A story popular and known amongst most of the world’s populace was that, of all the places in the world, the far north was the most uninhabitable; well off the shores of both the Central and the Holy Continent, another existed, though hardly anyone considered it a continent -- it was mostly referred to as an oversized landmass with no worth or value whatsoever, a place where the sinners went to repent their sins, and saints prayed for.
While, over time, most rumors of it -- such as that the entire continent was a homeland of the legendary Frost Dragon of the yore -- grew to be more and more insane-sounding, there was certainly some truth to the factual knowledge that the Northern Fjords were simply godforsaken land of mountains, snow and ice -- something that Lino, Hannah and Seya could certainly attest to as they stood on the ‘shore’ of the landmass.
Hannah and Seya were both huddled inside at least four layers of clothing, yet were still shaking like leafs in the wind; Lino, on the other end, wore a tank-top and thin pants, and seemed more than just fine -- rather, he seemed to actually enjoy the weather, saying that the ‘chill honed his flames’.
There was really a simple explanation for it -- Lino’s Vitality stat was simply beyond insane, well into six digits by now, meaning that in order to lower his core body temperature, he would genuinely have to try to go against his body’s core instincts to do so. Hannah and Seya, on the other hand, weren’t so lucky; after all, they weren’t body cultivators, and were hardly the sort to actively work on their Vitality stat.
Seeing Lino like that, furthermore, seemingly only worked to increase the chill they felt, alongside the hate the two felt for him.
“Oi, oi, ladies, what’s with the eyes?” Lino teased. “What? If it’s cold, why don’t you two just throw yourselves into my arms, huh? I’ve got enough warmth in my heart for the whole world, let alone just you two!”
“Go freeze to death, you asshole!!” both of the girls cried out in indignation; life, truly, was sometimes too unfair. “What the hell? Where is our transport anyway?!” Hannah grumbled.
“Eh? Transport?” Lino mumbled. “But... he just dropped us off.” Lino pointed at the boat that was currently flying away from them.
“......” Seya’s and Hannah’s eyes turned into saucers as they slowly began to realize what Lino’s words meant. “Y-you... you mean... we--we have to walk the rest of the way?!” Seya cried out.
“Walk, run, fly, tunnel,” Lino shrugged. “We’re only as limited as our imaginations are!”
“...” the two girls truly wished to cry, but were too terrified as the chance of their tears freezing on their cheeks was 100%.
“Sheesh, if you two are like this now... I can’t even imagine what it’s gonna be like when we move further inland...” Lino mumbled under his breath as he slowly recalled the entire story that led to the unexpected trio finding themselves here in this hellhole.
Shortly after being offered the mission, Lino was also explained its contents -- his task was to infiltrate one of the last schools of Magic in the world, aptly named ‘Last Bastion of Magic’. The nigh-forgotten form of battle and channeling of nature’s strength, Lino had assumed, only lived in old, tattered books and myths; yet, the old man’s words proved him otherwise.
Although the practitioners of Magic were few and far between, they existed -- all over the world. It took even Great Descent quite a long time to eventually track them all the way to the Northern Fjords, land even they didn’t pay any attention to as it was truly a bastion of death. All their attempts at snuffing out the practitioners, however, were futile, as the entire land was covered in massive arrays that would make even the bravest and strongest of the Descent cower in fear.
After all, even if Magic was no longer used, most members of the Descent were well aware of its prowess; the highest tier of Magic, Tier 10, was noted to have capacity of literally leveling a continent the size of a Central one within the span of a few breaths. Granted, preparations, resources and time required to set it up were so insane that no one ever bothered, but the possibility was still there.
In the end, it was decided upon that the best way to investigate the plans was to sneak in and become one of them. However, there was no one willing to go of their own volition, and no matter what rewards were put up, the mission was simply ignored due to the fact that whoever selected it would have to live on the Northern Fjords for quite a few years.
Enter Lino -- an individual who planned on simply vanishing from the world for a few years. The old man had to promise quite a few things in the end, however, which was the only reason Lino decided to go. To increase his chances, however, it was best that he didn’t leave alone -- enter Hannah and Seya.
Just Hannah and him would have been quite suspicious, so they decided to drag the poor girl with them, despite the fact that every time she saw Lino, she tried to kill him. It was decided that they would be a happy family of three on the run from the evil continental forces of Sects and Clans. Which, Lino mused, was actually true.
Hannah eventually managed to persuade Seya to join them, promising the little girl Lino would let her beat him to her heart’s content after the mission was over, so long as she didn’t actually kill him. Naturally, at the moment, Lino was unaware of this arrangement.
Save for Lino, the other two weren’t exactly confident in passing as a family; there was first the fact that Seya looked nothing like the two, then there was the fact that neither Hannah nor Lino wore rings, and also the fact that he seemed rather indifferent to the sufferings of his supposed family at the moment.
“Anyway, we have no clue where they might be,” Lino said after short silence, turning around and walking toward the two while taking out two coral-dyed blankets and covering them with it. Soon, the two girls stopped shaking as their expressions turned into ones of bliss. “Geez, you sure can’t keep up your act.” Lino chuckled. “Wait! That’s the entire point of this journey! Crap... if you can’t keep up your act here, how are you going to do it for the rest of the mission? Aii, I knew I should have gone alone. I could have just said I’m a son of something and the chosen child of Magic. I’m sure I could have persuaded at least a few idiots on my side and use that to start my own faction and eventually overtake the main one and become the leader of the whole thing and have an army of crazed Mages on my side. Tell me again, why the hell did I bring you two with me?!”
“....” both Hannah and Seya helplessly rolled their eyes, quite unable to understand how Lino came up with such a story and turn of events. “Is that really a way for a man to speak to his wife and his daughter?” Hannah smiled wryly.
“You’re right. Ah, fine. Let’s get a divorce and you, my supposed daughter, I’m disowning you. Shoo.” Lino decided to play along.
“I’ll disown your mother, you bastard!” Seya screamed out angrily, lunging over and kicking and punching Lino who merely yawned and let the little girl wail at him freely.
“She’s sure lively for someone who’s been nothing if not bitchy the entire trip over.”
“Where do we go now?” Hannah asked, sighing bitterly
“... who knows?” Lino shrugged. “Inland?”
“... you do realize that this entire thing is as large as the Central Continent, right?” Hannah said, shocked.
“Eh, so what. It’s not like we’re pressed for time,” Lino chuckled. “Besides, we’re not allowed to use Qi while here. If any one of you do, I’m seriously turning coat, alright? That old bastard has promised me a lot of shit for this---khm, I mean, uh, it’s a mission very close to my heart--”
“--didn’t you say that the rewards were standard?” Hannah’s face suddenly darkened as her voice turned colder than the world around them. Lino felt a cold shiver in his spine, remembering that Hannah was quite a greedy woman; the fact that she so often gave him things had kind of made him forget that she was not exactly happy with it.
“... ah, me and my tongue.” Lino sighed, sitting down and simply spreading his arms open. “Go on. Join the little girl. Bully the best husband and father in the world! Sin so much your souls turn bleak!”
“Punching you in the face would redeem half the sneaky shit I’ve done in my life,” Hannah said. “But, not just yet. Seriously, although these blankets are amazing, they won’t last us long. We need to find a permanent shelter for the time being so we don’t freeze to death.”
“Nah, I’m fine.” Lino chimed in.
“On the other hand, maybe we should just cancel the mission...” Hannah mumbled. “After all, most of the penalty would fall upon you...”
“Shelter you said? Hah, piece of cake!” Lino shot onto his feet. “Leave it to the best husband and father in the world!” Hannah and Seya watched him saunter off as they giggled, following shortly after. Lino, on the other hand, was also holding back the tears; he realized the mission would most-likely be very bad for his heart... and not because of the mission’s contents, but his own companions. Ah, how unjust can the world get... a perfect man such as myself treated so... haiii.... naturally, he kept many such thoughts to himself.