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A note from Luc666-_-

Im making this into parts again cuz it just got so long. I rewroteparts of this a bunch of times so if you see any mistakes or sentences that doesn't seem to fit, let me know please.

 

Will do editing later.

 

Remember to rate, review and comment on whatever you wish~

 

 

"Well that's just perfect..." Lyle muttered. 

The girl by his side, his hand still firmly locked around her own, all but wilted.

He heard the menacing clicking sound that signaled the presence of the manticore, and sure enough, it was right behind them just a few feet away

Lyle stared downwards, unable to help cursing their luck.

Below them was a great body of water. Most people would probably think they would be saf. It's just water, right? They would think. But the reality was a lot different. 

For starters, exactly how high was this? A little over a eighty feet probably? Maybe a hundred?

Lyle did a few quick calculations in his head.

A fall from that height wouldn't be fun. Anyone who had ever done a belly-flop would know just how hard the surface of water can get when falling at certain speeds. 

And this here...a fall of more than four seconds amd you would be hitting the water considerably fast. A possibility of dying  from the trauma. Certainly, this was high enough to give a person a few broken bones at the least...

His own body was very durable, he thought that maybe he could make it. The girl? Again, she was too frail. 

But... as long as it was only this much, and if he used his own body to break her fall a little...

The manticore inched closer, knowing it was on the verge of victory.

Lyle made a decision.

He took the girl's face in his hands, making her look at him. "Hey, what's your name?"

The girl trembled as she looked him, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

At one point lyle didn't think she'd answer, then, "S-Seraphina..." She breathed out finally, voice small mouse-like. No surprise, all things considered.

"I see. Seraphina, is it? A lovely name." He smiled. "Sera, can you do me a favor?"

The girl nodded, although he thought it was more of an unconscious reaction on her part.

"Then listen closely...I need you to close your eye for a bit, alright? Can you do that for me?"

Another nod.

"Great. Yes, just like that." He praised. "I promise, everything's going to be fine. Just trust me from now on, alright? At least for a while..."

The manticore was exceedingly close to now, it's enormous body looming over them and casting a dark shadow.

Lyle then took the girl in his arms, hugging her close.

And jumped over the edge.

**********

The sun was high but the coldness didn't abate at all, gloomy grey clouds seemingly going on endlessly into the skies.

His entire body felt frozen, stiff and unbearably weak. 

His throat was parched, burning as he breathed in the crisp, cold air. Icy winds beat at him, his clothes plastered against his body and all but turning him into an icicle.

Lyle's eyes opened slowly, becoming aware of his surroundings.

He saw a dark shape, vaguely familiar.

It was the girl. 

Sera.

She kneeled in front of him, shivering, just staring at him with an unbliking gaze that he found quite...invasive, somehow. It made him uncomfortable being the subject of such an intense stare.

When she discovered that he was awake she jumped up in fright, looking away nervously. 

How long had he been out? How long had she been staring at him, too?

He rolled onto his back, his muscles unwilling. 

From the position of the sun, it couldn't have been long. Not even an hour. Maybe...ten, twenty minutes since they jumped?

"Sera...are you okay?" He asked suddenly, glancing at her. She didn't seem hurt, but he had to be sure.

The girl opened her mouth, but the words didn't come.

Was she really that shy? 

Or was she still wary of him? 

He couldn't blame her for it if it was the latter. Alone with a person she didn't know, and a male at that...for a high-born Young Miss, such a thing would indeed be a cause for concern.

And she was probably still shaken by what she had just experienced.

Lyle forced a laugh, though the action brought him little but more pain.

"There's no need to be scared. I won't bite." He grinned. His attempt to bring in a bit of levity was apparently lost on her.

He got up, surpressing a groan.

His legs shook. No, his entire body shook to some degree or another. But he didn't let it show. It wouldn't exactly inspire confidence in the girl if she saw him looking weak.

"You're cold." He commented, the epitome of obviousness. "That won't do. Hold up."

Lyle looked around his pockets, hoping nothing was amiss. Lucky for him, everything was fine and he soon held his Blackbox in hand. He'd put the sword back in earlier before he jumped.

He didn't keep much in his Blackbox but did he have a few useful things inside. Personal items, emergency rations, rope, among other things.

He sent a command to the Blackbox and took out a thick coat. It was his last. He had a few to start with but one was still pretty torn up--courtesy of a certain black-hearted woman--despite him having already mended it a bit. And as for the other, he currently wore it. 

So this was the one he'd given to Melanie earlier, before he'd gotten her her own clothes.

"Here, take off yours and put this on. It'll help."

Sera looked at the piece of clothing with hesitation, unsure. 

Lyle sighed.

Did all the women he know have to be so difficult? What's more, didn't this one in particular not know how miserable she looked right now?

Without further words he just walked behind her and covered her shoulders with the coat, not wanting to waste time with something so trivial. 

"There. Warm, right?" 

"..." 

Silence. 

He felt her eyes being glued to his face. It really was a little unnerving...

Ah, whatever.

"It's fine, really. I've got a few blankets too, I'll use one of those." 

It'd be a lot worse at keeping in his body heat and warming him up than that coat would but he didn't bother telling her that and making her feel guilty.

"...Not much one for conversation, are you?"

"..."

As expected, nothing. 

"By the way, we found your Captain...Voorhis, was it? He was in a bad way, but I had someone stay behind and help so he should be fine. In case you were wondering."

Her eyes brighened at this piece of good news, yet still little else but silence came from her. 

He could almost feel his face starting to tingle. He had her avid attention. She was like...a puppy? With those large eyes and innocent expression...

Lyle decided to give up. Maybe she'll be more open after they settled down. 

"Come on, we should find some shelter. Let's look around, there may be a cave nearby that we can take refuge in."

Lyle pulled at her hand, urging her to follow. 

He almost wanted to hug her again. 

Why?

It wasn't due to her being cute, though she did have a considerable amount of cuteness even as she currently way.

No, he wanted the contact for one reason: It sparked a fire in him.

His body, as before with Melanie, reacted. And sent a burst of heat along his entire body.

It was infinitely better than this stupid blanket. 

Thankfully he was able to control it, although the cold itself was the one that did a lot of help in that regard. But if he had to say, he'd prefer to be warm. 

Lyle stopped thinking about it. There really was no point in complaining, was there? 

He looked back at the river with a frown.

...They must have drifted farther than he thought, he couldn't see the cliff or waterfall anywhere in sight.

But not now. That wasn't what was most important at the moment.

They had to warm up, rest, and eat. 

Maybe they'd even have to spend a night by themselves. 

How long would they have to stay like this? They were pretty far away from the others. They would be looking for him, he knew. And those knights would be looking for Sera.

Plus that manticore could be skulking about somewhere...

This wasn't good.

He may pretend otherwise, but he was hurt. Bad.

He was aching severely, he knew he had to have bruises all over himself. He'd had to break the girl's fall, so that's the only thing he could do. Use his own body.

And the impact was not light. It was like slamming into solid ground, the moment of contact betweeen himself and the water's surface having driven the breath from his lungs.

Plus he'd also had to make sure she didn't drown. And the cold water sapped his strength even more than it would have otherwise. 

Had his body grown even stronger, though? He definitely got away with as minimal injury as was likely possible in that situation, he thought that even his endurance was larger than it had been. He didn't know, but he was thankful if that was the case.

Otherwise he may have suffered much more. It could be that he just got lucky, but somehow he doubted it. Was it due to the changes those three brought with them, or was it due to himself only? 

Whatever it was, he was grateful.

As for his front side...even now every step he took brought him unending agony.

Yup. He must have broken a rib or three, at least. Okay, well, maybe not broken...but surely fractured, no? 

Bad. This was bad.

He did his best to move, but it was a struggle. How long could he last like this?

...As long as I goddamn have to, he told himself firmly.

First things first: Take care of the girl. Get her someplace where she can warm up.  

Failing that, just make something  up on his own. He had a tent in his blackbox but it would take time to set up and it was very small. They'd have to cram inside for both of them to fit.

Not something he was willing to make a Lady endure unless he had no alternative. The Lady in question would also [rpbab;y hate it. Something like that was, being in such close proximity to a male not in any sort of relationship with her, would be pretty shameful.

Even in this situation, such things were important. It sounded petty, and maybe it was, but there was no harm in looking around a bit first was there? So he decided to give it at least a few minutes of searching before he would just set up the tent.

Shameful or not, if he couldn't find a better place to rest up then he'd go with the tent even if did have a problem with it.

Although she seemed pretty obedient, so he doubted she'd speak out against it overmuch.

....On second thought, maybe just waiting to be found would be best. Jaime an te others were excellent trackers, and they weren't stupid. They would probably be able to find them within a few hours.

But Lyle never relied solely on things like that, so he still wanted to search the area later for a way back. It's just that it'd be a risk taking the girl along especially if that manticore was actually searching for them.  

He couldn't leave her alone, after all. 

The rest of the manticores were likely already taken care of, however. Maybe the leader was too? Though he didn't think so, in all liklihood the leader would abandon them to save itself. 

Lyle decided to stop worrying about it and simply concentrated on the task at hand.

**********

When he asked her to close her eyes she did it without any second thoughts. 

When he asked her to trust him, she found that she had no other choice.

She could feel a pair of strong arms wrapping around her, then her stomach dropped as they wre propelled over the edge.

Then hit the water hard, but she was fine. He'd taken the brunt of the damage, and she knew he did it for her sake.

But she couldn't swim, and even if she could the current was too strong for her anyway. 

When he realized this he'd not shown any hesitation in helping her ashore. He took her in his arms again and dragged her with him.

Despite his injuries, despite having just taken damage from falling at a great height, despite the cold waters that surely had to be sapping his strength...despite all that, he'd not showed any sign of unwillingness.

He did his best to always keep her head above the water even as they were swept downstream and away from the waterfall. There was no way of knowing how far they had gone, or how long he'd had to hold onto her like that. 

The memories of that time were blurred, she was dead weight. Barely able to even kick her feet in an attempt to lessen his burden.

Then, once their feet were actually able to touch the ground under the water, he'd carried her and set her gently onto the grassy riverbank before collapsing in exhaustion. 

He'd not taken his arms off of her until he was sure she was fine. Only then did he allow himself to fall unconscious.

And now here he was, lying at her feet.

She felt a multitude of emotions upon seeing him. Gratitude, worry, anxiousness and guilt being some of the most prominent. 

Sera sat down on, brushing the hair out of his face. Then she began hugging herself in and rubbing her arms up and down to try and stave off the cold. 

"This journey really was nothing but a mistake. The words Ellie said that day proved true after all, it seems..." She thought aloud, miserable. "I wonder...if those other things will as well? No, no that I think of it, what were they? I can't even really remember what she said..." Sera turned her thoughts away from that particular subject, uncomfortable. 

"I shouldn't have come, I should have listened to her." She lamented. She sighed. "But Father really would have been displeased... Having called for me so suddenly like this, it's probably important. It only things hadn't become like this..."

The girl eyed the young man, her face softening. "Although I guess I have you to thank for saving me, don't I? What a strange person, risking himself to that extent for someone he'd never seen before..." 

Sera found herself staring at him. 

She didn't know why. 

The cold ate away at her, but it was a distant thing at that moment. She just continued to look at him, examining every line and curve of the young man's face.

She couldn't call him a boy. 

Most males her age she would be able to call a boy, but not him. 

She'd never seen a "boy" with a body like his. She wasn't able to see how bad he was injured, but from the way his clothes outlined his frame she could tell that he anything but a boy. There was great power hidden in every inch of him, it seemed. 

She knew it to be true, based on what she could recall from earlier. The way he faced off against no less than three manticores by himself, mangaging to even kill two of them, was a testament to how capable he was.

Plus it's obvious he's not taken that strength for granted. He must go through quite a bit of training. 

She understood that because she could clearly see how well-defined his muscles were, something not able to be acquired without intense daily exercise. He had not been lax, that was sure. 

He didn't rely only upon that great strength of his, either. From what Sera remembered about his fight he had quite a bit of cleverness as well, using that one manticore's attack to weaken the defenses of the other two.

Although he hadn't exploited the self-made weakness after he felled the first, he still had been able to cut into the stomache of the first. Did he use a different sword that time? She didn't know for certain. 

Sera wondered if manticores had a soft belly. And if he had know about it. If so, then he could have used that for the other two as well? But Sera understood how difficult that would be.

Manticores were a little clever too, they'd not fall for the same trick twice. It'd be exceedingly difficult to perform that move again. 

She had seen a person fight a manticore before, in a colosseum when she was just a little bit younger than she was now. It was during a more recent tournament, one of the events that had been held before the actual competition began. 

That tournament was a special one, the reason being so that the younger generation of the various Noble Houses could display their talents in combat. 

In fact Sera could even still vividly recall the thunderous applause and amazement when the young Heir-Apparent of the Greyborne family took down his opponent, the slightly older Sir Gweyn who hailed from the Herondale family, and claimed the championship after numerous struggles.

...But she was getting sidetracked. No, the event she was thinking of happened before all that, as a way of entertaining the audience before the first round of matches began. 

It was something that had came as a surprise. Apparently something like that usually didn't happen and so no one could know what would be brought out. 

Even so they had all cheered when the manticore made it's appearance, knowing they were in for a good show. Sera saw ten people go up against it one after the other, each one left with serious injuries afterwards. Whereas the manticore itself did die eventually, it was more from exhaustion rather than due to the small wounds it inevitably suffered.

Not a single one of those people had dared to move in under a manticore like this person had. They'd not even thought of it. Who would be so suicidal? No one would be able to so easily ignore the fear of making a mistake and being subject to the thing's cruel venom.

As such she felt that this young man was definitely not like your average person. He instantly understood that he'd be unable to fight those things normally and so didn't even try. Instead he saw an opportunity, knowing full well how dangerous it could prove, and took it anyway.

Against monsters like that this sort of quick-thinking, ingenuity and decisiveness would be very uncommon in a person so young.   

So she found him quite interesting. 

As she sat there Sera grew a little nervous even though he wasn't even awake. In all honesty, she had never seen a young man who was so near to her in age up close like this.

She had a sudden urge to poke him. 

She didn't.

That's right, now that she thought of it he really couldn't be much older than her. She didn't think so, at least. Maybe a year or two? He looked around seventeen. Maybe even eighteen.

Sera had continued her staring up until he'd woken up.

The very first thing that he asked was, "Are you okay?"

It was a very common string of words, but for that to be the first thing on his mind...

It caught her by surprise. She was shocked into silence.

How was he able to think about her when he must be in a much worse state? Was he really alright? Did she overestimate how injured he was?

He looked fine, but could it be true?

No, if he was able to move about like this and talk to her then surely he must not be too badly beaten up...? 

He then went on to tease her a bit, saying he won't bite. 

However she was a little confused. Bite? Bite where? What would he bite? 

She lacked experience in things like that so she didn't quite get the meaning. But from the mischievous curve of his lips as he said it, Sera knew it had to be something naughty.

Again she was silent.

After a bit more talking on his part he noticed her trembling. 

So he took out a coat for her to wear. He must have a spacial storage device on him. An Icebox? But the coat wasn't cold. Strange.

Although he offered it himself, ans Sera was freezing, she was still hesitant to take it. 

He saw that and moved in close behind her, draping the coat over her shoulders unceremoniously.

She was very relieved to know he had blanket to warp himself with. 

Then he informed her about Captain Voorhis. She was happy to know he was alive, but the feeling was more muted than it probably should have been. She couldn't explain why. Maybe it was because she knew he was okay. As long as he wasn't dead there was little she had to worry about with him. 

He'd even be angry at her if she knew she worried about him. Yet she couldn't help it, in many ways he was like an uncle to her. 

Her thoughts drifted to the young man by her side.

He had come to help her, a complete stranger. For what reason? Who was he? How did he even know where to find her?  Did someone send him after them? The other guards of her's perhaps?

She had many questions, but somehow she was unable to ask him any of them. She found herself very nervous around him. That didn't happen often, her meeting somone who can make her like that. But here they were, a man and woman, alone in the woods... 

She didn't think him a bad person at all, in fact she could feel that he was exactly the opposite. But the situation was a little... and after everything she went through...Suffice it to say, she was jittery. 

Still, Sera didn't find the man to be unpleasant. Unlike the boys her own age, he didn't look at her with any lustful eyes. His gaze was clear and confident, without any malicious or lewd intent. Very business-like, almost. He didn't make her on guard at all. 

At his urging, they left that place and walked together for some time.

As they left Sera realized something.

...She felt very safe with him here... Actually, right now, she was even dependant upon him...

**********

Lyle squinted his eyes.

"There...a cave up ahead. That didn't take long at all, our luck is turning around." He spoke optimistically. "Come on, let's get out of this wind."

It was only then, as he looked behind him, that Lyle realized something strange.

The girl had slowed, falling several feet behind him. And she was wincing.

She got a pained look on her face with each step she took.

"What's wrong?" He asked.

The girl shook her head, signaling that it was nothing.

Lyle didn't believe her.

He walked towards her, determined to find out what the matter was. 

This caused her to back away, looking afraid. Wgether it was because of he himself or because she didn't want him to see, he didn't know.

The girl, Sera, tripped on a rock as she stepped back and nearly fell. But Lyle had already caught her and eased her onto a stump near them.

He looked her over, his eyes roaming every inch of her methodically. Naturally his eyes went towards the most likely suspect, her legs.

The young girl's entire body stiffened noticibly as Lyle held one of her feet in his hands and carefully took off her shoe. 

Then he cursed. 

"You've got blisters and cuts all over." His voice was accusatory. "Dammit, why didn't you tell me sooner? This isn't something to keep quiet about!" He snapped.

He was very displeased with her.

The blisters weren't serious, just a few red bumps and cuts along her feet. Caused by running in shoes that clearly weren't meant for it.

"You can't continue to walk like this, you know that, right?"

"..."

She looked at him, showing signs of unwillingness. 

Why couldn't she just talk to him? This was getting a bit tiresome...

"Forget it." He told her. "You're not walking. There's just a bit further to go, I'll carry you."

"...!"

She grew alarmed, shaking her head.

"I...I...I'm." She struggled to speak.

Lyle raised a brow. "Ah, so now you're willing to talk? But it's too late. No matter what you say I'm not letting you walk like this."

"I'm f-f-fine..." She finally got out, her teeth chattering.

"Clearly not." Lyle said drily. And before you try refusing me again," He held up a hand to stop her. "Remember that while that coat of mine helps, with you dripping wet right now the thing won't do you much good. Not if you continue to stay outside like this.

"I suggest you stop being stubborn, because it'll take a good few minutes to get to that cave and I don't want to have to argue about this all day with you. Unless you want me to have to lop off a few of your fingers and toes due to the eventual frostbite that would most assuredly set in?" 

Her face quickly grew horrified.

"..."

"That's what I thought." He said, satisfied. "I'm going to pick you up now, alright?"

She couldn't do anything but nod. 

Lyle mentally prepared himself, then hunched down a bit to pick her up. 

He could feel his muscles quivering, not because he was too weak to lift her, but because of the pain it brought him.

Letting out a breath, he walked forward.

Luckily they weren't touching skin-to-skin, so he didn't have to deal with the threat of that "evil fire" coming out.

Lyle slowly made his way up and over the uneven terrain with the girl nestled firmly in his arms.

**********

When they reached the mouth of the cave Lyle set Sera down on the ground.

"Stay here, I'm going to see if there's anything inside first. Don't want to suddenly have a bear creeeping up on us, now do we?"

She grabbed his hand as he turned to go, eyes wide in panic. "Don't leave!"

Lyle stopped, peering at her.

"Didn't I ask you to trust me a little before? Don't worry, I'll be back before you know it."

He gently extracted his hand from her's, then went into the cave.

It wasn't long till he came back, entirely unharmed--at least, not any more injured than he already was.

Lyle saw that the girl relaxed, apparently relieved, when he appeared. "It's safe. Let's get you inside..."

He scooped her up once more and they entered together.

**********

A half hour later the two of them sat on opposite sides of each other, a fire between them.

After he used his tinderbox and a few scraps of paper to start a fire he'd told her to strip off her dripping-wet dress and had given her another. It was one of Iris' so it was sort small on her, but the girl wasn't that much larger so only the breast area was a little tight.

At her questioning look he only shrugged and explained, briefly, whose it was.

The frilly white dress actually looked pretty good on her, the main problem was that the skirt barely covered her knees. 

 It was only a shame he didn't have any warmer clothes for her to wear. With the fire going and the coat he gave her he supposed it wasn't entirely needed, though.

He did consider giving her one of his own shirts and pants, but to make a Lady wear men's clothing was a little much to ask when it wasn't needed. 

Lyle still hadn't changed his own clothes yet, there was something he had to do first. 

He'd left her again to quickly gather some firewood--before the flame died out--when she had begun to change, despite her protests that he not leave her. Then hung a blanket over the smallish cave's mouth to offer more protection from the harsh winds.

Later, under her watchful gaze--had she done anything but stare at him up to now?--Lyle took out several herbs and berries along with a stone bowl and pestle. 

Lyle threw the berries and herbs into the bowl, then set to work. The mixture became a clumpy mess at first, then slowly formed into a light reddish paste 

"Give me your feet." He commanded, after everything was ready.

"..." The girl scooted towards him, but glanced down. She couldn't look him in the eyes. 

Lyle took the initiative, pulling her towards him more and resting one of her feet in his lap. She did her best to cross her legs to not let her panties get exposed, but Lyle wasn't looking in that direction at all. Didn't even cross his mind at the moment. 

All his did was take some of the paste and apply a bit of it onto her feet, gently massaging it in. He saw a few cuts along her thighs and so moved his hands upwards to massage the salve onto them, too. 

Lyle couldn't help noticing how smooth and shapely her legs were. Long, creamy and soft, feeling good in his hands. They were top-quality, no doubt. Neither too fatty nor too skinny, just perfect. 

But he didn't let that distract him. 

Lyle wasted no time and quickly but carefully worked the medicine all over her legs, from her pinky toes to her calves, before wrapping them with up with long strips of bandages.

Lyle breathed much easier after he was done. 

Somehow...the more he touched women, the more he experienced that strange fire, the more he started to get used to the feeling and merged with it. 

He came to understand something about the fire: It wanted to be quenched. 

If his body was becoming akin to that of an incubus' then wouldn't the "evil fire" be the "Anima" energy that he'd read of? The "positive" energy that existed within men? 

The so-called "yang" energy to a woman's "yin" energy?

Incubi had a massive influce of this Anima. This positive, fire-like energy. And incubi sated this fire by taking in the Animus within females. Same with succubi, the life energy they needed was a very specific type of life energy. Meaning, Anima. 

There was a need for balance. Incubi needed Animus, succubi needed Anima. 

Since Lyle was becoming something like an Incubis then he, too, needed this "Animus"!

As such, he theorized that he needed to absorbe that Animus from women directly. His Anima was reacting to the presence of Animus, or something like that. 

At least this is what he thought it was. In essence, the mixing of the two would result in sexual energy. Lust, desire, whatever you wanted to call it, that's what that Azamat wanted. What fueled him. Not just that, he probably absorbed Animus itself too. 

This understanding, that's probably why he seemed to gain a better control over himself. Could he actively use those energies, though? Could he manipulate this "Anima"? 

Since he already knew what Anima felt like, could Lyle find it within himself even without having to touch a woman to make it flare up, and then bring it under his control? 

What could he do with it anyway? 

Lyle felt like he'd be even closer to becoming an incubus at that point. He didn't want that at all! Such a vulgar thing, why would Lyle want to become like that? But...if he left things go uncontrolled like this, someday he may not be able to stop himself...

What if Melanie, or Cecelia, or some other woman was around at that time? What ifhe...to them...

...Lyle chose to steer his thoughts away from this subject, not liking the direction they were heading. No, now wasn't the time to ponder over such things.

Once he finished with her he noticed that the girl's face was absolutely dyed pink, blushing furiously. Understandable, but it was necessary.

A few minutes later Lyle finally took out a few foodstuffs from the Blackbox for him to cook. They had to eat. Honestly, he was starving. The girl must be too.

As he cooked a few skewers of meat and sweet potatoes he even heard her stomache growling. 

"It'll be done soon, don't worry." Lyle said, a faint hint of laughter in his voice, amused when she her eyes locked onto the skewers with a ravenous glint before catching herself and looking away in embarrassment.

As promised, they were done before they knew it. The girl took her's gratefully, her lips puckering as she blew softly on them. She ate slowly, savoring, apparently not forgetting proper etiquette. 

Every move of her's was graceful, as if they were all meticulously well-though-out beforehand. It left quite an impression... 

He took a moment to admire, then chose to tear his gaze away and focus on other things. 

So while she did that, Lyle took out several more blankets, equally thick, and folded them a little. Then he set them on the floor, one for her and one for him. Next he took out a few pillows, completing the ensemble.

This would be their beds, if it was needed. 

Lyle believed Jaime and the others would appear within an hour or so, he doubted that they'd have to use these "beds". 

But he didn't like the looks of those clouds that he saw outside, they were a dark grey and he could smell a sweet, pungent aroma in his nostrils. 

It was the sharp, fresh scent of ozone. Which didn't bode well at all, for he feared it'd start raining eventually. How bad he didn't know but it was always good to be prepared, and the hard rock of the cave's ground was unpleasant to sit on in any case. So t least like this they got a bit of comfort. 

Once they were finished eating they just sat there, wrapped in blankets by the fire, not talking at all.

The girl hadn't made any attempt at conversing with him as of yet. They did have things to discuss, but Lyle held off on them. He could tell that the previous events still weighed heavily on her mind.

Coming that close to death, knowing the sense of helplessness and fear that came with understanding you were about to die and that there was nothing you could do to stop it...this was something that regular people could never easily come to terms with.

It must be especially hard for her. Being a "Young Miss"--as the knights had called her--there were likely very few times where she'd experienced danger of any kind. 

How was it possible that she would not be affected by what had happened?

He felt sorry for the girl. If it were Melanie or Iris then he'd probably have done something more to console them. Hugged them, maybe, told them to not think about it, that they were safe and alive and that the danger had passed.

As for Cecelia, he'd never have to do that for her. She was tough as nails and many times more deadly. It was very rare that she needed words of comfort from him. In fact, apart from the early days of their travels together, he couldn't remember any time she did need it.

But this girl, Sera? She wasn't like those three. 

They had met only an hour or so ago, if that. There's no way he'd be able to use that method on her.

The best thing that he could do was just to give her a little time to process things and show some confidence. 

So he let her be. Allowed her to simply warm up, settle down and realize that she was okay.

He didn't try breaking this silence. No matter how tense or awkward it had, to some extent, become.

But after a while there was something he had to do that couldn't wait any longer. 

He looked at Sera as he stood up.

"Would you mind turning around a bit?" He pulled at his wet clothes so that she understood his intentions.

"Oh...oh, no, of course not..."

The girl looked away, her voice small.  

It seemed like she didn't know exactly how to talk to him. Still, it was much better than the previous silence.  

He thought so before, but for a Noble Lady she was a little too shy wasn't she? She acted almost like a nun, very.,,demure, maybe?  Although Sophia was exactly the same when he first met her. And still was, in many ways. 

He wondered what she was doing right now, that Sophia...

"Thanks." He expressed a bit of gratitude, coming back to his senses. Then he grinned at her. "And don't try peeking at me. I'd not be able to marry otherwise."

The girl took a moment to reegister the meaning of his words, muttering something under her breath which he didn't catch. 

Had it been Melanie, it would've probably had something to do with calling him a rogue.

Honestly he didn't really care if she saw him a little naked. He'd grown past being embarrassed by things like that by now, and it wasn't as if he'd strip down entirely.

It's just that he was going to be examining his wounds.

She shouldn't have to see something like that. He was sure it wasn't going to be pretty.

When her back was fully facing him he slowly, carefully, began to take off his coat and shirt. 

After that he just used a finger to feel around his chest and ribs.  He didn't want to take off the bandages that covered his toso and back, but he didn't have to since he would be able to tell what sort of damage was done. As for how, all he had to do was to continue prodding with his finger. 

As he expected, he was bruised all over. He was very familiar with the feeling.

His back, his front, large parts of him were most likely a nasty purpleish color. He didn't see, but he knew. 

He tentatively moved his fangers to his side, wincing.

A few bones were definitely fractured. Not broken, exactly. He didn't think that bones were severed, just cracked. 

Although with injuries like this, it was hard to tell. Still, at least his lungs  were still in working order even if he had a little shortness of breath.

Lyle stiffled a pained grunt. 

As expected, he was in a bad way. Multiple fractures, all on different ribs, a lot of bruising along his front, back and shoulders...some swelling...

It was a real miracle he'd been able to walk with injuries like this. 

He once more thanked all his past ancestors that they'd given him such a resillient body. Honestly he'd never quite had injuries like this before. Cuts and bruises, yes. 

Broken bones, a few times.

But so many injuries all spread out like this it was a first.

He sighed to himself. 

He really was too weak still. Just knowing some swordsmanship wasn't enough. He could do more, be more. He was said to be very "proficient" in terms of his sword weielding abilities. But he wasn't satisfied with that.

He may not lose out to many people his own age, but against monsters like a manticore? He had to fight differently. It wasn't the same as fighting a human being. 

He was too green. 

Lyle understood that he was already more skilled than most people his age. His talents in combat were not for nothing. 

Even so, he had a long way to go before he could match up to people like A'daire. 

He promised himself that he'd not be lazy. Since he knew he could be better Lyle strove to do better. Always improving, learning from his mistakes, becoming stronger, not allowing himself to waste the talents the gods had given him...attaining greater heights, using his strength to be able to protect those he cared for...these things are what drove him, always.

Maybe he wouldn't need these sort of skills. But it was always reassuring to have them.He'd been far too lax.

He'd taken it easy.

It was obviousy from the fight with the manticores that he was too lacking. 

It it were A'daire he'd probably be able to cleave those things in two with a swing. 

...Although now that he had a blade that wouldn't break on him, maybe he would be capable of that. A suitable weapon can make all the difference. It all came down to skill in the end, but if the blade broke after a single strike then what could you do?

Lyle  turned away from the light of the fire, intending to squeeze out the excess water that had still clunt to his clothes. After that he should have at least a shirt and pair of pants in his blackbox.

He'd check in a bit, after he got done--

Lyle felt something soft lightly running along his back.

He tensed up instantly.

"Hey now, didn't I say no peeking? Honestly, some people..." Despite the carefree nature of the words themselves his tone was guarded.

Sera ignored him, her hand still pressed against his back.

...The dragon-like Mark, she couldn't have seen it with the bandages in the way. So why would she come up and...?

Unable to figure out her actions with thought alone Lyle instead chose to turn his head towards her and get some answers. But something made hm pause, te words question dying before it could move past his lips.

As for what it was that stopped him...it was the moisture he could see building up in her eyes. She looked on the verge of crying.

"You've gotten so many injuries...look, almost not a single part of your body remains unharmed. Everything's all battered and bruised and all but broken..." Her voice was low, ridden with guilt. "Why?" She asked him.

"Why what?" Lyle frowned at her question.

He was so distracted by her strange words that he didn't even bother to think about how it was that she knew he was so badly hurt.

She couldn't see his wounds, and likely never had any medical experience either. So exactly how she knew all these things was a completely mystery.

Unfortunately this didn't even cross his mind, he could only wonder why the girl looked so distressed.  

"You." She answered slowly. "Helping me like this... I don't even know you. Or you me. So why go out of your way to save me? By all rights you should have ran away as soon as you saw how many manticores were after me. But you still faced them. I...I don't understand why you would do this. I was useless back then, I probably even got in your way. This... " She stopped, swallowing hard. "No one would want to fight those things, especially not for a complete sranger. And not only that, but breaking my fall...keeping me from drowning as we were thrown downstream...carrying me here just because my feet were hurting a little... You're in a state like this and you prioritise me instead? Something like that....again, why?"

It was the most he'd ever heard her speak up to now. It was a very pleasant voice, he once more confirmed. 

After hearing her speak Lyle didn't put on airs at all.

"Oh, is that all?" He chuckled. "Really, you make it sound as if I did something great. But there's no need to be so surprised. Trust me, I only did what I wanted to. Nothing more. "

The girl shook her head. "But why? Why would you want to? Going through all that, for some random person like me...I don't get it! You're so badly hurt, yet...!" 

Lyle sniffed in disdain. "Please, they're just flesh wounds." He then smiled, his tone becoming much more carefree. " And if it were for a beauty such as yourself I'm sure there'd be many who'd brave much more dangerous tasks to win your favor. What I did is really is nothing in comparison to what others would be willing to do for you." 

Lyle wasn't acting humble, he just didn't think it was a matter that was worth mentioning. 

Maybe to her it was, which would be understandable since it was her life that had been at stake. But to him, he just did what he felt like doing. Leaving her to die wasn't an option to him. 

So he just tried making light of the situation, thinking that maybe he could even get a interesting rise out of her.

Unfortunately he was wrong. Sera blushed, but didn't pay any heed to his teasing. 

A pity, nothing really happened. 

...Melanie would have given a much cuter reaction, he thought Idly. The young woman would probably have even forgotten what she had asked him in the first place. 

Then, when she realized she was being teased again, she'd likely have pouted--rather adorably--and pretended to be angry at him.  

But this girl was much less entertaining. Her cheeks did redden at the unexpected compliment but she still quickly recovered. She once more shook her head, continuing to question him. 

Other than shy, she also appeared to be the serious type too at times? Interesting.

"Even so, why? What do you have to gain by putting yourself through this? You should know, right? Even if we wait to be rescued, that manticore from before, it could still be around... hunting me... You have to understand that, dont you? For what reason would you continue to help me? I'll just slow you down. You could even die because of me! You almost did!"

Lyle snorted. "I'm not going to die." He said with absolute confidence. "Neither am I anywhere close dying. Mistress Death is a woman I really don't intend to court anytime soon, no matter how sweet her embrace supposedly is. And the bit about the overgrown cockroach you mentioned? Of course I know that. The manticore probably is looking for you. Doubt it'd give up so easily, especially when such a delicious-looking morsel was the prize."

The girl was really very cute, but he wasn't really complimenting her looks just now. He was actually refering to her innate magical capabilities. 

"If you know that, then why stay here with me! You're only putting yourself in danger!"

At the girl's cry Lyle only shrugged. He took a dep breathe, slowly explaining...

"...Look." He began. "I may have mentioned it before, but I don't want my efforts to be wasted. I already decided to save you, so that's why I'm going to do. If that manticore shows up again, I'll handle it." He told her. "You only have to sit back and let me protect you. Because I promised, did I not? That everything was going to be fine. I don't know about other people, but I make a habit of keeping my promises. So leave everything to me."

The girl had a distressed look on her face, her tears coming out in truth now. 

"...But most people wouldn't...they wouldn't..." She trailed off, not knowing what to say.

Lyle stepped back, breaking their contact.

"Yes, well, I suppose that I'm not most people then. Because you see, I came here only due to that fact that I couldn't, in good conscience, leave you to die. If I did, depsite knowing I could have done something to stop it, It'd be something I'd always regret. It'd always be eating me up inside, I'd always feel guilty for not even bothering to try. And I simply wouldn't be able to forget about it, nor forgive myself for it.

"I'm not a miracle worker, I can't save every lost soul I come across. But you? You I can help. You I can save. So that's what I'll focus on doing. I can only see what's right in front of my eyes, you know? It just so happens that, at this moment, you're the one I'm currently seeing." 

He stared at her intently, his gaze steady. "Since I can do so, why wouldn't I help? That's all I was thinking about when I first decided to follow after you two. So don't think too much about it. There's no special reason for me to be helping you other than my own whims, and there's nothing I want from you in return either."  

Sera apparently couldn't stand the intensity of his stare anymore. She looked down at the ground, saying, "...I really don't understand you."

"What's there to understand?" He smiled. "I'm a pretty simple guy. Everyone says so." 

"I don't think you're simple at all, though..."

Lyle let out a laugh, though it pained him. "Wait till you get to know me better. I think you'll find that I'm exceedingly simple." 

"...Does..does it hurt bad?" She gestured to his wounds.

"A little." He replied honestly. Or maybe not so honestly since he seriously downplayed the levels of pain every small movement caused him. 

"...You're lying. It has to hurt a lot, right?"

"Either way, I'll be alright."

"That's not good. I...I can't leave you like that." She murmured.

"Oh? That's a nice sentiment, but...what could you even do about it?"

She began to move about restlessly, wringing her hands.

Sera took his hand in her own, pulling at him. "Please, lay down. I...just don't move, okay?" She finished lamely.

Under his curious look he allowed the girl to help him lie atop the makeshift bed of his.

Once this was done she held a palm over his eyes

"What are you going to do?'

"Although this might not work..I have to try. So at least a little bit, let me help you, too. "

Lyle felt a little unwilling but he knew she didn't have any ill intent. Since she wanted to help, why not let her try? 

He was unsure of what was about to happen but he decided to trust her anyway. 

"Okay. Do what you will."

"Thank you."

And as soon as she said those words, his world went silent.

**********

Sera noticed the instant he fell asleep.

She inwardly jumped with joy.

This meant that, for once, it worked!

And on her first try, too!

Usually she wasn't able to do this. Her powers were strong, everyone said so. But she just couldn't control them well.

Her father always praised her, saying she could all but perform miracles.

But her powers were unreliable and rarely listened to her.

However just now they seemed eager to be used. They suddenly became as easy to use as breathing and she barely had to use any effort at all to call upon them.

So curious...she wondered why that was so.

She didn't bother to think too much about it. Her powers were always random like this.

Sera saw a faint golden light coming out of her hands as she worked.

She lightly touched him, her hand pressed against his heart, feeding him everything she had.

When everything was done the light faded and his previous injuries had all disappeared.

They had all been thoroughly purged, not a single mark left upon him.

Immensely happy, she smiled to herself.

She was glad to be able to help him. He'd done so much for her, wasn''t this much a given? At least now she had been able to repay him a little of what she owed him.

Despite the work being done, he still slept.

Her magic always left both she and the reciever tired, and he was already exhausted after all he'd been through. Him sleeping wasn't strange at all. 

She knew that he would, in fact, be sleeping for quite some time. 

Sera watched him quietly, studied him like she had before.

He really was pretty attractive, wasn't he? 

With high, elegant features and long, thick eyelashes that made even her envious. Not to mention those full lips that would just make any girl jealous in general. 

Indeed, his was not the square-jawed, cut-from-granite type of handsomeness that traditionally handsome men would have.

No, this was more refined than that. Sera found it much more appealing this way. She disliked crude things, but he didn't look crude by any meaning of the word. 

His face was, on the contrary, quite exquisite. A wonder to look at, with everything perfectly alligned and crafted with exceptional care.

It seemed that even the gods must truly favor him, because in addition to his attractive looks it also appeared that all the awkwardness which usually came with puberty had inexplicably passed him by. 

Sera peered at him, suddenly remembering the scene from before of him gently tending to her wounds.

He was very careful not to hurt her, concentrating at the task with everything he had. 

His hands were very warm at that time, making her heart flutter against her will as that entire thing played out. And what was most mortifying was that he'd had a good viewpoint of her panties back then. The dress she wore right now was lovely, but the skirt was a little too small. 

And the way he massaged the medicine onto her in the first place it felt almost...sensual. She couldn't help but recall the feeling, making her heart once more start beating erratically.

He probably didn't mean it, but she had to admit that he was surprisingly skillful with those hands of his. It made her wonder why, how, that came to be.

 So maybe his talent in such a thing shouldn't have surprised her.

From start to finish, however, he made no move to peep at her or to touch her longer than he'd had to. Was that him being considerate? Perhaps he didn't want to make her uncomfortable? Sera thought it must be so. 

She took another look at his face, a sudden impulse coming onto her.

....He really was asleep, right?

Sera glanced around her, but obviously no one was there. Sera laughed at herself, knowing she must have seemed foolish just then. 

Feeling more at ease now she then eyed his bare torso, marveling. 

This...really was not the body of mere boy at all...

Sera coughed suddenly, cheeks turning pink at the unbidden thought. 

Why was it that she thought she'd been blushing a whole lot more recently? She'd counted at least ten times now...

Sera took a moment to calm down. She then decided to go back by the fire and leave him be.

This lasted all of five minutes before she peeked at him again.

She was torn.

Should she, or should she not? Although she was very curious, it just wouldn't be appropriate...right? Especially considering all he's done for her. How could she take advantage of the situation? Something like that, it was beneath her. 

A person of her standing, wanting to do something like that...it was too  shameful. But with the kind of life she lived, what she was, it would likely be impossible for her to get another chance at this...

After a few more moments of indecisiveness she finally worked up the nerve to go through with it.

She was very quiet, sneakily crawling on her knees back towards him.

Sera slowly reached out her hand, a finger outstretched--and poked his side.

...As expected, it was hard!

She poked again, more firmly this time. 

Yes. Very hard indeed. 

Growing more courageous, Sera moved to cup his bicep.

She gave a little squeeze.

It didn't yield at all! 

It was as if there wasn't an ounce of fat on him, everything replaced by compact, steel-like muscle.

His clothes had clung to him pretty tightly before and so she knew he was sturdy and a muscular. 

But to think it was to this extent... 

Sera poked and prodded him several more times, somehow enjoying the way the softness of her hand contrasted with the hardness of his body.

She felt bad. Immoral. Like she was indulging in some sort of sin. Strangely it gave her a feeling of being high.

She didn't know what was with her right now, usually she'd never have even thought to do this to an unconscious man before. 

However she'd not been able to suppress the curiosity she had for him at the moment, and it was as if he gave out some incredible force from within him that she just couldn't resist. 

It was only then that Sera realized she didn't even know the man's name. He'd never told her, and she hadn't asked.

....But even so... So this is what a man's body felt like, huh... 

It was really very different from a woman's, wasn't it? 

Sera felt beads of sweat build along her brow.

Wiping it, Sera's let out a peculiar expression.

Had it always been this hot in here? Because it was quite warm in here all of a sudden. Even with the fire, wasn't this a little too exaggerated?

Ah, but it was also very comfortable. Was it due to her own tiredness and warmth from the fire?

Sera thought it might be so. It was a strange feeling, this. Not bad, really... Actually, if she was honest, it was a very good feeling. 

Sera didn't know why she thought that or where this good feeling suddenly sprung up from, but she was very content right now. 

 At least she had been. After some time, however, she began to grow restless. 

Itchy too, but only in certain places. And it didn't feel like a normal sort of itch. Of course she didn't know what that was either. 

As she was lost in a near trance-like state while studying this mysterious young man, Sera had only now noticed that there was something strange about him.

Or rather, not exactly strange, just that something caught her eye.

It was the bandages he wore. Some on his left arm, covering it up entirely, and some more wrapped around his his torso and shoulders. As if hiding something.

They were very odd and out of place to her. She wondered why he had them.

The dandages didn't have any blood on them, so she doubted they were for injuries.

Sera, for some reason, couldn't stop thinking about them.

She didn't even stop to consider her actions, her hand just moved on it's own.

She let it reach out towards his chest...Then she jumped back, startled, as the bandages started moving!

They unraveled themselves, opening up more bare skin for her to see.

A gentle blue-violet light shined forth from a strange-looking flower tattoo that nestled near his collarbone, bathing her in it's colors.

There was something that called to her, something that whispered seductively into her ears and urged her to thrown away reason.

Hhis slumbering face was all that she could see, the only thing that she wanted to hold in her gaze at all.

...Sera bent down, her face hoving just inches above his own, their lips just centimeters apart...

She ran her hand over his chest, every small, loving caress sending fire all throughout her body and reaching her innermost depths. She felt the steady rhythm of his heartbeat, could feel her own quickening in response to both their closeness and the scorching heat that his body seemed to exude...

The intensity of that heat grew more with each passing second, making her gasp and moan softly, searing his long, lean visage into her mind. 

Sera licked her lips, a sudden need welling up from within her... a ravenous hunger only he could sate, a burning desire that eclipsed all else..

She slowly lowered her head, craving to know the taste of him, and then...

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