IN A CABIN ‘NEATH A TREE (I)
A river valley stretched onwards, cutting a path in-between two looming mountains and stretching into the horizon. Trees were scarce save for at the edges and elevations, its flat surface entirely reserved for a plethora of differing flowers and a rather wide river which cut across in a winding fashion, shallow and rapid.
Near the extended bank, beneath a tall, solitary tree standing in the field of red flowers, stood a simple yet elegant-looking house, fenced simply around with a small garden to one side. It was built entirely of wood, decorated with four windows in total and a slated roof. The solitary chimney currently billowed out thin, gray smoke into the sky, yet it hardly took away from the serenity of it all.
Interior of the house reflected its exterior -- simple yet elegant. The sole hearth was a centerpiece, built out of granite and limestone, extruded gently from the wall. Several pieces of firewood currently burned away, shining off a peculiar yellow gleam across the room. On one end was a table and a chair surrounded by bookshelves, while on the other was a solitary bed currently occupied by a sorry-looking figure.
Lino growled lowly from his throat, a deep grunt escaping shortly after as he slowly opened his eyes. Though he found himself in a cozy bed, pain nonetheless quickly struck at every nerve in his body. Holding back a cry, he repeatedly took deep breaths until he got somewhat accustomed to it. Glancing around he realized he was in a small, otherwise empty, room.
Battling back his mind’s advice, he crumpled his hand into a fist and forced himself up, a thin blanket slipping over and revealing his naked upper torso. Glancing down, a bitter smile escaped his lips; wounds had all but healed, yet he truly seemed less a man and more a corpse. He heaved his legs across the bed and onto the floor and held onto his head with his hands.
He quickly realized that the hair once shaven had grown out again, tickling his fingertips. It also didn’t take long for him to realize he stank terribly, yet it took everything he had to simply sit up; he neither had the strength nor the motivation to bathe even though he knew there was a river just outside.
Tiring out, he slanted back and leaned against the smooth, wooden wall behind him. The memory of the few moments before he passed out was fuzzy, yet enough to fit the whole picture; he remembered the faint sound of cracking as his eyes grew heavier, the mask soon vanishing from his face. He didn’t care much for it, though, as he knew only the Thunder was there to see it and -- seeing as he was still alive -- it seemed he didn’t piss her off at one point in his life.
Using the faint traces of recovering Qi in his body he accessed the void world and took out a gourd of wine, opening it up and slowly taking sips, dousing his parched throat. The somewhat sweet taste assailed his senses and slowly woke him, that post-sleep drowsiness slowly disappearing. For the following hour, he did nothing but sit and drink, occasionally coughing a mouthful of two of black blood which made him feel quite better afterwards.
He also didn’t recognize the room, nor anything within it; wherever the Thunder took him, it seemed to be well outside any town’s or city’s bounds as even with his considerably weakened Divine Sense Lino was able to roughly map out the surrounding area. Despite how much he studied the geography of the Central Continent, he still couldn’t recognize the river valley within which he resided.
The doors suddenly creaked open as he glanced toward them, a figure dressed in a simple, one-piece white dress walking through. She still wore a mask, her hair cascading like waves down to half her back, the piercing pair of eyes seemingly shining. She didn’t seem surprised when she saw Lino half-lying and drinking, merely glancing at him and smiling.
“I’ll fix us a lunch quickly.” she said as she put down a basket and walked over to the hearth, using it as a quasi-stove of sorts.
Lino observed with interest as she nonchalantly moved about, stripping the chicken off its feathers before cleanly cutting it and roasting it while at the same time fixing two loafs of fresh bread.
“... you a wife?” Lino asked as he took a sip.
“What makes you think that?” she asked back, smiling lightly. “A woman who’s a good cook also needs to be a wife, eh?”
“Nah, I was just checking if you were free.” Lino smirked.
“Oh! A smooth one.”
“Eh, I try.”
“Shouldn’t you be focusing on recovery rather than getting drunk, though?”
“This is me recovering,” Lino said. “Don’t you know? Fine wine is the best medicine ever designed.”
“Ah, color me doubtful.” she commented, chuckling.
“Eh? You don’t drink?” Lino asked, arching his brow.
“Oh, I do drink. I just drink to, you know, cripple my memory and mind, not fix them.”
“Eh, so we do have something in common.” he said, smiling. “Besides, you know, the whole Writ thing.”
“Ah, I was hoping you’d have forgotten that part.”
“Yeaaah... it sure does sound like the thing I ought to forget, no? Wait, should I have forgotten? You’re not gonna club me or something, are ya’?”
“I’m thinking about it.” she said, smiling as she took out two plates from seemingly nowhere and quickly filled them full. “Can you walk?”
“Not what I asked.”
“The answer’s implied.” Lino said.
“... wait. Are you ashamed to say you need my help to walk?”
“... eh, a bit. But probably not for the reasons you’re imagining.”
“... hmm?” she looked at him with curiosity.
“Are you sure you want to know?”
“It can’t be that harmful.”
“... eh, whatever. It’s simple,” Lino said as Thunder shuffled her arm through his armpit and over the other shoulder, lifting him up. “So, you know, it’d be like you imposed your kindness onto me, and me accidentally touching this and that was in no way, shape or form the intention.”
“... wow. That’s quite possibly the most desperate I’ve ever heard a man sound. And one wailed for six hours in front of my room begging me to marry him.”
“Hey, shoot all you want,” Lino said, smiling. “You can never kill my confidence.”
“Yeah, and that’s the problem.” she slowly and gently helped him sit down as she took the chair on the table’s opposite end. “You need some self-awareness.”
“Why? I’m perfect.” Lino said quickly nibbling at the chicken.
“Of course you are.”
“So, are we gonna talk about it or are just gonna keep flirting till I literally forget?”
“What’s there to talk about?” she glanced at him.
“Uh, I dunno... why’s another Bearer helping me, for starters?”
“’Cause I hate Gaia.”
“... that’s it?”
“Yup.” she nodded innocently.
“Eh. Works for me.” Lino shrugged. “How long?”
“About a year after Astrum chose me.” she replied, taking a sip of Lino’s wine. “She went ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be totally crazy if we rebelled?’ and I thought it would be really crazy if we rebelled so, you know, we chose to rebel.”
“See, that is just beautiful!” Lino exclaimed with some frustration. “You two are really on the same wavelength! Making uniformed decisions, talking, discussing things... I swear, you can make even the heavens jealous with that story.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed you don’t get along with yours. What’s the deal with that?” she asked with a bizarre sort of curiosity.
“What’s the deal with it?” Lino glanced up. “He’s a cunt, that’s what’s the deal with it.”
“Are you waiting for me to elaborate or are you still processing it?”
“Right, so processing it.” Lino said, sighing. “Where the heck did you even take me?”
“B-back up a second there,” Thunder said as she took a deep breath. “Did you just call him what I think you called him?”
“Eh? Yea, I called him a cunt.”
“... and you’re still alive?”
“... alright, seriously dude,” Lino exclaimed. “Just what in god’s name did you and the rest of the Empyreans do to earn this reputation? Everyone I know who knows had the same reaction as her. It’s not cool!”
“... why are you talking out loud? Why not just telepathically ask him?” Thunder rolled her eyes at him.
“... w-wait... you... you can do that?” Lino’s eyes narrowed into slits as he questioned.
“... why did I save you?”
“I’d have lived either way.”
“You really think you’d live long in the Emperor’s clutches?” she asked with a smirk.
“Oh, yeah, that bastard. Yeah, you’re right. I’d be long dead.” Lino nodded lightly. “Anyway, what’s with the mask?”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, you saw mine so, you know, show me yours.”
“... forgive me. I did not know you treated your glory rod with such importance. But I cannot strip naked for you.”
“... don’t know what’s more disturbing,” Lino shook momentarily. “That you’d call my dick a ‘glory rod’, or that you’d even think for a second that’s what I meant.”
“So you don’t want to explore my holy garden?”
“I’d like to explore what goes on in that weird head of yours instead.”
“... is that some sort of a euphemism?”
“Yeah, it means I want to crack your skull open and see whether you’ve got a brain or not.”
“I assure you I do.” she said.
“Prove it.” Lino said.
“Take off the mask.”
“How would that prove anything?”
“It wouldn’t,” Lino said. “I just wanna see what you look like.”
“I can show you my well-made self-portrait.”
“Are you ugly?”
“Well, I can’t really think of another reason,” he shrugged. “But, don’t worry, there’s no need to be self-conscious. Whatever you look like, I’ve probably fucked worse. This chicken’s quite good actually.”
“... you really have changed a lot... yet not at all... he he...” a faint quickly filled the room as Lino looked up.
“You know me?” he asked, frowning.
“I do.” she nodded.
“And I know you?”
“You knew, at the very least.” she said.
“Eh, that makes it easier! We’ve already boned so I’ve seen everything anyway!”
“... eh, I’d like to play the guessing game, though.” she said, ignoring his jab.
“A game?” Lino frowned.
“Hm,” she nodded. “With proper rest, you should recover roughly in a month. So, you have a month to figure out who I am -- and, you can’t just go on guessing randomly. You have one chance -- just one to guess my name.”
“... what do I win if I guess right?” Lino asked, seemingly interested.
“I’ll help you fix your Wings.”
“And if I don’t?” Lino asked.
“You’ll become my servant for a year.”
“So, I win either way?” Lino mumbled with a faint grin. “Alright, we’ll play.”
“Heh, why would I need luck?” Lino said. “I’ll have you know, I remember every single woman down to her finest detail, so there’s no way...” as he went on rambling, Hannah stared at him dubiously wondering just when did that shy boy he used to be die and was replaced by... this.