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CHAPTER 403

SETTLED ROADS

Lino was currently sitting by the window, looking outside at the ever-lively fortress. He had bandages covering over half his body, some of which had faint crimson dye to them. On the table was a variety of herbs and pills that Ella left him with, but the only thing that seemed to have been touched was a bottle of ale that he was slowly working through.

His eyes were murky, expression somber. Though he told her he wanted to be left alone, he was coming to regret it slightly. He couldn't settle his thoughts no matter how hard he tried, as his mind repeatedly flashed back to the events that transpired less than a day ago. It wasn't as though he couldn't accept the defeat -- after all, he was well aware that he was far from being the strongest, or even close to being the strongest person in the world. He knew from the get-go he stood no chance and was actually happy he avoided any long-term injuries.

What he couldn’t accept was the absolute delay this would cause... and the fact that more people died because of him. It wasn’t a war they should have been participating in the first place. Ion and Ryt were the only ones who were even interested in fighting, but they were pups, children really, yet to completely transform into people who could participate in battles on such a scale.

It also hurt his entire side on a large scale, as they were all top-notch prospects in their departments that are rather difficult to come across no matter how hard one looks. Sighing deeply, he took another sip of the ale and chuckled bitterly; in his mind, he darted back to the pair of dark eyes that murderously stared at him -- Two truly, from the depths of her soul, seemed to hate him. Though he could understand many other emotions she may display toward him, hate he couldn’t.

The mere hurting of her pride by surviving her attack hardly could account for such a reaction; there was certainly a deeper reason to it, but he couldn't even begin to guess what it may be. Just then, faint spatial fluctuations hit at him gently as he looked sideways; sighing once more, he faintly moved his finger and ripped open space on the other end of the room.

A moment later, slumped, old and clearly exhausted figure walked through. Six looked into Lino's eyes, and the latter could clearly see the enormous struggle inside of them. The old man walked up slowly and sat opposite of Lino, glancing out of the window as well, one end of his robe fluttering where an arm should be.

“I didn’t think you’d let me in.” Six said.

“... I figure it was only fair I gave you a chance.” Lino said.

“... it was an impossible choice, Lino.”

“Yet a choice you’ve made, nonetheless.”

“I couldn’t have sided with you -- you know that.”

“Why?” Lino said as their eyes met once more. “Because it made no sense?”

“... yes. Because it made no sense.” he said. “If your goal was simply to strike fear into them, I’d have had your back all the way through. But... killing them, it is too dangerous. The world would have been thrown in disarray.”

“... do you know,” Lino said. “That, most often, the core of what makes the wars so horrifying... are the ideologies backing the opposing sides?”

“...”

"People get so fervent, dogmatic really, over what they believe in, they don't mind doing the most horrifying shit possible if it is in the name of whatever they believe in. And, if it was a matter of different ideologies, I wouldn't have minded your choice at all. You have your own ideas that you believe in, and I have mine... and we simply sit on the opposite ends."

“...”

“But this choice wasn’t about a difference in ideologies, Sylver,” Lino glanced casually, though the old man didn’t seem surprised to hear the name. “In your heart, you know that I’m in the right, and what I’m trying to do will ultimately be far more beneficial than what your side is doing. This was the choice made out of fear.”

“... it wasn’t fear, Lino.”

"It was fear," Lino repeated. "And, quite frankly, I don't blame you. You have those you want to protect, and siding with me would put them in a precarious situation. I get that."

"It wasn't fear, Lino," Six repeated as well. "You're right -- I do think that your way would ultimately benefit more, but when dealing with things on such a massive scale, we can't just look at the long-term benefits, just as we can't tunnel ourselves to the short-term ones. We have to take everything into consideration. Killing the Bearers now would have caused a massive shift in the core fraction of reality. It would be great for you, true, as storms on such a scale are a heaven for producing Chaos, but it would have been catastrophic for the world at large. Droughts would have killed billions of people, tens of thousands of species of animals would have died out, and that's just the initial reaction."

“... no. None of that would have happened.” Lino shook his head. “You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding over what I wanted to do. I simply wanted to kill the Bearers -- I had no intention of harming the Writs.”

“... what?” Six asked, his eyes flashing in shock.

“I don’t benefit from killing the Writs as much as everyone seems to believe. Yes, causality would produce more Chaos in the long run, but it would also introduce thousands of variables that I have no way of accounting for. You’ve miscalculated... terribly, Sylver,” Lino smiled lightly, taking a sip of ale. “But... no matter what, you’ve still helped me well beyond what I’ve earned. You’ve given me a shelter when I needed it, and you’ve always given me a helping hand when I asked. I won’t touch the Descent as a whole,” he added. “But, One and Two will have to die.”

"--I understand your anger, but please reconsider that, Lino! You can't possibly fathom how strong they are--"

“I know exactly how strong they are,” Lino interrupted quickly. “What you fail to realize, Sylver, is how terrible the two of them are for this world. Combined, they hold absolute control of the Spacetime as a whole. And not the ‘absolute’ control with limitations, I do mean the absolute control. The only reason why you haven’t realized it yet, is because Two is stuck.”

“...”

“From the scarring around her Soul, I assume she failed her Origin Awakening at least four times, possibly up to seven,” Six’s eyes widened into saucers as he listened on. “Truth is, she will never undergo the Origin Awakening.”

“Huh?!”

“... once you reach the peak and arrive at the same threshold,” Lino chuckled. “You’ll realize exactly why. And One...” Lino took a deep breath, shaking his head. “True, facing him may as well be a suicide at the moment... but, there’s always tomorrow.”

“W-what are you talking about? How do you know all this?!” Six questioned, as even Ataxia should have been unaware of this, let alone a newborn Empyrean.

“... I’ve visitors.” Lino said. “You should leave; I don’t imagine you’ll be terribly welcome here.”

“Wait, Lino--answer me, please. How do you know all that?”

“I didn’t,” he smiled lightly. “I just made a whole lot of assumptions based on the stuff I did know, and you were helpful enough to answer me. Good luck, Sylver. I hope you won’t try to contact me anymore.”

Despite wishing to ask far more, Six knew it was time to leave as the space ripped open behind him; if he’d stayed, he’d risk his life, as he very much doubted everyone else would have as much of a lukewarm reaction to him as Lino did. Merely glancing at the youth he realized he didn’t know much about one last time, he turned around and left, full of questions and no answers.

Mere seconds after he vanished, what Lino assumed was a solitary visitor -- Hannah -- as her Qi swept like a storm to his door, turned out to be a whole entourage. Hannah, Val, Lucky, Ally, Eggor, Cae, Amadeel... nearly forty souls burst through the invisible doors and quickly filled up the room, all bounding the small table by the window and staring at him in shock.

“You shitty fucker!!” Hannah cried out, slapping the table. “Is this that ‘confidence’ of yours, huh?! God, I hope they broke every fucking bone in your body, you lying bastard! Humph, trying to ship me off... fuck, I’m so angry right now I want to rip out your spine and shove it up your ass!”

“Uh... please... don’t?” Lino smiled faintly, gently wiping the corners of her eyes that had grown watery.

"Oh, you're fine." Lucky shrugged when she saw him. "Of course you're fine. And here I thought I'd finally be able to pop the champagne and celebrate."

“We can still pop the champagne, you know?” he smiled wryly, glancing at Ally and her; the former quickly flushed red and looked away as Lucky rolled her eyes. “Too soon? Anyway, as much as I appreciate everyone busting into my room willy-nilly, I’d like to be left alone with my wife so I can get properly scolded without being seen by everyone and their mother.”

“B-brother Lino... you okay?” young Cae called out from Eggor’s arms as Lino shot up and walked over, taking the small boy and hugging him tightly.

“Ah, just looking at you healed me completely.”

“Khm.”

“Of course that’s because my beautiful, breathtaking wife already healed me prior to that, you were just a finishing touch.”

“The bastard’s just fine,” Eggor sighed, shaking his head. “Let’s go. Let’s go everyone. Back to work. We clearly have to work much harder because this idiot is way too weak to do anything on his own. Chop chop! Watch over Cae for a while, alright?”

“Of course.” Lino cracked a smile as Eggor patted him on the back before leaving, soon followed by everyone else except Hannah who sat in the chair where Six did, sipping some wine. Lino joined her soon after, little Cae having already fallen asleep in his arms.

“... there’s nothing wrong long-term, right?” she asked.

“No. I held back... like I promised.” he smiled.

“You also promised you’d whoop their asses.”

“Hey!”

“Just repeating what you said.” Hannah shrugged. “Ella said Two attacked. Were they really that adamant about opposing you that they’d bring her out?”

“... apparently,” Lino sighed, glancing out the window. “They overestimated my capacity to cause trouble. On one hand, I’m kind of flattered I inspire that kind of worry... on another, kind of sad prejudice still holds the grip on their hearts tightly.”

“... what now?” Hannah asked.

“Fortify,” Lino said. “Cease phasing out for as long as possible and always keep moving. Though we can’t prevent a war, we can delay it. We aren’t ready yet.”

“... war against the Great Descent? We may never be ready.” Hannah sighed.

“... we’ll be ready,” Lino said, smiling. “After all, we have me.”

“Yeah, a guy who just got his ass whooped. I’m so happy we got you.”

“That’s right! I got my ass whooped! Which means I’m thirsty for revenge!”

“Then why I can’t see even an iota of desire for revenge in your eyes?”

"... eh," Lino slumped back in his chair. "I'm not really angry with them. I was pretty pissed off by Gaia, but, she has to die either way. I'm just... disappointed, if I'm being honest. I really thought I could align my goals with theirs. After all, I don't think we differ that much. I did just feed Six a bunch of bullshit and paranoia, so hopefully, that'll create at least a temporary rift."

“... ah, Lyonel -- ever-the-player.” she walked over slowly and laded a soft kiss on his lips. “You must miss not having a wife, huh?”

“I only missed not having you with me,” he said. “God, I wish you would get stronger a bit quicker...”

“Dude!! What the fuck?! You know I’ve been training like crazy, but you and Ella are just freakin’ insane! What do you want from me?!”

“Pfft, ha ha ha ha,” Lino broke out into laughter as he saw her cheeks flush in red. “What are you talking about, idiot? I never came close to catching up to you. If anything, it’s you and El’ that are insane.”

“W-well, yeah--right! Fucking right!! Craft me some items, you cheap fuck!”

“E-eh?!”

“The only reason you’re so strong are your items!”

“Oi!”

"You just gave me that rod, and it nearly doubled my battle prowess! Imagine if I had more!"

“Like... balls?”

“...”

“Alright, alright, I’ll fix you something.”

“Not ‘something’!” Hannah exclaimed, her eyes burning fervently. “Something world-bending!”

“...” just as Lino was about to reply, he felt a talisman burn away in his void world. He wouldn’t have bothered, except it was from someone who cast a pretty dark shadow in his heart. Quickly whipping it out, a familiar voice transferred from the other end.

“M-master? Ah, you’re alive... you’re alive... that’s good...”

“Of course I’m alive, you bastard.” Lino replied. “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“Uh... Master...”

"... yes?" Lino's eyes turned into slits as he noticed a slightly strange tone in Ion's voice.

"Do you... khm... do you perhaps know a man who may be sexually interested in you that goes by the name of Titus?"

“I am not-- I am not sexua--I swear, Lord Empyrean, I hold no--” Lino didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that moment, but a great boulder fell off his shoulders as his heart finally settled for a bit. He cracked a faint smile, inwardly promising to give Titus whatever he wanted, even if it cost him an arm and a leg.

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A note from beddedOtaku

Trivia n24: The oldest the Empyrean has ever gotten was during the 'Eldon Era', reaching over 100,000 years before dying mysteriously. 


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beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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