Fire -- all Lino could see were black flames, stretching onward throughout the empty horizon. Seas beneath blazed, chains hanging above them burned, islands were torched. Screams, wails, cries, crackles of flame... it was a breathtaking symphony of hell, one that left him frowning. It hadn’t been that long, he thought, since Hannah called him; it shouldn’t have escalated to such a degree already.
He couldn't locate any one of them -- not Lucky, not Hannah, and not Alison. He was certain they never left this world, however, as he already had all exits encapsulated within his Will. They were also alive, as their talismans indicated. That only meant they were inside an isolated space, or purposefully hiding their Qi to the point it was nigh impossible to spot them. In the worst-case scenario, they were captured and locked up, but he didn't have the luxury to ponder over that just yet.
Just a few hours ago he had been enjoying a nice rest while counting a string of wealth that was entering his pockets through the smithy when he received a rather brief call from Hannah -- he should probably come to the Land of Chains, as all hell was about to break loose. When he heard it, he didn’t imagine she meant a literal hell, however.
“... what in god’s name have those three done?” Lino mumbled, sighing.
"Are Lady Hannah and Miss Lucky fine?" Ryt asked from the side, Ion joining in with a worried expression. The former, after having learned that Ion had joined Lino on a journey to the palace, decided never to let Lino leave his sight and follow him everywhere. Though it was kind of cute at the start, Lino was beginning to feel slightly creeped out as their care began bordering fanaticism.
“Of course they’re fine, idiot!” Ion chimed in. “Who could do anything to our Ladies, huh?”
“I-I know that!” Ryt exclaimed softly, blushing.
“Zip it, you two,” Lino growled lowly at the two, glancing at them. The two immediately went silent and lowered their heads in shame. “Let’s go.” Lino led the charge as they landed onto one of the burning islands. He coated Ryt and Ion with his Will as he casually took a stroll, whipping out a talisman in the process.
“Eh? Lino? What’s up?” Ella’s surprised voice connected from the other end.
“I’m in the Prison,” he said. “Something went wrong.”
“... what is it?” Ella asked, her expression turning serious quickly.
“Not sure yet,” he said. “Hannah just told me to come. The entire place is up in flames. I’m guessing they’re moving. Start reshuffling our assets.”
“... isn’t that a bit paranoid?” Ella asked.
“No matter how well we hid it, there are still connections El’,” Lino sighed. “It’s too early to let them be exposed.”
“... how can we even be sure that the Cult will target you?” Ella asked.
“Because if anything happened to any one of the three,” he replied in a frigid, cold voice. “I will end them.”
“... yeah, sure big guy,” Ella chuckled on the other end, trying to ease the tensions. “No matter how brave the Cultists may be, they wouldn’t dare touch a single Bearer, let alone two. At most, they’ll have trapped them inside an isolation formation while they erase the evidence of their operations.”
“... I don’t know El’,” Lino sighed, glancing at the empty sky suddenly. “Can you claim, with any certainty, anything in this day and age?”
“... I suppose not.”
"How are things at home?" Lino asked.
"As usual," she replied. "Criador misses you. He keeps asking where is the big brother."
“... I miss the little fucker as well,” Lino smiled warmly. “Tell him I’ll be back soon and I’ll re-grow my beard especially for him.”
“Aah, how nice would it be if you stopped calling my son a little fucker...”
“Hey, sooner or later it’ll be true; I’m just getting you ready for it.”
“Oh, please. My son will be one-and-done, like his dad and mom.” Ella said.
“Psh, as if I’ll ever let that happen.”
“... perhaps I should relay that to Hannah.”
“... I knew it,” Lino groaned. “I should have never fallen in love. Everyone and their mother is beginning to use Hannah against me.”
“I’m sure she’s fine, Lino. So relax.”
"She better be El'," Lino sighed. "She better fucking be... anyway, start the transfers from the smithy -- just documentation, for now, there's no need to draw any unwanted suspicion. If shit does hit the fan while I'm not there, you can tell them to look for Prince Titus."
“... why not me?” Ella asked, surprised. “Are you worried something might happen to be? Aww, that’s so sweet...”
“... yeah, as if there’s someone out there who can actually hurt you,” Lino smiled wryly for a moment. “But, I need you at the fortress still. Not to belittle the others, but you’re the only one we got back there for now.”
“... don’t worry,” Ella smiled warmly for a moment. “I’ll keep them all safe.”
“Also have Ty report on the other Bearers if he hears anything,” Lino added by the end. “It shouldn’t be too long before they make a move...”
“Why do you say that?”
"I... I just know." Lino said mysteriously, not elaborating, as the connection between the two ended.
Ion and Ryt stood behind in silence, their heads hung low. In moments like these they regretted not being far, far stronger than they are; if they were, they could split and search way quicker. Yet, because of how weak they were, they had to remain a burden to Lino.
"And out you go..." Lino suddenly growled as he stretched his right arm out suddenly into space next to him, ripping it wide open and gazing into the void. Yanking his arm back, a scream wailed out that startled Ion and Ryt who quickly drew out their weapons only to see Lino's arm wrapped around a strange-looking figure's neck as it was being dragged out of seemingly nowhere. "You two, close the rip." Lino said as he pulled the man over and around, clenching his neck. "While his lad and I have a conversation."
“Y-yes, Master!!” Ion and Ryt exclaimed as they raced over toward the small tear, beginning to use the Qi to heal it up.
“H-h-how did-did you find me?” the man -- Lino assumed due to lack of breasts on the figure’s chest -- spoke out coarsely. His face was hidden beneath a layer of shadows that even Lino could only faintly see through.
“Because I’ve spent most of my life being leered at by people who meant me no good,” Lino replied simply, coating the surrounding space by his Will to ensure Ion and Ryt neither saw nor heard anything. “Who are you?”
“... who-who are you?” Lino released the man’s neck as the latter plummeted on his behind, holding it for a moment and coughing.
“I don’t think you quite understand the situation you’re in,” Lino crouched down and smiled coldly, forcing the man to meet his eyes. “I didn’t come to this hellhole to chat or make friends. I didn’t come here to exchange pleasantries.”
“... why’d you come then?” the man asked casually.
“... I came,” the man suddenly felt his entire body freeze up as he sensed a Will so overwhelming it was beyond description wash over his whole being. “To either find someone... or to raze this whole fucking world to the ground. Now, answer me. Who are you?”
“Are you part of the cult, Jean?” Lino asked.
“Are you cleaning house?”
“... we-we... we were discovered...”
“Who discovered you?” Lino persisted.
“I... I don’t know...”
“--t-two days... two days ago...”
“... then why today?” Lino asked, frowning suddenly.
“... where is your headquarters?” Lino asked.
"Take me there." the frigid voice, coupled with penetrating gaze and the beyond overwhelming Will, nearly caused the man to pass out. The only reason he hadn't was because Lino used his own Will to prevent him.
The man shuddered like a leaf under the wind as he slowly raised his hand and pointed it eastward. Lino brought down the curtain surrounding him and saw Ryt and Ion standing on attention, their expressions serious.
“Master, we request you put us in the dimensional pocket!” the two exclaimed at the same time, surprising Lino somewhat.
“Why?” he asked.
“We are too weak.” Ion said.
“Yes,” Ryt added. “We would just get in your way.”
“... what?” Lino cracked a smile as he pulled the man off the floor nonchalantly. “You think your Master is so weak he can’t protect two brats while killing some worthless scum?”
“A-ah... no, of course not...”
“Then shut the hell up and follow him.” his voice turned frigid again as he glanced at the man; meanwhile, Ion and Ryt shook temporarily -- they’d seen their Master angry before... but never quite like this. Not like this. “What are you waiting for? I told you to take me there. Why aren’t you taking me there?”
“I---I can’t... oath... betrayal...” the man mumbled meekly.
"..." Lino put his hand on the man's chest as the latter suddenly coughed out a mouthful of black blood, taking deep breaths afterward. "There you go. No more oaths. No more vows. No more betrayals. You are a free man. And, as your liberator, I suggest you do as I say, or your freedom will be very short-lived."
"... i-it's east, underwater... behind the last island..." the man mumbled weakly. "We-we should be in the last stages..."
“... carry him.” Lino tossed the man over to Ryt and Ion who awkwardly caught him. “And try to keep up.”
A pair of golden wings suddenly unfurled behind Lino's back as he put on the mask of Great Descent. He'd never bothered increasing his number from 72, as he quite liked it, and he had his ‘grandpa' tell him anything he wanted to know anyway. His wings fluttered for a moment as the wind around him stirred; Ryt and Ion stood and watched in awe for a moment before the two also took to the sky, each holding the man's one arm, the latter hanging in-between them.
Lino's eyes were like swirls of the chaotic maelstrom, focused entirely on where the man told him to go. It was one thing to steal defunct products from him, but an entirely another one to go after people he loved. Never again.