SHAKING HANDS WITH A DEVIL
Lino entered his room in the inn with a rather languid expression, his mood somewhat sour. Had there not been a Devil waiting in his bed, he’d certainly have gone out drinking until he passed out. Still, that mere thought of the Devil in the end made him shudder, and he prayed the Writ was merely playing a prank on him.
He opened the doors carefully, trying to calm his heart as much as possible. Then, sudden thought hit him; wait, maybe she’s a woman?!! Lino took up the pace and stormed into the room, his eyes shining like gems in excitement. There, on the bed, wrapped in thin, cotton blanket draping over the well-defined curves of a slightly paled body, with sun stuttering faintly through the curtains and illuminating those keen eyes was a single-horned Devil watching him... and it was no woman.
Lino gagged for a moment, quickly taking out a whole barrel of ale and beginning his drinking spree. His heart couldn’t adjust to such a roller-coaster of emotions... from low of lows, to high of highs, back to the bottom of the barrel -- which he quickly reached in a single breath.
“What are you doing in my bed?” Lino asked angrily.
“Oh, I see.” the light in the Devil’s eyes suddenly dimmed as he sighed and got up. “You do not swing that way.”
“... I’ll swing you away, you bastard. Even if I were, what did you think would happen?!”
“I’ve been told that humans have low tolerance of the Devilish charms.”
“You’ve been told?” ah, another idiot. How in the god’s name hasn’t this world collapsed yet with all these idiots on the top?! “Anyway, who are you?”
“It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Empyrean. My name is Rothar, and I’m a Sin-Devil Commander.” Rothar quickly donned a simple garment before bowing slightly through his introduction. “I have come to make a bargain.”
“Not interested. Go away.” Lino replied without hesitation.
“You haven’t even heard my terms.”
“I’m not interested in your terms though.”
“Are you always this stubborn?” Rothar asked, frowning somewhat. Though he’d expected the Empyrean to be hot-headed, he still believed he would be able to make it so long as he was polite enough.
“Do you drink?” Lino asked.
“No.” Rothar shook his head.
“... yeah, this meeting is over. Get out. How can anyone trust a man who doesn’t drink? Fuck. What’s wrong with your head? How can you live through the life entirely sober? Are you a masochist? W-wait... d-did you pleasure yourself in my blanket in anticipation of being found by me?!! Give me back my sanity, dammit!!”
“...!” WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT?! though he was certainly the most patient and most reasonable of the Devil bunch currently on the continent, even Rothar felt like cracking his own skull open and erasing the past few moments from his memory.
“Hey, can I ask you a question.” seeing Rothar’s reaction, Lino’s previous demeanour suddenly shifted, surprising the former.
“Why is everyone in this world so dumb?” Lino asked, seemingly lamenting over something as he sat onto the chair nearby. “I mean... when I was a kid, and I was dreaming of the higher world, I’d always imagined the cunning and sly people with straightforward expressions who couldn’t wait to stab each other in the ass -- figuratively, I mean. That’s what I thought, you know? That it would be a bunch of people who can keep their cool and smile regardless of what was happening, people so clever and sharp some brat like me would never even stand a chance against them.
“...” sensing there was more to the rant, Rothar remained silent.
“However... I’ve learned something over the past ten years of my life. All of you... are stupid. You are borderline moronic. So long as I don’t follow the ‘proper’ etiquette or whatever, and just randomly say some stupid shit... all of you lose your shit immediately. It’s like none of you can cope with the fact that someone wouldn’t use a flowery-whatever-the-fuck sort of a language with you. Are you people really that sheltered? Have you never had an honest conversation in your life?”
“...” Rothar anticipated many endings and conclusions to the rant, yet still couldn’t quite wrap his head around the one he heard. “S-so... you’re... you’re frustrated?”
“No... I’m sad...” Lino said with a genuinely saddened expression. “I’ve long hoped to meet someone to match my wit, tit-for-tit -- look, that’s what I’m talking about!! You want to suck my soul out for getting the idiom wrong! Why can’t no one match my pace?! Am I really that much of an oddball?!”
“... I refuse to make a comment on that in regards to the compromise I wish to make with you.”
“... coward.” Lino clicked his tongue.
“Surely you don’t think name calling will agitate me?”
“... is that a challenge?” Lino’s eyes shined in tremendous glint for a moment; Rothar, otherwise fearless Commander of the Hell’s Army, suddenly felt a chill bear down into his soul.
“N-no, please, no. Indeed, I am a coward.” Rothar said quickly, believing his instincts.
“... eh, whatever.” Lino shrugged. “So, why are you here?”
“I wish to make a deal with you.” Rothar said, quickly changing over into his business-like demeanour.
“Alright. So the condition on my part is to not intervene, right?”
“What’s the offer?” Lino asked.
“I will personally ensure no one from our side attacks you again!”
“...” Hey, does he really think he’s actually making a good offer here?! What’s with that self-satisfied smirk?! Lino asked inwardly.
“Indeed he does.” the Writ replied.
“Hah, left speechless, huh? Indeed, it’s a loss on my part, but because of my respect for you--”
“Get out.” Lino said with a stunned expression.
“Seriously, get out. Get out before I lose what little sanity I’ve remaining.”
“E-eh? Does that mean you accept my proposal?”
“Holy shit, I think I’m actually losing it. To think it wouldn’t be an epic battle that would be the end of me... but an epically stupid Devil. Hah...”
“W-what do you mean? I don’t understand you!” Rothar protested with a frown.
“I’m not interested,” Lino said after calming down. “Before you go on trying to think any longer, let me rephrase that: humans... devils... angels... gods... other Bearers... I don’t really care who, so long as I can work with them, I will. Rather, I already gave you fucks a chance. Twice. And twice you’d gone and fucked me over. Don’t you think it’s a bit shameless to ask for a compromise?”
“... both of those instances were outside the centralized plan,” Rothar said. “The individuals who had harmed you did so outside their orders. I promise you that much.”
“Which faction do you belong to?” Lino asked Rothar.
“Let me ask you something instead, first,” the latter, instead of answering, asked a question of his own. “Do you believe humans are better than Devils?”
“I believe unconditionally that both of us are idiots.” Lino replied without a hint of hesitation. “Why are you even invading the World of Gaia? I know it’s not to protect me, so... is it really just good-old-conquest?”
“... I... I’m not too sure myself,” Rothar said, suddenly biting his lower lip. “The Father has merely ordered us to. We can never hope to see through His brilliance.”
“... this is why I hate this world,” Lino mumbled. “How far up do I have to go before I find someone who thinks for themselves...”
“Aren’t you the same, though?” Rothar asked with a frown. “You’re merely executing the Will of another, no?”
“... I suppose that’s true,” Lino grinned. “Which is why I say we’re all unconditional idiots. However, even if I wanted to accept your compromise, I can’t.” Lino smiled bitterly; however much he projected outwardly, he hardly wanted to wage the war against literally everyone. If he could, he would rather just let the Continent’s and Hell’s forces duke it out on their own.
“What do you mean?” Rothar asked.
“This,” Lino whipped out a winged crest from his void world, causing it to float above his palm. “I’m bound by the duty.”
“... ah. I should have expected it.” Rothar sighed after a few moments. “Ever since the start I thought there was someone feeding your side information as you seemed too well prepared. Turns out... it wasn’t a traitor... just the world’s biggest headache. However, as you were that honest with me, I suppose I can be honest with you in return.”
“Although I have no knowledge of why we are fighting the world-scale war, I do know why we were sent to this continent. Our primary objective are the Titan Realms.”
“Titan Realms? What are those?” Lino asked quizzically.
“A set of Dimensional Pockets,” Rothar answered. “The true remnants of the forgotten Titan Era. Rather, to be even more specific, we don’t need the realms themselves -- just a single item within them. Long ago, it was taken from us by Titan Hosh, and we absolutely have to retrieve it. Even if the Great Descended and the Empyrean himself stand in our way, it doesn’t matter.”
“... so the war is just a pretense?” Lino asked, frowning.
“I... I don’t know...” Rothar shook his head. “It’s true that it would have been a lot easier just to send someone from the Main Family to simply take the item... but...”
“... I’ll make the compromise -- but my compromise,” Lino said after a short thought. “I’ll still act as the overall Commander of the War and will pull no stops in trying to defeat you guys. However, I’ll limit my personal activity to the Northern Front. However you do elsewhere, even if you manage to capture the Capital, I will not interfere. How’s that sound?”
“... you’re actually a reasonable sort, aren’t you?”
“What gave you the impression I wasn’t?” Lino asked, tilting his head in confusion.
“... now, that’s just rude, don’t you think?”
“I don’t know what the future has in store for us,” Rothar said, getting up and extending his hand for a shake. “But I certainly hope this is not the end of our friendship.”
“... when did we become friends?” Lino glanced at the hand though was seemingly unwilling to accept the shake.
“Urgh... h-heh... you still like to play around--”
“Oh, you’re one of those awkward ones who has to confirm friendships because they’re never too sure how others view them, no?”
“Bullseye. I’ll be seeing you Rothar. Now get out.”