Ella, Eggor, Scarlet and Annar stared at the distant flames roaring toward the sky, consuming huge swaths of land in their wake, their expressions eerily similar. Eggor sighed and shook his head, hiding his face from the sky in embarrassment, while Ella smiled bitterly, unable to think of what else she could possibly do.
Annar, much like Eggor, hid his face away, remembering how he planned on asking the strange blacksmith for an advice. He mused he did himself proud by holding back, as he would never live down this moment to himself rather than anyone else.
Scarlet, however, had a starlit expression, her eyes shining in high fervor, breathing quickening. Annar sneered silently at her while Ella questioned her own perception of Lino, wondering whether the latter truly had so much pull or whether it was just Scarlet that was insane.
The blaze hurdled on and on, consuming the world and driving the rest of the Continent into silence. Very few witnessing the event had ever seen anything on that scale, let alone directly at the heart of the Empire.
“You guys like it?” the four got startled as a voice broke them out of their stupor; glancing sideways, they saw Lino on top of a rather beautiful scarlet hippogryph, with three more people sitting behind him. He had a rather sheepish grin on his face, one full of pride and joy. “Personally, I love it.”
“E-eh?!” Hannah and Ella suddenly exclaimed at the same time, both point fingers at each other.
“Elanor?! Why are you here?!”
“Hannah?! I should be asking you the same question!” Lino’s grin disappeared as he looked quizzically at the two pointing fingers at one another. Even Eggor seemed unaware as he too stared dubiously at Ella.
“You two know each other?” Lino asked Hannah.
“... well, yeah,” she scratched her head awkwardly. “She was the one keeping an eye out on me back when I stayed with you.”
“Eh?! Your ‘friend’ was Lino?!” Ella exclaimed, turning her eyes toward Lino. She found herself even more confused than over the whole Scarlet issue.
“Ha ha ha,” Lino, however, merely shrugged the coincidence and laughed. “What a small world, eh?”
“... j-just a second,” Hannah suddenly seemed to have realized something, lowering her head and pressing against her temple. “Your... adoptive parents?”
“Ah, yeah, these two,” Lino nodded, smiling. “Eggor and Ella, the musclehead and the weirdo, the loud and the corny, the stupid and the--”
“Isn’t that enough of an introduction?” Eggor growled lowly, his eyebrows twitching.
“Wait, how do--what are the two of you doing together?” Ella asked quickly.
“Oh, we’re together.” Lino replied casually.
“... together?” Ella quizzed.
“Hm? What’s confusing about that?” Lino retorted. “Together as in, you know, she-rubs-me-I-meet-a-god-together.”
“You couldn’t have just explained it normally, couldn’t you?” Hannah sighed.
“But then I wouldn’t get to witness all the various reactions,” Lino grinned. “Like Ella’s absolutely terrified gaze, Eggor’s confused one where he seems to be questioning the reality itself, Felix burying his head into the chest, Lucky rolling her eyes once again, Annar itching to ask me how in the fuck I wooed you, and Scarlet seemingly re-examining her value as a woman. And, oh, of course your blush. Worth way more than all the rest combined!”
“It’s rather amazing how observant you are,” Hannah commented. “Even I didn’t catch every single one of them.”
“That’s because you’re nice,” Lino explained. “As someone whose profession is to piss people off, I’ve gotta know to read their expressions in the finite detail within a nanosecond as to extrapolate pleasure from it.”
“... please tell me that’s not your fetish.”
“Oh, no, nothing sexual,” Lino shook his head. “Though, you’ll probably wish it was.”
“Hey!!” Hannah angrily exclaimed.
“Anyway, let’s board the ship,” Lino said as he caressed Grim gently, causing the bird to cry out in joy, before putting it back into the Pouch and boarding the flying ship with the rest. “How have you guys been?”
“... I’m not done questioning you!” Ella suddenly exclaimed, her eyebrows twitching as she grabbed at Lino’s ear and dragged him away from the rest, putting up a soundproof barrier that no one on the ship dared listen through. Others stayed outside, reveling in the awkward silence. “Are... are you really together with her?” she asked, seeming even excited to Lino’s surprise.
“Yes...? Why are you so weird about it? It’s not as though it’s never happened before, you know?”
“Oh, trust me, I know,” Ella sighed. “But that’s not the point. Do you even know who she is?”
“...” Lino’s eyes turned into slits for a moment as did Ella’s. “Which of the three identities you mean?”
“... you know all three?” Ella asked back.
“Is that a trick question?”
“I don’t know, is yours?”
“You’re an adult here, so out with it.”
“You’re her lover, so you know her better.”
“You used to watch over her,” Lino persisted. “So you go.”
“I’ll list out initials,” Ella said, taking a deep breath. “B-GD-HL.”
“... fuck, you know all three too?!” Lino exclaimed. “Right, isn’t she a total badass?” he suddenly grinned, glancing at Hannah who, unlike the rest, embraced the silence at sat on the ship’s ledge, enjoying the wind. “I mean, a Bearer, a Descender, and some super important member of the Holy Land. I can barely match her!”
“... wait, back up!” she exclaimed suddenly. “You know she’s a Bearer and you still got together with her?!! Are you insane?!”
“...” Lino smirked mysteriously. “Ah, I wouldn’t worry about it. Anyway, it’s good that you’re here. I’m gonna need all your guys’ help.”
“The Prime within the City is called Umbra,” Lino elaborated. “Do you know about it?”
“... yeah.” Ella frowned. “No wonder you burned everything around the city.”
“Right. But we still have to prevent her from finding any hosts further out of the city and wait it out till she falls back asleep.”
“... yeah, that’s probably the best plan possible.” Ella nodded in agreement. “Surround it and wait?”
“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Lino sighed. “But, I don’t think we’ve got enough people. I mean, the entire Continent now has only three Titulars left. The three of them, Hannah and I, and you four can probably take at least two sides, but what about the remaining two?”
“... why do I’ve got a feeling you’re about to propose something insane?” Ella asked, looking dubiously at Lino.
“... I’ve got wings.”
“They allow me to cover a lot of ground.”
“Yeah, sure, like I’m going to let you defend an entire side all on your own,” Ella chuckled oddly. “Keep dreaming boy.”
“... I killed a God-Devil.” Lino proudly exclaimed, though hiding some facts.
“I don’t care if you caged him and then raped him for centuries, I’m not letting you guard an entire side by yourself.”
“... you just said something extremely out of character right there!”
“How strong is Hannah?” Ella asked, ignoring Lino’s probe.
“Fairly strong. Even stronger than me, I believe.” Lino replied. “I’ve had a plan to employ the Devils for one side, but I’m fairly certain they still plan on taking Umbra once everything chills out.”
“... yeah, you can’t trust them,” Ella shook her head. “But... you could, you know, still make use of them...”
“... are you volunteering?” Lino asked.
“Nah, I’m better served off fighting directly. Let Eggor handle them.”
“What?” Ella asked, seeing Lino’s pained expression.
“I... I kinda feel bad for the horned guys... I mean... you know, they’re shit and evil and all that, but...”
“... pfft, ha ha ha ha ha,” Ella burst out in laughter, unable to hold it for a long while Lino began to wonder was what he said really that funny. “Ha ha, don’t... don’t worry about that. Just let him handle it.”
“... aah, fine, like I can say no to that smile.” Lino said, chuckling. “Anyway, how have you guys been?”
“Oh, great. Just sitting around, waiting for you to call us without ever doing so, even to just check in and say you’re okay, it’s been fantastic.”
“... are you drunk?” Lino asked, backing away a bit. “You... talk... like a weirdo! What happened to you?”
“... honestly?” Ella mumbled, smiling warmly for a moment. “I’m happy, Lino. Happy for you.”
“Hannah is... an amazing girl,” she said, glancing at the crimson-haired girl still sitting on the ledge. “Though I can’t say how, she had never succumbed to the magic of the cultivation. She was never maddened by the pointless glory of pursuit of the unreachable. She didn’t chase titles or heroics or legends, and she didn’t give in. For as long as I’ve known her, she was always level-headed, albeit slightly odd. In a world distraught with deceit and lies, she always remained true to herself. You could learn a lot from her, you know?”
“... I have been,” Lino chuckled, glancing back as well. “She made it a lot easier to admit to myself I’m beyond fucked... but that I’m still not past the point of no return. I’m getting there... bit by bit.”
“As you should,” she reached her arm over and caressed his hair gently, smiling. “But, if you mess with her, I’ll be the first to whip your ass back into oblivion. You understand?”
“Hey, whose side are you on here?!”
“What? I know she’s an angel, and you’re a little devil. Can you blame me?”
“... yeah, I guess not,” Lino chuckled. “I’ve no intention of messing with her, though. Do you know how happy I was when I met her again? For the first time in a while... I was genuinely plastered. Almost at a loss for words. That doesn’t happen to me, you know?”
“Oh, trust me I do.”
“... just as she did back then,” he said, getting up slowly. “She still leaves me feeling breathless every day. And she’s also one hell of a badass! You should have seen her fighting... damn. And she was just playing around at that! I so want to see her going all out...”
“Alright, alright, your obligatory ‘I have emotions but they’re only the cool ones’ moment was wholly unnecessary.”
“You should ask your hubby if those moments are unnecessary.” Lino glared at her for a moment as he headed out. “You women and your---”
“I asked ‘us women and what’?!”
“I SWEAR NOTHING! FORGIVE ME!!”
“Get your ass back in here!!” hearing the ruckus, Hannah turned around and saw a scene she would never forget; a fully grown Lino trying to run away from Ella who clutched at his arm and pulled him back, then propped him against the wall and continued to lecture him on something for a literal hour. All the while, she couldn’t help but grin, deciding to ask Ella on how and what she did, for future reference.