Lino was currently panting, seated atop the pile of debris scattered around the ravaged plains; stone, rocks, weeds, trees, and most of all guts and gore splintered everywhere around. Though exhausted and pale, and seemingly on the verge of passing out, his eyes shone like starlit diamonds. The darkness had slowly began receding, a faint, melodic whisper carried by the void congratulating him and reminding him to pick her up.
It took every bit of what he had to emerge partly victorious, and he was truly terrified of how he’d handled it if Umbra had actually gone all out. He might have had to cripple himself all over again, which seemed to be a recurring theme with him and his insatiable desire for doing insanely impossible things. Regardless, he had finally become an Exalted -- and the highest tier at that, an Exalted Soul.
The entire feeling of his own existence had changed, he mused inwardly; breathing was lighter, and even the tiredness and exhaustion he felt due to the fatigue was being washed away with each passing moment. The dulled world had obtained faint traces of color, and all that was unseen before could now be seen -- like numerous Spirits floating around freely, swimming in the sea of reality.
“... congrats.” a warm voice spoke out from behind him, causing him to heave his head back. Hannah stood just above, looking down at him, her lips curled up in a gentle smile.
“Damn, you’re cruel,” Lino grinned. “You watched the guy you supposedly care for nearly get beaten to a pulp.”
“Wouldn’t you feel bad if you got saved by a girl? You always go on and on about ‘men this’ and ‘men that’.”
“Oh, no way,” Lino shrugged, getting up. “If some random chick could just swoosh in and take over all my responsibilities, she’d literally make my day.”
“... ugh.” Hannah rolled her eyes and sighed, glancing at the mayhem around her. “So?”
“So what?” Lino asked, faking confusion.
“Care to explain it, or should you abstain from sex?”
“Can’t abstain from something you’re not having.” Lino frowned momentarily.
“For additional 2000 years on top of 500 that you have to wait.”
“... y-you’re gonna make me wait 500 years?” Lino stuttered.
“What? Am I not worth the wait?”
“You really want to say no, don’t you?” Hannah suddenly burst out into laughter, walking over and kissing him tenderly. “Come on, just tell me what happened.”
“... ah, whatever,” Lino shrugged. “I guess I can become a fucking Monk or something in the meantime. I mean, you know, how hard can it be to not touch a woman for 500--I can’t fucking do it! No way!”
“... wait. D-did you really just think you’d have to wait for five fucking centuries just to see me naked? And you genuinely thought about it for a moment?”
“... what?” Lino asked, noticing Hannah’s dubious gaze.
“Nothing. Just got a bit wet, is all.” she shook her head. “Anyway, explain. Don’t keep dancing around the topic.”
“... wait, so I don’t have to wait 500 years?”
“No, of course not you moron. I’m kind of hurt that you thought I could do it either.”
“... good. That’s good, yeah.” Lino coughed lowly, trying to play it cool for a moment. “Anyway, I sort of kind of maybe befriended Umbra and she made a fool out of me for a moment before promising to help me cross the barrier and become an Exalted.”
“... and... and you just happened to forget to mention that to the rest of us?”
“Hey, I made a deal.” Lino shrugged. “Besides, with Ella and you around, I knew everything will be fine.”
“... you little fuck.”
“Anyway, let’s go and meet up with the rest. I’ve got a bone to pick with the Emperor and his bean-sized fucking brain. Oh, and I also promised Umbra that I’d pick her up and put her in my Dimensional Pouch so she can nap in peace.”
“Yeah, it’s better--wait just a goddamn second!!” Hannah exclaimed as Lino called out Grim, the two quickly climbing the elated bird. “You just said Dimensional Pouch?!”
“Huh? Well duh. Where the fuck do you think I keep this bird? In my ass?”
“... good point.” she assented. “Anyway, how are you feeling now that you’ve finally begun to join the big boys club?”
“... eh, it’s fine.” he shrugged indifferently.
“Oh, right. Forgot to tell you but I reached Level 1900 during the fight,” Hannah exclaimed, hugging him from the back. “Those abominations were quite strong.”
“... weren’t you like not even 1500 just a few days ago?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“Oh my, are you jealous? What? Ataxia won’t allow you to level up quickly? He he.”
“... ugh.” Lino held back a mouthful of blood his wounded pride was about to bleed.
“Eh, don’t get too upset by it,” Hannah smiled. “Ella’s way worse than me. It’s like that woman’s on goddamn steroids or something.”
“... huh? What Level is she now?” Lino asked, frowning.
“She was around 1600 before the fight,” Hannah said. “Don’t know where she’s at now.”
“...” Lino’s heart thumped furiously, recalling that she wasn’t even a Titular back in the ruins. He’d finally realized what it meant to have a monstrous talent -- even the two Bearers couldn’t hold up to that level of insanity. “How in the shit is she that talented?”
“Hm? You don’t know?”
“Know what?” Lino asked.
“She has an Immortal Origin Soul.”
“... you’ve got no clue what that is, do you?”
“I’ll seriously have to force you to start taking classes with me on the most basic shit of cultivation. You’re simply embarrassing me over here.”
“When I get the time.” Lino chuckled. “So? What’s it mean?”
“... exactly what it says,” Hannah said. “She’s one of the few rare mutations that occur naturally within the Human Race. We’re pretty much on the bottom shelf when it comes to innate aptitude, but, every once in a while, someone will be born that simply shouldn’t. Ella leaving pretty much crippled Qe’ll Clan for centuries and put a huge question mark on their future. Before she left, she had practically mastered every single Martial Art that the entire Clan had, and to say she was unrivaled within her generation would be an understatement. To give you a reference, when she reached Soul Realm, she reportedly had Divine Sense spanning literally two million kilometers across.”
“... fuck that noise.” Lino shuddered for a moment, a look of disbelief on his face.
“It’s true,” Hannah chuckled. “Qe’ll Clan was practically guaranteed a spot as a Holy Land so long as she stayed there. But, of course, they had to fuck it up so, you know, now they’re barely surviving.”
“How in the god’s name did that fat fuck manage to snag her?” Lino thought out loud.
“Well, look at us,” she said, glancing sideways at him, her hair fluttering in the passing wind. “Is it really that much different?”
“... well, yeah. I mean, I’m a freaking Empyrean. He’s, you know, a stone-banger.”
“... you’re a stone-banger.”
“Yeah, but I’m also good-looking.”
“Yeah, you really are.”
“... ugh.” Lino nearly choked on his own saliva, his eyes veering toward Hannah in disbelief; for the first time in his life, someone actually validated the claim that he was good-looking.
“He he, I didn’t think you were so weak to compliments.”
“... I can wait for 500 years, you know? If it’s really important to you.”
“Oh my god, not with this shit again.”
“No, no, it’s fine. Look, I have my right hand and my left hand, they can be my companions for a while, you know? I’ll manage.”
“I’ll manage your fucking brain if you don’t shut it,” she growled lowly at him. “We’re fucking soon and it’s final!”
“... oh. Right. It’s you.” Hannah sighed, seeing the sneer creep up onto Lino’s face. “You’re really good, you know? I mean, terribly devious, outright manipulative, entirely apathetic, but good.”
“Hey, I’m very much an empathetic guy. I just happen to relate more to people who are suffering. Because of me.”
“... haaah... why am I attracted to you?”
“Because I’m good-looking.”
“Yeah... oh, there they are. They look fine.”
“Of course they’re fine,” Lino shrugged. “I mean, Ella could probably flatten the whole City all on her own. They’re just like some basic accessories dangling from the side; kinda cute to look at, but the centerpiece are the huge tits.”
“Yeah, it’s kinda like your attempts to be charming,” Hannah snickered. “When all you have to do is just undress.”
“... that hurt. Like, deep-hurt. I’m more than my perfect muscles Hannah.”
“And I’m more than my holes, Lino.”