POWERS THAT BE
Entangled within the dazzling linens of light sat a cross-legged figure, surrounded by the virtually endless red threads spilling in and out from the figure like clotted blood, weaving about, some individually some intertwined with others in a cautious web. The red spread into the infinity, sinking other hues that may emerge otherwise; the figure’s features were practically indiscernible save for a pair of red eyes, reminiscent of albino’s.
The threads danced like snakes to no music and to no sound, sinking their teeth into one another repeatedly and untangling mere moments later. In parts they spilled and draped into curtailed curtains of senselessness. Ghastly sights, one after another, battered their way out into smoking bubbles of erosion, eventually evaporating into thin air as though they were never there.
The pair of eyes shook suddenly, curling up strangely. Within them a sense of aloofness vanished, replaced for the imminent breath by a mixture of tantalizing satisfaction and odd ecstasy.
“... underwater cove,” a rippling, distorted voice blasted out throughout the entire realm and beyond, unnerving to behold. “Four days, twelve hours, eighteen minutes, five seconds. Eight in total. Cult of Entropy.”
Elsewhere, beyond the limit of one’s sight and even understanding, nothingness lay within everything; it spanned forever and barely, looping over from one extreme to another, never seeming to stabilize. It was a world of broken color, of shapes impossible to discern, of meaning impossible to extrapolate, of sounds impossible to hear; all and nothing blended together into paradoxical infinity, married like a pair of lovers in an eternal dance.
The world stretched on, limitless yet seemingly boxed in, continuously breaking past the shackling barriers. Some shapes would occasionally flash like mirrors, depicting one faceless stranger, one creature, one event after another. Some would flash-freeze just long enough for a distinct eye to discern a face, but were very few in make; despite the nigh-infinite density of Qi present within every inch of the world, it did not materialize into reality, as though eternally slumbering.
One of the distorted ends of what appeared to be a pyramid-like shape breaking apart into its base facets flashed in frigid blue for a moment, depicting a woman sitting cross-legged within the world of frost. She had a head full of white hair, spotless in make, and a skin well beyond pale as it even made the surrounding snow seem unworthy of color. A small gem lay embedded in-between her eyes, flashing in faint cyan, as a pair of azure-colored eyes jolted open, emotionless.
Within a mere second, her face contorted into a frown as she begrudgingly got onto her feet, taking one deep breath after another as to not curse out the world. Though she smiled, it was the odd sort, as though she was using her clenched teeth as a barrier of an onslaught of words she knew she wasn’t supposed to utter.
“... very well,” it was nearly five minutes later that she finally calmed down enough to speak with a resemblance of calm. “I’ll hunt them down. But I swear to god, one more time! Just more time and I’m quitting this shit! You hear me?! I’m not your dog, meant to answer your every demand! Fucking hell... ah, right, unless you want me to hunt down the Empyrean. That fucker’s already stirring shit up and it’s barely been a decade. Do you know he ripped out at least two of my brothers?! And he even got Ashta! Fucking Astha! That girl literally never left her fucking corner and all of a sudden she’s packing her ass and joining him?! God, fuck that dude.”
Lino has been sitting on a chair across from Eos for nearly a day, doused in complete silence. It wasn’t that there was nothing the two could talk about, or even that he’s run out of ideas on how to ensure she doesn’t go on blabbering about everything she’s learned, but more because he was quite tired of everything and decided to use this as an excuse to just shut himself from the rest of the world for a while.
While his life certainly was an adrenaline-heavy ride ever since his short, ten-years-long hiatus, his mental stamina wasn’t infinite, especially now as he felt that the entire world seemed to be staring into the next chapter of whatever story he was thrown into.
“... tell me something about yourself.” Lino suddenly said out loud, pulling himself back to reality.
“Huh?” Eos exclaimed dazedly, having just recently woken up from her sleep; for someone accustomed to never sleeping, the past-time certainly didn’t sit well with her as Lino had realized she was not a morning person. At all.
“Tell me something you haven’t told anyone else,” Lino said. “Nothing important, of course. Just something stupid. Like your first crush. Or the first time you flicked yourself or something.”
“... flicked myself?” Eos asked.
“You know, trashed around the treasure cove.”
“Split the golden hairs?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“... I’m talking about shoving your fingers downstairs,” Lino sighed. “You really need to start picking up on my euphemisms. That was quite embarrassing to say, you know?”
“Do you want a detailed description or just an overview?” Eos scoffed, looking away from him.
“The whole thing’s a bit of a taboo, which I honestly think is the stupidest thing ever, right?” Lino leaned a bit closer in his chair, stroking his chin. “Back in the orphanage, there was this kid named Alan. He was about a year older than me, and one day I remember practically all the rest of us -- including the Sisters -- walking onto him humping the little boy. Never saw the kid again. Got kicked out of the orphanage onto the streets just because he rubbed one out. It’s not fair, right?”
“For all I care he should have been lynched and flayed and left rotting in the summer’s sun.” Eos replied indifferently.
“... alright, quid-pro-quo then, right? I tell something to you, you tell something to me. How’s that?”
“Share away and see if I care.”
“Shortly after Ella took me in,” Lino said. “We had a pretty cute heart-to-heart chat where she shared her own love story. In the process, she told me she first killed someone when she was eleven and asked me what I thought of it. I told her it was fucked up.”
“But, I was literally the same.” he chuckled bitterly. “Honestly? I just... didn’t want her to think of me as anything more than a sad little homeless boy who’s never done a wrong thing. I’m fairly certain she’s quite over that notion by now, but I still never told her that. All this while, I was always able to use the Writ as an excuse as to why I occasionally go on a murderous spree where I look like I’m having the best sex of my life while fighting... but if I admit to her that, she’ll always know that, however small, there was always a part of me capable of doing everything I condemned about the world.”
“You sound like a coward either way.” Eos scoffed, glancing at him. “I can’t believe someone as pathetic as you inherited the Empyrean’s title.”
“You seem very defensive,” he mused. “Is it in part due to your closed-off upbringing, the brooding isolation which forced you to forever cut whatever ties you had with other people as-- yeah, I can’t do it. Don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. Come on man, just share something. Anything. If we’re gonna be stuck here for a long time, at least let it be a quality time spent together.”
“I know you want to. I can see it in your eyes! Come on, give me some gossip!”
“That’s good. Give me some more.”
“... I... uh... I thought Mother had consummated the relationship with me when I had my first period...”
“... right. Cool. Nice. Very good.” Lino blurted out whatever words came to his tangled thoughts. “... honestly, I’ve got fucking nothing. That’s beyond weird even for my standards.”
“... it is a bit weird, isn’t it?” Eos chuckled lightly.
“Didn’t they ever teach you that stuff?” Lino frowned. “I mean, for fuck’s sake, even I knew what bleeding vagina meant by the time I was like twelve.”
“By nightmare that would come to haunt me for many years to come.”
“Of all the things you said, that seems to be the most fucked up part of your entire life.”
“It really is,” Lino nodded. “And, I mean, I didn’t come to learn it through some cute girl my age or something, you know? I had to walk in on a fifty-something woman of canyons changing her underpants. The things I’ve seen...”
“See? This is good!” Lino exclaimed with a smile. “We’re sharing, we’re bonding, we’re realizing we aren’t that much different... right?”
“Except I’m naked.”
“Hey, if it helps, you can imagine me naked too.” Lino said. “I’d very gladly strip but I’m sure neither one of us wants to see the embarrassing scene of you forming a pool beneath your crotch.”
“Oh, someone has a mighty high opinion of himself. How completely unexpected.” Eos rolled her eyes at him, barely holding back from the laughter.
“... you are selling yourself too short here,” Lino smiled faintly. “I imagine many-a-poor-sod would have already fallen for that dreamy face of yours full of flickering expressions.”
“... hm?” Eos glanced at him, seeming surprised.
“... the secret to hearing someone’s thoughts,” Lino walked over and crouched in front of her, looking her directly into her eyes. “Is to ignore what their lips are saying, how their eyebrows are moving, and whatever expression their facial muscles are contorting into. Just look into their eyes. Pierce right through that playful exterior and see someone buying time while trying to figure out how this story ends.”
“...” Eos sighed, her expression twisting into cold indifference. “You are slightly smarter than I imagined.”
“... and you are a lot stupider than I thought,” he chuckled. “There isn’t a good ending to this story for you, Eos. Not the one you write, not the one I write, or other Bearers, or your Elders, or even Gaia herself. At most, I’ll humor you for a few days and then just do what I was supposed to do the moment we locked you up. However much I hate torture, I am hardly above it if it means keeping people I love safe. Now, you and I can keep playing this childish game, or we can act as a pair of knowing adults and make all of this easier on us both. The sooner it’s done, the sooner you get to go back home and sell your Elders whatever story you make up and the sooner I can go back to collect on my reward and a priceless expression. This? We’re just wasting time. And, unfortunately, I’m not in business of wasting time. Especially mine.”