DOWN THE LINE
Eggor was currently staring at Ella with a mixture of anger, confusion and a tinge of happiness. Yet, the latter was almost completely drowned underneath the former two. Ella, similarly, had a rather mixed expression; bitterness, disappointment, and a sliver of self-loathing.
“... I’m sure you already know this,” Eggor said, sitting down. “But... you know she’s eventually gonna stand in Lino’s way, right?”
“... yeah, I’m aware of it.” Ella replied, sitting down as well.
“And you still want me to craft her a Creation-tier Weapon?”
“... it’s the price of the mile. Besides,” she said. “By that time, I’m sure Lino will have already grown far too strong for her anyway.”
“... it’s a Creation-tier Weapon, Ella,” Eggor said. “The few I’ve created are literally the reason your Clan was able to stay the Holy Land with you gone.”
“I know, I know,” Ella sighed, chugging her head onto the table. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I... I just wanted to stop them from fighting, but that old fuck wasn’t biting anything I was offering... so I had to offer him you... Lino and Hannah aren’t back yet?”
“No,” Eggor shook his head. “I still can’t believe it though. I was half-expecting you’d actually ask me to create Lino one.”
“Oh, I was going to,” Ella replied. “I was just waiting for him to get a bit stronger.”
“... he’s doing the impossible, Ella,” Eggor said. “Being a blacksmith and a cultivator. Let him.”
“Not at the expense of his life!”
“Oh would you relax,” Eggor rolled his eyes at her, taking out two gourds of ale and handing her one. “You have to remember that besides just being the little scrawny, annoying pain-in-the-ass Lino, he’s also an Empyrean. Didn’t you always used to tell me those crazy stories about the Empyreans surviving the impossible? Like... like that story about, uh, what’s-his-face, the Immortal Entropy Titular.”
“Ughfur?” Ella asked, arching her brows.
“Yes! God, that dude had a weird name. Anyway, didn’t you say he once survived a direct hit from the Heaven’s Chosen Primordial-tier Weapon and lived... while one half of the Holy Continent went into perpetual winter for about eighteen million years?”
“Well, yes, but--”
“Or that Undying Empyrean Titular--”
“Alduar, right, I knew that.”
“... sure.” Ella rolled her eyes.
“Didn’t he fight all six other Bearers for like four centuries straight, and in the end the six of them had to give up because they were too exhausted to continue?”
“Yeah, but both of them -- all of them -- were in thousands when it came to Levels,” Ella said, sighing. “They had hundreds, if not thousands of years of experience fighting, escaping, surviving. They all had a lot of time to prepare before entering the main stage... but Lino... he’s a year shy from thirty, Eggor. He doesn’t have all that experience... all he has is his fake bravado and ego the size of Mt. Koogen.”
“... isn’t that just an averagely-sized mountain?” Eggor asked.
“I’ve met a lot of narcissists in my life,” Ella said, groaning. “He’s still got a long way to go.”
“Look, I’m worried too,” Eggor said, reaching over and caressing her cheek gently with a smile. “But, he’s already told us... he’s all grown up, El’. I mean, he’s already fighting battles that he in no way, shape or form should... and he’s winning them. Do you remember how he was like when we first met him? That was the spitting image of the false bravado. Now? There’s only a smidgen of it left in there. The rest? It’s confidence gained through victories that would have been impossible for anyone else in his shoes. Say what you will, but the biggest thing about that kid ain’t his ego.”
“... yeah, I suppose you’re right,” Ella chuckled, grabbing at his hand and kissing it softly. “I guess... we just missed... a lot of his journey. Makes me kind of sad.”
“... I thought you said no to the kids in the ‘evil world that we live in’?” Eggor glanced at her dubiously.
“Did I? I don’t really remember...”
“Funny thing. Neither do I.”
“So Lino’s finally gonna get a younger brother or sister, huh?”
“... you do realize--no, yeah, yeah, Lino’s finally gonna get a sibling.” Eggor quickly backed off after a deathly glare. “And he definitely will not torment neither us nor that poor kid till his dying days.”
“... yeah, I love him and all,” Ella said, frowning. “But we probably should never leave the two of them alone.”
Meanwhile, on a small ranch currently empty of any horses, two sorry-looking figures sat on the porch, drinking in dismay. Felix’s usual well-groomed hair was a mess, his clothes full of soot and holes, half his face jetted in black. Sitting next to him, Lucky looked no better; her hair was like a porcupine, eyes held up within a pair of black, thick bags, complexion as pale as snow.
The two drank in solemn and exhausted silence, barely moving another muscle besides their arms’, as even the thought of such actions hurt them.
“... is... is he worth it?” Lucky mumbled lowly.
“... I... I don’t know...” Felix replied similarly.
“... today... today that old hag forced... forced me to memorize,” she shuddered. “A set of sixty-four arrays arranged in a concave principle into a basic Detection Formation. Do... do you know how... how many lines that is? Tens of thousands. That’s tens of thousands of lines, Felix.”
“... that old fogey forced... forced me to eat herbs, Lucky,” he said, shuddering as well. “Herbs that, by god, commit suicide because of how ugly in every way, shape and form they are. The tastes... the scents... L’... I... I’ve tasted and smelled hell... and I don’t, I repeat -- I don’t, ever, ever, fucking ever, want to go back...”
Scarlet and Annar looked on at the two from the doors, wondering whether they’d been a bit too harsh on the two. The truth is, they really were; after all, the two went off of their own experience, not taking into the account that Felix and Lucky, not being from the Holy Continent -- and especially a Holy Ground -- had very, very different experiences growing up comparatively speaking.
The two had been asked by Eggor a couple weeks back to teach Lucky and Felix some basics when it came to Alchemy and Formation, and as they didn’t have much to do -- and awkwardly sitting around without ever bringing up that dinner wasn’t exactly a time well-spent -- they agreed. They learned quickly, however, that the task would be much more difficult than they anticipated; not only did Lucky and Felix had stamina of a child from the Holy Grounds, they also knew next to nothing when it came to two massive fields.
They had also misunderstood Eggor’s intentions -- he indeed meant only basics, the most basic of basics, just an overview of the fields that would provide Lucky and Felix with a correct direction to follow. Scarlet and Annar took it to mean basic as in everything that is not advanced... which included a lot of theoretical knowledge... a whole lot of theoretical knowledge.
Surprisingly, though, Lucky and Felix endured against all odds, even slowly growing accustomed to the insane pace and even more insane amount of knowledge they were forced to absorb quickly.
“Hey, guys,” Scarlet spoke to the dispirited two with a smile. “How about we take a day off, huh? And just... relax. Talk -- not about Formations or Pills... just something random.”
“...” Felix’s and Lucky’s eyes suddenly flashed in a strange glint, the two quickly glancing at each other to confirm the intentions before Lucky spoke out. “Oh, yeah, that sounds great. Do you guys want a drink?”
“Sure!” Scarlet said, sitting down, followed by Annar shortly after. “So, how did you two meet?”
“Lino introduced us,” Lucky said quickly. “What about you two?”
“... oh. We go a long way back.” Scarlet chuckled awkwardly.
“Childhood friends?” Felix asked.
“Something like that.” Annar replied.
“Uuh, that must be awkward.” Lucky spoke, sucking in a cold breath.
“H-huh? Why... why would it be awkward?” Scarlet asked.
“Well, I mean, you know? You guys practically know everything about each other,” Lucky said. “Except, you know, what it’d feel like to bone the other.”
“H-huh?!” both Annar and Scarlet exclaimed in unison, their cheeks flushing slightly red.
“Yeah, that can be tough,” even Felix joined in. “I mean, it’s scary, right? What if, despite the fact that everything else fits... that part just... doesn’t? I mean, if you try it and it doesn’t work, boom goes the friendship! This way, you know, you can keep the mystery alive for a little while longer.”
“N-no... that’s... that’s not--”
“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” Lucky said. “We’re not judging. Felix and I were exactly the same at the start.”
“Really?!” the two exclaimed in unison again, somewhat excited.
“No, one day I just felt like boning him so I boned him,” Lucky said. “And it was... fun. So I decided to keep doing it.”
“... why do you make it sound as though I had no choice in the matter?” Felix asked, glancing at her.
“Oh, please. Like you ever wanted to stop.”
“... yeah, that’s true. Anyway, the point is, you guys just need to bone. Or, to put it delicately, you guys need to fuck each other’s brains out.”
“How’s that putting it more delicately?!!” Annar exclaimed, using anger to try and cover up his embarrassment.
“Oh, did I say delicate? I meant more embarrassingly. After all-”
“Wait, Felix,” Lucky suddenly said, her expression turning terrified. “Do... do you realize it?”
“We... we... we are turning... into him...”
“Him? What hi--- oh my god... you... you are right...” Annar and Scarlet stared in confusion as the two people sitting across from them went on a deep and seemingly hauntingly terrifying expedition of self-examination... whose journey did not go well, and destination didn’t appear to be pretty because those exhausted expressions were soon replaced by self-loathing ones.