Lino and Ella were currently sitting in silence inside the hidden chamber of the fortress, both their expressions idle and empty. The former tapped his fingers against the wooden desk, leaning against his other arm, his eyes shimmering in a strange light, while the latter had her arms crossed over her chest, her eyes closed as she hummed a strange, low tune. They'd remained as such for nearly half an hour, ever since they returned.
“... you know where they’ll strike, right?” Ella suddenly asked, her eyes opening, focusing onto Lino’s
“... I do.” he nodded.
“Then why are you here?” she asked, her eyebrows scrounging up slightly.
“... I remember, a long time ago,” Lino said, smiling faintly. “You told me that, no matter what, I should never become like the rest of them. I’d kept it within my heart all this while and tried my hardest to follow your words.”
“...” Ella listened, her mind briefly flashing to a distant memory.
“I can’t do it anymore, El’. In order to win, I can’t play by different rules.”
“... you mean, you can’t be better than them? What are you planning on doing Lino?”
“... I’m planning on killing off the rest of the Bearers,” Lino said, his words striking at Ella like a thunder from the clear sky. “And crashing the balance completely.”
“W-what?!!” she exclaimed, standing quickly on her feet. “Are you insane?!”
“This will be the only opportunity I’ll have,” he said, ignoring her outburst. “The only time when the Descenders won’t be there to prevent it.”
“... do you even understand the potential ramifications of doing that?” she calmed down slowly, taking a deep breath as she sat down. “It won’t be anywhere as simple as when you killed Eos, Lino. One Writ was already bad enough... but, if you kill any more, especially in succession... who knows what will come out of it?”
“... the ramifications are why I’m doing it,” Lino sighed faintly. “Otherwise, we will lose.”
“... we won’t lose, Lino,” she said. “If you’re afraid the Descent will turn on you, I’ll ensure--”
“No,” he shook his head firmly. “You’re not strong enough yet, and by the time you would be, there’d be no reason to fight. Besides, this will serve another purpose.”
“Another purpose?” she asked, tilting her head.
“Time dilation,” Lino replied. “Will be stalled.”
“Sneaky bastard.” she clicked her tongue, shaking her head. “Even so, Lino, if you go through with this... it will effectively nullify your other plans.”
"No, it will merely disrupt the timeline slightly," he said. "Even if we are given a million years, we can never go to a direct war with the Holy Grounds. They'll simply board up their Sects and we'll never be able to breach them. Bearers, to them, are merely the notion of status, rather than the source of strength. The only reason I've held back thus far was because I was waiting for Ally to join us. Had it not been for her, I'd have done it years ago."
“... have you told anyone else?” she asked after a brief silence.
“No,” he shook his head. “I’m telling you this because you’ll also have a role to play.”
“What role?” she asked.
"They'll most-likely trap me inside a large-scale prison, potentially a dimensional pocket if they're dumb enough. I'm guessing, however, it will be a bent reality. Virtually impossible to break out of from the inside, but easy enough to dig a hole through the outside. I'm assuming they'll send the strongest they can currently muster to defend the outside, as they probably expect you to try and break me out."
“You can try and break in,” he added. “As that would help me, but if you can’t, it’s not necessary.”
“... is this why you left them in the smithy?” she suddenly asked, her lips quivering slightly. “As... baits?”
“...” Lino didn’t say anything, merely glancing at her and quickly looking away in shame.
“... so this is what you meant when you said you can’t do it anymore, heh,” she chuckled painfully, corners of her eyes growing teary. “Is your mind settled?”
“... of course not,” he said, curling his fingers up into a fist to prevent them from shaking. “Playing with others’ lives like this... I hope they all turn into ghosts and haunt me till I croak.”
“You are betraying your Will, Lino. The backlash won’t be easy.”
“... I’m not,” he said, suddenly extending his palm and opening it up. “At least not yet.” a brief, chaotic swirl of crimson and black flashed above it before vanishing entirely, leaving Ella stunned for a moment. “You can’t tell anyone, however, what will happen. I’ll eventually tell them myself, when it is over.”
“... Hannah will kill you when she finds out you did something so stupendously dangerous without her.” Ella said. “Do you not trust her strength?”
“It has nothing to do with strength,” he shook his head. “It’s only been a few years, and I won’t be able to afford to protect her.”
“... at least have Eggor join you,” she said. “He’s far stronger than he seems.”
“I don’t mind fighting an occasional battle alone,” he said, smiling lightly as he grasped her hand and held it tightly. “Especially when I’m the one who caused it. I need to face them... alone.”
“... how long?”
“How long were you planning this without telling anyone? Rather,” she added, her gaze hardening. “How many plans do you actually have that the rest of us are unaware of? Leader, not a ruler, my ass...”
“... ha ha ha, I really am not a ruler,” he shrugged. “I’m merely psychotic enough to have the capacity to bend people to my whims without feeling too bad about it. I’m also rather good at reading human, and others’, nature. And perhaps even better at exploiting it. Do you know,” he added. “What I’ve learned about Gaia so far?”
“... what?” Ella asked with faint interest.
“She’s just like me,” he said. “A master of seeing through the empty glass. Unlike me, however, she never gets her hands tainted, always maintaining her holy image. Because of this, she suffers from a terrible case of martyrdom,” Lino chuckled. “I’ve openly challenged her, and have even managed to steal away a few key pieces of her strength... now, she can’t miss an opportunity to present herself as a wounded Mother of the world, battered by the evil son of chaos.”
“... so she fell right into your arms, huh?”
“... it was by luck, however,” Lino added. “That she reached out to me recently, practically ensuring the course of events to transpire as I wanted. I’ve shown her just enough of myself to impose a tinge of worry... yet not enough to warrant a full-out war. I’ve been underestimated by everyone as a green boy with no wit, with base cleverness, and hotheaded inexperience,” he continued, his lips curling up into a playful smile. “It’s gotten quite tiring, living up to the role. Perhaps, after this, they might finally stop screwing around when it comes to dealing with me.”
“... so you’re cutting off all ties with the Descent, then?” Ella asked. “That’s too dangerous.”
“Not all ties,” Lino said. “Just like any other group, I’m certain there are splinters in their opinions. At the very least, I know Six is on my side, whether he voiced it out or not. They’ll still have some use of me, which is why they’ll probably swallow the loss and wait for the next opportunity to cripple me.”
“... tsk, tsk,” Ella clicked her tongue, suddenly ruffling Lino’s hair. “Hai, when did I raise such a black-hearted son? Look at him, playing with other people as though it were a game of chess. Once,” she added somberly. “Just this one time, Lino. Any more, and you and I will have a problem. When you kill them,” she said, sighing. “Avoid swallowing them up. There has to remain the underlying foundation of the Laws, otherwise the reality itself will begin breaking down.”
“... reality will break down,” Lino said, getting up and slowly stretching. “There’s no escaping it. I’ll try to localize it and prevent a wide-range spread, but it will depend on how exhausted I’ll be after the fact. Besides, the broken reality will be a perfect opportunity to study the dimensions, for however briefly.”
“... what is the point, either way?” she asked. “We can’t perceive them.”
“Yet.” Lino said, glancing at her and grinning. “We can’t perceive them yet. But, never say never...”