FIGHT WITHOUT FIGHTING
A gorgeous garden spread widely in front of Lino’s eyes, adorned with all forms, colors and sorts of flowers, most of which he never even imagined existing. Birds chirped in the distance as he sat on the porch, drinking ale. Down below, Hannah was tending to a bush of roses, up above Dragons were flying... all seemed perfect, as it should be.
“Wake up, dummy.” a familiar voice snuck inside his mind and broke the vision he was having. He opened his eyes slowly and glanced up where Lucky’s face welcomed him, looming over. “Heh, I bet you were having some sweet dream, weren’t you?” she crackled.
“...” Lino mumbled indiscernible words, slowly getting up and stretching. Glancing sideways, he saw a cup of warm coffee on the bedside table; smiling inwardly, he stretched his arm out and grabbed it, taking a sip. “What’s up ugly?” he asked.
“Are you hungover?” Lucky quizzed with a strange expression.
“... yup,” Lino replied, groaning. “I feel as though there’s an army stampeding all over my fucking head.”
“... how fucking much did you drink man?” she asked. “You’re usually able to hold your liquor.”
“Ah, it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality,” Lino replied, grasping at his head. “Eggor took out that secret stash I told you about. And... oh my god. That shit’s fucking amazing.”
“... yeah, I’ll bet. You look like shit.”
“Thanks, you too. So, what’s up?”
“Just wanted to check in ‘cause I’m about to book it.” she replied, taking out a gourd of ale and taking a sip as she sat down, crossing her legs. “Got any requests?”
“Yeah, do you know that song? How the fuck does it go... uh, whores, whores, everywhere are whores, except here, where there are only chores?”
“... wow, which bastardly bard committed musical suicide to write that shit?”
“Who knows,” Lino shrugged. “Might have been my long-lost brother.”
“Might have,” Lucky chuckled. “So, anyway, before I leave, I think I should probably tell you something. I’ve met this girl, right?”
“Did you give her ‘The Three Fingers’ that I taught you?” Lino asked.
“Alright, first of all, it was me who taught you, and you should get Hannah to thank me already,” she said. “And, secondly, it’s not that; I think she might be a Bearer.”
“Oh?” Lino exclaimed softly, meeting her gaze. “How’d you figure that? Do you have some Bearer-detection abilities that I’m unaware of?”
“... no,” Lucky said, corners of her lips twitching. “But, one of the lads from her entourage called her ‘Lady Bearer’ so I figured, you know, if it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck...”
“... she also fucks like a duck?”
“What do you want me to do?” Lucky asked.
“... I dunno,” Lino shrugged. “Do whatever you want.”
“I was thinking about killing her.”
“Then kill her.”
“But I don’t really want to kill her.”
“But she might pose a problem later down the line, right?”
“Or she might not, you know,” Lino wanted to scream out in annoyance, yet held back. “She might be way too weak to do anything to us.”
“She might too.”
“Or she could become like this super-strong Cultivator that’s gonna end you or something.”
“... oh for the love of all that is holy, just do whatever you want. For all I care train her and teach her how to end me properly.”
“... wow, I never took you for a bad drunk,” Lucky chuckled, walking over and sitting next to him, leaning onto his shoulder. “She’s actually a really nice girl, you know? I think I should be able to lead her astray with some time and charm.”
“... of course you can,” Lino said, ruffling her hair. “You can charm anyone.”
“Aww, but I was never able to charm you~~”
“That’s ‘cause you ugly.”
“Oh suck a dick dude. I may be a bit of a brute, but I’m still a lady, you know?”
“Pssh, yeah, right.”
“... you know, I just might teach her how to end you. Permanently and forever.”
“That’s one and the same.” Lino said.
“Yeah, I’m doubling down just to be safe.”
“Anyway, here’s most of what I found out during my time on the Holy Continent,” Lucky said, getting up and taking out a stack of papers and throwing them onto the bed next to Lino. “It’s nothing truly big, as prying secrets from those cockroaches proved to be far more difficult than I thought. Ty’s been accepted into the Sect, by the way, and has already sent two reports; apparently, our dear Emperor is meeting repeatedly with some higher-ups to try and ‘sell your secrets’ for permanent protection.”
“... what secrets?” Lino grumbled after a short thought.
“I dunno,” Lucky shrugged. “But, they can’t be that big ‘cause nobody’s buying. At least thus far. Also, they’ve jacked their hunting party; roughly three thousand altogether, the weakest being Titular Fiends at around Level 15,000. They’ve also sent out a few more stronger ones after your whole ba-dang with the Dragon and such. So you should be careful if you plan on heading out. Oh, and we have a spy inside the fortress, so you should probably look into it.”
“... I want you to start buying up meat in bulks,” Lino suddenly said. “Take money from Val and spare no expenses. If you lack storage, just ask Eggor to craft you a few.”
“... what the shit do you need so much meat for?” Lucky asked, arching her brows.
“... uh... I’m planning on gaining a few pounds?”
“... it’s to feed my Dragon pet.” Lino shrugged, sighing before chuckling in amusement, having seen Lucky’s petrified expression.
“... oh, what am I thinking,” she sighed, shaking her head. “Of course you made it your pet. It’d be stranger if you didn’t. So, I’m guessing around half our budget will go into feeding that friend of yours, eh?”
“For now, yeah, pretty much,” Lino said. “But, I have plans.”
“What plans?” she quickly asked.
“I’m gonna open my own smithy on the Holy Continent and sell ‘em my wares!”
“... yeah, great idea. Strengthen your enemies. You goddamn moron.”
“... hehe.” Lino mere giggled, winking at her mysteriously. Lucky rolled her eyes and bid him farewell, leaving the room and him inside, alone.
Lino put away the cup of coffee and slowly went through the stacks of parchments on his bed; most of this was entirely new information to him, and he planned on studying it precisely. After all, having an army of Fiend Titulars hunting him was no joking matter, however much he tried to play it off as such in front of Lucky. Most of the names on the list, what was worse, were the ones Lino heard of in stories and myths already -- Ghost Emperor, Eastern Thunder, Beholder of Flames, Liberator of Ix, the Headless Sorceress...
Every new name caused the cold breath he’d suck in to grow more frigid; he had neither intention nor means of battling any one of them just yet, especially so because Vy’s pet-man-ship came with a set of terms, the number one being he wouldn’t fight for Lino regardless of whatever happens. He’d take him places, and tell him stuff, but wouldn’t fight for him.
Lino hadn’t forgotten that, despite the fact he’d grown considerably stronger over the past two years, he was still lagging far too much behind the actual top heavy weights of the world. He had no intention of blindly thrusting himself into a war he couldn’t win, especially so because they were still consolidating their strength.
For the time being, Ella was by far the strongest person he had on his side, but she couldn’t fight the whole world alone... nor would he ever let her to begin with. It was time he finally set the gauntlets of war aside and returned to his roots, he thought. To back when he was too weak to fight anyone. To the time where his only means of victory was screwing someone else over out of something.
After all, it was much easier and less frightening to fight from the shadows, while no one even realizes you were leading the fight. And, best of all, Holy Grounds only needed someone to light their feeble and fragile fuse for it all to burst into flames.