A simple-looking yet well-built encampment sat in-between a mountain ridge, cut on one end with a deep stream and on the other by a sharp incline upward. Grassland stretched in front, spilling into the forest in distance, blending off into the horizon. Several dozen billows of smoke blew upward in unison, swaying from time to time because of the wind, while shouts regularly jolted the silent atmosphere.
A quick headcount would put the number of people present at nearly six hundred, yet despite their numbers and somewhat narrow enclosure, they seemed rather orderly. Most wore clothes fashioned of light green with silver belts and sashes and somewhat rugged leather boots. There was a considerable number of children among them, some of whom were currently sitting in neatly-aligned rows and listening to an old man lecture, while others were racing about the other end of the encampment, hiding around the tents and causing quite a few stirs.
Though slightly obscured, all tents were generally orbiting a central point in an odd, defensive formation built out of spirals. The tent itself however didn’t seem any different than the rest, made out of brown cloth and held up by ordinary wooden rods, surrounded similarly with wet and muddy roads. Yet, inside, the encampment’s most prominent figures were currently seated around a rectangular table, discussing something rather passionately.
“Even if we listen to you,” a woman seemingly in mid-forties scowled angrily at the man sitting opposite of her. “How do you propose we find the Empyrean, huh?! Do we just go out and about and shout his name in hopes he hears us?!”
“Huh?! What do you mean how do we find him?!” the man replied in kind, gnashing his teeth, his thick eyebrows twitching above his clean, silver eyes. “You’re pretending as though we’ve never found anyone before!”
“You bastard, fuck you!!”
“Fuck you twice you old hag!!”
“Alright, so these two can be ignored,” the seemingly oldest man in the tent sighed audibly, turning to the remaining eight besides the man and woman he put a soundproof barrier around. “What do you all think?”
“... it’s risky.” a middle-aged, silver-haired man said, stroking his chin. “We don’t even know what the Empyrean’s like.”
“Surely, though, he wouldn’t reject free help?” a woman sitting next to him, with rather similar features, voiced out.
“Or he could just view us as a burden,” another woman, slightly older, spoke out quickly after. “We’d have to disclose fully who we are. He’s already declared a war against the world... can we really expect him to go after Descent as well?”
“Well, if anyone ever would,” the youngest man in the room spoke out; he seemed to be in his early twenties, on a rather handsome side with light-green hair and a pair of piercing eyes. “An Empyrean would. And, color me a fool, but those eyes didn’t remind me of someone sane.”
“... in the end, it’s up to you Av,” the middle-aged, silver-haired man turned to the eldest man in the room and said. “We’ll follow your call, no matter what it be.”
“... we’ll probe lightly,” the old man called Av spoke after a few moments of thoughts, his expression rather serious. “Ion can lead a few of other youngsters they have no record of and scout for some information. Don’t actively ask people or interrogate,” he turned toward the youngster. “Just listen and pick up whatever information possible. Can you do it?”
“Yes.” the youth replied confidently.
“In the meantime, the rest of us should probably start looking for a new location,” Av continued. “We’ve been staying here for nearly a year; there’s a chance our general location might have already been discovered.”
“I’ll divide the labor.”
“Good.” Av nodded. “Alright everyone. Dismissed.”
Lino currently stared at a rather peculiar scene, one much to his liking; Hannah and Valkryia were heads-deep in papers, books, pictures, maps and whatnot, passionately discussing creation of an army, its departments, legions, and a whole slew of things he could hardly care for. What he imagined would be a pair of butting heads who’d never compromise on anything turned into a beautiful duet that left even him stunned.
He simply sat on the side and drank in silence, though his eyes hardly ever focused on Valkryia; though he’d seen quite a few of Hannah’s expressions since the reunion, he couldn’t recall ever seeing her as passionate about something as she was at the moment. A massive, almost childlike smile seemingly never left her face, her eyes glowing like lanterns, hands moving about frantically, voice pitching up ever so often... he had a hard time ripping his gaze away from it. She reminded him considerably of how he was during smithing sessions -- just lost in his own little world, entranced by it, almost consumed.
She seemed almost exactly the same while listing out possibilities for the departments, while figuring out long-distance logistics, re-focusing and regenerating economy, suggesting army ranks, division of labor... it got to the point where Lino’s head begun spinning as he realized just how lucky he got when he was tasked with trying to repel the Devils’ Invasion of the Central Continent.
So much more went into building a proper army than just stacking men and women in rows and lines and telling them to go and fight. He’d also finally got the whole picture of why’d he make a terrible ruler. It was truly an eye-opening experience from his perspective as, even if he couldn’t understand half the things they were talking about, he at least peaked into what it meant to rule over what it meant to lead.
For the latter, at least in his perspective, he just had to do it -- put his heart and throat into something, and let others follow his example. Ruling, however, was truly less about brevity and more about creativity. Laughing bitterly at himself, he dispersed the thoughts and simply resumed the Hannah-gazing as he’d named it, in process swearing inwardly it was not creepy because he’d already seen her naked.
“Alright, I think that should cover the basics.” Hannah’s voice jolted Lino from half-asleep state whereupon he realized ‘covering the basics’ took nearly fourteen hours straight. Shuddering, he glanced between the two and realized they seemed full of life and energy. Freaks... “You got any thoughts?” she then turned to him and asked.
“... a lot.” Lino replied.
“Any in reference to our conclusions?”
“Good,” she nodded. “Anyway, I hope I’m not asking too much of you Val. If you want, I can just send him off lonesome and stay here and help you.”
“Ha ha ha, no need Hannah,” Valkryia replied. “You already made it far easier than I ever could have. Go and spend some time with your hubby~~”
“H-hey!!” Hannah exclaimed, blushing slightly. “I only made it easier because you helped me...”
“THAT’S WHAT GOT YOU BASHFUL?!!” Lino cried out from the side.
“Hm? What else?” Hannah looked at him strangely for a moment.
“Eh? The whole hubby comment?” Lino mumbled.
“But didn’t you practically propose to me just yesterday?” she asked, seeming even more confused. “What was it? ‘You’re marrying me and it’s final’? Something like that I think.”
“Oh my!” Val exclaimed with a wry smile. “Congratulations Your Majesty. You really overshot yourself here.”
“... hey, I know you gals feel emboldened by uniting against me,” Lino said, his voice turning slightly cold. “But do you really want to enter a tongue-lashing contest against me?”
“That’s what I thought,” he crackled evilly. “Anyway, so you’re done? If so, let’s go. Time waits for no man.”
“I’m going to miss you.” Hannah and Val exclaimed at the same time, quickly hugging much to Lino’s shock.
“... fucking weirdos...” he mumbled faintly, yet immediately regretted it as he felt two pairs of murderous eyes focus him down like a beast. “I-I-I regret nothing!” he cried out before bolting out of the room, leaving both Hannah and Val shocked for a moment before they burst into laughter.
“I imagine that life with him never gets quite boring.” Val commented.
“You imagine correctly,” Hannah smiled. “You’ll be alright?”
“Of course,” Val replied. “Expect it all to be done by the time you return. You are quite ambitious, though.”
“Nobody wants him to win more than I do,” she said, smiling widely. “And I’ll do anything to make it happen. But, if you ever tell him that, I’ll crack your tits open, just so you know.”
“... wow. That’s one specific threat.”
“... he’s rubbing off on me.” Hannah shrugged helplessly. “Anyway, don’t overwork yourself just yet. We’ve got a long battle ahead of us.”
“... indeed.” Val mumbled faintly as she watched Hannah vanish, her lips curling up into a warm smile.