The massive platform, over five miles wide and eight long, was currently packed to the point people were piling on top of each other. No walls were cradling the floating floor, the entirety exposed to the night sky decorated with thousands of shimmering stars. It was a breathtaking sight, compounded further with the floating, golden and coral lanterns hanging from seemingly nothing above the platform, illuminating it. Though thousands of souls stood there, not a sound could be heard, shifting it all into the eerie silence.
Cutting through the central point was a long, beautiful, red carpet leading up to a slightly elevated altar where Val was currently standing, dressed in a gorgeous, twilight-dyed dress, holding a book in her arms. To her right stood Lino, for a change cleaned up; he no longer wore rags, but a hand-knit, black coat that pronounced his build ever-so-further. His hair was tied up into a falling tail, his beard, though still present, no longer rough and rampant but neat.
Above the two hung a beautiful arch decorated with gems, the centerpiece being a two-heads-sized diamond at the very center that shimmered in faint purple. Standing some ways off of them, yet not quite within the crowd, was a group of roughly ten people, both men and women, holding onto all assortments of musical instruments, each dressed exactly the same -- white shirts, pants and boots.
There wasn't a single chair to be found, as everyone, both the lowly smith and the recently-arrived Alex, had to stand. Glancing up at the moon, Lino smiled brightly before nodding toward Val, who quickly nodded back, opening up the book and placing it on top of the altar. The light soon blasted off in a pillar-like shape before spreading out conically, washing all souls present with a warm and pleasant glow before withdrawing back into the book.
The music suddenly cascaded into the night, the strings of violins mixing with the flutes, harps and lutes. It slowly swelled into a crescendo as, on the other end of the carpet, a figured draped entirely in white, fluffy dress appeared, accompanied by a tall, well-built man. Hannah couldn’t hide a wide smile from her face as she glanced sideways, at her Father’s figure, who looked back at her, smiling back.
“... you’ve caught someone rather spectacular, cherry,” the man said, chuckling. “Mom taught you well.”
“... I still can’t believe you are here.” she said, her eyes growing watery. “Thank you... thank you so much...”
“Neither your mom nor I would have missed it for the world,” the man said, wiping the tears from her cheeks gently. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah.” she said, taking a deep breath.
“He’s waiting.” the man said, taking the first step forward and pulling Hannah after him.
Thousands of eyes turned and shifted, gazing at her, yet she couldn't move her own away from the figure standing in the far distance, awaiting. Even the loud music that had turned the night into a day hardly registered with her as, in her world, there was only him and silence and the bounding colors encompassing him. He smiled, and she smiled back, reaching the halfway point.
From the corners of her eyes, she spotted the entourage upfront awaiting her; there was her mom, a handkerchief in her hand. There was her Master, standing right beside her, sporting one of the rare smiles. There was Arch Patriarch and Patriarch right there, and an assortment of Elders from her Sect. She didn't know how he did it, but Lino somehow managed to convince them. She had found herself shellshocked just a few hours prior when she saw them. Even now, she still believed she was merely imagining it all.
Yet, the soundless, beating heart in her chest proved her otherwise. Smiling at the group, her eyes shifted sideways where she saw Alison standing next to Lucky, smiling as brightly as the sun at her. Her golden hair was tied up into a bun, her eyes watery. She was here too, Hannah choked inwardly. All because of him.
Her eyes soon found his once more, as she approached the altar. He still had that playful smile of his plastered, the same smile he had that day by the lake, and every day after. Despite reaching his fortieth decade of life, Hannah realized, core parts of what made her fall in love with him hardly changed.
Walking up slowly, her father let her go as Lino pulled her over, bowing toward her father as she took place opposite of them. The music swelled up briefly before dropping down and slowly going silent.
Lino stared at the veiled figure in front of him, his calm facade nearly crumbling entirely. No matter what he did, he couldn’t calm his heart, nor stop his palms from sweating. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt this way, yet he didn’t mind it.
In his mind, there was no world past the few square meters around her. Her crimson hair spilled out of the white veil like blood, falling freely over her shoulders and chest. The pair of green eyes that he could never forget peered from behind the curtain, the disarming smile wound up, causing dimples to appear on her rosy cheeks. He couldn’t quite put it into the words, but, to him, even Ella paled in comparison. Perhaps, all women currently present here altogether couldn’t add up.
“Hey.” he mumbled faintly, smiling.
“Hey.” she replied, chuckling. “How do I look?”
“... like it’s going to be a hell of a task to undress you after.” he grinned.
“Oh, you have no idea,” she grinned back. “It took four women and three hours to get this on. So, you’ve your work cut out for you.”
“Khm.” Val suddenly coughed, startling the two, as Hannah glanced at her and smiled apologetically. “Dear friends, family, and the rest of you less important ones, welcome. Today we have gathered to bring these two souls together,” she raised her voice slightly. “As a reminder to all of you lone ones out there... that there is hope.” laughter resonated for a moment as Lino chuckled, shaking his head and glancing at Val. He had put a lot of burden on her shoulders over the past few years, so this must have been her way of getting back at him.
"As I'm certain everyone here is just waiting for the free booze, let me speed things up slightly," Hannah pouted for a moment but said nothing, merely sighing. "I've known both of them for quite a few years now, and, to be honest, they never made sense to me. Whenever together, they would quibble and fight and it was easier to build a tunnel through a mountain that to get them to agree on anything. Yet... it didn't matter. At the end of the day, they were always right beside each other. And, really, that's all that matters in the end. Now, these two have decided to write their own vows, so I'll give you guys a few seconds to bolt as far away as possible if you're as terrified as I am."
“Ha ha ha ha...”
“Eh, I guess not.” Val shrugged, pulling slightly back as Lino grinned at her.
“I vow to finally find someone for this embittered, lonely grandma,” Hannah burst out into laughter as Val sighed, shaking her head. “Because she is terribly wrong. I never write anything. Write vows? I wing that shit!”
“... you seriously didn’t write your vows?” Hannah exclaimed in faint shock as murmurs spread throughout the crowd.
“... what for?” Lino said, smiling widely. “Even if I took every word in the language and used it, and gathered all the bards and poets and writers of the world to help me, the sensation you leave me with cannot be described. The truth of the matter is that, every day, every time I see you or hear you... you leave me both breathless and wordless. Each time I think I’ve got you figured out, you turn around and smack my self-important ego. Every day with you is a journey, and every moment a tale. Rather than put it into words, I’ll show you later.” he winked at her as groans quickly shuffled out from the front rows.
Ella and Eggor plastered their foreheads, looking away in shame, as young Cae stared at his big brother with wide eyes, cheering him on silently. Alison’s cheeks flushed red like blood as she looked away as well, while Lucky merely grinned, as she entirely expected he’d say something like that. Alex smiled wryly as he looked sideways at Hannah’s parents both of whom had their mouth gaping.
“... you’re right,” Hannah smiled gently, ignoring the murmurs, laughter, and groans from the crowd. “No word or action will ever be enough.”
“--so, instead, let it be a moment,” she added, ignoring Lino’s hurtful expression. “Any and every moment. Embroiled into everlasting memories. All I know is that I love you,” she continued, knitting her fingers together. “And that you love me. If there were two lone things I was certain of in this world, it would be those.”
“... alright, so, the vows have been spoken,” Val chimed in from the side after a few moments of silence, taking a deep breath. “And, as expected, she was wonderful, and he was dreadful.”
“... perhaps I indeed should begin embodying the all-the-time-mad image of an Empyrean,” Lino mumbled, glancing at her. “Then, you might think twice over spitting on my crumbling grave.”
“I now pronounce you a husband and a wife,” Val said, ignoring him. “May the everafter happen for you two. You may kiss the bride.”
Lino chuckled faintly before stepping forward and lifting Hannah's veil, exposing slightly flushed face and dreamy, hazy eyes. He leaned forward, his arms grabbing around her waist and pulling her forward. She gave in, closing her eyes and tenderly wrapping her arms around his neck, pressing her lips against his. Though the cheers and applause exploded from behind them, neither paid them much heed or even heard it all too well. To them, there was only that sliver of space within which they stood embraced, cradled inside each other's arms. Both wished to hold onto the moment forever, and practically chuckled at the same time as they pulled away, Lino pressing his forehead against hers.
"... I'll make you the Queen of the world." he mumbled faintly into his jaw, just loud enough for Hannah to hear him.
“You already have...” she mumbled back, corners of her lips lifting up once more.