IN A CABIN ‘NEATH A TREE (III)
A fairly quaint atmosphere devoured the small cabin by the river’s bank as night outside devoured the world. A few lanterns and gemstones lit up the inside, occasional howl of the wind dying out before reaching in, sounds of flipping pages repeatedly echoing out.
Hannah and Lino both sat on the bed, their backs leaned against one another, each reading a book in silence. They were neither informative nor historical, nor any sort which would inspire one to think deeply of it; Lino’s was an entirely fictional tale of the Band of Knights who overthrew an evil King while Hannah’s was about a young adventurer exploring a fictional continent called Artia.
Neither said a word as the hours passed, occasionally shifting in their positions, occasionally chuckling and taking a sip of the drinks lined on the table next to the bed. Though both could easily read the entire books in a single sweep of their Divine Senses, they read them page by page instead, burning through the words slowly. It was yet to dawn when they finished, stretching out and putting the books down.
“You have a very bony back...” Lino mumbled.
“That’s probably because there are bones in there.” Hannah replied with a faint chuckle as the two sat upright, leaning against the wall.
“We should take them out. They’re not good for you.”
“Thanks for the offer, but I quite like them actually.”
“Eh,” Lino shrugged, smirking. “Your loss.”
“Thanks for being the bedrock though.” she said, grasping at the small bottle.
“Didn’t wanna break you.”
“Ah, it’s cute that you think you could.”
“Oh, I so could. I mean, as long as you don’t use Qi.”
“... humph, well, unlike some people that I know whom I shall not name I take care of my body so it doesn’t go out of control.”
“Oh please,” Lino rolled his eyes. “Every time I’m wearing a shirt I can practically see the disappointment in your eyes.”
“... no reason a lady can’t enjoy some eye-candy from time to time.”
“Not at the expense of my dignity.” Lino took a pillow and pulled it over his chest, backing away slightly from her.
“You don’t have dignity.” Hannah said, glancing at him.
“... yeah, that’s true.” he sighed. “I’m still wondering what the hell happened to it.”
“Wanna take a walk?”
“Yeah, there’s a nice lake nearby we could go to for a day,” she said. “We can have a picnic out there and all.”
“... alright, sure.” Lino nodded. “However, if you have any plans of drowning me, I’d rather you skip it and just blow my head up.”
“But I’d very much like to watch you suffer before you die.”
“And thousands of years from now, I’ll make sure to indulge that fantasy. Just endure until then, okay?”
“It’s a promise?”
“Alright, let’s go.”
“W-wait, right now?”
“Yeah, when did you think?” she asked.
“... let’s go then.”
The two heaved off the bed and cruised out of the small cabin quickly. The sun had just broken past the distant mountain peaks, casting its first rays of light onto a new day. Hannah headed northward toward the mountains as Lino followed in silence, taking in the surroundings. He hadn’t left the cabin’s immediate area ever since he arrived a week earlier, mostly just sitting by the river and fishing.
It was a flat valley spanning miles onward, besieged with tall grass and weed and occasional flower that managed to break out. The area was quite windy all day through, swaying the grass reaching up to his knees constantly. Though he was there for a few days Lino had just at that moment became aware of the pure serenity of mind and heart.
An old flame rekindled inside his soul, one he had thought to have buried a long time ago -- his almost childlike longing for a much simpler life. His lips curled up in a wide smile as he stopped walking for a moment and looked up toward the sky, taking a deep breath. Hannah turned around and glanced at him, looking curiously.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“... I grew up wanting this, you know?” he said.
“... what? To stand in the middle of nowhere and look a fool?”
“Oh, I look a fool regardless of where I’m at,” Lino chuckled as he began walking again, catching up to her. “No, this... peace. No battles. No worries. No new, earth-shattering revelations. No dead or dying or those still wishing for it. Just... this. Day after day of simplicity, of that boredom everyone seems to hate for some reason.”
“... ah. So you’re saying I’m boring. Gotchya.”
“Well, compared to me, you know, who isn’t?” Lino grinned. “So don’t feel bad.”
“... so you regret becoming a Bearer then?” she asked, glancing at him, her expression hidden beneath her mask.
“... honestly?” Lino mumbled. “Every day of my life.”
“This way, though, you have a chance to change the world.”
“Heh, I don’t think you honestly believe that,” Lino smiled bitterly. “Every change is temporary. It seems the world has this bizarre ability to gravitate back to pulling out the worst in us regardless.”
“... a cynic, huh? Ah, and you looked so hopeful on the surface.” she chuckled.
“What about you? Do you regret it?” Lino asked.
“... not really. I mean, I’d have gotten involved in the world’s affairs regardless of what I did. This way, at least, I can pretend to have some control over it all.”
“... yeah. I suppose that part is true.”
“... so you really think you can’t change the world? Isn’t that the Empyrean’s sole job?” Hannah asked.
“... first you should ask me whether I want to change the world in the first place.”
“... because the world is fine,” Lino said. “It’s those inhabiting it that are fucked up. I mean, I’ll be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about our history, and why are we so conflict-driven, and I very much doubt that nobody else in the history of the world realized it yet, all the same, the chaos continued. It almost feels like it’s always meant to be that way.”
“... that’s a unique way to look at it. Ah, up this path.” she said as the two pushed past the thin forest and up a mountainous road. “Though I guess the Bringer of Chaos himself thinking that is only natural, actually.”
“What about you, then? You want to bring the order to the world?” Lino asked.
“... not really,” Hannah said in a mellowed tone. “I just want to learn... why.”
“Don’t we all?”
The two went to walk the rest of the way in a somber silence, climbing up a rather steep, winding road before reaching a halfway point of the mountain whereupon Hannah took a side turn rather going further up, soon reaching a massive cleave in the mountain on the side leading to a circular valley of sorts with a lake at its center.
Lino was rather stunned when he laid his eyes on the scene for the first time; the lake was eerily coral-dyed, surrounded by tall, plum-colored flowers of sorts which then further went on to spill into almost an artificially-made garden of black roses which climbed up the steep walls of the surroundings.
“You like it?” Hannah asked with a chuckle, noticing Lino’s expression.
“... it’s at times like this I wish I picked a brush once or twice and learned the damn thing.”
“You look the sort who lacks patience for that intricate art.” Hannah said.
“... I’m a blacksmith.” Lino replied firmly.
“Eh?! No way!!” Hannah exclaimed with a genuine wonder.
“What do you mean no way?! How in the fuck do you think this body you drool over got made, huh?”
“... I-I don’t drool over it...”
“Yeah, and I’m not glancing at your tits and ass whenever I get a chance.”
“... pretend that never happened?” Lino suggested.
“Deal.” Hannah nodded firmly.
“Anyway, yeah, I’m a blacksmith,” Lino said as the two walked up to the lake, sitting at its shore. “I got lucky when I got kicked out of the orphanage and met a great blacksmith whose wife talked him into adopting me.”
“... okay, you just made that up.”
“It does sound made up when I say it out loud,” Lino commented, stroking his chin which was already devoured in beard. “But, it’s true. That’s also when I became the Empyrean. You could say that year really turned my life around.”
“... you really could.” Hannah mumbled faintly. “What are they like?”
“Your parents...? I guess...?”
“Oh. Ha ha, they’re quite... unique,” Lino said, smiling warmly. “I’ve yet to meet someone with hearts as big as theirs, to be honest. Who else picks a random kid off the street, who by the way repeatedly insulted them and made it difficult to even stand him, then proceed to feed him, clothe him, teach him and give him a wholesome home? I mean, however you think about it, it takes someone special.”
“... perhaps they just saw in you something worth pulling out.” Hannah said with an honest smile, getting up. “Wanna go for a swim?”
“...what? This water’s actually clean?” Lino asked in wonder.
“Of course it’s clean,” she replied, rolling her eyes at him as she pulled her one piece dress off, left with only her underwear on. “What’s with that look of disappointment?”
“... don’t ask if you know.”
“I just want to hear it.” she smiled.
“I was hoping you’d accidentally pull your mask off as well.” Hannah’s cheeks suddenly flushed red as Lino grinned, getting up and leaning into her face. “And what did your perverted mind think about?”
“... shut up. I hope you drown.”
“I’m sure you’ll save me.”
“Try me.” she whipped out her tongue at him before running off into the lake and taking off. Lino laughed for a moment as he took off his shirt and pants, with only underpants remaining. He quickly followed her and swam out into the lake as well.
The water was rather warm, he realized, and even had some healing properties. His heart swelled as he realized she must have been looking for ways to help him whenever she went out for hours at time. She stopped somewhere around the lake’s center, waiting for Lino to catch up.
He stopped just before and looked on at her in silence, his eyes glistening strangely. Her wet hair almost seemed like draining blood as it slithered about the lake’s surface, her eyes terrifyingly beautiful.
“What? Is there something stuck on my face?” she asked as she realized the two hadn’t spoken for nearly a minute, merely staring at one another.
“No,” Lino said, smiling. “I’m just thinking about how I actually wished you had no underwear on.”
“See, I knew it you---” before she had a chance to speak any further, Lino closed in quickly and grasped at her back, hugging her and pulling her lips against his. They were warm and soft, he mused inwardly as he closed his eyes, taking a simple, yet the most difficult leap of faith he ever would in his life.