“Brother Lino, look, look!” the young Criador cried out as he licked his rosy lips and swung across an empty parchment with a quill, scribbling lines at random. “Like brother, he he he!”
“Ha ha ha ha, really, just like me,” Lino laughed, ruffling his hair. “No, no, Cae’s way, way better than me. Sheesh, in a few years you’ll put me out of the business!”
“He he he~~”
“Ah, what are you two ruffians doing?” Ella suddenly walked into the room, carrying a tray with two cups of smoldering tea, placing it down as she sat next to the two.
“Drawing like brother!” Criador cried out as he continued scribbling.
“All the makings of an array master!” Lino nodded proudly.
“If you think I’ll let my son spend decades cooped up in dusty rooms studying lines so he can torture his wrist until he dies... you’ve got another thing coming.” Ella warned sternly, taking a sip of the tea.
“You look well,” Lino said, smiling gently. “You’ve finally worked off that extra weight.”
“... say what?”
"I mean--no, wait, that's exactly what I mean. You'd gotten so damn fat while pregnant, you were damn near close to evolving into a whale."
“... is that how you talk to your mom, huh? Do you want a beating?!”
“Hey, I just said you’d gotten fat, not ugly! Sheesh, what’s with all the women I know and their anger issues.”
“... so, let me get this straight,” Ella smiled strangely suddenly. “All these women you know are angry, right?”
“And they all have you in common, right?”
“Right?” Lino mumbled, his eyes turning into slits.
“... can you see the problem?”
“... I don’t pay enough attention to you gals?”
“... aah, your skull is too thick for this world,” Ella chuckled bitterly as Lino grinned. “How have you been? Did you find anything in the Prison?”
“Eh, just some minions,” Lino mumbled. “Nothing we can use. How’s relocation going?”
"We're halfway through," Ella replied. "We should be done by a fortnight."
“Hmm, good. Better safe than sorry,” he said. “Any surprising upstarts?”
“A few,” she nodded. “But, we’re still working on them. Don’t worry about that. Oh, right. Ty sent us a report saying that the Emperor had finally struck a deal with someone.”
“Eh, let him. It’s not yet his time.”
“... do you ever plan on telling us what goes on in that pretty head of yours?” she asked, caressing Criador’s hair gently for a moment.
“Hey, I’m an open book! Ask and ye shall receive!”
“... you met up with her, didn’t you?” Ella suddenly asked, her tone turning serious.
“... I have.”
“And? What do you think?” she probed.
“El’,” Lino smiled mysteriously. “You know I’ve only got eyes for Hannah.”
“... eh, you can be honest,” she chuckled strangely. “She’s not here.”
“... we’ve gotten engaged.”
"... huh?" Ella's shocked expression caused even young Criador to look up in wonder at the two.
“I asked her to marry me on our way over, and she said yes.” Lino said, smiling.
“Ha ha ha, congratulations!” Ella lunged over and hugged him tightly, corners of her eyes growing teary. “You big lad!” she pulled back, slapping his shoulder gently. “When did you go off and turn into a proper man, huh? Wait, did you get her pregnant? Oh my... this is big--”
“Yo, hey, you’re spiraling,” Lino snapped his fingers in front of her until she came back to. “I didn’t get her pregnant. I just... decided it was time.”
“... now or never, huh?” she mumbled in a strangely sad tone.
“Eh, a little bit,” he said, taking a deep breath. “But... mostly because I’ve seen it all El’ by now.”
“... you two are really a match made in heaven,” Ella suddenly chuckled. “Thinking back on what Eggor and I had to go through till we got together... aah, you make it look all too easy.”
“Ha ha ha...” Lino laughed lightly, taking out a bottle of wine and two glasses. “We do, don’t we?”
“Do you two ever even fight?” she asked, taking the glass from Lino.
“Of course we do,” he shrugged. “I know it may not seem like it, but... we’re actually very different people.”
“... how so?” she quizzed.
"I'm a leader, and she's a ruler," he said, smiling lightly. "I can't tell you how many times she scolded me because I went into something without thinking it through, and I can't tell you how many times I've scolded her because she tends to overthink... fucking... everything..."
“... well, she has to think for the two, so I don’t envy her.”
“Don’t you too?” he grinned for a moment.
“... yeah, us gals really have it tough with idiots like you and that big-head.”
“Daddy!!” Criador suddenly cried out as Ella and Lino burst out into laughter.
“O-oh my god, ha ha ha ha, why, why wasn’t he in here to hear that... ha ha ha ha, he would have broken down crying...” Lino mumbled, short of breath from laughing.
“... oh, right. What was that about genes and what not?” Ella suddenly asked, seemingly having just remembered.
“Oh, that? Edith taught me some,” Lino said. “The make-up of a human body, from things we can’t even see, to the largest ones. Like Cae, for instance,” Lino said, picking him up. “His hair’s black because he inherited Eggor’s gene, but his eyes are blue, just like yours, since you passed it on him. It’s the small stuff, but it adds up eventually to our entire selves, even who we are beyond our physique.”
“... could it really be that they’ve figured out a way to purify Bloodlines by doing that?” Ella mumbled, frowning.
“... it’s possible,” Lino nodded. “If they’re able to locate deficiencies, isolate them and remove them, they could create a flawless genetic make-up. That’s not the real problem, however.”
“There’s nothing flawless in the entire world,” Lino said, smiling lightly. “Even if they create a perfect string of genes, they will mutate, creating imperfections.”
“... do they know that?” she questioned.
"Probably. I guess that they'll try to sell -- either the purified Bloodlines or their services. You should take Cae and visit your Sect," Lino added. "Ask around."
“... you’re really asking me to use my son -- your own little brother -- as a way to do a job?”
“Hey, he’s gotta start contributing and such.”
“Yes! Yes! Cae will help! Will help!”
“See? Even he’s excited!” Lino exclaimed, ruffling the boy’s hair.
“What about you?”
“What do you mean? I’ve got a wedding to attend, woman.”
“Eh?! You’re gonna hold it here?”
“Of course. Oh, right, you better start helping Hannah. That woman has too many ideas and way too few restrictions. She... she actually suggested... she actually suggested creating a choir of a thousand identically-looking children so they sing while she walks down the aisle.”
“.... s-she... he he, she... she must be joking...” Ella mumbled nervously.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” Lino grinned. “She’s a joker alright. She also wasn’t joking when she said she’s invented a game called ‘Pocketeer’ in which every guest of our wedding will be forced to hand over the contents of their pockets and void treasures as ‘gifts’.”
“And she was also definitely joking when she said that she will have Cae ride on a burning lion as a ring-bearer.”
“... that insane bitch! As if!” Ella jumped to her feet suddenly, startling Lino and young Criador.
"... y-yeah... so... off you go..." Lino covered young boy's ears as Ella mumbled quick and derogatory curses, quickly leaving the room. Lino sighed deeply and leaned closer, just next to the young boy's ear.
“See that, Cae?” he said. “Whatever issues you end up having, and you’ll have plenty because your entire family is just... fucked up... don’t, I repeat, do not develop mommy issues, okay? You do not want to spend your entire life chasing after women exactly like your mom. She’s gorgeous and amazing, but you have to be an egghead like your dad to handle her, alright? And, mark my words, I ain’t letting you become an egghead, alright? Oh, also, don’t go after someone like big sis, alright? Go after someone... ah, right, I’ll introduce you to bis sis Ally, alright?”
"Ally?" Criador mumbled innocently, his eyes sparkling in wonder.
“Yes, Ally. Marry someone like her, alright? Docile, loving, calm, understanding, compassionate... that’s the girl you want to marry!”
“... what... what about big bro?” the young boy asked suddenly.
“What about me?”
“Why... marry big sis Hannah?”
“... why?” Lino grinned sheepishly for a moment before replying. “Because... big brother loves her very much. Sure,” he added lowly. “She drives him insane from time to time, and gets on his nerves, and yells at him and bickers with him constantly and repeatedly tells him he’s a moron... but, I can see her care for me in everything she does. And, in my heart I know, she will be with me no matter what... no matter where... no matter when. Truth is... find someone like that, Cae. Like your mom found your dad... and like I found big sis. Someone... who will always be by your side, no matter what.”
“... like... like big bro?” young Criador mumbled, seemingly confused.
“... ha ha ha, I suppose so, yeah,” Lino chuckled. “Like big brother...”