THE FORMER HOLY MAIDEN
Edward had realized there was something odd about the current battle a long while ago, yet he was still unable to pinpoint exactly what that something was. His relatively small group has been chased for almost two hours by now, running away from thousands, yet they hadn’t suffered a single loss. Time and again, those in danger seem to magically just... escape it, without any rhyme or reason.
When he asked them, they only stared back in confusion while some of the more self-loving ones proclaimed they had been touched by Divinity which had inspired them. Even Edward himself had experienced a strange feeling just recently; by the time he realized he was being encircled, he also realized it was too late, and just as he was about to stay and hold his ground to buy others some more time, he magically found himself out of the circle, running away yet again.
Once or twice, perhaps, he could overlook as a miracle, but no ephemeral god is as gracious as whatever was currently giving them a helping hand. On the other end of things, Antone and everyone else was similarly confused, yet also going slightly mad by this point. Time and again they were close to offing many-an-eternal, yet, through one miracle or another, they’ve yet to fell a single one.
Antone, especially, had nearly gone blind with anger. Not only was he made fun of in front of all his Juniors by Hannah, he was now unable to even vent out his frustration on those he could, instead chasing around like a headless chicken without catching anything.
The source of joy and frustration, collectively, was currently yawning as he pulled yet another unsuspecting youth from the mortal danger he was about to find himself in. Lino had by now grown quite bored, barely able to suppress his desire to engage into a battle as well. He’d realized there was nothing more dull than standing around and watching others do things.
Yet, he knew he couldn’t just announce himself and start killing people; even if he hadn’t made a promise to Hannah, he still wouldn’t have done it as he was far from prepared to etch himself into the eyes of the Holy Grounds. He was still years off, if not decades, from being able to do that confidently enough. So, for the time being, he simply chose to wait for Hannah.
Luckily, however, he needn’t have waited for too long; merely half an hour later, the entire chase stopped as the space above them rippled madly for a moment, soon spitting out two figures -- one of which was rather sorry-looking. Hannah had heaved Rev over her shoulder, the latter being battered, wounded and bruised and also very much unconscious. She was still smiling brightly, however, as though she was helping a drunken friend find a way home.
“Hello lads,” she waved toward Anton who immediately felt his heart freeze. Although he very much doubted Rev would be able to actually defeat the previous Holy Maiden of the Eternal Paradise, he certainly didn’t expect their battle to be over with so quickly. “Rev’s, uh, slipped and fell. Please ask Selena to take good care of him, alright?” rather than gently handing him over to Antone, she tossed the hulk of a man from the sky and looked away from the Aeonians onto her Juniors.
They were all there, accounted for, she quickly realized, not a hair missing from their bodies. Her eyes quickly found Lino sitting in the far off corner, sipping booze nonchalantly with a faint smile on his face. The keel in her heart vanished as she landed in front of Edward and the rest, who similarly to Antone were quite confused as to why the battle was finished so quickly. They had fully expected to be running for at least a couple of days.
“... c-congratulations, Lady Hannah, on your victory!!” the young girl Melissa was the first to come to her senses, quickly exclaimed the phrase that went to be repeated by everyone else.
“Thank you very much,” Hannah smiled back. “It was quite a taxing endeavor, if I may say so myself. Almost broke a sweat, actually.”
“... ha ha ha, good thing Antone isn’t hear to hear that!”
“That old bastard Rev is lucky he’s unconscious, otherwise Lady Hannah would probably murder him with words alone!”
“He he, nobody can match up to our Lady!”
“Oh, right,” Edward suddenly exclaimed in worry, seemingly remembering something, as he began looking around frantically. “Y-your Disciple, Lady Hannah... I...”
“Eh? Lyonel,” Hannah frowned as she turned toward the end of the group, where a man was sitting and drinking casually. “What did you do to my beloved Juniors?”
“W-what... h-how... when?!” Edward wasn’t the only one confused -- they all practically were. They considered Lino to be an ordinary Exalted, certainly not someone who could follow the pace of that chase, let alone survive in the process.
“He he, sorry guys, I sort of hid with you. I hope you don’t mind!” Lino replied, smiling apologetically.
“No... no, of course not.” dismissing Lino as he had the story of miracle survival, Edward simply chose to etch this day into his memory as the day of oddities and leave it at that. He dared not entertain a brief thought that surged inside his mind.
“You guys should probably go back now and inform Elders of what happened here.” Hannah said suddenly.
“E-eh? You’re... you’re not coming with us?” Edward asked expectantly.
“I’m afraid not,” Hannah smiled faintly. “I’ve still some business here. I can’t always be the one lighting fires under your asses, guys. Sometimes looking up at the sky and expecting someone to save you isn’t the best choice of action. Take charge yourself... and prove to the Aeonian pigs that you are so far above them they shouldn’t ever entertain the idea of victory against you. Don’t worry,” seeing their disappointed expressions, her expression mellowed out somewhat. “If things get really bad... I will be there. You know that.”
“... we do,” Edward said, sighing. “It’s just... don’t get me wrong, Lady Alison is great and really sweet... but... she’s not like you.”
“That’s right,” another one chimed in. “She doesn’t seem to know how to lit fire under our asses.”
“She’s very passive, yes.”
“Seems afraid to tell us to go out there and die while killing some Aeonian pigs.”
“Alright, alright, that’s enough,” Hannah sighed. “Ally’s just trying to root herself. I’m sure that if you give her a chance, she’ll eventually surprise you. She’ll soon become far larger than I ever was or ever will be guys, so... just believe in her, alright?”
“Great!” she exclaimed, putting the smile back on her face. “Now go and brag about having kicked some Aeonian butt, alright? Don’t let me hear any more news about you lot losing battles, alright? Otherwise you may force me to disown you!”
“For Lady Hannah!”
“For Lady Hannah!”
“... ah, whatever.” Hannah waved her hand dismissively, walking toward Lino. “I’ve no patience for this shit again...”
The two watched Edward and his group quickly assemble the rest of the crew and some of the artifacts they managed to dig up before disappearing from the realm, leaving it in the same silence they found it in when they first arrived.
“... thank you.” Hannah said as she took the gourd of ale from Lino’s hands, drinking it quickly.
“Are we talking the literal asses-on-fire here or what...?” Lino smirked wryly, asking.
“... oh shut up,” she rolled her eyes at him. “Sounds like Ally is having a really hard time...”
“I imagine she’ll be just fine.” Lino said, smiling faintly.
“Maybe I should have popped in just to see how they’re doing...”
“... yeah, maybe.” not having picked up the hint immediately, Lino felt regret swell up in his heart when he spotted Hannah’s glare. “No, no, of course not, that’s what I actually meant. I mean, I couldn’t have possibly survived without you here, you know? I need you far more than they do!”
“Too late chump.”
“... how about this,” Lino said after a short silence. “After we explore the Dimension, we can both pop in quickly and see how she’s doing.”
“She doesn’t remember you, though.” Hannah said quickly.
“... wow, jealousy really suits you,” Lino commented. “That fiery look in your eyes is quite hot, actually.”
“... I really had sex with you too soon. You’d gotten lazy.” Hannah sighed.
“... what do you mean lazy?” Lino frowned. “I give it my all every time we do it. You also seem to enjoy it quite a bit!”
“Ha ha ha,” she burst out into laughter, leaning against his shoulder. “Just how many people do you fool with that ‘I’m so oblivious’ act of yours? It can’t be that many, right?”
“... I just don’t try hard with you.” Lino replied.
“Oooo, is that so? My, my, is that a challenge?”
“... oh dear gods...”
“No, don’t go praying now,” she said, getting up. “I really want to see you trying, khm, ‘hard’ to fool me. Come on, you drunken whore! Show me what you’ve got!”
“I really don’t appreciate being called either drunk or a whore,” Lino said, getting up as well. “Especially both at the same time.”
“Ow no, did I hurt your feelings?” she grinned.
“... looks like I really did find someone who can match me tit-for-tit.” Lino said, smiling back.
“... and like for like.” she said. “And eye for an eye. And tooth for a tooth. And--”
“I get it, I get it already,” Lino groaned. “You read more than me. Geez, I bet you’d be perpetually wet if I was made out of fancy words.”
“... oh, wow. You’re right.”
“... aaand there goes my heart. Look at it, ripped right out and fed to the dogs.”
“Fed to the words, dear, to the words.”