“Hey, brat!” Lino’s lips slowly curled up into a smile as a frown on his face mellowed. Looking up from a map on the desk, he turned slowly and saw Eggor standing on the other end of the room with a bottle of strange, crimson liquid and two glasses. He was still the same, Lino mused, unkempt as always. “You’ve really got no respect,” Eggor said, slowly walking up. “Why do I have to hear about my own son getting engaged from the stranger’s lips? Huh?”
“Ha ha ha,” Lino laughed freely as Eggor put down the bottle and the glasses. “Sorry, I just figured El’ would have told you. Am I going to get one of the extra-rare Egus?”
“... Egus?” Eggor mumbled.
“Ugh, you damn brat, you’re still as hateful as always.” despite saying so, Eggor walked up slowly and hugged Lino tightly, as latter finally managed to wrap his arms around his back. “Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” Lino said. “I brought a good daughter-in-law, haven’t I?”
“Eh, I don’t know,” Eggor said as the two sat down. “She’s got quite a tongue on her, just like you. I’m worried for my grandchildren.”
“As you should,” Lino said, taking in a deep breath as Eggor slowly poured two glasses of the strange, crimson liquid. “What’s that?”
“It’s called <Dragon’s Fury>,” Eggor replied, sliding over one glass. “I’ve saved a bottle for when my kid gets engaged. I was secretly hoping Cae would grow up and do it before you, but you can never suffer a loss, can you?”
“And miss out on one of your super-secret booze?” Lino chuckled. “Never.”
“... all the women are going nuts out there,” Eggor said as the two clanked their glasses. “You’ve still got it.”
“I’ve never lost it,” Lino grinned, taking a sip as a burning sensation washed over him, seemingly spiraling him into an infernal haze. “Goddamn, this is good...”
“Damn right it’s good. This one bottle is worth more than this entire goddamn fortress.”
“... you’re shitting me?”
"Of course not," Eggor shrugged. "It's been brewed over two billion years ago, and the recipe has long since been lost. There are only around forty bottles of this left, and once you open it, you have to drink it, otherwise, it goes bad within a day."
“... tsk, cheep booze-makers and their shitty tactics,” Lino sighed. “I swear, when I get some free time, I’ll start my own brewery and make the best alcohol in the world, and then sell it for dirt cheap.”
“And you’ve just won yourself the first regular customer.”
“As if. Mom would butcher you.”
“... she really would,” he chuckled, playing with the glass. “Have you thought it fully through?”
“... no,” Lino shook his head, glancing sideways, outside the window into the empty sky. “I’m not clever enough to do it.”
"Good," Eggor said. "Thinking has never been a strong suit for men in this family. We leave it to our gals."
“... it’s all coming down at the seams,” Lino said. “Slowly being peeled back. This... might be the last time we can sit and chat like this.”
“... what makes you say that?” Eggor asked.
“Before I leave,” Lino said. “I... want to spend time like this. I missed it.”
“... drinking? Isn’t that what you do all the time?”
“Ha ha ha, I suppose so. Cae’s really growing up quickly.”
“... he is.” Eggor nodded.
“... I’m going to miss it all,” Lino said, taking a sip. “It’s unfair.”
“... it’s not like you to get so depressed,” Eggor said. “Are you getting it out of your system?”
“... recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the days when I first started bugging your ass.”
“... ha ha ha...”
"I miss ‘em, terribly," Lino sighed, lowering his head. "The innocence... naivety... ignorance... it's ironic that greed is usually life's greatest lesson."
“... honestly?” Eggor mumbled, taking in a deep breath. “Both El’ and I often regretted ever giving you a choice. If you had just stayed my apprentice, you wouldn’t have been left out of anything.”
“... I would have,” Lino chuckled. “I’d have never met so many wonderful people, I’d have never heard so many beautiful stories... and... I’d have never married the woman of my dreams.”
“... I have a gut feeling you two would have met somehow, either way,” Eggor said, taking a sip. “I was never much of a romantic--”
“Oi!” Lino chuckled faintly as Eggor hurdled his sandal at him. “But... there is something about you two... that makes people believe.”
“... how are you finding your life here?” Lino asked.
“... eh, I don’t complain.” Eggor said, taking in a deep breath. “I’ve got a lot of time to do anything I want. I actually managed to finally have a breakthrough in smithing recently.”
“Eh? You weren’t already at the far pinnacle?”
“Humph, as if, you stinky brat.”
“Ha ha ha... so? How far up are you?”
“... I’ve managed to craft a Primordial-tier item,” Eggor said with a prideful smirk. “It’s of lesser quality, but it’s still Primordial-tier. Right now, stinky brat, you’re sitting in the presence of the only person in the entire world who can do it. So you better show some respect, humph!”
“... are you settling?” Lino suddenly grinned strangely.
“I’m coming for your title, old man,” he chuckled strangely. “There’s still a whole tier to go above that. If you settle, I’ll undoubtedly surpass you one day.”
“... knowing how you can hold a grudge, you might actually do it just to spite me.”
“Of course I would. I’m a stinky brat, after all.”
“... then it’s only right,” Eggor suddenly smiled warmly. “I’ll have all people who claimed my children would be farming beans eat their hearts out.”
“... tsk, talk about holding a grudge.”
“... what will you do now?” Eggor asked.
“... I don’t know,” Lino sighed deeply, rubbing his temples. “So far in my life, things were much simpler. Now? Ah, I can finally understand why Kings go mad seemingly out of nowhere. There’s simply... too many things to keep an eye out for. And, as I said, I’m not terribly clever.”
“... nobody ever said it’s gon’ be easy,” Eggor commented. “But, I know you can do it.”
“... how do you know that?” Lino chuckled bitterly. “The only reason I’ve even come so far is because I’ve had all of you helping me.”
“Did we all suddenly disappear when I wasn’t looking?”
“You still have us, little brat,” Eggor said. “We haven’t gone anywhere.”
“... no man’s an island indeed.” Lino chuckled, taking a sip. “One day... when it is all over... I’ll have a shitton of favors to repay.”
“... in some ways, you’ve grown a lot since you were that shitty brat,” Eggor said suddenly, surprising Lino. “You’re far more patient, less hotheaded, more understanding, even wiser. You’ve learned how to see through the cracks, when to retreat when need be and when to advance... in some ways, you are like an entirely different person.”
“... and in other?”
"And in other... you haven't changed at all," Eggor said. "You still think it's your duty, and yours alone, to uphold the sky for the rest of us. You still believe it's on your shoulders to guard us from it all. You still can't with an easy heart ask us for help, and each time you do, you feel like you're simply burdening us. I know... it's not easy, Lino. To let go of the crutches of heart. It's not easy to expel our demons. Trust me, I know. Even today, I sometimes wake up drenched in sweat, having dreamt of the distant past. And, each time I do, El's right there, with tears in her eyes, apologizing, over and again. Truth is..." he took a sip, sighing lowly. "Some things... we never escape or expel. They stay with us till our graves. My past... will always haunt Ella and me. But, my love for her... will always overwhelm it. I know... that you will never be able to trust others completely. There will always be parts of your heart that are locked away perpetually from the rest of us. And, that's fine. Have ‘em. But," he smiled, pouring Lino another glass. "You also have to realize that we see it. In your eyes. If you can't trust the rest of us, at least trust what will be the mother of your kids. Let her in and let her see it all. Good and bad. Noble and despicable. Honorable and otherwise. Else, you will forever remain a cripple, daunted by his own thoughts."
“... I trust you,” Lino said slowly, taking a sip and smiling. “I really do. I’ve trusted you since the day I began calling you my father.”
“But, I don’t trust myself,” Lino sighed. “Not yet, at least. Because, each time I did, I was proven wrong. And, time and again, I was forced to pick up the shattered pieces and start anew. I can’t do that anymore, dad,” he chuckled bitterly. “Rather, I’m well past the point of having the luxury of breaking down. If anything... anything at all... happened to you, or mom, or Lucky, or Hannah... I’d end up just like all the other Empyreans before me. Maddened, bloodied and crazed. I would genuinely carve out your names across the world from their corpses.”
“... goddamn, you creepy son of a bitch...” Eggor shuddered for a moment as he felt a cold chill. “Fucking hell, what do you mean carve out my name from their corpses... bloody fucking hell... you and your weird goddamn thoughts...”
"Ha ha ha ha..." Lino laughed joyously as he slowly drank the fiery liquid, stirring his heart. He thought many things at that moment and felt just as many emotions, flashing back through four decades of his life. It's been a long journey, he mused inwardly, yet, all things considered, he didn't hold all too many memories. Just a few, in the grand scope of things. Those that truly matter. Most of the forty years are but a blur or vast nothingness. He found it quite strange and fascinating, not remembering too many things. In a way, it made those moments he did remember even more special, and him even more passionate about guarding them. All the way until the end.