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CHAPTER 269

UNITED

Ashes, dirt, splattered pieces of rocks and uprooted trees made up the disfigured landscape which once was a valley stretch in-between two mountains. From full of life, now it seemed desolate, empty, silent, void of it entirely. At the epicenter of the destruction, where a massive crater stretched for over five miles altogether, Lino stood, his shoulders sunken.

He stared at the nothingness beneath his feet with a dulled gaze, his soul seemingly ripped out of this realm. Occasional whizz of the wind would bellow his hair and cloak, yet he remained immovable like a statue, forever frozen in the time.

It was only hours later that some focus reached his gaze as he lifted his head up and looked at the shrouded sky. His face was dirtied, jetted in mud, lips dried and bursting. The clasp that used to hold up his hair together had vanished at one point, leaving his long, black hair to freely straddle down his slumped back.

He found little joy or relief in killing Eos, or even ‘killing’ Aurora -- as the Writs were part of the natural order, it was almost impossible to kill them, so Lino settled on the next best thing -- practically ‘resetting’ their state of being and forcing them to grow anew. From what Ataxia told him, it would take at least a whole century before Aurora could even be passed onto the next Bearer of Light.

None of that, however, came even close to being considered ‘reparation’; not even looking down at the whole world and declaring the war brought him much joy, as it would on any other day. All he felt was... empty. It was an all-too-familiar state of mind, all-too-familiar sense of self.

He’d come to stare blankly at the sky for hours, through the night and the dimmed dawn. No one approached him, no one called out to him, no one tried to ask him anything. Many-an-eye stared at him from the distance with concern, yet none of the mouths made a sound.

Eventually, however, he knew he’d have to move -- he’d have to turn around and face the reality. Standing still there and staring at the sky didn’t freeze the time; it still flowed like a rapid stream. Unlike the past, the present was ever-changing; the former would always be there to look back onto, but the latter had to be grabbed lest it disappears before his eyes.

Sighing faintly, he turned around at last and walked away. He didn’t tidy himself up, didn’t tie his hair or clear his face, didn’t even bother washing the dried blood from his tattered clothes. It was just outside the range of destruction that he’d met a familiar face -- he faintly glanced up and met Hannah’s eyes.

“... you okay?” he asked briefly and emotionlessly.

“... yeah.” Hannah replied.

“Where is she?”

“At your place.”

“...” he began walking slowly, pausing for a moment as he passed her and whispering in a low tone, “I’m sorry...” before trudging toward the city.

Hannah turned around and watch his back fade into the distance, barely managing to hold back the tears. Once again, the burden fell onto him and there was nigh-nothing she could do past feeling guilt over feeling a tinge of anger toward him and what he did. Yet, she could not blame him audibly; she was more than certain that he simply saw no other choice but the one he took.

Ella and Eggor sat on top of the flying ship, looking down at the walking Lino. The latter still had quite a pale complexion, his eyes denoting even a faint trace of terror as they focused on the youth’s figure.

“... I have to go back home,” Ella said in a serious tone. “And you -- you can’t let him out of your sight.”

“... that’s a tall order, right there.” Eggor grumbled but didn’t reject it. “They probably won’t let you leave once they figure out you’re pregnant, though.”

“I’d love to see them try and stop me,” she replied emptily. “Especially when I’m going to save their asses.”

“... you won’t talk to him?” he asked.

“... there’s nothing to say,” she said, getting up. “He’s no longer the kid we met, Eggor. He won’t break, at the very least.”

“...” Eggor said nothing, merely glancing down at Lino who stopped in front of a rather simple-looking, two-story building and remained standing nearly ten minutes before entering. Ella, on the other hand, appeared next to Hannah, startling her.

“You need to go back home.” she said.

“Huh?” Hannah exclaimed softly.

“He’s declared war on the world, Hannah,” Ella said, glancing at her. “Go and see your loved ones and try to convince them. Take this,” she then handed her a shoddy-looking talisman. “In case anyone tries anything funny, just activate it and you’ll be teleported next to me. By now, the leaders of the Grounds must have declared the hunt on him as a priority. The entire world will be swarmed by high-end cultivators, and I don’t think he has an inclination of playing it nicely with them. Just... do your best.”

“... will he be okay?” Hannah asked just before Ella left.

“... why not just ask him?” Ella glanced at her and smiled faintly. “He can take more than you can dish out. Trust me. It seems time has come for you to make a decision. Perhaps a bit earlier than you otherwise would, but, well, the world rarely waits for the perfect timing.”

“...” Hannah didn’t say anything, knowing full well already what Ella was talking about. “It’s hardly a decision,” she chuckled, putting the talisman away and looking up. “I’ve lost him once... and once was enough.”

“... then you know what you have to do.” Ella smiled before disappearing.

Without pausing, Hannah suddenly disappeared and reappeared inside a dimly-lit room with only a bed and a bedside table decorating it. Lucky was lying on the bed, covered with a thin blanket, her expression terrible, while Lino sat in the corner, his head lowered. It was only when Hannah appeared that he looked up.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, seeming slightly surprised.

“Like I can trust you to handle a hysterical woman,” she chuckled, walking up and sitting down next to him. “No offense, of course.”

“... it’s true,” Lino chuckled faintly. “Sassy lass? Flirty one? Dangerously maniacal one? I’ve got those covered. A hysterical one, however... eh, I’m not confident.”

“And for good reason,” she added. “But, not to worry, I happen to be an expert in handling hysterical women.”

“So, what’s the secret?” Lino asked.

“You just feed them a lot of booze,” Hannah replied with a shrug. “A lot of booze.”

“... well fuck, I could have figured that one out too.”

“But you didn’t.”

“A fair point.” Lino nodded as the silence fell between the two. “Are you angry?” he asked after a while.

“... a little bit.” she replied.

“... did I do the right thing?” he asked lowly. “Or just fuck everything up beyond repair?”

“I wouldn’t know whether you did right or wrong,” she said, wrapping her arm gently around his neck and pulling him into her chest. “But I do know that you pissed off a lot people. Probably more than you can even imagine.”

“... isn’t that just par for the course with me, though?” he said.

“Ha ha ha, yeah, I suppose it is. But, at the very least, you made a great show out of it. You both pissed them off and scared them shitless at the same time. I don’t think many people can pull that off.”

“... I’m tired Hannah,” he sighed lowly. “I know I keep saying that shit a lot... but, I think, for the first time in my life... I truly, truly mean it.”

“... I know...”

“I haven’t thanked you.” he said suddenly.

“Thanked me?”

“Yeah, for showing up when you did.” he continued. “And saving that girl.”

“... you wouldn’t have killed her even if I didn’t show up.” Hannah said.

“I would. Without a shred of remorse.” he said. “Just so I can ‘get even’.”

“...”

“I’d have killed a completely innocent girl,” he continued. “For the stupidest reason imaginable. All the while I believed I was entirely immune to the world’s corruption, that no matter what I wouldn’t turn into one of those murderous maniacs who exterminate entire towns for the simplest of slights. That, no matter how bad things got, I would never involve innocents into whatever shitstorm I’m involved in.”

“...”

“Clearly, though, I’ve overestimated my ability to resist,” he added with a sigh, pulling himself out of her arms and leaning back onto the wall. “When you grabbed my arm, back then, I’d realized: I’d already lost. I can bitch and whine about how the world handles shit for however long I want, but what of it if I’m no different?”

“... so what?” she asked after a few moments of silence, causing him to meet her gaze once again. “In the end, you didn’t. And, just like this time, if in the future you once again feel yourself slipping away, I’ll be there to pull you back... because I know you’ll also be there to pull me back. As they say, united we stand, divided we fall.”

“... they’ve probably figured out that you’re in bed with me, now,” Lino said, taking a deep breath. “Well, most-likely they’ve yet to figure out you literally are, but they know you’re with me, so you pretty much have no choice.”

“Oh, that’s just terrible.” Hannah stifled her laughter. “Now I’m stuck with you no matter what! What will become of my life?!”

“Well, you know, a little bit of dancing,” he said, smiling faintly. “A little bit of dining, little bit of fighting, little bit of sex. So, you know, the standard affair.”

“So there’s gonna be dancing?! I can’t wait!”

“You’ll have to teach me first, though.” he said. “And then we can dance to your heart’s content.”

“And we will,” she said, smiling. “So you better don’t skip leg days from now on.”

“I’ll try my hardest, m’lady.”

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About the author

beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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