FOR THE FUTURE
Though they were plenty afar and up, both Lino and Hannah had easily spotted the great swamp of darkness well down below. By now it spanned all districts, only limited by the outermost walls. It was a terribly ghastly sight as occasional wail and howl would echo from within the dark, shaking the world around it.
Both had quite ugly expressions on their faces, standing on the Grim’s back, rather unsure as to what to do momentarily. Lino shook the feeling first as he’d already had experience with the direct exposure to the Prime’s aura when he fought Erkhaan. Though the general feeling was familiar, the difference was still deplorably obvious; while Adabbith, whom Erkhaan served, merely sent a tinge of his consciousness from who-knows-where, the primal pressure was thousands of times greater than what Lino was experiencing at the moment.
That, however, didn’t make him think that Umbra was weak by any means; even in her current, half-asleep state, she still exuded pressure leagues above that of the God-Devil variant -- rather, the two were incomparable from the very start. Even Lino was swayed both mentally and emotionally for a moment, to speak of nothing else.
“... wake up.” he shook Hannah gently, causing her to finally leave the stupor as she took a deep breath.
“She’s dangerous.” she commented. “Nearly got pulled in completely.”
“... the Writ would have saved you either way,” Lino chuckled. “But, yeah, looks like I’ll really have to put on my serious-boy pants.”
“... wait. You have those? When did you plan on telling me?”
“Never,” he said, grinning. “But, alas, we can’t have all the dreams, now can we?”
“... your friends are surprisingly close-by,” Hannah said, glancing northward. “Do you think they have any idea what’s going on?”
“... I suppose a few have some wild guesses,” Lino shrugged, inwardly confused as to what Felix and Lucky were doing with the Empire’s lot. “Looks like the Emperor and the Guardian aren’t there.”
“They could be the ones who woke her.” Hannah suggested.
“...” Lino didn’t say anything though his mind immediately drifted toward the Titan Realms and whatever the Devils were looking for inside. They couldn’t have thought that taking the Prime was a good idea, right? Lino thought for a moment with a dubious expression, shaking his head. “Looks like the Devils at the very least have figured out what’s going on,” he said, glancing southwards. “I suppose it’s good that they’re sticking around.”
“... alright, seriously, what the fuck are you planning? You’re scaring me.”
“Eh, telling you would ruin the surprise,” he chuckled. “So, you know, just sit back, relax, and expect a good show.”
“Alright, let’s go and see what my friends are up to,” Lino said as he donned the mask, followed shortly after by Hannah. “Flashy entrance?”
“Flashy entrance.” she nodded quickly with a grin.
Lino commanded Grim to fly a bit further until they were just above the group currently camping within the deep reaches of a mountain range. Withdrawing the bird into the Dimensional Pouch, the two quickly entered the free fall from nearly fifteen miles up in the sky. Cold winds chiseled against Lino’s cheeks, yet he found them rather pleasant; his somewhat shoddy-looking clothes that he saved from his beggar’s days fluttered against his chest, the feeling of ephemeral freedom assailing him momentarily.
They slowly began gaining speed as they fell, still holding each other’s hands and only letting go just before reaching the ground. The two had long since been spotted by the group down below who immediately grew alert and quickly dispersed into a half-circle, not daring to attack the blurring shadows directly.
Hannah and Lino landed squarely without stopping, causing a massive ruckus as a crater the size of a medium lake formed, completely collapsing the half-circle and the entire surroundings. Dust storm bellowed immediately after as the group of twenty or so people scrambled to get back into formation, their expressions ghastly.
The two slowly walked out of the mess they’re created, seemingly unaffected by it, and casually strolled within the ‘entrapment’. A quick glance around confirmed what Lino already knew; save for the Emperor and the Guardian of Light, pretty much every other member of the Continental Army’s upper echelon was here, including Patriarch Chen, the Unholy Guardian as well as the Sky-bearing Monk. First Princess Annabelle, Second Prince On’yal, Eluinda, Entarda, Asfeer, Seemer...
They also quickly recognized the masks, their vigilance dropping into exhaustive release, lips curling up into a smile as they all fell on their knees. Those unaware looked on bewildered, unsure on what to do.
The two who felt the weirdest were Lucky and Felix who stood well in the back; they naturally recognized Lino, and even that girl next to him as they’d seen her the last time they talked, but couldn’t figure out why either wore a mask or, more importantly, why did everyone suddenly smile as though their mother just came to sing them a lullaby. However, merely a glance from Lino was enough to let them know to keep their mouths shut and pretend they didn’t know the two.
“... Patriarch, Guardian and Monk, come with us for a moment,” Lino voiced out calmly. “The rest go about fixing what we’ve just ruined and reconstructing the camp.”
After seeing everyone they considered strong suddenly follow this strange lad’s orders, those in the dark didn’t dare question anything and merely followed the orders as well. Patriarch Chen, the Unholy Guardian and the Sky-bearing Monk quickly distanced themselves from the rest and followed Lino and Hannah further out. The reason why they stayed so close to the mess was exactly because they were waiting for the Descender -- though they never expected two to suddenly show up, which gave them quite a bit of a start.
“How long has that thing been spreading?” Lino asked casually as they reached the top of the mountain overlooking the massive city down below doused in shadows.
“A couple of weeks now,” the Patriarch replied with a somewhat pale expression. He was still far from forgetting the excruciating fight he participated in before escaping the City’s bounds. “Showed up out of nowhere... and no matter what we did, we couldn’t really do anything to it...”
“Of course you didn’t,” Lino shrugged, smiling faintly. “She’s a Prime.”
“...” it took a few moments for the trio to register Lino’s words whereupon they collectively shook as their legs gave out, their whole bodies trembling like thin branches in the wind, eyes besieged with terror and fear of soul-deep kind.
“Relax, relax,” Lino chuckled as she saw three of the Continent’s strongest people flatten on their knees due to a single word. “She still hasn’t fully awakened.”
“--t-this is... this is her half-asleep... state?” the Monk manage to stutter out.
“Oh, yeah, she’s pretty meh,” Lino downplayed it while Hannah held back her laughter. “Kind of expected more.”
“What he’s trying to say,” Hannah quickly chimed in as she saw the trio’s gobsmacked expressions. “Is that not all is lost. We can contend against her while she’s in a half-asleep state, but we’ll still need your help. However, if you plan on folding and pissing yourself each time you think about her, perhaps it’s best if you left this place.”
“... w-w-what will happen... happen if we leave?” the Patriarch gritted his teeth and asked.
“If we’re lucky,” Hannah explained. “The two of us should be able to contain her before some useful help arrives. If not, eventually the whole Continent will be consumed.”
“... w-won’t... won’t anybody help?”
“Help?” Hannah glanced at the Patriarch dubiously. “Do you think just anyone is willing to tinker with a woken Prime?”
“Y-you two are...” the Unholy Guardian appeared the most calm of the three as he said.
“Yeah, but that’s because we’re insane,” Lino replied, smiling. “You can’t count on too many other insane people being as strong as we are, though. So, instead of shaking in your boots, how about you instead help us?”
“... what... khm, what can we do?” the Unholy Guardian bit his tongue as red blood trickled out from beneath his hood while he got up onto his feet.
“Well, first, don’t tell anyone else that thing over there is a Prime,” Hannah said. “If the three of you reacted that way, you can only imagine how the rest will.”
“... of course.”
“Secondly,” she continued. “Take the few fastest from that group and have them go around in circles around the city and evacuate -- or kill if necessary -- everyone and everything. Humans, beasts, critters, doesn’t matter. She’s a Prime that works off of host bodies, so we can’t be giving her free real estate. Again, evacuate or kill; so don’t pick the soft-hearted ones. Splinter the group further and have them go around finding literally anyone above Level 600 and have them join us here. If they refuse, kill them to set an example.”
“The three of you,” Lino took over. “Will stay here with us. Pretty much all plants can also act as hosts -- even if only temporary ones -- so you’ll help us do something about that.” Hannah’s eyes suddenly glistened for a moment as she glanced at Lino, a look of realization born inside her eyes as her lips curled up in an interest smile. “Then, the five of us, Eluinda, Entarda, Asfeer and Semeer as well the Prince and the Princess and anyone else in the Realms of Godhood will stand our ground and fight the bitch once she realizes she’s got nothing to posses.”
“...” audible gulps echoed as Lino chuckled inwardly.
“Don’t worry about it too much,” Hannah explained. “We won’t battle her directly -- that way we wouldn’t be able to kill her, but she couldn’t kill us either. We’ll simply fight off her temporary creations from escaping out in search for any host. In order to remain awake, she needs to continuously devour and spread her presence, so if we limit that, so long as we hold her off, she’ll go back to sleep as though nothing happened.”
“... w-what about those... already possessed?” the Monk asked with a worried expression.
“They should wake up naturally,” Hannah said. “So long as they didn’t receive any other wounds that would kill them. So, if they were only possessed, they should be just fine after the fact.”
“... alright,” Patriarch Chen took a deep breath, forcibly calming himself down. “We’ll organize the groups and deploy them as quickly as possible. What about the two weak kids?”
“Just leave them be,” Lino said casually. “So long as they don’t try to do something stupid.”
“Yes.” the trio quickly departed, feeling more hurried than ever before in their lives, leaving Hannah and Lino to loom over the shadow on their lonesome.
“I’ve figured out your plan, you know?” Hannah said, glancing at him.
“Oh? You did?” Lino glanced back at her, smiling. “What do you think?”
“We’re gonna light up the world.”
“He he,” Lino chuckled, worming himself over as their masks clanked together. “No. We’re going to light it up like it was never lit up before.”
“... stop poking my inner pyromaniac,” she mumbled weakly. “It’s unfair.”
“A twang here, a pull there... soon, you’ll match my insanity, you know?”
“Oh, sorry. I honestly think that’s humanly impossible.” she chuckled.
“... well... that fucking hurt.”
“Ha ha ha... alright. Anyway, don’t you want to go and explain shit to your friends?” she asked him with a smile.
“Eh...” he shrugged. “Let them stew in confusion for a while.”
“... you really like torturing them, don’t you?”
“You will too once you see their reactions,” Lino said as he laughed briefly. “Honestly, it’s more fun than drinking.”
“... no way.”
“Oh, very much. Just wait and see. Trust me.”
“... now I’ve got two things to look forward to,” she said, resting her head on his shoulder. “You’re spoiling me terribly, you know? What if I turn rotten because of it?”
“Are you implying that you already somehow aren’t rotten?”
“Yeah, that’s what every girl wants to hear from the guy she likes.”
“Just the same way every guy just loves hearing about how insane he is repeatedly by the girl he likes. It’s a vicious circle, I know.”
“... you scared?” she asked after a short silence.
“... scared? Hah, strangely...” he mumbled. “I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt scared. Oh, wait, I can. Nevermind. Let me rephrase that. I can’t remember the last time any battle made me feel fear.”
“... well, I suppose you are the Empyrean,” she said. “You lot are notorious for plunging yourselves into hell with a fucking grin on your face. Honestly, during some of the Archaic Records, I genuinely felt terrified of those grins you people make. You’re the same by the way. It’s like you live to just fuck shit up.”
“... oh? I like the sound of that,” Lino chuckled, stroking his chin. “That’s my new motto, I think: Born to just fuck shit up!”
“... yeah, words of wisdom to live by.”
“Are you implying that it somehow isn’t the purest form of joy?”
“Implying? No, I’m saying it isn’t.”
“Oh, you’re just mad. There’s nothing more romantic than setting the world on fire just for shits and giggles, and you know it.”
“Hah!” she suddenly exclaimed, pointing a finger at him. “I knew there was some hidden agenda!”
“... I... I never tried to hide it though,” Lino looked at her, confused. “Rather, I’d say that ‘shits and giggles’ was always my prime reason for wanting to light up the world.”
“.... you just got a little bit wet, didn’t you?” Lino grinned as he asked.
“He he he...”
“... shut up. I’ll kill you.”
“... ha ha ha, alright, alright, I’ll shut up...”