DIVINE SMITH (I)
An odd sort of tension hung over the gracefully-decorated chambers, with Lino briskly sitting and sipping some wine straight from the bottle. It was rather sweet, though he would be hard-pressed to answer where he got it. Whenever he'd come into any town or city, he'd always purchase wine in bulk and store it. Even he wasn't quite sure just how many bottles, gourds and other odd storages were inside his void world.
Freya and the Third Prince, Titus, sat in silence, their gazes slightly dulled due to having thrown themselves in deep thought. It wasn’t Lino’s proposal that stunned them per se as both expected it, especially Freya, but the commanding and certain tone he used when he said he’d craft a Continental-tier weapon for Titus.
“... despite our best attempts,” Titus sucked in a cold breath, his dew-green eyes shimmering. “It seems we have still underestimated you gravely.”
“I get that a lot,” Lino chuckled. “What do you say?”
“I would have helped you either way,” Titus said. “As we have failed to properly protect you in the first place... but I’d be a fool to reject a free Continental-tier item.”
"You indeed would," Lino added casually, doubling down on the shock of the young ones behind him; the first one was that he planned on giving away a Continental-tier item for free, and the second one was the way he spoke to the Prince. "Though I promised a Continental-tier item, I hope you'll understand that there'll be some restrictions, particularly in terms of materials that I use; after all, though I like you two very much, it's not that much."
“Ha ha, no, I understand, of course,” Titus replied with a faint laugh. “But, if, and this is merely a hypothetical, you were to, say, come into possession of some rather unique and rare materials... what would change?”
"..." Lino's lips curled up into a faint grin, causing Freya to sigh; of course, it wasn't free, she realized. Nothing with Lino is ever free -- she should have known better. He’s gonna rob us dry, I just know it... she mused inwardly, though didn’t say anything, somewhat excited to see how far he’ll push. “Not even the sky’s the limit,” Lino replied, taking a sip of wine. “And perhaps not even the beyond...”
“...” Freya could read the excitement in Titus’ eyes clearly, causing her to sigh inwardly; the poor lad was expecting to be given the stars... yet, without even realizing it, he will be the one doing all the giving. “How long would it take you to craft something like it?” Freya asked. Lino glanced at her and stealthily winked, causing her to groan inwardly.
“It all depends on Your Highness’ desires,” Lino replied. “After all, I do wish to leave a good impression, and perhaps earn an additional favor.” You’re still digging?!!! everyone, except Titus, nearly wanted to scream at him in anger, yet they managed to hold back.
“Of course, of course,” Titus fell right into the trap, rubbing his hands. “If you truly deliver on your promise, you’ll have a friend for life in me, Lyonel. Whatever you need within my domains, you shall receive -- that I promise. Would you mind waiting for a moment?” he added, getting up.
“No, of course not.” Lino replied, taking a sip of the wine that turned even sweeter.
“If the young ones are bored, I can ask Idya to show them around, while Freya keeps you company.” Titus said.
"Very well," Lino nodded, turning toward the young. "You lot better behave, or we'll have a big ol' talk when we get back. You hear?"
“... yes.” everyone except Y’sha replied dispiritedly, the latter replying with faint excitement; though she spent the least amount of time by Lino’s side, she easily read that look in his eyes -- it was pure greed, lust for whatever they can scam out of this place.
“Very well then; follow me children.” Freya and Lino remained silent as the rest departed, the former staring daggers at him.
“I won’t let you rob him dry, you know?” she said as the two were left alone.
“Whatever do you mean?”
“Oh, please, we may have not seen each other in a long time, but I know you Lino. Chances are you already have a Continental-tier item, and will simply try to get as many materials out of it as possible.”
“... first of all, I said I’ll craft one by his desires,” Lino said. “Now, I’m quite clever, but even I’m not clever enough to predict what a man I hadn’t met until today might want to preemptively craft it. Secondly... well, yeah, I’ll rob you guys dry.”
“I just said I won’t let you.” she quickly added.
“Wanna hear a secret?” Lino asked mysteriously.
“... sure.” Freya replied, sighing.
“Whatever I wanted,” he winked. “I always got.”
“... just how many angles are you playing? Not just here, in this room, but by simply coming here?” she quizzed with a serious expression.
“... what makes you think I’m playing angles? Perhaps I truly came here to test the limit of my smithing talents.”
"Yeah, right," Freya scoffed, taking a sip of her already chilled tea in an attempt to calm down. "Hell will freeze over before you stop lying. Just be honest, Lino. I already settled on helping you, and if we tell Titus who you really are, he will bend over backward to give you literally everything anyway. Why play these games and dance around the bushes?"
“... you know, for a member of royalty,” Lino said after a short silence, smiling quaintly. “You certainly are rather naive, Freya. Life is rather dull without games. Besides, I expect my identity to remain a secret until I leave this place.”
“... so you are playing angles.”
"Of course I'm playing angles," he chuckled. "What? Do you think I came all the way here, into the heart of the land that's hunting my ass, for fun? On a vacation? Of course not."
"... I thought you'd have learned by now that playing people will only ever get you so far. You'll slip, one way or another, and find yourself alone whereas you could have had it all." she said, her eyes glimmering in a strange light.
“... age has dulled you,” Lino said calmly. “It’s a shame.”
“No, the age hasn’t dulled me,” she shook her head. “I simply didn’t forget the empathy I largely learned from you. What happened to you, Lino? Your tongue was always vile, but it was honest, as was your soul. You saw people heart to heart and offered them the truth. Did the world truly steal that away from you?”
“... you and I live in two entirely different worlds,” Lino suddenly scowled with faint anger, surprising Freya; his Will burst out of him for a brief flash, washing over her body, freezing her soul for that quaint moment. She felt her entire reality collapse within it, sweat breaking out of every pore of her being. “Do not be in such a rush to merge them.”
“... I’m right here. Why not?” she asked, recovering quickly.
"... for the same reason I'm ‘playing angles'," he said, getting up slowly, his mood seemingly soured. "There'd be no winner otherwise... just a string of broken, bitter and angry souls hanging off the burning chains. Tell the Prince he can send the materials to my smithy."
"... you don't have to leave," she said. "Sorry."
“No, I do,” he turned around briefly and cracked a strange grin. “Otherwise you wouldn’t get to... and that would, well, complicate things for me.”
Stepping out of the room, Lino felt a huge rush of relief as he let go of a breath he had been seemingly holding in for eons. Shaking his head, he put his hands inside his pockets and slowly retracted the steps, his mind in a spiral.
“Why did you resist me?” a robotic voice, who had been eerily silent for a long while now, echoed out inside his mind.
“Why did you push me?” Lino asked back in an indifferent tone.
“It was a perfect opportunity.” Ataxia replied.
“For what? To undo all of my current plans?” Lino scoffed.
“Plans that all lead you to the goal that was right there.”
“Within the right circumstances.”
“There will never be the right circumstances.”
“... there have to be,” Lino said. “And if there aren’t, I’ll make them.”
“... you aren’t now nor will you ever be omnipotent,” Ataxia said. “Some things are even out of our hands of control, Lino.”
“... you two are remarkably alike,” Lino sighed. “I’m half a mind away from asking why you never came together instead of plunging the world into a chaotic shithole.”
“... we are nothing alike.” Ataxia said.
"Really?" Lino scoffed. "Though I imagine for different reasons, you both seem equally anxious over finally commencing the end of this story... or the beginning of a new one."
“... if now is not the time, when then?”
“... I told you a long time ago, Ataxia, that I will never lose myself inside the tidal changes of the world,” Lino replied. “That if you wanted my help, it will be on my terms. If you want to reset, go ahead -- nothing is stopping you. Rip yourself out of me and find another scowl to wear your crown.”
“... you indeed did,” Ataxia said, seemingly relenting. “And I told you I would respect your wishes.”
“Very well. If you feel now is not the time, then now is not the time.”
“She’s left a mark on me,” Lino said. “Don’t remove it.”
“Because I’m curious as to why,” Lino chuckled. “She didn’t particularly bother to hide it, so there must be a reason.”
“... I know you fancy yourself witty and clever, Lino, but you are neither wittier nor cleverer than her,” Ataxia said. “Play the games with people as long as you want to, but be careful when playing the games with her and her ilk.”
“... relax man,” Lino said. “I’m fairly certain I know exactly what she wants from me, and how she plans on getting there. Her throwing me off might only make this more fun than it already is...”