Legend Of The Empyrean Blacksmith 449 Scars
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All he could see were blurry blends of light and shadow dancing rapidly. The sounds melded together in a symphony of grating noise, yet he could not voice a complaint. Something was stuck in his throat – blood, he was certain. Unable to move a muscle, each breath was a strain, bringing with it burning pain that shocked every inch of his body. Yet, he had to breathe. One in and one out. Slowly. As gently as he could.
The first feeling to return was in his fingers; he could barely strain them, almost an invisible flicker, but he could. A faint trace of joy jolted his heart – so long as he was getting better, he would get well. It was all a matter of time and patience.
After fingers came toes, and after toes came lips and after lips his throat. It was dry, gratingly so, yet he couldn't voice out the desire for some water. He could patiently wait and endure. Soon. He would be able to talk soon.
Alison stood on the side with a horrified expression, her fingers clutched together, pressed against her chest, shaking. She could hardly recognize the disfigured man lying on the bed ever after a general clean-up. Though his wounds had closed and stopped bleeding, and though the blood itself was washed away, the wounds themselves still stood sore. Gash after gash, hole after hole, there was barely a whole patch of skin untouched anywhere on him.
Standing right next to her was Lucky who dealt with it seemingly better. Her arms were crossed over her chest, her back leaned against the cold stone of the wall. It wasn't the first time she'd seen Lino on the brink of death, though it certainly never got as bad as it did this time around. Behind the façade, in the ever-flickering gaze, there was a s.h.i.+mmer of painful light coveted in guilt and shame.
"—he's… he'll really be… okay?" Alison mumbled uncertainly, turning to Lucky, unable to look at him any longer.
"… yeah," Lucky nodded. "He'll be just fine. Don't worry. There, you saw him. Wanna head back?"
"… yeah." Alison nodded. "Let's go back."
The two glanced at the body strapped to the bed once more before leaving.
He could hear them, though he couldn't call out to them. The footsteps grew distant, but it brought joy to him once more – he could hear. It was no longer a painful blend of everything, but distinct sounds that made up the world itself. The quivers in their voices. The solemnness of their footsteps. The faint trace of voices coming from the outside. Slowly but surely, he was getting better. It was only a matter of time.
"… was it worth it?" a robotic voice spoke to him inwardly, causing him to groan in a reply. "You could have escaped scarless."
"Your insanity will only get you so far," Ataxia said. "And a similar transgression in the future will mean death. If they hadn't come, you would have either been crippled permanently or outright died. You have learned nothing."
Lino didn't reply, not because he couldn't, but because there was nothing to say. In more than one way, after all, Ataxia was right – he did cross a boundary he shouldn't. He could have contained himself, limited his injuries, merely at the expense of some Dragons he didn't even know. Why didn't he? He couldn't say himself. Even introspection – the sole thing he could do at the moment – was inadequate. He can't even quite recall his thought process before sending the Dragons away. Or even the one that led him to tell Ella to stay out of it no matter what happens. No, that he could still recall.
Lying there, covered in wounds and scars, unable to utter a word, he had all the time in the world to think and understand, yet he couldn't. Something first has to make sense in order to be understood – his actions today, or yesterday, or a century ago as far as he knew, did not. He merely made a dent in an army that will never dry up nearly at the expense of his life. He hardly feared death, but the life of those he'd leave behind. Whether he coaxed them to his side or whether they joined him willingly was irrelevant; he was, in a way, responsible for them. Not merely as a symbol uniting them all underneath the same banner, but also as the s.h.i.+eld.
Today, or yesterday, or a century ago as far as he knew, that s.h.i.+eld cracked and splintered and it bled. And, worst of all, it nearly split permanently. Why? Because he fancied himself a sword? Perhaps. He couldn't quite understand, which made him frustrated.
He used that frustration, however, to groan audibly and move his arms for the first time. They were weak, feeble, and they hurt – so much so he winced and cried out lowly – but he moved them nonetheless. There was no one in the room to notice his achievement. But, he didn't care. The walls were his witness, in the end.
After a few more attempts, he managed to weakly pull himself up and sit. He was stuck in a corner of a rather wide room, a curtain to his left blocking the majority of it; opposite of him was an empty stretch of well-lit, tiled floor and bricked walls holding several, white cabinets on the other end of the room. He was all alone in this ma.s.sive ward that can probably host at least a dozen other souls.
Almost all of his body was either draped in gauze or punctured by very thin needles trickling blood directly into his veins. He hung his head low, exhausted, strained. It was too much; he shouldn't have rushed it.
He tried stirring his Qi, barely managing to summon a whiff to circulate through his body once. Even that, solitary action caused him to soak in cold sweat right after, his body temporarily quivering as a nauseating feeling overwhelmed him, nearly causing him to vomit his innards.
Taking a few deep breaths in succession, he managed to recover somewhat, lifting his head up once more. Right as he did, blood in his veins froze; she stood right there, by the bed's edge, still as a frozen river. In her hands she held a small babe, fast asleep, sucking on its thumb.
Hannah wore long-wound, draped, white dress, her crimson hair spilled freely a stark contrast to it. The pair of emerald-green eyes stared at him, but he couldn't see even a trace of anger or disappointment – just fear and joy. Tears welled at the corners of her eyes, breaking out soon after, folding over her rosy cheeks.
"… do you want some water?" she asked, quickly wiping her cheeks, holding Aaria with one arm while pouring a cup of water with the other. Lino nodded faintly as she walked up, helping him to a few gulps. The somewhat chilly water jolted him awake, seemingly cleansing whatever was stuck in his throat.
"… t-thanks." he said somewhat groggily.
"… you hurt?" she asked, sitting on the bed, glancing over his body.
"I'll… be fine." Lino replied, trying to smile with little success.
"I was really worried, you know?"
"… I know."
"Do you, though?" she asked, meeting his gaze once more.
"… o-of course I do—"
"I don't think you do," she interrupted. "I don't think you really understand how worried we are for you, Lino. Not just me. Everyone. Do you know… how silent the fortress is right now? Whereas we should be celebrating, celebrating so many things, we can't."
"Don't look away." she said, gently pulling his head back over until his eyes faced hers once more. "You can't always look away, make a charming comment, and wait till it blows over. I've tried to tell you many times, many times, that you're now a leader. But it seems to me you don't understand what that implies. Not wholly, at least."
"I don't need you to be sorry. We don't need you to be sorry," she added, her lips curling up into a faint smile. "We know you, despite your crippling fears over it. I know you. I know you will never stop being who you are. I know you'll never step back and push others to fight your battles, even if they're unwinnable by you. I know you'll never sacrifice the lives of others just so you can escape. I know you'll gladly scar yourself time and again, and that you will never regret it. Not even if it costs you your life."
"But, we need you to fear dying, Lino. We don't need a fearless, dauntless leader," her voice grew a pitch lower as she glanced at the little girl in her arms. "We need someone who understands the full capacity and consequences of him suddenly dying."
"… you think I don't?" he asked.
"Then why are you testing the fate time and again?"
"Because I have to, Hannah."
"You don't," she said. "Not anymore, at least. Why didn't you let Ella help you?"
"No more 'because', Lino. Save the thinly veiled excuses for the public speech you'll make to others," she interrupted. "Not for me. Tell me… do you love me?"
"Do you trust me?"
"Do you respect me?"
"… of course I do." he met her eyes once more, biting his lower lip.
"Then why don't we be honest with one another. Just this once. Forget the façade, the implied understanding. Be honest with me. Be honest with us. Why didn't you let Ella help you?"
"… because… I'm terrified of her." Lino mumbled after a short silence. "Because I'm terrified of her, Hannah…"
"… why?" Hannah asked, seemingly having expected the answer.
"For the same reason you are," Lino replied. "Because she's a piece that doesn't fit into any of the puzzles. I know… I know, deep in my heart, she would never let anything happen to me. I know she would even die for me. But… I just… can't rectify it. I tried. So hard. I really did…"
"I know you did," she stretched out her free arm and caressed his cheeks warmly. "I know. But… tell me – what are our options?"
"… either to doubt her—"
"—or trust the kindness, love, and warmth she'd showed you your entire life." Hannah completed the strung end of the sentence.
"… yeah." Lino said, taking in a deep breath. "Or that."
"We're not simply trying to figure out our roles in all of this anymore, Lino. We know our roles. From now on, we have to figure out a path that takes us to the end of this nightmare. Together."
"Did you learn anything new?" she asked, slowly snuggling next to him, holding onto Aaria carefully.
"Nothing I didn't already know," Lino shrugged faintly. "Just that the end to all of this might not be too far away. I've seen One, by the way."
"One? The Descent's One?" Hannah asked, seeming somewhat shocked.
"Hm," Lino nodded. "It was his form of greeting me, I'm a.s.suming. A way of recognizing me. It looks like he won't partic.i.p.ate in the Origin War."
"… that's good. Did you figure out how strong he is?"
"Heh…" he chuckled bitterly, shaking his head. "I've figured out nothing. Absolutely nothing."
"… we will, one day. Until then… we can just take it slow." Hannah said. "However many timers are pressing us to push onwards, n.o.body is forcing us to obey them to a tee."
"… sometimes," he mumbled. "I forget just how brilliant you are."
"Oh? You do? My, my…"
"Ha ha ha, yeah. How's Aaria doing?"
"Great, now that her dad's back."
"Ouch. That was low."
"Yeah," she nodded, grinning. "I felt it. Sorry."
"… no matter," he said, kissing the young girl's head gently. "I'll become better… for you, for her, and for everyone else. I promise."
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"… I know you will," she said, leaning over and kissing him gently. "Because you always have."
Legend Of The Empyrean Blacksmith 449 Scars
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Legend Of The Empyrean Blacksmith 449 Scars summary
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