashing figure in the distance which, even to her, was all but a blur. She stared at him till he vanished beyond the plains and her sight, releasing a faint sigh.
“... he’s a lot like you, you know?” a robotic voice echoed out inside her mind suddenly, startling her.
“Where were you the whole time?” she asked angrily. “Twice now you vanished when I met him. I already told you I can’t see through the mask... yet you still refused to help.”
“I thought I’d try and see you in your natural element. You’re quite a charmer, aren’t you?”
“... screw you.”
“Now that’s just rude. Where is that eloquently-spoken girl with all her unearthly charms? I quite liked her.”
“... it’s something about him,” she sighed, glancing once again toward the distance. “That makes me want to impress him.”
“Oh, wow. I can’t believe you actually realized it on your own. I’m impressed.”
“Seriously, go fuck yourself. Can’t you just be supportive this once?”
“I believe I’ve been nothing short of extremely supportive toward you since the day you and I joined together.”
“Wow, someone’s lying through their teeth like a maniac. What about that time when I went to look for Lino and you refused to help me?”
“Why would I help you look for a guy who would take you away? I just want you all to myself.”
“... there is something definitely wrong with you.”
“You’re realizing that just now?” the voice even seemed to chuckle -- albeit extremely eerily -- for a moment.
“... so, can you at least tell me why you refused my plea twice now?”
“I suppose I can.”
“Oh, great! Finally doing the right thing!”
“But... are you sure you want to know?” the voice questioned mysteriously.
“What do you mean?” she asked tentatively.
“Knowing why might change your life in ways you can’t even begin to imagine, you know? This sort of knowledge is even more dangerous than our childish attempts at feeble defiance against that whore.”
“Well, let’s see,” she mumbled. “If Gaia finds out that I’d like nothing more than to shove a spear so far up her ass she would be vomiting metal for what little days she would have left... I’d be erased from existence. So, I can confidently say that knowing the identity of some random guy is definitely less terrifying than that.”
“... oh, wow. I think I’m going to enjoy this even more now. It’s seriously going to be priceless.”
“I was trying to hide, to be honest.” the voice said.
“Eh? Hide? From him?”
“Though... I imagine my attempts were quite futile. Seeing as both you and I are still unharmed, however, it seems he hasn’t told the boy.”
“... what do you mean?” she seemed to have picked up on something, yet dared not go any further with her assumptions.
“I said it before -- he’s a lot like you... in more ways than one.”
“... n-no way...” she mumbled.
“You’ve just flirted with the honored Empyrean, Hannah,” the voice said with a faint chuckle. “And I’ve just learned that Ataxia really hasn’t changed since the last time we talked.”
“... n-no... that’s... that’s fucking impossible...”
“Ah, denial. You make even that adorable. An Empyrean and an Elysian having a meet-cute by the lake... oh the horrors... cute horrors that is...”
“H-he... he’s the Empyrean? NO FUCKING WAY!!”