INTO THE FRAY
Shortly after leaving the ruined cityscape, Lino and Hannah found themselves on yet another magical adventure as they reached the edge of what turned out to be just a single island in the sky, floating seamlessly above the clouds. All around them the two spotted dozens of similarly-shaped sky islands floating about, and those were only the ones they could see with their naked eyes.
Lino took out Grim as the two mounted the bird who soared through the sky, bounding from one island to the nearest one toward the east. Unlike the previous, which had largely been dominated by ruins and mountains, the one they landed on was a different sort of paradise; lush forest of violet trees stretched in a crescent shape, surrounding a series of inter-connected lakes each doused in thick mist.
At the very heart of the island stood an obelisk, its entire surface carved out with runic characters that neither Hannah nor Lino recognized. Though the runes were dim, it was easy to extrapolate that once upon a time they glistened brightly against the obelisk’s jet-black surface. Tipping over the very end of the obelisk was a glassed sphere, rotating rings surrounding it. Grim took to the sky and led the two just next to the sphere, allowing them to get a better look on what was inside.
A single ring spun within the sphere, though ‘ring’ may be an understatement as Lino was fairly certain he couldn’t even wear it on his thighs. It seemed entirely made out of stone save for a singular ruby gem as the centerpiece which shone faintly, though its light was contained within the sphere.
Lino reached out cautiously and touched the sphere, realizing quickly it was quite chilly to the touch. Pressing harder, rather than the expectant cracking of the glass, Lino nearly toppled over Grim as his hand simply passed through the surface; Hannah barely managed to catch him in time, quickly pulling him up.
The ring within the sphere suddenly shook once, contorting as though molded by hands until it fit Lino’s palm neatly. The latter quickly pulled his hand out of the sphere, his expression expectant, checking the ring’s stats.
Note: The most valued treasure of the Xav Titan Clan, the Imperator Ring was destroyed in the Wars of the Fallen, shattered into a 100 pieces which scattered throughout the world. Legends say that bringing all the pieces back together will resurrect the Ring’s Will, giving birth to the Void-Tier equipment.
“...” Hannah barely stifiled her laughter as she watched Lino’s expressions dance like the bride and the groom during the wedding. From anger to confusion to wonder to unbridled rage...
“Fucking piece of shit,” Lino growled lowly, yet still put the ring away into the void world. “What do you mean a piece? It’s clearly the whole ring. If Titans weren’t already extinct, I’d have hunted them all down myself, those motherfuckers.”
“... why are you so disappointed?” Hannah asked. “Can’t you just craft whatever treasure you want?”
“That’s besides the point!” Lino exclaimed as Grim took flight yet again, bounding toward another island. “Who doesn’t like finding a treasure, huh? It’s the sense of surprise, of joy, of the adventuring spirit that causes all those otherwise rational people to jump straight into an inferno just in hopes of finding something cool they can use. There’s a reason why treasure hunter is an occupation, Hannah! Don’t make fun of the people’s dreams!”
“You really love unloading random shit on unsuspecting innocent, don’t you?”
“That’s what I live for.” he grinned widely, turning his attention to the island they were about to land on.
Both their expressions suddenly darkened as Lino withdrew Grim into the Dimensional Pouch, unfurling his wings and forming a massive, golden shield around him and Hannah. The two quickly donned their masks as, seemingly out of nowhere, hundreds of bolts of darkness struck at the shield, barely managing to shake it momentarily.
Looking down onto the island, Lino saw numerous shadows darting through the rocky formations, running away from them.
“Let me.” Hannah held his arm back as he reached to draw out a weapon.
Suddenly leaping off, Hannah began gliding through the sky as thundering bolts began crackling and dancing around her body. Slowly gaining speed, she quickly caught up to the shadows and came to an abrupt halt, spinning about and using her arm to guide a condensed bolt of lighting before spitting it forth toward the ground.
The bolt turned into a massive sphere as she clasped her hands together, causing the sky above her to dim, drifting in clouds, as they cleaved open a mouth, sucking in a mass of Qi before transforming it into pure, white lightning. The streaks danced about like rain for a moment before bolting downwards, striking at the ground and causing massive explosions to erupt one after another.
It was also then that the sphere landed squarely at the center of the island, suddenly expanding into a massive net surrounding the whole floating rock and barring everyone temporarily from leaving. Several of the shadows quickly turned to ash, but Lino in the end managed to catch one before the latter managed to commit suicide.
Holding up the Demon, Lino sighed inwardly; though it was a High-Tier Demon, it was still but a pup in his eyes. Yet, that very pup defiantly stared at him, fearless down to his bones.
“How’d they sneak in?” Hannah mused out loud as she joined Lino on the ground.
“Eh, they have their ways I imagine.” Lino replied. “They’re really starting to piss me off with their antics.”
“What do you want to do?”
“What do you think?”
“It’s easy enough to root them out,” Hannah said. “But, we don’t know their numbers and I highly doubt this kid will squeal.”
“... their numbers are irrelevant,” Lino said, sighing. “What worries me are their plans. This almost feels like they’re purposefully telling us they’re here.”
“... it does.” Hannah assented after a short thought. “So? Are we going to dance to their tune?”
“Their target’s probably not me but you,” Lino glanced sideways and suddenly smirked, causing Hannah to shudder. “After all, however ballsy they are, they wouldn’t dare actually kill me. You, on the other hand...”
“... are you seriously implying I go out and act as a bait?”
“All I’m saying is that you’d make a fantastic one.”
“Isn’t this the point where the man bravely steps out and says it’s too dangerous and tells his girl to back off so he can go and deal with it?” Hannah said, seemingly somewhat panicked.
“I trust you.”
“But I do.”
“... you’ll owe me.”
“Big time, I know.”
“... haaah... fine...” Hannah nodded, disgruntled. “What will we do about him?” she then pointed at the placid Demon whose throat was still clenched by Lino.
“Eh, we killed the rest of his friends. He might be sad for a while so let’s save him from that misery.” pressing tighter, snapping sound quickly echoed as the Demon’s head heaved sideways. Lino glanced at the dead eyes for a moment before throwing the body away, sighing in the process.
“You think they bought it?” Hannah asked, playing with her hair.
“Of course they bought it,” Lino shrugged, taking out Grim yet again. “They’re hall-of-fame morons.”
“We flank?” she asked, climbing the bird.
“Yeah,” he replied as the two took to the skies yet again. “You take the western point around the island, and I’ll go to the northern one and ‘hide’. When they draw out to attack me, jump in and fuck shit up.”
“... oh? I’m allowed to go all out?”
“If you wanna wake up Umbra, sure. Go ahead. Set the world on fire.”
“Tsk. Stingy. Will you be okay, though?”
“Of course I will,” Lino chuckled. “I’ll just play around with them for a little while and see what they’re made of. Let’s not drag this on too much. We’ve still got a whole lot more to do here.”
“Alright. Hit me up if anything unexpected comes up.”
“Will do.” the two kissed before Hannah jumped off Grim, coating her body in lightning and streaking ahead of Lino.
The latter gazed in her direction for a while while his lips curled up in a warm smile. His eyes then veered off, away from the east where Umbra was, and toward what he believed to be the center of the Realms. Ever since he entered here, he’d sensed a peculiar presence far, far away; he couldn’t even ascertain as to whether the feeling was real or simply a small case of paranoia, but he certainly felt as though he was being watched.
“Don’t worry about it too much,” the Writ’s voice suddenly echoed inside his mind. “You’re still some ways off from heading over there.”
“... so I’m not imagining shit?” Lino asked.
“No. But there’s no reason to focus on it. After taking Umbra with you, head off to explore every island. From what I recall, these should be inter-connected ruins of the six last Titan Clans before their Fall. Only after that will you head off toward the center.”
“... you do realize that you’re just making me more curious?”
“I’m motivating you.”
“Oh, nice one. You’re finally getting a grip on how things work in reality.”
“Haah... anyway, let’s first focus on the task at hand: some overdue kicking of Devil butt.”