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CHAPTER 274

SANCTUARY (II)

The world shook as though besieged by the thunderstorm, earth beneath quaking repeatedly in familiar patterns, yet it all endured; buildings remained tall, people remained defiantly standing, staring at the flaring sky full of brilliant yet dangerous colors. The massive eggshell surrounding the small Clan held together despite the onslaught and beating it was receiving.

Evelyn stared in awe, her lips parted, whole body shaking in the rhythm of the ground beneath. She -- as was her Father -- was always aware of the Kvalend Tribe, but they never took them too close to heart as they were a rather small, isolated group living within the Demonic Battlefield. Had that been the case, however, she would not be standing right here and now with a heart that was still beating.

Looking around, she realized that nobody was terrified -- not even fearful. They would merely occasionally glance at the colors and admire them, spending the rest of the time just going about their day as they would. The steeled veins had more than just shocked her -- they had reminded her how blindsided she was with the mysteries she was not privy to due to her own ignorance and arrogance.

“You’re long way from home too, young Empress,” Valkryia walked over toward Evelyn, smiling faintly; the latter looked at the former, swallowing an exclamation. Though Evelyn indeed considered herself quite a beauty, she felt a surge of shame from within when she compared herself. “We would have offered you a better reception, but we were pressed for time.”

“... n-no, don’t worry,” Evelyn stuttered out. “We, uh, we’re grateful... that you saved us.”

“I told those guys up there that Lino’ll be here shortly,” Valkryia said. “I hope I’m not suddenly a liar.”

“No, you’re not.” Althone said, reigning himself in. “He said he will come in a few days. Who are you?” he asked, frowning.

“Father--”

“No, that’s quite alright,” Valkryia interrupted Evelyn, smiling faintly. “We are just a humble tribe, Arch Emperor. Doing our best to survive in a treacherous world.”

“A humble tribe wouldn’t be able to withstand that,” he pointed up toward the sky. “If exactly that leveled our cities within seconds. So how about we drop the coy act and be truthful for a change? Who are you? And, more importantly, who’s that beggar?”

“... you should let your people rest,” Valkryia said, still smiling. “You and the Empress can follow me to my chambers.” a spinning void appeared next to her; Althone, still doubtful and Evelyn, eerily frustrated, glanced at each other for a moment before relaying orders to the others and moving through the crack in space, followed shortly after by Valkryia.

They’d quickly found themselves inside a cozy and elegant room, divided into three sections. On the far end of the right side they quickly saw two portraits hanging from the wall -- one of an unknown, crimson-haired woman like Valkryia, and the other of the rather familiar face -- Lino. Valkryia ignored their surprised faces and prepared some tea as she sat down, waiting for them.

“... I’m assuming I’m correct in guessing he’s not just a beggar?” Evelyn asked with a bitter smile, sitting down first.

“You are.” Valkryia replied, smiling. “Arch Emperor, please sit. Standing up does you little good.”

“...” Althone growled lowly before sitting down next to Evelyn, still unable to rip his eyes away from the portrait. “Will the shield really hold out for four days?”

“It will, don’t worry,” Valkryia said. “But, I doubt they’ll even stick around for that long. After all, I very much doubt they’re supposed to be here.”

“You seemed to know who they are,” Althone said. “Care to share it?”

“... it’s better if you don’t know,” Valkyria said after a few moments of silence. “I am afraid, however, that your age of reign has come to an end. When all this is over, I suggest finding someplace else where you can prosper.”

“... I’m assuming you can’t tell us who Lino is either.” Evelyn said, sighing bitterly.

“I’m afraid I can’t,” Valkryia chuckled. “I understand it’s frustrating,” she added. “But, if you could afford to trust me, then trust me when I say it’s for the best. If you gathered enough heart to ask for his help, gather enough mind to not ask any more than that.”

“... that is quite a loaded proposition you’re selling, barbarian,” Althone growled angrily, much to Evelyn’s dismay. “I’m not to sort to accept it all blindly.”

“... then don’t,” Valkryia said. “Ask him when he gets here. Though, I suspect, by then you’d have changed your mind.”

Meanwhile, far up in the sky, colors blended in with the reality, bisecting the surrounding void mercilessly. The six currently besieging the small clan beneath seemed extremely calm about the whole ordeal, merely holding one of their arms out, apparently entirely dismissive of Valkryia’s threat.

“... her calculations were right,” one of the women said, yawning. “We’ll indeed need at least four days to break through.”

“I’m more interested in how a backwater clan managed to get their hands on something strong enough to hold us back for four days.” one of the men said, smiling curiously.

“Could be one of the Ancient Clans that went into hiding,” the second woman said boorishly. “Their Realms are rather pathetic, but this formation is a true marvel. It’s strong enough to prevent a direct hit from a Fiend and I don’t recognize the pattern. Must be either extremely new, or extremely old. I’d put my wager on the latter.”

“Regardless,” the youth who spoke to Valkryia joined in. “I’m most interested in this supposed maniac who won’t care for who we are. It should be fun to finally meet one of those.”

“Hah, you really think she was telling the truth? She’s bluffing,” one of the women spoke out with a scoff. “She knows we can’t be hanging around here for too long so she’s hoping we won’t stick around long enough to cut through her thin veil. Anyone who knows who we are... won’t dare do anything but cower and crawl.”

**

Lino was currently sitting on top of Grim, a pair of thin, shaky arms wrapped around his waist. Lucky sat upright, a look of confusion in her eyes; he’d merely come by, picked her up, and flew off on Grim at the top speed without saying anything -- which remained the case for the rest of their trip. Eerie silence, she’d learned, was never a positive with Lino; however much his tongue annoyed those around him, it also let them know that he was within the right mindset. Silence, especially one this dreadful, spoke volumes of the other end.

She feared to ask, too, from fear or learning; he hasn’t been himself ever since Felix died, but it was more than that. She’d been there, right next to him, gazing directly into his eyes when Aeala died, and he was still there -- his heart and mind were masked within the clouds of anger and pain, but he was there. She knew that he would pull through. But, just as he worried whether she would, she worried whether he would too. Whatever it was that was stirring him, she knew all too well that it was more than just Felix. It was more than Annar and Scarlet -- it was perhaps bigger than any individual relationship in his life.

She didn’t know where they were going, why there were going there or what would they be doing. The only thing she knew was that his eyes... were empty. She could neither see him nor the pain or anger; only an empty, unsustainable void of nothingness bearing down upon the world. It was far more terrifying, far more frigid, than all his anger, than all the times he’d seemingly lost it combined.

“... from the looks of it,” she took a deep breath and spoke out. “You’re about to do something insane. Most-likely involving some corpses.”

“... yeah, pretty much.” Lino said, glancing back and smiling emptily.

“You know that I’m always for cracking some skulls, but... is this really the time for it?”

“... I’m the Empyrean,” Lino suddenly spoke out as Lucky’s eyes turned to saucers. “Bearer of Entropy, as they say. The woman who killed Felix was called Eos, Bearer of Light. She knew she couldn’t have done anything to me or Hannah, so she went after him. Just to spite me. That’s all. He died because she wanted to spite me. That’s what I’ve learned of the world, Lucky. If they can’t defeat you, they will break you. Bit by bit, inch by inch, repeatedly hammering a nail into your soul till you crack like an eggshell.”

“...” Lucky remained silent, just beginning to process it all.

“It’s an ugly, filthy world of degenerates,” Lino added, lifting his arm up and clutching his fingers into a fist. “And, to spite her in return, I’ve nearly killed an innocent, fourteen year old girl. All my life, I’ve fought to be better than those around me, but, I’ve always failed. I failed to escape the loop of chaos with Ally, I’ve failed to escape it with Eggor and Ella, with you, Aeala and the guys, I’ve failed it every time someone offered me a plank on top of which to float. I wanted to believe,” he said, chuckling lightly. “I truly wanted to believe that the world is beautiful, L’. I wanted to believe that it was mystical, that it was fraught with nothing but people willing to do better.”

“...”

“But it’s not. The world has condemned me since the day I was born. It stabbed me time and again and I always replied with a smile and hope it was the last time. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t just stand by and watch as it plucks people I love from me, one after another. First it was Aeala, Fish, Smite... now it’s Felix, Annar, Scarlet. What about tomorrow? Will it be you? Hannah? Ella? Eggor? Who among those I care for will be taken from me because they can’t do anything to me? I’ve made my war declaration to them, but all they heard was that it was now free-fire on everyone even remotely connected to me. Two can play that game, though. I don’t want to be the nightmare tale that mothers tell their children to make ‘em behave, but I have to be.”

“... w-why... why... are you telling me this?” Lucky barely managed to stutter out as Lino turned around and lifted her chin, forcing her to look into his eyes.

“’Cause you deserve to know it. You’ve blindly followed me all the way to this godforsaken place, blindsided over and over with the heartbreaks you couldn’t make ins or outs of. Now you know. And, I hope from my heart, you will understand what I’ll do soon enough. And, even more, I hope you can use this truth as a fuel; I don’t need you to turn into someone who can eternally stand by my side, but I do need you turn into someone who can protect everything and everyone she cares for. Because I know you’re strong enough to care again, to love again, to live again. I’ve been dealt a crappy hand, but you’ve been dealt hell, and you’ve come out of it, time and again, each time stronger than the last. You are...” he smiled, genuinely this time she realized, closing in and plastering his forehead against her. “Someone this world needs, L’.”

“... and you are insane,” she chuckled faintly, shaking her head. “If you think for a second you’re getting rid of me with that nonsense. You’re the light, Lino,” she added. “And every light casts a deep shadow. So, remember this and never let it escape that thick skull of yours: the brighter you burn, the stronger the rest of us are. If you’re the Empyrean, then I’ll be your Chthonian. Shadow that will always be behind you. If Hannah stands by your side, helping you carry all that shit, I’ll be right behind you two, picking up the pockets that pass you by. You’re my big bro, remember? My Master. My--well, over the years you’ve claimed to be a whole lot of things it’s kind of hard to keep the track of all of them...”

“... ha ha ha...”

“But, most importantly, you’ve always been my sanctuary.” she heaved her head up and kissed his forehead gently. “So, let me be yours.”

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beddedOtaku

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

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