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CHAPTER 293

CATHARSIS (IV)

Litha was currently observing the surrounding destruction, sighing in relief when she realized there were no casualties. What ticked her slightly was the pattern of ash Hannah had formed just beneath her tower over the cascading roofs of the city-like creation down below. A spiraling form with the tower as the center and a six-sided cross piercing right through -- sigils of Order and Chaos mingled together.

Settling down, she took a deep breath and looked at the talisman in her hand; it wasn’t as though she outright believed what the two claimed, but even with all said and done, she indeed knew Hannah -- and however playful she may be from time to time, she’d never joke about something like this. The day the eyes crowned the sky, practically everyone in the Sect assumed that the Empyrean had killed Annar alongside Eos. However, Litha thought as she rubbed her temples, it indeed did make slightly more sense if Eos had done it; the only question that remained was how Annar wound up with the Empyrean in the first place.

“We need to talk.” she mumbled softly into a clean sheet of paper which suddenly turned lithe and burned up in ash. A mere moment later, shadows emerged from beneath her feet as she let them swallow her whole.

She found herself next to a rather startling scene; a crowning jewel that Vyrove was more proud of than his heritage lay there, in front of her... in pieces. There wasn’t a whole part to it, as dozens of his people tried their hardest to sweep the carnage away. Glancing sideways, she saw Vyrove standing there with a pained expression on his face, on the brink of tears.

“... I see the Empyrean visited you too.” she said.

“... what do you want to talk about?” he asked, glancing at her. “As you can I see I’m busy.”

“He informed me he’s in possession of Annar’s and Scarlet’s corpses and that if we wanted to retrieve them, the two of us should meet up with him... alone.” she cut to the chase. “It’s clearly a trap, though.”

“Did he give you a way to contact him?” he asked instead.

“Weren’t you listening to me? It’s clearly a trap.”

“You must be confident because you easily beat him back, right?” Vyrove smiled faintly, causing Litha to frown.

“... there were two of them.” she mumbled faintly.

“... we’ve severely underestimated him.” he said suddenly, sighing.

“What do you mean? He appears as strong as Yen predicted.” Litha said.

“No, not his strength,” he shook his head, glancing up at the sky. “Upon the very mention of the Empyrean, we are practically flooded with assumptions; one of them is that they are morons who don’t know anything and can’t do anything besides throwing their bodies into the inferno and hoping for the best.”

“...”

“That assumption has held me back from seeing it until now.”

“Seeing what?” she questioned.

“That he’s screwing with us... royally,” Vyrove chuckled, turning his attention toward her and smiling faintly. “Think about it. He first targeted me, destroying my dearest property, but leaving every one of my people alive.”

“Uhm.”

“He then went after Ritton,” he continued. “But, rather than fighting with him, he nigh-crippled his Will.”

“--what?” Litha exclaimed in surprise.

“And then he went after you, offering up our friends’ corpses.” Vyrove finished. “None of his actions make any sense if his goal was to achieve quick victory. He could have easily trimmed down our numbers by now... yet he specifically chose to go after something else. Ritton’s Will... my vanity... and your empathy.”

“...”

“He’s targeting us on an individual level, striking at the most prominent parts of our characters.”

“...” Litha’s brows scrounged up as she contemplated Vyrove’s words.

“All that’s left is for him to go after Yennefer’s pride and Ethena’s guilt.”

“Heh, you better pray Yen didn’t hear that.” Litha chuckled faintly, sighing after. “But, against all odds, it seems you’re right. Why though? Why go through all that trouble? Is it really just to screw with us?”

“We could go and ask him.”

“You’re suggesting we just willingly walk into a trap?”

“No matter how many times you say it’s a trap... won’t make it a reality, Litha. You and I both know it won’t be a trap.”

“... we should hurry, though.” Litha said. “I’ve contained the fact I was attacked for now, but Yen will come for a visit sooner or later.” she whipped out a talisman and burned it up. “If we come out dead after this, I’ll haunt you beyond the grave.”

“Ha ha, feel free.”

A mere moment later, space next to them rippled out as a vortex formed; two glanced at each other for a moment before braving forth and stepping through. After a bit of a fumble and tumble, the two found themselves in an ordinary-looking room -- one beyond simple they had trouble believing it was real. The sounds of the rapid stream outside... the crackle of the fire inside the fireplace... and the chirping of the birds someplace out.

A simple room with a single bed, a table and four chairs and a pair of windows was not what they were expecting. Looking forward, they saw Hannah and Lino sitting on the chairs, each reading a book while drinking something. As Litha and Vyrove arrived, the two put the books down and poured two more cups, inviting them over.

“Look at how starstruck they are,” Lino said. “I told you it would be a great idea to invite them here.”

“Starstruck? You’ve just embarrassed me in front of my friends,” Hannah said. “They’ll think I routinely spend my days and nights here, in this shabby-looking hellhole. My lofty image is forever gone from their minds.”

“Whatever image they had of you inside their minds,” Lino said, smirking.”I assure you, it was anything but lofty.”

“Huh?! Do you really wanna go at it, you bastard?!” Hannah grumbled.

“Eh? Oh wow. I didn’t think you were open to this and that in front of others, but sure, let’s--”

“---”

“--I’m so sorry.” Lino winced down, avoiding Hannah’s murderous gaze. “I won’t do it again.”

“What’s up you two?” she turned toward Vyrove and Litha who had rather lost expressions on their faces as they sat down. “You look like saw a ghost. Is everything alright?”

“... just wondering what the world’s reaction would be if they knew what the lofty and overbearing Bearers of Order and Chaos were truly like.” Vyrove said, smiling bitterly. “I imagine many-a-dream would be crushed on that day.”

“Eh, don’t underestimate the human capacity of denial,” Lino chimed in. “It’s amongst our finest traits.”

“Most loathsome, you mean?” Hannah asked.

“Says a woman who’s so wrapped in denial it wounds all the way back to the root and becomes adorable.”

“Are we really going to talk about each other’s denials?”

“Alright, alright, I’m sure these two didn’t come here to watch us bicker like a pair of sexually frustrated lovers,” Lino said as Hannah sighed and lowered her head in defeat. “Though I did imagine you’d come, I didn’t think it’d be this quick.”

“Where are they?” Litha asked.

“... just outside.” Lino replied, smiling faintly.

“So... what’s the actual reason you invited us over here?” Vyrove asked. “If it were just handing over the bodies, I can think of a few times you could have done just that.”

“... though there is indeed another reason,” Lino said. “I’d have done just the same if there wasn’t. Annar and Scarlet were friends. It’s the least I can do.”

“You claim you were friends,” Litha said. “And that Eos killed them. But you don’t expect us to trust you outright, do you?”

“Of course not,” Lino chuckled, getting up and walking out, followed shortly after by the other three. Just as he said, just outside, leaned against the thick and tall tree, two crystal-made coffins lay. “And it’s up to you what to believe. If it eases your pain and moral qualms, you can keep on believing I killed them.” he added, squatting in front of the coffins.

“... it’s really them.” Vyrove commented, sighing faintly; even until now, he truly thought it was at best just an excuse the Empyrean made.

“Were you there?” Litha turned toward Hannah and asked. The latter merely nodded in reply. “Did... they suffer?”

“... no.” Hannah shook her head, walking over and patting Litha who was well over a head shorter than her. “It’s okay to cry, you know? I know you looked up to him.”

“... shut up.” Litha swatted away her arm, hiding her face.

“So... why did you call of us here besides this?” Vyrove asked after a few moments of silence.

“... a temporary proposition, if you will,” Lino replied, smiling faintly. “That will benefit us all.”

“Hah, are you seriously suggesting we work together with you?” Litha scoffed. “You really are just as insane as I imagined.”

“... that’s the reason your side will never be able to win,” Lino continued smiling as he said. “Inability to look past whatever idiotic grudges lie on the surface of things. I merely rattled a hornet’s nest or two, yet your group is almost at the splitting point; if I decided to push it just slightly further, I wouldn’t have had to do anything but sit by the side and watch you five consume each other.”

“... huh. So it was to prove a point,” Vyrove suddenly smiled as he seemingly realized something. “Of course.”

“Don’t worry,” Hannah joined in. “We’re not asking you to betray others or anything like that. Rather, it hardly has anything to do with the battle itself.”

“What is it, then?” Litha asked.

“I’ve chosen you two specifically not just because of Annar and Scarlet,” Lino said. “But also because you two are the only ones who haven’t touched anyone since arriving on this continent.”

“...”

“Ritton... well, he’s just a horny bastard. You claim to be vain Vyrove, but that Heaven chick...” Lino chuckled bitterly. “She literally wakes up every morning to thousands kneeling and bowing to her. And that tanned chick... quite a bit of a sadist. Took me by surprise, if I’m being honest.”

“...”

“Whatever you may think of me, I grew up an ordinary person,” Lino continued. “I can bring myself to do many things, and many more I’ve yet to even imagine, but... I genuinely don’t want to wrap the entire world into our own conflict.”

“Hah, how noble of you.” Litha scoffed.

“The point of your entire speech being...?” Vyrove questioned.

“When the fight breaks out,” Lino said. “I want you to protect the ordinary people. By now, at least you two should know that in no outcome possible will you be standing on victorious side.”

“... and you call us vain.” Vyrove smirked.

“Never said I wasn’t, though,” Lino winked. “Just... think about it. It won’t be my gratitude alone you’ll get after. I just might surprise you splendidly.” he added as Hannah and he returned to the small shack by the river, leaving Litha and Vyrove alone outside to contemplate.

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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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