Golden gems laid embedded in the relatively small ceiling of a makeshift cave, exuding warm and pleasant glow, showering the entire cave in light. The cave’s floor was entirely covered in strange, crimson runes and patterns rounding up in a massive circle, occasionally spitting out faint billows of the smoke.
There seemed to be neither the entrance nor the exit to the cave, as it was entirely closed-in with the rugged, dry walls. Within the cave’s center was a steel pillory, carved out with circular runes, a pair of hands and a head veering out. The golden shine of Eos’ hair had dimmed, muddied by dirt, dried up and interlocked. Her head was facing down, still seemingly unconscious, the rest of her body entirely naked.
Lino sat just a few paces away on top of a simple, wooden chair, currently drinking from a pouch, his eyes seemingly unfocused on the reality in front of him. His thoughts spun around the conversation he had with Eggor and a brief revelation he had; he was quite tempted to simply drop everything and go to the Descent’s headquarters nearby, but held back for the time being as there were more pressing issues. Such as Eos who suddenly groaned, calling him back into reality.
His eyes focused back onto her, running up and down her body for a moment before faintly nodding. She slowly raised her head, clearly still drowsy, and met a pair of jet-black eyes which froze her once again. She hadn’t even realized she was entirely naked, or that she was locked up without the ability to move.
Lino stared curiously into her eyes for a moment before cracking a faint smile, taking out another drink from the void world, and walking over, crouching and helping her to a few gulps. She devoured them with glee, only grumbling after, having realized it was an alcoholic beverage.
“... not a fan of booze?” Lino asked, putting the gourd away and walking back to the chair. “I can’t go on a day without it. Could be it’s me with the problem, though.”
“...” Eos said nothing, glancing around for a moment before finally realizing where she was and that she was naked. “A perverted maniac? Why am I not surprised?” she scoffed.
“While I won’t lie and say I haven’t looked at you,” he chuckled. “Because, by god, I’d have sinned if I hadn’t -- I promise you, I haven’t touched you... nor I have any intention to. I’m a man happily in love, after all.”
“You all say that.” she said.
“... we do, don’t we?” Lino smiled faintly. “It’s a shame how little value words ‘I love you’ have these days. It’s a powerful sentiment... cheaped far too much.”
“Oh, a romantic?” she chuckled. “That’s rare, especially for an Empyrean.”
“Really?” Lino said, taking the gulp of ale. “From all my Archaic Records, I’d wager every single one was a romantic. Perhaps not ‘I have the love of my life in my arms and that’s enough’ sort of a romantic, but more the type to poetically go on about their deaths. Gets kind of annoying after a while, actually.”
“... why am I still alive?” she suddenly asked.
“Why shouldn’t you be?” Lino asked back.
“Because I can hardly believe an Empyrean is one with an open heart.”
“Ha ha, why not?” Lino chuckled. “You do realize that before I became an Empyrean, I was just another nutjob kid, right? A lot of it stayed with me.”
“I very much doubt that.”
The room fell silent for a short moment while the two had a brief stare-off. Lino had too much on his mind to truly focus entirely on her; after all, it was not only an entirely unexpected and unplanned meeting, he had no clue what she was like as a person. And while it could potentially be fun getting to know her and trying to talk to her properly, he knew it would take too long. From what he gathered, she’s just a few years younger than Ella. Someone who’s been fed whatever story for that long won’t be abandoning it in a few days or weeks.
“Make the Vow.” he spoke out after the silent moment.
“Over my dead body.” she replied simply.
“... I can force you to do it,” Lino sighed. “But, I’d rather not.”
“Hah, you think you can overrule my Will now that it’s recovered? That bitch took me by surprise the last time. You two won’t get lucky the second time.”
“... from what Ella told me,” Lino said, slowly getting up. “You should be around Level 15,000. Quite a tall order for me to swallow, actually.” he chuckled, taking a sip as he walked over. “She couldn’t specify how many Laws you have mastered, but it’s probably quite a few. Your Will stands entirely erect from the self-imposed image that you have of yourself,” he stopped next to her and crouched down. “A noble, lofty, out-of-this-world existence levitating above the rest of us. It’s a powerful Will... but it’s only an extremely feeble concept of it. Whether you want to admit it or not, the only reason you managed to evolve it to this point is entirely due to the innate protection associated with your identity.”
“Me?” he cracked a faint smile. “I had to claw and crawl, beat and get beaten, snuffed to the inches of death time and again, see and do things that... well, let’s just say they didn’t sit well with me. If our Wills were to clash, you’d no doubt be able to suppress me... but you could never overwhelm me. Even without the Writ’s interference. I mean... even now, the Light remains silent. Snuggled into a corner, trembling.”
“What would happen to your Will,” Lino said, stretching his arm suddenly and lifting Eos’ chin up, forcing her to meet his eyes. “If I were to somehow discolor your entire identity?. To smear it in dirt. To take the Nobility of your grandeur... and begrime it to the point where looking into the mirror would show you someone else entirely.”
“... hah, now you’re back on track.” she chuckled, smirking. “Now you do sound exactly like an Empyrean.”
“... talismans embedded in your Soul, I imagine?” Lino smiled faintly. “Not too shabby. Makes it a bit more complicated, but not impossible.”
“Give me your worst.” she spoke out defiantly.
“... I make it a point not to torture people,” Lino looked her deeply into the eyes before getting up and walking back to the chair. “You see, I decided to pretend that at least by not being a torturer, the pile of corpses I leave behind somehow lessens in weight. Doesn’t help that much, actually, but hey... that’s a lot of corpses to hold. Even a small decrease is magnitudes large for me.”
“... ah, the delusional, noble-type Empyrean, huh? Came across quite a few of your type in my own Archaic Records. In the end, they all turned out to just be self-pitying morons who couldn’t deal with the fact that they’re murderers and decided to make up excuses. Not very threatening.”
“... haii, looks like the word therapy would take some time on you,” Lino rubbed his temples in frustration. “I imagine we have at most a week before your pimps start asking questions.” Eos’ eyebrows twitched for a moment but she said nothing. “What? They aren’t your pimps? Sorry. I just figured, you know, since you seem so comfortable being naked in front of a stranger, you’d met a lot of strangers. My bad, my bad.”
“... if you fucking me will get me out of here, go at it champ.” Eos snickered. “Give me your worst.”
“Wow, how’d you miss the perfect pun there?” Lino exclaimed in slight anger. “I mean, dear god. It was right there! ‘If fucking me will get me off...’ you suck. You just... plain suck. Ah, whatever. Sorry to disappoint you, but I’ve as much intention of fucking you as I do of shoving a sword through my dick.”
“We all have our kinks.” she winked.
“That’s true,” Lino suddenly smirked. “There is this one thing that my girlfriend never lets me do to her.” he suddenly walked back to her and crouched down yet again.
“Oh? And what’s that?” Eos asked seductively.
“Well, it’s kind of embarrassing,” Lino leaned into her ear and whispered. “But, uh, I’d very much like sometimes if she would allow me to screw her corpse. Apparently, she’s not very much into being dead.”
“...” Eos’ held back a scream of frustration, realizing she’s being played with.
“Ha ha ha, don’t be so disappointed,” he smacked her back lightly while laughing. “I mean, that stuff you’re doing? It would have worked on a lot of guys. And by a lot I mean majority of guys. You’re a beautiful woman Eos,” he said, walking back to the chair. “But, despite the fears of sounding a bit too chummy, I say the beauty inside matters far more. Attractive heart is far more difficult to find than attractive hips and tits.” he smiled faintly. “So, if you wish to stand a chance against her, you probably ought to start re-configuring... well, you know, everything about yourself. Making the Vow is a great start, though.”
“...” Eos stared angrily at Lino, doing her best to keep the facade; while trying to stall for time, inwardly she was worried about too many things -- the Sword Maiden having gotten that strong, essentially in bed with the Empyrean, any signs of Hannah completely gone, Empyrean’s ability -- human ability rather than one linked to the Writ -- to entirely endure her advances, completely casually at that, and the fact that her own Writ had indeed withdrawn into the reaches of her Soul, entirely unwilling to surface. She knew that however she played the role in the following story would come to define not only her own, but the future of the entire world for the long time to come.