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A note from Luc666-_-

I re-wrote this chapter several times, so if you see any parts that seem to not fit in with the rest of what i wrote, please tell me. I will, as i said before, try to edit out any mistakes i find later. I try to make things readable, at least. Ah...and i saw a review from someone a while ago about this story. Thanks mate. I'll keep what you said in mind, tho honestly i dont feel like i go out of my way to make things entertaining...more like, i write what i feel like at the moment. Any parts that seem entertaining is kinda just some bits that i myself thought would be fun to write about. Might not always work, though, can't lie. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering, these next few chapters will be fairly important. At least in my opinion. It'll kind of let me foreshadow a bit. Introduce a semi-important character too. Which is another thing--foreshadowing. I know dropping names of people or places or events can confuse readers, but its just something to keep at the back of your heads for later, so you dont need to think too deeply about it. Rather than merely telling you about them, i'd rather eventually show you. This may frustrate people since im slow at getting chapters out, but that's how i'll continue to do things. Though i will make an effort to write more, i have to say.

What i have planned for the story may get a bit...dark later on. But i wont say how exactly. For now, just enjoy. Hope you guys like it.

 

Phaedra's horse sped towards the source of the smoke at a breakneck pace. She ducked her head to an oncoming branch, sliding a blade from out of it's sheath in preparation for a fight she was sure would come.

She practically flew, the uneven ground and underbrush no match for her strong Tamerian steed.

Phaedra could faintly hear her brother behind her, trying to catch up.

A few minutes passed by and she was soon able to make out the sounds of steel on steel.

"Stop."

A voice suddenly came up from her flank, causing her to start. She was ready to attack the voice until  she realized a startlingly familiar pair of blue eyes were gazing at her.

Riding in perfect sync with her own horse,  Bellamy Greyson, that man, seemed to have appeared  by her side from out of thin air.

His words were hard and full of authority. Almost against her will, Phaedra heeded them. 

It was galling. 

She stopped, glaring. 

"Someone could be dying!" A hiss. " Why did you even come? What do yo--"

"Shut up and look."

He stopped near her, pointing.

"Those aren't bandits."

They had stopped about twenty or thirty feet away, standing atop a small hill and hidden by some trees. 

A fierce battle was raging below. She saw at least three or four dozen men fighting. 

As for who they were fighting....No, rather, it was not who,  but what.

And they were....

" Manticores...." Phaedra's voice became a soft whisper.

"Quite so, yes." Bellamy, to her side, nodded gravely

"But how?" She wondered. "Manticores aren't native to these parts, it's too cold. Just why are they...?" She couldn't finish, throughly confused.

" I don't know. Maybe something drove them here. A lack of food, a stronger beast taking over their territory, could be any number of things." 

Manticores were monsters that came in two types: The first was a large, insect-like monsters with thick shells covering their body in armour and a long tail which ended in a hook. This hook was like a scorpian's, housing a nasty venom inside that caused unbearable agony for those unlucky enough to get stung. It's hands were similar to a crab's, both in the shape of large pincers

Not only that, they had the same venom residing in the mandibles which were at either sides of their grotesque heads. 

As for the second type, they had a lion's body and a bat's wings. They had the same tail, but even deadlier vemon. These ones were the smarter, wiser, of the two. Self-aware and cunning to the extreme. Their fur wasn't any easier to cut either.

But these were not the ones the soldiers below were facing off against, thankfully. No, they were fighting the former type. Which wasn't all that much better when she thought of it.

 These kind of manticores were, arguably, the more dangerous. Not for their wit or venom, but because they were more violent, more agressive. They also very rarely backed down from a battle even if they were on the brink of death.

Phaedra went cold at the thought of having to face these things. Their bodies were hard to pierce, even for her. And she'd known the sting of their venom before. It was her father who had given her a small taste of it, to let her know it's dangers.

He had just dripped a bit of the venom onto a small cut on her arm. The venom was partially diluted,  and yet even so the pain it caused her was still one of the most harsh and unforgiving things that she had ever felt. 

" We should wait for my brother, he'll be bringing backup soon and since he followed me almost immediately he can't be far behind." She was very much regretting just running off. She thought that there were only a few dozen badits, easy enough to handle, but this...this was much worse. To several degrees.

Her skin began to moisten with sweat just remembering the vemon from that day. Though she would never show it in front of anyone, especially the person beside her, she was scared. 

What made it a lot worse was that she saw him and noticed that he had not a single hint of fear on his face. 

And she couldn't feel it from him either. Which was strange. With him she always knew when he was feeling angry or sad, happy or irritated, or anything else for that matter. It couldn't be helped. 

He understood what these things were, how dangerous they can be. 

How could he not be even a little frightened? 

Phaedra knew he was fairly intelligent, but she supposed that this didn't mean he wasn't a bit of an idiot too. Because only an idiot wouldn't be scared. So, a smart idiot. Yes. That was it. There was no other explanation.

As she was having these thoughts, he spoke again.

"We can't wait that long, by the time they get here several of those men could get kill--"

Right as he was going to finish his sentence, Phaedra heard a rustling of leaves.

She jerked, her body taut and ready for action at a moment's notice. 

But she relaxed as a tall, familiar figure riding atop a strong steed stepped out from the shadow of a tree. 

Followed just seconds later by a dozen or so men and women riding their own horses.

One of the riders, a shortish woman, climbed down and glared.

"Someone better be dying, cause otherwise Imma be a very pissed off woman. And you don't know how bitchy I can be when I'm interrupted from my beauty nap."

Murphy grinned--never a good sign--as soon as he heard the words. "You must be interrupted quite often, then. Because you're always bitchy, and well, you ain't all that pretty either"

" Go fuck yourself, dickhead." She flipped the boy off without even  deigning to look at him.

"What's the situation?" Ignoring the two, Boris and her brother inquired about the situation.

"Manticores." Phaedra informed quickly.

Boris started. "What? Manticores? Here?... How?"

"Not important. They're here, that's a fact that we have to live with." Bellamy seemed to have no patience. "But we've wasted enough time. Val, I'll thank you later for the cover."

Val blinked, not quite understanding. "Huh? Hey, wait!" She called out, but by the time she voiced he words he was already sliding down the hill.

" That bastard's gonna get himself killed one of these days, so reckless!" Boris shook his head in exasperation.

"He has the qualifications to be a bit reckless though." Her brother took out the short swords by his side, exceedingly calm as he readied for battle. 

"That doesn't mean he has to seek death." Phaedra snapped.

Her brother stared. "Since when do you care so much?"

"I don't. But if anyone's going to kill him, it'll be me." With that, she, too, disappeared down the hill, leaving her horse behind.

"...Of course. Right. How foolish of me to assume anything else."

Jaime muttered,  thinking once more that she truly did have a rather unique personality, this sister of his. 

"Come on, let's go."

Boris and Murphy, along with the previously and as-of-yet silent Nyk, heeded Jaime's words. Every man drew their weapons and ran down the hill with a cry.

"Okay, girls, that's our cue." Val turned her head to give her comrades a big, toothy smile that showed off her impressive canines. "Remember now, aim for the eyes of the fuckers, and the tail. That really riles them up, you know. Keep those men down there alive long enough to take 'em down." 

As she casually gave the reminder, she was inwardly thinking, Now then, I wonder what I should ask for in return for my help? That Bell, takin' advantage of little 'ol me like this, just expectin' me to do stuff with only a few words from him. Hmph. Whatever. That Cecelia, her bracelet must have cost quite a bit, and it's pretty. I want one too! Hehe, just you wait,  pretty boy, see if I don't make you a poor man after all is said and done! My services don't come cheap, you know!

Her eyes were completely full of greed and excitement!

**********

It was pandemonium. Utter chaos.

The clang of swords beating against the hard shells of the manticores rang out everywhere.

Beads of sweat rained down the faces of the knights, their hair wet as they went red due to exertion.

Three knights had to work together to stave off the attacks of a single manticore.

"Mikel!" 

One of them shouted in horror, watching as the manticore they were battling againts swatted them away in order to pierce their friend with it's hooked tail.

The tail tore through the armor like it was butter, a long gash being left on Mikel's chest.

He could only mutter a single word before his entire body shook with pain, feeling like acid was being poured through his veins, like his blood was turning backwards. 

 A guttural screech, one that sounded as if they were the screams of a dying animal, tore it's way out of his throat. It was harsh and grating to the ears, nearly tearing their eardrums apart.

He let go of his sword, falling to his knees, lines of green running along his entire body while his eyes rolled back into his head. One of the strange indications of the venom tearing him apart from the inside, causing a pain that would shock his nervous system and set fire to it until his body just gave out.

The manticore's four black eyes glowed malevolently. It made use of it's sharp pincers, severing the man's head and making blood squirt out vigorously!

"Fuck!" One of the remaining knights  cursed, dodging the oncoming pincers that had now made it's way towards him. 

But he wasn't able to react quick enough, his heavy armor hindering his movement.

He heard his friend calling his name, screaming in horror. 

"Jon!" 

The other man was still on his knees, struggling to climb to his feet, not wanting to watch another of his comrades die. It was useless.  

Jon was sure he was going to die, could clearly see the thing's tail coming towards him yet unable to stop it or move out of the way in time. It had already killed Mikel, and now it was going to do the same to him...

Yet just as the deadly pincer struck, a shadow came up from the right. 

A flash of steel, the sound of something cutting through the wind. That was all that registered in his mind before the manticore's arm was forcibly redirected harmlessly towards the ground.

" Didn't cut. Looks like I'll have to use a stronger swing.  Never expected a manticore's armor to be so tough!" 

Lyle marveled. He'd never faced one of these things before.  He'd underestimated it's defensive capabilities. Although he obviously hadn't swung with everything he had, his strike still wasn't light. It appears he's in for a good fight? 

But he had no time to just stand and admire.

The manticore stared at him hatefully, making a clicking sound as it did so. It was rather unnerving. Lyle disliked bugs, always had. It wasn't that he was scared of them exactly, but he had to admit they were pretty unpleasing to look at. 

This aside, Lyle didn't pay any attention to what happened to the other living knight, just focused on the enemy before him with an intense concentration.

"Come on, ugly bastard, let's see if you can entertain me!" Lyle provoked.

The manticore, it's entire body radiating aggression, took a few steps back. It's tail moved with great agility, striking him in a straightforward manner.

Lyle took his sword and raised it, deflecting the blow. The strength behind the attack was massive, akin to being run over by a carriage rolling uncontrollably down a steep hill.

He felt it down to his bones, but even still he held his ground.

The thing was surprised, obviously not expecting it's blow to be dealt with so easily.

Lyle moved to the side, and the manticore followed. 

"Well are you two going to help, or are you content with being shielded by a someone half your ages? Personally, I suggest you take up your swords and do something useful!" He shouted to the fallen knights, parrying another blow from the manticore.

The shout abruptly pulled Jon from out of his stupor. It wasn't until then that he truly took in his surroundings and realized many unknown men were descending from the small hill to the side, joining the fray.

Seeing this sight brought him hope, which until now he was in very short supply of. These manticores were strong, too strong for them to handle alone. Caught unawares, they had no time to prepare, a few had died within the first seconds without even being able to draw their swords. 

Faced with these creatures, he'd seen one of his long-time comrade's horse buckle and throw him off while another crushed his head in it's attempt to flee.

Suffice it to say, things quickly went to hell. 

Looking at this youngster charing in to help them, the fire was renewed in Jon's chest. What was he doing, losing his spirit like this? Now wasn't the time for hesitation!

 With his sword to aid him, he stood and took off his helmet. A weathered face was revealed, and he breathed in deeply. 

"Tomas, off your ass, let's go!" 

They'd no idea who this young man was, nor who these other newcomers were, but so long as they were helping they wouldn't scorn them!

Lyle took a step back as the manticore, with it's hateful, beady red eyes, swapped at him.

"Bell! Hold on, bud, don't die on us yet!" It was Murphy, with the trusty Nyk in tow.

It was at this time that Lyle decided to stop playing around. Had it just been himself, he'd have tried to have a bit more fun. But this was a real battle, lives were at stake. Continuing to dawdle would be foolish, and just a all-round bad idea.

"It's tail, attack it's tail!" Lyle shouted back. 

Nyk, upon hearing this, set to work. He knew listening to the young man was always a good idea. 

Without pausing for even an instant he used his fastest speed and came up from behind the manticore, delivering his most powerful blow down upon it's thick tail.

But it was too strong, he only was able to cut about two or three inches into it before his sword was stopped.

Which was a lot more than what the two knights had been able to accomplish. Jon and Tomas, had they the time to pay attention, would have marveled in the same way Lyle had. Albeit for a different reason. 

Nyk got a very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach as the monstrosity jerked, alarmed. 

It's tail moved as if it were boneless, it's hook pointing towards him and about to strike. With his sword stuck in it's hide, Nyk wasn't able to move out of the way.

He let go of his sword, yet the thing was too fast--Lucky for Nyk, Murphy was faster.

The youth had take off his hooded cloak, his best and thickest one, mind you, and jumped towards the manticore's tail just before it hit his friend!

With his arms wrapping around the appendage, he used his cloak and covered the hook with it. His muscles strained, focing the thing to stop.

"You son of an ugly whore, know your fuckin' place!" Murphy then spoke various colorful obscenities to the creature, mocking it and it's ancestors several times over.

"Nyk, hurry the fuck up!" His voice was rougher just then, his entire body straining to hold the tail and prevent it from moving.

With Lyle and the two knights distracting it in the front, Nyk was free to do as he pleased.

He grabbed his sword once more, pried it off, and began to hack away.

With every blow the manticore became increasingly agitated.

Nyk gave his full attention to the task at hand, and finally, his work paid off.

The tail was seperated from it's main body after five great swings of his blade, green ichor gushing from it's wound.

Murphy was dropped like a sack of potatoes onto the floor.

He looked down with dismay at his venom-soaked, torn-up cloak

" Fucking bastard, I loved this thing...Oh well." He sighed.

Unfortunately, this wound to the manticore appeared to make things worse. As pain overwhelmed it's body, the beast became desperate. And even the most weak of creatures found hidden strength when it's back was against the wall.

Since that was so, was it any surprise when the manticore did so as well?

"It's getting wild, no one do anything reckless, it'll bleed out soon enough!" Lyle understood this was going to be their most challenging period. How long would it take?

A'daire, he said around five minutes. The books Lyle had read said about ten. Could they hang on long enough in either case? This beast was dangerous, Lyle knew he wouldn't want to take this thing on alone at his current level of strength.

"Since it's like that, please, go!" Jon, dodging one of the manticore's enraged arracks, urged the young man to leave.

"He's right." The other man said fervently. "The Young Miss and Captain Voorhis, please, you have to go and help them!"

"They were being chased by an especially large manticore, both of them fleeing into the woods! You must hurry, I beg of you!" 

"Well that's just fucking great..." Murphy muttered a curse. "Another goddamn damsel in distress... really? How many've we run across since those two joined us?" 

Had to be more than dozen by now! 

But he quickly got down to business."Bell, I'll stay here to help, you take Nyk and go after them." 

Murphy was very clear that of all of them here, Bell was the strongest. Jaime may be more skilled, and Phaedra a bit faster, but Bell's physical strength was hands down the best of them all.

The two knights couldn't be left alone, they were already winded. While Nyk was admitttedly more experience than him, Murphy was no pushover. He was a little young, but fuck him if he'd lose to any other bastard in terms of fighting ability. Not counting freaks like Bell, Fey, Jaime and Cece, he himself was a good as any veteran fighter.

Why, he'd practical been raised with a blade in his hand! His old man made sure he wasn't no pansy who couldn't even protect himself. His father, who'd been part of the Haddock mercenaries for nearly all his life, beat him until he learned how to fight back! 

Damn shitty old bastard...

...Getting back to the topic, though, Bell was the best person to send to help those two the men mentioned, and Nyk was the best person out of himself and Murphy to offer Bell support.

Not only was Nyk a damn reliable guy to have around, he also had a great amount of experience in patching up wounds in addition to his combat abilities.  If those two were hurt, he could help.

Lyle instantly understood his friend's reasoning. How couldn't he? 

And it was true that while this manticore was desperate, it was still on it's last legs. Keeping out of it's way should prove no problem for Murphy, a person who was harder to kill than a cockroach. 

"Alright. Thanks." He didn't bother mincing words. "Nyk, let's go."

"Right." It was just a single utterance, yet the way he said it imparted confidence in those who heard it.

No time was wasted, they were given directions from the knights and swiftly followed the tracks the pair of man and woman had left.

**********

Val, gazing at the scene below, scowled.

This bastard, I haven't had a chance to help and he's just leaving? Fuck no, he ain't weasling his way out of this this. This kid, I ain't gonna give him an excuse to back outta payin' me.

Such were her thoughts. Val, as of yet, had not been able to provide aid to the boy. What if he later said, " You ain't gettin' shit, girlie, where was that cover I expected? You didn't do anythin' for me, why should I pay you! You got a pretty face, but I ain't fallin' fer it!"

Somehow Bell's usually smoooth and articulate voice got a lot cruder when she imagined it in her mind, but that didn't matter.

"Hey Cam, keep an eye on Muphy and Nyk."

She stood up, prompting a light-haired lass to inquire, "You going somewhere?"

"Right-o, darlin'. Mommy's gotta go to work, earn herself some new bling."

The light-haired girl snorted. "I swear you must have been a beggar in your past life. Is there anything you care more about than pretty trinkets and money?"

"Nope." A fast reply. "But then again, you can't call yourself a woman if you don't got a love for sparkly jewels and gold coins"

"Become a whore, then. I'm sure you'd earn a lot of both." 

"True. But please, no one would be able to afford the great me." Spoken with an arrogance that made one want to smack her. "And even if they could, I've still got some pretty strict tastes."

Cam frowned, as if talking to the woman physically pained her. "Ugh, whatever. I hope you trip and fall on your ass along the way. Oh, and take care not to accidentally walk into any low-hanging branches. Or rather, please do." 

"Your concern for my well-being is touching, love, it really is." 

With that, Val cheekily blew the girl a kiss and disappeared.

**********

What's he up to now?

Phaedra, spotting the back of Bellamy and Nyk, squinted her eyes at the former suspiciously.

"Fey, watch out!" Her brother warned.

Phaedra, of course, dodged out of the way expertly. Her healthy fear of the venom kept her on her toes. 

Boris was at the back with an armored knight, about to try cutting off the beast's tail like they had seen Bell and his group do moments before.

"I'll be back."

She announced.

"What?! Now where're you going?" Jaime's voiced dripped with irritation as he slashed at the manticore's thick hide, making a rather deep cut despite it's toughness.  

...Something which even he'd never be able to do normally. Unless, that is, he had a little help from the abilities which were rather exclusive to his own race.

He turned his gaze to his side. But the girl was already gone.

**********

"Bell, about the smoke..."

Nyk broached a topic that had been on his mind since a while ago.

"I know. Those manticores couldn't have caused it, and there was no fire back there. We should be approaching the fire, actually."

"Which means the two we're chasing started it..."

"In all likelihood, yes." Lyle agreed readily. How else would it start, then? There  could be a variety of reasons as to why they started it, but Lyle could guess which one it was.

"Nyk, that aside, the knights said that the manticore was especially large. This one should be their leader, which makes it the strongest. So, I'm sorry to have to say this, but..."

"I'll be the tank." He volunteered with no complaints at all.

"Thanks."

"..."

There was really no other strategy they could have used. Nyk doubted he could pierce the leader's hide at all. He'd have trouble with that last one, and he was sure the leader would have even stronger armor protecting it.

So while he tried to keep its attention on himself, it would let Bell get into a good position and attack with his full strength. 

Hopefully one swing would be enough. Nyk didn't like thinking about a prolonged battle with something like that...

*********

When the fighting started, she didn't even know what was happening.

There was no warning. No indication that anything was wrong. And it didn't happen slow. She'd heard stories from the knights who were her long-time guards. They all said that time seems to halt when things like this happened.

They were wrong.

This was fast, and intense. Everything happened so fast, in fact, that one moment she was riding on her beloved horse--Spirit--and the next she was being dragged by Captain Voorhis into the woods.

She had little recollection of what happened in between. The only thing she really remembered were eerily black eyes set in large creatures that seemed to have appeared out of some nightmare she'd had as a child.

The dirt was clingy and the undergrowth thick. Her dress was ruined, mud around her feet. 

She'd never ran so much in her life, and each passing second a sort of darkness grabbed hold of her. 

Both of them had known was it was like to be scared before, but no, this was different. It made their hair stand on end, their throats close up. Some instinctive reaction that told them true danger was hot on their heels.

But just then the girl tripped, tumbling down to the hard ground. 

Captain Voorhis, still holding her arm, was thrown off balance too.

There was a faint clicking sound from behind them, growing closer. Heavy steps, the sound of branches breaking. 

Panic set in, cold and merciless. 

"Young Miss, quickly, get up!" Voorhis urged. His sword was in his hands before the first word was uttered.

There was a wooshing sound, the clicking sound had already gotten so loud that it became unbearable.

"Young Miss, run!" 

Three figures, two monstrous beasts and a single armored man brandishing a glittering steel sword.

No matter how much more skilled he was, though, it was pointless. He was fighting a losing battle, and knew it.

Only ten exchanges were made. Ten, and no more. He dodged, parried, did anything he could to give the girl more time to esacpe. But she was just frozen, unable to move, fear holding her tightly in place.

Afer the tenth exchange, the manticore, a beast that was worth two if not more of a regular manticore, smacked the man with bone-shattering force.

He went flying, smashing into the trunk of a nearby tree.

Being done with him, it didn't seem at all interested in finshing him off. Instead it turned their gaze towards the girl.

She watched, terror in her eyes, as it approched. Something broke in her mind. Like flipping a switch. It was a familiar feeling, a usually comforting one. But not now, not this time.

When the burst of energy hit, it was fierce and uncontrollable. 

From every pore a bright flash arose. Hard, fast, like an explosion--because it was one.

A great heat, a great fire, encircled her entire body. And it went outwards, causing the manticore to be thrown back just as Voorhis had been. 

Wen it was over a calm set in all around them, the ground the girl stood on became scorched and a tree had caught fire. It sent great amounts of smoke into the air.

"Young Miss....run...hurry..." 

The older man grunted in pain, forcing himself to stand. He was wounded, but not broken, he wouldn't die so quickly. 

He could still fight. 

She ran. 

**********

Voorhis watched the Young Miss running away, relieved. That explosion just now was a fluke, nothing more. She didn't have control of her gifts just yet, at least, not full control. 

If she tried hard and concentrated then she could do some miraclulous things indeed. But not now, not as distraught as she currently was.

Having served as her guard captain from the time of her birth up to now, she was like a daughter to him. Though he'd never dare speak of it aloud. It wasn't his place.  

His face grew more grim, however, as he saw the manticores rising once more. It was as expected. He knew that magic explosion wouldn't stop them. It was flashy, but it lacked substance. 

Not because she was weak in that regard, but because she simply wasn't suited to that sort of magic. She had a knack for healing, not destruction.

"I can't let them harm the Young Miss." 

He's going to die. He knew that. Manticores, they were strong monsters. Especially this large bastard in front of him.

There was just no way he'd survive this. 

He, who had once been a student at the illustrious Wolsheim Academy, who despite not being able to last beyond the second year was still physically stronger and faster than any normal soldier due to his inherent bloodline and their strict training regime, had no chance at living past this day. 

Maybe not even past this very hour.

It was a sobering thought. He was barely in his late thirties, still fairly young most would agree. He'd no chilren, no wife, no real family of his own. 

Yet...it was fine. Sacrifices had to be made. It was just the way things were, how they always had been. 

And the girl he served, she was a good person. She deserved to live more than him. So, if dying here could give her a better chance at survival....then he'd have to do all in his power to ensure those chances go up even if only the slightest bit.

But fuck.

He'd rather be killed.

Who in their right mind would?

He would rather run, honestly. Just run away while he could. A person had to preserve their own life, didn't they?

But if he did that then those things would go after the Young Miss. He couldn't just run. Even if he lived through this, he'd never be able to live with himself. 

....Clearing his mind of these pointless thoughts, he concentrated on the task at hand.

He took the time to take off his armor.

It would just get in the way. These things would rip through that metal like it was wet paper

Why would he wear it, then? It was better to take it off, gain some more mobility. 

It take long for the thing to get back up. 

Right. 

Time to die.

**********

When they came upon the origin of the fire, they stopped. There, hunched over on  his side, was a body. Not that old, but beaten up nicely. He was covered in blood from head toe

Scorch marks in the middle, but the trees that're burning are quite a few feet away. The fire started there. An explosion?  Had to be. 

Lyle calmly analyzed the scene in front of him.

Magic was used. I can feel it. A slight vibration in the air. A hum. A mage was here... No, rather, an untrained one. I don't think it's the man. The girl? Maybe she has an innate affinity for magic. She got spooked, lost control.  Understandable.

Lyle could sometimes feel magic. Though he didn't know much about how to use it himself, he could tell, at times, when it was used. Now was one of those times. Probably because the girl was, as he thought, untrained. It leaked out, wasn't properly managed, so it couldn't be helped.

He took a cursory glance at the man. "He's still alive." Lyle discovered with surprise.

"Barely."

Nyk commented, looking around.

"The manticore isn't here. It took care of this one and then went after the girl." Nyk deduced. It wasn't hard to figure out. The guy must have tried to hold the thing off, give the girl time to escape. A good man, he did all he was able.

"This man, can you save him?"

"Hard to say. I always keep a few medicines or herbs on hand, and these wound look like the kind that're only fatal if left alone..." He began examining the man's wounds more closely. "...Hm... With what I have with me I'm pretty sure that I can get him stable, but--"

"Do it. I'm going." 

If they left him alone, he would die. That, Lyle knew. He'd bleed out, slowly, until he couldn't anymore. 

"Bell--"

" It's just one manticore." A very large one, and extremely dangerous, but he didn't dwell on that particular piece of information. " I can handle it. Just worry about saving him."

He couldn't afford to wait anymore. 

He ran, even faster than before, tracking the footsteps of the massive creature.

************

This thing's fast. And big. Really big. It's feet are massive, making large indents on the ground. Have to hurry. But, strange...these tracks, there's so many, almost like...

"There's more than one..." He muttered with unease.

But, no, he'd best not worry about that right now. When it came to saving a life, Lyle couldn't be careless. However many manticores there were, whether one or one hundred, all he had to do was get the girl away safely

The wind rushed past his ears and hair as he sped along. 

How many times had a similar situation presented itself, he wondered idly. He and Cecelia, on their travels, had run into quite a few people in need of saving. As such, Lyle could be said to be an expert in rescuing others.

However it was the first time rescuing someone like this. A person that was obviously of high status, to have so many guards protecting her. A person who had an innate gift for magic, judging from what he felt before.

And the first time he was going against a monster like a manticore, what's more, a leader of it's own group.

A dangerous creature if ever there was one. In all honesty, Lyle was apprehensive. He'd heard from A'daire just how strong and painful a manticore's venom was. 

He'd seen firsthand what it could do too. That man, Mikel, was it? He died nearly instantly. Although a reaction like that was rare from what Lyle knew. The poor man must have had a weaker constitution or something, maybe just dying from the sheer pain alone. 

Maybe it was just due to fighting, being exhausted. That was more likely.

He wasn't too keen on experiencing that himself. Another reason he told Nyk to cut off that last one's tail. It was agile, and fast. It was the most dangerous part of a manticore. One of the weakest too, ironically. 

Hm. Rushing to an especially dangerous manticore like this alone seemed pretty fooli, he couldn't lie. He didn't want to face the last one alone, and the one he was hunting down would probably be a lot stronger.

 But he couldn't let that man just die, Nyk would have to stay behind to make sure the guy made it through. He needed treatment, so he knew he made a good call. 

It was just that he wished he didn't have to. This would be a hard fight. Luckily as long as he took the girl and ran, he'd not have to do much

He'd followed the tracks a minute or two more before his sharp ears picked up two sounds.

The first was running water. A small river, maybe.

The second sound was a lot more hair-rising: It was a scream. 

He picked up the pace.

He willed himself to go faster and his legs, which had gone through training just as harsh as the rest of his body had, obeyed.

His steps were sure-footed, nothing able to impede his movements.

**********

Lyle soon came to a small clearing in the woods where a few trees had been knocked over by something large. 

That's what made the next scene all the clearer.

There, just a few feet in front of him, were three manticores. One nearly three times larger than the one he'd faced earlier, two more that were almost twice the size.  All of them slowly making their way forward.

As for who it was they were walking towards, it wasn't hard to tell.

Lyle didn't even think, hIs body just acted almost of it's own accord.

Running straight at the three beasts, he took out his sword and struck down with all his might...but the blade only shook, unable to pierce through.

He was luck it hadn't broke.

But despite being otherwise useless, the blow had worked in gaining their attention.

A long, drawn-out hiss emanated from all three as they turned around.

Lyle caught a glimpse of the person behind them.

Long, golden-brown hair, a pair of hazel eyes set in a youthful face that was practically the picture of innocence--though right now it was dyed in terror.

She just sat there, waiting to be eaten, staring up at the creatures helpless. Her eyes seemed lifeless. Without hope. 

And that was it.

They gave him no time for further inspection, for they set upon him like a pack of angry dogs just waiting to take a bite out of his hide.

They had, amazingly, entirely lost interest in the girl. Eying him as if he was some tasty treat that had fallen into their laps.

"Run away! Now!" 

Nothing. No response. Lyle urged the girl to leave, but she remained rooted to the spot. Like she'd not even registered he'd said anything at all. 

Great.

"Girl, can you hear me?" He didn't know whether she could or not, whether she was even able to understand someone was speaking to her while in her current state of terror. But he kept talking anyway.

"If you can, leave now. Get out of here, as fast as you can, and don't bother looking back!" Still nothing. "Well?" He barked. "Go!"

He couldn't know if she reacted to his words, because at that moment the beasts struck.

They swiped at him with their large, deadly pincers.

Lyle didn't dare be distracted anymore.

He expertly dodged the attacks, stepping back at just the right moment. He moved to the left, the sword in his hands flashing as he struck at the legs of the manticore closest to him.

A satisfying crunch was heard and one of the thing numerous legs was broken, going in a horrid angle. It didn't cut, however.

He may as well have beat at it with a club instead. Even so, he'd damaged it. 

This wasn't like last time. He was testing that one, prodding at it, trying to gauge it's abilities. He wanted to know exactly how strong it was, how far he himself had come since the day he first picked up a sword.

But this time he couldn't do that. This was entirely different from then. One wrong move and he'd likely end up their afternoon snack. So he went all out from the get go, not holding back at all.

The manticore screeched, going wild. 

It and the other manticore attacked once more, from both sides.

Lyle stepped in, bypassing them both and heading towards the largest manticore. Their leader.

The leader struck out with it's tail, the large appendage as thick as any pillar he'd seen.

Wrong move. 

Lyle pivoted to his right, moving out of the way.

As for it's subordinates, they were the ones to be wounded by the leader's attack. 

The two had run at him, charging with their pincers outstretched. But their attacks met only air.

They all but pounced at him at that time, yet he'd moved out of the way before they could even touche him. They couldn't stop their own momentum and crashed into one another. 

Then, like he'd expected, the leader chose to attack with it's tail.

And so when he quickly made his retreat, avoiding it, the tail ended up hitting the other two manticores instead.

Lyle heard a series of cracks as the thick armor-like shells of the two beasts showed signs of a hundred small fractures right where the tail struck them.

The tail had in truth merely grazed them, hitting them both only minimally. But even still their armor was in such a sorry state...

Lyle shuddered to think what would have happened to his own body if the thing had hit him instead.

The two manticores all but howled in pain, stopping all hostile movement.

The leader turned towards Lyle's retreating figure. Like it were contemplating murder. Extremely resentful, hating having been fooled into injuring it's own men.

"That's right...get mad...come on, come get me!" 

Lyle stepped back further into the woods.

Instantly the leader followed him.

Lyle ran away for several seconds with the leader catching up fast. 

Good. 

So far everything was going well. 

Let's hope those two stay down a few seconds more...

Lyle, seeing the fast-approaching leader, turned around.

And ran towards it with lightning speed.

Surprised at the sudden change of heart, the beast stopped in it's tracks. It sensed something was off, preparing itself.

But contrary to what it probably expected, Lyle made no effort to attack.

Instead he ran even faster, then dove underneath the great beast.

He hit the floor hard, sliding, passing right under it's belly.

Not stopping for even a moment, he took off back to the starting point.

It took him a very short amount of time to reach them, the previous manticores still dazed and hurting from the leader's blunder.

Lyle knew it was only a matter of time before they got back up and threatened him.

He understood very well from the start that his chances of fighting these three and winning in a fair fight was nearly zero. Their armor was very hard, and he would take quite some time to break through.

His sword would never be able to hold out. As for his body, even if he used his fists, and even if he had the raw strength to peirce through, his bones would break as a result. Not a good thing.

So when he saw an opportunity, he took it. 

As soon as the beasts came at him from his sides he made a snap decision.

It was dangerous, and foolish, and could have gotten him killed it he was just a tiny bit slower, but he took the risk.

He had read a bit about manticores, and knew they favored attacking with their tails. It offed powerful blows and extended reach. 

While hoping it would choose to attack with it's tail, he purposely stepped towards the leader.

Why take such a risk? 

Because if everything played out like he wanted it to, at the very least it'd put a dent on the armor of one of the manticores. Two, even.

He'd not be able to go for the tails in a situation like this, and it's take too long to cut them off anyway.

So he had to create another weakness he could exploit. If all went well, he'd have successsfully done that. Is that not one of the first things a person learned? All enemies had a weakness. 

But if you couldn't find it, or couldn't take advantage of it, then create one yourself that you can use against them!

It's just that he didn't expect it to work even better than he expected!

With the cracks in their armor, he could most definitely take down at least one! 

And this is why he ran.

His sword was by his side when he reached them.

He took it's pommel in both hands, going in to take care of the one he'd not broken the leg of. 

If he had to choose, then of course he'd take down the less injured one first.

He raised his sword, bringing it down with great force. Like he decided earlier, he'd not held back at all. 

There was still a lot of resistance at first, but eventually his was able to push down the blade until it was buried hilt-deep into it's flesh.

The manticore screeched one last time, nearly rupturing his eardrums, before it took it's last breath.

One down. 

This should have excited him, but he knew not to celebrate prematurely. There was still work to be done.

Unfortunately...he wasn't able to get the sword out of it's corpse.

Try as he might, it was stuck fast.

Lyle tried one last time to pry it free, but it wouldn't budge an inch.

So focused was he on retrieving the only weapon he currently had out with him that he completely didn't notice the speed at which the manticore leader approached him. 

One moment it was more than forty feet away, then next it seemed to have reappeared right next to him.

Greatly enraged at the death of one of it's own, the creature lashed out madly in a fit of absolute fury.

Lyle was too slow to react just then, a fatal mistake.

He felt a giant, hard pressure by his ribs, then he was knocked away.

Lyle knew he had hit a tree, his head suffering a viciously blow to the back of his skull.

Pain bloomed everywhere. The force of the previous blow could be felt even in his teeth, seeming to rattle them.

It sent a shockwave all throughout his entire body.

His world went dark, his vision blurred.

Lyle's breathing became strained, and he felt pain from every small movement. He stared down at his unmoving hands, not quite sure of what just happened. 

He couldn't form any real coherent thought, the agony blocking out his ability to do even that.

He could only struggle to stay conscious.

Do you want our help, boy...?

A faint, feminine voice called out to him. Soft and pleasant to the ears, dangerously seductive.

"Shut...up..." Did he say that, or did he think that? He wasn't sure.

Don't be so stubborn, The woman cooed. Do you really wish to die here? 

"I won't..."

Ah, I see, Etain apeared in front of him just then, smiling, her beauty marred by how sick and twisted the expression looked.You're a smart one, aren't you...You know we won't let you die...but that doesn't mean we won't let you experience something worse than death. Tell me, have you ever wondered what the venom of a manticore can do to a person who isn't allowed to die? The pain...would be unimaginable...

"Don't think....that I'm such a weak person...a bit of pain...is nothing....I'll not give you people any part of me...ever!" A roar. 

But she continued on as if he'd said nothing. 

From the looks of it, they'll try to eat you. They know a good meal when they see one, like they did with the girl. We can regrow a few limbs, easily, but you'll still experience, in vivid detail, the excruciating agony that would come with having you body feasted upon by ravenous beasts...

Lyle couldn't deny that his heart sped up a bit at the thought.

Well, I suppose it wouldn't be all bad. Though it would be only for a short while, that girl would still be keeping you company. Even if it be as a corpse, She laughed delightfully.

Lyle realized it then.

The two manticores, seeming to believe he wouldn't be able to fight back anymore, returned their gazes to the young girl.

He could see out of the corner of his eye, the sheer terror that once more reappeared on her face. From start to finish, it looked like she hadn't had any belief she'd make it out of this alive.

If he waited any longer, she'd die. The manticores would inject her with their venom so that it could stop her from moving, then they'd take them both away to become their meal.

That girl wouldn't last until then. A frail young maiden like she, a person who'd probably never known any harship in her life, would die from shocking pain the venom would inflict upon her.

And as for Lyle, how could he let that happen?

He came all this way to help her, hell, he even went through the trouble of facing three manticores--one of them their entire pack's leader--to try and save her...how could he just let his efforts go to waste! 

Did he come here for nothing? If she died then this wold have been many minutes of his life that he'd never get back! 

And as if he'd let himself be eaten by a lowly manticore....

He'd not give these three the satisfaction.

They wanted to scare him, wanted to make him ask for help? And give up a piece of himself in return? 

Bullshit! 

He still had things to do. There's no way he'd let any of these things come to pass. 

And if he got hurt, Iris would be sad. 

Ah, what kind of brother would he be if he made his sister cry?

No, no, staying like this wan't good at all.

Becoming the meal of a manticore, letting that girl die even after he already decided to save her, allowing Iris to shed tears for him...He didn't accept any of it.

" All of you can go to hell...as long as I'm not dead, I can still fight! Just an overgrown bug, I don't need any of your help to tale care of something of only this level!"

In spite of his sorry-looking appearane his voice still carried a surprising strength.

Etain shrugged.

Do as you will then. That is, if you can...

And she vanished just like that.

Lyle paid her no mind, forcing himself to rise. He used the tree behind him as support, moving as fast as he could.

He clenched his teeth as another bolt of lightning coursed throughout his body and brought him even more discomfort.

Instead of trying to retrieve his lost sword, he instead sent a mental command to his blackbox in his coat's pocket.

A long, blood-red sword appeared in his hands...

He hadn't yet truly tested the sword. He didn't know if it could do any better against the manticores' especially thick, armor-like shells than the normal sword he had carried.

The old man probably focused on durability, so the sharpness...that may not be as good as Lyle would usually expect from old man Davron.

He never used it before now because he hadn't the need. Now he did.

And he'd have to hope it didn't end up as useless the the other had been.

Steeling himself, Lyle forced the pain into a corner of his mind, as he had been taught, and ran towards the unsuspecting manticores.

They had no idea he was able to move at all, and so they couldn't react in time.

Lyle moved, ignoring the fact that he ribs all felt as if they were poking into lungs, and arrived behind the smaller manticore.

He dropped down just like he had before with the leader, his sword ready.

These types of manticores were basically large bugs, right, and most bugs had a pretty weak belly. He wasn't sure where he'd heard that from, and he'd only remembered it just now, but he really prayed that it was true.

With that in mind, as he passed underneath the creature, he drove his sword into it's stomache.

And it worked! The sword easily went through with seemingly no resistance at all, tearing up it's insides as Lyle's momentum carried him--along with the blade--forward! The manticore made an inhuman screech, crying out in obvious pain! The piercing cry told Lyle that it was all but done for!

Lyle didn't know whether it was because of the stomache truly being weak or if it was due to the blade itself. If he had to say, he'd put money on the latter. Though both probably played a part in how easily it was to cut through.

But as he cut into it he was also exposed to a vile, greenish substance. It poured down into him. Although he managed to avoid most of it due to him having been propelled forwards slightly faster than this green ichor fell, a lot of it still found it's way onto parts of his skin and clothing.

He didn't even put any thought into if this green liquid was harmful or not.

As soon as he came out of from under it, like before, he didn't stop moving at all.

His movements were by far less smooth than they were previously, but even still he quickly got up and sprinted towards the girl as best as he was able.

The leader again became furious at the death of another comrade, a dangerous chattering sound issuing from it's mouth.

Lyle didn't stop to look back. 

He stopped by the girl, roughly pulling her to her feet.

"Pull yourself together!" Lyle hissed at her. "Do see how messed up I am? Who do you think I risked myself for by coming here? If I wasn't such a kindheared fool, I'd have left you to become their snack! And I won't let my efforts be wasted! So you're not allowed to just sit there and wait for death, you hear me!" He snarled, snapping the girl out of her fear-induced reverie. " I don't give you the right! So come...On!"

He said everything fast, in a single breathe, harshly telling her to do what amount to "grow a pair."

And light immediately came back to her previously dull eyes. She stared at him, almost in a trance, as he pulled them along.

Lyle understood that his bedside manner had much to be desired. If it were another time, maybe he'd have tried a softer approach. But right now?...Right now he didn't have the time to coddle her...

He ran once more, hastily trying to put some distance between them and it.

The sound of running water from before hadn't stopped at all in all this time, he noted faintly at the back of his mind.

 They both ran as hard and fast as their legs would take them.

Lyle understood that the current him couldn't take on the remaining manticore.

 The three people currently occupying his body didn't deign to heal him at all. Unlike the time with Iris--or rather, the thing that had made her sleepwalk back then--his wounds didn't show any sign of improving.

There was no spreading of warmth or rush of power.

Obviously the three would not aid him unless he asked, which he'd never allow himself to do.

Maybe if he hadn't gotten careless and been needlessly wounded, if he was at his peak, then perhaps he could do something about the manticore. If the fight was made fair he thought he would have a good chance.

But no, he wasn't in top form. 

He was grievously injured, continuing his mad dash only after forcing himself to move forward, every inch  feeling like a mile, every step feeling like it would be his last before he keeled over. The only thing that stopped him from completely breaking down being an unsurpassable stubborness that had served him faithfully up until now.

An outright refusal to give up...

He knew that even if the sword at his side could cut through the armor of the manticore like butter, even if it was some godly weapon, he wouldn't be able to take even one more blow. 

So he had to run. Find someplace they could be safe, maybe...

Fighting that thing was a last resort at this point. With him as he was, could things be any other way?

He almost wished he'd not told Nyk to stay behind.Yet just allowing that man to die, after he clearly did all he could to keep this girl alive...he couldn't help it. That man's actions alligned with Lyle's own ideals of what a true "Noble" was supposed to be.

In life and death situations, things like honor and duty could easily crumble. They would abandon the person by their side if it meant their own survival. And that wasn't wrong. But neither was it right.

Lyle understood that the man could have escaped by himself. The manticores were most interested in the girl, if he left her to die then he himself would be able to get away. 

But he didn't. He chose to sacrifice himself. That was an act that resonated deeply with Lyle. 

He's a good man. 

When faced with death all people revealed their true selves. And that man revealed that he had the right to be respected and acknowledged by Lyle. That couldn't be denied.

His desire to save to give the girl a fighting chance at survival, at the cost of his own life, moved Lyle's heart and instilled in him a faint admiration for the guy. 

Lyle wanted to save the girl because he himself wouldn't have felt right just leaving her to die. But there was also another, almost equally important reason for why he wanted to save her: To not make that man's noble deed have ben done in vain. 

Perhaps it was silly. Yet that was how things were. 

And it wasn't like things were hopeless. As long as one lived, there was hope. They weren't dead yet. This meant that they still had all the chance in the world to make it out of this. Both he, and the girl.

Yes....as long as they were able to at least run away, to escape from this thing, then they...

And right as he was thinking this, the trees ended.

So did the ground.

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