A YEAR LATER
A whole year had passed since Lino, Hannah and Seya had settled in the Northern Fjords, inside what Lino decided to name ‘Valley Where No Human Was Meant to Enjoy Life’. The days spent were rather uneventful, with all three focusing mostly on their own, individual training regimes. Lino was still cooped up in the dimensional pocket of blazing flames, except this time there wasn’t even a single inch of the dimension that wasn’t roaring in an inferno. Rather, if someone merely glanced inside, they wouldn’t even be able to spot Lino.
Hannah was sitting on top of a tall rock, cross-legged, meditating. Behind her, a massive mirage in her own image arose, smoking out in cyan, a pair of eyes staring at the world down below from above. Air about her appeared almost holy, the edges of her body shimmering in faint azure, blending in perfectly with the background.
Seya was currently standing next to a massive, dead tree, holding her hand against its trunk, her eyes closed, expression distorted slightly, her faint muscles bulged. She seemed to struggle with something before suddenly breathing out, shouting angrily, and kicking the tree before wincing back in pain as the tree itself was tougher than a diamond.
The three interacted only occasionally, mostly when Lino got tired of being boiled and decided to come out. Such was the case today, as Hannah immediately withdrew the mirage and jumped off the rock, racing over to Lino who was wearing only pants, burnt up to his knees. She suddenly threw herself at him, startling him and causing both of them to fall down into the snow.
“Ha ha ha ha, oh god woman, get off of me,” Lino laughed before suddenly pushing her away as she bit into his collarbone. “Fuck, when did you become like a rabid dog?!”
“Eh? Didn’t you say you want this?” Hannah quizzed, seemingly calming down. “Remember? The last time you came out, you said my reception was, what was it? Mellow? Distant? And you said how you were expecting me to throw myself at you and bite away.”
”... it was clearly a joke, you insane maniac!!”
“Ah, you’ve been out for barely a minute, and you two are already at it?” Seya chimed in from the side. “Don’t you just... ever get tired?”
“Hey, hey, young lady, jealousy is a bad, bad emotion to have,” Lino said with a serious expression, causing Hannah to chuckle. “At least keep it to yourself, geez.”
“... yeah, sure. If you kill yourself, I’ll never utter another word.”
“Oh boy. She’s gonna be talking for a long ass time then.” Hannah grinned.
“Ah, it’s enough! No more bickering and bantering and whatever the fuck else we do. Let’s just settle down; I’ll prep some drinks while you two lovely ladies cook us up a nice meal, and we can eat it together like a proper family dammit!”
“Eh, fine, fine,” Hannah rolled her eyes at him, getting up and dusting away the snow off of herself. “Your word is my command, your Highness.”
“Really!” Hannah exclaimed. “I mean, how can I not obey your every word?”
“Ah, I see...” Lino sighed.
“You are just so full of wisdom, I would be the world’s greatest fool if I ever ignored a single thing you say. Prepare you a meal? I’ll prepare you a thousand! Hell, you can even eat me if you want!”
“It has been a while...” Lino mumbled, grinning. “But, I get it. You’re embarrassed you can’t cook so you’re covering it up. It’s fine, it’s fine. I’ll fix us something.”
“... I-I can cook, dammit...” Hannah grumbled, hiding her blushing cheeks.
“Wait--that’s the only reason you won’t cook for him?!!” Seya cried out from the sidelines. “Not because he’s the world’s biggest prick?! Not because even literal creator of narcissism would be ashamed in front of him?!! God, there’s something fucking wrong with you people!!”
“We’ve already established that a long time ago, pipsqueak,” Lino chuckled, ruffling Seya’s hair as she tried to fight it back halfheartedly. “Come on, help me fix something together.”
”Why should I?”
“Well, I’d ask Hannah, but, you know...”
“... fine.” Seya grumbled, following after Lino. “Fuck, each time you come out, you feel more and more mysterious. Just how strong have you become?” she asked as she began cutting the defrosted fish Lino handed her while he began preparing fire and water.
“Eh, pretty strong,” Lino replied with a smug look on his face, stroking his now rather messy-looking beard. “You ain’t bad yourself, already Level 500. Do you have some hidden talents we don’t know about?”
“... humph, I wish. I’ve being training like mad almost without a break, yet you always seem to just be floating further away.”
“... you still wanna kill me?” he asked, taking the cut fish from her.
“Of course. It’s the point of my life!” Seya exclaimed proudly.
“Oh, wow. That’s one pathetic sense of purpose.”
“... what do you know? Eos was everything to me.”
“... I’m sure she was,” Lino glanced at her, smiling faintly. “But, do you really want to settle on just ensuring I die? Because, one way or another, I’ll die.”
“Oh, I’d love to see that.”
“... you gotta dream bigger kiddo,” Lino said, suddenly crouching down and meeting her gaze squarely as he took both her hands and held them tightly. “A long, long, long time ago, I also just lived to kill someone. Every day, that’s all I thought about. I’d wake up every morning planning, I’d fall asleep every night regretting I hadn’t done anything that day. Day after day... I hadn’t even noticed the time passing me by.”
“... did... did you kill them in the end?” Seya asked somewhat meekly.
“No,” Lino shook his head. “I didn’t.”
“Ha ha ha, a lil’ bit, yeah,” Lino smiled. “Now, I’m not going to stop you. After all, if my death is your fuel, so be it. I’m more than happy to be the reason you wake up in the morning.”
”H-hey!!” Seya exclaimed, blushing. “D-don’t... don’t say it like that!!”
“... pfft, ha ha ha ha ha... oh god. Right. I forgot you were just a kid... my bad, my bad.” he got up, ruffling her hair; she didn’t try to fight it this time around, meekly accepting it with her head lowered. “But, I really mean it. Until you are ready to move on, I’ll always be right here.”
“... what makes you think I’ll ever move on?” she humphed, tearing herself away.
“... because living in death’s shadow is exhausting,” he said, glancing at her. “And worthless. Whatever front you’re sporting with Hannah and me, you are very different from what you were like before we came here. And... I know,” he said, smiling lightly as he stirred fire. “You, more so than anything else, feel guilty.”
“You shouldn’t. Guilt, perhaps, is even worse than wrath. It will eat away at you without you ever even noticing... and, one morning you’re gonna wake up and find yourself utterly incapable of leaving the bed.”
“... speaking from the experience?” she asked with a faint scoff.
“Aye, a lot of it.” he nodded. “I’ve learned to live with it and use it as strength. But, I don’t recommend you do the same.”
“Why? Because I’m not strong enough?”
“No... because there’s no reason to,” he said, smiling. “What do you have to feel guilty about?”
“... I... I don’t...”
“Because you enjoy spending time with Hannah and me?”
“N-no, no... I don’t...” she wheezed lowly, unable to look away from the snowy ground below.
“Because you’ve come to learn that neither one of is quite like the stories painted us?”
“Because you can’t reconcile with the fact your hatred of me is waning? Or, because, deep down... Hannah is slowly taking root inside the place you only ever imagined Eos would be?”
“...” she glanced up, her eyes teary. “Fuck you Lino. Seriously, fuck you!”
“... remember this,” he said, crouching down yet again and suddenly pulling her into his arms. “Some people search for home all their life without ever finding it. Some never knew a life without it. And some throw it away because they believe there’s a better one out there in the world. Once we get back home, S’, you’ll have a choice to make.”
“You will either go back to the place of your birth,” he said. “Or you’ll stay with us. Just so you know, if you do decide to leave, you will break my heart.”
“... humph... as if... as if I care about your dead heart...”
“Oi, oi, what do you mean dead heart?! I’m nothing but lovin’ over here!”
“F-fuck, what do you mean ew?! Come back here young lady!”
“Ha ha ha ha...”
“Ah! You’re laughing at me?! Shit, once I get a hold of you, I’m going to smother you with hugs! That’s how full of love I am!”
“Ha ha ha, s-stay away from me!! Hannah, come and tame your beast!!”
“... fuck, don’t drag me into your horseshit as well...” Hannah grumbled outwardly, yet a smile of content crept onto her face as she sat on the side and watched a young girl running away from a half-naked man. It took her a moment to realize how wrong that seemed, and another to revel in joy they were as far away from the rest of the world as one could get without outright dying.